Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ghana Wildlife Tour II- Hippos of Wechiau

24- 25 April 2011
In the Upper West Region, we came across a new word for white man. After getting used to being called Obruni (Twi word used in the southern part of Ghana) and Solemiya (Gurune word used in the Upper East Region), it was the time for getting used to being called as Nasala. It is used in Wala and other languages in the Upper West region. We had to wait for almost three hours in Wa to get our tro tro for Wechiau getting filled with people and at last we started for Wechiau. Though Wechiau is a comparatively bigger town and a district place, it is very remote and one has to go on a dirt road for almost 40 km which took almost two hours to reach Wechiau. In contrast to the Upper East, we found that not many people could speak or understand English here and we had to ask the same questions to many number of people to get them answered.
Wechiau has an old mosque which is similar to the one seen in Larabanga. We could see it just on the road and not really see it from close as there was some cultural program happening near it and we were in a hurry to reach camp site as early as possible. After reaching visitor centre, we were introduced to the facilities of ecotourism developed in Wechiau by our guide Bom Rashid. It is a large region consisting of about 20 communities which are under Wechiau traditional area. The chief of Wechiau called Wechiau Na heads the ecotourism committee. The committee has protected the forests and wildlife in their area. There are guards for patrolling and trained guides to take the tourists around. The area is known as Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary. I think it is one of the finest examples of how a forest over a large area can be protected through community efforts. The income received through ecotourism activities is used for various community development activities. The venture has received support from Peace Corps and Calgary Zoo in Canada.
We opted for canoe safari for seeing hippos and a birding safari. After paying the fees, we were taken to the camp site, which is about 19 km from Wechiau and near the river bank. It was a costly affair, because we were just two of us and we had to charter a tro tro. The village at the camp site does not have any electricity supply or mobile connectivity. The village is not served by any public transport as well. Of course there are many such villages in Ghana but it was my first time going to such a location. It gives you a feeling of complete remoteness. It meant that the canoe rowers could not be informed in advance and we had to wait a long time till our guide located him. He then refused to take us on the Safari as he had complaints against the ecotourism committee for inadequate payments to him. The other canoe rowers had gone out somewhere and not available. Later somehow he agreed and we went for the canoe safari.
At last we could see them, the hippos. They were swimming in the river water. They keep wallowing in the river water throughout the day and become active during the evening when they start grazing and come on the ground during the night. There are around 20 hippos in Wechiau. First we saw their ears poking out of the water and then we waited there patiently, when we could see their movements. They were total four of them. We could not go near them, but maintained a distance of about 50 m from them. They are known to attack the people if they go near them. The interesting fact about them is they are completely vegetarian. Apart from seeing hippos, the beautiful scenery on the river was also enjoyable. The Black Volta River, in which we were canoeing, had greenery all across its banks. We could see some birds around. The blackish green water in the river was flowing slowly. On the other side of the river is Burkina Faso. It was funny feeling of getting in waters of another country to see hippos. At last I had crossed the border and entered in Burkina Faso in some way. People were fishing in the river and crossing the river in their canoes without any control. What a peaceful cross border life they are enjoying. I don't think if I can do that on any of the borders of India.
Hippo Yawning!
We returned to the camp site all hot, tired and sweating and it was most enjoyable to have bath with cool water in a bathroom with no roof. One has to buy one’s own food while going to Wechiau and there is no food service available. We had bought some bread and boiled eggs which we found on the street of Wa. It would have been really nice to take something which we could have cooked there since there were facilities available for cooking such as a coal stove and utensils. Apart from Rahul and me, there were two Dutch girls, with whom we talked and passed our time by eating the pineapple which they had brought and shared with us. After a while it was night and it was the time to go to sleep.
Bom, our guide, arranged the beds on the roof tops. With proper arrangement of beds and mosquito nets and blankets, we were all ready to sleep but I could not since I was seeing the open sky, clouds, stars and the rising moon. I had never felt so close to nature before. After midnight it became very cool and we had to get our blankets on. It was too cold for a summer night in this northern part of Ghana. Somewhere in the night, I climbed down the ladder of the roof to urinate. For the first time I have been here in Ghana, I shivered in the summer. Somewhere in the midnight Rahul heard some animals and woke me up saying that hippos have come near the camp site. I broke out laughing after hearing those sounds. They were goats making some funny sounds. I have heard them making those sounds many times before in Bongo. I could say then that I was more experienced than him in such matters.
It was morning and time to use the latrine. It was still somewhat dark and I could not see properly in the toilet room. After sitting on the toilet seat for some time, I sensed some insects walking on my legs and after some time I got bitten by them on the crotch. They were red ants. So I had now another experience of being more close to the nature. It was nothing serious and the pain receded after sometime. We ventured out for the birding safari. We did not have any food left but fortunately there was a shop in the village and we could find some biscuits. The Chinese biscuits had made their way in this remote corner of Ghana. I hate the sight of Chinese food items since I have read a number of stories about the adulteration and use of synthetic materials which they use in their food stuffs. But I should say that we did not go to the safari with hungry stomachs, because of their availability there at that shop.
We saw many birds, some of them were really beautiful but certainly could not be captured in the old clapped out camera of mine. The names of the birds were also not easy to remember. The most memorable part of the birding safari was having a dip in the black Volta. Feeling of swimming in the slowly moving water of the river and sight of the cool, green river bank was really surreal. Our guide Bom had told us about the presence of crocodiles, so there was a small piece of fear lingering in the mind. But that made the dip in the river more enjoyable and memorable as it gave a feeling of doing something adventurous.
Human life on the Black Volta

After that dip we started for returning to Wechiau and further to Wa. The Dutch girls had came all the way from Wa to the campsite in a hired taxi which had gone back. They had not done any arrangement for return to Wechiau. We had to wait for them to return from their canoe safari. After they returned we made them hurry up since we had to reach Wa in time and catch the bus going near Mole National Park. The girls did not take much time to get prepared and we were on our way to Wechiau. In Wechiau, we could eat some breakfast and as the tro tro become ready to move, we were also ready to move to Wa. We helped the Dutch girls by taking them to the bus station as they wanted to head back to Accra. They were in the profession of journalism, which makes it clear why they could get prepared in such a short period of time and why they could make a 9 hour crazy journey from Kumasi to Wechiau the day before and again heading back to Accra the next day by making a 14 hour journey. All for the two hour canoe trip to see hippos. We thought we were crazy to spend more time in moving from one place to another than actually spending the time at the locations. But here it turned out that we were just crazy small.