Zaina staff member Zahir Alhassan picked me up from Tamale Airport for the 2.5 hour journey to Zaina Lodge. The journey was once a torturous 5 hours over an unpaved road that became especially treacherous during the rainy season. Thankfully, there's now a fine road (by the Chinese, naturally) all the way to the Mole Park junction, after which there just a few kilometers unpaved road gets you to Zaina.
The first piece of information I learned quickly from Alhassan, who is a pleasant, avuncular man, is that this part of the year, the tail end of the rainy season, is decidedly not the best time to see wild animals in Mole National Park because the ground is covered by tall grass and green shrubbery in and behind which the animals hide. For example, the antelope somewhere in the image below might not be so easy to discern for everyone.
I had a sinking feeling that my safari was about to turn out to be a dud. I felt a little encouraged when, soon after entering the park, I saw my first antelope, the kob. That's when I learned the second item of fact: the kob is the dominant antelope at Mole and is about as ubiquitous as the trees themselves. In other words, spotting a kob is not exactly a news flash.
A couple of hours after settling in at the Lodge and having my first sumptuous lunch, it was time for a community tour, something Zaina includes for every guest because of the Lodge's commitment to interacting with villages/communities that surround the park. There are no human settlements inside because they were all resettled, controversially, outside of the park on its creation.
The Lodge tries to bring business and attention to these communities. After a tranquil canoe trip along the Mole River, we visited the Larabanga Mosque located at the village of the same name and the oldest mosque in Ghana. I found it surprisingly small, much different from the impression I had from photographs. The same thought I had when I first saw the Mona Lisa.
A well-educated volunteer gave us the history and legend of the mosque, after which we were encouraged to sign the visitor book and leave a donation. This system in such circumstances is always awkward because one is never sure how much is reasonable and how much is over the top. You don't want to appear either stingy or a chump either. Added to this, the “volunteer” might hit you up for a tip, because he says the donation goes to the community and he profits nothing from it. My suggestion is that Zaina, for example, might recommend to their guests what, in Zaina's opinion from experience, is a reasonable amount to donate or give as a tip, if you should so choose.
Anyway, on to my first real safari day, which began 0630 the following morning after coffee by the pool at Zaina. Alhassan was driving the Toyota 10-seater jeep, and Daniel was our accompanying ranger and guide.He explained how Mole, 1800 square miles in size, is home to over 93 mammal species, 9 species of amphibians, 33 species of reptiles, and over 300 species of birds.
Like all rangers showing visitors around, Daniel was armed with a rifle in case of an emergency like an elephant charge. At some 13,000 pounds (around 6000 kg), an elephant can run up to speeds of 30 mph. Just a week prior to our arrival, an elephant had charged full speed at a vehicle that narrowly escaped. The noise of the safari jeeps apparently irritates elephants severely (I don't blame them). Nevertheless, a ranger would be loath to actually shoot an elephant and this has almost never happened. A warning shot will usually suffice.
I was praying that our sighting of a group of baboons was a prelude to greater things to come.
By the way, little trivia for you: baboons don't travel in families, just in assorted groups. The males basically make out with any females available, and sometimes the reverse applies. When the females are in heat, they try to force themselves on a male who has any stamina left after making the rounds. The rest of the time, I guess baboons eat, fight or groom each other. Interesting life.
Along with three other Zaina guests, I was keeping a lookout for what everyone in the park, including the rangers, wants to see most: elephants. We were not to be disappointed. “Elephants!” was all Daniel exclaimed and we sat bolt upright to attention. Crossing the road ahead of us was a train of the massive pachyderms.
One of the elephants paused slightly, as if for a photo op.
In the clip, you can hear Daniel reassuring someone not to be scared of the colossal beasts. Not that Seth, whom he was addressing, would be. Four-year-old Seth was with his older sister and parents. Seth is adorable, irrepressible, hilarious . . . and a bit of a handful. He kept everyone–me, in particular–endlessly entertained.
It was clear where our elephant friends were heading: to the waterhole below the Lodge, and since they would be there for hours, we had time to have a mid-morning picnic of coffee, tea, and sandwiches.
After our picnic, we headed to the waterhole on foot, as it wasn't far from where we were. Here's a couple of clips of the elephants enjoying themselves.
The voices off camera are those of Daniel the park ranger, Seth's mother, and of course Seth himself, who seemed more taken with the dragonflies than the elephants taking a dip.
After the elephants had spent some time in the first pool, they decided they would move over to the next one to spend some time there. Ah, what a life!
In my next blog, I come face to face with an elephant and tug a crocodile by the tail.