Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The EPIC Falls of Wli

"some things weren't mean to be tamed... including you."
~Wyoming tourism commercial

My darling friend Kelsey left me this note on my imaginary mirror from Chicago this morning as she used to do for me in college. Great way to start off the day!

It was good to be back in the hospital today. Lots of crazy cases! While I very much enjoy traveling, I really love the intensity of the hospital. There is a Danish pediatrician, Dr. Faerk, here now and he is a wonderful man. I thoroughly enjoyed doing rounds with him this morning. He is such a good teacher and took time to explain things and let me palpate whatever it he was examining. I learned a lot! There is a 13 month old who Dr. Jean did a colostomy on earlier who came back to get reconnected. Colostomy bags are a luxury… this little boy simply has a piece of cloth the mother has tied around him. Otherwise, the end of his intestine is literally open to the outside of his body. It looks like a giant, squishy, red Life Saver candy on his stomach with poop in the middle! How’s that for an analogy?
I got very tired today doing rounds. It is so much hotter up in the north, and it hit me like a sack of “welcome back” bricks. I am going to be freezing when I come home! I came back to the house and sat on my bed to regroup around just after noon. I laid back just for a second and two hours later I woke up in the exact same position, which I thought was rather impressive.
Needless to say, this has been a very lazy day. Recovery needed!
Confession: Besides missing my friends Krista and Robbie’s national television debuts on “Minute to Win It” shortly after I left, I have been totally ok without TV. Until this week. I am missing Royal Wedding week!!! I remember the day in checkout line at the grocery store skimming magazines when I found out Prince William and Kate were having an April wedding. I nearly cancelled my trip! I am completely fascinated with the royal family, which makes me sound so townsfolkish. So Mom, stop of Dad’s recordings of his man shows and record the next two days on TLC and E! News ok? I am sure he will understand;)

Ok so, we left off on the monkeys yesterday, but first, I must keep things consistent and properly introduce two new characters:
Chris Massie- Illinois native and Peace Corp volunteer in Kpando, Volta Region. We met at Mole )Holy Mole!) where we discovered his hometown is in the same area as Dr. Jean’s and that she knows his parents. He is good at what he does and SUPER chill. He is the reason my trip to Ghana is complete. I could not have asked for a better person to travel with because he knew all the good spots, not found in a travel guide, and the cheapest way to get there. Really nice guy, but I found quickly, a bit sassy! He was the perpetrator of all Wyoming jokes I endured this entire trip. It was me vs them, and you KNOW I held my own!
Mike Book- good college friend of Chris’s at Illinois and they go way back to freshman year when Chris was the cool, party boy and Mike was the social recluse. They really should never have been friends, but became the best, and I thoroughly enjoyed their reminiscing. He is engaged and will soon move from the accounting world of Chicago and take over the family farm. We had lots of good talks about life, love and marriage as we spend lots of time together traveling. Typical accountant, he is the guy that read, and quoted, the entire Bradts travel guide before he came and asked a lot of questions there were no answers to and would have been completely lost, literally, without me when we were out on our own. Thank you, Dad, for my sense of direction and common sense! Another funny feature about our friend Micheal: He went from super excited to get married, to wanting to live forever at the Stumble Inn back excited to get married. It was quite hilarious.
We talked a lot about politics, college, family, Mike’s wedding, farming and potential investments for Book Farms (the running joke of the trip). Fortunately, we all have a good sense of humor and are nice people, so we got along really well and had a great time. They are conveniently bigger guys, so the rate of proposals and heckling went waaaaaaaaaaaaay down. I was not bothered once when I was with them! Except when they tried to sell to a Ghanaian man… story to come.
That night, we stayed with one of Chris’s friends and fellow Peace Corp volunteer, also named Chris in the village of Tafi Abuipe. This tiny little community is known for its kente weaving, which is very unique pattern they make lots of tradition clothing out of. Chris took us the “weaving shed” where there were several looms set up, and weavers flying through their work. It was a truly impressive sight. A barn full of color, and I got great video clips of the weavers at their craft. They are so talented. We ventured through the rest of the town and found more weavers as most do their work from home. In the villages, especially in the North where it is so dry, it is a very monochromatic world. The ground, the huts, the roofs are all varying shades of brown. In Tafi Abuipe, the dismal brown color pallet is strung with vibrant pinks, oranges and blues. The thread they weave with is stretched yards away from the loom, so you are literally stepping over stands of color as you walk. It was fascinating and really beautiful. Chris’s counterpart (Peace Corp vocab word meaning native person you work closest with on your development projects that will take over when you go) Aikins picked me the most beautiful purple flower of a vine during our walk. I pressed it and saved it because I liked it so much.
I had the best banku and okra stew I have ever had this night. It was so peppery hot and delicious. Picture this. There is no dining room area in his house, so we had to set up a table and chairs in the guest bedroom. Me and three dudes eating banku with our hands.. the one thing I did NOT get a picture of! I am sure it was just hilarious. There were lots of really funny things about Chris’s house, and one of them was the “latrine”. This was the first hole-in-the-ground toilet I have encountered here and I survived that just fine… like a true lady;)

The next morning I awoke to roosters crowing as the sun broke out over the horizon. I went outside to the shack with the hole-in-the-ground before the boys were up (strategy at its finest). Today was a big day, one I have been waiting for for a very long time. Wli Falls.  
Chris, the one I was traveling with, had to go back to Kpando so Mike and I went ahead to Ho Hoe, our starting point to Wli. Chris had arranged for motorcycles to take us to the main road where we could catch  a tro to Ho Hoe and wait for the other Christ to get back from Kpando. I seriously love these motorcycles rides even though they are undoubtedly the most unsafe means of transportation in this country! I think that is why they are so fun.
In retrospect, I severely underestimated the severity of this hike. I had no idea it was going to be as tough as it was and not having a decent breakfast that morning was the worst thing I could have done for myself. I bought this gingerman shaped roll of bread off the street out of curiosity (cool shape- I’ll try it!) rather than necessity. This would be reason number 2908432 I am writing the makers of Clif bars a personal thank you note when I get home. I am not even being dramatic when I say this, I would have passed out if I did not have one in my bag.
 Chris found Mike and I and he negotiated a decent cab price for us and off we went. To the falls! I really took this backpacking thing seriously and thought for some unknown reason that I should take it up the mountain with me against Chris’s advice. “It’s pretty steep…” I insisted. Note: we were going to Kpando from Wli, so I had to bring all my stuff with me from the other Chris’s. It was a risk leaving it at the place we had to pay and I didn’t feel like separating out my camera, my money, my trusty Nalgene and my chapstick and other necessities for any excursion, so why not take the whole darn thing? If it wasn’t for Fronzo, yes FONZO, our wirey little Ghanaian guide in plastic yellow flip-flop, I think I would have died.
The plan was to go to the Upper Falls, the hardest part, and then down to the Lower Falls. It would take us a good 2 hours to get to the top.
The trifecta was ready: Nikon, Nalgene, Nikki.
The forest was so beautiful as it was nothing like any forest I had ever wandered through. We wound through, pineapple plants, bamboo groves, teek trees, several other plants that bushwacked me and the river trickling down from the falls. We crossed it a total of 9 times I believe before we got to the Upper Falls.
Before we got to the hard part, and I didn’t know it was the hard part, Fonzo stopped us and made us drink while he handed each of us a walking stick. Without a word, he came to me and pulled my backpack off of me, put it on his back and took off. It was when I started to climb up an 80 degree grade that I realized he had to have been thinking “you stupid American” when he saw me with that backpack.
Up and up we went at Fonzo speed (he was like Ghana’s equivalent of the shirpas in the Himalayas), so I had to go into basketball practice mode. There was no talking or laughing. I had to focus. If I fell, this was going to be a very,very bad thing. My legs were burning, and all I could think about is Dr. Gretch’s lecture in biochemistry on glycolysis, nerdy as it may be. My muscles were being sucked dry of sugar to keep my body moving because I had not eaten a proper breakfast. TISK TISK! I was about let to get pride get in the way, but I made the group stop for water and rest. I was starting to see black stars of the Ghanaian flag. Luckily the hardest part of the ascent was over, so in a few minutes, I was fine and we continued.
I learned something about myself. People who are legitimate outdoorsmen/women enjoy hiking for the journey rather than the destination. I do not think I am one of those. I just want to get there, especially when I get excited about where we are going. I was over the “scenic trail” and just wanted to be at that waterfall!!
I could hear the roar of the water for a longtime coming. My excitement was the only reason I was the only thing keeping my legs moving. I thought maybe after this bend, or that curve, or that hill we would be there, and we weren’t. Ahh! Stop teasing me!
My friend Christina says that girls don’t sweat, they glisten. I was so far past the glistening point by now. I was soaked, literally from head to toe and felt disgusting. If the wet rat look was in this spring, I would have been first out on the runway!  
I finally saw the pool through the trees and flipped on my video camera. This was so exciting!
The brush opened into the white sands around the pool and the water spilling from the top of the mountain roared into the pool.
I am going to use my word again: EPIC!!
I pulled my sweaty, nastified hair out of my pony tail, and took off into the waters of the majestic falls. I felt the spray on my face as I feet splashed into the pool. At first it was a trickle, and as I moved directly under the falls as I had seen myself doing in my mind’s eye, the water beat down on me. I stood there for a moment, immersed in the roar and the cool thrill of the falls.
I was so happy, like deeply fulfilled happy. This is exactly where I wanted to be in November when I first laid eyes on this place, and I was so satisfied that I had completely such an ambition of mine. This was so totally liberating.
We stayed there for quite some time. Chris, Mike nor I said anything for a while, taking it all in. Actually, I wasn’t talking because I was mowing down a Clif bar to prevent another star-spangled episode! There were white lilies that grow all around the falls, and they had so much to the pristine landscape. I talked with some Brits who were behind us for a while, one was actually Swedish, so I guess I should not lump them together. They were super fun. Chris took a picture that just cracks me up. They are playing in the water and I am just walking out of the waterfall and something about it is just funny to me. I keep trying to put captions to each person in the photo.
We moved to the Lower Falls, which had too many people as it an easy, level hike into that one. We didn’t stay there long because of that and the fact that we were all starving. There was a woman selling bananas and I ate four of them in a matter of minutes. So good.
We made our way back to Kpando and landed ourselves a table at a  little drinking spot (not as cool as the pink one in Saboba). Dr. Jean introduced me to Alvero and I love them because they are good and they come in a green bottle. They are my lemonades here. There is pear, pineapple and passion fruit and I don’t have a favorite yet. According to the label, they are a “non-alcoholic malt based beverage.” I never thought one could make malt-based anything so good!
Cheers to us.
The sunset was setting on one of the greatest days in Ghana. We were laughing and talking politics like old friends. Satisfied, we left and walked to Chris’s house to make dinner. TOTAL bach pad! The fridge had a bunje cord around it to keep the door from falling off, which was my favorite feature. There is a small front room and then his bedroom. That’s it. It was so tiny and three of us were going to be living in here for the next three days. Right on. I laughed out loud at that point, and put my bag down by my bed aka mat on the floor and walked back outside to help with dinner. He lives in a complex with a really great purple gate with several other families. There is a large courtyard in between with a community kitchen and bathing room and toilet swarmed in flies. Fun fun fun! It just so happens that one of the families in the compound has the cutest set of twins EVER- Valentine and Valentina. I had a random photo shoot with them one day. I couldn’t help myself.
I laid down on my mat that night, clean from my bucket shower and surprising comfortable, and replayed the day’s events in my mind with my eyes closed and a smile on my face. I have so much to be thankful for and I made sure to thank God for every little thing that day.
This is such a good life.

Well kids, that’s it until tomorrow. It’s bed time!
Please watch as much of Royal Wedding week as you can for me!!

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