A post-walk beer is a regular feature of walks with the Ghana Mountaineers, but this was the first time we had started drinking before the walk. But this was all in the name of good manners – sharing a bottle of gin with the chief of Helepke village as we requested permission to climb the nearby mountain, Adaklu.
We sat in the chief’s dark living room – twelve walkers from Accra and eight members of the local tourism committee – exchanging pleasantries and making arrangements for the next day’s hike. I was unsure if there was an ancient tradition that meant gin must be shared, or if the chiefs just liked it. Either way, no one complained.
Outside, the large clouds that had been gathering over the summit let loose into one of Ghana’s violent tropical storms, with Mount Adaklu taking the brunt. As we drove back to Ho, I wondered what the deluge was doing to the mud paths we would be ascending.
We were up and ready to go at 05:30 the next day and after breakfast at the Bob Coffie Hotel (twelve of the smallest omelettes I have ever seen) we set off once more for Helepke, the largest of a collection of villages that circle the base of the mountain.
At 602m, Mount Adaklu is a mountain in miniature, but still large enough to mimic Mounts Cameroon and Kilimanjaro in its ecological zones that vary as you climb. We passed through maize farms in the village to reach the foot, then through tall grasses until we reached the treeline, where huge trees provided a dense shade.
The path through the jungle was steep and rocky. Nothing tricky under normal circumstances, but the previous day’s deluge had turned it into a type of gloopy porridge, causing everyone except our sure-footed guides to slip. The trickiest section was a near-vertical series of rocks up to a large boulder. Hard enough going up, it surely crossed everyone’s mind that we would also have to go down it.
Such trifles don’t bother most Ghanaians, though. Just above the rocky cascade was a cocoa yam farm. The farmer greeted us as he passed, then leapt down the rocks in his worn-out flip-flops while balancing an overflowing basket of the heavy tubers on his head.
The rain had also brought out the forest’s huge snails, which were enjoying the moist vegetation. The youngest guide with us was delighted, and collected several for his dinner. He assured me they were delicious; I was happy to take his word for that.
Beyond the yam farm the path levelled out as we crossed the plateau of this table-topped hill, and quickly reached the top. The guides proudly showed us the shelter they had built using the profits from tourism. They hope to encourage more visitors here, and the new road being built to connect Adaklu with the popular town of Ho will certainly help. The profits are also shared between all the villages around the mountain, so everyone gets their share, however small.
The walk down proved tricky, with some finding the steep and slippery paths a trial, but we all made it back to the village safely and headed back to Ho, where Kevin had organised a traditional Ghanaian lunch for us to finish the trip: light soup and fufu.
Fufu is a thick white dough made of cassava and it is one of the few trials of living in Ghana. It is best described as like eating Play-Do but without the novelty of being an interesting colour. It can’t even be described as bland; it manages to taste of nothing in a slightly unpleasant way.
It can take several hours to pound the cassava for fufu; why anyone bothers is beyond me. I managed about three mouthfuls, then gave up and ordered some rice to go with the groundnut soup – which by contrast is a delicious local dish. Feeling brave after managing a little fufu, I ordered a glass of cocoa bean wine, made locally. How bad could it be?
Very. Tasting of gone-off chocolate, which is essentially what it was, it was a hard glass to polish off. But having failed with the fufu, I was determined not to lose culinary face again. I held my nose, downed it, then ordered a large Star to wash away the taste, safe in the knowledge that Ghanaian beer is up there with the best that the country has to offer.