Monday, June 25, 2007

The Official Agent

June 17-20
Northern Ghana

“You are in luck,” the young man on the side of the road told us when we stopped at a junction to ask directions to the crocodile lagoon. In his thick Ghanaian accent he explained that he was an “official agent” of the community-based ecotourism project that tended the crocodiles for tourists like us to come see. He told my friend Christophe, who was driving, that if he would kindly unlock the car’s rear door he’d hop in and personally guide us to the ponds. Oh, and there was also the “head office” that we must stop by first, to pay part of our fee…

“We just want to know if the ponds are this way,” Christophe told him. He confirmed the direction, and explained again the required protocol. Christophe didn’t unlock the door. “Maybe after we get a bite to eat we will come back,” he said, and we drove away.

A lie for a lie. That seems to be the rule in rural Ghana, where sparse tourist destinations garner tourist dollars that don’t get spread evenly enough to satisfy the locals. So young men lie to tourists, claiming some bogus official capacity in the hope that suckers will take the bait. There’ll be a fee for his services, of course, and when the actual attendants at places like the crocodile ponds see a group of gullible foreigners with a local “guide” they know the fleece is on, and quote double prices.

Can you blame them? Well, not really. But kinda. I can’t truly empathize, but I can understand the compulsion of impoverished Africans to try and make a few bucks off transient white folks like me. Man’s gotta eat. So no, I can’t blame them.

But yes, I can, because it’s a scam and dishonesty never sits well with me. I don’t think lying sits well with any of us; we all do it, some more than others, from time to time in life, and when we do we know we’re behaving dishonourably. Deceit feels wrong. I’d rather skip the posturing and deal with a beggar… but then I’d usually turn a beggar down, too. Some dishonour is more forgivable than others, I guess.

Anyway, without the help of the “official agent” we still managed to find the crocs and watched them crush live chickens (scroll down for photos) before turning back south to find more wildlife.

This was my second visit to Mole National Park. Too bad Trish couldn’t come for this one. When she and I were here in March we managed to find two elephants way off in the bush during a guided 4X4 tour. This time a herd of bulls took up almost permanent residence in the waterhole at the bottom of the main escarpment.

Christophe and I arrived in time for the afternoon safari to the waterhole. The elephants are very accustomed to human presence and didn’t seem to care in the least as a small group of us watched them bathe.

Trish and I completely missed two primate species that are common to Mole when we were here before: the patas monkey…

And the olive baboon…

Both of which have been known to frequent the hotel veranda, where mostly obruni tourists lounge by the pool eating, drinking and smoking.

The morning of our departure I came walking along the veranda to watch the elephants take their morning bath when I heard a crashing in the bushes to my right, just off the plateau. Probably more baboons, I thought, but when I glanced over…

Yeah. I sat with this creature for almost an hour, watching him do what elephants do: eat. They consume 400 pounds of plant matter a day, I’m told. Eventually I went to get my camera but the batteries were almost dead, only enough juice for this final shot.

I bought more double-As before we got to Kintampo Falls, just off the southbound road home to Kumasi.

I stood at the base and took a pounding from the falling water that left me more refreshed than I have felt since sitting foot on African soil, five-and-a-half months ago. (G)

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