Published: April 8th 2008March 15th 2008
The Benin border formalities were a breeze......so much so that we mistakenly didn't even get a tourist visa at Immigration on the way in! We'd been riding around the dusty border town zipping in and out of Nigeria and Benin (there is no sign of an actual border, let alone some sort of barrier) just trying to find both Immigration and Customs when we finally found what we thought was the Benin Immigration office. They stamped our passports but when I queried them on the validity of the visa (there were no dates written down) an Immigration Officer just replied, "Don't worry, you're a tourist."
Not everybody was so relaxed in Benin and there was of course an element of bribery there. At highway toll gates we've seen in West Africa so far you do not need to pay a toll when riding a motorbike, and here west of Cotonou was no exception. But a policeman and a security guard stopped us and directed us around the corner and out of sight to try and procure some "Dash" (a bribe) out of us. I got so pissed off with them saying that it was illegal for us to be in
the toll gate area that I just yelled some obscenity along the lines of us definitely not paying them any Dash, and dropped the clutch a little too fast......they leaped out of the way as we did a wheelie past them!
I enjoyed walking around the coastal village of Grand Popo with its dilapidated french colonial buildings and friendly people, but making up for delays we'd had in Nigeria we were soon heading for the Togolese border. Exiting Benin the "Don't worry, you're a tourist" quote turned into, "Where is your tourist visa? Why do you not have a visa?" - We thought we had somehow gotten the 2 day transit visa for free - Luckily the Beninese people are very friendly and the Immigration Officer who discovered we didn't even have a visa to be in the country just shook his head in disbelief of our ignorance of the French language and made us pay the visa then and there.
After the busy but efficient Togolese border crossing we soon arrived at Chez Alice, a camping area just outside the countries capital, Lome. We met some U.K motorcyclists Ed and Josh staying there who also enjoyed the
This dance troupe Amlima preformed at the Chez Alice campground where we stayed in Lome, Togo.
social aspects of travelling which led to a few slow morning starts!
A note for other overland motorbike travellers: if you need to get any work done on your bike or need to get new tyres etc, the best equipped workshop and showroom we've seen in West Africa is definitely Toni Togo's in Lome. The GPS coordinates are: N 06°07.715' E001°14.368'.
We stayed an extra day in Lome to catch some of the regions famous music and had a great night watching a Togolese dance group, Amlina, - who had just toured Europe - preform complete with drummers and acrobats on stilts. Even though I didn't understand the theme of the show the intense dancing was amazing - how do the women do that? - and the drumming unbelievably awesome! That's been a great part of this trip to hear all the amazing African music: drums; xylophones; and a full array of instruments made from anything like empty tin cans, goat skins or cow horns. Still surrounding me, acrobats flipped all through the restaurant, stilt walkers dressed up in an elephant suit came to grief trying to duck under the door archway, and of course, the Togolese women danced passionately
Mr Prosper, the Butterfly man of Kluto in West Togo.
to the beat of the African drum!
Heading north into the greener, cooler climate of the Togolese coffee country brought us to the small town of Kluto and the Auberge des Papillons, where we met Monsieur Prosper - the 'Butterfly Man'. We organised a walk with him through the surrounding Kouma-Konda forest in search of......wait for it......butterflies! It was the wrong time of year for butterflies but he netted a few to show us and to also take back to his Auberge's butterfly enclosure where he now educates the local kids on the subject.
During the walk we stumbled across a group of local guys looking from a distance into the trees at an 8-foot long Black Cobra snake! They shot it three times with a Shot-gun before it even started to look like weakening, and took no chances with the snake by hacking it's head off - we got pictures first though - before carrying it back to the village for a feast.
A great thing about 'bush' border crossings we've seen in Africa is the relaxed atmosphere, but admittedly there is an increased chance that bribery be forced upon you. No exception to the rule is
the Kluto border crossing. The Togolese side was a one shack and barrier affair where typically you had to hunt around for the officials to stamp your documents and tell them sorry, you didn't have any gifts for them today. The Ghanaian side looked much the same and interestingly had some sort of 'donation' system for the locals to cross the border without documentation - 50 Peswas or the equivalent of 50c US. A smugglers paradise, but also good for local trade as the people certainly didn't appear like they could afford Identity cards to travel. After I woke up the Customs officer he realised he didn't have a Customs stamp so he directed me to someone who did have, "Just ride to the second town and stop under the big Mango tree. They'll stamp it there." - They did, and it was a nice introduction to the friendliness of the Ghanaian people.
Our first stop in Ghana was Wli (Agumatsa) Falls in the beautiful eastern Volta region. We camped for free at the Wli Falls Park HQ which was a great base for getting an early start to hike to the water falls the next morning before any
I came across this awesome Camellon in Kluto, Togo.
tourists arrived. The rain forest trails reminded me of hiking in the South Island of New Zealand and the 40m high cascade totally surrounded with bats in the horseshoe-shaped cliff was a cool finale.
30km west of Accra (Ghana's capital city) we decided to camp out at the coastal area of Kokrobite where we met an Aussie guy Damian who is in the process of building a bar and tree-house style accommodation right on the beach called Bah' Doosh. Things were going well being on the beach again after two months of inland travel until I started coming down with malaria again! I lived in denial pretending that I hadn't spent the entire day on the toilet and that a high fever wasn't the reason I was shivering out in the warm tropical ocean waters, but I was determined to get further along the coast to a recommended place to stay for Gwen's birthday. It's amazing how the bike somehow steers itself and we arrived at the Green Turtle Lodge 10km west of Dixcove with a day to spare....or a day for me to try and recover. We camped right on the beach in the shade of the coconut
We came across this 8 foot long Black Cobra whilst looking for innocent butterflies! The locals shot it three times with a shot gun then machetted it repeatedly....I guess they don't like them.
palms and spent a few nights in their awesome bungalows, and I have to say for the two weeks we spent there it's been my favourite place to camp on the beach in all of Africa so far! A quick explanation for such a boisterous statement: a long wide sandy beach with little rubbish; and no 'beach boys' harassment.....not at least until the local Akwidaa village kids get another 5 years older! For overlanders, the GPS coordinates are: N 04°45.503' W 002°01.268'
One of the reasons we spent longer than intended at the Green Turtle was that two days after I'd finished the initial malaria treatment I fell down with it again, this time much stronger. Certain malarial strains are more resistant to some malaria treatments than others, and in West Africa, malarial treatment with the active ingredient Artesunate is recommended, and after five days of using it I was back in action!
Even though I spent most of the time at Green Turtle in a malarial induced daze I did meet some other like minded travellers and had many a great conversation, often about how amazing it is that there are so many volunteers in Ghana. Some of
The rainforest walk to Wli Falls in the Volta region of Ghana reminded me of Karamea in New Zealand.
the other travellers branded as 'like minded' would have to be Esther and Reuben, Onno and Monique, Peter, Kicki and Annabelle.
Of course volunteering has positive and negative aspects, but a few of my encounters might be interesting for perspective volunteers to Ghana.
There are absolutely loads of volunteers (mostly from Europe) in Ghana and you have to wonder why sometimes Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are set up in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing really against volunteering - I came to Africa thinking I would volunteer myself - but sometimes it's frustrating when people pay so much money for what they think is a good cause only to be disappointed when they arrive and find they aren't doing anything useful at all.
The people who volunteer are definitely on the right track, I mean they are volunteering their time and hard earned cash plus the lack of income they could be earning if they had stayed at home. And there are some great volunteer projects: I met two Polish doctors volunteering in Takoradi performing hernia operations for farmers to be able to work again and sustain a living.
The endless discussion over the pros and
cons of short term vs. long term volunteer projects isn't something I'm going to delve into here - it's too case dependent - but I have met locals who have complained about the lack of jobs (because now white people are doing them) and others who have said why should they work when volunteers do it for free.
A Canadian guy we met at Wli Water Falls who volunteered for a NGO called Bridge said his project was originally set up by the Peace Corps and was an eco-tourism venture. It had failed due to the local management stealing the money as soon as the Peace Corps left. He said he was just staying for three months to set up the venture again with an all new management. I asked him who was going to look after the venture funds once he left and he said there was a regional coordinator who would periodically check the account balances etc. Hopefully I wasn't subconsciously shaking my head when he answered my question of whether he thought the project would fail again, as he just replied with yes. I didn't state the obvious point of what are you doing here?
Birthday maddness about to kick off with friends Peter from the U.K and Esther and Reuben from Holland.
friend working for a NGO in Kumasi was told that she'd be working in a hospital, helping out with some administrative things and going out to villages talking about health. But instead she was doing odd jobs in the hospital to fill in time while the local nurses sat around with nothing to do because all the volunteers were doing the work!
Anyway, the above discussions are easy to have whilst lazing away on a gorgeous beach......but it gives a perspective that most people thinking of volunteering in Ghana won't see until they are already there, and that good intentions aren't always well received and don't always work out beneficially for the local community.
Besides all the influences of the West, traditional Ghanaian village life is still in full swing, none more so than in the small fishing village of Akwidaa. My motorcycle gloves went 'missing' - funny how motocross gloves could look just like a football goalie's gloves to a little kid - and to cut a long two day story short, the way I got them back in the end was by the local Akwidaa villagers performing what they called a Gong. Basically it works like an
amnesty, with one of the village elders walking through the village 'gonging' a steel pan asking for whatever it is to be returned......amazingly it worked, otherwise I'd be riding through the 45°C temperatures of West Africa wearing warm inner-lined snowboarding gloves - which I have seen in some of the markets here!
The night before we left Green Turtle the managers Dave and Maria put on an awesome bonfire party with the Akwidaa villagers dancing and drumming the night away. It was great dancing with the locals......probably what led to the very groggy start the next morning as we headed east along the coast to St George's Castle in the small fishing village of Elmina.
We had a good guide - included in the entrance fee - who explained that St George's Castle is the oldest European structure still standing in sub-Saharan Africa and was built by the Portuguese in 1482 but captured by the Dutch in 1637. From then until they ceded it to the British in 1872 it served as the African HQ of the Dutch West Indies Co. The storerooms were converted to dungeons when slaves replaced gold as the major traded object of commerce. It
Friends on the road
Onno and Monique from Holland.
amazed me that slaves were taken as far abroad as Mali and Senegal and sometimes walked for months to the castle to be imprisoned in the dungeons for up to three months waiting for the next ships to arrive to take them mostly to the Caribbean and the U.S.A. At any one time there were 600 men and 400 women in the dungeons - in horrendous conditions living and sleeping in their own urine, faeces and menstrual blood - awaiting to be shipped. The Governor had a balcony from which he could select women he wanted to sleep with - she would then be washed, fed, then brought up the special staircase and trap-doors to the Governor's 4th floor residence. If the women became pregnant they were allowed to remain in Elmina town and their children were specially treated with clothing and education.
It was a real eye-opener into the horrific slave trade and something that I will remember for a long time.
The ride north through the middle of Ghana took us through Kumasi - where we endured a two hour torrential downpour with the tent ending up looking like an island in the middle of a 10cm
Relaxing at the Green Turtle
Pete was always up for a glass of red after a hard day on the beach.
deep lake! - then further north to Tamale where we stayed an extra day due to unseasonal heavy downpours of rain. We camped for free at the Catholic Guesthouse where the Ghanaian manager Derek was interesting to talk to and was intrigued that even though we could afford more clothes - I had mentioned that I travelled with only two T-shirts - we didn't have them. He said, "If an African only had two T-shirts he'd be the definition of poverty!" I had questions for him too asking why all the sheep walk around town during the day and don't seem to be herded by anyone? "They aren't herded by anyone!" he said ecstatically, "They walk around freely during the day and make their own way back home in the evening to go to bed.".....Africa, definitely different.
Leaving Tamale we just made 54km northwards to the small village of Diare before the engine oil light lit up forcing us to check out the problem. Perplexed as to why the light was on because there was enough oil and no sign of leaks, I found Mohamed, the proprietor of Big Boyz Sound who was the only person in Diare who
had a computer - but no internet connection - who let us look through our motorbike manual which is on C.D. to try and trouble-shoot the problem.
We became friends with Mohamed and his side-kick Omar.....and apparently the rest of the village too, as they gathered for an afternoons entertainment as the white man tinkered away on his motorbike in the heat of the day muttering away under his breath! While running tests to determine oil pressure I definitely had a nervous gut clenching feeling not knowing if the trip was going to be over or not if the motor ceased through lack of oil.....but literally tripping over overzealous kids looking on in amazement took my mind off it!
Our temporary repair site was outside the compound of Alhaji - a local wealthy villager (with four wives) who had made the haj to Mecca - who was a very friendly man and let us camp there and bucket shower inside.
Both Alhaji and his sister - on different occasions - had made the haj to Mecca. I assumed they must have travelled for months overland to Saudi Arabia, but no, they had flown at an approximate cost of USD$ 2500!
It really surprised me that in the tiny village of Diare people had that much money.
All four of Alhaji's wives lived within the compound in separate rooms, and as darkness fell we were invited for dinner with Moses and his wife Margret who also lived within the compound renting out one of the rooms. The local dish Margret made was amazingly delicious: fufu with two vegetarian stews - what was available this time of year Margret explained.
In the cooler evening air we walked with Mohamed and Omar on a tour of the village to the 'station' - basically a junction where the youth collected at night to chat and flirt - and learned some local language along the way which we were made to try out every time we walked past someone......much to their amusement! The three words I remember (the spelling of which is dubious): Annaoula = Good evening; Despa = Good morning; and Nah = a response to every greeting.
After walking around the village in the early morning saying Despa to everyone, Mohamed and Omar turned down our offer of breakfast saying they didn't like our coffee without sugar and yuck, what's that Marmite stuff!
These experiences help dispel the stereotype images of poor starving Africans everywhere in Africa, because it definitely isn't true in every country all the time. It was also funny because in our culture it would be considered rude to say that our food tasted bad and to point blankly turn it down, and I just assumed it would be the same there......luckily last nights dinner was so tasty I didn't have to consider it!
The chaos rang loud and far from the Diare single-roomed school that I walked past. The volume increased ten fold as I poked my head inside much to the dismay of the one teacher who was starting to look annoyed of my presence and distraction! As the teacher handed out English exercise books - about one book to every three students - I loudly introduced myself to him to be heard over the sixty or so yelling and screaming kids but as soon as I spoke there was absolute silence! Feeling like an alien I took the opportunity to tell the kids to be quite and listen to their teacher.......the yelling and screaming started as soon as I had one foot out the door and the
There were always volunteers at hand to help haul in the nets. No wonder the locals fished right out in front of the Green Turtle. I'm not sure if the local women appreciated the volunteer girls helping the guys haul in the nets only wearing their bikini's though!
volume increased to deafening levels when I waved goodbye.....smoke fuming out of the teachers ears!
Back at Alhaji's, Raba, his youngest wife explained to me - with hand gestures and a beautiful smile - that an NGO had set up the drinking water pipeline in the village - which is great as they now have water in the dry season - but it was a metered system so now carried the burden of other western problems associated with it: now you had to pay for the water, therefore you needed a job for money etc etc.
After testing again that there was enough oil pressure in the bike's engine - for my own reassurance - we said our goodbyes and thanks to our friends in Diare who had helped us so warmly and turned north towards Bolgatanga. We had wanted to visit a Witch village at Gambaga but something else had also happened with the bike......the rubber intake manifold had torn. As we rode up a long incline it got increasingly worse and I struggled to keep the bike from stalling as we started losing power. Nothing was said until we reached the crest of the hill! Bunny-hopping into
Bolgatanga I found a mechanic who could fix the manifold - I had tried to fix it twice already but the glues we carried in our toolkit weren't strong enough - and by nightfall we were once again road worthy.
There are more photos below