I’ve woken up in my fair share of strange places after a night of drinking. But looking out my window at 6 am and seeing this has got to be one of the strangest. And, incidentally, one of the most awesome.
Welcome to Nzulezo: a small village situated in the middle of Lake Amansuri in Western Ghana. Nzulezo, meaning “surface of water”, is aptly named. The entire 500-year-old settlement is propped up above the lake by stilts and contains wooden walkways that act as “streets”. Located close to the Côte d’Ivoire border, Nzulezo is about as far west as you can get in Ghana and not easy to get to.
I travelled there with Krista and Christine, two other Canadians I met while volunteering on a refugee camp outside of Accra. Several long, hot, bumpy and dusty tro-tro (little buses) rides took us to the small town of Beyin.
Riding in a tro-tro
The canoe ride to Nzuelzo
Once there we needed to hire a canoe and guide to paddle us out to the village on the lake.
The village has a small, basic guesthouse for gawky tourists like us. Getting to the bathroom was an adventure in itself. Two outhouses that simply dropped waste directly into the lake below were situated at the edge of town. With one section of the “street” under construction and only a plank or two wide, you had to keep your balance or else fall over the edge.
They also had a clever way to milk money from gullible travelers like us. In exchange for purchasing a bottle of locally-made gin, a representative would tell the story of the village’s history.
Another tourist had joined us, a chief from the nearby Tarkwa district, and so we all sat down to a generous serving of hair-curling gin.
As the story goes, Nzulezo was established in the 14th century. It was founded by a group of refugees fleeing a terrible war in Mali. Leading them into exile was a somewhat unconventional hero—a giant and magical snail.
“A snail?” the Tarkwa chief interjected, as our storyteller recounted his people’s history.
“Yes,” he replied patiently.
“S-N-A-I-L?” the dry-witted chief asked again. “Yes,” he assured him. The ancestors of the Nzulezo people were indeed led to this lake by a magical snail god.
Apparently the Tarkwa chief was finding the whole story as difficult to swallow as the extremely potent gin we had just purchased. “Do you mean to tell me,” the chief continued, “that these people… running for dear life, were following a snail?”
“Not the fastest of animals is it?” the chief replied sarcastically.
Our extremely patient storyteller continued unfazed despite his skeptical audience and eventually we heard the remainder of the tale. The snail god guided its people safely away from their pursuers and into the new land. When the snail reached Lake Amansuri, it promptly fell into the water, and that is where the people established their new settlement.
“Did it drown?” the chief interrupted again.
“No,” replied the guide, showing just a hint of irritation. “It was magic.”
It’s hard to get more off the beaten path than Nzuelezo, Ghana. But as the 5th article of the Badge of Awesome Ethos states: “Off the beaten path is an excellent direction.” It’s not easy to get to. But having a chance to drink gin with the locals and learn about snail gods while hanging out in a village on stilts is well worth the effort.
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