On the 2nd of March, 2019, I set off on Citi Fm/TV’s tour around the country dubbed the Heritage Caravan. I was privileged to go on the tour courtesy of my employer; GCB Bank, which was a major sponsor. As Ghana’s largest indigenous Bank, GCB Bank is focused on highlighting Ghana’s rich history to promote inclusiveness and engender a sense of pride and identity amongst Ghanaians.
On a personal level, I love road trips and there are many places in Ghana I had been yearning to visit. One of my dreams was to do a road trip around the country and this tour was a great opportunity to strongly represent the GCB Brand and also experience the best of Ghana.
I also have a keen interest in tourism with special interest in destination branding. MBA dissertation focused on identifying a unique destination proposition for Ghana as a tourism destination. I have also co-authored a scientific journal article in tourism and destination branding.
DAY 1 – OF AKUA GADDAFI, WODOME, AGOTIME KENTE FESTIVAL AND TOTO KPAKPA
The “Caravanites” converged at the Head office of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to socialize and have breakfast. The Dromo Naa group was available to provide authentic Ghanaian music and electrify the atmosphere as we went through registration formalities.
There were three buses from the State Transport Company and each bus had an armed Police Officer and a Nurse to take care of the security and health needs of the “Caravanites” respectively.
The convoy took of around 10:45am led by a petite female Police dispatch rider named; Akua Gaddafi. The dexterity with which her petite frame handled the huge motor bike was a sight to behold as she guided the convoy of buses out of the Accra and Prampram traffic to ensure we didn’t miss the Agotime Kente Festival we were scheduled to attend in the Volta Region. I was curious about who this female dispatch police dispatch rider was and did a little research. Apparently, she had ridden to places like Tunisia and other African countries before.
Akua Gaddafi’s riding skills got everyone excited and set the tone for what was to become an exciting trip.
Wodome – Two Countries Divided By A Road
The first stop was at Wodome in the Volta Region. Wodome is an Ewe word which means middle and it’s a town where one side of the road is Togo and the other is Ghana. The natives obviously inter-marry with some sleeping in Togo and eating in Ghana and vice-versa.
Wodome was an eye-opener and a clear indication of how the Europeans sat in Europe and used pens and pencils to just divide us. It’s interesting that despite the uniqueness of a town like Wodome, I had never heard of it before. Many of us were curious and asked various questions. If someone commits a crime and crosses the road to the other side, what happens? How do people vote on election days? What country paid for the construction of the road etc?
What was interesting was that they had a unique way of co-existing peacefully. For example, on elections, those registered to vote in Togo do not vote in Ghana and vice-versa. When someone commits a crime in one country and crosses the road to the other country, those at the other side will arrest the person and return him/her to the other side of the road.
Agotime Kpetoe – Agotime Kente Festival
The team then drove to Agotime Kpetoe to attend the Agotime Kente Festival. The team was lucky to have George-Grandy Hallow (PhD), a native of the area and a researcher to give us insights about the area.
The more popular narrative about Kente is usually linked to the people of Bonwire in the Ashanti Region but the people of Agotime are one of Ghana’s finest kente weavers with their ancestors learning the craft from the Nuer Clan of Sudan.
The Agotime Kente festival is therefore, to celebrate the dexterity of the Agotime people as one of Ghana’s finest Kente weavers. Kente in Agotime connotes the instructional words: “ke-na-te” which translates as open the warp and press it, in reference to the Tetrapod Adzrala loom technology for cotton cloth weaving their ancestors brought from the Nuer Clan of Sudan.
Prior to the commencement of the Durbar commemorating the Agotime Kente Festival, a group of women in beautiful handwoven Kente with beads arounds their neck danced gracefully with water in small pots or bottles delicately balanced on their head. The water is fetched from the river side and is used to wash the feet of guests before the durbar can commence. Those who feet were washed were given beautiful handwoven Kente sashes as gifts.
The main dish of the people of Agotime is Toto Kpakpa, known as Okro Soup in the English language and as part of the durbar, all guests were treated to the sumptuous Toto Kpakpa dish.
Another exciting part of the festival was the war dance expertly executed by Nene Tu Abiri III, Chief of Adina Kpetoe.
At the end of the durbar, the Heritage Caravan continued to the beautiful Volta Serene Hotel in Hohoe where we were treated to a welcome Borbor dance, sumptuous meals and a performance by the famous KwanPa Band till after midnight.
DAY 2 – EASTERN REGION TO ASHANTI
What was clear about the trip was that the Caravanites were poised to have fun. They were just a bunch of happy people of all ages who would bust into a jama song at the least opportunity. Prior to boarding the buses, a jama session broke out with people of all ages and nationality joining in.
The team left Hohoe for Kumasi, passing through the famous Adomi Bridge and making a stop at the Bunso-Aboretum forest where we were given a lecture about the forest and the medicinal value of plants in the forest. It was interesting to learn that the forest was home to one of the largest butterflies in the world. It was also interesting to learn that the cinnamon plant could treat over 200 health conditions. As I listened to the lecture, I wondered why and how we have not tapped into all the powers of herbal medicine? Why so much lack of knowledge about herbs and its application?
We continued to Kumasi and arrived at the Noda Hotel, where we were served with a local “asana” drink and welcomed by a group of Kete dancers. Later in the night, one of the Caravanites whose birthday had fallen on that day was surprised with a birthday cake by the Citi Fm team.
Visit to Yaa Naa
The team departed to Yendi in the morning through Tamale. I was excited because I had been to the North only once in my life and of course I was going to Yendi to visit the famous Gbewaa Palace. The plan was to stay a bit longer in Tamale before proceeding to Yendi but we had to rush to Yendi since the Yaa Naa does not come out at night and we were running late.
We arrived at Yendi about 5:30pm and the people were very friendly and welcoming. At the Palace, we were treated to traditional dance and some of us joined in. The people on the Caravan did not come to sleep at all!
The dance was to signify that the people were happy to receive the visitors and also happy that the Yaa Naa was about to make an appearance.
As soon as the Yaa Naa appeared, all the dancing ceased, and after he went rounded and greeted the visitors, there was spontaneous cheers and the natives performed a special dance routine in his honour.
We left Yendi around 7pm and arrived at the Golden City Hotel in Tamale around 9:15pm.
DAY 3- PAGA CROCODILE POND, PIKWORO SLAVE CAMP AND A RUSH OF EMOTIONS
The team left Tamale around 4am, made a brief stop in Bolgatanga and continued to Paga in the Upper East Region. The roads up North were surprisingly good and it made the ride quite pleasant, coupled with usual jama and music from guitarists on the buses.
In Paga, we visited the popular Paga Crocodile ponds and we posed with the Crocodiles. Paga was excruciatingly humid!
There are three Crocodile Ponds in Paga. There’s the Chief Pool, Zenga Pool and Nania Pool. The chief Pool is the most visited pond and has a size of about 2 square meters. The Paga Crocodiles are harmless and it’s a taboo to kill them. It’s also believed that if a Paga Crocodile dies, then the death of a Paga native is imminent. I was eager to learn on the trip so I always made it a point to speak to natives to answer the myriad of questions I had running in my head and of course, I also wanted info to update our numerous social media followers who seemed to be enjoying the updates.
According to this elderly man I spoke to, the crocodiles can leave the pond at night, cross the road, go and lay eggs in the bush and come back later when the eggs are hatched and carry them into the pond. According to him, the crocodiles know how to cross the road and do not attack anyone. As I stated earlier, it is also taboo to attack them. All of these issues raised a million other questions in my mind about culture, beliefs, religion and life in general.
Pikworo Slave Camp
Prior to the trip, I’d never heard of the Pikworo Slave Camp. I knew of the Salaga Slave Market and the Slave Castles so learning of this slave camp was interesting.
The Pikworo Slave Camp is a rocky area located in Nania, Paga. Nania is also the hometown of Ghanaian soccer legend – Abedi Ayew Pele.
Pikworo in the Kasem language means rocky area; depicting the landscape of the area. The slave camp was set up in 1704 and it was where slaves from Ghana and other neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso and Mali were camped, auctioned or transported to the Coastal areas in Southern Ghana to be shipped into slavery; tricked into believing that they were being taken to live better lives.
The slaves ate from bowls carved into the rocks and these small bowls were used to feed up to seven slaves at a time. There was also a small well dug through the rocks to provide water.
The vast open rocky land was very humid and imagining all that the slaves went through made me angry.
One interesting thing about the place was that some rocks could be used to generate melodious tunes and the natives were glad to demonstrate it.
Last Bank standing!
We also visited Burkina Faso through the Paga border and the last bank at the border crossing was a GCB Bank! A social media post from Kojo Akoto Boateng of Citi Fm read; GCB is truly everywhere!
We were famished and we didn’t lose an opportunity to bite into some sumptuous grilled meat at the border. The Ghana Immigration service team that welcomed us at the border briefed us about their operations and also educated us about what they call Border Residents- a group of people who cross the border without any stringent checks because they are residents of the border.
We returned to Tamale and had a little pool party. The plan was to leave Tamale by 5am latest, to the Mole National Park… though many of us slept at 3am! lol
DAY 4 – MOLE NATIONAL PARK, LARABANGA MOSQUE, THE MYSTIC STONE AND THE SMART NATIVES
We rushed into the bus by 5am as people continued their sleep in the bus. There were a few delays as not everyone could make the 5am departure time; soul was willing, but I guess the body was tired!
Mole National Park
Our inability to leave Tamale at 5am meant we arrived at the Mole National Park a bit late in the morning, but we were hopeful of catching some elephants.
The Mole National Park is a wildlife conservation park set up in 1971 for the conservation of wildlife and nature and it has over 300 animal species, which includes; Elephants, Baboons, Warthogs, Monkeys, Antelopes and Crocodiles. The park also has a beautiful collection of birds and butterflies.
Luckily for us, we were able to see some savannah elephants cooling off in water and others gliding majestically in the park. We also saw warthogs, baboons, antelopes amongs others. It was interesting to see that the warthog feeds by kneeling on its forelegs.
Larabanga Mosque & Mystic Stone
We visited the Larabanga Mosque; one of the oldest in Africa and the oldest in Ghana, built in 1421. I met Adinan, a boy of about 16yrs who gave me some insights into the town and also managed to sell me some shea butter all in a few minutes. He spoke good English and his knowledge of the spiritual significance of his town was impressive.
Adinan was also my tour guide when we visited the Mystic Stone. Legend has it that when the road was being constructed, the stone was removed three times, but it re-appeared each time, forcing the contractor to divert the road. It’s also believed that when you touch the stone and pray for your heart’s desires, they come true. Of course, yours truly said a prayer. I didn’t go all the way up North to let this chance pass! Lol
I exchanged numbers with Adinan I promised to be in touch as we bid farewell to the interesting town of Larabanga.
DAY 5- SUNYANI
We continued to Sunyani from Larabanga. We reached the Eusbett Hotel in Sunyani around 8pm, where we were welcomed with Coconut juice and the exciting sound of the traditional drums and a group of traditional dancers, dancing majestically to the melodious tune from the fontomfrom drums.
DAY 6 – ASSIN MANSO SLAVE RIVER; A SOBER AND EMOTIONAL MOMENT
We left Sunyani around 9am, enroute to the Western Region through the Central Region. We made a stop at the Assin Manso Slave route where slaves were given their last bath after trekking all the way from the north before they are locked up in the dungeons in the castles to be auctioned or shipped abroad.
The area has a very sober effect, and you could see the emotions on the faces of everyone as it all sunk in. There was the “door of return” which was so named after the bones of two slaves from the USA and Jamaica were returned to be buried.
The most emotional moment for me was when I started reading notes left by diasporans who had traced their roots to Ghana and left a note that they had returned on behalf of their ancestors. It was a deeply emotional moment and i had to stop reading the messages to prevent tears from streaming down my cheeks. It was a sober moment for most of us. It’s just one of those feelings that is difficult to explain.
I feel those same emotions flood back as I type this and peruse some of the messages I have captured on my phone.
We continued through Cape-Coast, Elmina and arrived at Maaha Beach Resort at Atuabo in the Nzema area of the Western Region around 10pm! We had been on the road for over 11 hours!
Maaha is a world class resort and just the perfect place to soothe our bodies and soul. We were warmly welcomed with chilled coconut juice. We set off to have dinner, listen to music and have a bon fire night.
We danced by the bonfire and Mr. Eugene Marfo Jnr, a retired staff of GCB Bank treated the us to some suave dance moves and also shared some secret health tips since everyone was amazed at his dexterity and fitness levels.
DAY 7 – TAKORADI & CAPE-COAST
We left the comfort of the serene Maaha Beach Resort around midday, stopped at the famous “God is love Chop Bar” in Takoradi to eat fufu and continued to Cape-Coast to have supper and rest. A couple of us refused to eat supper, as we suspected the Citi team were bent on “killing” us with too much food. lol
DAY 8- KAKUM PARK; OF VIM AND ADRENALINE
We visited the famous Kakum walkway and majority of us decided to do the full stretch. It was exciting, funny and scary in equal measure as we faced our fears.
A couple guys were actually chanting jama songs, dancing and getting the walkway to swing wildly. It was crazy! Yours truly wasn’t prepared to show fear in the midst of all these beautiful women and disgrace the great GCB brand at all. No way! Lol.
It was interesting to see at firsthand, how fear can paralyze our minds, as very vibrant people on the trip froze on the walkway and used the shorter route to exit.
However, I was impressed with this woman who used the longer route and practically cried throughout; asking her ancestors what at all possessed her to do the walkway. A young female reporter behind her also kept scaring her the more to get some solid soundbites. It was exciting to see the cry of relief on her face when she finished. She was so radiant and vibrant, I thought it was different person on the walkway.
It was a scary and exciting experience and I’d do it over and over again.
We arrived in Accra around 8pm and departed to our various homes after building solid partnerships, re-connecting with old friends and being worthy ambassadors of our brands.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS
To be continued