Ghana from the Red car
The Ghana Border at Hamale
The border in Ghana is the easiest so far. Stanley brings the Carnet into customs and the guy takes it, tells Stanley to go across to immigration while he fills it out and then come back. We all four need to present at immigration where the officials are watching a local soap opera. They give Stanley and Julia forms to fill out and a working pen and proceed to fill out the forms for Eowyn and Senna’s passports themselves – unprecedented anywhere in the world (the working pen and filling the forms themselves)!! They stamp us in and we go back across the street to pick up the Carnet and we are done. Absolutely could not have been easier. As the currency changes we need some local Ghanaian Cedis. One guy walked up to us on the Burkina side of the border and offered to change money, but as his exchange rate is a bit lower than we had expected we kindly rejected hoping to get a better rate at the other side. After having finished all administrative issues on the Ghanaian side, the same money changer had crossed the border and asked if we wanted to change money now….It seemed this border crossing had one changer. As he refused to give us a better rate, we decide not to change money and drive off. We then realize it is Christmas eve and we are not likely to get a bank open. We haven’t had much luck with ATMs lately and are feeling like we may have made a mistake. At the first ‘town’ the bank is just closing but one of the bank employees offers to show us a guy that usually changes CFA to the local currency, Cedi. He jumps on his bike and we follow him. We stop at a clap board stall and change 25,000 CFA to 75 Cedi – just what we were hoping for. I suppose it is no coincidence that Eowyn refers to the bank as the money shop. “Do we need to stop at the Money Shop?” Yup!. We arrive in late afternoon in Wa, and again find a place to camp and a cold beer!
Wa (24-26 December)
Wa is a pleasant enough town – nothing spectacular but nothing offensive. The most curious thing about it is that it seems to have no restaurants nor obvious roadside food stalls. In all the countries we have been in there are roadside stalls with people selling prepared food, women walking with bowls or baskets filled with homemade snacks for sale, roadside restaurants. In Wa there is nothing. There is a market and plenty of small shops to buy DVDs or provisions but the only ready-made food to buy at one stall are brochettes – of marginal freshness. We manage to spend 3 days in Wa just relaxing, letting the kids run wild, doing laundry. We also take the opportunity to buy knock-off DVDs since this is the first English speaking country we have been in a while. We had hoped to be able to find some provisions for a Christmas dinner (mainly a leg of lamb) but there was not much on offer at the market. Stanley manages to pull together an onion soup out of thin air and we pick up some brochette-of-marginal-freshness to gather around the ‘tree’!
The kids really love the ‘extra’ days of doing nothing in particular. The campsite is perfect for them to play, there is dirt and water and space and they don’t seem in need of anything else to have a good time.
Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary
‘About as far west as you can travel without changing languages’ this remote sanctuary begins 50km south west of Wa along the Black Volta River. We drive along a good dirt road that is neither on our map nor in the GPS just asking for directions in the small villages we pass through along the way. In the village of Wechiau we pick up our guide, Adams, from the information center and drive the additional 18kms on what must be an impassable track in the rainy season, to the river. We know we are going for a boat ride in the river to look for hippos and they keep mentioning a pirogue – which is a small local fishing boat- but I was surprised at how small it was. It is more like a plank of wood with low sides and some cross planks for sitting. It is the 4 of us, Adams and the boatman that are supposed to go out looking for hippo on basically a stick of wood. It would be illegal in most places and ill-advised more universally. Neither Adams nor the boatman seems at all phased that there are six of us one of whom is a baby. Well, we get in the ‘boat’ and with a spare 5 cm of canoe above the water we manage to keep most of the water outside. We hope we see something quickly so we can turn around and come back. The ride is beautiful. The boatman paddles us along the shore while we try not to move. The river is still, the air is thick and humid and everywhere is green. The only sound is birds in the forest (and Senna ofcourse!). We see one hippo not long after we set out. It turns out there are only 20 hippo in the sanctuary. After seeing wildlife in East and Southern Africa a pool of a possible 20 and a viewing of 1 isn’t that thrilling but wildlife is difficult to come by in West Africa and it is a beautiful ride and a worthy sanctuary.
We leave Wa on a tarmac road. It is not on our map or the GPS (as usual!) but it is a good road and heading in the right direction. The road first turns into a good dirt road, but soon gets smaller and smaller until it becomes a single track. After about an hour, we ask a young guy the way to the main road and he says there is no through way – we must turn back. We continue on a bit more and ask again – and get the same answer. We can see the main road marked on the GPS and it is only 3km away. We are stopped and debating what to do when the first guy passes us again on his bicycle. He says actually there is a way to the main road: “it is a large road, like the one we are on” (which was hardly a two tyre track). He rides ahead on his bike and we follow him slightly irritated – why didn’t he just say that in the first place!? It turns out he didn’t say that in the first place because it isn’t really a through way. With no visible track to drive on, we follow him through somebody’s yard, driving slowly so as not to run over the kids, chickens or chairs. Then we drive through their field with 40cm earth mounts everywhere, through a river and another field. We have noticed the unique construction of the planting fields, they are filled with small pyramids which turn out not to be ideal for driving!! It is a bumpy rocky ride which Senna manages to sleep through. Soon enough we emerge onto another good dirt road which hits the main road. Why the two good roads are not connected is a mystery!
Boabang-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary
A community-based tourism project based on the relationship the two villages (Boabang and Fiema) have with the Mona and Black and White Colobus monkeys. Both monkeys – which inhabit the forest surrounding the villages- are considered sacred. They cannot be killed (nor can any other animals in the forest). When a monkey dies it is buried in the forest graveyard as a human would be in a coffin with a grave marker. Each day the Mona monkeys come into the villages to get food – they are also able to forage in the forest but the villagers happily hand out food to them as well. We have a knowledgeable guide who walks us through the forest and villages. We see plenty of both kinds of monkeys as well as the monkey cemetery.
As we drive to Kumasi two things we notice – billboards of dead people and peculiar shop names - many of them God Fearing. The billboards are the obituaries - some are small some full billboard size. Most have some accompanying text about “Call to Glory” and a grainy picture – it seems bizarre to us.
The shop names become a source of great amusement. Some examples:
- God is King Cold Store
- The Blood of Jesus X-Ventures (selling phone cards)
- Take Jesus Auto Parts
- Jesus is Coming Soon Cement and Building Materials
- Lord of Mercy Special Hot Tea
- Dreamworld Experimental School
- Still Shalom Fast Food
- Black Pee Art Sign (no idea what they do there!!!)
Kumasi is Ghana’s second largest city and has the distinction of having one of the largest markets in West Africa. The whole city actually seems like a market – we have never seen anything like it. Sellers spill their wares out of the shops onto the sidewalks, straddling the open sewers, spilling into the narrow streets. There are people everywhere and everything is for sale – and that is before you even get to the beating heart of the city, Kejetia Market. We enter the market through a small vein – sucking people in and spitting them out in an endless stream. There is no grand entrance we are just sucked into the vortex. There is a railway running through the market but stalls are right up against the rails, over the rails. We move through the uneven and muddy paths. There are no straight lines but twists and turns fanning out into many paths and then thinning again into a single small lane. Stalls are covered with corrugated metal - or plastic sheeting. Music plays, kids sleep in their parents’ stalls – on display along with the merchandise. It is endless. Thousands of shoes, then thousands of watches, clocks, belts. Shirts are divided by color and pattern in heaps – there are lots of used Western clothes and knock offs made in China. There is a women’s section with lanes of high heels, fake jewelry, makeup, mounds of nail polish. There are stalls on either side of the lane with impromptu sellers sitting in the middle redirecting traffic into new directions. Aisles of fish, then pork, spices, cassava trunks, bags, dyes, mobile phones, plastics, kitchen ware. It goes on forever and ever. We head in a direction when we think we see a way out but it turns out to be only a space, a place to take a breath before continuing on. It is hard to believe there are enough people to buy although it feels like all of Kumasi (and beyond) is there – it is packed. We feel like ants in a colony. Finally we exit, as we entered, through a small non descript alley way. We had planned to cross the market to the other side, but nearly 2 hours later we ended up some 200 meters from where we entered….
After two days in Kumasi we are ready for some peace and decide to drive to the coast. We take the main road and pass through small towns on the marginal paved road. In one town a young guy holding a huge metal pipe jumps in front of the car and we are instantly mobbed all the young men are shouting – funeral money, she is dead and we need money for the funeral! It is extremely aggressive and we weren’t at all prepared since Ghana is so mellow. All the windows are down, etc. Stanley rolls up his window and Julia throws hot coffee on the guys by her window and we speed off as the mob moves on to another car. I guess the billboards cost a pretty penny.
In the afternoon clouds form overhead and the sky becomes dark then it starts to pour, there is lightning and thunder and torrential rain. The streets are abandoned and roadside stalls left unattended as everyone runs for cover. It is not the rainy ’season’ in Ghana but we will have a similar storm for the next 3 days. It is exciting for us as it is the first rain shower we have seen since we left Holland!!
Ahhhh, Anomabu. The most beautiful beach. Endless shallow water, long stretches of palm trees lined the clean white sandy beach. There are huge waves in the shallow water farther out from the shore. – ideal for body surfing. We are able to pitch the tent at the Anomabu Beach Resort. We have a huge sandy beach surrounded by palm trees all to ourselves. We can’t tear ourselves away and spend four days lounging in the sun and sea.
We take a day trip to Elmina. As beautiful as the beaches are we constantly remember the horrible history of this coast. Millions of slaves were brought through these shores. We visit the old Portuguese (and later Dutch) fort in Elmina which is only one of many along the West African coast. The scale of that misery that lasted over 200 years is difficult to comprehend.
In Elmina we meet up again with Niels, Annemieke and Marijn for New Year’s. Annemieke and Marijn have brought Christmas presents from Holland. Eowyn now has a princess dress, a K3 dress and a fluffy flowery ballerina outfit. She LOVES them and wears them often much to the amusement of the general population. Thanks Johan, Stans, Sigrid, Erwin, Niels, Annemieke and Marijn for all the gifts!! We reluctantly leave this beautiful place because we have to pick up Matthew in Accra on Jan 3.
Accra is like Nairobi. Maybe with a slightly lower crime rate but otherwise it could just be Nairobi. First and foremost – the traffic is horrendous. Seemingly any time of the day or night it is just gridlocked – as we discover during our 4 days stay. Our time in Accra is a necessary evil as we need to pick up Matthew from the airport, apply for Nigeria visas, pick up Land Rover parts and stock up on pampers and baby food. The guys manage a good night out in town. It is not easy to find a good party venue on a Tuesday evening, but after some asking around and checking out some places we found a good spot. Unfortunately, clear admission rules are posted on the door: no shorts, no Sleeveless, no sleepers. As Niels and Stanley were both wearing slippers, the bouncer showed us the sign again and said: “NO BAREFOOT SLEEPERS!” There was only one solution which was to purchase some new shoes on the street. Quite amazing that at nearly midnight people are selling shoes on the street. We bargain a deal that we buy 2 pairs of shoes for 10 Euro each, but will return them in a few hours for 5 Euro money-back. Everybody happy and a great fun-night followed.