Traversing the Sahel and Sharing a Tulu at Zaina Lodge

It was the out-of-this-world sundowner and candlelight dinner at the very nearly completed high-end safari hotel facility, Zaina Lodge, that capped an unforgettable ultimate road trip experience organized as part of the ongoing ‘See Ghana’ domestic tourism initiative – with the WangoWango gang – to the Mole National Park.

The Lodge, which oversees a panoramic vista of the 5477sq km park, home to some four hundred elephants and ninety-three other mammal species, gives such a picturesque backdrop that could keep you in awe for days!

The initiative is spearheaded by three key marketing brands, tourism promoters Bentsifi, Joy Prime on MultiTV and Joy 99.7fm, and aims to bring greater exposure to Ghana’s numerous heritage and tourist attractions, gingering excitement about them using social media, radio and television, and encouraging Accra’s residents to make domestic vacations a preference for short breaks.

On this 3-day trip, Sally Greene was arguably the most animated of the party! She had a fizz of energy, which often made her a handful to handle, and just as easily, amusing! Her personal highlight of getting stuck up on the roof of our safari wagon as she tried for several minutes to figure out how to get down would be a lasting memory for everyone. You wouldn’t think that, moments before, this lady was standing up on the moving vehicle dancing away, yarning tales that had us cackling up!

Sitting on the roof of the wagon, which has custom made secure seating for observing the surroundings during the ride, made going on the safari even more thrilling than imagined and is an experience everyone should have. The Sahel, even in its untamed state is beautiful, although parts look depleted. Abdullah, our armed ranger told us about how illegal activities by some hunters and the locals in the reserve in times past had caused some portions of the vegetative cover to get depleted.

So, how does one ensure this place is preserved to last for a very long time? “The Mole National Park, with directions from the Wildlife Authority, has put in place an anti-poaching and park watch team that carry out constant patrols day and night in the savanna outback, to guard against the killing of animals,” he said. This, and years of engaging education has helped reduced incidences in the park. As a precaution, each safari wagon must necessarily have an armed guard on board in the event of any attack by the untamed animals in the reserve, although this has never happened in the 40 odd years the park has been in existence.

How beautiful it was seeing all these creatures living freely and unhindered in the park – you could feel nature breathing right through the entire expanse. There were the monkeys, apes and baboons. There were the antelopes and cobs. There were the warthogs and there were the elephants! Imagine waking up one morning, stepping out of your hotel room to be greeted by a group of monkeys playing around the sidewalk, or beautiful golden brown cobs and antelopes chewing on the thing blade of grass growing on the side of concrete slabs that stand between the hotel door and the closest path.

The journey from Accra the day before was just as eventful! The organizers – the WangoWango gang – having connected all the factors that made the tour a smooth one, picked the guests, all eight of them up from the African Regent Hotel in Accra, and set off around 4am, making their first stop in Kumasi, some 4 hours later. They headed straight to the new lovely green Rattray Park in the heart of the Ashanti regional capital and spread out tables and stools for a breakfast feast of corned beef and yam mash with sausages, hard boiled eggs with chocolate rolls, topped up with fresh fruits of oranges, pineapples and bananas and hot tea and coffee with honey and fresh milk, making for a memorable session.

Hours passed on the van as we trudged along, heading northwards via the Nkoranza district of the Brong Ahafo region, making our second stop at one of the several waterfalls in the Kintampo area, the Fuller falls. For many reasons, Fuller falls was the choice destination for lunch. It has a calming and surreal backdrop for the all sorts of picnics, and the cool wind that blows through the trees, rustling the branches along with the occasional chirping of birds punctuating the calming ripples of the waves as the water cascades helps to better digest any food.

This afternoon, we had, in typical WangoWango style, a gourmet meal of roast veal in onion sauce with saffron rice and salad in blue cheese cream dressing, topped with a cup of vanilla yoghurt. It was all done in minutes, on a mini gas stove the organizers brought along!

Time to move on and move we did, upcountry past several small settlements, across bridges and then in Savannah country as the vegetation of the land now changed to low-lying grass. The architecture of the mud buildings too had changed. Soon, we were in Damongo, a busy market town in the … district, 45 minutes away from our final destination.

The excitement began to rise again, after hours of riding on rather smooth asphalted road. The sun was setting and in the horizon, as the vehicle meandered along, it’s exotic glow was either to our left or to our right. We were moving towards it as it moved further away from us! Then, we were at the entrance to the park, a huge signpost there read – Welcome to Mole National Park.

With the entry arrangements being made, we got the chance to learn about some of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the park on huge billboard at the entrance that spelt out a few startling details; Animals in the park have right of way, Animals in the park are not tamed, Speed limit in the park is 40 km/hr, Drive with extra care to avoid collision with wild animals! We were in animal country, and in for some great adventure!

Dinner was by the Mole Motel poolside, where we lodged. it was the point where we had to deal with one of the delicacies the Northern region – Akonfem, the ever popular guinea fowl! Set for 08:30pm, Jonathan and his team at the Motel restaurant put together some yam chips with some grilled akonfem meat and a pepper sauce with some vegetables. But, in true WangoWango spirit, a mini barbecue grill appeared, upon which some very well-seasoned honey mustard pork cooked, adding to the menu a welcome delight for many among the gang!

Day two’s itinerary was packed full of adventurous activities all planned out. First was the visit to explore the oldest mosque in Ghana, and one of the oldest on the continent of Africa – the Larabanga mosque, built nearly six hundred ago! Apart from the commercial benefits of the mosque for the locals, it also serves as a place of worship to hundreds of folk in the predominantly Muslim community. According to Malik, the guide on duty, about two hundred worshippers are able to congregate here for Muslim prayers and worship.

You cannot visit the landmark mosque without passing by the Mystic stone which several years ago, according to oral tradition, during the colonial times in Ghana, a stone lodged in the path of a new road being built, having been removed, kept returning to the spot mysteriously! The officials then decided to build the road around the stone and it became the ‘mystic stone’.

The afternoon was spent by the pool at the Mole Motel. While some took a dive, others lounged and others still, took a nap in their room, before we set off on the hour-long afternoon bush safari. Sadly, we did not get to see the elephants that had a few hours earlier, we heard, gathered in the watering hole a few kilometres away. Nevertheless, the ride through the savanna bush was gripping.

Then it was time to go to Zaina Lodge for dinner. Our visit would be the first walk-in dinner guests at the lodge that opened only last month. In true Zaina style, we were given a rousing welcome, which made everyone feel completely at home. We got the welcome drinks of … which picked us up, setting the tone for the evening. After a tour of one of the tent and block mix bedrooms, we settled at the welcome area for cocktails which PK, the F&B manager had specially created for us. ‘Tulu’ is a light rum, fresh pineapple, mint and ginger, muddled and shaken. There was also the Zaina zinger.

Zaina prides in its service of exquisite food, having brought down its Executive Chef and F&B Manager for the RAXA Collective to start the project from scratch. It did not disappoint. For starters; there was roasted tomato soup for starters, then a cocktail of sweet corn and avocado salad, and also Thai style raw pawpaw salad, and some iceberg with a choice of garlic mayo dressing and orange mustard vinaigrette with croutons. The mains were Ras al hanot spiced chicken with nkontomire, garlic mash potatoes and pan jus, yam croquettes with spicy tomato salsa, topped with a strawberry stack dessert. Everybody cleared their plate.

After coffee and tea, we drove back to Mole Motel for rest before setting off at dawn, again, for the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Tamale to catch a flight back on Africa World Airlines. In a zooming 40 minutes afterwards and some delicious smiles from the hostesses, we were back in Accra by 9am, in time for some of us to zoom straight to the office.

A reprise of the experience is now set for Nov 14. If you want to join the set, call the WangoWango gang on 0244 697046 to book a place.

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