Last weekend we travelled to Mole National Park for a quick break. It was the first bit of travelling we’ve done in Ghana purely for leisure.
Getting to the park wasn’t comfortable, but it was quick. We caught a ‘trotro’ at 7am from the centre of Tamale. A trotro is basically a minibus with too many seats, no air-conditioning and questionable roadworthiness. We were lucky though; trotros always depart full, which means you sometimes have to wait hours for enough passengers to show up. We only waited 15 minutes before setting off in the pins-and-needles-inducing back seats, with our bags squashed on our laps.
The trotro routes don’t go directly to the park. After 2 and a half hours, we got off at the nearest town called Larabanga. Departing the bus, we were mobbed by local ‘guides’. It was a bit much and we tried to encourage them to give us some space, a request they mainly ignored. Larabanga is famous for its mud and stick mosque, which might be the oldest of its kind in Ghana, but no one really knows. We looked at the mosque (from the outside only!) and were made to pay a “community development” fee from some insistent and aggressive (by Ghanaian standards) young men. The hassle didn’t make for a pleasurable experience, but the mosque was interesting. You are welcome to look at the following photo for absolutely no charge 🙂
From Larabanga to the park, we had to catch a local taxi at the extortionate price of 25 GHC (£5) – that distance in Tamale would’ve been under a fifth of the price. If we were regular tourists, we probably wouldn’t have felt hard done by, but because we are on local salaries, every penny counts. Once in the park, our moods lightened as we caught a glimpse of several elephants drinking from a watering hole.
We stayed in the park’s more budget accommodation (Mole Motel), but despite being a bit run-down, it proved to be a charming and relaxing location. It was built on a ridge, with great views of the park. The nearby visitor’s centre is where safaris depart from, so we wandered over in the late afternoon to go on a 2-hour driving tour of the park. Sadly, the elephants had gone, but we did see all manner of antelope, deer, warthog and a few monkeys.
A lot of grass fires were burning in the park. At this time of year (the dry season), grass fires are common all over the north of Ghana. They are deliberately started, but the reasons seem to vary. Someone told us the ones in the park had been started by nearby villagers, who felt aggrieved that they did not benefit fairly from the tourist money that the park attracted. We didn’t definitively get to the bottom of it, but the fires and the aftermath of previous fires certainly made for an apocalyptic landscape at times – particularly if, like me, you have been reading too much JG Ballard recently.
The next morning we got up early to go on a walking safari. It started at 7:00am, to avoid the heat. We walked a few miles, but within the small area we covered, we saw many different landscapes: dense woods, grassy plains, small ponds full of lily’s, sparse scrubland and dried up river beds. Without a guide, you would easily get lost. We were disappointed not to find the elephants again, but it was nice to be walking in the cool morning air. Although we saw fewer animals, we felt closer to nature than on the driving safari. We did see monkeys, and most unusually, an adult crocodile eating a baby crocodile! At least, I assume it was unusual. The photo wasn’t great, so here is one of a mother and child warthog instead.
Later at breakfast, a brown praying mantis came to say hello. I’ve seen plenty of green ones in Ghana, so it was nice to see something different. I named it Samantha. She didn’t break her gaze until we’d finished our coffees – quite unnerving really.
We relaxed by the pool most of the day, chatting to other guests. There aren’t a whole lot of sites to visit in Northern Ghana, so we recognised about 15 people we’d seen or spoken to in Tamale – mainly “expats” doing similar work to us. I was just about to have another dip in the pool, when someone spotted an elephant at the watering hole again. You aren’t allowed to walk in the park without an armed ranger, so we ran to get one.
Most of the guests hurriedly changed out of their swimming gear and we set off down the steep sides of the ridge into the flatlands to find the elephant. We pursued it for about an hour, but the elephant wasn’t interested in stopping, so we didn’t really get close. Heading back towards the hotel, the ranger took a call and was told that a second elephant had been spotted about a mile away – so once again, we took off through the bush, sometimes running. At last, we came across a large adult elephant feeding on the leaves of a tree. Keeping our distance, the elephant happily got on with its meal as we excitedly snapped away with our cameras and phones.
We made our way back to the hotel, happy with our encounter and fairly hungry after 2 hours of unexpected walking and running. The next morning we returned to Tamale, reversing our steps, but avoiding any further “community development” fees in Larabanga. Mole is certainly worth a visit – it may not be an untouched paradise, but it is otherworldly at times, with its strange landscapes, ethereal colours and impressive sunsets. Below are a few more photos.