A Foot Safari at the Mole National Park
Ghana is not blessed with the expansive savannahs of nations like Tanzania or South Africa, and you won't find families of gorillas hiding in its jungles, like you might in Rwanda or Uganda. But this is still a large African nation, and as such, there's plenty of amazing wildlife to be seen. The biggest and best of Ghana's numerous national parks is Mole, which occupies a sizable 5000 square kilometer chunk of the country's northwest. We spent two nights in the park.
Visitors to Mole have a couple options for accommodation: the Mole Motel, and the more upscale Zaina Lodge. We split the difference, booking a night in each. First up was the motel, where we checked in after lunch. We had enough time to unpack, and take a quick dip in the pool, with its magnificent view over a watering hole. Down below, we could spot antelopes refreshing themselves, and baboons hanging out; we couldn't wait to get down there ourselves, and see them from a closer distance.
On our way to the park's visitor center, we were stopped dead in our tracks by a massive warthog. The animal paid us no mind, completely focused on its hunt for juicy tufts of grass, which he would then drop down onto his forearms to enjoy. Our safari hadn't even begun yet, and already we were encountering classic African wildlife! Just past the warthog, a couple monkeys were digging through the trash. The animals of Mole have, apparently, decided that humans pose no real threat, and were not at all spooked by our presence.
Safaris are well-known for their exorbitant price tags, so I almost couldn't believe that our walking safari would cost just $2 per person. Sure, getting into the park costs a little more than that, and you almost have to certainly stay the night, which isn't super cheap... but even so, the price tag of a safari at Mole is within a completely different sphere than in other African countries. And although you're not going to spot giraffes, or watch as lions hunt down zebra, you're still going to have an amazing time... that is, at least, if our experience was any indication.
The tour started off downhill, as we descended from the motel to the watering hole. We saw the antelopes, monkeys and warthogs we had spotted from atop the bluff, and then continued deeper into the jungle. Our guide's stated mission was to track down elephants, and he was confident about our chances. Following their trail, he pointed out a broken branch here, or a stamped pile of leaves over there. After about thirty minutes, I was starting to become skeptical about his methods... I certainly wasn't seeing the same "signs" he was finding; there are broken branches everywhere! But then, we heard a flurry of activity ahead of us, and pushed quickly forward. Staring directly at us, maybe eight meters away, were three massive African elephants. Our guide knew what he was doing, after all.
The group was comprised of one older specimen and two youths, all of them male. One of the younger elephants, his eyes locked on us, head-butted a good-sized tree, rending it to the ground with a deafening crash. "He wants to intimidate us," said our guide. Mission accomplished! This tree had hit the ground not far from where we were standing, and I suddenly felt very exposed. But after that show of strength, all three elephants settled down and continued eating leaves, occasionally spraying themselves with chewed-up leaf-spit to keep cool. They always kept an eye on us, but didn't seem to care too much about our picture-taking.
On our way back to the watering hole, we spotted an even bigger group, this time of females, though they were farther away. Besides the elephants we managed to spot a number of other animals, including the Bateleur Eagle, the bizarre Hamerkop, the African Fish-Eagle, warthogs, vultures and crocodiles.
We made it back to the lodge just as the sun was starting to set. We had been worried about seeing anything in the heat of the day; apparently the walking tour is better in the early morning. But this couldn't have gone better, and was an exhilarating start to our time in Mole.