I cannot tell whether in 2005 I had heard about Mole National Park or not. But what I remember is the glow of excitement that lighted my heart when I realised that I was going to lead a group of five white tourists to park.
There were many reasons for the excitement.
In those days I hardly travelled outside Kete-Krachi so the thought of escaping the gaze of the same people for, at least, three days was intriguing. I would even pass through Tamale, and that was the second time I was visiting the Northern Regional capital. But the most important reason for my enormous joy was the expectation of what I would part with. There was no bargain and I wasn’t going to dupe them in anyway. But I expected to part with some dollars.
When the proposal came, I asked a friend to temporarily take up my job as caretaker of the Ghana Education Service Guest House in Kete-Krachi while I headed up north. Traveling to and from Kete-Krachi is a nightmare, except for those who go there in Toyota Land Cruisers, the kind of vehicles that have no regard for potholes, ditches and sometimes overflowing streams. But we did not travel in a land cruiser.
The kind of rickety Peugeot that plies the Kwame Nkrumah Circle-Korle-Bu route was the only vehicle available for hire from Kete-Krachi to Tamale. It is only the Krachi-Tamale route that one will not be required to cross a lake or river, and the fact that we traveled in the dry season made our journey somewhat uneventful. But even with that, we stopped from time to time to stretch our numbing limbs, aching joints and to shake off layers of dust which bathed us as we traveled into the heart of the savannah. Before we got to Yendi, the German tourists could not hide what was eating them up: “Your police force is very corrupt,” one of them said. And before I decided on what to say, he added, “It’s not here alone. When we arrived, it was the first thing we realised.”
So what could the poor boy say? I agreed with them, but added that there were some professional ones among them.
The police had mounted barriers at various towns and would not let us pass without a handshake from our driver, who obviously had problems with his papers. At certain points, we were left crammed in the car while they spent eternity bargaining the bribe to take.
If you corrected someone that Kete-Krachi is not in the Bono Ahafo Region, but northern Volta, the next thing they are likely to say would be: “Oh then it’s close to Tamale.” Forgive them their ignorance. If you leave Kete-Krachi at dawn, you’re likely to get to Tamale when guinea fowls are about to roost. Here again, those who travel in Toyota Land Cruisers will accuse you of exaggeration. And they are right. We got to Tamale at about five O’clock in the evening and after a meal at restaurant, we hired a taxi and headed for Mole.
Obviously, there was no space, so I was to be in the booth of the taxi for the rest of the journey. I didn’t know how long the journey lasted because despite the terrible nature of the road, my drowsy eyes had no regard for my misery. I woke intermittently to touch the part of my head that crushed against to the roof of the taxi. And I was satisfied when no blood came out. I had become immune to the pain.
We checked in at the Mole Motel late and since that was the first time I had slept in a hotel, it was most luxurious place I had ever seen. It was also the first time I had seen a swimming pool, with my naked eyes and also a large number of bikini-wearing white ladies lying face up in the sun around the pool, like cold-blooded reptiles.
Since that day I have been wondering if Kofi Manu is a racist. Why am I saying this? As a young man who has not surrendered his weapon to the government, Kofi Manu never fails to stir when the provoking curves and sometimes skin of the black beauties are intentionally or accidently exposed. But here I was, face-to-face with almost naked women, with a piece of fabric barely covering their nipples and Yaa Mansa protruding from a bikini. And Kofi Manu was indifferent as it has always been. Perhaps, there’s something with race and sexual urge that I’m yet to discover.
But my Mole experience was phenomenal. When we went for a hike in the morning, I saw animals I had only seen in books and on GTV’s Expedition to the Animal Kingdom programme. The antelopes, deer, guinea pigs, animals that looked like dogs; some beautiful, others ugly. Very ugly. There is a pond that is below the hilly Motel. From the Motel one can see elephants when they come in the morning and in the evening to drink.
Sometimes the monkeys come around the restaurants while the elephants sometimes come to graze very close to the motel. I spent two wonderful days in that paradise I had discovered and was supposed to go back to Kete-Krachi while my guests headed for Accra.
To my disappointment, when they asked of my fare back to home, I was as honest as possible and gave them the exact calculation from Mole to Kete-Krachi. They handed that amount to me without even a pesewa on top, not even something to drink water on my way back. Suddenly, my mood changed and they asked me why. I said nothing, but cursed them in my heart. I regretted being honest. It was that same honesty that made them want me to accompany them when they came to lodge in my guest house. But I appeared foolish this time round. And I stopped envying those who accompany white tourists around. But the Mole experience was to live with me forever and I had different plans for one of the biggest national parks in Africa. I would go there again. But not alone.
When my elder brother told me last year that he was still undecided where he would have his honeymoon and asked if I had a place in mind, I smiled. “Mole National Park,” I said, even before he ended. “Mole National Park?” he asked.
“Yes, it’s a wonderful place. That’s where I’m planning to have mine,” I told him, without the faintest clue the one with whom I was going there. I made him believe there could not be a better choice than Mole and he agreed. Within ten minutes, I got the cost of everything and even finished with the booking because I had the contacts. So when the wedding ended and I was heading for Accra, Mr and Mrs Agambila Awuni were also heading for Mole. “The place is very good. It’s the best for the occasion,” he called two days later to tell me. And I didn’t ask about the “occasion”.
Many Ghanaians travel all the way to South Africa, Kenya and other countries to see animals that are just at our backyard. Mole National Park is now more accessible than before. There are now flights to Tamale and the road to the Mole is under construction.
Mole Motel is one of the cheapest places of relaxation one can find in the country, but the experience in that park can be likened to paradise. Perhaps, if you’re still undecided where to have your honeymoon, think about Mole National Park.
There, you will have fresh air. You will dine with monkeys and take a stroll with elephants. In the ponds below the hilly motel, your eyes will feast on crocodiles. But you’re not to touch them. They are not the kind you see in Paga. With a telescope, you can see buffalos, and if you’re very lucky, you will see king of the jungle on a safari tour.
When you’re tired, your body will soothe in the balmy swimming pool of the motel. And with your bride or groom by your side, you will melt into one single drop on cloud nine once you’re back into your motel room. Mole is a paradise and you can’t afford to miss it.
Think about it.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy FM. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This piece first appeared in last weekend’s edition of The Mirror newspaper as a guest writer’s contribution to Kofi Akpabli’s column, Going Places