Google Maps showed that both waterfalls lie on the Pawnpawn River, but not loads of detail about the bit in between, other than it was likely to be a mix of trees, hills and villages. And so early one Sunday, armed only with a GPS and machete, eight Ghana Mountaineers set off from Akaa Falls.
The falls, five minutes from the gate, were impressive following the heavy recent rains, but the riverbank that we hoped to follow was steep and covered in impenetrable bush. With no obvious way through, we headed back to find an alternative route.
Ten minutes later, we passed through a small village. At 8.00am, most people were setting off for church, but one man – who had clearly been at the palm wine already – offered to show us the way to the waterfall.
Despite us politely declining his services (anyone who sways that much so early in the day is not to be trusted as a guide), he took us along narrow paths through fields of cocoa yams and maize, until we reached a 30m cliff. To our right, a small waterfall trickled over the cliff into the valley below.
‘Yes, but we are going to Boti Falls’ replied Kevin, impatiently.
‘No, you need to drive there, you cannot walk’ he insisted, failing to grasp a key element of hiking.
It seems the villagers have caught on to the idea that tourists will pay to see waterfalls, as they do at Akaa and Boti, and are developing a path to their own feature; we were guinea pigs who happened to be passing through. But with no way over the cliff towards Boti, we turned back again, hoping it would be third time lucky.
Once at the top of the hill behind the village, Kevin’s GPS showed we were gradually getting closer to Boti Falls. From the top, a series of farmers’ paths made for easy going and we were soon above the valley in which Boti Falls lay.
And then the real adventures began. Going uphill through thick scrub is one thing; going downhill is another. A rocky drop of around 3m presented our first major hurdle of the day. Kevin found the quickest route, falling through the branches. But that trick only works once, and the rest of us, including the three boys – called Richard, Michael and Stephen, we now knew – made the precarious descent down the muddy rocks using whatever vegetation came to hand.
Once safely down, we continued towards Boti, the GPS pointing the way. The river valley was also too steep to descend in most places, but a man farming yams explained where we could reach the river, and that we could then follow it upstream to Boti Falls. ‘Only about 800m, but not easy’, he told us, smiling broadly.
As people removed boots and socks to get into the water, the expressions of the group’s three youngest members changed from smiles to worried frowns. It was clear that they didn’t know their way home and realised they were stuck with us. And what had started as a pleasant walk through the fields was now turning into a trudge through cold water. After a short discussion, they decided they didn’t have much choice and reluctantly followed us into the river.
Progress was slow as we headed upstream. Thick forest on the banks meant that we had to find our way through the water, over wet and slippery logs and rocks. Miriam ripped off a toenail, calling for some mid-river first aid; Felix’s boots both split open at the toe; and I silently tried to remember if bilharzia was a risk in slow-moving or fast-moving water. Meanwhile the water got deeper; Stephen, the smallest of the boys, looked increasingly alarmed as the water reached his chest.
Next came the storm. The sky darkened and the rain started – a full-blown tropical deluge that soaked us in seconds. Lightening flashed around the valley, and the river started swelling rapidly. The only way out was up another steep slope, which was a mudslide by the time 11 sodden bodies had scrabbled up it.
Everyone in the group was relieved to find the tarmac road to Boti Falls at the top. As the rain continued to thump down, we trudged on towards the welcome sight of our bus – full of dry clothes and food. The smiles had returned to the young boys’ faces by the time we dropped them back at Akaa Falls. They had some good stories for school the next day, but it will be a long time before they wander off with white people walking through their village.