Into the Unknown

Travelers often encounter unexpected situations. The most thrilling moments, though, are when travellers get to explore unknown lands.

In our modernized world, the term of an explorer is often misguided. After all, nowadays, before you travel to an “unknown” land, you already have all the information needed for exploring and discovering.

Nonetheless, often, guidebooks do not prepare you for the massive differences in natural or human attributes. Once while traveling for two different reasons, I felt as if I was outside of my comfort zone and in a completely different world.

In 2017 I was selected to participate in a research project in Ghana. I was one of four members. Among the participants, I was the only foreigner. Although the project was in English, the three other members were feeling more comfortable talking in their native language.

Although I know, I am an introvert, and I may not speak much, it was the first time I felt so unwanted and ignored by someone. From the very beginning, when we had our first meeting, it was apparent that I was the outsider. All of us tried small talk and had some basic conversations of introductions. Yet, it was so minimal that it felt forced.

Growing up in a small community gave me the assumption that everyone is friendly, outgoing, and ready to meet others even if there is a language barrier. But I guess this assumption is wrong. As I did observe before, not all people are as open as my community or family. Probably my mistake was waiting for them to understand that my smiles and gestures meant that I did want to be included in their conversations. But on the other hand, they couldn’t expect that I wanted to be all alone.

I stayed in Ghana a little bit over a month, and for several reasons, it was my best and worst trip I ever had. Usually, you are afraid of not being accepted by the locals. However, in my case, I did not fit in with my colleagues, who supposedly are closer to my background than the locals. While with the locals and others that I met during the project, I easily had long conversations. Undoubtedly, none of us were native English speakers, but the language barrier had easily been overcome.

We often hear stereotypical notions such as people in this country are cold, distanced, or outgoing and friendly. Through word of mouth never really prepares us for the reality. I never expected that during my trip to Ghana, I would be shunned by the ones that were supposed to be my closest people. I dare say it was quite a traumatizing experience.

Nonetheless, Ghana was stunning. I had the chance to travel in several cities over the coastline of the country and was offered splendid sceneries and views.

But the one experience that I hadn’t had the chance to live or relive again was our visit to Kakum National Park. And yet, no guidebook could ever prepare me for my time at the park. Unfortunately, my country has been suffering from long droughts over the last ten years, so even one single tree is precious. Therefore, when I stepped in at the entrance of the park and saw that beautiful, healthy, thick green surrounding me, I felt as if finally, I found my peace.

Park Kakum is the first protected area of Ghana. Today it is both a wildlife conservation forest and a popular ecotourism destination. The park contains several facilities for visitors. There is an arts and crafts shop, a visual exhibition of the forest, a restaurant, and a lodge. Furthermore, there is the Kakum Canopy Walkway that consists of hanging bridges at the height of 40 m and a length of 330 m. Also, another unique feature of the park is a treehouse inside the forest that stands at 20 m and can host up to twenty people. The brave visitors who wish to feel closer to nature can stay overnight at the treehouse alongside a guide.

As this was an experience of a lifetime, we did all the hiking tours, tried some local food, and stayed at the treehouse overnight.

The Kakum Canopy Walkway is one of its kind in Africa. Even though I do not have a height phobia, it was a bit scary thinking how high I was hanging in the air. But the views from up there were marvellous. The combination of the tall trees and the blue sky was the perfect image. I could easily have stayed there for hours and just observe the scenery.

Finally, we went to the treehouse where we spend the night. Although sleeping in a treehouse in the forest was undoubtedly an unforgettable experience, I think another indescribable moment was showering at the no-roof showers outside of the treehouse. That’s when I felt that I am indeed in a forest.

After the very natural shower and a good meal at the restaurant, we headed at the treehouse. The night was interesting. I almost couldn’t sleep at all. Sometimes people who move to the city, from the countryside, cannot sleep because they find the city too loud. Well, in this case, it was too loud, but instead of noises from cars, you could hear all kinds of animal cries that you couldn’t recognize. And also, it was pitch black. When I sleep, I tend to dislike when there is light, but I’ve never realized how dark nigh time is until that moment.

In the beginning, it felt quite scary hearing the animals crying and calling. It felt as if they were preparing an attack on us. But when you relax and think that it is you that came into their natural habitat, you then enjoy the music of not only their calls but also the trees and the wind.

Nature is truly marvellous and precious. In general, I always loved nature, but I more used to the rural environment of wheat fields and olive groves. It was my first time experiencing such a beautiful forest. Unquestionably Kakum is vital to the residents of not only the central region of Ghana but the whole world. Because forests are our breath and life, and they should be appreciated and protected by all.

My journey in Ghana was full of ups and downs. It made me realise that not always will I encounter situations that I’ll be able to understand or reflect. Some circumstances might be welcomed, and others not. We often say how small our world is. But the truth is that there are hundreds of different cultures and languages. Similarly, there are different climates, flora, and fauna. We still live in a world that often creates misunderstandings, and like nature, people are also vulnerable. Our actions can hurt the earth, and words can hurt people. Hopefully, in the future, with better understanding, we will all be able to create a better world.

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