I Am Free.
I Have Learnt the Truth of My Freedom.
I Have Felt the Power of Falls.
I took myself off one morning on an expedition deeper into the lush Volta Region.
A place where mountains rise to blue skies flecked with fluttering bats, trees grow apparently to the heavens, and monkeys come down to greet you as you pass by on foot. Here, there is a wilderness. Here, there is another way of life. Here, there is a chance to delve deeper into the World, the World you somehow knew existed, but didn’t fully believe…
Ghana is wild, alive. No matter how hard history has been to her land and her people, Ghana shines with Creation.
Bright, unfiltered, vibrant spirit. This land has awakened me.
As I arrived at the small village of Logba Alekpeti, I climbed down from the hot, congested tro-tro (local bus), thanked the locals inside who helped me find where to get off, and began making my way through the rural town. Kids lined the side of the road, waving and calling out to me as I passed, the only white man in sight. Beaming, happy, crazy faces all turning your direction, like flowers in the sun.
I had been travelling for many hours, I was hungry, and by chance I found my way into the heart of the town market. Bustle. Noise. Colour. Heat. Fragrance. Sweat. Perfect chaos. I began asking locals where I could get some food to eat; most were selling raw fish, grains, veg and fruits. Instantly many people began offering me help, something I have grown used to when travelling in Ghana, and Africa generally. Soon I was led to a little stool selling bowls of rice and pepper sauce, waving and chatting with many people as I passed. I sat down on the wooden bench with other locals from the village and asked for a serving of whatever she had that didn’t have meat in it. “It’s very spicy,” said the lady in charge of the stool, smiling widely and heaping up a big bowl of food. I didn’t care, I was too hungry… and I ended up shovelling three bowls into my mouth while people watched on, astonished at the speed this lone white man could eat, and at his apparent immunity to (extremely!) spicy food.
There’s always something special about being in remote parts of the world, where you are the only person of your nationality or race around for miles, where you have only local people, village folk and passersby to rely on, word of mouth and your instincts to guide you. No books or maps. Just your little notepad where you jot snippets of information: people’s names, places and happenings you don’t want to forget. The word is Trust. You trust. You are not exactly sure what you are trusting in, but you trust all the same, as you see the everyday magic of life miraculously unfold around you. As you see things just falling into place, as if they were planned, as if they are part of some greater scheme…
Those smiles you encounter along your Journey imprint deeply on your memory. You could never forget such a place as Ghana, the brightly smiling West Coast of Africa. And somehow, you feel Ghana will never forget you either…
Next I made my way to the edge of the main street (a dirt road) and arranged a local guide to take me on the back of his motorbike to the next village, Tafi Atome.
We whizzed through pristine scenery, quintessential rural Africa flashing by – mud and straw houses, free roaming fowl and goat, shoe-less children playing around old sacred trees. Soon the surrounding forest began to thicken, and I knew I was approaching my destination.
The village of Tafi Atome lies in the centre of a great ‘horseshoe’ of protected forest, which has been sacred to the local tribe, Bagbor tribe, for hundreds of years. Before Christianity smothered most of the indigenous fetish practices, the people of Tafi Atome worshipped the local population of Mona Monkeys as their gods, their messengers and their ancestors. Thankfully this unique relationship has survived until this day, and it was this that I had come to see.
It is the only place in the entire world where you can see the unique and rare True Mona Monkey in its natural habitat. No cages, zoos or enclosures – just nature and unique African culture.
Francis Kwame Acquaye, leader of the movement to conserve and protect the forest and the True Mona, greeted me at the village’s humble welcome office, where local crafts and handwoven Kente cloth were on sale. Francis helped me to organise my stay in the village with a local family, and the rest of my itinerary during my time at Tafi Atome. Francis has since become a very good friend to me, and has offered me much advice whilst I travel the more unexplored parts of rural Ghana. I have come back to his village three times now, each time amazed at this symbiotic relationship between man and nature, and his tireless work to preserve it for future generations.
He is a great travelling ally, a true man of Soul, and a trustworthy and knowledgeable guide who I would highly recommend to anybody wishing to travel to Ghana’s more unexplored areas. (See contact details below).
And of course, Ghanaian hospitality is simply incomparable.
Meet Vinolia Dzandu, my host Aunty during my stay with the Tafi people… and forever a friend.
My stay in her house, with the beautifully kept tropical gardens, ancient mud buildings from the first generations of tribespeople in the village, her home-cooked food and stories of the area, was just utter bliss. Vinolia was such easy company, felt like someone I’d known for a lifetime, just like Francis, and evenings spent strolling through the village – moonlight and flocks of fruit bats swirling overhead, the air hot and thick with impressive humidity, as I was introduced to important villagers and friends, children and elders – to me these memories are just perfectly sacred. She took me one night to meet her Father, the oldest man in the village, known Leonard, a chief and fetish priest of 99 years. We walked to his house on the edge of the village and held audience for a short time on his patio, with no mutual language, yet somehow talking and sharing an ancient kind of soul.
This man, of 99 years, had seen more changes in his lifetime than I could possibly imagine. It was an absolute honour to meet such a gentle, connected spirit. An aged, frail body, yet a strongly-beating heart. How I was inspired. Still am.
People. Meetings with people change your life so totally and completely.
No matter how far you travel, how different you imagine you are, it is obvious we share something special in this life, in this chance of existence. We are One Humanity, One burning Fire of Creation.
One People. One Expression. One Love.
We Are One.
They can try, but they can’t take that away from us.
Francis lead me one morning to finally meet the Ancestors.
We entered the forest alone, walking down narrow pathways, our eyes glancing around to the tops of the tallest trees, waiting to see signs of movement. Francis began making a sort of squeaking noise with his mouth, and soon after his calls were answered…
Trees began to sway and rustle, and I started spotting these beautiful little monkeys coming down to greet us. It was a moment I had been waiting a long time for. Before I even had a chance to reach into my bag for a banana one jumped on my back, the chief of the monkey tribe, who always leads the way. Soon there were many, each taking turns to climb all over me, the others waiting in the lower branches of the trees. It was like a hit of ecstasy – I was high, smiling wide and goofy. A simple meeting of new energies, and I was totally fired up! There was simply no need to work hard to smile for the camera that day. I was in awe, deep respect, didn’t care that these were wild creatures. Not a flinch. The Mona are adorable! I couldn’t stop laughing at them, somehow with them… they were the ones eating all my bananas – joke’s on me!
This is how I like to party…
One time, I was leaving the forest, about to re-enter the village I’d so learnt to love when a group of American tourists went passed. One of them made a comment about how the animal kingdom was ‘not for her’. So sad, I thought. How much joy the animal kingdom has brought, and still brings, to me. So sad how so many people put barriers around themselves in life, and, simply, miss out on a chance to smile, to simply be, One.
I was astonished to see one of the larger monkeys drop something from a tree one time. I ran over to look and found a baby squirrel squealing on its back. So I gently picked it up and took it to one of the village superiors who promised to try to care for it and re-introduce it into the forest… usual monkey business… the monkeys are often coming out of the forest and into the village to cause trouble. Sometimes, I would get my bananas from the market, but wouldn’t even make it to the forest – monkeys were already jumping across the village rooftops to get to my feast.
You know, many people come to the village of Tafi Atome for an hour, take a quick tour of the forest, see a couple of monkeys and leave. But I highly recommend staying with local people whenever you travel in Africa. Learning about their way of life, their history, interpretation of this Life Gift – these people will change your life. You will never look at stars the same way again. You will never laugh or cry the same way. You will never sing, or dance, the same way.
For better or worse, Africa will change you. All depends on your will, and the Will of the One who first spoke Creation, and brought all our will and matter into being. It is there, always, part of your every move, and yet so many people cannot see it or feel it, denying the very core of what we are, and what we are meant to be. In my experience Africans don’t really do small talk with me – we talk deep, say what we really feel, challenge each other, talk of our wildest dreams, beliefs and prophesies. Africans don’t recoil at the mention of God, in whichever name you refer to him, they in fact delight at any chance to praise our Creator, the Creation, the Created. In many ways, these are more my people than most Westerners.
I spent an evening around the fire, elders came down and read local folktales whilst youngsters played drums, sang and danced around the fire. I joined in with the younger generation and forgot all about who I was, where I had come from, the colour of my skin and the histories of my land. We were all the same in those moments. As nature intended.
For a moment I was part of the story of this village, Tafi Atome, I danced and sung as their ancestors did before, walked with their people, ate their food and revered their local gods and nature. I was happy in my soul, fulfilled and satisfied… and yet it was time to move. To, once again, say goodbye and get back on the road… more was calling out to me.
Thank you Tafi Atome, for memories like Gold Dust, settling in the deep places of my mind. Forever.
To organise your own stay in the village of Tafi Atome with the tribespeople and villagers, wildlife excursions, moonlight dances, performance and storytelling, contact Manager and Tour Guide Francis Kwame Acquaye directly at Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary and Cultural Village, Box 492, Hohoe V/R, Ghana. +233245457979/+233245458170
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Or contact me directly at email@example.com for assistance and advice.
The Power of Falls is never to be underestimated.
Neither is Friendship.
Not far from the villages of Tafi lies an area known as Wli.
I took my first journey here alone.
Travelled by local bus, got off at the village and began to walk on foot. I arranged a guide to take me to what is known as the Upper Falls, the first of two connecting waterfalls that together make the highest falls in West Africa. I came that day for the Waters of Life…
We began our ascent up the steep mountain via wet, uneven pathways, winding around trees, huge rocks and sharp mountain slopes. It was exhausting. But I was determined, as usual, sweat cascading down my face, my back, arms reaching out for every available branch or rock to pull myself quicker through this battle-like journey.
We stopped momentarily in an old ruined mudhouse, for water, to catch breath, some shade; but only for a moment.
We powered on. I was dirty and tired. I couldn’t help but notice a thin green snake slithering tightly around a branch just above my head, as I passed. Thoughts of Eden came to mind. Eventually the first view of the Falls came into sight. A whole landscape suddenly opened up before me of rich green, a lush paradise, and I realised I had finally scaled the mountainside. My reward…
My paced quickened considerably as I ascended down to the pool, throwing off my clothes and passing my camera to the guide. I rushed into the cool waters, breathing deeply and fully, as rainbows of colour danced before my eyes as multitudinous flecks of water clashed with strong sunlight. I was all alone in the waters. In awe of powerful nature bursting all around me with this strength of life I’d been searching for, waiting for, hoping for.
It did exist, after all, this private paradise, this true and deep connection to a greater nature and spirit. I was there, I could feel it, it wasn’t some dream or fantasy.
This was Life.
After trekking back down the mountain, exhausted, I made my way to the nearest lodge, Waterfall Lodge, was greeted by the genteel German owners, found a room, and sat on the terrace, as the sun began to go down. I watched the sky and the towering mountain for some time, until eventually I noticed faint silhouettes floating across the heavens, sparse flocks of bats flying across the moonlit sky.
I was satisfied with my experience of the Falls, but somehow it wasn’t over. I couldn’t properly rest, I needed something more…
The next morning I woke up early, before even breakfast was being served. I checked-out of my room and began hiking back towards the forest – the area of thick tropical woodland surrounding the falls. I didn’t feel hungry, or even tired. I just had to get back to that Water.
The walk along through the forest was breath-taking, and nature delighted me with many of her fruits, ushering me back into this kingdom.
This time I didn’t take the mountain path but headed directly to the Lower Falls. It was early, and as I arrived a great flock of large bats was swirling in the morning sun.
There was nobody about, just the bats above, the towering mountains around, and the falls, thundering down. Strong yet serene. So I put my things behind some rocks out of sight, took off all my clothes and ran into the cool waters, naked. It was exhilarating. One of those moments your panting body and dizzying mind will never forget.
I stood as close as I could beneath the mighty falls and bellowed the Lord’s Prayer at the top of my lungs, soaked in the intense and immense power of this Nature all around. No prejudice, no judgement, no beginning of me and ending of the One. Togetherness, completion, absolute submission to our mutual Genesis.
And that is how I spent my 25th birthday. My Quarter Century, completed.
I didn’t really leave that day. Part of me stayed behind… rested and waited, for some eventual return to reclaim this gifted part of my soul.
But little did I know I would be back so soon…
One lesson Africa has taught me?
The power of Friendship is never to be underestimated.
Travelling alone is one thing, an experience I believe we all must have at some point in our lives, at many points perhaps, but sharing everything – your food, money, clothes, equipment, laughs, smiles, tears and pains – your every emotion, fear, physical and mental experience – sharing yourself with another on a journey through a land such as Africa, now that is a whole new dimension.
She came to me and said She wanted to go to Africa, to Senegal especially, from where She has friends. So I made Her a deal – come to Ghana with me, and I will come to Senegal with You. We threw The Gambia in the mix for this trip too, and the rest just sort of fell into place.
That was Madrid in a cold February, over coco and cigarettes on the terrace, this is Ghana in a hot, humid June…
I was back. Like no time had really passed at all. Like I hadn’t even left. Walking through the village of Wli seeing familiar faces waving and shouting across the street, the mountains looming in the distance, and the forests calling my name…
“Come with me,” I said, “there’s somewhere I have to show You.”
As we reached the falls we both gasped. The rains had been falling heavily and the waters poured down into the land thick and fast. We took our clothes off – again nobody was around – some kind of miracle – and we became Children of Nature. Pure. Unfiltered. Together in this great and beautiful messy expression of the world.
The mist swirled. The air was thick and wet with this lifeforce. I watched, astonished, as She came through the void, and became a goddess before my eyes. A champion among men. A friend.
The bats ceased to fly, clinging to the rock face for shelter from this storm. We shed the people that we show to the outside world, and became simple beings, moving through air and water, living free in a moment eternal, passing but enduring, transitioning yet still.
We just became He and She. No less, no more.
Then, walking back through the forest, finding our return to civilisation, we met the Rastaman. I’d seen him before, walking amongst the forest, collecting leaves and herbs. He leaves his marks among tree, river and dell. If you meet him, you will Know…
He lives in a small house, a garden of paradise, among the trees. The villagers know him only as Rastaman. The African Herbsman. He invited us to stay for a night in his oasis.
What happened there, I’m not exactly sure.
Was it in fact a dream, or mirage?
Can all of this be a fantasy conjured in the mind of a creative mentality?
Can all of the beauty and pain in this dichotomic world really exist?
Sometimes I try to put into words my experiences, in pictures and words. It is never enough for me; to capture the true depth of these chance and fateful happenings is impossible. But it expresses something, at least. It aids the imagination. Transports and transposes some of the elements from page through to brain. The rest is up to the reader…
Sometimes sharing a story is all it takes – giving expression.
Life has a plan for all, even if we do not fully understand it.
We sat and talked for hours in the House of the Rastaman. We exchanged gifts – bracelets and rings and crafts of our own making. We discussed life, love, the One. We washed together in the river at the end of his garden, smoked throughout the day and night, watched stars appear, heavy rains fall, the deep sounds of the forest stirring through the long dark. We shared his food and hospitality and become a brotherhood.
The next morning he had a final gift for us. With a clean blade and charcoal from different plants he’d collected in the forest and ritually prepared with fire, he made fine cuts in our skin and smeared blood with the black powder, hailing us true brothers and African Herbsman.
Our marks are still visible today. Our memory of our time in Wli buried deep beneath the skin.
Memories may fade. But the mark remains.
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