Thursday to Saturday was an adventure to Mole National Park. Mole is in the North of Ghana, and is known for elephants, monkeys, warthogs, antelopes and other wild game. We went with the Computer Science Student Association, so it was about 45 African students, and then us few Obruni's on the bus. In true Ghana fashion, a million things didn't go as planned, yet everything worked out somehow. For starters, we were told to be to the car park to get on the bus at 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, that way we could be sure to be leaving by 4:30 p.m. to avoid traffic. We get there at 3:30 and no other students are around. It's just a few of us international students, and one of the students helping to organize, no one else. 4:00 comes, then 4:30, which brings the arrival of the bus (only an hour late, not bad for Ghana, still no other students though), then 5:00, then 5:30, then 6:00. At 6:00 a few more students trickle in. There are probably about 20 (out of 50) of us ready to go. At 6:30 there's a big rush of people who show up, and we start to think that maybe this trip could actually be going somewhere, only 3 hours late, what's the rush. But oh no, it turns out we're still waiting for food, but don't worry, we will leave by 7:00 at the latest. 7:00 arrives and there is no sign of food. At 8:00 p.m. the people show up with food. We pull out of the lot, and somehow, it is discovered that there are more people than seats on the bus. So the bus stops, (we haven't even made it off campus yet) and we all have to get off the bus, and get back one, one at a time, so they can count how many there are of us. How this helps solve the not enough seats problem I don't understand, but we comply. It is finally decided that some people will just have to sit on the stairs, or squeeze into seats, so that everyone can go. Keep in mind, Mole is a 12-14 hour drive, not something quick. And not good roads, so really not a time when you want to be sitting on the steps of a bus. At 8:30 we hit the road. We have been waiting for 5 hours! 5 hours! Sitting outside of a bus, waiting for people and then food to show up. (Also, after talking to one of the Ghanaian girls on the bus later on, she said that she was told to be at the car park at 6:30, and that's what all her friends were told too, so I'm confused why we were told 3:30.)
The bus ride is looooong. Unless it's one of the few major highways in Accra, roads in Ghana are really not the best, so this is not the most comfortable thing I have ever done. The bus is air conditioned, which helps a lot, but there's no real way to stop bumpiness and the pain it causes when you whack your head against the window. There was a video player on the bus, which I'm sure was great for some people, but Ghanaians movies are very unique things. They involve a lot of screaming and yelling and very long drawn out plots. The movies are recorded at high volumes, and it seems to be necessary that they are played at loud volumes as well. This would have been fine, but at about 1:00 in the morning when all I wanted was sleep, a blaring movie is not something that is pleasant. At about 2:00 I went and asked if the movie could be turned down at all, and when the guy asked me why I said that there were some of us who were sleeping in the back, and he was very apologetic for the noise, but also seemed baffled by the idea that anyone would be sleeping at this time of night. I would say from about 4:30-5:30 in the morning was quiet, and besides that, there was always noise of some sort on the bus. The rest of the way was uneventful, although the last two hours of the drive was on one of the bumpiest roads I have ever been on. We were in a huge coach bus and we're bumping around like crazy, I can't even imagine what that would be like in a car.
We got to Mole around 8:30 and again, confusion sets in. The girl we talked to about the trip when we bought our tickets (who did not actually go on the trip, leaving us very unsure about who to talk to) told us that when we got to Mole, we would have rooms and would shower and rest for a few hours before we went on the walk. So when we got off the bus, none of us were really sure where to go. I don't know if it's because we left so late, or if it was never really part of the plan, but there definitely were not rooms for resting or washing. We were served a breakfast of rice and chicken and fish (not quite the same as cereal and milk) and then there was more standing around and confusion, although this time, everyone was confused, not just the Obruni's, so I felt better about that, haha. Finally we took off for our tour of the park, and even though there were two guides, for some reason, we all went as a massive group of 50, instead of two groups of 25. Walking through the park we saw elephant footprints everywhere and they are massive! There were also monkeys and warthogs and antelopes running all over as we walked along. When we made it to one of the main watering spots, there were elephants!!! Apparently we got there right around bath time, because a whole lot of the elephants were just wondering through the water and spraying water/mud at each other. It was so amazing to see them in their natural habitat, just wandering around, eating and drinking. Also, elephants are MASSIVE! I mean, I know when you see them in zoos and such they look big, but up close, compared even to a tree, they still look huge! One of the guides saw me trying to get a picture of the elephant and having a hard time with trees, so he motioned for me and led me over to this obscure place, that had no trees, with an amazing view of them! And he stood close by just in case the elephant went crazy, and when I finished with taking pictures, he said “I hope that helped” and then walked off. Man of few words, but very nice, haha. I keep trying to get the internet to load just two pictures I got that are pretty amazing if you ask me, but it hasn't worked yet. :( (If you check my facebook though, my profile picture has me and an elephant, I could get that to work!) The rest of the walk was fairly uneventful and it was noon by then, so the sun was incredibly warm, even the African's thought it was warm, so then you know it has to be hot. As Nana (one of the girls I met on the trip) said “God is being very generous with the sun today.” I don't think there was a single part of my body that was not dripping with sweat, and it's probably the grossest I have every felt since getting here. I stayed close to the other Obruni's, none of them looked any good either. :)
We then hopped back on the bus and proceeded to the town of Larabanga which is right before Mole. The town is known for the Larabanga Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in Ghana (and maybe all of West Africa), but more importantly, legend has it that the mosque just showed up one day, having appeared over night. No one had built it, no one knew where it came from, it was just there. It's pretty neat looking, it's solid white with these funny brown things sticking out of them, and the design itself looks cool. Hopefully I can get a picture of that up too.
After Larabanga, we went a different way back and stopped at a waterfall. This would have been a good idea most any other time, but Friday was independence day, so there were hundreds of people at the fall, so all we could really do was see it, and then turn back around. Also, with at least another 8 hours to go on the bus, I don't think anyone really wanted to be wet for it. The waterfall stop did a good job of breaking up the trip though, so it was 3 hours and then 9 hours, instead of 12 long hours.
The ride back proved to be somewhat more enjoyable than the ride there because three random guys decided it was important that the white girls get to know other people, so they split us all up and sat next to us and talked to us. It was more or less a group of about 15 of us all yelling or shouting different questions and answers. I didn't know what was going on half the time, but it was still really fun.
One of the downsides to long bus rides though is the ever present need for a bathroom, but that's hard to find when you're in the middle of nowhere. Our “bathroom breaks” consisted of pulling over on the side of the road, people getting out and peeing. Pretty easy for a guy, something of a little but of a challenge for girls. Now, I have no problem peeing outside, I mean, sure I prefer a toilet, but I've done my fair share of camping, and can pee outside like anyone else. What I cannot do though, is pee outside where there is NOWHERE to have privacy. When we stopped, it was literally along some dusty road, with no trees or bushes or anything. And I am white, and a girl, which puts me very much in the minority of the people in the group (there were very few girls, lots of guys) which means there is no way to blend in. So the idea of squatting down and peeing in front of a bus, with people everywhere watching, was not something I enjoyed the idea of. So I just didn't drink much water, which worked out pretty well for most of the trip. The last hour of it though, before we made it to Legon was on a really bumpy road, and by that time, my bladder was definitely full, so that was pretty unpleasant, but I'm pleased to say that I made it just fine. We rolled into Legon at about 2:00 in the morning, and one of the guys in charge of the trip helped us find a taxi to Pentagon, and we made it back to our rooms about 2:30. A quick bucket bath felt wonderful, and then I crashed into bed and slept until 11 a.m. on Saturday. I have NEVER slept that late here, either the heat or noise always wakes me up long before that (generally around 6:30 or 7:00). Apparently though, depriving my body of real sleep and a bed for 48 hours will do wonders for knocking you out.
Here's a link to a photo of me and an elephant: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30156344&l=562c8&id=1280610054