I snapped photos of the setting sun over Ghana’s Mole National Park, not wanting the day to end. As I turned around I realized I was not alone. About ten feet away on the path leading to my chalet sat a female baboon staring expectantly at me. I let out a piercing scream and began pounding on the door.
Irrational reaction? Maybe. Conventional wisdom says I should have shown-no-fear and charged, but if you had seen those teeth…
We had spent the day touring what the Bradt Ghana guide calls the “linchpin” of Northern Ghana’s tourist circuit. Mole National Park is known as one of the cheapest ways in Africa to go on safari, but also an example of failure on the part of government and local communities to capitalize on tourism potential.
The park is served by a bumpy dirt road that takes hours to travel by an unreliable twice-daily bus service from Tamale, the regional capital where I live. Many locals have lamented to me that if only the government paved the road, more people from the wealthier, more populated South would visit the park.
The only accommodation available is the Mole Motel, built in 1961. Lack of competition has allowed the motel to charge almost double the standard Ghanaian prices for meals, drinks and rooms despite the basic décor and only periodic running water. These drawbacks are compensated by a viewing platform metres from the swimming pool that overlooks two popular waterholes often frequented by elephants.
Perhaps most frustrating is that the 4, 480 square kilometre park can only be visited by walking a small area around the hotel or driving along 40 kilometres of road, providing a mere peek at the landscape and its wildlife which includes elephants, hippo, buffalo, primates and several species of antelope and birds. The lack of surveillance has also created a haven for poachers – during our short time we heard the sound of gunfire come from the park.
That’s not to say we had no encounters with the animals nor that our time was a waste. Our foot safari had barely left the information centre that morning when we witnessed four male elephants gracefully lope within a few feet of us as if we weren’t even there.
The baboons, however, were very much aware of our presence. We were warned not to carry the black plastic bags used to carry food in Ghana and that “they don’t like girls.”
Back at my chalet my gender status crossed my mind as I looked at my camera case – black bag. Half-asleep, my boyfriend opened the door to the darkened hotel room and I charged past him. The baboon was slamming against the door and turning the handle, trying to get in. I felt something brushing against my leg and let out a blood-curdling scream.
“What are you screaming like that for?!”
I realized he had won the fight with the baboon over the door handle and it was my camera case strap I had felt.
Later on in the hotel restaurant we heard several similar stories. One man woke up from a nap to find a baboon in his bed. A fighting match ensued and he had bruises to prove it. We witnessed another German man get mugged by a baboon for the black bag he was using to carry a towel. Mixed feelings of humour, anger and fear prevailed – we were being ambushed.
The sole fearless warrior among us was Joshua, a seven-year-old who lunged at the baboons with fire in his eyes, whipping a stick on the ground and fiercely whispering nonsensical threats. His hotel room was next to mine so we tasked him with escorting me to and from my door.
If there’s anything I noticed about Mole, it is the solidarity among tourists who sit bouncing and jolting along that road through Northern Region to be overcharged and under-serviced. We all agree – the chance to walk among and in some cases clash with the animals makes it all well worth it.