03-Feb-2008 --The mission began before dawn, at the Ahafo Gold Mine (7°01.464'N 2°20.541'W), not far from the village of Kenyasi (6°58.776'N 2°23.145'W), in the Brong Ahafo. The air was thick with dust blown down from the Sahara Desert, and smoke from the fires burning in the elephant grass night after night.
Dawn had barely broken when, after a hearty breakfast in the company mess, it was time to move out. At 06:18 hrs the four-wheel drive was fuelled and checked, and all the provisions required for a journey to the interior were packed and stored. This was nothing new to the Boys of Borneo, for they had left home on many a tropical morning to go where few had gone before them. More than ten years had passed since The Team was last on the road together and much had happened in the intervening years. Pat the quintessential adventurer had taken the Americas by storm. Kel had practiced his emergency response skills in Sumbawa, while Dan had gone north to Mongolia in the vain hope of saving the Mongol hordes from themselves. But the mining world is small and the team, now re-united, was once again in search of Romance and Adventure.
On this smoky Ghanaian morning two new adventurers joined the team. Big Scott, a native of Austin, Texas, was the son of a Methodist preacher-man, and another former long-term inhabitant of Indonesia and more recently Mongolia. The final member of the expedition was Joseph, the only Ghanaian on the expedition. Joseph was our driver and interpreter for the day. He was a fireman in real life, and an understudy to Kel the Emergency Response Specialist. Joseph put the Toyota Prado in gear and clearing the high-security gates, drove slowly along the dusty access road lined by elephant grass more than five metres tall. We turned northwest towards the border between Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire: the adventure had begun.
A rutted red-earth track carried us through villages built from mud and tin. The roofs were the colour of rust, covered in fine dust blowing down from the Sahara Desert during the dry season. Old women shrouded in cloth the colour of the ground, and young children huddled around wood fires. Porridge simmered in large vessels reminiscent of cannibal cooking pots. As our white truck picked its path around the potholes, young children smiled and waved.
After half an hour the rutted road gave way to broad bitumen and our pace picked up. More villages now raced past, and traffic increased. We now shared the road with passenger taxi sedans with yellow fenders, old men on bicycles, and the occasional dilapidated log truck parked up waiting for night to return so the hazardous journey could resume. Loggers have long since learned that the chances of evading police check-points increase dramatically after dark, so the truckers sleep during the day and drive at night.
Forty-five minutes out of Ahafo we reached the outskirts of provincial centre Sunyani (7°20.497'N 2°19.581'W). People were starting to throng on the city's footpaths some setting-up market stalls for the day's trading. We wound our way through two round-abouts, past the Coco Building, and out towards the outskirts of town and the open road.
Just outside Sunyani a police roadblock stopped us. The officer in charge asked several questions of our driver Joseph. The conversation was conducted in a dialect that the rest of us did not understand. We kept quiet and studied maps, ignoring the dialogue between the police officer and Joseph. Only after several minutes of discussion did the officer address us in English, wanting to know where we were going and what we were doing. "Tourism", we explained. That seemed to satisfy the policeman, who waved us on, having resigned himself to the fact that no financial offering was forthcoming. We continued our journey north.
As we moved away from the metropolis of Sunyani, the less developed were the villages. Mud and wicker walls and grass roofs replaced the mud brick and mortar with corrugated iron roofs that had typified the villages further south.
The road took us through a series of dusty towns and villages: Chira (7°23.681'N 2°11.082'W), Wenchi (7°44.316'N 2°06.456'W), and Awasi (7°48.410'N 2°06.096'W). Villagers in their Sunday best were heading to the many small churches that line the route. As we drove north the elephant grass that grew up to five metres in height around the Ahafo mine, was barely three metres tall here. We took heart from that fact, having dreaded the potential march through several kilometres of elephant grass towering high over our heads.
By 08:30 hrs we reached the village of Subinso (7°56.497'N 2°03.171'W), some 23.2 kilometres north-north-east of Wenchi where we were required to turn north-east towards the village of Mansia. We asked for directions from a couple of pedestrians, and within ten minutes were on a dusty track winding through the brownish scrubland.
We tracked our progress closely on the GPS and after some kilometres determined where to turn off a track less travelled. At a snail's pace we inched our way along increasingly unnavigable tracks deeper into the interior, past groups of women carrying loads of goods – firewood, yams, or tubs of water – walking back to their villages. Just past the village of Baatu (7°58.988'N 1°59.159'W) we could drive no further.
The track we had driven was now a well-trodden footpath leading to a well and a water hole frequented by the women and children of Baatu Village. We co-opted two kids, curious about our presence, to guard our vehicle while we set out on our quest to find 8N 2W. We left our "guards" with a couple of bags of potato chips and some soft drinks, plus the promise of greater rewards upon our return. We set off on foot, guided by our GPS along the path that snaked its way through the elephant grass and kapok trees. The confluence of 8N 2W lay only 1.97 kilometres to the North.
A few hundred metres further on, past the village hand pump and washing hole, the path intersected another sandy vehicle track. We turned north along the track.
The time was now 09:00 hrs, and the day was heating up. Our new track cut through dry savannah-like scrub, under straggly jacaranda trees heavy with seedpods. The red sand under foot was now so hot that it was unpleasant to walk on. Suddenly the landscape struck a note with Scott, who, in a deep baritone voice, from the back of the troop commenced to the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy". Members of the hapless expedition joined in but soon realized that we were no match musically for the Son of A Preacherman...
A short while later, on our left, tilling the soil of a cassava plantation was a farmer, Mr. Musah, shirtless under the African sun. We asked permission to cross his field, a request that was granted immediately. We pushed on, skirting the burnt remains of elephant grass tangles, moving ever closer to destination at the Confluence.
A final barrier stood in our way in the form of a creek crossing, heavily vegetated by elephant grass that had recently burned. We fought our way through the sticks and stems remaining, becoming evermore covered in black streaks of charcoal, and grey from the dust. We emerged from the riparian zone, only a hundred metres from our destination.
We pushed frantically through the blackened remnants of tall grass and bushes, our hearts beating stronger in anticipation of reaching our final destination. Within moments we were arrived at the unimpressive spot that is known as "8 degrees N, 2 degrees W". We jubilated, shaking hands and taking photos and congratulating one another on our landmark achievement. Minutes passed in this manner, but soon the excitement subsided. We now had a long walk back to our vehicle.
From the hit-or-miss approach to finding our Confluence, we knew that there had to be a much shorter route back, and headed towards a much more trafficable cross-section of the creek. On the other side of it was a cassava farm that had been neatly weeded and therefore easy walking. We charted a course straight towards it.
Moments after entering the farm we were met by farmer Mr. Abu Bakare and his wife Hawa and their infant son Aburahza. We walked to the family yam shelter for a chat and photo session. They were hospitable folk, who explained that they had watched our approach from afar, and had tried to intercept us to let us know that there was an easier point at which to cross the creek. After some moments we explained that we had to take our leave to return to our waiting vehicle. Farmer Abu Bakare bade us a safe journey and insisted that we take the largest yam of the harvest to cook upon our return home. We thanked him and explained that this, unfortunately, would not be possible because we could not carry them all the way to our vehicle. Mr. Abu Bakare understood our situation, and insisted that the next time we visited we must bring bags for carrying back the yams we had been offered. Before leaving we asked which way back to the track was shortest, Mrs. Hawa led us through the field, to the track ahead. We bade the little family goodbye and hurried back towards our car.
Thirty minutes later we arrived back at the vehicle. Our two child guards were still on duty, leaning against a small sapling, not having let the car out of sight. We slipped them a few Ghana Cedis. We swigged some cold water and climbed back into the car. With yet another successful mission under our belts we headed for a cold beer and lunch at the Eusbett Hotel (7°20.428'N 2°20.250'W) in Sunyani.