Last weekend, my friend and I traveled by road into the eastern highlands of the Kwahu Mountains, a part of my country where I had never been before. The chain of towns and villages that form the Kwahu plateau are part of a 160-mile-long mountain range, dissectedby valleys, ravines and gorges, and forming the sources of several water bodies. At its highest peak, the mountain juts out at about 2,586ft above sea level. With a mean temperate of 77F and average humidity of 83%, this area is relatively cooler all year round than most parts of the country. Kwahu boasts some of the most awe-inspiring cliffs and rockfaces, and a heaven-on-earth view from almost every one of several peaks that sees human activity. On the spur of the moment (more like spurred on by my companions), barely half an hour after arriving in Kwahu, we went on a hike through a forest, up a steep mountainside using ropes, and through a catacomb of caves with nothing but a headlamp to illuminate the inky darkness. The hike up the mountainside through the forest had three landings. At the first landing, as I paused to catch my breath, I double-checked with our guide exactly how high up we had to hike to reach the cave door.
By the second landing, panting like my heart would fall out of my chest, I barely managed to declare through bursts of breath that this was my last stop. I encouraged the others to go on without me and bring back photos so I could live the experience through their eyes. Just looking up and seeing how much steeper it was to the next level left me drained and almost in panic mode. It didn’t even help that I could see the cave door up there or that there were ropes to aid our climb to the next level. But with some cajoling from our guide, I mustered all the courage I could find in me,grabbed handfuls of rope and started to propel myself up with all the power in my muscles. I went at it with crazy strength and determination. I did not pause or think until I was on the third landing, and I actually got there faster than I had climbed the first two levels.
Here, our guide affixed each of us with headlamps and then with an abrupt “let’s go”, he turned and started into the depths of the mountain cave, which turned out to be little more than a long tunnel! We stepped over rocks, crept sideways through the narrowest parts, at other times climbed down a ladder and even once crawled on all fours. About 15 minutes into our expedition, we came to a T, where we turned left and came to a dead end. Our guide asked us to turn off our headlamps. And in this sacred spot, the heart of the cave called the Wish Center, a tunnel that was no more than 2.5ft wide and 12 feet high, where it was so dark you could not see your own nose, and where it made no difference whether you opened or closed your eyes, we were invited to make a wish, say a prayer, or just observe a moment of reflective silence.
I have never experienced anything like it! A full minute of pitch blackness and absolute silence, broken only by the distant sound of trickling water and nearby breathing of my companions. I prayed for my nation; for our leaders and policymakers. And I prayed for the world to know peace like what I felt right there in that dark cave. When we turned our headlamps back on and started to make our way out of the cave – not the same way we came – our gasps of excitement weren’t missed when we saw the first glimpse of natural light after about 10 minutes. It turned out, though, that the hike out and down the mountainside, though not harder, was trickier and more dangerous than the climb up due to the steepness and slipperiness of the ground. Two people slipped and fell, but only landed gently on the behinds without major injury. We were so exhausted we cared nothing for taking photos at any point on this trek. The traverse through the cave – the constant climbing up, hopping from stone to stone, or scraping against the cave walls – was made no less hard for wearing the wrong shoes. I had, after all, made no prior plans to do any hiking, especially considering that I had never hiked before. I was prepared for none of it. When we finally came down the mountain and out of the forest, I cheered for myself more than anyone because I had accomplished what, in a hundred years, I would never have given myself credit to be capable of. I did it! Yes, I!
And for our reward, our guide took us to a special place were few people got to go -a true heaven-on-earth where the most majestic rockface echoed back every spoken word.Priceless!
Footnote: I wrote this piece as a note-to-self, a reminder not to sell myself short. There’s so much that I can do if I just try. You too.
Disclaimer: While I am not an experienced hiker or in the ideal physical condition (I weigh over 200lbs), I have been ardent about working out for the past 12 years; I spend about an hour on my treadmill at least 4 days a week. I practice HIIT two days a week, and weight training another two days a week. That’s to say some level of physical fitness is still necessary for what I did. Don’t take it for granted.
Action Item: If you would like to learn more about visiting Ghana and Africa for leisure,business or community service, go to www.firststeptours.com; where your journey of a thousand miles begins.