Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nzulezo - the village on stilts


Our guesthouse in Nzulezo.
In early December, I travelled west of Accra for some seven hours in search of a village of stilts. I had seen photos, read articles, heard stories, but nothing compared to the actual experience of sleeping in a remote village held up solely by wooden stilts.

Like all of our weekend getaways, this too was filled with adventure. For the first time we decided to stray away from tro-tro travel and invest in renting a car. Although the price was a steep, we decided to go ahead and spoil ourselves.

Turns out our decision worked in our favour, as we've been told the area is extremely difficult, and expensive, to get to. You have to take approximately three different tro-tros plus a taxi that can cost up to 80 Cedis. Plus we got to come and go as we pleased, stop whenever we wanted to AND sing aloud and be silly.

Based on all instances mentioned above, we didn't reach Beyin, the town closest to Nzulezo on land, until evening. It was already dark and of course, the only accessible accommodations were overpriced resorts. One of which had no vacancy anyhow.

One more thing I love about travelling in Ghana is the ability to make a deal. Although we weren't able to work our way into a cheaper room at the resort, we made friends with the security guy who had friends living alongside the Ocean.

He introduced us, and once we checked out the accommodations, made sure the 'friends' were indeed, trustworthy 'friends', we locked our valuables in the car and walked down a path to the beach where we would be staying.

Our accommodation was a raised, two bedroom structure made of bamboo. There was a bed in each room and surprisingly with electricity. Another raised structure a few yards away held the toilet room.

We walked up and watched two Rastas gather their belongings, plop them into an overnight bag, change the bedsheets, grab a tent, say good-night and head down the beach.

I eagerly admired their simplistic lifestyle and ability to fit everything they own in one bag and proudly relocate themselves along the sandy shoreline in order to offer their accommodations to a stranger.

Thanks, Rastas.

Waking to the sound of the Ocean's crashing waves was a feeling I will never forget. I woke up, and Francis and I strolled along the coast, feet in the sand. I was completely speechless.

As soon as everyone woke up, we gathered the one or two things we brought with us and got ready to go to the stilt village. In order to get there, you have to arrange a canoe ride with the Ghana Wildlife Society.

And so, as we did. We arranged our canoe ride and enjoyed the 45 minute paddle to the stilt village.

Nzulezo is exactly what it is known for being, a village on stilts. Cool right? Yes! Too cool! Incredibly cool.

Main strip of the stilt village. Extending from this lane are the aisles belonging to the individual families.
Paddling in, it looks interesting, original, unique. You pull up, step out of your canoe and walk along the wooden pathways dividing the houses like streets. Usually, tourists will come and go, staying for roughly 20 minutes to an hour. During our time there we didn't see anyone stay longer, or order food, or ask to stay the night.

We did. A colleague was doing a video on the village and so we were required to set up interview appointments with community representatives for the following day. And since we had travelled seven hours from Accra to this incredible community, absolutely we were going to stay the night.

During our visit we spoke with community members, the village maintenance man acting on behalf of the chief and in doing so learned about the history of Nzulezo. Once upon a time, migrants from neighbouring African countries had come to Ghana, for whatever reasons, they were being chased and managed to escape by building themselves a village on stilts.

As rumours have it, as the enemies tried to approach the village by boat, the Gods controlled the water to close in on them. Protecting the inhabitants of Nzulezo from their attackers.

In current day, each of the 24 wooden rows represent a different family, and each time a member gets married or has children they build their own house along the same row as their elders. They have one school and two official church buildins representing two of the four to five religions practiced in the village. 

Although the village has a well constructed school with funding provided by the government for employment of educators, the community struggles to find and especially keep, a teacher for extended periods of time due to the difficult living conditions of the village.

Nzulezo does not yet have electricity although on 13th December 2011 an article was released by the Daily Graphic announcing an extension of power, costing $200,000 would reach Nzulezu with the purpose of boasting tourism in the area. This project is funded under a $16.5 million package given to the Government of Ghana by the World Bank for the purpose of electrification projects in the Jomoro District in the Western Region under the Ghana Energy Distribution Access Project (GEDAP).

For tourists wanting to spend in the stilt village, there is one option for accommodations. Otherwise visitors will stay in the nearby village of Beyin. A two-room lodge, two single beds in each, with access to a public toilet down one of the wooden lanes. We paid for the rooms and pulled the mattresses outside to sleep under the stars in this enchanted stilt village.

Coming for a visit is a must for all travellers touring through Ghana, but I do believe there is something magical about spending the night in this remote place. You experience more than a museum-style walk around and canoe ride. You get to know the community members and witness how they live. You find out what games the kids play, where they gather their food, the locations they canoe to bathe.

Although one night was enough, and we were extremely grateful for remembering to bring a deck of cards, it was an experience I will never forget.

View from our window in Nzulezo, the village on stilts.

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