Jonkanoo Tours offers an escorted tour of Ghana, one of those essentially undiscovered, unspoiled, yet easily accessible West African countries whose forests, beaches, wildlife and welcoming inhabitants demand exploration. Ghana has a low profile in terms of mainstream tourism and while many Ghanaians work and study in several of the larger cities of the UK, Europe and the USA, very few outsiders have an informed appreciation of this beguiling nation. Any chance meeting with a typically polite and loquacious Ghanaian, however, may well lead to a rewarding conversation revealing much about the culture and history of a richly fascinating Commonwealth country. Ghana emerged from British colonial rule in 1957 and retains strong educational and cultural links to Britain. Politically, it’s a highly successful democracy rated by the foreign office and the US state department as the most stable Sub -Saharan African country. Any English speaking visitor will be glad to know that English is one of two official languages and is widely understood - although the local on-street dialect can sometimes be more challenging.
Ghana stretches from the dry Sahel north, with its as yet little known Mole [pronounced Molay] National Park, abounding with elephant, through Kumasi, where the British fought pitched battles with the warrior Ashanti, to its southern border, the Atlantic, with its almost undiscovered surfing beaches and emerald seas. To the east, Lake Volta is the largest lake in West Africa, lying tranquil below the forested Eastern Highlands where the Voodoo religion co-exists alongside Christianity.
Our 16 day guided tour investigates a selection of the most interesting, entertaining, culturally rewarding locations round the country. Your guide is Richard Laister, an Englishman who has been visiting or living in Ghana for several years. Researching a West African travelogue allowed him access to a number of West African nations but he based himself in Ghana because he felt at home among some of the most hospitable and good humoured folk one could hope to meet.
In Ghana boredom is out of the question, because you never quite know who or what outlandish vision you’ll see next . . . Like Alice’s perception of Wonderland, what seems familiar can turn out startlingly strange. A typical street in town or country will sell what seems to Westerners a limited range of goods and provisions from stalls or small shops - but the Biblically inspired shop front signage is often surreal: ‘In Loving Memory Barber’s Salon’ or ‘ The Holy Ghost Chop House’ are classic examples. Every city street is populated with a kaleidoscopic medley of inhabitants outfitted in a riot of colour and style, many of whom are either coming from or going to market. Most people buy their food –and much else – from either rustic stalls or open air markets of every type and style imaginable while a remarkable feature of street life is the ubiquitous roadside carpenter’s shop.
Hand crafted coffins in all shapes and sizes - some resembling aircraft, others crocodiles, sharks or even body parts, are set out gaily on the roadside for inspection, alongside sofas or majestic king size beds. Saturday is funeral day when men dressed in black or black and white Roman togas congregate with women and children sumptuously attired in a phantasmagoria of colours- a truly spellbinding spectacle of engaging humanity. A death here is a social event considered more important than a wedding, commemorated with drinking, drumming and dancing to give the departed a rip roaring send off to the next world –which to most West Africans is as real as this one. And wherever you go Ghanaians will want to meet you and ask about life in Europe or America - in your guide’s experience, always with a warm hearted interest.
Our trip offers a real overview of the country – and an opportunity to learn something of its complex history and culture. The essence is to give visitors an experience which embraces not only the essential historical attractions, such as the national monuments in Accra, commemorating the achievements of the first president, Kwame Nkrumah, after independence from Britain, or the European slave trading forts like Elmina and Cape Coast, but also lesser known places off the beaten track. One such is Princes Town, named after Eighteenth century Elector of Brandenburg–Prussia, Friedrich-Wilhelm, where the only German trading castle along the gulf of Guinea can be found, with its extraordinary history, linking it with the West Indies in a most unexpected way. The late seventeenth century trade castle, its gateway engraved with the arms of Prussia, sits atop a hill overlooking the adjacent pristine beach , the Atlantic surf, the little town and the rainforest beyond.
Not far along the coast there’s time to relax on yet another remote surfing beach with one of only two hotels just yards from the sea. Our pied a terre has comfortable accommodation with an inexpensive alfresco beach bar and locally sourced food. Both hotels provide fresh seafood, but, set a kilometre stroll along the palm fringed strand, the Franco- Nigerian guesthouse offers superb Afro- French cuisine. At this convergence of rainforest and river and coast, wildlife abounds. Monkeys can be observed at play from canoe excursions up river, while lizards are everywhere to be seen. Birdlife on this section of coast is an ornithologist’s dream: myriad species of fowl, like yellow casqued hornbill and sea eagle, Bates’ swift, chocolate back kingfisher and a plethora of equally colourful other winged brethren, many unique to the gulf of Guinea, are everywhere to be seen. Greenback turtles breed on this beach, though sightings cannot be guaranteed. Less than a kilometre offshore, whales may sometimes be glimpsed.
On our way north we visit Kakum National Park with its rain forest canopy walk where a rope walkway furnishes an overview of the most abundant and varied birdlife in the country. Cassin’s hawk eagle, yellow billed or the great blue turaco, cuckoo, woodhoopoe and white spotted flufftails are all there to be seen. Tree dwelling primates are fellow inhabitants, chattering and swinging in the trees below . ..
But our farthest destination from Accra lies in the far north , Mole National Park where safaris to see elephant , ape and buck - not to mention a cornucopia of birdlife, some unique to this area - come at a fraction of the cost of a similar east African excursion. This is our longest journey and en route we shall stop for a night at Kumasi, capital of Ashantiland, an autonomous region with its own king. His Majesty’s ancestors fought several wars against the British in the late nineteenth century and the national museum and 19th century fort contain a wealth of artefacts and other exhibits which tell the Ashanti story. Kumasi market claims to be the biggest in Africa and is quite unmissable.
Mole National Park Hotel is set on a ridge where elephant, buck and yet another fantastic variety of birdlife can be viewed from your seat on the terrace overlooking the escarpment. Oriole warbler, violet turaco, several species of kingfisher, bee-eaters, rollers and sunbirds are all in the vicinity. The lodge provides a filtered swimming pool and accommodation is air conditioned. The high spot of the visit- perhaps of the entire trip - is a unique opportunity to take a walk on foot, accompanied by an experienced armed park ranger, to view wild elephant bathing at a water hole. I know of nowhere else where African elephant can be safely encountered at a close distance outside a vehicle anywhere else in the continent. Back at the motel families of baboon and a small herd of wart hog gambol at a safe distance from motel staff and guests.
From Mole we return southwards to Ashantiland, where we stay a night beside picturesque Lake Bosumtwi. Progressing south eastwards we drive through a green hill country, through Nkawkaw towards the Togo border. Here, bordering the enormous artificial Lake Volta created by the construction of the Akosombo dam, the eponymous region reveals its distinct Ewe culture – and the voodoo demigod Legba’s altars co-exist in every village with Christianity amidst the verdant beauty of the Volta river, lake and mountain. This is an area where the pre-Christian YEVE religion[ related to Voodoo] is practised and we shall witness one of that widely misunderstood religion’s ceremonies. The riverside town of Atimpoku, where we sojourn in a riverside guest house, boasts an elegant road suspension bridge over the Volta, along whose banks green hills rise steeply to airy heights. Sunrise here over the river is unforgettable, a prelude to our ascent to a cooler climate in the Avatime hills. En route we visit Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, where the animals are accorded sacred status- which does not in any way detract from their talent to amuse. Ethnically, this is Ewe country, where the border with Togo is never far away. Like many another international frontier in Africa this boundary was set by European colonists, for the language, ethnicity and culture here straddle the border with Togo. From Amedzofe, highest town in Ghana we take a short walk to the heights of Mount Gemi, second highest mountain in the country, with its stupendous views over mountain range and the Volta Lake.
Once returned to Ghana’s capital city, we shall view, among other urban attractions, the Soviet style black Star Square, whose concrete expanse parade ground, spectator grandstand and neo classical independence arch evoke echoes of far off Mao’s Beijing, such a contrast to the and nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial architecture of historic Ussher Town and James Town . The Nkrumah mausoleum and the National Museum compete for your attention with the National cultural Centre – actually a giant indoor craft market, and there are a number of hotels in whose swimming pools you can cool off before venturing out to sample the fantastic Accra nightlife . Hundreds of bars and restaurants compete for your custom before we emplane for our flight back home.
Daily contact with ordinary Ghanaians is an important part of the tour while at all times our clients’ accommodation, transport and gastronomic and health requirements will be our first concern.
The above provides only a few of the opportunities to discover the real Ghana offered by JONKANOO WEST AFRICA TOURS and we look forward to hearing from you.