Monkeyin’ around in Tafi-Atome

This post is part of the April 2015 A to Z Challenge. Find the challengers via the Blog Sign-Up or on Twitter using #AtoZChallenge. Located in the heart of Ghana’s Volta region, some 230km north of the capital Accra, the village of Tafi-Atome is making a name for itself in the eco-tourism niche as the home of the Tafi-Atome Monkey Sanctuary. When we arrived in the village it was already dark. We’d spent the day hiking from Amedzofe, Ghana’s highest settlement, to the summit of Mt. Gemi (750m) and then along an “easy footpath” down the forested side of the mountain. It took us seven hours, one sprained ankle and severely blistered feet to reach the main road. From there, we were lucky to catch two subsequent tro-tros to Tafi-Atome. As soon as we arrived in Tafi-Atome, we were shown our accommodation inside the sanctuary. While we had learned early on that water in Ghana is scarce (at the time of our visit in 2006 there was a drought that had severely lowered the water levels of Lake Volta and therefore also affected electricity from the Volta power plant), there was no way we’d wait until the morning to shower. The staff gave us an hour to freshen up and tend to our wounds and aching muscles before we were shown to a hut that housed the  dining area. We had arrived too late in the day and it was already too dark to see any of the monkeys that the town is famous for, but that gave us a chance to ask the guide about the sanctuary while we ate banku and stew for dinner.

The next morning started well before 5.30am for us. Our guide came to collect us at 6am to see the monkeys in action. He led us through the village and past the sheltered dining area towards the forest. On the way, we bought small bananas from on elderly lady. Everywhere we looked we could see glimpses of tails and we heard rustling in the trees. Tafi-Atome is home to a population of Mona Monkeys, which are commonly found in Western Africa. The people of Tafi-Atome believe that the monkeys followed their ancestors from their home region Assini to the new settlement and saw them as representatives of the gods. They, therefore, hold the grove and the monkeys sacred. The villagers care for the monkeys and leave food out, which means that although the monkeys are wild, they are tame enough to come close to humans and steal food. You wouldn’t be able to pet one, but they will take a banana from you when offered. Just keep a firm grip, or your monkey encounter is over in seconds.

As soon as we took the bananas out, we were surrounded by monkeys. On the ground around our feet, above our heads in the trees and on benches, tables and whatever else would make a good perch. The monkeys are most active in the early morning and late afternoon / early evening, making those prime times to watch the local wildlife. The staff know that seeing the monkeys takes priority on your trip to the monkey sanctuary, so breakfast is served after the monkey encounter. That way you can enjoy the Mona Monkeys in all their glory without having to fear that some of them found your breakfast while you’re gone. Here’s me, back in 2006, feeding monkeys at Tafi-Atome. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFX6PdPTH7Y

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