Friday, April 9, 2010

The Easter Hippo does not leave you chocolate

This is how I spent my Eater 2010...
The hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse", is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae. The hippopotamus is the third largest land animal. The only place to find Hippos in Ghana is in the Upper West Region in Wechiau. The Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary encompasses a 40 km stretch of the Black Volta River.

The Peace Corps Volunteer (Volunteerius sapiens) or PCV, from the ancient Greek for "crazy foreigner", is a dirty but interesting, mostly herbivorous mammal all over the world that would take a 60km bumpy tro ride, bike 18km in the sun, in 110 degrees, sleep on a roof, take a 30 min boat ride all to see the hippopotamus while it sleeps. Character building? Maybe. Did anything go as planned? No. Did that stop us? Absolutely not. (The photo above btw was taken NOT while riding and therefore allowed the wonderful volunteers to remove their helmets for a photo opportunity. You should always wear a helmet)

So here is what happened. We finally got to Wechiau. We were excited, ready to ride out into the wilderness, sleep in a tree fort above the river and maybe even hear the hippos come out at night. At least that's what I pictured happening. I couldn't wait for this hippo adventure and we even brought all of our own food. About 50 mangoes, bananas, beans, onions, tomatoes, bread, salt (of which I would add way way too much but I'm arguing it was to keep us hydrated).

Anyway the guide quickly informs us that a group of Canadians has arrived just before us and has taken both the tree houses. This leaves us with what the brochure calls, "camping" and the "lodge". Now, the guide tells us we can't camp without a tent. Policy. So we're thinking, "We did not ride all the way out here to sleep in a lodge. There is no such thing as policy in Ghana and we want to rough it damn it! And we're poor and camping is way cheaper. Plus we're used to sleeping in rough places. We've been here for months!" So we argue with the guide until he realizes he's not going to convince us to stay in the lodge so we are now camping at our own risk and then we move on to the topic of bikes.

There are no bikes. They're finished, they're spoiled, they're trying to get new ones...We should take the tro ride. Are you kidding!!! We wanted to rough it and we don't even get to do the bike ride out there as promised?! Our pride and integrity is on the line here. We're no Canadians taking the nice van ride out to the nice tree houses. No, we are Peace Corps Volunteers. We will ride whatever two-wheeled thing they give us to ride and we will sleep with the hippos!! So somehow they round up 5 bikes. Or what used to be bikes. With what used to be bike seats. 18km ride...I'm thinking, "No big deal". Turns out it would have been no big deal if we had bikes with seats, or gears, or brakes. But no problem. No turning back now. I'm pretty sure both ways were uphill but its difficult to tell now that all is said and done.

Sore, tired, and ready to eat a million mangoes (thanks Jeff!) we drink water, chat, and then make dinner. Night time comes around and we realize we don't want to sleep on the ground. So we convince our guide to let us sleep on the roof. This is where we slept. Mosquito nets and all. Not bad not bad.

6:00am. We grab life vests, bikes, water, very very sore butt bones, and make our way to the river. Even if things don't go as planned, which is about 90% of the time, at least nothing can change things in this world from being beautiful. The river is peaceful yet alive with fishermen hoping for a good day, insects are soaring just on the waters surface and kids are splashing on the banks. The river is surrounded by lush, full greenery and there are a variety of birds singing and flying above us.....stop, wait (one of those record screeching skipping noises when something has gone wrong) the Canadians took our boat. Seriously, we were losing our happy feelings for our neighbors to the North. So we have to leave our guide behind to fit in a smaller boat and the rower only speaks Wali. Good thing Jeff has been doing a lot of Wali speaking lately and manages to translate a little throughout the trip. We saw about 4 or 5 hippos sleeping and relaxing in the cool water.

So we saw our hippos. I had a good time. I'm proud of us. Would I have done anything differently? Yes, gotten there an hour before the Canadians.

My hippo trip was followed by an official trip to Accra. I cannot even begin to explain the differences between Accra and Jirapa. I could easily explain the price differences! But I got to see a movie "Shutter Island" (Leo Decaprio!) which was a nice break from reality with air conditioning. And I got my hair washed and cut and blow dried for the first time in 10 months...Ecstasy! Anyway its back to work! This last picture is for Lindsey's Mom :).