My week traveling Ghana’s Eastern region was full of vivid color, sounds and feels. This travel diary shares my memories of this trip and hopes to help you connect with another side of Ghana we don’t often see or celebrate ~ @EOnwona
– All photos by Eunice Onwona and Selase Kove-Seyram

Part I: Homecoming

It was a good ride from Accra, with all  the makings of a memorable trip present. Our driver, Amakye, was equal parts comedian and rapper extraordinaire after consuming some ‘atadwe’ (tiger nut). Followed by the occasional snooze and dipping into our stockpile of snacks, he offered exchanges on everything from local politics to his thoughts on a Twi-translated ‘telenovela’ Kumkum Bhagya. As we continued our ride, we were taught all sorts of ‘facts’ about our destination from Amakye since he grew up around many of the areas we intended to visit.  After nearly 4 hours, we reached Nkawkaw and were on our way to Rojo Hotel where we’d be staying.

Amakye takes a break when we arrive in Nkawkaw

Amakye takes a break when we arrive in Nkawkaw

We had our eyes set on Rojo Hotel about a week and a half before we left Accra. Friends and colleagues had advised me to secure accommodation as early as possible. Adventure junkies would be in town this same week, along with locals and travelers looking for drunken euphoria among the wooden lodgings and nightclubs. As folks were filling up every last guest house from Nkawkaw to Obomeng, we had asked Amakye to contact the hotel for an ‘affordable’ reservations, which was on the table until we actually arrived. What changed? Easter.

With rates now triple at the Rojo and our grand plans having gone a bit left, we set out to find a reasonably priced somewhere to lay our heads and satisfy our hunger pangs. One benefit, searching for a more affordable hotel is how we got to take in the town of Nkawkaw. The sides of the streets were dotted with food stalls laden with colorful variations of Jasmine rice and deep fried chicken, giving off a steady steam. Rural banks and market traders shared space in old-looking buildings, the kinds you see in other parts of the country like Kumasi. Nkawkaw was a bit busier than I’d imagined it would be. All of this bustle was juxtaposed against the backdrop of green forests and towering cliffs that led to more of Kwahu. I couldn’t wait to get up there and take in all the beauty I’d seen from this distance.

After a generous jollof platter from Top Kitkat and two quick hotel visits where we had better luck negotiating for rooms, we were in a better place and ready to begin work getting to know our ‘hometowns’ for the first time. Selase’s mom is from Obo and my dad is from Obomeng. The two towns are neighbors and known for their liveliness, hospitality and tourism and we were both excited to experience some of the stories of our families for ourselves.

jollof rice at top kitkkat

Jollof rice from Top Kitkat restaurant

As Amakye drove us careening up the mountain slopes toward Obomeng, my face was pressed to the window as I recalled all the things I’d heard about this place. Nights as cool as a spring evening in Germany, killer kontomire soup and modest but fiercely industrious people. Mulling over these thoughts and more, I lost my sense of place for a few minutes. Jolted back into reality, the car had come to a quick halt in front a bamboo shed where an elderly woman with a warm smile was sitting on a low wooden chair. At her side were large and medium sized plastic bottles, containing a fizzy, translucent liquid. Palm wine. Her rather crotchety husband wandered in the background but as Amakye stepped out of the car, I knew he’d win the old man over. 

Palm wine

Palm wine

Signaling to the drink, Amakye asked if I’d like ‘a sip’. I nodded before turning to Selase to admit this would be my first time drinking palm wine. To be honest, I wasn’t sure why it hadn’t happened earlier. Selase was surprised too but more so giddied up to be witnessing a ‘first’.

As we had planned for this trip in the weeks before Easter, Selase had tasked himself with the difficult job of getting me to, ‘try something new’. I’ve always been one for family vacations to places I’ve never been and impromptu road trips with friends but floating among the clouds while wailing in terror and desperation, isn’t my kind of new. Our conversations throughout the day (yes, this happened more than once) went something like this,

“We’ll go paragliding Eunice, don’t worry,” he’d say.

“No I won’t, never. You will,” I’d respond firmly.

“Never say never. Come on, you have to try something new”.

After working at a calabash of the lukewarm wine while my travel buddies watched with delight, we got back in the car with a night’s supply of palm wine and continued up the mountain.

En route to Obomeng

En route to Obomeng

Our first stop was Obomeng. On the main road in the town center known as Obomeng Street, there were a few trucks offloading sodas and liquor into makeshift chop bars. By the weekend, this strip would belong to party ravers from all over the country and the liquor would be working its magic. But for now, it was quiet with just the occasional traveler-on-foot, and not even one street hawker.

Once we got past the main road, there was a town gracefully moving towards modernity while keeping old-time traditions alive: babies swaddled at the back of their mothers, neighbors standing at their doorways watching everything, the smell of home cooked goodness drifting from wherever and finally settling on the fibers of my T shirt and advanced architecture majestically nestled in the rocks and shrubs. One house that particularly caught my attention had a sign in front with a printed message, ‘Welcome to Obomeng Hollywood’  – just in case you missed the grandeur of a home. Above us, the clouds were light and airy and the weather was cool.

One of the big houses in Obomeng

One of the big houses in Obomeng

The sun was now starting to shy away. We decided to head to Obo so Selase could also have his moment of homecoming glory. This would be the last activity for the day. Obo was pretty darn similar to Obomeng yet the highlight of my day took place here.

We parked the car at the base of a cobblestone stairway that led to what appeared to be a rather fancy homestay. Halfway up the stairway, Selase and I met a group of three middle-aged men exchanging handshakes, smiles and the final remarks of their chat.

Exterior view of JAYS Lodge in Obo

Exterior view of JAYS Lodge in Obo

“I’m the owner of that house over there with the funny ceiling,” said one man. The other two nodded in admiration. “I’ll be around,” he continued as if to invite them to his home as the other two men nodded and gestured their understanding.

I wanted to get in on this. They just seemed like ‘the right people’ to talk. I approached the most talkative of the bunch and introduced Selase and myself, telling him why we were here. I made sure he also knew we’d spotted his house with the funky ceiling. The other two men who hadn’t said much until then also introduced themselves. They were just as nice. One of them was the owner of the property where we had shown up, JAYS Lodge. His name was Eric Tenkorang.

Shortly after, ‘Cool Ceiling Man’ and his friend left but we decided to stick around because we got good vibes from Mr. Tenkorang. The three of us talked and talked, without ever moving from where we’d met him. Mr. Tenkorang proved to be something of a historical raconteur. He told us how our ancestors, the Kwahus, migrated from the Ashanti kingdom because of wars. They settled in the mountains so they could protect themselves from enemies. They thrived in the new environment even though they weren’t used to it. Mr. Tenkorang kept using the word “resilient” to describe them.

I was absolutely spellbound by his stories. I’d never heard this history before, to me it almost sounded like a folktale. But glancing over at the sharp ridges with little patches of sun breaking through, I thought about how courageous these people had been and how they became an entrepreneurial people because of this. Selase was just as inspired, voicing it every chance he got.  

This was a good way to end our Tuesday, remembering our past as we made plans for our ‘future’ and our next stop on our travels.

We also found a place to stay in Nkawkaw for a pretty good deal too.

Tip of the day: When in Kwahu, negotiate like the Kwahus do.