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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 6.53134, -1.43131
We've been travelling hard for quite some time now (although it might be tough to qualify the Niger River pinasse trip as ‘tough travel'😉 and DH has started fighting that scourge of travellers- the funny tummy, so we've decide to down tools and rest at a lake near Kumasi, Ghana. Getting to Kumasi means one more hard day of travel but there are a couple of worthwhile sites on the way…provided, of course, you go the right way. Somehow we ended up taking the old road to Kumasi which was not only a typical beat-up African road but there was a 1 hour ferry crossing stuck right in the middle of this trip. This wouldn't be so bad except we arrived at the dock just in time to see the first of only two ferries per day disappear over the horizon. Waiting for the second ferry (and given the mass of humanity milling about the dock area, there was some doubt that we would even get on the second ferry) which seemed to have only a vaguely defined departure time, meant enduring an almost constant deluge of “hey white man” from the populous of the small market village which
grown up around the ferry dock. I was really getting tired of this particularly as there were no comments or even a wave if you looked over at the local who seemed desperate for your attention- just a blank stare. Some hours into the wait, we became an accepted part of the environment and were able to wade through the hodge-podge village/market with only sporadic catcalls, and were even invited to take some photos without a follow-up demand for money. It was a leisurely opportunity to absorb the chaos of African life without being centre stage ourselves. And then came the ferry.
As the ferry took its run at the river bank, listing badly to one side, you couldn't help but think of every overloaded, third world, ferry disaster you had ever heard about. There were vehicles taking up every bit of deck space available, with people and livestock relegated to whatever space they could find. DH is convinced that Africans have to be among the best in the world at space utilization- not a square inch goes vacant which is something to admire from a distance but not quite so wonderful when you are about to become one of the
piece parts that are to be stuffed aboard a vessel of questionable seaworthiness. As each overloaded truck made its run for freedom, the ferry would dip dramatically to the shoreline and then spring back violently as the truck made dry land. All the while, the ferry was attacked by a swarm of people seemingly oblivious to the bobbing and weaving of a boat that should not have been bobbing and weaving. As the black exhaust from the escaping trucks cleared, it became apparent that there were all manner of trolleys stacked high with a variety of merchandise with no visible means of propulsion. This was soon resolved as each trolley was surrounded by about 10 of the locals (how ownership was determined, where these people came from, why they chose to help, were all unresolved questions) who would then begin the arduous task of pulling/pushing each of these trolleys up the steep incline which led to the village. The ‘puller' would steer the trolley in a serpentine direction up the hill with the others, backs to the load, pushing in small steps, all the while singing out a cadence that suggested they were actually having fun. And emptying the ferry
was actually the easy part. We soon found out why there was a steep incline leading to the ferry- it allowed the overloaded trucks going the other way to build up enough momentum to make it onto the ferry. While these trucks were slamming themselves on board with a bizarre precision (you couldn't slide a piece of paper between some of them), there seemed to be a furious activity to repair a portion of the hull with a welding torch (the welder was wearing sunglasses for protection??) and deck planks were being replaced. And, of course, even though this should have created some concern for the passengers, outside of DH and myself, there was no evidence of concern. In among the trucks, trolleys which appeared to be loaded with the exact same merchandise that was just off-loaded, made the more difficult trip down the decline and, as often as not, were unsuccessful leaving people scrambling out of the way of runaway trolleys which would spill their loads at the base of the gangway. Not to be deterred, the trolleys were simply reloaded and pushed onto the ferry to be squished between trucks. Somehow it all worked.
It was dark by the
time we reached the other side, and with the belching exhaust and non stop chatter providing a hazy atmosphere you really felt you were in a surreal movie and expected to see James Bond dash out from the fog chasing a badie of some description.
We weren't really keen to travel in the dark on suspect roads but we had a lot of time to make up for so we gave it a go. Other than the numerous police checkpoints and another encounter with an even more belligerent Ghanian policeman looking for a bribe which we were not going to pay (I'm sure it's not the case, but we're really coming the view the police in Ghana as a collection of low-brow bullies that are best avoided), we were able to make it to Kumasi. The Lake would have to wait until the morning as it would have been impossible to find in the dark. DH is just happy to have temporary access to a bathroom that would not be mistaken for a toxic waste dump.
It turned out that delaying Lake Bosumtwi was a prudent decision as it was at the end of one of those patently bad African roads
that never seem to get fixed. The primary intent of the lake visit was to recharge the batteries although since we were pretty much alone here (except for a Brit named Helen, Acie, or Rasta Girl depending on the moment and who spoke an English we could understand so DH got some linguistic relief), it gave us an opportunity to observe the Ghanian service experience up close and personal. The staff operated with a dearth of speed that was almost comical- each query was met with a glazed look that we grew to know as processing time (although they spoke English there must have been a mental translation activity that took some time). And apparently the translations were not particularly accurate as we rarely got what we asked for and often times didn't get anything at all. When reminded, the staff started the whole thing all over again with no acknowledgement of the original request- it was a microcosm of what we were experiencing throughout Ghana but since we were in relax-mode we really grew to like our very slow and very odd hotel staff. As DH popped some pills and tried to coax her stomach back into good working
order, we only moved from our beachside chairs to visit the 'shrine' of the most powerful female spiritualist in the area that was on the other side of the lake, and on the morning of the second day we went out with the local fishermen on their ‘boats'. The spiritualists claim to fame was to periodically dress up like a man which was apparently enough to scare the bravest of the brave and most witnesses to this event would flee in terror. She did walk us through some of the magic she would perform at her shrine (and one of her ‘assistants' even demonstrated a feat of magic with a solution so obvious you just had to smile at how earnest he was being).
DH proved to be a natural Lake Bosumtwi fisherman as she glided along on the wooden plank that passed for a fishing boat. With a backside still recovering from the safari ride on top of the truck, I just about tipped the ‘boat' a number of times and was more than happy to retire my fishing career before it got started.
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