Thursday, September 9, 2010

Final African Travels

After finally making it back across the border into Ghana, we stayed on the top of a mini mountain above a small village called Biakpa in the Avatime Hills. We drove up a steep, rocky, deep rutted road to get to Mountain Paradise Lodge, which enchantingly lived up to its name. We arrived in time for the first of several “Happy Hours” of beer and Fanta in a large, open, bamboo hut overlooking a magnificent vista of lush green mountains, including Mount Gemi, the second highest in Ghana, which we would climb on our final morning before returning back to Accra. We also did an adventurous hike which started and finished from the lodge in a loop travelling down to Kulugu Canyon and up again. Our kids have become great hikers and this one was particularly fun as we rappelled down ropes to a couple of waterfalls, one of which we swam in. For the full 3.5 hours the boys were singing and humming the theme song to Indiana Jones. We’d watched parts 1&2 of this movie on separate movie nights here and the kids, especially the boys, are pretty enamored of Harrison Ford as Indiana (who happens to have a striking resemblance to our Parish Priest Roger Keeler). Every hike we did became a Jones jungle adventure.

Another adventure was eight kilometres from Biakpa to a village called Tafi Atome which is known for its monkey sanctuary. We half walked, half taxi/motorbiked to this place where we got to see and feed Mona Monkeys. As we made our way towards this village, I took in the beauty around me and thought of Larry Yakimec, a great actor and friend. While heading down the mountain that day, I got a call, from our friend in Ghana, Anna Hughton, who knew Larry from her days in Edmonton when she sat on the board for the Phoenix Theatre. She let me know that he had passed away and I imagined him walking with us in this stunning locale, knowing he would have loved the place.

After Biakpa, we made our way back to Accra where we took two days to heal and celebrate Lilianna’s birthday early with Jim and Sessi from downstairs. Riley had a bad fall on a sharp rock before we began our travels in August, which split his knee wide open sending us to hospital for 7 stitches. It was a parent’s nightmare seeing the deep layers of white flesh exposed to all the city’s germs while trying to keep him calm. Although it didn’t hurt him so much, he saw the exposed sinew and feared the worst: stitches. He screamed all the way to the hospital where Terry met us and it took both of us to hold him down while the doctor did his work. We had a similar ordeal to face each time we had to change his dressing every two or three days while on the road, as he pleaded, cried, thrashed and screamed for us not to do it. We had hoped to take the stitches out ourselves at the appropriate 10-14 days time, but ended up waiting 3 weeks so we could return to the clinic in Accra to have it done. Thank goodness we did, because infections happen so easily in the tropics and his unfortunately lacerated knee was no exception. Poor Riley, not only did he have stitches removed, but the infected pustules around his wound and on other parts of his arms and legs where he’d had several scrapes/falls/itchies, were popped, drained, and dowsed with alcohol. Dezmond struggled with infections of his own: pustules pock marked his legs up and down where he always seems to have “itchies”. Both he and Riley went through the roof with the alcohol in their open wounds and because they were septic, each had to begin a course of anti-biotics. We made a game out of the horrible tasting liquid though, calling them shooters which we let them chase with a piece of chocolate bar (a very special treat in Ghana). After torturing the boys that afternoon in the clinic, we prepared a surprise birthday party for Lilianna in the evening, which included music, dancing, cake, presents, and movie night.

The next day we left for Cape Coast and Elmina to continue our Ghanaian travels. We visited castles where slaves were kept before being hauled onto ships and taken away from their African homeland. Learning about this piece of European history was as disturbing as it was informative. Such a horrific tragedy is hard to understand for adults and children alike. They built churches and worshipped in these same castles which housed unspeakable atrocities. It’s impossible to fathom how they managed to do this work and not see the human suffering and degradation. The European influence did however create 2 beautiful towns (Cape Coast is actually a city). This is a tribute too to the natives of Ghana who survived and whose descendants are full of forgiveness as they continue their lives rising above their dark history. Elmina felt like Venice; its canal filled with colorful pirogues for fishing, which made their way in and out of the harbor under an arched bridge. Cape Coast felt like Florence as we wandered its hilled streets lined with orange and yellow hued European style architecture. The setting sun created an Italian fresco from our vantage point at the top of one of the fort mounts. It was a treat to explore both towns on foot. We stayed at a place called “One Africa” in an ocean side bungalow where the powerful Gulf of Guniea waves crashed against the rocks below us. It was stunning.

From there we headed up to the second biggest city in Ghana, Kumasi. Terry had some final work to do at a volunteer conference, so we got spoiled in a nice hotel and were able to have a final visit with all the VSO volunteers (the kids’ Ghanaian aunts and uncles). We were lucky to be in such a comfortable accommodation too because it was here that Terry’s health deteriorated (he was diagnosed with his second bout of malaria), plus he, myself and the girls became infected with the same pustules which plagued the boys in Accra. My ankle was swelling quite a bit from the infection and it was causing me to limp, which was somewhat alarming. Being a large city we were able to find a good clinic for anti-biotics and a course of malaria treatment for Terry. So while Terry spent most of his time in Kumasi horizontal in the hotel room, the kids and I got to learn about the Ashanti culture of central Ghana at the Cultural Centre, the palace, the museum and the zoo (which had a particularly active and funny performing chimp).

The final leg of our Ghanaian travels was at the surfing beaches of Busua and Ezile Bay. Terry was still on the mend in Busua, but did manage to get up on a surfboard one afternoon. The kids and I boogie boarded to our hearts content. I think the highlight for us all though was Ezile Bay. We stayed in a rough bamboo hut with only beds, no electricity and the odd ant crawling across our clean sheets. We shared a toilet and an outdoor shower which had a view of our little bay with other travelers. The kids were skeptical at first after our last two places which had hot water and air conditioning. This changed quickly however in the evening as dark descended: we were given kerosene lanterns at dinner and torches were lit along a path that led to our hut. We slept beside the ocean and fell asleep to the harmonies of waves crashing and crickets and cicadas singing under a full moon. During the day, we hiked to a couple of other similar eco beach resorts, to nearby villages and to a lighthouse on the southern most point of Ghana. We also had ideal safe, fun waves for swimming and boogie boarding on our private bay which we shared with one other French family from Brussels. It was a woman and her 2 sons aged 8 & 10 and her brother, his Spanish wife and their 11 year old son. It felt like we were in one of those French films where families are holidaying together at some beautiful pastoral place eating great food, drinking wine and getting into all kinds of romantic and silly antics. When not playing on the beach, the kids were catching geckos with their new friends, then grasshoppers and other insects to feed them. On our last night, beside a beach bonfire, we played a simple version of charades in both English and French. We were surrounded by unparalleled loveliness and tranquility at Elzile Bay, the likes of which I doubt will ever be matched in my lifetime. I kept saying to Terry and the kids, as we sat at the breakfast table under palm trees overlooking the beach and bay, “look around you, remember this, we are so lucky, savor it.” We did. Even when I am old and losing my memory, I feel sure I will come back to this place in my heart and mind, a million miles away from the loved ones that I hope are still visiting me, perhaps feeding me and loving me in my frailty.

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