“Don’t worry,” says my guide Aggie, giggling like a school girl. “It’s virtually impossible to fall, unless you’re trying to commit suicide.” As I peer out across the treetops at the rope and timber walkway on which I am about to place life and limb, I am not so sure.
“Just don’t walk too slowly,” adds Aggie with a grin. “Otherwise, the walkway will start to bounce and you may fall over. If that happens, just get up and keep on going. It’s perfectly safe!”
I am at Kakum National Park in Ghana’s Central Region. The park, protecting more than 357 square kilometres of some of Ghana’s most diverse and dense forest, is situated 33km north of Cape Coast and is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.
The biggest drawcard to the park — and the thing at which I am now nervously gazing — is the masterfully constructed canopy walkway. The walkway, built in 1996 by a team of Canadian and Ghanaian engineers, consists of a network of suspended rope bridges which lead to numerous platforms perched high in some of the Kakum’s oldest and tallest trees.
Aggie gives me the nod and I inch stiffly towards the edge of the platform. As the walkway takes my weight, I feel the bounce of the cable, wishing I hadn’t had that second serving of breakfast. I cling to the rope handrail for dear life, edging forward into the mass of green and desperately trying to conjure light thoughts.
Deciding it’s better to look up, as opposed to into the gaping chasm of nothingness between me and the tree tops, I pause and take in my surroundings. A sea of green stretches into the horizon — thick and luscious — and a sense of awe at the park’s beauty descends on me.
Slowly, my trepidation at the sturdiness of the rope bridge across which I am tip-toeing dissolves with each step, and I begin to feel somewhat akin to Indiana Jones on a grand adventure — minus the band of marauding, sword-wielding villains on my tail.
I soon find myself in the middle of the walkway, suspended between two of Mother Nature’s finest and sturdiest trees striving towards the sun. Beneath me, the forest canopy is impossibly verdant. I can barely see the ground and am somewhat comforted by the fact that if I fell, it is likely I would end up dangling from a leafy green tree-top, rather than hitting the turf.
All around me, the forest’s oldest trees lurch skywards, leaving the younger ones in their cool, damp shadow. Birds and butterflies flitter around me. Suspended in mid-air, I feel as close to nature as I could possibly be — and I am seeing it all from a wonderfully unique angle.
Reaching the first tree platform, with an undeniable element of relief, I strain to see any sign of wildlife stirring below. I know that the forest is home to a huge range of species, including elephants, monkeys and antelope. I peer into the dense foliage, as still as can be. There must be something down there.
Suddenly, something stirs. I catch a glimpse of colour and movement below. I hold my breath and quietly turn on my camera. But an elephant or monkey it is not. Instead, a group of Danish tourists makes its way along one of the nature trails, led by their khaki-clad guide. Aside from the birds, bees and butterflies, there is no wildlife to be seen.
The sad truth is that Kakum’s blessing has also become its curse: the canopy walkway is such an attraction that visitors, both local and foreign, flock to the park. It is widely known as an experience not to be missed in Ghana — and rightly so. Unfortunately, the animals inhabiting Kakum are not as keen for an encounter as the human contingent, and wildlife sightings are extremely rare.
-“The animals are hiding. They don’t like the noise,” says Aggie. “You might see some at night time, but even then it is difficult.”
But, quite frankly, this is okay with me. I know that the animals are out there. Somehow, it adds to the sense of natural majesty, evoked simply by being on the walkway, to know that I am being watched by the African wildlife; hidden, unseen and protected in their natural environment.
As I complete the 350 metre network of walkways, I find myself wishing it were longer and that I could cross the entire park swinging from tree to tree. My disappointment is eased, however, with a bottle of locally brewed palm wine: a heady concoct of sweet, bubbly goodness which is boot-legged just within the park’s entrance.
As I enjoy the sensation of the palm wine’s light bubbles on my tongue, I watch a bus load of school children arrive and I am glad I got up early to beat the crowds.
Foreign tourists and Ghanaians alike are drawn to Kakum, and it is not hard to see why. The canopy walkway, swinging its way through a serene and languorous forest, is a rare and exciting find. Though it has to be said; it’s not for the faint hearted. Once the first step is taken, however, conquering the walkway is truly a unique experience which provides a wonderfully alternative way to see a beautiful piece of Ghana.
This post first appeared on Claire’s blog.