Thursday, January 31, 2008

Back in the USA

As most of you probably are aware, I have returned to the land of the free. Nothing much to note about the trip home (I slept for 11 or the 12 hours of the flight). I arrived in Baltimore on time and no worse for wear, only to be greeted by the best thing a guy could ever wish to see after spending two months away from home, my dog Chaco. Katie (roommate) and Tim (Katie's fiance) had brought Chaco INTO the airport to welcome me back. Let me tell you, it does not get any better than that folks, I'm a lucky guy to have friends like them.

But before I get ahead of myself, I left out some key events that took place in Ghana between Christmas and my homecoming that deserve mention. As I spoke about in my previous post, we spent a few days with Becca's host family in Mampong over Christmas. After leaving mampong we then tro-tro'd it to Accra to give a teary good-bye to our beloved Mo. This was a sad day, Mo was really the perfect travel mate. We laughed, we cried, we ate foods that probably should have killed us, and there was not a dull or negative moment through any of it. Thats the mark of a great friend with whom I hope to be in touch with for many years to come. (You better be reading this Mo!)

But she left us nonetheless... We moped for a day or so and then hopped on the highway towards paradise, a little eco-friendy beach resort called the Green Turtle. Green Turtle Website
I promise you, if there are stars in the sky, that if you ever make it to Ghana, and stop by for a sojourn at this establishment and you are anything but amazed by the food you eat, the service they provide, or the activities they offer, IN THE MIDDLE OF WEST AFRICA!!!, I will pay your bill. Yeah, its that good.

After spending a few days longer than we anticipated in the arms of luxury, we set off for Kakum National Park. Kakum's website I was initially attracted to Kakum, not for its main tourist attraction, the canopy walk, a 300 meter(900 ft) suspended walkway that hovers over the forest's floor 33.3 meters (100 ft) below, but instead, we read that it was "possible" (a very funny word in Ghana that has soo MANY meanings) to hike to a field station about 20 kilometers into the bush where we stood a good chance to observe a herd of extremely rare forest elephants. These elephants which were once abundant throughout the forests of Ghana and other West African nations have seen a rapid decline in population due to poaching and even more prevalent, habitat destruction. They are now limited to one of two preserves in Ghana, Kakum and Mole (Northern region). I was itching to see and get some pictures of these guys, but unfortunately for the amount of money and hassle we would have had to put up with for the short amount of time we had to spend there we opted to be tourists for the day.

Canopy walk it was.

It actually turned out to be pretty cool. Picture Indiana Jones style rope/wooden plank bridge tied between trees way up above the canopy. However, instead of dodging poisonous darts and rolling boulders we were dodging camera toting tourists (some resembling boulders) and replace being chased by a crazy witch doctor priest and his army, we were running just as fast from the crazed taxi drivers who were more interested in your wallet rather than your heart. Fun times. All jokes aside, it was a fun experience. Its not every day you get to see a forest from a bird's eye view.

We then struck off for a bead market North of Accra, which turned out to be closed, because EVERYTHING closes on Sundays. Despite this setback, we managed to meet a woman who was really nice, a tad on the loopy side, but nice nonetheless, who's mother made beads and would sell some to us. After the transaction it was time to face the reality that there really is a real world out there and that my time away from it was growing short. We caught, what would be my last tro-tro ride back to Accra.

And after piddling around in Accra for a day, taking care of some last minute sight seeing and a little business, my time was up. I boarded my flight, made friends with my pillow, and woke up 11 hours later, an ocean away from what had so quickly become my home.

Culture shock that must have set off Richter scales up a down the eastern seaboard, sums up how I felt stepping off that plane in Baltimore. In only two months I had become so accustomed to the way of life in Ghana that I had completely forgotten how it worked here. Speed sums up so much of modern America, and as nice as efficiency is, you loose so much of the substance of life by rushing. A quote that I recite often in my head as I travel is "The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination." has taken on a new meaning to me as I step back into a world of haste and bustle. I never thought about it until now, but this quote applies to everyday life as much as it does to third world excursions or hikes in the mountains. So much of our lives are spend in transit, neither here nor there that if we are preoccupied with just "getting there" we miss out on so much that we could see along the way. So now, as I find myself waiting in line at the bank, or sitting in traffic, rather than gnaw my hand to a nub, I try to look around a bit more and take in what I would otherwise be speeding by. Just little words from a little man, but it makes sense to me so I thought I would share.

So im now back, living in Richmond, anxiously (but patiently) waiting for Becca to return, looking for that next path to open up. Please keep checking up on her at her blog: Beccasghanaway.

Thanks a lot for showing an interest in my trip to Ghana, if you are ever inclined to visit please let me know and I would be happy to help you prepare. I will also be giving presentations to help raise money for the orphanage in Tafi Atome in the coming months. I will announce these as the dates come up.

In my next post I will put up the best of my photos from Ghana and maybe a few that ive taken since ive been back.

Take care,


PS- I would love to keep people updated on whats happening in my life via this blog but unfortunately its hard to tell if anyone is reading. If you read this, and you would like me to continue to post please leave a comment. As long as people are reading I will keep posting.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from Ghana

We have left Tafi and are now in Mampong (central Ghana), spending christmas with Becca's host family and at the orphanage. We will be back on the road again on the 27th to take Mo to the airport :(. Becca and I will then head to the coast for a week to relax a bit. Here are some more pictures from the past two weeks. I will post pics and a description of our Christmas in a few days.

Becca, Mo, and I sitting on our porch at Tafi playing drums.

The Tourism Comittee sending us off a few days ago.

A shocked monkey!

I made him mad.

One of many pictures of the children at Tafi. As soon as someone pulls out a camera they are ready to pose.

Kente weaving at Tafi Abuipe (one of Tafi Atome's sister villages)


Doesnt get any cuter.

Happy holidays to all !!!

Monday, December 17, 2007


Hello all,

Thanks for all the great emails and comments! Its great to heart about everything thats happening back home.

Here are some pictures of the work we have been doing and some of the sights we have seen on our days off. For an actual description please take a look at Becca's blog I have assumed (by default) the role of photographer and she has earned the role of writer.

Becca and I have been helping out at a lodge in the mountains near Tafi revamping their book keeping practices. This is our office. Not bad huh.

A few pics of the crew and I repainting the visitor center. We donated the paint and supplies to repaint and clean/organize the visitors office for the sanctuary.

Wli Falls (pronounced v-lee). We hiked to the upper falls of Ghana's largest waterfall. The hike was very challenging but was absolutely worth it!

Another shot of Paradise Lodge.

See you all soon!


Friday, December 7, 2007

My Life in Ghana

Hello all!

So Ive been in Ghana for almost a month now, and the cliche holds true, the time has truly flown by.
I would like to take you on a tour of my Africa life. Any good tour begins with home, my home is a bungalow situated at the southeast edge of the Tafi Atome village and bordered on two sides by a forest of huge buttressed Cotton trees, groves of the thickest bamboo you've ever seen, and vines that reach the canopy.
We share the area with a line of dorm-style guest rooms placed at a comfortable distance from our house and the shared bath house.
The bath house contains two showers (one male and one female) two sinks and two toilet rooms, all fed by a large water tank (similar to the one located in the picture to the left of the bungalow). All water must be carried in from the bore hole (well) 200 meters away via large pails atop the heads of sanctuary workers. This happens approx. twice a week.

Then there are our neighbors. The village is broken into 8 different "clans", and of the eight our bungalow is next to the Ghanias clan. This clan consists of about 20 families and their houses/huts, of which 4 butt up to our area. Each of the 4 families who occupy the spots have two children whose ages range from 3 to 12. These children quickly became our closest acquaintances and have since become invaluable friends. You will undoubtedly see pictures of them all either in a post or when I return home.

The village itself has a reported population of about 2000 but I would swear it was no more than two or three hundred by the amount of people I see on a day to day basis. But that seems to be more of a testimony to how hard the people of Tafi work. Many will leave for their farms (some 10 km away) around 4am and will not return home until well after dark. Its truly amazing. Every Thursday the community has a communal labor day when the entire population is assigned to a project and work from sun up to sun down. I will have the opportunity to participate in this next Thursday, now that my leg has improved. I am very excited to get the chance to do more than just observe on these days.

I have been reamed for not posting pictures yet of perhaps my most cherished friends in Tafi Atome, the monkeys. So this pic is for you Dana and Krista. I absolutely love that I get woken up in the mornings by 15 of these guys jumping on the roof and playing on our porch. They are a little more skiddish than the monkeys in India that will hang all over you but they will peel a banana in your hand and eat it. This has allowed me to get some really great shots and I look forward to showing you all back home.

For all that have asked about my leg, the infection is gone and the cut has been healing faster and faster every day. I will start running again in the mornings starting next week. Thank you for all the concerned emails I've received.

I will update you all on the work we are doing next post. We are really making headway with the project and have even taken on a few smaller development projects on the side. I am really itching to share these with you.

And finally, I appreciate all of your patients, it is quite difficult getting to the closest internet cafe, hence the lack of regular postings. I would like to say it will get better, but only time, and work, will tell.

Best wishes to you all over the holidays.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blowing an itenerary

I would like to start off with an apology, I am very sorry that it has taken me so long to let you know that I arrived safely in Ghana, and then Tafi Atome (the monkey sanctuary) a few days later. But please know that my excuse is valid and one that I would have preferred not be able to make. More on this later though......

Ghana.........Wow! What a wonderfully unique country! Over the past few days I have been thinking of what really makes Ghana stick out from the other countries I have visited and over and over again it has hit me: the people. The Ghanian people are some of the most caring and inviting people I have ever come across.

The airport is in the heart of Accra, Ghana, what seems to be a very typical busy third world city with its traffic, street vendors, smog, and greyness. I was welcomed at the airport by Becca, Mo (her traveling companion from Holland) and Samson (a Ghanian friend who lives in Accra), we hopped into Samson's car and he took us back to his home where we could all catch our breath from a hard journey (Becca and Mo had just returned from a desert tour in Burkina Faso). Samson, who will reappear in this blog later as an angel, spent the next day touring us around Accra and its surrounding countryside showing us the sites. I got my first taste of Ghanian food and rain forest at a Botanical garden perched at the top of a mountain that overlooks the city.

The next day Becca, Mo, and I set off via Tro-tro (picture a late eighties diesel Dodge Caravan jam-packed with humanity/poultry/goats.....all with luggage) for our new home, Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. After a four or five hour journey and just as I was getting over the novelty of all that is a Tro-tro, we arrived. As I walked into the village I was struck by how real it all was, I had found myself walking through that edition of National Geographic that you read over and over again as a child, complete with stick houses, thatched roofs, and naked babies chasing chickens. HEAVEN!

Tafi Atome is small village with a population of approximately 1000. It is one village of hundreds that dot the landscape of the Volta Region of Ghana.

An interesting fact about this is that each village, even though only a few miles apart, has a completely different language that do not overlap and is not understood by anyone that isn't native to that particular village. When communicating with someone from another tribe they will use a more common dialect called "ewe" pronounced "eh-way" and then on top of this they speak english quite well. How many languages are you fluent in?

Back to Tafi, it is set in a very lush rain forest complete with palms and enormous cotton trees that have buttressed root systems (they fan out at the bottom and create big ridges). It is not uncommon for there to be a rain storm late in the afternoon to cool it down and for the nights to be clear with an amazing view of the stars. The weather isn't very far off from a Virginia summer day. It starts off right around 70 degrees, heats up to 85 or 90 and then cools down to a very pleasant 65 or 70 low. Humidity is slightly higher but not at all as bad as I expected (or heard from people in the past)

Upon arrival, we met the head guide Sylvester, another individual for whose generosity and sincerity cannot be captured with words, who showed us to our guest house and made sure that we had every comfort that he could possibly provide.

After sitting for some while and chatting Sylvester left us to settle in, unpack, and adjust to the new surroundings.

Over the next 4 days we were left to settle in and become acquainted with the village and the village's children in particular. It is apparently quite common in Ghana for workers to be given 5 to 7 days of relax time before they are allowed to become functional citizens.

Here comes the excuses....By morning 3, I was tired of lazing around so I decided it was a lovely morning for a run. I put in about a 10 or 15 kilometer run. By the time I had gotten back to the guest house the girls had risen and breakfast was ready ( I will post on our food later). We ate and decided that since it was market day we should check it out so we hopped in a taxi and went to the market. This was a very typical local market with any bit of hardware you would ever need: soap, dried meats, clothes, you name it and it was there. Very neat to see. After about an hour of walking around I start feeling ill so we decided to head back. For the next two days I watched what started as a small (but pretty deep) cut on my right shin (that I got the day before I left for Africa) turn into a large red painful mountain on my leg accompanied with a bad fever and various other flu symptoms. We went to a local nurse who cleaned the wound and prescribed a weak antibiotic pill. After another day of symptoms spiraling downward and not being able to walk on it anymore we decided it was best that I go have a real hospital take a look.It just so happened that on that same day our friend Samson and another were schedule to come to Taif for a visit, what they didnt know was that coming to Tafi to look at monkeys was really going to be a, take John to the hospital, visit. As I mentioned Samson's sainthood earlier, he did this and sooo much more without missing a beat. And even though he did not get to visit with a single monkey and had spend a two full days driving us around, he left us with a smile on his face and a promise to return. To make a long story short (which I must do because its getting dark and I have a four hour trek back home) they took one look at my leg and admitted me for the next 5 days with a strong I.V. antibiotic and daily thorough/painful cleaning. I was released 3 days ago with little to no infection and a gaping hole in my shin and am better off for having had the experience. I will post more on health care in third world countries and how five nights in a major hospital here is a better deal than two nights in the states at a low end hotel.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I bought a ticket and welcome to my blog

Welcome all to my Africa trip blog. Being my first experience documenting a trip in this manner itll be an adventure for us all.

So I couldnt wait any longer, the ticket has been bought and my fate has been sealed and I couldnt possibly be any more excited about it. And on top of that my guide book to Ghana just came in the mail today so I dont see much sleep in my near future.

All thats left to do:
Shots on Thursday. Not terribly excited about this, but if its what it takes to get me there then so be it.

Going to DC to request my Ghanaian Visa one day next week.

Buy ALOT of dog food for Chaco to eat while im gone (Katie you are awesome!)

Buy supplies and pack my bags.

My flight leaves from Baltimore on Nov 11 at noon and I get to Accra, Ghana at 6:15am on the 12th. Any tips on how to survive that flight would be wonderful. Hopefully the malaria meds will make me drowsy.

More to come later......