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  • Writer's pictureThe Old Farmyard Forceleap Farm

Close encounters!

We have had a couple of really thrilling close encounters that have become real highlights to the boy’s time in Ghana so far. Unfortunately, most of West Africa’s wildlife has all but disappeared, mostly I am sure has been eaten! But a good survival strategy here seems to either be sacred or subject to a serious taboo. This ensures pockets of animals are found living free around communities where they are protected. So it was great fun visiting the Monkey Sanctuary at Boabeng Fiema. Predictably the monkeys thrive here as monkeys are sacred in the communities where the sanctuary is located. They take this reverence very seriously and if a monkey dies, they get a full funeral and there is even a monkey graveyard. We had had a bit of a nightmare getting there from up North, with several breakdowns and unexpected delays but eventually got to the turn off and drove the 6 km down the worst road I think I have ever driven on. I got halfway down and then began to seriously doubt if it was actually passible at all! I stopped a couple of motorbikes coming the other way and asked if I could get through. You know when someone says yes in way that makes you think no! Anyway despite a few moments precariously balanced over deep chasms that might have swallowed the car whole, we emerged into a small community which was the kick off point! We paid our entrance fee and got a guide, but it was almost unnecessary as you could see monkeys from the car park. Anyway, we purchased the ubiquitous bananas and peanuts and set off into the forest with a guide and a couple of hangers on, as well as two rather grumpy hot and bothered boys. First, we passed a couple of equally grumpy looking Black and white Colobus monkeys, which the guide escorted us past saying they were not so friendly. We then entered the forest proper and only about 50 yards along a track, was a small opening where a large troupe of Mona Monkeys were hanging out. They were VERY friendly and soon cleared any grumpiness from the minds of the boys. They both soon had monkeys sitting on their shoulders eating bananas.

I don’t think I have ever seen the boys so thrilled and watching the monkey’s antic was great fun. With shrieks of delight, they fed all the bananas and then moved onto feeding the peanuts t ground level, which we enjoyed even more. The guide got them to hold the peanuts in your cupped hands and then cover the hand with your other hand to hide the nuts. You then crouch down and the monkeys come along and prise your hand open to get to the nuts, often comically holding their heads to one side as they tried to work it out.

I can quite see I will be forced back to the Monkey sanctuary again before we leave Ghana, but then I will have to tackle that road again. Yikes!

On a couple of weekends, we have made the trip to Bolgatanga, commonly known as Bolga, to seek out some luxury. We found the now fabled Attula Hotel, which has rooms with TV, hot water and AC as well as a swimming pool and a very friendly receptionist called Gloria! We then found they make pizzas, so that was extremely popular, especially as they made them without pepper!

The following day we went to visit Paga which is the northern border post with Burkina Faso. We went all the way to the actual border, so we could say we had run out of Ghana! The boys were fascinated by the concept of no man’s land! But the smiling border guard shooed us back saying we could not go any further as we did not have our passports. Needless to say, I had no desire to go into Burkina which has rather disintegrated into chaos with a no travel ban on it from the foreign office. It is sad to think that when I was here as a volunteer we used to regularly pop up to Ouaga (capital of Burkina) for the weekend and to enjoy French cuisine! So, we headed back into Ghana and into the town of Paga to visit their crocodiles, who are considered sacred. After the formalities are over, you are taken to the edge of the large pond which is covered in lily pads and algae. Apparently, there are around 200 crocodiles lurking below. A poor luckless chicken is held over the water tweeting madly and this lures one of the hungrier residents out of the water. While you wait, you find yourself staring at the still surface of the pond expecting the jaws music to start at any moment. First you spot a ripple here or bubbles there, and then 2 eyes appear and then a head. They are amazing creatures, really prehistoric, and as the tweeting ramps up to a fever pitch of panic, a crocodile hauls itself laboriously onto the bank covered in algae and looking like the effort is totally exhausting. It is quite surreal as, under supervision, you can then approach the tail end and have photos taken! You are encouraged to feel the scales and lift its tail up and even to sit on it (which always strike me as rather a foolish idea!) But it is a rather unique experience, as where else can you get to handle and touch a wild crocodile?

I think the key reason that it is safe, is that the crocodiles are not really hungry, as there have a plentiful supply of fish in the pond and they are fed daily by the chief of Paga with chickens at dawn. Also, as they are sacred, they are never hunted or hassled in Paga, so they are pretty chilled out. Our guide was saying that in the evening the females often emerge from the pool (which has no fence around it) and wander off into town, to lay their eggs away from the water edge. Apparently, as a resident of Paga, it is quite a common occurrence to find a crocodile laying her eggs in your front garden when you come back from work. You just have to wait for her to finish and move on, before you can actually get into your house. But it must be said that it is hard to reconcile this reverence with the experience as a tourist attraction. The local guides ask if you would like to sit on them or they will manhandle them into a good photo position or haul them out of a pond by their tail, if they try to slip away. It just seems somewhat undignified for an animal that is supposed to be sacred to be treated this way. But, then again, they don’t really hurt the crocodiles and, given the choice, I would far rather be a crocodile in Paga, than a poor luckless chicken!

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