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The Zaina Experience, Northern Ghana

Going into the Zaina Experience, I wanted an experience that was wholesome and all-encompassing. Not only was this the premier version of my "Travel With Me" package launched on November 01 2020, it was my very first visit to both the Northern & Savannah regions of Ghana. It HAD to be remarkable in every sense of the word.

For a host of reasons, very few lodges in Ghana felt more befitting for this travel experience than Zaina Lodge- West Africa's Premier Luxury Safari Lodge. Needless to say, the experience lived up to its name, and the perfect cocktail of adventure, luxury, comfort, serenity and culture awaited us up north, approximately six (6) hours away from Accra.

The Journey begins...

After nearly two (2) months of planning, email exchanges and day-dreaming, we were in Tamale! Pumped as ever and ready for the experience of our lives! We touched down at the Tamale Airport and were met with warm expressions of "Maraaba!"- meaning welcome, from friendly airport staff and locals alike.

Having pre-rented a car for all our transportation needs, we were picked up by Shiraj, our companion and guide for the first leg of the trip. We made brief stops at the Tamale Arts Centre and a kooko (the best breakfast staple in the North) joint by the Tamale Central Mosque, and off we went to see our first historic monument in Northern Ghana.

The Larabanga Mosque

Located at approximately 2:45hr drive from Tamale in the Larabanga community is the Larabanga mosque. The oldest mosque in Ghana and one of the oldest in West Africa, the Larabanga Mosque was built in Sudan-sahelian architectural style in 1421 and has served as a key economic contributor to the inhabitants of the community, while also binding them in religion and in spirit. Here, Ayuba- our tour guide educated us on the history and significance this monument to the Larabanga community and the west-Gonja district as a whole.

The Mystic Stone

Legend has it that this stone during the 1950s, returned to it's resting place time and again, after several attempts were made by British road constructors to relocate it during the construction of the highway connecting to the Upper-west region, Burkina Faso and Mali. It is believed that this mystic stone has been the reason for the preservation of lives during road accidents on said highway. Believed to be a conduit through which prayers can be made, tourists and visitors are encouraged to touch the stone and make requests in supplications, to the heavens. An interesting experience that was.

Touch Down, Zaina Lodge!

After about an hour of exploration of the Larabanga community and its fascinating tales, we made our way to the Mole National Park, where Zaina Lodge is tucked away in the middle of the wildlife reserve and national treasure. We were warmly welcomed by the General Manager, Andrew Kuria and a handful of staff, visibly pleased to have us lodge with them for the next couple of days. The Zaina welcome is personalized, warm and underscored with a glass containing a shot of lime juice with a pinch of salt and sugar!

It was divine!

A True Culinary Experience

Shortly after, we'd be met by the mastermind behind the culinary experience within the masterful experience that it lodging at the Zaina Lodge- chef dauda! He, the chef, discussed with us what meal options we would be served with- 100% inspired by his culinary instincts for the day, this chef keeps no pre-planned, fixed menu. Instead, he draws inspiration from his morning sense and ingredients in his kitchen to create for guests, the meals of their lives. And with a personal touch of discourse and conversation in explaining what goes into each meal's preparation while you're having it, he shares his charms, recipes and little culinary secrets with you. Oh, we were in for a treat, treat!

We had lunch, and then an elaborate welcome dinner (four courses each!) after an evening safari ride with the rangers, and brought the world's most eventful first day to an end. Well, not until I brought out the incense, scented candles and aromatherapy oils for the full-on Shesuthman travel experience. We didn't only travel to the north, we embarked on a journey of discovery, immersion and utter relaxation.

Sunrise & Sunsets

It should be forbidden for anyone to visit the Zaina Lodge without taking out time to take in the breathtaking morning sunrise and even more astonishing sunsets over the lush greenery of the reserve and Zaina's breathtaking horizon pool. The views are awe-inspiring and worth every passing second of your time.

Safari Rides

The lodge provides morning and evening safari rides/game drives through the Mole National park, twice each day for two (2) hours per drive. The morning drive starts at about 8:30 am - 10:30 am and the evening ride from about 3:30pm - 5:30pm. The timing is flexible and can vary from approximately half an hour earlier than the time slots above, depending on the timeliness of guests. We did well to experience both the evening and morning safari drives during our stay. We spotted antelopes, warthogs, baboons, a variety of birds and an elephant I named 'Ruuh!'

The drivers and professional rangers were extremely knowledgeable, indulging and showed professionalism in understanding the terrain, safety protocols and protection, as well as a keen interest in the lives and wellbeing of the wildlife.

Canoe Safari - The Mognori Village

The Mognori village located just about a 30 mins drive from the main entrance of the Mole National Park, is a budding hub for eco-tourism and indigenous homestay exploration. Amongst a host of experiences offered by the local community here, is the canoe safari- comprising an hour's journey down the Mole River via canoe, aimed at treating tourists to an immersive exploration of different species of birds, crocodiles and monkeys who visit the river at different points for hydration. It was utterly exhilarating spotting birds, witnessing crocodile body trails, beautiful varieties of birds and watching on as monkeys swung by from tree to tree, curiously observing as we sailed down the river.

Shea Butter Production

Also hosted by the locals at the Mognori Village, this is an experience where tourists are taken through the process of production of shea butter. The northern region of Ghana is known for the production of pure, nourishing shea butter for local consumption as well as for export to international markets such as the UK and USA.

During this experience, we learnt about the processes of collection, de-pulping, boiling, drying, de-husking, sorting and storage. It was an illuminating experience to bear witness to the making of one of Ghana's renowned exports.

A Slice of Paradise

Seeing as this trip was an adventure-laden one, I made it a point to include in the itinerary time for relaxation and self-soothing on the final day, to allow us a break to take in the moment and release pent up adrenaline form the previous days' explorations. Zaina's horizon pool (it's not an infinity pool guys, Andrew was sure to make the distinction) made for the perfect backdrop for this episode of La buena Vida!

Where Luxury and Eco-Tourism Meet

Sustainability and environmental conservation is core to the Zaina brand and story in very practical, visible ways. We were very pleased to stay with a lodge that was hands-on in outsourcing essentials like food items and design elements from within the local community. In their bid to preserve energy and contribute to environmental sustainability, paper cards such as these are kept in all tents for guest indulgence and consideration.

Debriefing Session - The Zaina Experience

Read below, excerpts of a debriefing session with Aba about The Zaina Experience:

Q: What was your expectation coming into the very first 'Travel With Me' travel experience with Shesuthman?

A: Going into a trip with you, I had no idea what to expect from the Shesuthman experience and from you as a person. I have been pleasantly surprised by both and my expectations have been far exceeded.

Q: Were there any surprises?

A: Oh, yes! My first shock was when I saw you at the airport, arriving with a tiny suitcase (laughs) but that made me understand the kind of traveler you are. You are organized, thoughtful and intentional. You are a traveler at the very core, truly concerned about the places you visit. You seek to know what the heart beat of the people are, what has shaped them and what gives them joy. You indulge them and you listen to each and every one of their stories. That, I would say, was equal parts eye-opening and surprising.

Q: Any favorite moments you'd like to share?

A: My favorite moments were our conversations! You are so generous with information and with yourself. The conversations were diverse, intelligent and enlightening. The best part was that disagreeing with you on topics never led to anyone feeling diminished. It always led to discovering and learning more. I loved that.

Q: What has been your biggest takeaway from The Zaina Experience?

A: Biggest? Hmm...That has to be learning from you, another way to travel (for this I am truly grateful!) You've taught me to experience the culture of people in other ways, outside of their food. I am a foodie, and so that's mainly how I experience the places I visit. But on this trip, you taught me to make a real attempt at connecting with people, through shared experiences of life and culture. That's been the biggest takeaway for me.

Q: What's your general feeling about the trip and what message do you have for future patronizers of the Shesuthman Travel Experiences?

A: The experience was a breeze. It was fulfilling from beginning to end and not once was I confused about the trip. It was both rewarding and eye-opening! It's been an absolute pleasure and I'll tell them this- when you say the Shesuthman experiences are curated with "you" (which is us) in mind, you mean every part of it!


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