Ho – City of Clouds

The foyer of Accra Airport is cramped and very light on facilities, but I’m stuck here for around 9 hours; I have an early-morning flight back to a cold English Winter, and it made more sense to overnight here rather than find a hotel and have to rise early.

My last few hours in Ghana have been a little anticlimactic; I got back to Accra around 2.30pm and spent most of the next few hours doing nothing more than just wandering around, ostensibly failing to find anywhere showing live English football until it was getting dark. I did pass through some kind of street market event, with food stalls, fruit giveaways, and street music, but apart from that it was quite a quiet and mellow day.

Street Market in Accra
A street event in Accra. I’m not quite sure whether it was celebrating anything specific, or if it was just something that regularly occurs. Given the number of businesses offering flyers and free stuff though, I presume it was a one-off event.

I’d spend the previous two nights in the Volta Region, in the town of Ho. As a side note, the next major town North of Ho, some 77km away, is called ‘Hohoe’. This would thus be an amusing journey to do, given that it’s just before Christmas; unfortunately the latter is pronounced ‘Ho-Hoy’ …
The Christmas theme was evident on the TV, if not so much in the town itself, with all manner of Christmassy TV idents/jingles, complete with snowmen, sledges, and people wrapped up warm. The juxtaposition of this with walking barefoot in a short-sleeved shirt down the streets in high 20s°C was rather odd … Since the country is well within the tropics, and the highest mountain is smaller than that of the UK, I doubt the average Ghanaian has ever seen snow, much less know what to do with it.

Ho was another of those towns where I’d turned up at the hotel en-spec, hoping it had a spare room – in fact it had several, and I was shown a couple of them before I made my choice of a lower-ground-floor room with a bed that may actually be wider than it was long – big enough for me to lie on without discomfort, and wide enough for three banks of pillows.
The hotel itself (Malisel) was down a wide passageway just off the main road, in the South end of the town and about a 15-min walk from the bus station. In all honesty, I suspect, like the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, it likes to think of itself as more grand than it really is. Maybe it used to be, I don’t know, but while it was a perfectly good, functional, hotel, I just found it a bit ‘faded’ in character, a bit ‘past its prime’. That it was less than half-full probably didn’t help.
In addition, the promised Wi-Fi didn’t work, and hadn’t done for a while, apparently because “Vodafone haven’t got round to fixing it”. Fortunately for my apparent Internet Addiction, there was an Internet Café a little walk down the road opposite, probably less than 3 minutes away.

The main road in Ho, picture taken from near the hotel.

It’s quite a big town, well, bigger than many of the towns I’d passed through on my trip; it used to be the capital of British Togoland before that colony was merged (after a plebiscite) with Gold Coast (Ghana) rather than French Togoland (Togo), much to the dissatisfaction of the Ewe population local to Ho, since the Ewe’s homeland lay both sides of the (future) border. It’s now the capital of the Volta Region of Ghana, which covers most of the SE of the country, and thus serves as a natural market town and trading point for the area, including into Togo, albeit the busiest border between Ghana & Togo lies on the coast, at the edge of Lomé. It made a change to be walking along smooth pavements next to tarmac roads, rather than the rough and broken stones I’d been used to in much of Togo & Benin.

I actually didn’t spend much time looking around Ho itself; I reached the hotel on the Friday in the early afternoon, and left Ho Sunday late morning. Much of Saturday I spent trekking in the local countryside near the village of Amedzofe, some 30km North of Ho. It’s a small village, built on top of a hill – allegedly the highest community in Ghana at a whopping 720m in altitude – but has started to develop a small eco-tourist / backpacker industry & vibe; for a small fee that goes directly to the local village, you can hire guides to take you around the local area.
First on my list was a short hike up to Mount Gemi, one of the highest mountains in Ghana (800m). Although there was supposed to have been a guide with another tourist already on the mountain, I was alone for the whole time I was there. That, plus the hazy grey cloud cover blocking out pretty much most of the view, gave the whole place an eerie, bleak air slightly at odds with the rest of Ghana.

Mount Gemi
Mount Gemi, in the distance, under grey cloud. It didn’t feel as tall or steep to climb as it looks on the picture.

Atop Mount Gemi is a large mysterious cross. This was apparently erected by the local church (a German Evangelical church) to commemorate 50 years of activity in the local area; at the bottom of the cross is an inscription signed by the German Evangelical Missions Institute – the story goes that people began to refer to the mountain as the GEMI mountain rather than its original name (subsequent Internet research suggests the mountain used to be known as ‘Gayito’, which translates as ‘God Defends’ in Ewe).

Mount Gemi Cross
The cross on top of Mount Gemi. Apparently it’s also been used as an aerial.

View from Mount Gemi
The view from the top of Mount Gemi. Cloud cover was quite pervasive, unfortunately.

In the opposite direction from Amedzofe village was a small waterfall, known as Ote; although quite small, in the height of the wet season the flood pool can get quite deep and extensive, though visiting like me during the middle of the dry season means it’s nothing more than a gentle drop. That said, the walk there was very picturesque firstly through cassava plantations, then through a forest and down a reasonably steep hill.

Ote Waterfall
Ote Waterfall. Looks like just a trickle, but beautiful and serene nevertheless.

There was no-one else there apart from me and my guide (the waterfall isn’t signposted, and hidden away, whilst Mount Gemi is pretty obvious), and, just like the waterfall at Womé a couple of days previously, it felt very remote and quiet.

Ote Waterfall
Overview of Ote Waterfall. Obviously in the wet season, much of this is covered in water.

Kpalimé wasn’t far from Amedzofe – 35km-, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that much of the scenery and attractions were very similar either side of the border; for whatever reason though, I found the Amedzofe area more appealing; even though I preferred the actual waterfall at Womé, I much preferred the walk to Ote, and while the view from both Mount Agou and Mount Gemi were disappointingly hazy, I preferred the ‘bleakness’ and the open-ness of the walk up Mount Gemi. Others wouldn’t. But I think the clincher was that I simply preferred Ho & Amedzofe to Kpalimé; the towns were prettier, the people friendlier, and the overall region just felt more appealing.

The grey skies over Mount Gemi were a portent; later on Saturday evening came a really heavy thunderstorm that caused a brief power-cut, knocking out the hotel lights and the Internet Café, but it didn’t last that long – it must have been an unusual occurrence since when I went back to the Café, it was all the staff were talking about.

Sunday saw bluer skies and brighter weather. I took a relaxed walk back to the bus station, poking around at the Northern edge of the town and passing by an outdoor religious service/event which I stopped to people-watch at for a few minutes; everyone was dressed up in Sunday finery and it looked for all the world like some kind of traditional Garden Party type event with preachers. I’d always had the impression Ghana was a strongly religious country and lots of things I’d seen in my time here, from this all the way back to the preacher on the city bus on my first day in Accra.

Sunday Service in Ho
It was a pretty big, outdoor, service, with food laid on and, as you can see, big marquees!

Buses to Accra are quite ‘frequent’, insofar as buses can be frequent in Africa, so I knew I wasn’t rushed – in fact I was happy to arrive in Accra later as it would give me less time to need to waste . Although much of Ho consisted of long roads lined with solid buildings containing shops, the area around the station was littered with market stalls that were often little more than fabric coverings held up with sticks – the merchandise being displayed either on tables, or on rugs on the ground. It was very much a tale of two commercial districts. Not that there was much of interest to me, though I had a final traditional bowl of fufu/chicken from a small table at its entrance, before heading out to catch a bus.

The roads near the bus station in Ho, complete with odd mobile phone advert (the tagline is comparing non-smartphones with mere root vegetables).

The journey out of Ho went much quicker than I’d anticipated, taking fast roads all the way and not even stopping that often. We took a route directly over the Akosombo Dam – created to provide power to the local aluminium industry, and itself creating Lake Volta, the largest man-made lake in the world (by surface area). An impressive construct showing the power humans have over nature, as well as providing jobs, industry, and regeneration to a deprived area, or an environmental blot on the landscape causing an increase in disease, forced evacuation of villages and a loss of agricultural land? You decide …

And so it ends; it’s been an interesting trip of mixed emotions; but overall I’m glad I came to West Africa and I’m mostly largely surprised it’s not somewhere on the typical backpacker radar. Maybe this will change…

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