Sunday, October 23, 2011

Days 1277-1279: Hey Hey We're Monkeys

While my parents were enduring their ordeal (see previous post), Melissa, Ruth, and I - along with several of my colleagues: Ben, his wife Susan (visiting from the US), Richmond, Anna-Marie, and her partner Carl - headed out to the Volta region.  The bus was a bit crowded, and the trip was longish, but worth it.  The countryside was beautiful once we got out of Accra.

The first challenge, however, was when we got to the base of the mountain at the top of which the Mountain Paradise sits.  This is the nearby village of Fume, sitting at the base of the mountain.

This is Mt. Gemi, one of the highest in Ghana, which rose majestically across the valley from us:

This is the mist laying in the valley, as Ruth oohed (it's like clouds!) over our first breakfast there:

This is some of the foliage (courtesy Melissa), and the beauty of the mountain sunset:

Oh, and this is the road leading there:

The hotel didn't mention that there wasn't so much a road leading the 4km up the mountain to its location as... well, a lack of a road.  A sort of potential, aspirational road.  

This wouldn't have been such an issue had we been in a 4x4 or some such.  But there were eight of us in a Tata minibus, which was... interesting.  We struggled up the steep incline, through the mud and scree, with no guardrails, and the driver occasionally getting out to haul chunks of rock out of our way.  

Eventually, we made it to the top, and no one died (though it seemed close at a couple of points).  And it really was beautiful.  I also learned a lesson about my haggling skills.

ME: Hey, so we're hoping to hire you guys to head down into the Tafis tomorrow.  How much will it be?
DRIVER: I will do it for 150 cedis.
ME: Saa.  Tony [the guy who runs the Mt. Paradise] said it would be 80.
DRIVER: Tony is not here.

Chastened, I went to help everyone settle in.  The air was clear, the mountains were beautiful, and Ruth wanted to pretend we were hunting bears "for their meat."

The adults took a hike down to a nearby river, and Melissa, Ruth, and I hung out around the place enjoying the nature.

Ruth also discovered the Mancala board in the shape of a crocodile they had in the bar overlooking the mountains.  I tried to teach her the game, but she mostly liked to put the seeds in the scoring pocket on its head, or in its mouth, and say it was eating eggs for breakfast.

That night, a huge storm rolled in, and so we snuggled in with Ruth to comfort her after dinner (I had the most delicious groundnut stew I've ever had - though mine is getting pretty good now).  The power had gone out due to the storm, anyway.

The next morning, we met some Indians who were living in Tema now and running an import/export business.  Ruth announced that she no longer was going to eat oatmeal for breakfast (up until now, a favorite), but was going to eat "regular food."  So we sat and watched the mist burn off and she ate some bread and drank Milo.  Fun fact: all chocolate products in Ghana are marketed as health foods.

After breakfast, the ride arrived.  I'd mentioned the "Tony isn't here" thing to Tony at dinner, and he said he'd take care of it, and he did.  He found a driver who would take us to the Tafis for the promised 80gc.  So what drove up was an ancient Peugeot.  I mean, I'm pretty sure Fred Flintstone bought it with his summer job money.  It rattled, and fumed, and looked held together with chewing gum and love of Jesus, but it got us down the hill (with Ruth perched precariously on Melissa's lap).  Even though we had to stop for gas at an old-timey petrol station, where they manually cranked the gas up into a glass beaker to measure it out.

We got to Tafi Atome and piled out to find the visitor center.  While we went to check in and find our guide, Anna-Marie, Ruth, and Melissa went over to check out the church service going on.

Though Ruth was mostly excited about the goats, she got less shy and even danced a bit to the singing in the church.

But we were there for monkeys!

Our guide arrived with a bag of bananas, and told us a bit about the sanctuary on our very short walk out to find a troop of monkeys.  We lucked out, and there was a group just sort of hanging out near the entrance.   The guide very nicely asked Ruth if she had any questions about the monkeys, but it was clear that Ruth's only question was WHERE ARE THE MONKEYS.

She was not disappointed for long!  The guide called to the monkeys and held out a banana, and pretty soon the bravest little monkey jumped out of the trees to grab his banana, to squeals of laughter from Ruth.  The monkeys in the sanctuary are monas, and about the size of large cats.  It was pretty impressive - they were fearless, running up and grabbing bananas and wolfing them down, and leaping through the trees around us (including one that leapt from a tree, bounced off Melissa's head, and landed on my arm to grab the banana I was holding out).

Anna-Marie was the first of us to try to feed them:

Melissa and I both helped Ruth hold bananas for the monkeys to eat, which Ruth seemed to love:

Anyway, here are some more monkey/forest pictures!

After seeing the monkeys, we wandered around the forest for a little while, and then loaded into our warhorse station wagon to take the bush road over to Tafi Abuife, which is a kente-weaving village.  We passed a beautiful mango orchard on the way, which alas I didn't get a photo of.

Tafi Abuife was also quite nice (though not as much of a hit as the monkeys, Ruth did mention the next day how much she liked seeing the looms).  We started out with a quick lecture on the history of Kente cloth, in which Richmond brought up the great and acrimonious debate about whether the Ashanti created kente weaving, or whether they stole it from the Ewe.  As Tafi Abuife is in an Ewe area, so we got their version of the story - they learned the art by watching spiders weave, and then the Ashanti learned it from captured Ewe during their wars.

They then took us to see the looms, and even brought out a fellow (it was a Sunday, so we felt bad but they insisted for the obruni) to demonstrate their use.  The whole process is extremely impressive - boys and girls in Tafi Abuife start learning the art at seven years old, and the weaving requires manipulating multiple shuttles and the loom itself with both hands and feet.

(And, of course, we bought a few pieces)

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel.  We did learn, during a stop to buy something to eat in Fume, that the one thing Ruth likes more than monkeys eating bananas is eating bananas herself.

Oh, and when we got back, Carl found some spent shotgun shells on the patio - apparently the Indians had been firing off rounds into the valley for fun before they left.  We also met a very nice couple from the UK, John and Mandy, who took a shine to Ruth and told us about how they were near the end of their time tooling around Ghana by tro-tro and whimsy.  I tell Melissa that when Ruth is 15 we're going to come back to Africa and do something similar, or maybe just get bicycles.

Before Ruth came to Ghana, I had promised monkeys and drumming/dancing.  Don't say Dad doesn't deliver.  We'd been by the music/dance department on campus a few times to watch their classes, but I arranged with the hotel to get a dance/drum troupe in from the nearby village of Amezdofe to perform after dinner.  They were a bit late arriving, but I knew it was worth it when we heard them signing as their bus came up the mountain and Ruth started running around saying, "I hear singing!  They're here!"

Ruth was a bit shy when they started, but opened up after they'd been there for a while and I told her that she could dance both barefoot and a bit further away from the action, where she felt safer.

We had a blast.  Ruth wanted to do this sort of combination of ballet, moves she was copying from the dancers, and parkour.  I loved dancing with her - we would spin, and windmill our arms, and run back and forth up a nearby ramp that she was treating like a proscenium. I wish I had video, but here's a photo from when I had to stop to catch my breath, and tried to snap one of her:

I wish I could describe it better, because I know she won't remember much, and my memories will fade, and it was wonderful.

In the end, I managed to get Ruth to join the final dancing circle with me and some of our gang.

The next day, we hung out in the morning, and Ruth played with some other kids who were there (I think children of one of Tony's family, but they didn't seem to speak any English):

Then the adults headed off to Amezdofe to check out the waterfall, and Ruth and I braved the very steep path down into the valley to the stream. I have to say, she was a trooper - she made it all the way down what was a steep, slippery, and sometimes a bit frightening path walking on her own and holding my hand, and taking any slips and slides in stride.  At the bottom, I helped her dangle her feet in the very fast-moving stream.

I swear I didn't Photoshop that first one, but the difference in the light bouncing off her and the background is sharp.

Then we started our way back up.  Ruth was a bit scared, I think, and it was no picnic, but I managed to get us back up through a combination of lifting her up to relatively safe ledges and telling her to stand still until I could clamber up to a stable footing of my own ("the Daddy elevator") and bracing her while she climbed ("the Daddy tree").

When we got the top, all that was left was to change out of my apocalyptically sweaty/dirty clothes, settle the bill (I'd planned the trip, so I was the designated, "we're going to need a spreadsheet" guy), and load Ruth into the bus home, where she slept most of the way to finally reaching campus, and Grammy and Grampy.

Oh, and I bought one of those mancala sets (what can I say, I like playing too).  I tell Ruth that we're going to learn how to play for real when she's got a better attention span for counting, but until then I'm pretty happy to just watch her put "eggs" in the crocodile's mouth.

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