A Sunday Drive, Ghana-Style

[nb. This is a long post. If you just want pretty pictures, click the “More” link and jump to the end. But it’s a fun story, if you want to read the whole post.]

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Last week, we took delivery of our new vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. Buying a vehicle in a foreign country, buying a new vehicle for the first time, and all that comes with that whole process, was a big deal. It’s done now, and we now get to start enjoying the freedom of having our own vehicle.

So, yesterday we decided to take a leisurely Sunday drive after lunch. We have spent a fair number of days in the heart of Accra, but had yet to leave the city, so we consulted the Google, and found a route that looked nice, that would take us about two hours altogether. The plan was to head north from our house, end up along the edge of a nature preserve, and then come home.

Well, we started out, and everything was going to plan. The road was pretty decent, the weather was good, and the traffic got less and less as we got further from the city. We actually got out into the countryside a bit, and had some nice time riding along looking at the forests and the mountains alongside us.

Then, we came to the junction where we had two routes from which to choose. We could continue on a paved road, taking a longer way, and end up at the southern end of the Shai Hills Natural Resource Reserve. Or we could take a dirt road that would be much shorter distance-wise, and end up at the north edge of the Reserve.

We decided to take the shorter road. This was the first stereotypical “African driving experience” for us, as we bumped along the road. I got to practice using the truck’s clutchless manual drive mode, which was nice. The road was not too bad, all things considered, (wait til the end of this story) and we did make it to the highway.

Once we got out onto a main highway, we made our way a few kilometers down the road to the entrance of the Reserve. It was about 3:30p.m., and since it gets fully dark here at 6:00, we expected that we would just pull up to the gate, scope the place out, and maybe find out their hours and admission prices. Well, the ranger saw us coming, so he opened the gate and waved us in. We got out and talked with him, and it turns out that Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians pay different rates, and the admission price is an hourly rate, so you can choose how long you want to be there.

The ranger, named George, managed to talk us into paying for an hour, so we loaded everyone up, including George, and took off for a jaunt into the Reserve. From the get-go, we were thankful for a nice, sturdy 4×4 to get us around the Reserve – not an inch of pavement in the place, and lots of mudholes and grassy lanes.

First, George took us to see some ostriches kept on the Reserve. This is not a zoo, so the animals are looked after from afar. The ostriches, a male-and-female pair, were in a large fenced enclosure, which we could not enter. George did go in and flush them out, so that we could see them running around. Then, they came to the fence, where he pulled some grasses and fed them, so that they would stand where we could take photos. Rhys, Eva, and Kaj thought this was amazing; Joshua was terrified and hid in the truck.

Next, we took off down a dirt track into the heart of the Reserve, in search of baboons. The Shai Hills Reserve has 18 troops of baboons, each with around 25 members. We happened to come at the time of day when the baboons are moving from the grasslands up into the hills for the night, so we didn’t go too far before we encountered a troop crossing our path. George had convinced us to buy a few cedis’ worth of bananas, which he used to feed the baboons, so that they would come close enough for us to get a good look, and some amazing photos. Some of them came right up next to the truck!

Then, once the bananas were gone and the baboons had moved on, we continued our drive through the Reserve. George guided us to a large rocky hill in the middle of a plain. After a bit of amateur rock-climbing, we reached a rocky peak, where we could look out on a vast panorama – the photos don’t do it justice at all. It was an amazing view, and really helped us get a perspective on this place we now call home. On the way down, we stopped for a few obligatory photos with a baobab tree. From there, we made our way back to the entrance, and bade George farewell, until next time.

But our story doesn’t end there. We still had to get home. In our initial Google-scouting, we had found a route home that would take us in a loop, rather than having to back-track. So we took off down the highway, talking and laughing about our impromptu safari. Pretty soon, we got to the town where we were supposed to find the junction we needed. Well, in our reverie, we missed the turning, and discovered this after we had passed through a toll booth. So, we turned around, and after paying another toll, got to the correct junction and headed on the road toward home.

It soon turned out that the road we had chosen was going to provide another adventure. Navigating the way meant lots of zig-zagging, weaving back and forth through and around and over puddles, mud-holes, and small-ish ponds. Yet again, we were thankful for our 4×4, and feeling sorry for the people in the compact car ahead of us. After about 5km/3mi, the pavement came, and the rest of the drive was nice.

This was a wonderful first excursion in Ghana, and we now feel just a bit more like we have “arrived” in Africa. We are excited to continue exploring this amazing and varied country! Soli Deo Gloria!

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