Tangerine Sky, Stolen Fruits - Unexpected Encounters in Ghana
The first scratches at the door weren’t all that alarming. It was midday and my feet were swollen and my eyelids were heavy. Lying down for a short nap after a very early start and a long morning spent walking in the field, my tired body was disinclined to investigate. After all, hadn’t the mystery of scratches at the door already been solved earlier that same day?
In the dark hours of the morning, my wife and I had been awoken by several stiff kicks at the door followed by what turned out to be snorts of contentment. Heavy with sleep, I peered through the crack in the door, my mind struggling to match the animal to the coarse hair I could just make out just inches away. Meanwhile, in the bathroom, my wife had climbed upon the toilet lid, hoping to find a viewing angle through the window back towards the other side of the door. In the end, it was the smell that triggered the connection. “Warthog,” I said, before loudly knocking on the door several times and reaching for the door handle to scare our new neighbour away.
Standing there in the open doorway in the cool night air, we gazed forward into the lamplight and the warthog gazed back, turning his whole neckless body to stare back at us reproachfully. He’d been sleeping on his back like a dog at our doorstep and the kicks were merely the contented jerks of a hog lost in a dream. “Hakuna matata,” I said sleepily, returning to bed.
So when later that same day more noises were heard at the door, like the nails of a dog across a linoleum floor, I closed my eyes like a contented warthog, satisfied to let the hum of the ceiling fan mask any noises from just outside.
“Warthog again,” I whispered to my wife, who was already trying hard to nap. The door burst open like a police drama. Where hours ago we had bid the warthog goodnight, now stood a hulking olive baboon. Before I could react, my wife had already launched a full water bottle towards the door. Easily ducking the well-aimed projectile, the baboon exposed its giant wolf-like canines as is it advanced into the room and then, with composure, it reached out a human-like hand to snatch the grey plastic bag on the counter before leaving the same way it came in.
“Well, we just kind of watched him eat it for a while,” I told our guide some time later as we piled out of the SUV, the car’s driver trying hard to suppress a giggle at our misfortune. The sun was low now, and the disused airfield at Mole National Park in Northern Ghana was bathed in tangerine light. “I really wanted that pineapple,” said my wife with a sigh. “With a little luck, we won’t flush them straightaway,” said our guide with a grin, referring to the bird we were there to see and not to the baboon.
The dry earth was red with iron and the evening sun. Advancing down the runway, we pass tufts of yellow-green grass taller than a man. Panicked wing beats draw our attention from the ground to the sky, and for the third time today, I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at. The silhouette is like three birds floating some metres off the ground in perfect formation. “Standard-Winged Nightjar,” says our guide.
It’s one of the most bizarre animals I’ve ever seen. Reaching first for my camera in vain, I snap a few blurry shots of the male’s bizarre wings in the fading light. My binoculars do rather better, and I’m treated to the details of the bird. With rhythmic beats, it thrusts its faux wings above it into the air like a jetliner being escorted by two fighter planes.
Later, I’m not sorry that the photos didn’t turn out. Some memories are made more vivid by being there in the moment and focusing on the subject. “It was bizarre,” I say to my wife later at dinner. “I’ll never forget it.” From her expression, I’m sure she’s trying to work it out if I’m referring to the nightjar or the baboon.
The savannah landscape of Mole National Park in Northern Ghana provides a stark contrast to the country’s tropical south, which is dominated by semi-deciduous forests or lush rainforests like those found in Kakum National Park with its spectacular canopy walkway. The many forest reserves in Ghana teem with more than 750 species of birds, countless species of butterflies and even chameleons. Ghana’s spectacular coastline features post-card perfect beaches in addition to numerous historical European forts and castles from the Gold Coast era.
English is widely spoken and the ease of communication throughout the country provides the opportunity for open dialogue and exchange with Ghanaians.