Sunday, January 16, 2011

In search of elephants

Despite the fact that the restaurant called to take our order for breakfast, we still have to wait for about 45 minutes before the food actually arrives. Time enough to mount the luggage. But still, as always, Tony has to wait for us. Today he's extra anxious to start early. Before us lay ninety kilometers of dirt road and more over the place where Dominique (another biker Tony and Boni were communicating with) had a lot of trouble and fell. But first we start with the first fifty something kilometers to the junction near the port of Tamale. There we take a right, the road to Larabanga and Mole NP.The track is wide and rather well kept. But there's enough traffic passing to produce entire lengths of nasty washboarding, mixed with sandy parts. Pretty tricky… A pace of 60 to 70kms/h creates the least the vibrations on the washboarding, which are very bad for all loose fitting parts on the bike, but has other disadvantages. At a speed like that you have less time to react to unpredictability's and you generate a much larger dust cloud for the rider behind.
The track takes us through dense bush savannah. Secretly I'm hoping to see some wildlife along the road. Maybe an elephant peering from between the trees like on our previous time in Burkina? But all stays quite between the bushes there's just more bush. Very lovely though! While Boni, Nicolaas and I stop for a pineapple snack, Tony speeds along to reach Mole and have it over with as soon as possible. The broad track continues all the way up to the park's headquarters, which are clearly signposted. We arrive somewhat later than Tony, without any trouble, which makes us wonder where it all went wrong for Dominique?
Though not as charming as many East African alternatives, the park's facilities include several lodging possibilities, a restaurant, a bar and a swimming pool looking out over the park's main watering hole. We discuss what to do next over lunch. Nicolaas and I fancy sleeping at one of the parks campsites. But we would need to take a guide with us, which is something we can't arrange for anymore tonight. Either way the luggage would have posed a problem as well. (No room on the pillion seat) So we settle for the chalet. As Boni's old food injury is still bothering him, we agree to rent a 4WD instead of taking a foot safari. And maybe this will increase our chances to spot elephants…


The alarm goes off at a quarter to six. Too early for our taste, but an excellent time to spot wildlife. Apparently we're the only group that's too lazy, or rather crippled to walk. More room for us in the car! We spend three hours on the roof of a landrover with broken clutch, riding through thick bush savannah, dodging branches along the way, but return a tiny bit disappointed. Despite the very promising huge footprints we found all over the place; no elephant sightings, 'only' five different species of antelope, warthogs, monkeys and a cobra. But we're in luck, just while finishing breakfast; one decides to show himself downhill, within view from the restaurants terrace. Sadly, chasing it for a closer look will probably take too much time. If we want to reach the coast before New Year's Eve, we'd better get moving. By noon we're on the road again.

 In Larabanga we turn right, eastwards, to avoid retracing our steps. We should find a tarred road at Sawla, continuing all the way to Kumasi. But first another seventy kilometers of "bike-shake"… Tony goes ahead because he wants to stay clear of the dust. The three of us follow at a distance. Nicolaas, who is carrying the camera, takes the lead most of the time. We learned our lesson in Morocco so every time he has taken a picture, he would rush past to protect it from the dust. When I realize I've been riding up front for almost half an hour after the last snap shot, I know something's not right. Maybe he waited for Boni? In the rear mirror I see a motorbike's headlight, so I stop and wait for it to overtake me. It's Boni. He hasn't seen Nicolaas either. Better to turn back and look for him… I can think of at least a couple of reasons why he would linger, but I catch myself speeding it up a little just in case there's something seriously wrong.
No need to. A local on a moped bears me the message that he's fixing a flat tire. I relax. We continue until we find Nicolaas, 15kms back, surrounded by Ghana police officers who are lending him a hand. He shows us the impressive screw that somehow got stuck in his rear tire.

They finish the job. We do the necessary photoshoot and push on for the last stretch of unpaved road. In Sawla we find a compressor to pump up the tire some more. In Bole we find Tony again. While waiting (and worrying) he has fixed a place to sleep at the cacao research centre. It's a nice, clean little guesthouse with hot showers and good food. All's well as ends well! 

For more pics see album "In search for elephants"

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