We heard about it in class one day. Our professor, Dr. Okei, was explaining to us how Ghanaians are very cautious- too afraid to take risks, for instance, hang gliding. A typical Ghanaian would never go hang gliding at the Easter festival that weekend in Nkawkaw, a village about three hours north of Accra.
All it took was a quick glance across the desk. Ruth and I locked eyes, and right then I knew it. We were going.
So two days later, there we stood at the STC station, loading on the bus headed to Nkawkaw, which happened to be running an hour late- just in time for us. Two girls. Two backpacks. A change of clothes and a can of bug spray. Some sunglasses and a pair of spirits thirsty for adventure.
Along for the night was our friend from the UK, Barima, whose family originates in Ghana. He showed up to the bus station… sans bag. That’s right- no change of clothes. No tooth-brush. No bug spray. Nothing. I still wonder what was going through that boy’s head when he decided to travel three hours outside of the city, the night’s resting place still unknown.
But after all, he came- dressed in pin-stripe dress pants, a button up blouse, topped off with a red and white silk scarf resting in a tight knot around his neck. But don’t judge a book by its cover. He was ready for anything.
After a seizure-inducing bus ride we hopped off on a street in the middle of Nkawkaw. Stepping out of the air-conditioned oasis and into mid-day Ghana was a brutal slap in the face. Heat? Hello. Sun. How ya doin?
Barima decided to invest in several necessities. A toothbrush, a package of napkins and a polka-dotted, Gap knock-off blouse. An interesting combination for an interesting fellow.
We asked around about the festival and were directed to the top of the mountain looming over the town’s skyline. As we were headed in that direction, searching for a vacant taxi, I spotted a cargo truck filled with water sachets. My gut flipped over itself in my stomach. I had a feeling.
“Mepakyew,” I said to the driver, which means something like “excuse me” or “please” in Twi. “Are you going up the mountain?”
“Yes! We are! Up there!” He pointed towards the peak.
“Can we go with you?” What am I doing? I thought to myself.
“Yes!” He answered back without hesitation.
So then I motioned over to Ruth and Barima and hopped in the front seat of the truck with Ruth tagging behind me. Barima got the truck bed, which was packed with bags of water sachets, along with four or five Ghanaian workers.
Ruth and I exchanged glances and busted out into deep stomach laughter. I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘This is what you see in movies.’ ‘This is what you read about in books.’
Our truck headed up the incline, barreling around corners and plunging through potholes, the whole time Ruth and I trying to tape or photograph every detail of the journey. I never want to forget how that moment felt. Freedom. The unknown. Just… going with it. Letting the wind take us where it wanted to go.
We got about halfway up the mountain when the trees parted, unveiling one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. The luscious foliage covered the town in green. A fairy-tale fog insulated the mountain side, but I could still see for miles.
Every car or person we passed would playfully shout to us in the front seat, causing the driver to erupt in a fit of laughter. I’m guessing they were saying something like “What are those crazy white girls doing riding in a sachet truck?”
The driver dropped us off in a village nearly at the peak, where the hang gliders launch from. He motioned to a dirt road that lead up to the festival and suggested getting a one- or two-cedi cab ride. As we were trekking up the mountain-side path, a car pulled next to us.
“Are you all going to the festival?” A plump, older man asked us.
“Yes, we are,” we replied, hesitantly.
“Jump in. I’ll give you a ride up.”
So that was our second free ride of the day. And were we fortunate to get it. The road became drowned in dust later on and all the taxis were covered with orange soot- both inside and out. People used anything- bags, hankies, towels- to shield themselves from it. Our car was air-conditioned, not to mention, the driver was a staff worker for the festival so he managed to bypass all the traffic that held countless others up.
The actual festival was a bit of a bummer. People had been signed up for days, waiting for hours on end to fly. The organization somehow managed to mess up the schedule, which actually isn’t at all surprising (this IS Ghana), and now a “waiting list” had been enacted. After writing our names down on a random piece of paper that a woman was holding, conveniently at numbers 77, 78 and 79, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. One guy had been waiting since 8 a.m. the previous day and didn’t get to go yet. And he was number eight.
But watching the hang gliders run off the cliff was pretty intense. An entire plot of land was cleared out and used as a take-off ramp. Only foreigners were actually hang gliding, but hundreds of Ghanaians lined the launch pad, clapping, hooting and hollering every time an oboruni would take off.
After the last jumper we decided to head down the dusty mountain once again, to journey over a few villages, to Ruth’s friend’s grandmother’s house. I was just going along for the ride. But we had a few problems. One, it was getting dark. Two, all the traffic was headed in the opposite direction. Three, we started walking directly into a lightning storm. After we managed to talk a taxi driver into switching directions at the promise of a few extra cedis, we were on our way.
Although it was dark, the bolts from the storm lit up the seemingly endless night sky, illuminating the rolling countryside of African rain forest. The breeze washed over my face. It smelled like rain. With the windows down, the crickets singing sweet, I closed my eyes. It almost felt like riding home from Heisler’s on a summer night.
We eventually arrived at the village and met Kwame’s (Ruth’s friend) grandmother. She was the epitome of a Ghanaian grandmother, by the way. Her skin, leathery and textured, seemed to speak measures. Even though she hardly knew a word of English, her eyes delivered a message of warmth and welcoming love. Perched on a fragile wooden bench, she offered us a room for the night. Her grandson escorted us across the town to where we would stay.
Let me tell you, Easter is one strange holiday here. You’d think (you know with it being a religious holiday and all) they’d be early to bed and early to rise, eager to attend church, but no. On Easter eve, they party. On Easter morning, they party. And they party hard. On our way to the room we found a huge group of locals dancing, drinking, clapping and shouting. The party continued all through the night, long after we laid our heads down to sleep.
Speaking of which, our sleeping arrangements were kind of… out of this world. A random room in an open-air house, nestled deep inside the village. Ruth and I slept on a bed of hay. No, really. The mattress was stuffed with hay and covered in a single sheet. Barima slept on the dirt-covered, deteriorating couch. (A true gentleman. There’s still hope!) And strangely, it was one of the best nights of sleep I’ve gotten in this country.
So after 12 hours of rest and zero mosquito bites later (go me!) we were off again. Sitting in the tro-tro during the ride home I was both disappointed and pleased. On the negative front- no hang gliding. A HUGE bummer. But then again, getting there was the fun of it. How many people can say they’ve hitch hiked up a mountain, witnessed an African lightning storm over the rain forest, been welcomed into a random village by the cutest Ghanaian grandmother ever made and had an amazing night of sleep on a hay bed?
From start to end, I’ll never forget a detail of our mini-journey. A misadventure that turned out to be one of the fondest memories here in Ghana.
Another day, another adventure (that was actually a misadventure). Always.