On Sunday, we decided that the Buckley family needed to get out and see more of the countryside. We had heard stories of a mountain in Ghana that, for those who climbed her, would receive answers to any prayers the hiker made en route. Just the possibility of their being a mountain in Ghana, much less the chance of having our prayers answered, warranted further investigation.
We started off around 1pm from the town center in Ankaase. The first taxi driver we solicited for the journey had no idea where we wanted to go - and had a very low command of the English language - but wanted to charge us 30 cedes regardless. I chuckled and responded, “Hey, I can get to Kumasi for 10 cedes!” and moved on. The taxi driver hurried over to ask another driver, who said that he wasn’t sure where we wanted to go, but knew that the roads in that region were quite bad, i.e., washed out and unpaved, but that he could take us to Ntonso for 5 cedes. From there, we could take public transport to get to Abesua. It seemed mostly reasonable, so we agreed and hopped in the car.
Once we got on the road, we realized that this driver was from the Volta Region and not only spoke English quite well, but was friends with Dickson, another Ghanaian from Volta I had met 10 years ago. After talking for a bit, Wonder (our taxi drivers name, or “Wahndah” in Ghanaian English) decided to give us a hand and call someone who knew the area of Abesua. According to Wonder’s source, the roads to Abesua were, in fact, very bad and that public transport was infrequent on the weekends. With this new set of facts we decided it was best to employ Wonder to take us to the mountain. After a bit of haggling, extrapolating an estimated fare using posted prices from Ankaase to Aboaso with a full load, the number of trips a day, etc., we settled on an amount not too far off from our previous offer: 25 Cedes.
The first half hour of the trip was easy going. Nice open, paved roads, no traffic and the promise of a nice day ahead. Soon after, the situation changed. It looked as though we had dropped off the map and there was nothing but washed out, dirt roads ahead:
For about an hour, Wonder adeptly navigated the ditches and crevasses, but it was obvious that his car was taking a beating. The stock Fiat radio he had rigged into his ’97 Hyundai was twice as big as the hole designed to fit it and was continuously falling out of the dash as we took jarring bump after jarring bump. We continued along at a snail’s pace for about 45 minutes, bucking up and down the road, until the car ground to a halt.
The excessive jarring and bobbing for the past 45 minutes resulted in Wonder’s brake calipers overheating and then seizing up. The front wheel breaks were locked down. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was the hottest day since we had arrived in Africa, and we seemed to be stuck.
Wonder had a plan. He asked for Townes’s bottle, and began pouring it over the front wheels, which resulted in a loud hiss and horrific, steamy smell of brake caliper smoke permeating the air. I had always heard *never* to pour water on a hot brake caliper - something about warping it - but apparently, such lessons were not part of the father-son talks in Ghana.
We waited. Wonder seemed slightly concerned, but not overly so. We sat tight.
About 15 minutes later, a few walks around the car, some contemplative looking and not-so-delicate kicking of the tires, we gave the car a go and surprisingly, it moved along. Not quickly, mind you, but the Hyundai seemed to be slowly warming up to motion again. We continued along.
Finally, after another 20 minutes or so. The road stopped. We were in Abesua, and at the foot of the Prayer Mountain:
So it wasn’t much of a mountain - I think the technical term is an "escarpment" - but it was a quite a bit higher than our current location and promised nice views of the jungle, so we ventured forth.
We walked a bit outside the village and came across a wooden bridge. One of the guys we had picked up on our way into town, who also claimed to be a local rap artist, offered to take us to the top of the mountain. We accepted his offer and after checking the sturdiness of the wooden plank that covered the stream, we started up the mountain.
After another twenty minutes of walking, we ran across a staircase that had been built into the mountain. There aren’t many times in Ghana that I think to myself, “This feels like I’m living in an Indiana Jones movie”, but was one of those times.
There were lots of stairs. I didn't count them, but wouldn't be ashamed to estimate around 400 of them. They were of varying height and often interrupted by areas that were completely washed out.
After about 30 minutes of climbing the steps, our destination broke through the canopy. We took a short break, and continued up the trail.
As if the stairs carved into the mountain weren't enough to set the appropriate Temple of Doom imagery, we ran across this:
Yes, there were thousands of millipedes squirming and maneuvering across the stairs. They made a quiet, scurrying sound as their millions of legs marched over our path. We carefully stepped over the river of millipedes, which, quite literally, ran the width of the stair case and spilled over into a squirming millipede pile on either side of us, and then I dropped my fedora deep into the pile of millipedes. I reached into the pile to grab it, scraping millipedes off my hands when a cobra raised its head and hissed... wait, ok, so it wasn't that much like Indiana Jones...
After another half hour, I was starting to appreciate that carrying Townes on my back was a bit tougher than I had imagined. I prepared to sit down and take a break, when a gentlemen from the village below breezed past me carrying what must have been the weight equivalent of Townes and a backpack on his head.
We decided to continue on.
An hour later, we made it to the peak.
The view from the peak was pleasant. The rains were coming in, there was a cool breeze and the accompanying rustle of leaves below us. We drank some water, rested our legs and took some time to contemplate.
There has been a lot to consider in the past 5 months. Instead of focusing on the exhaustion of getting up the mountain, there were times when it was better to think on other things, like, why we are in Ghana, where we will go after our time here and how best to spend the sabbatical.
We haven’t received any clear answers, yet, but Prayer Mountain lived up to the hype.
On the way home, the perfect snack from the perfect vendor.