About 10 minutes after we hit the road, we stopped at the Talawona Tourist Lodge. Built in an authentic Lobi style, the accommodation is basic but comfortable.
Each room has three single beds covered with a mattress and mosquito net. There is a kitchen, a dining hall and cooks on the ready.
For lodgers who like the outdoor, there is a brilliant idea of a platform mounted up against a kapok tree. It is about 20 feet from the ground and offers an overlooking view of Burkina Faso.
Most tourists prefer sleeping there for breeze and closeness to nature. Given the chance, I would love to observe sunset from there. At the average rate of GH¢20 for a night, Talawona Tourist Lodge is a good deal.
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When we resumed our return trip, we made a number of stops at Lobi compounds. What fascinates me most about northern traditional buildings is the barn. It is basic to the architecture.
Much skill goes into how different types of crop harvests are stored and retrieved. I find nothing more secured than living in your own house with your kinsmen, with all your food supply for the season right under your watch. Kind of reminds you of Noah’s Ark.
We also stopped by a compound where akpeteshi was being distilled. One would think that this local gin could only be produced in palm or sugar cane growing areas. Well, don’t you wonder anymore. Here, they use sugar as the base for the preparation.
We got there at a time the hot stuff was piping out from a barrel into a sieved jar. The smallish distiller and his party were excited the way schoolboys are when their pranks lead them to a positive discovery.
They were eager that I have a sip. Let’s just say there was a swallow; and I got an ovation for that.
Back in Wechiau town, I walked to the visitor centre of Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary. It is one large room which serves as an office, showroom and meeting place. Appropriately, the white, huge skull of a hippopotamus is positioned to welcome you.
The information and finance officer, Abdulai Issahaq, received me. It was a busy day for him because it was Wechiau market day. Those visiting included tourists, rangers, and project volunteers from the 17 communities that form the sanctuary. The centre employs five tour guides, five administrative staff, 10 rangers and 15 boatmen.
From the centre, I went through town to have a feel. The area you would call the centre of Wechiau town has an unfenced mausoleum. The oldest tomb there is for a chief called Naa Daguo who was buried as far back as 1910.
For entertainment, there is a xylophone music session that can be arranged. Night life in Wechiau is supported by three well-dispersed drinking bars. There is a video centre that runs on a very smoky generator. The night before I had seen children barely in their teens watching the film “Lost in the Jungle.”
I strolled past the main mosque and descended to the Wechiau market. By now the mid day sun was at its shinning best. Wechiau market occurs every sixth day.
My tour began with a quick fix for lunch. I had fish caught fresh from the Volta fried in front of me. I sorted the treat with koosey fried in sizzling shea butter.
The interesting thing about Wechiau Market is that for certain items there is the Lobi section and Wala section. With the koosey, for instance, there is the line up of women preparing the Lobi one and directly facing them another line of women frying the Wala brand.
All the better for the customer, I thought. I simply helped myself to balls of the two varieties. Also, when I wanted pito to wash down my meal, I took care to respect the balance.
A refreshing calabash of Wala pito went down first. Then I got up, wiped my lips and then went in for an equally satisfying calabash of Lobi beer. You may think this is a pito spree but I call it “cashing up the local economy.”
Agbai, my tour guide, had by now excused himself and handed me over to a connoisseur of the local brew. His excuse was reasonable. Being a Muslim, he would rather be excused from the drinking session. The poor young man had suffered enough ‘haram’’ at my hands, having already watched me swallow akpeteshi.
It was thus on a full belly that I got mixed up in the crowd at Wechiau Market, rubbing shoulders with traders, shoppers, goats and sheep.
The main shopping area is made up of thatch roofed sheds supported by wooden poles. Items sold comprise charcoal, cook ware and second-hand clothing.
There is a big complex for stores. In front of this structure is the fufu base, which is quite a sight.
Unlike the plantain and cassava affair that pertains in southern Ghana, fufu in these parts is strictly a yam business. The mortars for the process are giant ones, with some standing as tall as chest level. It is real macho women who do the pounding.
Five or six of them stand round the huge mortar, each with pestle in hand. In rhythm and with much energy, the pounders keep hitting till the fufu is done.
There are about five of such stations in the complex area of the market. Can you imagine the fufu sound splash when all stations are pounding at the same time?
My last port of call was the chief’s palace. Having made an appointment, I arrived in the company of Agbai. One imposing structure in Wechiau town is the palace.
Not surprisingly, there are hippo paintings on the outside wall. The palace is built in the form of the ancient Larabanga Mosque. But the inside is all modern.
The Wechiau-Naa, Imoru Nandon Gomah II, was in the courtyard with three of his elders. The hides of a water buck and a cow draped the reception wall. Naa Gomah II is 67 and has been chief for nine years. He lives in the palace with his family which comprises six wives and 25 children. As a paramount chief, Naa has eight sub chiefs and 61 divisional heads.
Naa is proud that the transformation of Wechiau is happening under his traditional leadership. He believes his forefathers would also be happy. He said that in the past, their people showed great strength by hunting down and eating the hippo.
In those days, anyone who killed a hippo presented the hind legs to the chief’s palace. According to the paramount chief, today, such an act would be a taboo.
In many respects, my adventure to Wechiau has been fulfilling; the river safari, the encounter with the hippos, the interactions and all the new things learnt.
But more than any of these, it is one simple phrase that keeps coming back to me. It means much more to me than I can ever explain. This was a statement made by the Wechiau-Naa during our chat: “Every stranger’s visit makes us feel important; thank you for coming.”
I left Wechiau with those words ringing in my head.
Article by Kofi Akpabil
Kofi Akpabli is a communication specialist and a consultant at TREC, a tourism and culture research group.