We’d arrived back at the camp earlier than expected because we had missed the final village stop. The sun had broken out and the air was lighter than it had been all day, a slight breeze taking the worst of the humidity away. We had some options; relax in our accommodations, go for a walk, or, as one of the forest wardens was keen for us to do, take a trip in a canoe down the river. I could do the other two any time; I was not going to miss a canoe trip for the world.
The scene in the camp was as tranquil as could be, only the ladies preparing our evening meal gave any hint at activity, and they worked slowly and methodically at their tasks. After all, they still had three hours to go before dinner time. I went and changed out of my formal field clothes (long trousers and a polo shirt) and put on some swimming shorts and a t shirt and we followed the tall gangly warden, carrying a paddle, down to the waterfront. Adjoining the washing area we had used in the morning, two canoes were wedged onto the mud beside the river, a red fibreglass one and a wider metal one. Myself and Anne, from USAID in Ghana, took the metal one with the warden paddling, and Hugo and my US Geological Survey colleague, Gray, took sole charge of the other one. We gently eased out into the channel and for the first time I looked at the small cataract upriver from the camp. I had heard the gushing in the night but now I saw the full extent. Although the drop was only about 5m over a succession of boulders, the width of the river here was significant so the overall effect was impressive even thought the wet season had only just commenced.
I decided I would help the warden to paddle back, to help me get some exercise as much as anything, but I wanted free hands to take photographs as we headed down. To start with it was just nice to get used to the motion of the canoe, gently going with the flow, and looking at the thick green forest either side. It was interesting to note that this dense forest is never wide, even before humans starting hacking away at it, but probably only extended in a handful of trees before the amount of water in the ground was insufficient to supply huge trees. The land beyond is a less dense scrubby woody savannah.
The afternoon was growing old and as we progressed we started to detect more activity. The flies were always with us when we got close to the shore, but they were less prevalent out in the water, although you saw a few butterflies struggling to get across this open space without tiring or being caught.We saw some plops in the water as fish started jumping for the flies that were out on the river. Birds were moving about in the shadows of the trees.
In theory the park was on our left and should have been pristine, but early on at several points we could see a dugout canoe moored in the mud, and here and there on the banks some vegetable crops or the odd manmade fence. No doubt people were nibbling away at the park’s resources. In some places the clearings were blatant as instead of the thickly vegetated fringes, the trees hanging low over the water’s edge, we could see the bank and exposed soil, and maybe here or there the odd large tree chopped down.