Sunday, December 11, 2011

Monkey Business

Not to build suspense, or raise expectations, but this might be the coolest thing I’ve done so far.

It started with another business trip to the Volta region. Two of my colleagues and I were going to conduct a monitoring visit with the eight new peer educators we had hired back at the beginning of November. We left Accra on Thursday, and were planning on staying in Ho (capital of the Volta region) for two days. After the review meeting, we traveled to each of the eight project sites, to see where each of the peer educators works and to get a better understanding of the Volta region in general, since it is a new project site for us. And because, believe it or not, it was our accountant’s first time there!

Now, one of our peer educators works in Hohoe (pronounced, Ho-hoy), which is about two hours North from Ho, on the other side of the mountain. So, rather than travelling two hours there, and two hours back, we decided, (with a bit of pushing on my part), to stay the second night in Hohoe. My reasoning, if you remember from the last post about Volta, was that the monkey sanctuary is near Hohoe. And we were going to be there on a Friday :)

Hohoe, as a town, is much smaller than Ho, and as it is further North, the climate is much drier and dustier than Accra. Pretty reminiscent of the red dust in Niger that always manages to get on everything. So after finishing up our work in Hohoe, my coworkers and I went to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary! The sanctuary is about 30 mins away from Hohoe, pretty far into the bush. One of my coworkers knew some people in Hohoe, so we had a car to take us out there.

The sanctuary itself is in a teeny little village, in the middle of the jungle/forest/large grouping of trees and other vegetation…I’m not sure what the proper term is. I’m going to call it jungle. It sounds cooler. But anyway, you basically just grab a guide and a bunch of bananas and walk straight into the jungle. After about 10 minutes of walking, our guide started making loud kissing noises. And then. Just like in Jurassic Park, you hear a distant rustling of leaves that gets closer and closer and closer, encircling you, until (!), you are surrounded by monkeys!

This particular species of monkey is called the Mona monkey. According to our guide, the Mona monkeys live in groups of about 30-40, and there are at least three distinct herds/gangs/flocks/tribes (again, I don’t know what the correct word is…) that live in this particular jungle, each with its own male leader. The guide also told us that the monkeys are not afraid or shy, but they know when people don’t have any bananas, and won’t approach unless you do. (Or maybe they would if you had a big yellow hat).Bananas don’t grow in this particular part of the jungle, only plantains do, which is why they are such a treat. Usually, the Mona monkeys just eat berries, insects, and nuts. But fortunately, we had our banana offering for the monkey chief.

And now, brief tangent for my brother, who insists that I bring him a monkey as a souvenir:

In Southern Ghana, there are a lot of palm tree that produce a sticky white sap, that when fermented in the hot African sun, becomes a fairly alcoholic drink called palm wine. Now, palm wine to me is pretty nasty, its a little sour and a little pungent, but, because it's natural and comes from trees found in the monkey sanctuary jungle, I'm thinking a monkey would drink it. This was confirmed by my guide, who afterwards, watched me rather suspiciously.

But anyway, I'm thinking, silly brother of mine, that if you come visit me, we can go to the monkey sanctuary, get one of the monkeys drunk off of palm wine, and then sneak it back to my apartment. THEN we can train it sit on your back and look like one of those stupid animal backpacks that people seem to be wearing these days, so you can take it on the plane. Or we can just tranquilize it and stuff it in your suitcase. Either way, you can take it back to your apartment to be BFF with Bowser. Sound like a plan?

Ok. Tangent over.

To feed the monkeys, you are supposed to hold the banana firmly at the base, and then the monkey, or monkeys, peel the banana, and grab little fistfuls until the banana is gone. If you don’t hold the banana firmly enough, the monkey will take it from you and run away, to keep from having to share with any of his monkey friends.

After about 10 minutes, there were at least twenty monkeys surrounding us. Which meant you couldn’t keep an eye on all of them at once. Which lead to the following progression of pictures:

First, this little guy jumped on me from behind when I wasn’t looking. In the picture, I think I look scared, but really I was just surprised.

Second, the monkey crawled onto my shoulder and began eating the banana that I was holding.

And then, my vision was obscured by monkey fur. At one point, I had three monkeys on my shoulders, playfully squabbling over the banana. Now that’s what I call have a monkey on your back (ba dum chshhhhhh).

We only had one bunch of bananas, which is about 8, so after we ran out, the monkeys got bored and moved on. My coworkers, the guide, and I continued to walk through the jungle for a little while. In addition to monkey business, it turns out the guide also knew a lot about the different types of trees and stuff. He also kept telling us to look out for snakes, which made me nervous, but thankfully we didn’t come across any. (Ghana has a lot of scary snakes, including the black mamba, the largest venomous snake in Africa!)

After goofing around in the jungle for a while, we got back to the village, only to discover that our car engine had died. There’s not even a doctor in that village, let alone a mechanic. Our poor driver popped the hood and did his best to make the car run, but since it was getting late in the afternoon, and we figured it would be much trickier to get back to Hohoe in the dark, we decided to abandon the car for the time being.

Now this village, like I said, is very small and sort of out of the way, which means that there are no taxis, or trotros, at least not regularly. So, we had to hire three guys with motorcycles to transport us the 6km back to the nearest town, Logbe. It was a bumpy, dusty journey, but fun nonetheless. From Logbe, we were able to catch a trotro back to Hohoe.

And the sun set on another awesome day in Ghana. (a cheesy ending for a fruity story..who doesn't love corny wordplay?)


  1. Aside from the fact that I'm horrified of monkeys, this looks amazing! So glad you are happy over there! :)

  2. Good morning how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately it’s impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this I would ask you one small favour:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Ghana? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Ghana in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and a original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Calle Valencia, 39
    28903 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog, where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely