Ghana - January 2011

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Africa » Ghana
January 6th 2011
Published: February 7th 2011
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After a long drive and countless games of ‘500’ (including, Bunny has to mention, her win on a ’10 of Diamonds’ call yeehaa!) our entry into Ghana was the quickest and easiest yet. They even had a duty free shop... well a shipping container stacked with cheap booze – but it was very cheap! We camped not far into Ghana in a burnt out area just off the main road, the ash all over the ground (from controlled burns) meant we all got covered in black soot from the knees down.

As Burkina Faso was to Mali, Ghana was another 3 steps up in terms of modern feel. Quite exciting for us was that it was the first country on this trip so far where they spoke English - woohoo! It actually still catches us off guard, so accustomed to not hearing English the past few months! So refreshing and easy! Our first stop was at Tamale and in the very first supermarket Bunny found herself bopping along to Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”. Classic.

Another great thing about Ghana, discovered quite early in Tamale, was that they sell Castle Milk Stout – a South African beer that Martin adores, so Martin indulged and Bunny was introduced to delicious ‘Fan-Ice’ vanilla ice cream and strawberry yoghurt – both of which are fantastic and became a new addiction - we were both as happy as bugs in mud :-) We also bought some more ‘cipro’ a very effective general antibiotic, which bizarrely we could only buy in boxes of 100! Luckily there were plenty of people on the truck only too willing to buy some off of us – who would have thought we would end up as drug dealers!

We left Tamale and headed along a very dusty road towards Mole National Park – the home of some of the only elephants in West Africa. We stopped for a bush camp not too far from the park and had no sooner stopped than dozens of locals came to investigate – we were right in between several villages. A couple of local kids asked us to come and visit their village, so Martin, Bunny, Lee and Falcon headed off with 5-6 kids to check out their home. We took the Kola nuts we had bought in Ouagadougou, this turned out to be a great move as the locals were extremely chuffed to get them – a much better gift than money or sweets or similar as they are part of the culture here and only the elders like them – so you actually feel like you are giving something of value – rather than an empty gift. We were guided to all of the village elders, who, one by one, all gave us permission to explore. It was a great time, we ended up with a massive entourage of kids (we counted at least 50 at one point) and as they all spoke English we learned a lot about village life and how they survive – charcoal being this particular village’s biggest earner. We arranged to buy a giant sack on our way back from Mole too. On returning to the truck we found that there were as many locals back at the truck as there had been in the village! Eventually though they all left as there were wedding celebrations that night in the village and entertainment had been arranged. One of our ‘guides’ basically said “Right, let’s go”, and the 50 odd villagers all said their goodbyes and wandered home – to our mild relief!

The next morning a few villagers arrived early to say good bye and before we knew it we were back on the road heading towards Mole. We stopped briefly in Larabanga to visit the famous mud mosque there – built in 1421 and very pretty in its own right. Larabanga has got to be one of the dustiest places on earth, with the Harmattan winds constantly blowing dust right through town – all day and all night at the moment. A serious haze has set in – a photographer’s nightmare and bane to those of us trying to get an African tan! Several of the children looked a bit worse-for-wear and one young girl told us not to touch them “They are disease” were her exact words... no further info required thank-you very much!

After our stop in Larabanga it was off to Mole National Park. The park is quite lovely, greenery all over the place and vast rivers and lakes. The hotel/bar/restaurant complex is on top of an escarpment which affords glorious views over several watering holes and scrub land – tremendous stuff. The park has a vast range of antelope and birds, warthogs, monkeys, baboons and elephants – the rangers claim there are a ‘handful of lions, hyenas and a couple of leopards’ but they certainly aren’t seen very often! The last leopard was seen on 30th October last year. Our campsite was a few hundred meters down a dusty track from the restaurant/bar complex so we were constantly wandering back and forward. On one such trip Martin was wandering back to camp to get something, when he noticed a few baboons on the side of the truck, he yelled and chased them around the side of the truck... only to be faced by about 15 more baboons, 6 of whom were very large and angry males, who immediately started charging forward barking and baring their bloody scary teeth. Martin, sensing his impending doom, high tailed it. With a pack of baboons literally on his heels, jaws centimetres away. Enter Brian. Brian is an ex-professional baseball player and has an exceptional talent with ball (or rock!) in hand. From the other side of the car-park he started pelting the baboons with large rocks, knocking several for six and scaring the crap out of the rest! Martin and Brian then proceeded to chase the rest of the pack off with rocks and much yelling and grunting, eventually reclaiming the rubbish bins the baboons had commandeered. Martin now claims Brian is his hero and saved his life ;-)

Bunny went on a game walk that evening, seeing warthogs, deer and birds etc but no sign of the elephants we had all hoped to see. However on the plus side Bunny was feeling all better today and even had a full meal from the restaurant. Yippee! Bunny also discovered Alvaro malt drinks – which are absolutely delicious. The next morning we had a lazy start, watching the warthogs rut around our camp, on their knees in their weird subservient looking way.
We left Mole at about 1pm and stopped briefly for a few drinks in a small town.

Bunny tried a new way of staying dust-free, wrapping herself in a disposable plastic poncho which became a bit of a sauna, luckily Bunny likes to be warm!!

Otherwise it was a long drive on the dusty road, where the only other event was a quick charcoal stop at the village we had visited several nights before. Our bush camp that night was in another burnt out area close to where we would re-join the tar-seal roads in the morning.

We stopped after a brief drive the next morning to visit the Kintampo falls – which are in 3 stages, the first two are small falls where the water disappears under the ground again, however stage 3 is a mighty waterfall that cascades down about 30m of rock tiers – very impressive and well worth a looksey. Back on the road, the countryside has turned very much to jungle and the heat became oppressive driving towards Kumasi. The very air is thick. Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana, and we had to circumnavigate the whole city in order to reach our campsite at the Presbyterian Guesthouse – near the centre of town. Bunny is completely addicted to Fan-Ice and now Martin has caught the bug too... soooooo yummy! That night we joined a few others for some cocktails at a well known bar/restaurant nearby called Vic Baboos, a pretty cool place with lovely drinks (50+ cocktails!)

In the morning we headed off into Kumasi to use the internet and explore West Africa’s largest open-air market. We found one net cafe which was tragically slow, ironically after we left we found another almost instantly which was really fast – so we managed to catch up on a few things. Then it was time to venture into the Kejetia market. The place is immense, it takes up a large open area in the heart of the city, but beyond that the countless stalls spread across several nearby streets as well - the completely chaotic sprawl is amazing. As soon as you enter the markets you are immediately swept in one direction or another, crossing the two fast flowing pedestrian highways is almost impossible at first, until you realize you just kind of have to dive into it! There is even a train track right through the heart of the market and apparently periodically (not often) a train will come through! It’s insane, some of the stalls are ON the tracks. The market is organized chaos, there are large areas selling the same types of goods, clothing, jewellery, house hold goods, bush meat etc etc but there is certainly no sensible arrangement and it all just melds into itself – an exhausting but thoroughly awesome place to meander for a few hours. We pity any tourist who enters expecting to find a specific item, but it’s great fun just roaming and watching. Kumasi is not intimidating. People are super friendly and stop and offer help or directions if they see you looking the slightest bit lost. There was virtually no one begging or asking for money, in stark contrast to previous countries.

That evening we went to Vienna City, a cool pub/club place with air conditioning and pool tables... wicked. Ghana is fiercely humid and even though we kept getting told the weather is unusually mild at the moment we both noticed the ensuing stickiness as soon as we arrived in Kumasi. We spent a few hours playing pool and chatting, before heading to ‘Chopsticks’ for a fantastic pizza dinner and more drinks... pool, pizza and beer... it felt just like being at home... sort of!

On returning to the guesthouse Falcon convinced a bunch of us to come out to an ‘awesome club’ he had ‘discovered’ the night before. Before we knew it we were outside a glorified shack with the ominous name of ‘Sadisco’ – and yes it was sad. The clientele consisted of two old men watching an English subtitled Ghanaian soap opera... it was awesome indeed. Bed-time.

The next day we packed up early and headed to the fabled Cape Coast, an area steeped in sordid tales of slavery and woe. It was great to see the ocean again after so long, it’s always like seeing an old friend again. However it was with a mild sense of foreboding that we arrived at Cape Coast Castle to have a tour and try to understand the full extent of the tragic past of this stretch of West Africa. We have seen the slave markets and holding cells in Zanzibar, but this feels so much more personal, knowing the culprits were our British ancestors not just some faceless Arab Traders. The castle was converted into a fort by the Dutch in about 1637, expanded by the portugese in 1652 and changed hands 5 times before the Brits captured it in 1664 and its express purpose became a slaving post/fortress. It’s not the oldest fortress on this stretch of coast, nor the biggest, but it is easily one of the best preserved and restored, and has a palpable sense of its dark history as soon as you walk through the white washed arches. What’s-his-name Obama came to visit quite recently - apparently he is quite famous.

The story of the fortress is vile. Hundreds of slaves jam-packed into tiny spaces with no light, water or drainage – there are marks about 30-40cm up the walls which represent the level of human filth that filled each room. The slaves were packed shoulder to shoulder in knee deep vomit, urine, faeces and blood – this was a point our guide very much enjoyed repeating. It would be easy to wax lyrical about the inhuman facts of this castle’s dark past, the rape, the torture, the endless cycle of death etc. But it really is quite depressing and something that is best experienced first-hand, suffice to say it’s very sobering and morbidly fascinating all at the same time – a bit like a really nasty CSI episode.

That evening we drove a bit further along the coast to the sleepy village of Abandze, where we upgraded from camping and spent the next 4 nights in a lovely little beach-side chalet (Thatched roof, ceiling fan, TV, hot shower and a FRIDGE!). There is little point in writing a day-by-day account of this as each day was more-or-less the same itinerary:

Wake up.
Eat breakfast.
Sit on beach chairs and read/listen to music.
Eat Lunch.
Watch British cooking shows on TV – our TV seemed to be fixed to this channel....
Drinks on beach chair.
Dinner and Drinks

We did wander into the village a few times and have a few swims, but other than that it was purely a time of maximum relaxation and minimum movement. With mental and physical batteries recharged we were excited when it was finally time to drive to Ghana’s capital city – Accra.

One of the crazy things about Ghana is the frequent use of ‘God’, ‘Jesus’ and religious names and sayings in the names of .... everything!! Every shop and stall no matter how small is called something like ‘God Bless You Hair Salon’ or ‘Jesus loves you electrical supplies’. Another of our favourites, this time not religious, was a small restaurant called ‘No food for lazy man’ - brilliant.

It was also about this time that we started noticing the goats we’ve now nicknamed ‘Stubby Goats’. We swear in Morocco and Mauritania the goats were normal long-legged beasties, however at some point travelling down West Africa the goats changed. In this region they are roughly the same size, but much .... squatter... broader with tiny, stumpy little legs – giving them a very cute and kind of comical appearance. When they are pregnant they look hilarious, blobby little bodies on wee little leggies – brilliant.

Another random thing worth mentioning is ‘Pssssssst’. It seems to have started about Ghana, where it appears that when someone wants your attention they all just make a ‘Psssst’ noise. It’s kind of surreal, walking along to a chorus of ‘psssssts’ from all directions, as the local people try to draw your attention to their stalls or for whatever other reason they feel like. It does have the desired effects though, as both tourists and locals will all inevitably turn to see who is ‘pssssting’. (Except Bunny who is making a concerted effort to ignore it as the noise just frustrates her!) The problem is, the sound is quite irritating and has a sense of rudeness about it from a western perception. Some people on the truck have tried to take this on board, but are generally quite rubbish at it, especially Falcon. Andi and Grant are experts and sound just like the locals, however it’s a slow and painful process listening to the cacophony of ‘pssssting’. Some of us are beginning to relent and trying to master this African skill – seriously, it’s almost impossible to get a waiter/bar-tenders attention unless your ‘psssst’ is adequate.

On arrival in the sprawl of Accra we headed to the Accra Mall, a new, large western type mall with cinemas and air-conditioning – woohoo movie time! We didn’t actually have that long at the mall, but we managed to do our truck guard duties, use the wi-fi, watch a film (“Easy A” – corny but really funny) and buy some goodies. The supermarket is the Shoprite chain from South Africa so it was great to grab some Saffa goodies like Liquifruit, Ouma Rusks, etc.... though no decent biltong – damn! That night we went to a campsite near Coco Beach called ‘High Spirit’ – also the name of its enigmatic rasta owner. We met the other Oasis truck doing the trans-africa trip and spent the night chatting and drinking with them, a pretty cool bunch of people, but we’re sure each group secretly rates their own group as the best... of course! Martin, Brian and Mike teamed up with the other cook group and made a massive dinner for 50+ people – quite a mission, but it turned out pretty damned good – hamburgers – to celebrate Brad’s last day on our truck – he headed back to Hollywood the next day, weighed down with a huge sack of masks and carvings!

The High Spirit guesthouse is also near the village called Teshie which is most famous for the many coffin makers. Interestingly though, these are not any coffins! The coffins are all scale replicas of various unusual items – whether it be a giant fish, a video camera, a pineapple, a helicopter, etc. Driving past the shops on the main road displaying all their latest designs is quite crazy! It makes it a little easier to believe that funerals are a huge expense in Ghana, and generally cost more than weddings.

The next morning it was off into the city to lodge our Nigerian Visas. We stopped at the National Centre for Culture, which is basically a massive market selling all manner of crafts, jewellery, clothing etc etc. We went on a bit of spend up and bought a drum, some pictures, coasters, bowls, etc etc. We returned to High Spirit that night and had an early one as most people were still feeling a bit murky from the big night before!

The next day was a holiday within a holiday, we spent all day at the mall watching movies and blogging in air-conditioned bliss. “Due Date” was hilarious, “Tron” was average... oh well, you can’t win them all. We had a feast of pizza for lunch (Terrific Tuesdays – 2-4-1 pizza!) and returned home in the Tro-tro (a big van) in sweltering heat at about 8pm – all in all a great day!

The next morning we headed back to the Culture centre briefly, stopped at a supermarket for a few supplies then headed about 30km out of town to the infamous beachside resort of ‘Big Millies’. This place has a mixed review and indeed we both had different opinions of it! By day its lovely, palm trees, white sand, decent beach, cool areas to relax in etc etc – Bunny loved all this and thought it was pretty cool. However Martin stayed up drinking a few nights there and therefore had to contend with all the local rastas who converge on the place and try to wheedle cigarettes and beer (not to mention try to get any white women there into bed). This was bollocks.

A couple of relaxing days and rubbish nights passed pretty quickly at Millie’s, the highlights being:

Bucket showers – a first in our lives for both of us - amazing how clean you can actually get with only a single bucket you drew from the well – Bunny managed to wash, shave her legs AND wash her hair with ¾ of a bucket! She was quite proud!

Bunny and Lindi going shopping for jewellery and aprons at the beachside stalls, with a panel of observers up on the overlooking deck giving valuable advice and criticism. Haha – funny stuff.

Gary’s favourite shirt was stolen from a clothes line. Then it was found on a rasta. It was traded back for a football shirt by Ian. Football shirt and dodgy rasta never seen again.

A coconut fell from a massive tree onto the windscreen of a taxi, just as Martin was walking towards it! Everybody was looking up for the rest of our stay. Poor cabbie’s windscreen was a write-off.

Culture vulture night – guest drummers, dancers and acrobats - pretty cool but similar to those sorts of shows all over the world.

Ian and Ryan almost ended up fighting some dumb rastsa and a try-hard-white-rasta twat from Birmingham who had a guitar and sung like a wounded cat – a lot. A pity they didn’t smash him.

Once we left Millie’s it was back to Accra Mall for a few hours before heading off to bush camp near the border to Togo. Martin and a bunch of the boys played a few games of Petanque (Antipodes vs Colonial ‘masters’ – we smashed them). Bunny and a bunch of girls wandered down to the local village where they met the chief who was very young by normal-chief-standards. He was 36 years old and had been Chief of the village for 7 years already. He showed us around his village, including the interesting shrines (mmmm ... a bit peculiar and not too pretty!) and a statue erected to his Grandfather. He also let us try some Fufu, local food his wife and family were making for dinner. We also saw an elderly lady making Banku, another local staple food and the Chief asked Nicole to be another of his wives, before he walked us back to our truck. Overall, a pretty interesting visit and a pleasant way to end our visit to Ghana!

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