Lessons from Kakum.

Not all moments in life are going to be sunny, not all moments are going to go accordingly or transpire in the way we were expecting, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the overall experience will be bad or unenjoyable. You may not even succeed in what you set out to do, the journey may even fall short but in putting your best foot forward, literally and figuratively you may find that the experience, albeit it different than what you had in mind, is as equal or better and if you open yourself up completely you’ll be bound to experience some growth along the way.


Take my recent journey to Kakum National Park for example. Located in the Central Region of Ghana, just about an hour away from the Cape Coast I arrived at the park after spending the early afternoon at Elmina Castle. Established as a national park in 1992 and officially opened in 1994, Kakum is a protected tropical rainforest that’s most notable for its canopy walkways at tree top heights that visitors can trek, should they choose to view the 145 square mile park from high above.

The park is home to about 300 bird species and at least 600 butterfly species, including one that was discovered in 1993. Along with wildlife such as the forest buffalo, red river hogs, leopards and monitor lizards, several endangered species- the African elephant, Diana Money and the giant bongo antelope also call Kakum home. According to the staff, early mornings are the most optimal time to visit the park if you want an increased chance of seeing some of the wildlife.


As much as I am a fan of wildlife, especially large mammals like elephants and leopards, my main purpose on this visit was to experience the canopy. It’s worth mentioning that the Kakum walkway is only one of three sites on the entire continent with a canopy walkway, with this particular walkway being the only one in Africa that provides a walkway at the forest canopy level to provide access to the forest. With some of the walkways reaching over 160ft, not only were my thrill-seeking and daredevil personalities piqued but also my love of observing nature, especially at such high vantage points.

The weather had been splendid in the Cape, the sun was beaming in all its glory and the sky was clear blue, with just a few scattered clouds. With Kakum being just 33km (21 mi) north, I’d hoped that the weather would be more or less the same. But with it also being the rainy season, odds were 50/50. Surely enough, as I was heading to Kakum, the clouds began to darken followed by steady raindrops. By the time I reached the park, I was ready to head back to the capital, Accra, because the rain had begun to fall quite heavily. Standing in the reception area, watching the sky fall with rain, I thought, okay, maybe this won’t happen today and plus, do I really want to explore the canopy in the rain? The experience would most likely have to be rushed, therefore not giving me enough of an opportunity to revel in the beauty of the forest at soaring heights.


Lesson one:

You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you respond to it. And how I chose to respond was to wait out the rain a bit and see if it would clear up. I was travelling with a new acquaintance, Nii who I’d been IG friends with for years and finally met up with on this recent trip to Ghana (if you’re heading to Accra and would like to a local guide, or are in need of some insights of the area, send him a message) and he too agreed that we should wait out the rain. Our collective thinking was that even if the sun didn’t come back out (which it didn’t), we could still very well have a good canopy experience, albeit a different one than what we expected.


Lesson two:

When things don’t go as planned, do your best to quickly let go of prior expectations and focus on the current situation.

I was so hung up on experiencing Kakum in perfect sunny weather conditions, that it didn’t dawn on me that I was interjecting unnecessary negative energy into an alternative experience that could very well end up being a great time! As if waiting on me to have this epiphany, the rain began to slow to a light drizzle and some white light could be seen coming through the clouds. I took it as a sign that it was now or never and Nii and I rushed to the entrance to the walkway. A lush and verdant forest entryway greeted us and I soon forgot about the falling rain. In hindsight, the steady rainfall complimented the environment and added to the aura of the forest setting- soft light peaking through the treetops, birds calling to each other, rustling leaves and branches, all the while feeling light drops on your head and shoulder. Certainly beats being in the forest with sweltering heat, doesn’t it? Not wanting to chance the rain, I suggested we hurry up and pass a group of other visitors, including some 20 or so school children, so we could have the canopy mostly to ourselves and in case it started raining heavily again, we would have seen and walked most of it.


Lesson three:

Patience will forever retain its importance.

When we caught up to the group, we held back a bit to hear some facts about the forest- the animals it contained, best times to see them and the history behind the construction of the canopy. It was designed by two Canadians who wanted to increase ecotourism in the largely ignored national park and knew that a unique feature like the elevated walkway would increase visitors. The canopy consists of seven separate bridges, and as the guide explained, after walking the first and shortest bridge, you can decide if you want to complete the six other bridges to your right, or if you have already reached your thrill-seeking limit you can take the bridge to your left and return back to the beginning of the trail. I decided we should actually hold back a bit, and let everyone else go ahead, instead of speeding through. We had waited for the rain to stop falling after all and the experience shouldn’t be rushed.


The fictional Earth-like moon, Pandora, in the film Avatar is what immediately came to mind when I stepped off the first bridge and took in the sweeping elevated landscape. It was if I had stepped into another world, where it was just you and nature- rising lush treetops as far as the eye can see, an enchanting misty sky and most importantly, a serene peacefulness. If an Ikran, the large bird-like aerial predators from the Avatar homeworld had flown past, I wouldn’t have been too surprised. While marvelling at the beauty of the park, I heard some whimpering to my left and looked over to see one the school girls, rather gripped with fear and calling over to her classmates for assistance to walk to the shortened bridge back to start of the walkway. Most, if not all of her classmates had done the full walkway, and I could hear her asking specifically for two boys to come to help her, even though other girls in her class had walked the other six bridges.

I walked over to her and asked if she would like help in crossing and she quickly nodded her head. I put my arm around her and told her it was going to be okay and not to be too afraid, as well as not to look down too much. I asked for her name, she said it was Grace and I told her my name and let her know that it is okay to be afraid, that we are all afraid of something, but that does not mean that we should give into that fear. Since she had kept asking boys to come over and help her, I made it a point to mention that she can do pretty most things boys do and that even the boys that made the climb had some fear too, but they did not let it stop them. Within a few minutes, we reached her friends, who were cheering her on as we made the crossing. They even asked that I upload the video so they can go viral.


Not rushing ahead of the other guests and speeding through the canopy ended up being the best choice; as I was able to offer encouragement and support to a young girl in need and in hindsight I’d like to think that the universe was telling me to be patient for this purpose. Furthermore, Nii and I were able to fully soak up (no rain pun intended) the beauty of the forest and marvel at the construction of the canopy bridges.


I hope my experience in Kakum and the lessons that came with the journey will come to mind and guide your actions the next time you find yourself in a situation where things aren’t going as expected. Life does not always go as planned, but despite that, don’t automatically give up on what you initially set out to do. You truly don't know how far you can go and what you can accomplish. Apply this to school, work, relationships, etc., adapting to changing events, letting go of expectations and practicing patience. Even if things don’t work out, you’re bound to learn something new about yourself along the way and self-growth is always a win