Dodi Island, a great tourism potential (Wednesday, July 7, 2010 pg 19)

It is a cold and gloomy  morning in July, and the sky is pregnant with dark clouds, with the usual fog gradually clearing over the Volta Lake.
 The excited faces of  both young and old revellers crossing the narrow wooden pier to the MV Dodi Princess, the cruise ferry on the Volta lake,  promised good times to come as the  vessel prepares to host Republic Day holiday makers en route to the Dodi Island.
The Dodi Princess docked at Akosombo

Dodi Island is one of the most remote inhabited places in Ghana with a population of about 250 people. With some estimated 16  square miles in area, it lies in the Volta River, 30 kilometres north of the Akosombo Dam, the nerve centre of Ghana’s electrical energy.

As the 19-year-old ferry navigates its way to the Island, the horizon disappears into grey; the  miles of water reflects the grey sky surrounding the ferry  giving an inexplicable  feeling of drifting off into oblivion while one dances to UB 40’s “Cherry oh baby ”,  rendered by the Kings Anchor Band, the live band on board.

Call it a floating jamboree, and you will not be far from right. The passengers  wriggled with dexterity as the band dished out tune after tune.

The band spared no music genre beginning with gospel music that sets the tone with occasional comic relief from the lead vocalist that might wreck your ribs or lungs.

Captained by Johnson Gariba, who boasts of 37 years navigating the Volta Lake, 15 of which was spent on the Dodi Princess, the  three-deck ferry houses a well-stocked bar, kitchen, a  toilet facility, a swimming pool for children, a large floor for patrons to dance themselves to tiredness and a restaurant that serves a finger-licking menu including banku and grilled fresh tilapia.

Patches of green are common on your way to the island
 The Dodi Princess provides a breath-taking panoramic view of floating patches of  green mountain vegetation  and hills stretching along the Volta Lake, Africa’s biggest man-made lake and the world’s second. Occasionally, you see  boys in canoes paddling their way across the lake fishing.
Boys on a fishing expedition
Finally, the ferry docks at the Island after two and half hours of meandering on the lake with the band playing continuously.

The boat docks at the Island for about 45 minutes, which is long enough to be received by the Islanders, welcome parties in a festival of Agbadza, Adowa and Kpalongo ensembles.

I counted more than 15 groups of young and old people performing in  the different ensembles to the admiration of the holiday makers. Armed with drums, gallons and bamboo sticks and a bowl in front, you will not miss the message : “we are here to welcome you, do not just dance drop some coins”.

You are also likely to be ambushed by somebody who will want to show you around the island and later ask for alms or professionally, you give a tip.

In my case ,I had Yao Amuzu, a 19-year-old Junior High School (JHS) graduate who aspires to be a medical doctor just like the doctor on Onipa Nua, the Volta River Authority–owned vessel that treks the Island to provide medical services to the inhabitants.

Yao’s dream just like other children on the Island lives on the brink of a wish that seems impossible to come true because his family does not have the funds to help him continue his education. Yet he does not despair.

What amazes and intrigues the first time visitor to the Island is the enthusiasm of the people even in the face of the lack social amenities.

The nearest Primary and Junior High schools are at Dodi-Asantekrom which is miles of paddling away. Electricity and potable water are unheard of in this part of the world. The Volta Lake is everything; it is their only source of hope.

Their long voyages are made in canoes, sometimes joined together by ropes to transport people, food crops and livestock.

The lack of a pontoon to provide them with a safer means of transport for the more than 200 inhabitants leaves them with no alternative than to use wooden canoes (some motored) for regular but dangerous journeys to other settler communities, many of which ends in disaster.

The creation of the Volta Lake in 1965 resulted in a situation where the inhabitants of settler communities along the Volta Lake depended exclusively on lake transportation for their social and economic activity. Over the years, however, accidents on the lake have become rampant.

Fifty  bodies, including those of school children, were recovered from the Volta Lake after a boat accident which occurred near Amevloikope Island in 2004.

A similar accident occurred in June 1999 where 76 people drowned in the lake and in 2009, a repeated incident took 24 lives when a boat carrying passengers returning from a funeral at Wusuta Kpebe capsized.

The only commercial centre on the Island is a structure that serves as a market where the only commodity available for sale is smoked fish and at a cut-throat price.

A few trees are scattered across the vast spans of land; the trees have been cut down to provide clearings for farms, firewood for cooking, and construction materials for thatch houses and canoes for fishing.

The island is not without wildlife, even though wild animals seem to have gone extinct, your surest bet to see anything close is a live scorpion, only be careful to stay off its sting.

The Dodi Island  is a striking example of the daily struggles of the rural  poor whose survival are sometimes  tied to the apron strings of tourists even though the Island is a potential mine for tourism.

 It is the story of a people who depend on  very limited resources for their daily survival and a triumph of human ingenuity and victory over a difficult environment.

The Dodi Island is certainly not in the leagues of the likes of Bali, Cacun, the Bahamas, Cayman and most of the glamorous Islands in the Caribbean, but it exudes the kind of tranquility that lures visitors across the globe.

It is arguably the best place to be in Ghana to look at the sunset, and definitely a beautiful island to hideaway from all your worries.

From sunrise to sunset, the holiday islands across the world never sleep, but in the case of the Dodi Island, Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays are the only time this picturesque place comes alive.

With thousands of tourists both local and foreign trooping to the Island, we can transform the island into chalets, motels, hotels and attract tourists who may spend weeks on the island.

Dodi Island has monuments including some fascinating rock formations that take your breath away even if they will never make the cover of a travel magazine, or grace the pages of a travel guide.

With most of the country’s beaches turned into solid waste dump sites, the Dodi Island provides an alternative to tourists interested in enjoying   fresh air, on weekends or public holidays.


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