“Guys there’s a walk leaving in 15 minutes!” our friend calls from outside. It is our final morning waking up to the view of a gorgeous tiered chandelier hanging over our heads and its tiny curved pieces are gently swaying to the breeze of the fan. We are having a luxurious Sunday morning coffee in bed staring through the door flap of the tent onto the savannah view of the Shai Hills with its golden green plains and prolific trees that appear small from this distance, as though someone has taken a dark green marker pen and dotted all over the page. I’m torn between prolonging this lazy sacred moment or feeling some fresh air and nature first thing in the morning. Dave chooses to stay and read his book, but I find myself tying the laces of my takkies (South African for sneakers) as I take the last sip of my ‘wake up’ cup. (Sometimes I really can’t believe I only started drinking coffee when I was 32!)
Going on hikes is something we very much enjoy as a family but haven’t done much of in Ghana. Our daughter Emma is the exception as she has seen the most incredible views from mountain tops in our time here with the Junior Ghana Mountaineers club. We had thought of joining the adult club but somehow the 5am Sunday starts were never very appealing for someone like me who loves sleeping in and Dave starts work so early on weekdays that he too treasures the mornings when his alarm clock doesn’t have to go off when it’s still dark outside.
But now that the Shai Hills has this lovely tented accommodation available which I will write about in my next post, there is a lot more opportunity to explore this area other than on day trips to the reserve. And this hike I’m writing about really made me realise that it is an area that those of us living in Accra should be exploring more regularly!
Our morning group of 3 adults and 5 children follows our guide on his motorbike and drives to the T1 Hiewayo Trail which is a walk that takes you to the highest point in the Shai Hills – 290m above the ground. We set off and it feels wonderful to be taking in all the shades of green around us and hearing the happy birds with their melodious calls. The walk is not too strenuous, but it is a lot of walking uphill as you are literally walking up the mountain most of the way.
Delicate dewy spider webs glisten in the morning sunshine, and dozens of Shongololos (another South African word for Millipedes) are coiled cozily together in pairs.
The most special and surprising thing about the walk is remembering how small we really are in nature, as we come face to face with several enormous baobab trees along the way. Their thick rough elephant skin trunks extend powerfully upwards and then gracefully burst into outstretched branches at the top. It is quite something to witness their bold presence and I have this desire to hug a trunk and take in some of that life affirming strength as I stand in awe looking up!
Did you know that the reason baobab trees are known as ‘The Tree of Life’ is because they are actually succulents and during the rainy season they absorb water and store it in the trunks, which means they can still produce a nutrient filled fruit in the dry season!?
Our guide shows us where we are hiking to, and with craned necks we look at rocks high above us and can’t quite believe that that’s where we are headed! We tread through mulchy damp brown and beige forest floors scattered with yellow leaves that look like stars fallen from the sky. The nice thing about the hike is that although it is quite steep you largely walk in the shade of all the trees so you stay cool. Along the way we see old bowls and rocks that were used as a pestle and mortar by the Shai people who used to live in these parts before they were kicked out by the British. The kids are excited about the enormous rocks and bolders that look like the ones they know from the Minecraft playstation game!
Always on the lookout for some colour, I’m excited when some beautiful flowers in a blend of pink and lilac appear on the hillside, and another plants has small buds on it that look just like precious pretty pearls.
Then there are the magical looking baobab flowers that we see fallen on the ground and the detail on them is stunning. We have a delightful children’s story book by Julia Donaldson called ‘Jack and the Flum Flum Tree’ and surely these are the written about Flum Flums in the book that the children need to search for to cure the granny’s Moosles! Later I learn that all baobab trees have flowers that open at night and fall to the ground after a brief 24 hours!
The foliage above our heads starts to thin now making way for blue sky. We have to cross over some steep sharp rocks and suddenly as I catch a glimpse of the view below I realise just how high we are, and I have a real nervousness in my belly to make the step onto the next rock. I realise I must be somewhat afraid of heights especially when it feels like we are right on the edge of a sheer drop. For a few minutes I offer to stay with our youngest walking member Eva who is only 4 years old! But when I hear the others chatting on the rocks a few metres ahead I pluck up some courage and decide to make my way to the viewpoint one careful step at a time.
If the panoramic view that we had breathed in the day before on a walk was wonderful, this one is now truly spectacular! We are high above the tallest baobabs and looking down we can see some of the fruits dangling from branches, a special brief moment in time to witness! Streaks of luminous green are on the ground far below where the sun is shining through the clouds. I sit down for a few minutes and zone out from the chatter of the kids close by and take some deep breaths in and out. What a beautiful morning to be alive with this brilliant Sunday morning start!