The Saratoga Sun -

Guided by the lighthouse

 


This is Part II of a three part story I began telling in a column on May 11.

The story takes place in the summer of 2013, when I was a teacher for the Peace Corps in West Africa. I began hiking towards a lighthouse on a remote stretch of the Ghanaian coast, and adventure ensued.

For the first half kilometer though the path exiting Akwidaa cut through the jungle it was never out of earshot of waves crashing onto the rocky beach. The undergrowth constantly rustled around me as I hiked, unseen critters of every sort scurrying to escape my advance through the dense foliage.

The terrain was bursting at the seams with life–and it made me nervous in a way I never quite was in the wilds of Maine. There, at least, you could be reasonably sure you’d see the bear or moose. Here, there were all manners of venomous snakes perfectly camouflaged to blend in with the forest floor–not to mention a whole world of exotic stinging insects. I didn’t waste time finding a walking stick/ brush clearer, and proceeded with caution.

By and by the path arrived at a swamp–and it appeared to dip right in into the muck. Monsoon season was in full-swing, and a 25-meter stretch of the path had been inundated. Luckily, I spotted a boy–14 or 15 years old by the looks of him–emerging on the other side, and he was only wet to about mid-thigh. Seeing where he came out, I knew roughly where to aim for while crossing, and that the drop-off wasn’t too steep.

One look at that opaque, silt-laden water told me that this was going to be gross, but there was nothing to do but wade in. I transferred my wallet and phone to Ziplock bags, took off my leather sandals and moved carefully forward.

Testing the path ahead with my stick like a blind man with his cane, I made it almost halfway across before hitting the inevitable layer of goo in the deepest stretch of thigh-deep water. The water left pale brown halos on my lower thighs as I moved slowly forward, and the bottomost layer of muck squelched and oozed around my ankles beneath the surface as I babystepped my way to firm ground.

After emerging from the swampy section, the path bent back towards the sea and I soon found myself in another tiny village. Although I passed through quickly, I could sense immediately that this was a very different sort of place from Akwidaa–poorer, more insular, less used to foreign faces. It was also a good deal smaller, and by this hour, most of the fishing boats were out casting their nets, lending the settlement a subdued, hollowed-out atmosphere.

An elderly woman looking after a group of youngsters informed me that the lighthouse was still eight or nine kilometers distant, and I would need to follow a dirt road inland for a while because the coast became impassable.

I sorely wanted to ignore her advice and continue my push forward along the shore. I was further away from my destination than I had imagined, however, and I didn’t want to risk running headlong into a mangrove swamp and either have to backtrack or gamble on slogging my way through.

So, for the moment, I opted for the sensible decision and headed down the dusty road through the bush.

Though pleasant, this swath of the journey was fairly uneventful–a frequent side effect of sensible choices. I could see huge, uncut swaths of rainforest on either side of me, all of it writhing and squirming and flapping and cawing with life. But I wasn’t in it and among it as I had been before, and it took a lot of self control to walk past the enticement of trails leading into the unknown leafy darkness.

An hour passed, and I didn’t see any people or cars on the dirt road. I had found a rhythm to my hiking, and kilometers melted away behind me even as the sun shined fiercely down from the zenith of its arc. Far from the ocean now, the road passed gigantic trees, nearly as thick as the mammoth baobabs in Burkina, and even taller. Some must have been 50 meters or more–regal giants of an ancient forest.

Closer at hand, running parallel with the road was a string of telephone poles. Although no lines were up, they would be soon, and then all these coastal towns would blink onto the grid one by one, like lights on a Christmas tree.

In 2013 at least, that day had not yet arrived, though. On that afternoon, there were just these poles in the ground, an advance guard of power and modernity.

Cresting a hill the dirt road started turning back towards the sea, and finally, three or four kilometers off in the distance, I caught the first glimpse of my destination. The light house didn’t look like much this far off, but the rocky promontory it sat upon promised spectacular views all the same.

I quickened my pace.

This story will be concluded in next week’s Saratoga Sun–found wherever good newspapers are sold.

 

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