Sunday, March 8, 2009

Monkey business

March 4th
Tafi Atome, Ghana

Our time in Ghana finished with a two day excursion through the part of Ghana near the Togo border. The plan was to tour the mountainous area east of the Volta river. There were several attractions near the regional capitol, Ho and the larger city of Hohoe. Joseph wanted us to see the monkey sanctuary at Tafi Atome and West Africa's tallest waterfall, Wli falls. We traveled from Kumasi to Ho on Tuesday afternoon, arriving at a guest house around 8 or 9 PM. After an early breakfast the next morning we left for the monkey sanctuary, stopping along the roadside to buy 2 bunches of bananas with which to lure the Mona monkeys. We arrived at the reserve after a one and a half hour drive north of Ho, turning down a dirt road stopping in a small settlement.

We pulled up in the shade of a Mango tree. Large-leafed and dark green, its trunk was gnarled and its branches were filled with baby green mangoes. Bamboo benches spread out underneath the tree. After checking in at the reception center and paying the requisite 9 Cedis charged non-Ghanaians, we were told that the walk would take 45 minutes. With our guide, we set off back up the road we had come down. After about 50 yards we came to the entrance to the path into the jungle. Carrying the bananas, the guide made kissing sounds to attract the monkeys. Before we ever stepped off the roadway into the forest, the monkeys came. First a few, then an entire troop of monkeys braved the sight of strangers for the the irresistible yellow bananas. As they grabbed the fruit, they peeled it, breaking off pieces of banana, popping them into their mouths. Some were shy and some fearless. Some carried their prize into the trees and some ate the fruit on the spot. As some monkeys from another troop approached from further up the road the larger monkeys from the troop near us put up their tails and advanced into the roadway to fend off the invaders. We were unaware of the two large monkeys who had climbed far out on some tree branches above our heads. They were making high pitched barking sounds whose meaning was clear even to us non-monkeys. After the invaders had cleared off and the bananas were almost gone, we were still on the roadway, not even having gone into the jungle. One of us asked, “Can we still go into the jungle to see the monkeys?” Our guide looked at us quizzically and said, “There won't be any monkeys in the jungle.” When we asked why she said, “Because they came here instead.” Duh.

It turns out that the Mona Monkey is revered in this part of the forest. Once viewed as sacred messengers to the turtles, the monkeys were decimated by religious and other conflicts. This reserve at Tafi Atome was established by the Ghanaian government to rebuild the population and protect the monkeys. The Mona monkeys are the only primates who live in this part of the forest. No Mona monkey has ever been taken from the reserve. In fact there is a legend that an Englishman once took one of the monkeys to England to keep, but that monkey, the story goes, came back to the forest from which it came and none has ever left again.

A bit hungry, we snacked on the left-over bananas and climbed back into the car for our trip to the water fall. Knowing the uncertainty of travel, it was hard not to worry about getting to the airport on time, but the forest was so beautiful and the drive so interesting, I soon stopped fretting. (To be continued)

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