The Saratoga Sun -

Treachery and beauty

The Ramble Report


As the dirt road got closer and closer to the ocean,

I started itching to get sand back beneath my feet, and presently an opportunity presented itself. Fearful of a trespassing charge, I passed up a driveway leading to the “Western Ghana Palm Oil Research Institute.” A few hundred meters up the road, though, a sign pointed toward another coastal resort, and I made my move seawards.

At first, the beach here was much the same as I had found at the Green Turtle Lodge – pleasantly sandy and immaculately groomed. This was probably due to a sign promising a free beer to anyone who filled a plastic bag with beach trash.

As I left the resort behind me though, the sand quickly turned to pebbles, then rocks and then boulders, all smooth as marbles from eons of tidal waves. I could see that the land was stretching out toward a steep and treacherous point, but I neglected to take paths back to the road. The time for sensible choices had passed, and I was committed to clambering up and around the seaside boulder field.

With shirt and sandals stowed away, I sweat my way carefully up and around the promontory, the lighthouse hidden completely from view. Seven meters below me, waves crashed violently onto the rocky outcropping I was edging my way around. I paid careful attention to the precariously stacked boulders I was balancing on.

I have two theories about Fear Sweat. The first is that Fear Sweat actually has a different chemical composition from everyday perspiration. Perhaps the cascade of adrenaline, glucose and cortisol flowing into the bloodstream during moments of life-threatening danger alter the organic base of sweat.

My second theory is that Fear Sweat is essentially the same as any other sweat that oozes out of your pores. In this paradigm, it’s the perception of the sweat that is changed. As the brain jacks all sensory input up to maximum levels of clarity and precision, odors are perceived to be stronger and sharper than at any other time.

Never again will you comprehend the reek of your own B.O. in quite the same way.

Whatever the biological explanation, Fear Sweat was pouring out of me as I traversed these rocks, and that’s how I knew I had stepped things up to a Class III Adventure. “Transpiration de la Peur” may be no perfume, but it’s sour presence has nevertheless graced many of the finest days of my life.

My heartbeat slowed its tempo as I turned the corner of the point and eased onto firmer ground (more dependable rocks).

The lighthouse came back into view again, closer than ever, but I could see more complications were only a short distance ahead. This side of the point receded into exactly the obstacle I had feared before: thick tangles of jungle and mangrove swamp, practically impassable for a corn-fed Midwestern boy like myself. I had zero desire to repeat the acrobatics that had gotten me over the rocky point however, especially not as a cowardly retreater instead of a bold breaker of new ground.

Luckily, as I scanned the impasse ahead, an alternate route availed itself. It would be a little risky, but so would backtracking up the cliff, and this way would get me closer to the beckoning lighthouse.

The mangrove patch was sort of a swamp lagoon being fed by a narrow channel of sea water perhaps 30 meters across. Lying immediately across from this channel was a large seemingly abandoned residential structure, half way constructed.

The lighthouse stood only 400 meters or so beyond this building, but since the beach front was tangled with thorn bushes and I was wearing shorts, I figured I could just follow whatever trail led away from the house back to the road.

The problem was going to be traversing the channel. Part of it was little more than tide pools with ample stepping stones. Further out though, the channel was deeper and more problematically, much more exposed to the metronomic, scythe-like sweep of the ocean waves. Many of the stones I would have to use in this section were completely submerged, and only broke the surface for a few precious seconds before the ravenous sea swept across them again.

Catching my breath, I spent a few minutes surveying the string of rocks before setting out onto them. I didn’t want to have to think about planning my route during the mad dash across – but I couldn’t waste too much time either, since the tide was coming up fast now and every minute of delay was going to make the ford that much harder.

As I finally began making my way forward, it dawned on me that this same tidal ascent may be submerging sections of the path I’d been on earlier, essentially stranding me. Oops.

About a quarter of the way across the string of rocks, I paused, taking the last opportunity I would have to do so in a secure location. Scanning ahead, I reformulated my route a little bit upon catching sight of rocks I hadn’t been able to see from further off. I also counted out the seconds between waves, trying to figure out which rock I’d be able to reach between sweeps of water.

As it turns out, I either over-estimated my nimbleness or under-estimated the slickness of the stones. When I finally made my move after watching five or six wave cycles, I didn’t quite make it to the relative safety of the perch I’d been aiming for.

A wave, one of the bigger ones, caught me on a perennially submerged boulder, knocking my feet out from under me and tossing me into the brine. Water rushed and roared around my head as my fingers clutched for purchase on the barnacle-crusted rock I’d been standing on seconds before.

I clung to that stone with everything I had, and I felt buried under the powerfully moving water. When it finally receded enough for me to stick my head up without losing my grip, I only had time enough for half a breath and half a mouthful of seawater before another wave slammed me back under.

After this, there was a longer respite, and I was able to clumsily dog-paddle and pull my way to calmer, shallower waters before the next round of punishment.

Practically crawling out of the tide pools on the far side, I started laughing and spitting out salt water at the same time. I felt giddy and invincible and idiotic, and though I didn’t yield to the impulse, I knew what it felt like to want to kiss firm ground.

The path from the half-completed house (mansion may be more appropriate) led into a cluster of traditional Ghanaian homes with an old woman and several children sitting in front of them. I could tell they were all wondering where this strange, soaked and manically grinning creature had emerged from as I walked through their collective front yard.

From there, it was only a five minute walk to the long-awaited lighthouse. After everything I’d gone through to get there, I almost wish I could say it was a disappointment. That way, this could be one of those “the journey is greater than the destination” kind of stories.

That, however, would be a complete and total lie.

Cape Three Points was one of the most spectacularly beautiful places I have seen anywhere, and I had it all to myself.

The lighthouse itself wasn’t much: it was maybe 13 meters high and all locked up. There was a ladder (left specifically for me, I suppose) leading to the roof of a storage building next to the tower though, and I did climb that and get a good gander from about seven meters high.

The real show, however, was the three points themselves. Three rocky capes thrust themselves boldly into the turbulent waters, and they were nothing short of majestic. The biggest waves I had ever seen slammed into them constantly from the East and West, shattering themselves into boiling froth and rainbow mist.

Everywhere there was the roar of surf, the glimmer of late afternoon sun on open ocean and the prismatic splay of light diffracted through sky-flung shrapnels of the sea.

I climbed. I took pictures. I peered over cliffs. Mostly though, I just sat. The place was glorious enough, holy enough, to inspire stillness after an afternoon of frenetic daring and egotistical action.

I had fought my battles, and won my prize.

The only sadness in it, the slow leak on the bike tire of my happiness was perhaps the only tragedy there is. This moment was ending. Even as it began, I was aware of its ultimate conclusion, the fact that things cannot be peaceful, and bliss-soaked and beautiful forever. I would have to leave my perch at the edge of the world, start my way back towards the old dirt road.

Not yet, though. Not yet. One more breath here. Just one more breath of this sea-rich here and now.


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