Visted: 25-27 November 2014
The very name invokes images of vast grasslands, plains with shrubberies, dust-capped faded green mountain ridges, and dense rainforest, all populated by hordes of wild and exotic animals, patrolling, migrating, resting at pools of water, and feeding on each other. Humans, aside from the occasional local tribe, are the interloper, the out-of-place creatures lost amongst the majesty of fauna who live, breed, dominate here.
Except that it’s not like that. At all.
The very fact that Mole National Park even exists is evidence that, insignificant pockets of wilderness aside, Africa very much belongs to humans. A relatively small (research suggests it’s a similar size to Lake Manitoba in Canada, or slightly bigger than the combined area of Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire in the UK) fenced-off segment of forest in an otherwise under-populated and under-resourced backwater of a reasonably small country (Ghana is very slightly smaller than the UK) is the only place in the region where animals such as springbok, crocodile, and elephant are allowed to roam free without the official threat of human predators.
And yet, even this is theoretical – Ghana does not have the resources even in the National Park to definitively prevent poachers from wandering through and killing the wildlife; that the park is fenced off and no humans are allowed to live within its boundaries merely makes poaching slightly more difficult, rather than impossible (it was only an hour’s walk along a particularly gravelsome road from the park to the local village on the main road – no problem for local 4WDs and small trucks – and only a small guard post prevents open access). And of course the rewards for poachers are high – from feeding themselves and their family/friends, all the way up to huge profits from international ivory smuggling. The idea behind Mole National Park is wholesome but one can’t help but feel it’s like sticking a children’s plaster over a crack in a dam.
Although in principle it’s geared up for tourism, apart from one tour party and a random assortment of German backpackers (the majority of whom were living/working in Ghana anyway) the place was pretty empty. The men’s dorm I was staying in was only occupied by one other visitor – in practice though it seemed to be used as the place where the local bus drivers had a quick nap before their early-morning drive back to civilisation (the reason I walked to the village when I left was because the last bus left while the time could still be counted on one hand. While convenient for heading back to Tamale, I wanted to go West and the bus in that direction left much later in the morning. Bed + Walk > Bus + long wait), and the 2-hour truck safari around the park just about had enough people – eight – to be viable.
The dorms in the lodge; this was the male dorm – I believe the female dorm was identical. Behind me to the right was a large shower & bathroom.
In the outdoor seating area at the lodge.
The centrepoint of the site was the lodge; apart from the bedroom blocks, it consisted of a bar, restaurant, long outdoor patio seating area, a small swimming pool, and a handful of tables overlooking the park. It seems to be built on top of a cliff, so the vista is quite sweeping, if a little monochrome (faded green, in this case). The menu for the restaurant wasn’t that long, and apart from a couple of nods to Ghanaian cuisine mostly catered to tourist tastes (and wallets – around 20 Cedis a meal; they still owe me 1 Cedi in fact due to them not having change!). That said, it was reasonably good quality – the only downside being slightly slow service, but with a view like that, it wasn’t a major issue.
The view out from the lodge, looking over the park itself.
Now, I’m not really an animal-spotter, and the idea of going ‘on-safari’ in the traditional sense isn’t one I’m that interested in; I can understand the appeal for a day or so, but after a while of peering into the distance and going ‘is that a lion? No, it’s a bush!’, I’d imagine I’d get a little bored. One might well ask the question then: Why am I in Mole at all? I guess because it was there, because I was passing by it anyway so I thought it would be an interesting distraction; something different. Plus it was relatively cheap (as Safaris go) – 40 Cedis for the dorm, 30 to get into the Park, and 80 or so for each of the two trips within the Safari I did.
The first trip was atop a 4WD truck. We all sat on top as we bounced uncomfortably along the trails, tracing a very weird routing through the park involving a lot of dead ends (despite the park map indicating some circular routes). Most of the ‘road’ took us through woodland, but here and there were pockets of grassland where we could spot mainly wildebeest and springbok in the distance, as well as the occasional large bird overhead. Unfortunately we didn’t see any bigger creatures; even the crocodiles in the large pool we stopped near seemed to be keeping clear of us today. Despite that, it was a nice introduction to the area; while it never felt entirely ‘wild’, I could certainly see what they are trying to do here.
The 4WD truck we went on the road safari with – we were all sat on the top of it and felt every pothole.
The other trip was a more local walking safari, exploring the area around the safari’s lodge with a local guide (complete with gun, in case of poachers as well as rogue animals) and only one other tourist. It was more interesting than the truck safari despite its smaller range, as it felt a bit more ‘real’ – clambering over muddy ditches and through dry scrub to see both the landscape and the animals that lived within at much closer quarters.
In fact the walk need only have lasted five minutes, as no sooner had we reached the bottom of the escarpment the lodge stood on, we were greeted by an elephant. In the wild. There’s probably not much else that could have happened for the rest of the two hour walk that would have matched that. As I say, I’m not an animal spotter, but come on; coming face-to-face with such an impressive beast is at least worth a few minutes, even for me.
Mostly, the rest of the walk was dominated by wildebeest. Again, crocodiles failed to make an appearance, although we did at least this time see tell-tale ‘bubbles’ under the water so we knew they were there. We also saw evidence of a second elephant, its location given away by the trees in the midground swaying and rustling rather more than nature intended, although it never made an appearance, possibly thankfully as they can run quite quick for a big beast.
The first elephant wasn’t the closest I came to the safari’s animals however. In the car park of the lodge, a family of warthogs seemed to like sleeping under the minibuses – they seemed friendly and paid us not a second glance as we walked past them, but instead grunted merrily away.
The most active animals though were the resident monkeys. They tended to sit on the periphery of the lodge’s outdoor dining area, waiting for their moment to strike. As soon as they saw something was unattended or not being used, they would creep up, try to grab it, then rush away. The only thing of mine they swiped was an empty bag of banana peel, though they did try to have a go at one of my small backpacks.
I suppose you want to see the animals now …