That Time I Thought I Was Going To Be Murdered By A Baboon (And Other Safari Stories)

A bit delayed but…

Back on Easter weekend, I went on my second African safari! Here’s the story. It’s long and chronological. Deal. 

I’ll be honest, I was a little on the fence about heading up North to go on safari. In Kenya a year and a half ago, I spent thousands of dollars on a fantastic safari in Maasai Mara National Park, and West Africa notoriously lags behind both South and East Africa in their safari infrastructure. In Ghana, there just aren’t that many of the ‘Big 5’ left to support those expensive trips so ubiquitous in Kenya….excepting one. Elephants(!). 

I’m a bit obsessed with elephants. I volunteered in Thailand at an amazing organization called Elephant Nature Park, and there I was exposed to the incredible cruelty many of the big guys encounter. I learned about their incredible memories, their tight family bonds, and their amazing intelligence. To train an elephant, you must break their spirit- by separating them from their families at a very young age, relentlessly torturing them, etc. I met several elephants who had been blinded by their “owners” with a stick, some who had broken their backs trying to haul huge amounts of lumber, and others with clearly broken hearts. Anyway, I have a soft spot in my heart for the largest land mammal, and I urge you to never, ever partake in a tourist activity that involves riding an elephant, having them paint a picture, and the like. It’s not worth the suffering. 

So! Yes. Knowing that Mole National Park had elephants was really all I needed to know. Money shmoney, right?! Who needs real groceries when you have ramen?!

The plan was to make the trip with my Canadian roommate and her friend from Germany. While the trip can be made overland, it takes about 13 hours and is notoriously horrendous, so we decided to take the short flight instead because we are divas. For the equivalent of about $150, we bought the round trip ticket from Accra to Tamale in the North. 

Unfortunately, the night before we were to leave, my poor roommate came down with a typhoid-like illness (TIA), and as she checked into the hospital and was hooked up to IVs, it became clear she wasn’t going to be able to make the flight early the next morning. 

With heavy hearts, the German girl who I had met only once before and I talked over the phone about whether we should still go, and with the blessing of my sick roommate, we eventually decided to go ahead. 

Dark and early the next morning at 4:30am, I headed to the airport for my first domestic flight within Africa. I hate small airplanes in general so I was a tad nervous, but besides some intense turbulence that may have led to some desperate prayers to an unknown entity, we eventually landed safe and sound in Tamale.

Looking out the airplane window, it was clear this area was nothing like busy Accra: miles of green, with very, very few houses in sight. 

Unfortunately, as we landed we also realized it was raining, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal but it is when you’re about to go on safari. When it rains, animals don’t have to go to the large, viewable water holes in the park, and instead they can stay hidden within the forest. I had heard several stories of people making the long trip up North to see nothing larger/cooler than an antelope, so the dread grew with each drop. 

As we arrived in downtown Tamale, we took refuge into a small chop bar (food stall), and slowly ate some spicy local dishes. The Metro Bus from Tamale to Mole National Park leaves Tamale at 2pm, so we had several hours to wait. We were able to wander a bit when the rains let up, and we strolled past several huge mosques. The North of Ghana has a much larger Muslim population than the South, and it’s also more traditional in many ways. Surrounding Tamale, there are many communities of circular, thatched-roof mud huts, which you don’t see in Accra. 

DSC01617

Finally our bus arrived and we prepared ourself for the bumpy, dusty, 4-8 hour ride ahead of us. Approximately 5 hours of filling our lungs with dirt later, we arrived at Mole National Park in the dark. We had a dorm all to ourself, and we signed up for the walking safari early the following morning. At dinner we met several students from the US who were planning on taking the same safari, so we made fast friends as it’s so easy to do in those situations. 

With cameras in hand, we all met up at the information office early the next day, but the fog was so thick it was hard to see six feet in front of you, never mind a pretty view or a herd of elephants. Cue mental exclamations of “NOOOOO,” plus some crossed fingers. The rest of the group rented gum boots as the terrain had become quite muddy after the rains, but I chose to keep my sneakers on after reading stories of those uncomfortable boots. “Trust me, these shoes have been through much worse,” I said, and it’s totally true. I once danced in ankle-deep cow dung in those shoes, but that’s another story. 

DSC01453

As the fog receded, the excitement grew. I took out my cell phone. 

“I’m totally live tweeting this safari guys,” I said. Obviously. 

Minutes later, we were instructed to silently stalk through the forest behind our guide. “An elephant slept there last night,” the guide whispered, pointing to a huge indentation in the mud.

Seconds later….bam! Elephant! I jumped for joy. 

The following hour consisted of baboons, warthogs, and various kinds of antelope. I chatted with our guide, asking him questions like, “Have you ever had to use your gun?” and “Have you ever been scared?” (answers: no and no). Eventually we began to head down a steep incline, and the land became noticeably wetter. I heard a faint human squeal ahead of me and then BAM BAM BAM! A group of TEN elephants! Bathing in the watering hole! AHHH!! I was busy tweeting something similar when one of the elephants mock charged us, leading our guide to yell and clap in response.

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 10.46.14 AM

Clearly, we were all too busy taking selfies to realize our life could be in danger.

 

My selfies were too embarrassing to post

My selfies were too embarrassing to post

After gazing at elephant bums and taking way too many photos, our group headed back up the incline, this time on the other side of the watering hole. That was the end of my first safari is West Africa. This is how I felt after:

DSC01511

For a grand total of $15 (almost definitely one of the cheapest safaris in Africa), it was an unforgettable experience. 

By that time, the African sun was beating down and the skies were blue, revealing a stunning view from Mole Motel, where we were staying. After some relaxing by the pool overlooking the herd of elephants below, my German friend and I decided to take a short siesta in the dorm (the heat makes siestas a necessary indulgence). 

As she dozed on the bed next to me, I decided to stand on the back deck of our room and call my parents. I was describing to my Mom the cute little troop of monkeys spread out in front of me, when something to my right caught my eye. I swiveled my head and saw a giant baboon on the deck, heading straight for me. I hung up the phone and ran inside the room, with my heart in my throat. Closing the door, I woke up my friend and said something along the lines of, “Holy crap a giant baboon just chased me into the room!!!!!” Right at that second, the door burst open. 

Now, I’ve never quite seen my life flash before my eyes before that moment, but I now know how I instinctively react in emergencies. I completely freeze. 

I watched as my friend leapt into motion, grabbing her camera right as the giant baboon jumped onto her bed, scanning the surrounding. All I could think of was those articles I read about their strength, their teeth….omg omg omg. He was standing one foot from me and he clearly knew what he was doing. As we shook and squealed, he seemed relaxed and calculating. “Is that food? Hmm that doesn’t look yummy. What are these two humans going on about? Weirdos.”

He quickly grabbed the red box of crackers beside her on the bed, and ran out of the room. She jumped up and closed the door, and all the while I was standing shell shocked with my mouth wide open. 

Obviously, we immediately started screaming. 

I posted a frantic Facebook post (social media clearly runs my life), and pushed every heavy thing in the room against the door. 

spelling mistake because it's hard to type while screaming

spelling mistake because it’s hard to type while screaming

DSC01537

We then heard noises at the front door on the other side of our room, looked at each other, and both sprinted to lock it. Leaning against the door imagining death by monkey, I couldn’t believe what just happened. A BABOON broke INTO our HOTEL ROOM. When does that happen? Insanity.  

We had scheduled a driving safari at 3:30pm, and with less than an hour to go, we couldn’t imagine how we were going to leave the room. Eventually, we built up the courage and sneakily crept out the front door. 

“Holy crap. We’ve entered the Planet of the Apes,” was all I could say.

On the field in front of us, at least 30 baboons spread out in a line. There were big ones, small ones, fighting ones, the works. To our left, to our right, they were everywhere, surrounding the hotel. All while trying not to make eye contact with any monkeys (that’s a thing right?) we scurried along the walkway towards the reception area. Thankfully, the baboons didn’t seem too interested in us at the time, and we were able to reach our destination unscarred (physically at least). 

Our driving safari experience was definitely a good distraction from the minor heart attacks we had just experienced- holding on for dear life on top of a moving vehicle tends to refocus your energy. Though we didn’t see as many animals as we had during our walking safari, we did see an elephant and her baby in the bushes, as well as a large lizard that sneakily tried to camouflage into the bushes. 

No seat belts, of course.

No seat belts, of course.

 The rest of the weekend was spent by the pool making friends, and we even had a few more baboon experiences. One night, a big baboon jumped on the table of a family having dinner next to us, leaving a little girl in tears. It’s official, I have the emotional impulses of a 4-year-old. 

I also took a solo moto ride to Larabanga to see the famed Larabanga Mosque, which is said to be one of the oldest in West Africa. It was cool to see but my favorite part was probably the moto ride…it was kind of like a mini safari, as we whizzed pass families of monkeys, warthogs, and antelopes. 

DSC01591

All in all I’m so glad I shelled out the cash for my second safari. If you’re ever in Ghana, I recommend Mole National Park. It’s way cheaper than almost any other safari in Africa, and you will (probably) get to see a bunch of elephants! Also, you may have a terrifying encounter with a large baboon. Heads up. Bring diapers. 

 

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS HEADING TO MOLE NATIONAL PARK

-Taxis from the Tamale airport to downtown Tamale run at a set price- no point in negotiating too hard. The ride to the Metro Bus station should be around 22 cedis. 

-The Metro Bus from Tamale to Mole National Park leaves at around 2pm from the orange Metro Bus station (any cab driver will know it). Make sure to buy your tickets a few hours ahead of time if you can. Your other option is to take a cab for like 200 cedis, but I’d say that’s really not worth it unless you’re on a very short time frame and/or loaded. The bus usually takes about 4-6 hours. 

-The Metro Bus from Mole National Park to Tamale leaves at 4am (yeah..). It stops in Larabanga on the way out, so if you’re staying there you can take the same bus (either way, reserve a spot ahead of time at the Mole Park reception desk). 

-We flew Starbow, and I’d recommend them. 

-Staying in Larabange is cheaper but I’d say you should at least stay at Mole Motel for one night, the surroundings are beautiful and it’s cool to wake up to monkeys/warthogs outside your window. The dorm at Mole Motel isn’t much cheaper than the private rooms if you have multiple people. 

Advertisements
Comments
2 Responses to “That Time I Thought I Was Going To Be Murdered By A Baboon (And Other Safari Stories)”
  1. Abel Covarrubias says:

    Awesome story! Thanks for sharing… you’re a great storyteller!

  2. Good story and great adventure

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: