Thursday, 11 April 2013


Not Kumasi
The Lonely Planet’s West Africa guidebook says ‘Kumasi is worth as much time as you can give it’. Hmm … my first five minutes in Ghana’s second city were spent picking a route through Kajeita market – through open sewers, ankle-deep rubbish, and street traders who cover the pavement with cheap plastic tat and piles of fruit. Five minutes was more than enough time for me.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy Kumasi is not to live in Accra. The ‘sizzling street food’, ‘colourful markets’ and ‘bustling/vibrant/hectic/pulsating nightlife’ may be exciting the first time, but the novelty quickly wears off. Kumasi had the same hassles, traffic and potent stenches that Hannah and I were escaping for two weeks.

That evening we got food poisoning from an expensive Indian restaurant and were greeted in our hotel room by a cockroach the size of a cat. I was more than happy to leave Kumasi early the next morning to explore the countryside of the Ashanti region.

Lake Point Guesthouse
It’s an unfair comparison: a crowded city of 1.6 million people versus a tranquil lakeside retreat. But Lake Bosumtwe felt a world away from Kumasi. Formed by a meteorite several millennia ago, the near-perfectly round lake is surrounded by quiet fishing villages and forested peaks – not a bustling market in sight.

We took a taxi to Lake Point Guesthouse on the western shore of the lake. Our room was charmingly furnished with local materials and adornments. In the garden, birds flitted between the flowers and star fruits, mangoes, bananas and oranges hung from the branches of the various trees. I could feel the grime of Kumasi leaving me instantly.

Star fruit
We spent the day lazing by the lake, reading books and playing scrabble. Beside the lake, the only noise came from the raucous weaverbirds that were nesting in the reeds. The shallow lake water was as warm as a bath, and an eagle swooped overhead as I swam. This was my kind of place.

It’s hard not to fall into the relaxed vibe of life beside the lake. Unfortunately the staff at Lake Point had done likewise. The next day, we asked about the lunch menu – a limited but tasty selection of soups with bread or toasted sandwiches. We were told that they had run out of bread at breakfast and were waiting to get some more.

A cattle egret relaxing at the lake
Breakfast had finished four hours ago; the nearest village, complete with a stall selling bread, was a mere 10 minutes’ walk away. I asked if they could get some bread: ‘Someone has gone already’. When will they be back? ‘I don’t know’.  Can you prepare soup and bread when they are back, and bring it to us? ‘No, you must wait.’

It’s a minor gripe, and lethargic customer service is hardly a new complaint in Ghana. And if you’re going to wait for two hours for a bowl of soup, there are few more relaxing places to do it than Lake Bosumtwe.

A butterfly
The Ashanti region is Ghana’s traditional heartland, as well as being the source of much of the country’s wealth, particularly from the region’s goldmines. There are plenty of craft villages nearby, but as with bustling markets, you only need to see Kente weaving once to get the idea. Instead, we decided to visit Bobiri butterfly sanctuary. 

It was a good decision. Situated just off the Kumasi–Accra road, the forest sanctuary is surprisingly well preserved considering that logging has decimated much of the region’s forests. And you don’t have to go far to see its eponymous residents.
Another butterfly

There were butterflies on every bush in the garden as we dropped off our bags; several different species flitted about on the road through the forest; one or two even found their way into the sanctuary’s guesthouse. Filling in the guestbook, I noted the previous visitor was ‘disappointed not to see any butterflies’; I wondered exactly where he had been looking.
'I saw her first...'
We were soon on a forest trail with James – the only wildlife guide who wears polished slip-on shoes and an ironed white shirt. He identified the different trees and told us how people use each one. He also explained the threats facing Ghana’s forests as the demand for timber rises – part of the forest is selectively logged. 

The forest was also alive with many of the 400 butterfly species recorded in the sanctuary. Although how anyone records them is beyond me – butterflies rarely sit still long enough to be examined, the little scamps.

Breakfast at Bobiri
That evening, we relaxed in the sanctuary’s guesthouse, a painted wooden house built on stilts. It felt like a trip back from the 1930s – sipping drinks on the terrace, looking out to the forest. The only thing missing from a full Happy Valley experience was the wife swapping – not easy when you’re the only guests –although two of the resident tortoises were scrapping over a lady. (If you’ve never seen lovesick tortoises fighting, I can assure you it’s very entertaining.)

I stretched out, beer in hand and with the sounds of the rain forest all around. Kumasi may delight backpackers, and Bosumtwe has its charms, but for me, Bobiri and its butterflies are the highlight of the Ashanti region.

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