Get us in your inbox

Search
  1. Touring Volta
    Daniel Neilson
  2. Touring Volta 2
    Daniel Neilson
  3. Touring Volta 3
    Daniel Neilson
  4. Touring Volta
    Daniel Neilson
  5. Touring Volta 4
    Daniel Neilson
  6. Touring Volta 5
    Daniel Neilson

Touring Volta

Heading through the highlands of east to the riverside communities of the Volta, Daniel Neilson takes an unforgettable tour of the real Ghana

Written by
Daniel Neilson
Advertising

It’s the sound of the ceiling fan flapping the mosquito net against the bedhead; it’s the refreshing temperature of the river water you wash with in the morning; it’s the early morning light highlighting the stuttering stream of families filling water in buckets, pans, bowls and jugs, loading them on their head and getting ready to start their day. It’s the little things that have stayed with me – the minutiae of daily life in Atsiekpoe, a small riverside community in Ghana’s Volta Region. The deep clunk of a blacksmith’s hammer striking through red hot metal onto an English-made anvil; the second basket an 11-year-old Moses made for us, determinedly making another after he deemed the first not good enough; my slightly embarrassing attempt on goal from a perfect cross on a dusty pitch. I spent 24 hours among the beautiful people of Atsiekpoe, and it became one of my top five Ghanaian memories. It may even be my favourite.

From our hotel in Accra, we (me and my mum) jumped into a 1992 Nissan Safari with bull bars and a roof rack. At the wheel was James Amusu, an affable, kind-hearted man with beads on his wrist, an easy smile and a ready supply of jokes. He would be our driver and guide for the next three days, on behalf of Jolinaiko Eco Tours, a Ghanaian-Dutch-run tour company with a passion for eco-tourism and community development, such as in villages including Atsiekpoe. The itinerary ahead of us included a stay at Ghana’s highest village, an ascent of the country’s second tallest mountain and a couple of days in Atsiekpoe.

East we headed, away from the busy streets of the capital and past Ghana’s industrial belt of Tema, steering around a convoy of trucks coming down from landlocked Burkina Faso. At busy junctions, hawkers sold water in bags, mobile phone top-ups, fried plantain crisps (delicious) and boiled maize (not so tasty). Further east, the traffic became sporadic and the hills became clearer and more common through the humid mist. We passed the Shia Hills and saw a family of baboons feasting under a mango tree by the side of the road. A baby was feeding on its mother’s breast as its parent chomped on a ripe mango.

James pointed out the mahogany trees that line some of the roads by small villages, planted largely for shade but also because the bark can help with malaria. At a young teak tree, he showed us how paint is made from the young leaves. The ‘watermelon tree’, meanwhile, turned out to be something else (I said James likes a joke). We
 saw mango orchards, banana plantations and paddy fields. Occasional hawks dipped into the thick bush.

Back in the car and onward. We stopped to look at the wonder that is Akosombo Dam, which holds back the world’s largest manmade lake. It was built just after independence, completed in 1963 with help from the US government, who took cocoa in return. The low water levels of Lake Volta means the dam can no longer support the full energy needs of Ghana, Togo and Benin – natural gas in the south and solar in the north is now helping.

East and east. The road rose and began to wind. The vegetation here, only a couple of weeks after the first rains of the season, was even greener and thicker. The trees were taller. It also seemed, if at all possible, even more humid. Butterflies swarmed across the roads and into the flower-filled bush. In one village we passed through, the roadside stalls were all selling cushions. “There’s lots of kapok trees around here,” explained James. We stopped to opened a seed, and found it filled with soft, spongy material.

Later that day we arrived in Ho, the regional capital, and bought some fruit: mango, and the most delicious pineapple I’ve ever tasted. It’s a pleasant little town, and on that day it was buzzing in anticipation of the arrival of the president, John Dramani Mahama, who was on a three-day tour of the Volta region to drum up support in his heartland for the upcoming election on December 7, 2016.

From Ho, we set off north and headed higher still, towards the Avatime Mountain Range with its seven communities surrounding Mount Gemi, Ghana’s second highest peak. The presidential motorcade sped past – we waved, he beeped (well, his driver did) – and we arrived as all the village chiefs of the area were leaving with their musical entourage. 

After our lunch of pineapple (did I mention how good it was?) in the village of Biakpa, we joined local guide Frances Setrot who led us through the dense, sweltering tropical forest up to Amedzofe, Ghana’s highest village. As we trekked along the narrow, sometimes steep path, Frances pointed out cocoa and medicinal plants as he described mountain life in these villages. “Before the roads came, these were the paths we used,” he explained. In a puddle of sweat, we met the people at the Eco-Tourism Centre in Amedzofe, a lovely, breezy, relaxed mountain-top village. We paid GHc10 to climb the final half-hour to the cross at the peak of Mount Gemi. It was a friendly community, and everyone greeted us with a smile. A turned-up calabash outside a house, I was told, signifies that the potent Ghanaian moonshine, palm wine, is sold here. It didn’t seem a good idea in this heat, so we continued, across what must be the most scenic football pitch on earth, with 360-degree views over the mountain ridges, and up to Mount Gemi’s peak. No one seems to know its exact height (answers on a postcard?) – only that it is just over 800 metres.

Despite the heat, the views from the top were expansive. Lake Volta shimmered in the west, and the hills that surround Mount Gemi faded into the evening haze. The cross at the top was installed by German missionaries, in the Alpine style. We took pictures then returned to our guesthouse to watch the sunset over the mountains, cold beers in hand.

After a brief breakfast (omelette of course), we were back in the car, driving south to Atsiekpoe, a village clinging to the side of the Volta River. A couple of hours later we arrived at the water’s edge, parked the Nissan and threw our bags in a wooden canoe – the taxis of the Volta. With us were two children returning from a shop on the other side of the river. There was a motor on this canoe about twice the length of a car, although not all vessels we see on the brief crossing have them – the outboard motor hasn’t been around long in Atsiekpoe. Through reeds and lilies, we landed at the village to be met by a group of kids. It was the school holidays here and they were in playful mood, showing their moves as they jumped into the river. The appearance of my camera only encouraged them.

Cashew Village is a handful of little rooms around a leafy courtyard. We took both lunch and dinner under a shady roof overlooking the river – an incredibly relaxing setting. The little complex, owned and built by Jolinaiko Eco Tours themselves, with the aim of bringing livelihood and development through tourism. For example, tourism money goes to the community development fund in turn helping the building of a clinic and ensuring the power stays on. In one hut, a machine was making a real racket – inside, people were queueing to mill produce, having come from surrounding villages specifically for the purpose. Walking around the village, our guide Godwin introduced us to the lovely people who make Atsiekpoe their home. Time and time again, we were met with a big smile and a handshake.

We were shown shrines, and a blacksmith at full throttle. We chatted to the village wise man, who at 101 regaled us with stories about the changes in the area, and the appearance of Christianity. An ill-advised football knockabout was thankfully over soon, and we moved on to explore the museum – another project helped by Jolinaiko Eco Tours – where old photos and farming equipment helped us learn about the natural resources. As the sun continued to blaze in the afternoon, we took a cooling boat ride along the riverbanks. Fishermen dived into the deep as ferries purposefully crossed the river back and forth. 

As the sun descended – which happens early in these parts – children played in the shallows against the riverbank. 

It had been an eye-opening trip that had showed a more tranquil, peaceful side to Ghana’s often frantic day-to-day life. Back at Cashew Village, we sat under a mango tree and made baskets with Moses and his brother, hoping that, out here by the river, the day might never end.

---------

The tour was organised by Jolinaiko Eco Tours (www.joli-ecotours.com). It has personally-tailored tours across Ghana, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso. 

  • Things to do
  • City Life

What would you do with an extra day off each week? Spend the morning at a gallery, watch a new blockbuster film – or finally help out at that community gardening project you’ve always had your eye on?  Well, participants in this six-month trial in the UK are about to find out exactly how they’d spend that bonus free time. Workers at more than 30 UK businesses are taking part in the pilot, which will see the working week reduced to four days. They will be asked to do the same amount of work as before, and for up to 35 hours per week, but this will be split over four days not five. They will also be paid the same as before. The trial forms part of the 4 Day Week Campaign: a scheme that supports businesses making a shift away from the traditional nine-to-five. Run alongside the thinktank Autonomy, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the study aims to measure the impact of a shorter work week on wellbeing, productivity and gender equality in the office. Similar studies are being held in the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, with pilots already under way in Spain and Scotland. Researchers reckon that benefits include higher performance for employers and better work-life balance for employees. And it’s even good for the planet, as a four-day week could see a reduction of around 127 million tonnes of carbon per year – equivalent to taking 27 million cars off the road.UK firms said to be considering a permanent work-week shift in the short term include big co

  • Things to do
  • City Life

In Brighton, on the south coast of the UK, buildings are no longer just for humans. Every single new development over five metres tall now has to include at least one ‘beehive brick’ and three bird boxes. So, what is a ‘beehive brick’? It’s a big, white block with holes in it that aims to offer the insects refuge for hibernation in winter. Simple. And how about the bird boxes? What are they like? Well, they’re designed specifically for swifts, which travel more than 6,000 miles from Africa to the UK in summer to nest, and they’re similarly sleek and stylish – so just the kind of thing you wouldn’t mind having on the side of your house. Councillor Alan Robins praised the designers of the bird boxes, the RSPB, saying they ‘have come up with a simple scheme that will increase biodiversity and encourage wildlife to thrive in our city’. This is true: while protecting local habitats is a key issue for city authorities all over the world, it’s often not all that easy (or cheap) to implement policies that help. But with bird boxes costing £25 and prices for ‘bee bricks’ ranging from £6 to £20, in Brighton at least, that is changing. Us next, please! Now discover 21 other amazing things cities are doing to fight the climate crisis.

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • City Life

The last few months have been a bit of a Covid frenzy. Over Christmas, it felt as if Omicron was absolutely everywhere. And while case numbers have reportedly reached their peak – in London at least – Plan B restrictions are still in place across England. This might not be the case for much longer, however. Government officials are considering phasing out all remaining restrictions from as early as March, in a move that signals living with Covid will become the new normal. A government source told The Guardian this would include replacing mandatory self-isolation for people who test positive with much less stringent ‘guidance’ (details of which are unclear at the moment). Currently, there is a legal requirement to self-isolate for a minimum of five days if you test positive, with fines of up to £10,000 for non-compliance. That rule will expire on March 24, two years since it was first introduced, and it might not be renewed. Brits may no longer be required to share details of their household with the NHS, either. That would mark a huge change in the way the UK government manages the virus. Oh, and you scan expect other changes even sooner. Plan B measures – like working-from-home guidance and Covid passports for nightclubs – are up for review on January 26. Mask-wearing may well remain mandatory on public transport and in shops, but the stricter rules are likely to be removed. Testing for holidaymakers entering the UK could also be scrapped in time for the February half term.

  • Things to do

The golden age of radio didn’t end – it evolved. Now we live in the time of peak podcast, an era where we we can get a direct infusion of knowledge, comedy, music, opinion, intrigue and discourse while showering, working, running or just lazing about. There are seemingly infinite podcasts out there, from influential squawk-boxes like Joe Rogen and Howard Stern to amateur shows produced in basements. That’s the beauty: Anyone with a mic and a hard drive can make a podcast.  The best podcasts maximize the medium’s potential, incorporating interesting voices, immaculately curated topics and an ear for storytelling. They include true-crime opuses and whip-smart comedy. Among them you’ll find enriching lessons in history and deep-dive nerdry, stories that hit close to home or transport you to faraway lands. Together, they have the power to make you gasp, giggle, scratch your head and walk away feeling smarter. From old-school trailblazers to brand new names, these are the 50 best podcasts to listen to right now. Contributors: Anna Rahmanan Eddy Frankel, Andy Kryza, Phil de Semlyen, Alex Plim, Dave Calhoun, Andrzej Lukowski, Cass Knowlton, Dalia Barth, Isabelle Aron and Alexandra Sims RECOMMENDED: the best things to do when you’re stuck at home

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • City Life

Earlier this week, we covered a new four-day working week trial that started this month in the UK. More than 30 businesses across the country are taking part in the pilot, which is organised by the Four-Day Week Campaign and will see employees working four days instead of five – for the same amount of pay. On the one hand, people in support of the scheme claim it could have huge benefits for productivity, wellbeing, the environment, gender equality, employment and even profit margins. Others think it’s too ambitious and that it could lead to some social groups working much harder and longer than others. Obviously, it’s a hot topic. It seems everyone wants to either work less or accuse people of not wanting to work enough. And so the reaction on Time Out’s social media channels saw a healthy mixture of scepticism, optimism, chuckle-worthy jokes and even the odd good point. Here are some of our fave reactions. ‘It’s called “Working From Home”.’ ‘It won’t be for retail, though.’ ‘I’ve been doing this in Canada for a few years now. Very forward-thinking, better life/work split, better performance at work and a happier home family life. It’s the way forward.’ ‘Welcome to our world. Been working 12.5hr shifts for years in the NHS with no coffee break. It’s great u should try it lol.’  ‘Well, I guess the public sector will have to work faster. Good luck!’ ‘I think the working week should end at 12 noon on a Friday.’ ‘This is good for those in need of three days recovering from a han

  • Things to do

You’d think a pandemic might defeat the point of living in a city. During lockdowns, much of the fun and culture and social life that define urban living are off the table. And these being big, sprawling metropolises, it’d be easy to feel a bit hemmed in when you can do little else but hang out in your flat. But there you’d be wrong. Our cities adapted. Communities rallied like never before. We fought to help our businesses survive. And – somehow – we even found ways to have fun. Now many of us have emerged from lockdowns and are taking tentative steps back towards semi-normality, we thought it was time to recognise all the great things our cities have achieved over the past 18 months. So, once again, we launched the Time Out Index: a poll of 27,000 city-dwellers from Melbourne to Madrid, Chicago to Copenhagen and Tel Aviv to Tokyo. We wanted to find out which cities really stepped up and pulled together this year. So we asked you not just about food and culture, as we always do, but also community projects, green space and sustainability. We were after the cities that were not only thinking about the now, but also the future. The ones making life better both for us and for our grandkids. And here are the results: the best cities in the world in 2021. This list was put together based on answers across every category in the poll, along with insights from Time Out editors and experts worldwide. Read on to find out how your city fared – and what it can learn from other amazing p

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Games and hobbies

Want to set up your own weekly trivia night? Peruse this guide to the best online trivia games out there, so you can have an amazing quiz night from the comfort of your home—feel free to have a few drinks, flex your intellectual prowess and, best of all, make fun of your pals relentlessly. We’ve also rounded up some tried-and-true drinking games to play remotely for a boozy evening, online jigsaw puzzles for a solo session and classic board games to play with friends online.  RECOMMENDED: Online party games to play with friends

  • Things to do

The last time we made this list was in the heady days of January 2020. Remember them? There’d been rumblings of a virus originating in a wet market in Wuhan, but life was pretty much normal in most parts of the world. We did our thing. We made plans. We looked forward to a whole load of new cultural stuff happening around the world that year. Except basically none of it did. Music, art, theatre: all involve gathering loads of people together in often crowded spaces. Not good during the Panny D. Big openings were cancelled. Festival season was a write-off. We even stopped writing about going out altogether and rebranded as something called Time In. Throughout it all, our planners looked depressingly empty. But now, happily, we live in a world where vaccines have allowed things to return to some semblance of normality. And while we skipped a 2021 edition of this definitive global events and openings calendar, we’re pretty confident that almost all of the amazing things you’ll find below will happen next year. So, Omi C permitting (someone had to start calling it that), here are the 22 best new things to do in the world in 2022, from massive new museums to huge gigs, theatre shows and art exhibitions you won’t want to miss. RECOMMENDED: The 16 best city breaks in Europe for 2022

Advertising
  • Things to do
  • Weird & Wonderful

Immersive art is having a moment right now. No longer content with looking at paintings in frames or sculptures on plinths, we’ve got a taste for hypnotic, all-consuming gallery experiences. And this year, Coventry – the UK’s current City of Culture – is getting the country’s first permanent digital art space.Set to open its doors to the public in April, the Reel Store will occupy a cavernous former newspaper office in the city centre. Much like the famous Atelier des Lumières in Paris, the building has essentially been converted into one big gallery space, designed as a home for video shows that can be projected all over the floor, ceiling and walls. Photograph: Refik Anadol Studio The first major exhibition, ‘Machine Memoirs: Space’, is a collaboration between artist Refik Anadol and NASA. Expect AI renderings of photographs taken by the space agency’s ultra-powerful telescopes. The results are so colourful and dazzling you’ll basically feel like you’re inside a kaleidoscope. Tickets for the show are not on sale yet, but you can find out more here. Expect to see loads more immersive art on your feeds in 2022 – with an unexpected amount of it from Coventry. Can’t get enough immersive digital art? There’s a brand-new Gustav Klimt experience coming to London.

  • Things to do

What does 2022 have in store for us? It might be wise to avoid making overly hopeful predictions, lest disappointment creeps back into everyday life, but remaining optimistic is vital. We remain resolutely cheery here at Time Out, but preparation is half the battle, so we’re making contingency plans should everything go to the dogs again. To cut a long story short, you can never have enough things lined up to keep you entertained if stuck indoors. After all, cabin fever is no fun at all. But it only takes a change of approach and a carefully curated expert list to change that. Stick with us, and you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied, from books and games to movies and TV shows. You might even find it preferable, although don’t give up on the wonders of the outside world just yet. It is pretty darn beautiful out there, you know. RECOMMENDED: The 100 best movies of all time

Recommended
    You may also like
      Advertising