Published: April 8th 2008March 15th 2008
Massive Wli Falls in the Volta region
The foggy mist is actually sand in the air from the harmattan
We entered Ghana in the Volta region, coming from Togo, and it was typical for West African borders of the non-busy variety. Since this is probably hard to picture for those who have not crossed one, I’ll illustrate this particular crossing. The Immigration woman at the gate was on a power trip when we arrived, yelling at a Ghanaian wanting to cross into Togo. She was ordering him around, telling him to shut up, stand there, stay there, etc. There was a trickle of people from both sides paying a bribe equivalent to US$0.50 to cross over for the day. Eventually she stamped our passports, incorrectly as we learned on the way out of Ghana, and we moved on to the Customs office. These officials were lying around on benches and tables, some watching TV and some sleeping, and did not have the proper stamp for our Carnet. One of the lads jumped on his moped and led us to the Customs office in the next town. The officials hanging around there sent a boy to get the main Customs official who knew what to do with a Carnet (why there were that many officials paid to sit in the shade
and not know what to do is beyond me). Once he had arrived, he spent some time looking for the newspaper, checked out the front page, wrote 'Customs Office' on it, and turned to our Carnet. He did not have an actual stamp, but used an old-fashioned crimper, the first time I have seen one in use. Still holding onto our Carnet, he asked our names, where we were from, why we were here, etc- all very friendly and typical of African officials, and we got away as soon as we politely could.
This was the end of border formalities, and we were off to find a bank with an ATM to get out Ghanaian Cedis- the strongest currency we have come across yet in Africa at 1 to 1 with the US dollar- and ride to Wli Falls, also in the Volta region. Harmattan was still going strong, turning the sky and landscape a dark sandy grey, but Ghana is quite a developed country for Africa and we did not feel like we were riding through a war zone as we had in Nigeria. We got into the village of Wli too late to walk to the falls,
Green Turtle and the beach
Green Turtle is the little huddle of palapas, bungalows and tents just back from the beach, and is surrounded by nothing but palm trees, sand and ocean for at least 10 minutes walk in either direction
but were able to camp for free at the tourist information office. This was a mixed blessing as the drunk security guard was incapable of giving us a few minute’s peace, and even once we went to bed he kept us awake all night with music distortedly blaring out of blown speakers a few metres away from our tent. Nothing exceptionally out of the ordinary, but the next morning when we paid for our visit to the falls before leaving they tried to get money out of us for the ‘security.’ Ha!
Wli Falls are apparently the highest in West Africa, though somehow no one is quite sure what the exact height is- how does that work? The hike was scenic and serene through a nice forest area, and interestingly we saw loads of butterflies while we had hardly seen any on the butterfly walk we did the day before in Togo. We only ran into 2 other non-Africans, Canadians volunteering for an NGO called Bridge (there were loads of locals fetching water and doing washing from before dawn, around the time the security guy turned off the music). According to them, Bridge sends volunteers to set failed aid
projects set up by other organizations back on track. I can imagine this being a big business in Africa, and they had both been really surprised by the prevalence of corruption; i.e., not just a school's headmaster stealing funds, but teachers are corrupt as well and even the students steal what they can. What happens with a lot of projects, including the ones they were working on, is the locals left to manage them take all the money and resources and the project fails. He was trying to get an eco-tourism project going again, raising money to buy new kayaks and other things that had been stolen and sold by the board of directors, and she was working at a school where something similar had happened. To illustrate the point they were making, they said 'And when we leave, it will just happen again to these projects.' Which begged the question, why are you here? But, as they did not volunteer an answer we did not ask.
This was our introduction to Ghana's volunteer, aid and tourist saturation, and even walking back from the waterfall it was like being on a trail in the US or New Zealand for
all the white people. There really are a LOT of volunteers in Ghana- more than any other country we have been to in Africa. It would be interesting to know how many locals to volunteers there are, and I even considered naming this blog entry 'Ghana: If you want to volunteer in Africa, don't come here.' I think people who want to volunteer in Africa have great intentions and are probably some of the most conscientious people in the developed world, but the vast vast majority of volunteers we have talked to in Ghana are really unhappy with their organization. We met loads of them at Green Turtle later on and throughout the country, and most of the problems stem from there being too many volunteers and aid workers. Some people had come expecting to do one thing, but found out when they got here they would be doing something else. One girl who this happened to even knew the guy running the NGO beforehand so thought she was sure it was a good organization, but wound up doing nursing at a hospital while she thought she would be going around giving talks to help nurses. And, to top it
My birthday at the Green Turtle
Even though Nick had malaria he was still up for celebrating with me, Peter from London, and Reuben and Esther from northern Holland
off, there was nothing for her and the other volunteer to do at the hospital; even the local nurses actually working there did not have enough work to do, so anything these 2 volunteers did was taking work away from them. Really frustrating for them and undoubtedly the Ghanaian nurses, and I cannot imagine a more useless thing to do in Africa: send volunteers to do the job of trained locals. They have since left the hospital and found somewhere else to volunteer. There were plenty of frustrations with briefings volunteers had before leave home, where they were given total misinformation. As well as being sometimes misinformed about what they would be doing, there were little things like girls packing to be in an inland conservative Muslim village while actually they were on a developed part of the coast without having brought swimwear. Lots of people are unhappy with how the management of their project, and either find something else to do or spend their time traveling instead. To me it appeared that aid and volunteer programs were not fulfilling the goal of helping Africans by creating jobs and opportunities, but could even have the opposite effect by installing white
Akwidaa villagers carrying home coconut husks along the beach
Akwidaa is the village 15 minutes down the beach, and its residents are a part of Green Turtle life. They join in beach volleyball, hawk coconuts, wander through the grounds, provide the staff, and stole Nick's motorcycle gloves from outside our tent
people who do for free what Africans can do for themselves. A girl we met doing research for her Master’s degree in Ghana said one Dutch NGO had contracted a Dutch guy to specially fly in from Holland to take soil samples and deliver them to a lab. Because a local person just could not be trusted to put dirt in a test tube and drive it to a lab? We did meet some volunteers with no complaints, but the uselessness of so many organizations really highlighted the misperceptions people from the developed world have about Africa. One of the worst being that something will be better than nothing. Not true!
That’s the end of my warning to volunteers rant, so back to it… After Wli we rode south to the coast and battled our way through Accra traffic all the way to Kokrobite 30kms outside the capital. The main place that people stay there, Big Milly's, looked like a nightmare, but luckily we were able to camp at a place next door that is not yet open, Bah’doosh. It was coming up on my birthday, and since Nigeria we had been planning to celebrate at Green Turtle Eco
I love paintings like this; they're little fish
Lodge on the beach about a day’s ride from Accra. We were feeling quite pleased that despite the massive delays in Nigeria trying to fix the bike we would still be able to make it. That is, until Nick came down with malaria on the 24th, 3 days before my birthday and the day after we arrived in Kokrobite. We did not see much of Accra, but the next day Nick the trooper managed to ride down the coast to Dixcove, then the extra 10 kms on dirt roads from there to Green Turtle with malaria. What a birthday present!
Green Turtle is the one of the best places we have stayed in Africa, and certainly the best place on the beach. While the beaches themselves were better in Zanzibar, Green Turtle is hard to top in terms of facilities and level of development. The atmosphere is chilled out, there is only one little village 15 minutes down the beach to the west so no begging unless you walk down there, food and alcohol are not overpriced, the food is mostly quite tasty and Safari Beach 10 minutes down the beach to the east (the only other anything for
No shame in Ghana
I would feel awkward playing football with a naked man, but in Ghana nobody thinks much of it
10kms of unbroken beach) has awesome food and cocktails, there are no rasta beach boys harassing you to go on a boat trip, buy weed, etc (there will be eventually, though, so now's the time to go), there are enough activities but not so many that I felt guilty for not doing anything at all, and it's remote enough that the beach is fairly empty, though there are plenty of people staying there to hang out and drink with (but not too many). Basically I can’t say enough about the place and it was definitely a highlight of being in Ghana. We stayed 2 weeks despite planning on 5 days. We did lots of swimming and sunbathing, played volleyball, drank a lot of beer in good company, boogie boarded, and generally chilled out.
Leaving Green Turtle was tough, and we delayed it many times, though the last time our reason was that some of the kids from the village had stolen Nick’s motorbike gloves. This was rather surprising as stuff is always lying around at Green Turtle, and never seems to go missing. For example, one night a friend drunkenly left her camera sitting on a chair all night,
and the next morning it was still there. Nick’s flip-flops were sitting deserted on the beach for over 24 hours and nobody took them, but apparently some little kid found his green and black motorcross gloves totally irresistible and stole them from the washing line we had set up next to our tent. Suddenly out came all the stories from the managers about cameras and cell phones being stolen by villagers and never recovered, which will only happen more frequently since staff do not keep kids from walking through the camp. Thankfully Nick constantly goaded the staff- who are from the village and had a better chance than us of getting them back- into trying to find them, and in the end we did get them back. He paid 5 cedis ($5) for a guy to go around the village with a gong, calling everyone out to discover who had taken them. I am not entirely sure how it works, but the upshot was that some little kid ran out into the bush with them as the gong was being gonged, and that is how they were recovered. An upside to staying a few extra days until they were recovered
The Green Turtle party included dancing, which was a lot more spontaneous and natural than the cultural show in Togo (also enjoyed the one in Togo, but these were villagers just dancing- some of them probably 9 or something- and it was very cool to watch)
is that we were around for the party, which was great and came with a bonfire, dancing, drumming, and general merriment.
From Green Turtle we rode back in the direction of Accra to Cape Coast, the original stronghold of slavery in West Africa. The oldest European structure in the Southern Hemisphere (think I got that right- for what it's worth) is St George's Castle next to Elmina village, around 15 kms from Cape Coast. It was originally built by the Portugese in 1482, captured by the Dutch in 1637, then ceded to the British in 1872. While the slave trade was flourishing people were captured from all over West Africa and forced to march there, then were held until ships arrived to take them to other colonies, mostly in the Americas, to serve as slaves. Ships came every 3 months taking 1000 slaves at a time, and the castle was in operation as a point of export for slaves for over 200 years. A lot of Africans went through this castle, and the conditions they lived in while waiting for the ships to arrive was horrendous. There was a dungeon for male slaves that held 600, and a separate
dungeon for females that held 400. They would be very weak upon arrival from having walked hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles with insufficient food and water, and there was very little space in the dungeons to physically fit the people, let alone try to live for up to 3 months. In the women's area (and probably in the men’s too) there were 2 pots that served as toilets, but some were too sick and weak to make it to them, and they lived, slept and ate in a mire of faeces, urine, vomit and menstrual blood. This made even more women sick, which led to even worse conditions. They (and the men) were fed once, sometimes twice a day to keep them alive but too weak to attempt escaping or fighting back. Also, next to the women's quarters there was a small courtyard with a balcony overlooking it. When the incumbent British Governor was in the mood, as his wife was home so as not to die of malaria, the women would all be brought out for him the choose one from. She would then be washed, fed and clothed before being taken up to his bedroom. Despite the obvious
Women's Day celebrants
2 Polish doctors reminded us all it was Women's Day by buying loads of wine for us, choice! And it was also the Green Turtle party- what timing
cruelty, in my opinion this would not be the end of the world as, if she fell pregnant, she would not be put on the boats for a life of slavery, her and her descendants forever ripped away from her homeland. Instead she would be given accommodation in Elmina village, and her child would be given an education at the castle. These mixed race children were something of an elite among the locals for their higher education and lighter skin. However, this is entirely dependant on the individual woman, and some did refuse to be the Governor's plaything for the night and were put to death for it. While the tour of St George's Castle did not teach me much that I had not learned at Elementary School in the US, the information was a lot more powerful when I was seeing it with my own eyes, and imagining living for 3 months in other women's urine, faeces, vomit and menstrual blood. I feel like I'm roughing it when we run out of toilet paper after a couple day’s sweaty riding without a shower.
Cape Coast is a nice enough town on the ocean, but after Green Turtle nothing
could compare and we headed up north to Kumasi, taking us away from the ocean for what will be a very long time. In Kumasi we were treated to an unseasonable torrential downpour, and after 2 steady hours of it discovered we had pitched the tent in a low spot and it would have been afloat had it not been for the holes in the bottom... The rain eventually stopped enabling us to pack up and move on to Tamale in the morning. In Tamale we were not so lucky, and an evening of steady rain- luckily with no flooding- turned into a solid night of it, followed by just enough rain to keep us from leaving the next day. So we spent a wet day in Tamale doing very little before continuing the trip north the next day.
After Tamale our destination was a witch village we had heard about, 100 or so kms east of the main road from Walewale. However, less than halfway to Walewale the oil pressure warning light came on. Nick hit the kill switch, and we slowed to a stop in a little village called Diare that we were to become very familiar
with. Having no idea what the problem could be- the oil level was fine and we couldn't see oil leaking from anywhere- Nick asked a group of guys sitting in the shade, a regular feature of African villages, if there was a computer in town. Amazingly, one guy had a computer set up in his room in his family’s concrete compound that could read the DVDs our motorbike manual is on. It was mid morning at this point, and we spent the entire rest of the day until the light was gone trying to figure out what could be wrong. We checked and re-checked the DVDs (apparently the oil pressure switch is a common fault in 2001 BMW F650 Dakars, wish we had read that before we left Cape Town), called the ever-resourceful Chris Handschuh from JJs in Nairobi multiple times, and basically did everything we could. A problem with the oil pressure would obviously be quite serious and render the bike unrideable, so we could not take a chance and try riding to a bigger town. It was a frustrating period of time in terms of dealing with the bike, but the people of Diare were exceptionally friendly and
Inside the courtyard of St George's Castle
The lower floor was where slaves were kept while waiting for ships to arrive, then the next floor was for merchants, low officials were on the next highest floor, and the top floor was taken up by the Governer
staying in their village was a pleasure. Mohamed was happy to let us use his computer as often as we wanted, and the question of money never came up. That night he and his nephew, Omar, took us to 'The Station,' part of the main road with a couple shops and a 'cold spot' (bar with a functioning fridge) where Diareans hang out after dark. They were embarrassed when we offered to buy them Fanta as a thank you for letting us use the computer, and took great pleasure in teaching us a few words of the local dialect to properly greet people we walked past and respond. One woman, Margret, invited us to eat dinner with her, her husband Moses and their son, and gave us buckets of water to shower with. Our semi-official patron was Alhaji, apparently the only guy in town to have gone on hajj (with the cost being US$2,500 it’s not surprising), and we camped next to his family compound that housed his 4 wives and extended family. We never paid anything in Diare, and the people were completely warm and welcoming. The kids were maybe a little too warm, forming a ring around us
One of the chambers female slaves lived in
This room held 100 women. There were pots for them to use as toilets, but most were too weak to move after the long walk from various parts of West Africa where they were caught to the castle, so the floor was covered in urine, faeces, menstrual blood and vomit. The stayed here for around 3 months waiting for ships to take them away, mostly to the Americas
at least 6 deep at any given time and every time one of us moved we were tripping over or stepping on one of them- and this was when school supposedly was in session.
The next morning we checked both oil pumps for the umpteenth time and they were still working, so we decided to risk riding on the assumption that the oil pressure switch was at fault and the oil pressure was actually fine. There was nothing else we could do, but only made it a couple dozen kilometres before the bike made a funny sound and the engine started popping and pulling, and Nick had to keep the revs high to prevent it from stalling. Leaving Tamale the bike had started making a funny noise, and while in Diare Nick noticed that the rubber intake manifold had ripped a bit. We had tried to glue it, but none of the multiple glues we have held. We could still ride it as it had been, but now it had ripped even more and we would have to stop in the next town to find the right kind of glue. That we coincidentally had these 2 problems at the
Governor's balcony overlooking the female slave courtyard
When he was in the mood (wives stayed in Europe so they wouldn't die of malaria or some other tropical disease), the women were brought out and he would pick one to be cleaned, fed, and brought up to his room
same time is bizarre but apparently the case, and as we could not stop the bike for fear of not being able to restart it we rode with trepidation to Bolgatanga. Any ideas about going to the witch village had already been forsaken, and at this point we were heading for Burkina Faso to work on the bike in Ouagadougou. The day was incredibly hot, one of the hottest we have had so far in Africa, so we splashed out and treated ourselves to a room with air conditioning. It was early afternoon and by evening Nick had fixed the torn rubber manifold with araldite metal glue on the recommendation of some guys working in a garage. So far, so good.
The next day we were at last able to cross the border into Burkina Faso without any further mutinies from the bike. Other than the border guard noting that our passports had been incorrectly stamped on the way in (only 1 entry stamp where there should have been 2) there was nothing out of the ordinary and it was an easy and relatively efficient crossing. We rode into Burkina, thankful that the engine had not yet seized though
not really looking forward to working on the bike in Ouagadougou.
For the other side of the story, check out Nick’s blog http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/African-raid/
There are more photos below