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HIDDEN TREASURES OF THE GOLD COAST

?A LOOK AT GHANA?S UNTAPPED RESOURCES

?The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see? ?

Gilbert K. Chesterton

This week?s attraction, though similar to previously featured sites in this page, is unique in its very own way. It combines a bit of myth and the beauty of nature into a beautiful blend that would excite not only tourists but anyone interested.

For this edition, take your time and read the ?concluding thoughts? of the ?Visitor account? section of this piece. In it lies the reality facing the Tourism industry. Indeed as this page?s name suggests, Ghana has amazing treasures that could massively impact on the growth of the economy if well managed.

For some strange reason however, these treasures have remained hidden and under-developed till date. It is our hope that through these write-ups, what has been hidden for so long will be discovered, and their full potentials developed and tapped for the nation?s growth.

That said, let?s take a trip to the Volta region, to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary?

Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary

Oral history has it that some 200 years ago, a group of migrants left the coastal shores of Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana to their present home in the Volta Region. On arrival, they settled in three major close communities namely Tafi Mando, Tafi Atome, and Tafi Abuise. This ancestral group intercepted a group of calm monkeys who lived amiably with them. Believing the monkeys to be messengers to the god, the chiefs and people of Tafi communities have been protecting them for the past 200 years.

However, in the early 1980s when Christianity got to the traditional area and over empowered the traditional beliefs and customs attached to these creatures, the people began seeing the monkeys as ordinary. Therefore, some of the people started killing the monkeys for delicacies while others lumbered the trees in the forest for firewood, timber and to clear farmlands for farming activities; all proving that they no longer revered the fetish monkeys.

These activities went on and kept on increasing until the early 90?s when an environmentalist from Canada named John Mason arrived in the community in the mission of scientific conservation research. In undertaking the research, he realized that the flora and fauna in the areas were critically endangered and others virtually at the point of extinction, the aftermath recommendations of this man led to the establishment and operation of the area as a monkey sanctuary in 1996.

Tafi Atome was named after the area because it hosts disproportionately the greatest number of the monkeys amongst the other named areas settled by the early ancestors. The sanctuary is surrounded by a very thick tropical forest of wawa, odum, sapele among other tree species serving as habitats to these monkeys and other floral creatures.

With just a banana, one could take the opportunity to play with the over 3000 endangered and playful Mona monkeys and visitors are also likely to catch glimpses of the black and white Columbus and Mona monkeys who are said to move in three different groups. Each group of monkeys is said to be led by a Commando, a very thick stout monkey that protects the rest of the group from external attacks. The forest also boast of endangered bird species such as (raucous pied, hornbill and pygmy goose and purple heron, pygmy geese, herons and squacco), butterflies, rodents and squirrels in their symbiotic relationship. The most appropriate time for visiting the monkeys are early hours of the day up to 8:00am and between 3:30pm ? 6:30pm daily when they are out of their habitats.

Traditionally, spending a night with a local Ewe family will be one of the memorable opportunities to witness and be part of the activities of the local people of the area; appreciate how local akpele is prepared. Trekking through the nature trails of Tafi Atome and jumping through the thick undergrowth is an experience worth embarking on. Burn some calories and recuperate through this nature walk for just a day.

For the evening relaxation and entertainment, the popular Borborbor and agbadza traditional dances coupled with some drumming will keep you on your feet. These are intense traditional dances that involve rapid tapping of the dancer?s side legs accompanied by intricate foot work. Other side attractions in this region include; the scenic view of mountain Amedzofe and township, mountain Afadja and Tagbo falls at Laite-Wote, the Wli and Tsasadu waterfalls among others. All these are available to provide you value for money, you will never regret travelling to the Tafi Atome areas. Hogbetsotso is an annual festival held in November by the Anlos in the region particularly in the Tafi?s to thanking their gods and ancestors.

It is important to note that the fees change frequently hence visitors are to report at the Tourist Information Office at Tafi Atome for briefing. The small curio-shop in the Information Office also sells souvenirs.

Visitor Account

When I was a kid in primary school, I read one of those textbooks we used for English Language lessons. This wasn?t one of the regular ones. Thinking back, I believe strongly that my sister Georgina might have brought it from Nigeria, where she lived and taught for many years in the eighties. Such textbooks had passages per chapter, which we were supposed to read and then answer questions on the stories. Comprehension, we called it then.

One of the passages made an impression on me. A father took his wife and kids in his car on a journey across his country, going from town to town, visiting interesting sites and teaching his children the history behind those towns and sites. They spent the night in selected towns and hotels. A bit like the novel, ?Around the World in Eighty Days? by French writer Jules Verne; this time the tour was within a country, Nigeria I think. Way back when I read that passage, I determined that I would do that with my family one day. I will come back to this story and what happened to this aspiration later in this article.

As for my kids, they are the epitome of impatience when you want to take them out. So the strategy Vivian and I use is to tell them of such plans a few hours before time! When we told them we were going on an excursion the night before the travel, they started packing, each of them using a school bag! We had to talk and talk before they agreed not to pack their entire wardrobe. The excitement reached fever pitch when we informed them that we were going with two of their friends, children of our close family friends.

After buying some snacks ? fruit juice in paper packs, biscuits ? and filling up the tank with fuel, we were off to Tafi. On our way, we stopped intermittently to take pictures of the scenery.

Maame Esi asked us to buy bananas, she loves them. If you thought she was going to eat them, then you were mistaken. Soon I heard her crying behind me. Her complaint was that Laila wanted to eat the bananas that she was sending to the monkeys!

Tafi was a wonderful experience. We stopped first at the reception centre, registered and paid ? GHC1 each for the kids and GHC6 for Vivian and me, Ghanaian adults. We had to buy more bananas as the guide indicated that what we brought wasn?t enough.

Maame Esi, the monkey advocate, wouldn?t let go of me, and I had to carry her throughout. Nana Kwame was the boldest, reaching out with bananas. The monkeys jumped onto his outstretched arm and ate out of his hands! Laila and Jona also tried, and enjoyed it. Nana Yaw just vanished! Eventually, he surfaced and threw the banana on the ground! We did not stay for the forest trail walk as we had to get to Liati Wote, to view Afadjato.

Concluding thoughts

As indicated earlier, I was blown by the sheer variety of sights and sounds of the Volta region. I remarked to my wife that perhaps the strong adherence to cultural and traditional norms in the region has helped preserve some of these troves of nature.

Many times when non-Ghanaian friends ask where they can visit when in Ghana, I ask them to go to Cape Coast or Elmina. I am changing that. The Volta region is, for me, the best kept secret in natural reserves and sight-seeing. Lots of options. Scenery, landscape, hills, mountains, wildlife, historical sites, food, waterfalls, history and culture.

But my friend Isaac Neequaye asks and comments, ?Of what value are best kept secrets? Unless the aim is to let those locations remain secrets then I fail to see what the point is. No marketing, no easily available maps or directions etc. How does one locate and engage a tour guide if needed? So many questions and unfortunately a dearth of answers.?

I agree with Isaac. I have had the opportunity to experience tourism in Kenya and South Africa. In Kenya, tourism hits you right from the airport. There is congruence in the efforts to let you experience the sights and sounds of Kenya. In Israel, I made a decision to visit Jerusalem just because there was a tour brochure at the hotel reception with clear instructions. I called, paid and joined the bus to Jerusalem. They even dropped me at the airport at Tel Aviv to catch my flight. This is what a nation that is serious about tourism does.

We have to do more to develop these tourism sites to improve presentation and the total experience. My friend Elsie Dickson captured it succinctly when she added that ?without proper commitment to preserving, protecting and promoting our natural heritage sites, I fear that our children may not be able to take their kids on these road trips.?

The nature of the road network to these sites leave much to be desired. Quoting Isaac Neequaye again, ?our road information system is non-existent, so it takes the really determined person to ask around for directions before finding the way to a place.? There are no websites to showcase all the places one can visit in Ghana, perhaps apart from Cape Coast and Elmina castles.

When I did one safari in Samburu land in Kenya, our tour guide had a degree and was a qualified guide. He had Kenyan and traditional history at his fingertips. In most of the sites I visited, the guides were local folks, with absolutely no training.

It was a great experience in domestic tourism for my family and I, and I intend to do more. But if one is not determined and doesn?t have a network of friends with expertise in such areas and for hotel bookings, it is not an easy prospect.

As a nation, we have to do more to build our tourism industry and there is much we can enjoy and see as citizens when we do local tourism. The bonus in doing it with the family is immense.

On the way forward, Richard Laryea?s comment suffices: ?Thanks for sharing, Nana. We have such wonderful and beautiful natural creations in this country, but there?s mediocrity written all over them, in their presentation. These are the things that require a step change in gear and must occupy the minds and hearts of all those within the circle of influence.?

We have our work cut out for us.

How to Get There

It is located in the Volta Region of Ghana about 43km South of Hohoe. Take tro-tro bus from Accra to Hohoe and alight at Logba-Alakpeti junction. Take left and go straight for about 5km and you are there.

Alternatively pick a Metro Mass Transit from Accra to Ho. Afterwards take a tro-tro from Ho Lorry Park near the Big Market and alight at Logba-Alakpeti, and there you are at Tafi Atome.

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