01 November 2010
Our first destination, as per our northern Ghana tour plan, was Mole National Park. It was our group of four this time, Rahul, Raj, Ketan and me. As per the latest information which I had received, the government run public bus service Metro Mass going to Mole National Park was suspended due to bad condition of the road. But somebody told us that the bus service might have been resumed as the rainy season was over. The information available was vague and the guidebook which we were referring was printed in 2008.
On the earlier day, we went to the Metro Mass Bus Station to get the information in the evening. There was nobody at the counter and most of the buses seemed to have already gone. We asked a person in uniform about the bus service, he told us to come next day by 5:00 am to get the ticket with the seat number. I reached there next day before 5:00 am and the man at the counter who seemed to be very rude (very un-Ghanaian but very bureaucratic) told me to wait till 6:00 am till they start selling the tickets for the bus. I went at the counter by 6:00 am, the same man barked that the tickets will be sold at the counter somewhere at the backside of the office. I went there to find a lady in the uniform who was speaking with a white man. He was also asking for the information like me. I joined him and started my queries as well. She told us that sale of tickets will be started after 11:30, as they are never sure whether the bus will leave for Mole on that day. Theoretically bus should leave Tamale by 1:30 pm. Rob, the white man whom I met there, had came there in a taxi, and gave me a lift up to Raj's house and during that time we exchanged our numbers to keep each other updated about the availability of the tickets.
We decided to go to the bus station very early by 10:00 am as we were not sure about the information which the lady had given us and for sure we did not want to miss our bus. When we were preparing to start for the bus station, Rob called me that he was also starting for the bus station, feeling insecure about the tickets like the way we were. We decided that whoever reaches the bus station early would book the tickets for both the groups. By the time we reached bus station, Rob had already booked the tickets. I always recall the famous two phrases which are repeatedly used in Ghana, “who knows tomorrow?” and “God willing, it will be,”. So true when one is in Ghana.
After getting the tickets, it was now the job of sitting in the dusty bus station and waiting for the bus. It was 11:30 and the scheduled departure was at 13:30. We had a nice time exchanging experiences of travel with Rob and his partner. They were from UK and very friendly. As the time for departure of the bus came close we became uneasy as there was no sign of the bus. We kept ourselves busy by eating fruits, drinking water and eating omelet thereby keeping ourselves not hungry. Then came near us one girl selling chewing sticks, I had never chewed them before. There was enough time for doing that experiment, it seemed. I bought some chewing sticks and started chewing them like the locals. When I started to move around in the bus station with a chewing stick in mouth it must have been quite an interesting scene for the locals seeing a foreigner with a chewing stick in his mouth and every body was staring at me.
They announced one bus which we thought was going to Mole and we rushed there, but it turned out that the bus was going to Bole. At about 2:30 pm the bus was announced. The bus was fully booked by that time and everybody was rushing in to enter into the bus. It was very exceptional, as in Ghana I had always seen people queuing up to enter into the bus. The bus left Tamale by 15:15 though it was ready to leave by 15:00 because one passenger was caught without a valid ticket and there were some arguments. Some of the passengers were standing including some women who were carrying little children on their backs. I was really worried about them as I had heard that road was not good.
After travelling for about an hour on the smooth highway, the bus took a turn and took a dirt road. It was quite a big bumpy journey but it made us more excited about the great experience which we were expecting. The population on this route was sparse and throughout the journey, on both the sides there was good vegetation. At about 18:00, we reached Damongo, a bigger town and a district place. It stopped for sometime and majority of the passengers got down here. Some more passengers got in here and one man was drunk. He put quite a good show for us. After about half an hour we reached Larabanga, the famous village with the claim of oldest mosque in Ghana. Here again bus stopped for a while. There were three foreigner groups in the bus. One was a German family, other was Rob and his partner and remaining were us. All of these groups were approached by some youths who entered into the bus and started to lure the customers for their services as guides for the visit to village and offering the accommodation. Fortunately we had already booked the room at the Mole Motel and were sure about the accommodation and were not sure about the visit to the village.
As we came near the entrance of the park, we were asked to pay big sum of 10.00 GHc (nearly 330 Rs.) per person as the entry fees, with no concessions for volunteers. Our guidebook was mentioning it to be only 5.00 GHc. The guy did not have any receipt book with him, as we complained about it, he assured us that it could be given on the next day and nobody will ask for the receipt once we enter. The whole claim of his seemed genuine and we paid without any further argument.
When the bus came near parking lot near Mole Motel, it was all dark with the only lights visible at the distance were from the buildings . In the head light of the bus we had our first glimpse of the wildlife in the national park. There were some warthogs (wild boars) and kobs (a type of deer) grazing on the grass near the building of the information centre
With this initial exciting glimpse of the park, we checked in the rooms of the Mole Motel with the help of friendly staff at the reception and happily ate the only thing available by the time we reached there, a tasteless and costly vegetable spaghetti topped with the insects fallen from the nearby light bulb.
Chewing stick, Ghanaian way.