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Lake Volta, the world's fourth largest reservoir, is located in the west African nation of Ghana. Known to locals as Volta Lake, it was built to provide electricity, fresh water and economic opportunities to the people of Ghana. The lake borders the regions of Volta, Central, Brong Ahafo, Ashanti, and Great Accra. In 1961, the Volta River Authority commissioned an Italian firm to build a dam across Akosombo Gorge, near the conjunction of the White Volta River and the Black Volta River. The United States and World Bank provided funding to the newly-formed republic. The resulting lake displaced 78,000 people along with their farm animals. The dam now provides electricity for most of the nation of Ghana and a reliable supply of fresh water for villages in the area. As fish is the primary source of protein for the people of Ghana, expanded fishing opportunities provide a better diet and improved water transportation to enhance trade. It is hoped that irrigation of crops will further increase the food supply but change comes slow to this small country formerly known as the Gold Coast.
There is little development along Lake Volta's shoreline. At least 20 small villages hug the shore, most without road transportation or electricity. The regular freight and ferry visits provide the opportunity to sell local products and crafts to visitors and the occasional tourist. The ferry service also allows locals to visit with distant relatives too far away to paddle by small boat. Freight barges allow products such as yams to be moved downriver to markets at the capitol of Accra. Increasingly, the lake brings tourists to the region, aiding a burgeoning industry vital to the economic growth of Ghana.
Lake Volta increasingly has become a destination for visitors. The small town of Akosombo, growing up around the dam, has become more tourism-oriented. Fishing excursions and water sports have become available through the local vacation resorts and lodgings in the area. Fishing for Volta perch, African tiger fish, Nile tilapia and several varieties of catfish are a favorite of charter expeditions as native guides know the location of underwater snags and hot spots. The Digya National Park, encompassing part of the northwestern shore, encourages wildlife safaris, where visitors may catch sight of elephant, buffalo, water buck, hartebeest, bush pig, baboons, five species of monkeys, crocodiles and the clawless otter. The 2160-acre park is largely savannah woodland and gallery forest along the riverbanks.
Lake Volta is filled with submerged hardwood trees such as ebony, teak and mahogany. A recent project begun by an investment firm is to harvest this valuable wood from underwater, thus protecting dry land forests from cutting and providing needed funds for the government. The project has been met with mixed emotions among local fishermen: the trees catch and damage their nets but also provide cover and spawning areas for the fish that provide their livelihood. Ghana is truly a country in transition and change is always difficult.
Experienced travelers may wish to utilize a tro-tro, or local small passenger vehicle, to get from the capital city to Lake Volta. These vans have no set schedule and travel when filled to capacity. Others arrange for a rental in Accra, but need to be aware that there are few improved roads in the interior of the country and an SUV is a better option. The vast majority of visitors arrange in advance for a tour of the areas they wish to visit. And there are a great many colorful and historic places to choose from around Lake Volta.
Typically, the visitor to the Lake Volta region will fly into the capital of Accra or one of the other airports along the Atlantic Coast. Accra is well-supplied with Western-style amenities but retains many African cultural attitudes. No visitor will want to leave Accra without visiting the Accra Centre for National Culture, which presents traditional handicrafts in various forms from all over Ghana. It includes workshops, art galleries, arts and crafts and stalls selling all sorts of souvenirs and goods. Another place most want to visit is the Makola Market. The hundreds of stalls are filled with foods, produce, goods, imports and hand-crafted "necessities" from all over the world.
A third market, the Osu Night Market, is the place to get authentic African foods after dark, when the area is lit by candles and lanterns. And no one should miss a trip to the coffin industry in Teshie/Nungue, a suburb of Accra, where coffins are made in the shape of cars, planes, animals and mythical beasts. Prized as sculpture by collectors, these coffins are far too expensive for most Ghana citizens but faithfully reproduce symbols of the many animist religions represented among local tribesmen. Visitors should also make a trip to Osu Castle or Fort Christiansborg, a former Danish fort that was used as headquarters for the slave trade and later the by the British colonial government. The Republic of Ghana government used it as the seat of government until a new Presidential palace was built recently.
When beginning the journey to Lake Volta, many choose to stop at Aburi Botanical Gardens, about 20 miles north of Accra. Charged with scientific research, horticultural training, growing endangered plants, managing natural reserves and environmental education, Aburi is one of the most beautiful, peaceful and fascinating places in Ghana. The Tetteh Quarshie's Cocoa Farm is the original farm that began the Ghana cocoa industry, importing seeds into the country. The Shai Hills Resource Reserve is on the main road between Accra and the Volta Region. The reserve supports 31 species of mammals, more than 175 species of birds and 13 reptile species.
Arriving at Lake Volta, arrange for a trip aboard the Dodi Princess cruise ship to the newly-developing resort areas of Dodi Island. A fisherman may wish to arrange a fishing excursion with a native fisherman to one of the uninhabited islands for a chance to land the trophy fish of his dreams. Or choose to hire a local guide and driver to visit the waterfalls in the highlands at the eastern edge of the Volta region. This hiker-friendly area is the home of the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary and the former German mission of Amedzofe.
A visit to Ho, capitol of the Volta region, gives the visitor the chance to see the HO marketplace and the variety of goods exported from the region. These goods include cocoa, the kola nut, cotton, palm oil, cloth (most notably the traditional Ghanaian Kente cloth), banana and cassava. The town has a regional museum for visitors to enjoy. Festivals are common in the villages around Lake Volta. A full schedule can be obtained from the Ghana tourism department and many area tour operators. A festival is held every month of the year somewhere in Ghana.
A must-visit while at Lake Volta is village of Salaga, between the White Volta and Black Volta Rivers. Once part of the vast slave trade network in Ghana, slaves were sold here until 1899. Some remnants of the slave trade still remain and most visitors are shocked to realize that the outlawing of slavery in Great Britain and the United States did not end the local slave trade. They are even more shocked to find that slaves are still owned and sold in this small West African country: children as young as five are sold by their parents to fishermen working the fishing boats on Lake Volta. Several human rights groups are actively working to free these children and raise them in a safe environment. They cannot be returned home as they will likely be sold again. Only increased economic development and higher annual incomes will end this trade and move Ghana toward a country fully recognizing the human rights of it's people.
Lake Volta is a very different lake than those in most tourist areas. Vacation rentals in the form of guest houses are available in most villages. Larger cities provide more traditional lodgings, and real estate opportunities are available in the rapidly-growing towns around Lake Volta. The traveler here is not simply a tourist but an agent of change. Come make Lake Volta part of your mission. It's both a bargain and the experience of a lifetime.
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