Sunday, July 25, 2010

Swimming, Schisto Free!

I may have been here over a month, but I continually have to remind myself that I'm spending my last summer (ever!) in Ghana. Although I'm in a foreign country, I'm going to try to squeeze in all the things I normally like to do in the summer while here in Ghana. What do I usually associate with summer? Watermelons, mangoes, BBQs, Ultimate Frisbee, Shakespeare on the Commons, fireworks, ice cream, strawberry shortcake, ice tea, picnics, outdoor concerts, and yes, mosquitoes. There are only a handful of must-do summer activities that I can think of that don't revolve around food. The most important of those activities ever since I moved away from living in the sunshine state of Florida is swimming, especially swimming at the beach.

As I was preparing for my trip, most of the warnings and messages of concern I got from friends and family were centered not on being abducted, mugged, or killed, but were about germs and diseases. Ghana is not the filthiest place I've ever traveled to, but disease is a very real concern. So, if you are planning a trip to Ghana, check the CDC website and do make sure your vaccines are up-to-date (yellow fever, hepatitis B, typhoid, meningitis, polio, hepatitis A) and bring malaria prophylaxis with you. Aside from these vaccine preventable diseases, a type of bug that you may encounter in Ghana that I never think about are parasites, both the intestinal and crawling through your skin and anywhere else in your body forms. Parasites. This was what was standing in the way of me being able to swim in Ghana.

Ueli, Shy, Alister, and Erika swimming at Golden Hotel in Kumasi

So, where can I go swimming in Ghana? Are any of the bodies of water safe? Swimming pools are actually common in the major cities, especially at hotels and resorts. KNUST also has an Olympic-sized pool for the more competitive type of swimmer. Although I never asked how often these pools were cleaned or the source of the pool water, I assumed that since most of these pools charged a small fee (3-15 Cedi) to swim that they must be safe. Since I normally spend most of my time in a pool doing handstands and playing games like "Marco Polo", these options were plenty.

Margrit, Edwin, and I at Lake Bosomtwi

Another option about an hour away from Kumasi by tro-tro is Lake Bosomtwi. Lake Bosomtwi is Ghana's largest natural lake created by meteorite impact. It is situated in the middle of a rain forest and surrounded by lush mountains (Wikipedia calls them hills but I think they are super tall so qualify as mountains). If you have ever been to Taiwan's Sun Moon Lake, this is Ghana's version of the tranquil and picturesque getaway.

The lake is believed to be sacred by the Ashanti (largest tribe in and around Kumasi) and the villagers fish only on wooden planks so as not to disturb the spirits in the lake. The most interesting fact about the lake for tourists is that it's supposedly schistosomiasis free! Schistosomiasis is a very nasty parasite that lives in fresh water and penetrates human skin and then can bury and disrupt the function of many organs including the liver and brain by launching a damaging immune response. According to the guide, no one has ever gotten sick from swimming in the lake. Despite this allegation and seeing tons of my friends step into the lake for a swim, I was not willing to risk it. After the alleged parasitic worm infection I had while in Mole, I'm done with worms. But, as long as you are not a hypochondriac med student, I'm sure swimming in Lake Bosomtwi is perfectly safe. I on the other hand, will stick to the pools. We are off to Cape Coast next week, so maybe I'll get my beach swimming in then!


  1. I just wanted to post a separate warning about swimming in the sea off of Ghana. Unfortunately whilest we were in Ghana a friend of ours was jusping the waves at hip height he was knocked over by a wave pulled out by a rip tide and sadly lost his life! There are few warnings about the sea in Ghana and this beech was quoyted by bradt travel guide as a swimming beech! We seriously misjudged the power of the waves and I would certainly not even go intot he sea now. If this can happen to a 6ft strong man it can happen to anyone!

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