Kukum, Kumasi, and beyond


The weekend odyssey continues.

The storm returned, and overnight there has been torrential rain, but it stopped by the morning and the paths at least have dried out.

We rise on Saturday morning, and breakfast. The extensive breakfast menu we saw attached to the dinner menu last night seems to be missing, and all we are asked is “How would you like your eggs?” The eggs are however delicious, and that’s from someone who doesn’t often eat them. Talk about free range, we can see the hens wandering about in the hotel grounds. Liz manages to persuade them to bring some fresh pineapple too.

On, via somewhat scrappy roads, to the rain forest reserve at Kakum. We pass the monkey sanctuary which is, I read, mainly stocked by locals who hunt various primates for food, but bring the young ones to the monkey village. They do the same with crocodiles too, apparently.

We head for the aerial walkway which, we are told, goes through the canopy, the main level of the trees. Above this level is the Emergent trees, ones which break cover and grow even taller. The next expedition doesn't leave for a while, so we visit the visitor center, which gives interesting information about the rainforest and its wildlife, and the effect of the park on some of the locals – many of whom have turned from poaching to preserving. At 9am we set off for the canopy walk. First there’s quite a challenging trek up a rough stone trail, leaving some breathless and some older knees complaining a little. Then we are onto the walkways.

I would be the first to declare that the reserve is a vastly worthwhile project – we need to preserve what’s left of the rainforests, desperately. I salute the entire enterprise. You should give them money.

But it is only at this point that we’re informed we are unlikely to see any animals, which tend only to come out at night. The chimps, bonobos, elephants, grasscutters, etc will likely not be in evidence. It’s not only the nocturnal habits of the wildlife which account for a lack of sightings though - the walk doesn’t go through the canopy at all, but is high above the tops of all but the trees on which the walkway is secured. You’d not spot anything much smaller than an elephant anyway. Our guide, having warned us of the lack of wildlife, imparts no further information.

There are apparently 200 species of butterfly locally, but I only spot two lonely individuals. Other than that the only wildlife I see is a lizard, the same species which is prevalent near the apartment.

So far as I can see, the main purpose of the aerial walkway is just to do it, and to say that you have done so. Basically it’s a rope bridge, with a plank at the bottom and netting on the side. There are seven or so sections, each of which is 100-200 metres long.

…or about a mile each if you’re nervous of heights. Here is my advice for any height-averse individuals taking this trip:

you can see two people on the walkway if you look closely.
The total extent of the wildlife we saw
  1. Don’t look down. Unfortunately this means that you won’t see anything at all as there’s nothing but air to either side for a considerable distance.

  2. Follow the off-steps of the person in front of you. i.e. if they put their right foot down you put your left foot down, and vice versa. This helps prevent the alarming swaying which otherwise sets in.

  3. If the person behind you is not following the same protocol, and you swing wildly from side to side, just throw them off.

  4. If you see a twig lying on the plank, do NOT step on it. The resulting loud “CRACK” will have everyone thinking the plank has snapped and you’re all about to plunge to a horrible death, (although you might actually see some sleeping wildlife just before you hit the ground, I guess).

  5. Go to the monkey forest instead.

Seriously, there are better things to do at Kakum. You can I believe camp overnight, or you can sleep in the tree house. Either of these mean you actually encounter some of the charming wildlife. Or do the hike on the ground, if you can find one in the evening.

Have you been wondering for the last few paragraphs “What IS a grasscutter?” That was my question too. I asked Yelbert the driver. His answer was that it’s about “so big” (indicating something around eighteen inches long), and “it’s good meat”.

We later see some being bred for the table, and they are a large rodent, somewhat ratlike in appearance. Indeed their other name is the “cane rat”, because they eat crops, especially sugar cane.

Before we leave, we stop for some fresh coconut. These are straight from the trees, and a cheerful guy slashes them open with an alarmingly big machete. They don’t look like the image you probably have – these are still encased in a green outer skin, the hairy surface which we are used to is inside that, and flattened. First, you drink the coconut water, which is cool and beautiful, and the best part of a pint of it too. Then our friend makes a spoon out of a bit of shell with more delicate machete work, and breaks the whole thing open – we scoop the flesh with the "spoon"' Again, it’s not like you’d expect, the fibrous white brittle stuff we’re used to - this is a thin coating of a gelatinous substance. Quite pleasing. I suspect that the insides harden and grow after harvesting, also absorbing much of the coconut water. As I enjoy this, I can’t help but have flashbacks to R M Ballantyne’s “Coral Island” which I read, enthralled, when I was a pre-teen.

Liz with coconut

We stop on the way out for a quick fizzy drink and a small packet of digestive biscuits. Eat your heart out, “Rain Forest Café”, this is the real thing.

machete man with coconut

Now we head for Kumasi, main town of the Asante region (it used to be spelled “Ashanti”, but they changed it). There’s several things we’d like to see, and it’s some distance away. We are NOT going to the zoo, something we’d normally like to do, because all the reviews say it’s a dreadful, old-fashioned affair, with dispirited animals in tiny confined spaces, that will make you depressed. I had my share of depressed with the slave castle yesterday.

Real Rain Forest Cafe

A couple of hours of more towns follows, much the same as before (I’m sure there are regional differences, but it’s too new for me to sort out my impressions). In this region, the locals make a lot of pottery, which is set out beside the road on tables, stall, or in posher actual shops.

Along the way we see several of the famous funerals – apparently Saturday is a big day for this. I’m not sure which part of the long process this is. Dozens of, and in one case over a hundred, people, mostly dressed in red and black, ride in lorries or just walk to a public space where rows of seats are set up, to hear inspirational talks praising the departed, imparting spiritual comfort, and reminding the audience of their own mortality and the need to live a moral life. Sometimes there is music – especially drums, calling one and all to the event. Many attendees wear the traditional clothes – a long cloth wound around the body in the manner of a toga, or the older type of kilt (not the modern one that hangs from the waist like a skirt). We have seen a few before, in various colours, but the funeral attendees’ garment is pure black, although often patterned. I hear that these are dreadfully expensive affairs, and that it is up to the family to feed everybody. Some guests will bring food, but others will bring doggie bags to take the funeral food home with them. Rumour has it that there are people who are virtually professional funeral-goers, stocking up on provisions provided by someone else’s grief.

We follow the directions to our first stop, the Manhiya Palace museum of the Asante. There’s a snag, though: we rely on the GPS on Liz’s phone to show us the way, all being unfamiliar with Kumasi. This takes us through the central market of Kumasi. This is the most chaotic thing I have ever seen. Vendors have plots of between two and twenty feet wide, from which they sell an amazing variety of things. Goods are piled right to the edge of the pavement (“sidewalk” for US readers) and beyond. The milling crowds (yes, it’s a cliché but by God they are crowds and by God they are milling) are forced to walk in the road. The roads meanwhile are gridlocked with cars, carts, buses, motor bikes, and other conveyances. People walk around and between the vehicles, certain the traffic won’t be moving any time soon so they’re safe from being run over (they are right!). Most pedestrians are of course carrying things on their heads, many have loads wider than themselves. They squeeze through spaces just inches wide, and it should be impossible for two load-bearers to pass each other without a collision. Disaster seems about to strike every few milliseconds. But somehow nobody drops anything, whether a basket of fruit or an eight-foot long piece of foam rubber.

Kumasi market

We move at rate of inches per hour for a considerable time. Eventually we emerge from the other side and proceed to the palace. This is still slow, for traffic is heavy in Kumasi. And impatient too – at one point, someone decides that, if he honks long and loud enough, the two-lane road will miraculously become a three-lane, with the middle lane exclusively for his own use. He tests this theory vigorously, causing an even worse gridlock as people try to avoid him hitting their own vehicles. We arrive at the palace 20 minutes before it’s due to close.

Although we are the only people there, we are welcomed. They sit us before the introductory video, and when that’s finished we have our own personal guide to the whole thing. We see royal paraphernalia, we see effigies of various previous kings and their wives (all are dressed in funeral black robes, because the Queen Mother died a few months ago). Royal descent is matrilineal, with the new king often being the nephew of the old one. The Queen Mother holds a very important place in the tribe. We are shown maps, personal belongings, told stories, and all-in-all have a very interesting tour for a half-hour or so. Even after this, they are not anxious to get rid of us, and are happy for us to tour the gift shop, where I buy a little something for my (embarrassingly large) collection of folk tales from around the world. This little booklet deals with the adventures of Anansi the spider, a trickster figure of the kind that is sometimes amazingly smart and sometimes unbelievably stupid.

Because of the delays we aren’t going to get to see anything else of Kumasi on this trip. A pity. So we head to the next destination, the one that I have been the most interested to see ever since the idea of my visiting Ghana was proposed. Lake Bosomtwe.

This an almost-circular lake filling the impact site of an ancient meteor, which hit about a million and three quarter years ago. It’s around five miles across, and surrounded by hills which are at least partly splash from the impact. This idea fascinates me, and when Liz first said “what would you like to see while you’re in Ghana", this was item no 1.

NASA image of Lake Bosomtwe

We planned to arrive a little before sunset which is renowned as being a very fine thing. Of course the Kumasi traffic (and congestion on the way to Bosomtwe) have scuppered that plan. The roads are of varying quality, getting progressively worse as we near our destination. The last couple of miles are rough and in the now-complete dark, the last few hundred yards feel like a goat track. We arrive in the middle of an electric storm. The power is out, and the only lights are battery-powered affairs in the reception/restaurant. This is open to the elements, with no door and no glass in the windows. The local mosquito population head for the light they also seem to want to be out of the rain. We are swarmed by the little blighters. We’ve been taking our malaria tablets, but the bites quickly add up. I’ve been avoiding the anti-allergens I usually take because I don’t want that mixed with the various jabs and pills required for this trip. But after a number of bites, extreme measures are required. Power is soon restored and the mozzies wander off, thankfully. We cancel the plan to decamp to our room with our dinner. We have a passable dinner, and a few drinks.

We have a lovely room, literally a hut (but with all mod cons), and after a much-needed shower, we are soon fast asleep.

Room at Lake Bosomtwe