Death-defying heights.

The power stayed out well into the morning. We were making an effort to sleep in, because that day we’d planned to hike to the two Wli waterfalls, and Matt seemed to have a touch of whatever bug I had. After a little breakfast though, he felt ready to go.

Wli is so tiny that if you are a tourist, you are almost certainly there to hike the falls. Our waiter the night before had shown us his video of a recent trip- gorgeous- and our waiter that morning, Gideon, offered us some advice. “It will take you five hours, and you should bring some food and lots of water.” He looked a little horrified at what we were bringing: a shared 1.5 liter bottle of water. “That is all?” The thing is, we were skeptical that the hike would take five hours. First of all, the Dutch people told us they had hiked it in something like three hours, and we were definitely in better shape than them. Second, Matt had done this hike before, and though it had been years earlier, he didn’t remember five hours. We assured Gideon that we knew what we were doing. I adopted a stance that said, I mean, look at us. We’re athletic. I’m in a sports bra. We got this.

The trail to the first falls- the lower falls- is almost completely flat, shaded by big trees with audacious leaves, and comfortable. It takes about 45 minutes to reach, but at a fork in the path, when we were almost there, our guide, Matthew, said we would go to the upper falls before seeing the lower falls. So we turned right and started up.


Baby pineapple!
GIANT centipede! (Millipede?) The length of a bratwurst.
Um, this tree is being eaten by another tree. Gulp.
Matthew insisted we take his picture. This was when he was still kind of charming.

Soldier ants.


Matthew was small and wiry and probably between 45 and 50. He was very excited that he and Matt shared a name- less so about me and my presence. Everyone in Ghana shook hands with us both, but Matthew didn’t shake my hand until I offered it- and then he shook it with his LEFT hand, which as you know, should never be used in polite Ghanaian society.

But I admit he was a good guide. He insisted on taking our picture in all of the scenic spots along both trails, and once we were on the trail to the upper falls, he had a lot of advice about foot placement. He also carried our water for us, when that later became necessary.

Unfortunately, he had a lot of criticisms for me. When we started the upper falls trail, he said I should go first so he could see me walk, to make sure I could make it. (Um, I run marathons, Matthew. Clearly, I can handle this!) He also said, “Sister Jennifer, tell us when you need a rest and we will take a rest for you.” My Matthew came to my defense: “Madam is very strong! You will see!” In your face, guide.

Guide Matthew also didn’t like the pace I set. “Too fast! You will get tired before the top! Slow, slow.” It took me a while to slow down enough for him. Hills are much easier for me than slopes (probably because of my amazing glutes), so I can take them faster. And later, I could hear Guide Matthew telling Matt that he was concerned that my sandals would fail me. I was wearing strappy, sturdy Tevas with grippy soles. They were both wearing flip-flops. (Matt’s Chacos had given him a bad blister, so he was stuck wearing his $1.50 Old Navy shower sandals.)

But the second trail was much, much, much steeper than I had anticipated, and because we set off in the late morning, the heat was quickly intensifying. In hindsight, Guide Matthew was right to slow me down, even though he was annoyingly sexist about it. There were many times that I had to use both hands to pull myself forward.

I started to worry about my Matt. He hadn’t eaten that much breakfast, and he needed to take breaks with increasing frequency. I also started to worry if our water would be enough, but Guide Matthew told us we’d be able to refill our bottle at the falls because the water was so pure. So we climbed on.

Our first glimpse of the upper falls- about halfway there.
It was hot.
A look back at Wli. That’s how far we’d hiked. And we were only halfway.
It took us an hour to reach the summit of the trail. We were about to begin the last part of the trek to the falls, which was supposed to be mostly downhill, when I heard Matt say, “Oh no, oh no.” I turned around and saw him throw up. And then he threw up again. And again. He threw up six times. I felt faint with worry. “Matthew,” I asked the guide. “How much further? We need to rest here but he needs to cool down.” Guide Matthew said ten minutes. We would be able to swim in the falls, he said. I thought if Matt could cool down, we’d be able to make it down the trail.

But I was so worried. We were really far away from where we’d begun, and I realized that I didn’t even know the emergency number in Ghana. Was there a hospital? How would we get there, if we needed to? And on top of that, “ten minutes” was really more like forty, and it was along some treacherous downhills. I kept swearing. I was so anxious for Matt. We rested a lot. Finally finally finally, we saw the waterfall. As we got closer, a flat beach of small light-colored rocks stretched before us and into a shallow wading pool.


On the beach, the spray from the waterfall and the wind was overpowering. It was so, so refreshing after the humid, achy hike. We were surrounded by lush green plant life and many white lilies. Guide Matthew left us alone and refilled our bottle.

Matt and I waded in. The water was cool and the sun didn’t feel quite so punishing. We took a long rest, gazing up-up-up at the waterfall spilling down the rocks. It was a calm place, and there was only the three of us. Except for the falling water, it would have been silent.

This is the very top of the lower falls.
When Matt felt rested, we prepared for the hike down. First, the steep uphill, and then down, down, down. Matt set the pace this time, so I was in the middle, with Guide Matthew behind me.
The way down was much harder for me than the way up, but it was easier for Matt, and I was relieved when he said he was feeling marginally better. Somewhere near the second viewing point, around halfway again, we ran into another young couple and their guide. The woman was sitting, breathing and sweating heavily. She said she was having trouble, even though she’d done hikes of similar difficulty before. She and her partner both looked worried. They asked us what we thought of the rest of the trail while our guides spoke to each other in Ewe. We didn’t chat for long, but Matthew suddenly grew impatient, so we kept going. “I have no patience for people like that! They are wasting the guide’s time! All those questions- questions will not get you there!” I’m not sure if they finished the hike or not.
The terrain gradually became less deathly steep and soon, we made it to the bottom. I was so, so relieved. By this time, the temperature had dropped and the clouds had darkened. We could hear thunder. But hot and sticky, we took a right at the fork in the trail and walked a few hundred meters to the lower waterfall. Here a man was selling soda, water, beer, and Obama biscuits. Thankfully, because Matt desperately needed calories back in his system. He got a Fanta and drank a little more than half.
We swam here, too. The pool was bigger and deeper. The waterfall was similar in height and width to the upper falls, but here, thousands of toucan-sized fruit bats lined the walls. It was incredible.

Bats! All of those little brown dots are bats!

Guide Matthew took a few pictures of us- “I will pic you!” (All afternoon, he used “pic” as a verb.) But he largely left us alone here and for the remainder of the flat hike out. I was glad. It had been an emotional and exhausting day, and I didn’t want to hear more about my shortcomings.

The darkening sky.
Adorable livestock on the walk back to our hotel.

Enlarge these pictures- the baby lamb still has an umbilical cord! Ahhh, she’s brand new!

We walked back in the rain and returned to the hotel at 3:30- five and a half hours later. (Our bad, Gideon.) Our legs were pretty sore and we ended up with one totally creepy selfie of Matthew that we had no idea he’d taken, but as we settled in for a nap, we agreed it had been a good day (and what a great year it’s been for us and waterfalls!). Matt started Cipro, I had couscous at dinner, and the power came back on around 4. Things could have been a lot worse. And in the morning, we were heading for the beach.


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