Monday, December 3, 2001

24 Hours

What a difference 24 hours can make. Last night we were watching reruns of "Happy Days" on the airplane and tonight we were standing silently in the middle of the forest listening for monkeys.

But to start at the beginning of our journey.....We arrived in Accra, the capital of Ghana around 10:30 PM, it being a 6.5 hour flight from London. When the wheels of the plane touched the tarmac, all the Ghanaian passengers cheered and sang. Everyone was in a very festive mood on the plane. One man even stood up to dance a bit until the flight attendant reminded him we were not safely at the gate.

Lindsay met us at the airport with her driver George. George has been with Lindsay her entire stay here and drives her wherever she needs to go. The Wildlife Department gave her the truck to use while she is here but she had to first pay to get it running. Apparently that was no small task. From time to time the truck breaks down and she needs to get it repaired. She has affectionately named the truck "Bush Baby", after the small monkey she found in the truck bed after a trip through the jungle.

Lindsay booked us a room in a "Guest House" in Accra for the night. After a pleasant sleep we breakfasted on fried eggs, toast and Nescafe - instant coffee. They use condensed milk here for cream which makes for very sweet coffee and tea. No doubt, we will get use to it quickly!

We spent the morning running errands in Accra, one of which was changing money at the bank. The currency here is the "cedi". The rate of exchange is 7100 cedis per American dollar. We each changed $100 and got stacks of cedis in return. We thought it was kind of funny and we've yet to start thinking in such large numbers. For example, dinner tonight costs 400,000 cedis. There isn't any way we can carry all this money in our money belts since the largest bill is 5,000 cedis and is worth less than one dollar.

Six weeks ago a baby Roloway monkey had been confiscated by a ranger who saw it for sale along side the road. It was being sold as a pet. The baby now lives in the Accra zoo. Lindsay wanted to visit it to see that it was still alive. Also she has seen so few Roloways that she wanted to make sure we got a chance to see one while we are here. The zoo keeper let the monkey out of the cage for awhile for us to get a better look at him. He was so curious and playful. Clearly he was very attached to the zoo keeper as he kept going back to him for reassurance during our visit.

Visiting zoos in developing nations can often be sad. The conditions in which the animals are kept are not what we are use to in United States zoos. There just aren't the resources here. It was hard to leave the baby Roloway in his small and lonely cage.

The other monkey Lindsay wanted us to see was the mono monkey - a common monkey here in Ghana, and one we should see plenty of during our stay. There were also a couple of chimpanzees, baboons and other types in the zoo. Any time a monkey is confiscated by the Wildlife Department it generally ends up here in the zoo.

After visiting the zoo we all piled in the truck for the long drive west along the coast to Cape Coast where we will be staying for the night. This is where Kakum National Park is located and covers approximately 607 square kilometers. Kakum is important because it represents one of the most extensive remaining pristine habitat of its kind in Ghana. It is a moist semi-deciduous forest with high rainfall and in some places, the number of species per hectare exceeds 200! Many species of plants and animals are protected here.

When we first got to Kakum this afternoon we had to check in with the Wildlife Department and "state our mission". This is something that we have to do every time we meet someone official and so far today, we have done it three times. It amounts to nothing more than entering an office, shaking hands all around, sitting down and then after a moment or two of silence, Lindsay explains why we are here. Everyone wishes everyone well and we shake hands all around again and take our leave.

After "stating our mission" with the local wildlife official here he found us a guide to take us into the park at dusk to listen for monkeys. Lindsay had been here a few days ago right after sunset and heard many groups of mono monkeys. Once the sun sets, they call to one another as a way to reassure the group that all are present and safe.

Once we entered the park, we saw a sign that reminded us that we need to be quiet since we are in the animals' home. "Quiet please, you are not alone. For you are entering someone's home. You may not see them, but they see you. So be very quiet whatever you do."

We hiked for about 45 minutes before darkness fell. The trick is to walk very silently - something we need to practice. We waited for some time but the monkeys were silent. Our guide thought that they must have moved further up into the forest. Standing there the bush babies were calling all around us. They are very tiny monkeys and their call sounds like a squeeze toy. As we were about to start down the trail we heard the call of the mono. A very distinctive call indeed. Lindsay and the guides can tell right away which monkey type is calling - another thing we will have to practice.

Walking through the forest in the dark is both amazing and unnerving. There are all kinds of creatures calling but you can't see anything but the path in front of you. At one point we stopped on the trail for a moment and three of us starting shouting in pain simultaneous while hoping all around. We had stopped right in the middle of a column of soldier ants. They don't just bite but clamp their jaws so that you have to pull them off of your skin. For some time after we moved on, we experienced their stinging bite as we continued to pull them from our clothing and skin.

Tomorrow morning we will get up very early to head back into the park. One of the outstanding attractions at the park is the Canopy Walk. This walkway was constructed in 1995 and is 350 meters long and 40 meters high! We are almost too excited to sleep.

Click here for the next day's highlights!