GHANA Jan 11-29, 2017
Hailed as West Africa’s golden child, Ghana deserves its place in the sun. One of Africa’s great success stories, the country is reaping the benefits of a stable democracy in the form of fast-paced development. And it shows: Ghana is suffused with the most incredible energy.
With its welcoming beaches, gorgeous hinterland, rich culture, vibrant cities, diverse wildlife, easy transport and affable inhabitants, it’s no wonder Ghana is sometimes labelled ‘Africa for beginners’.
It’s easy to come here for a week or a month, but no trip can be complete without a visit to Ghana’s coastal forts, poignant reminders of a page of history that defined our modern world.
Travel north and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived in a different country, with a different religion, geography and cultural practices. The beauty is that this diversity exists so harmoniously, a joy to experience and a wonder to behold in uncertain times.
Capital. Accra 5°33′N 0°12′W
Languages. Official – English. National languages – Akuapem Twi, Asante Twi,Dagaare, Dagbani, Dangme,Ewe, Ga, Gonja, Kasem,Fante, Nzema, Wasa, Talensi,Frafra
Ethnic groups. 47.5% Ashanti / Akan (11.5m), 16.6% Dagbani / Mole (4m), 13.9% Ewe (2.9m), 7.4% Ga-Adangbe (1.8m), 5.7% Gurma (0.7m), 3.7% Guan / Gonja (0.3m), 2.5% Gurunsi (0.1m), 1.1% Bissa / Mande (0.1m), 1.6% Other (0.1m)
Government. Unitary presidential constitutional republic. President John Dramani Mahama
Independence from the United Kingdom. Declared 6 March 1957
Area. Total 238,535 km2 (82nd)
Population. 2014 estimate 27,043,093. Density 101.5/km2 (103rd)
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate Total $121.074 billion (70th). Per capita $4,390 (126th)
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate Total $38.171 billion (69th). Per capita $1,384 (126th)
When to Go. Apr-Jan: Heaviest of the two rainy seasons (autumn can also be wet). Nov-Mar: dry and easiest season to travel. Dec-Apr: Best for wildlife viewing with good visibility and animals congregating at water holes.
Tourist Information. As a rule is pretty useless and staff working in offices have little understanding of what travellers need.
www.ncrc-ghana.org – community based tourism site.
www.noworriesghana.com – targeted at people moving to Ghana rather than traveling. Good eating, drinking and entertainment listings, also shipping and transport.
www.touringghana.com – official tourism portal.
MONEY. Ghana cedi (GH₵) (GHS).
Ghana cedi were redenominated in July of 2007. The new “Ghana cedi” (GHS) equals 10,000 old cedis. During the transition period of six months, the old cedi is known as “cedi”, and the new cedi was known as “Ghana cedi”. Be aware that some Ghanaians still think in old currency. This can be very confusing (and costly).
US Dollars are accepted by some of the major tourist hotels, but you shouldn’t rely on this. As in all West African countries, older dollar bills will be rejected by banks and Forex bureaus. If you intend to take dollar notes make sure that they are all from the 2007 series or above.
Euros, dollars and UK pounds in cash are the most useful currencies to take with you and are easily and safely changed at numerous. It is very difficult to change travellers cheques and certainly almost impossible outside Accra and Kumasi, unless you change them at a major bank. Barclays has branches in Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and even Tamale where you can change travellers cheques. Expect lines. VISA cards are accepted at major hotels and there are ATMs in Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast which accept VISA.
Jan, 2017: US dollars in large denomination (50s and 100s) got 425 CDs in Accra. Smaller denominations got 375. Euros exchanged for 450 CDs.
Foreign nationals of the following countries can enter Ghana visa-free: ECOWAS countries, plus Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Singapore, Swaziland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Otherwise, unless in direct airside transit through a Ghanaian airport, all other foreign nationals require a visa to enter Ghana.
There is no such thing as a visa on arrival for Western countries. Ghana is the one country in all of West Africa that will require getting the visa in your home country in advance. The Ghanaian government’s online Ghana list of embassies is out of date, but this list is fairly reliable. I met a Swedish couple on the same trip as us who had gotten a Ghana visa in Dakar, Senegal.
The application requires: 4 copies of fully completed and signed Ghana visa application form, in BLOCK CAPITAL, original signatures on all four application forms, 4 recent passport-style photographs, Letter of Invitation – of which a hotel where you are staying can be the second reference, – 1 copy of confirmation of hotel booking, – 1 copy of passport of invitor or of hotel manager, 1 copy of a return air ticket, or flight confirmation from a travel agency, 1 copy of an International Certificate of Vaccination for Yellow Fever,
You must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate which will be presented to customs when entering. Malaria course essential.
If you require a visa to enter Ghana, you might be able to apply for one at a British embassy, high commission or consulate in the country where you legally reside if there is no Ghanaian embassy or consulate.
ExtensionS. Immigration Service early and expect delays in getting their passports back. Two weeks are provided as the guideline.
Visas for Onward Travel.
Angola. 3 month visas in 5-8 days. Cost $300. Many requirements.
Togo. 1 month visas on the same day. Cost 35,000CFA + 50 cede administrative cost.
Benin. 1 month visa on the same day. Cost 140 cedes ($US14)
Ghana is a sovereign unitary presidential constitutional democracy, located along the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in the subregion of West Africa. Spanning a land mass of 238,535 km2, Ghana is bordered by the Ivory Coast in the west, Burkina Faso in the north, Togo in the east and the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean in the south.
The territory of present-day Ghana has been inhabited for millennia, with the first permanent state dating back to the 11th century. Numerous kingdoms and empires emerged over the centuries, of which the most powerful was the Kingdom of Ashanti. Beginning in the 15th century, numerous European powers contested the area for trading rights, with the British ultimately establishing control of the coast by the late 19th century. Following over a century of native resistance, Ghana’s current borders were established by the 1900s as the British Gold Coast. In 1957, it became the first sub-saharan African nation to declare independence from European colonisation.
A multicultural nation, Ghana has a population of approximately 27 million, spanning a variety of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. Five percent of the population practices traditional faiths, 71.2% adhere to Christianity and 17.6% are Muslim. Its diverse geography and ecology ranges from coastal savannahs to tropical jungles. Ghana’s economy is one of the strongest and most diversified in Africa, following a quarter century of relative stability and good governance. Ghana’s growing economic prosperity and democratic political system has made it a regional power in West Africa. It is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS) and the Group of 24 (G24).
Cote d’Ivoire/Ghana border. The Indian man on the trip had had great difficulty obtaining a Ghana visa (he was given a letter issued by someone from the Ghana government in Accra) that was very unusual. It took several hours and many phone calls to Accra to get the whole mess sorted out. It ended up being dark by then and we camped next to the immigration office in the large truck bay. This was the first time I had power in several days (Monrovia was the last) and stayed up until midnight in the immigration building catching up on several posts.
A large truck arrived at 5 and revved his engine interminably. Music started at 5:30 and nobody was able to sleep.
Ghana – English, English electrical plugs, Christianity (at least in the south) and bad white bread. We left at 7 when all the kids in the towns we passed through were on their way to school. All dressed in attractive school uniforms in a palette of colours, they were a big change from the children we had been used to. Maybe because they are used to white people, they didn’t wave or show any reaction to when we drove by. You could hardly get a smile from them. Most adults on the other hand, waved and said “Welcome to Ghana”.
Signs for the full complement of Christian churches lined the highway. Splashy gas stations were common. Instead of cars junkyards, there were piles of old scavenged motorcycles. Obtaining water is a huge time consumer for the women. They line up at he wells and then carry enormous basins full on their heads. Buildings in the early towns were more sophisticated with several two-story constructions. It was a similar landscape that we had been driving through for 4 countries – green, flat and bush with a few big trees. The frequent police checks were much simpler “Where are you coming from?” and “Where are you going?” and that was it – no checking passports or any bureaucracy. The road was great but every chicken and dog got a speed bump so it ended being as slow as roads full of potholes.
In Sunyani, we visited a Forex Money Exchange and got a much better exchange rate than at the banks: 1 US$ = 410 Ghanian CDs for notes larger than 50$, 350 for notes smaller than 50$, 1£ = 490CDs, 1€ = 420CDs.
Entrepreneurs did the typical African work: metal doors, furniture, plastic household goods and building supply stores, but no Business Centers. Some business names were God is King Barbering Salon, Very Good Wife Enterprises (food store) and Thank God Its Friday Muslim Supplies.
Power poles are treated wood instead of concrete like everywhere in Africa thus far. Cemeteries continue to line the roads just outside of towns.
KINTAMPO FALLS. These are a series of 3 waterfalls with the lowest one the main attraction as it forms a high cascade. We all brought soap, had a great shower under the falls, ate grilled sausages and washed our clothes.
North of Kintampo, the climate turned much more arid, all the green disappeared and was replaced by savannah-bush – tall grass, spare trees and amazing Gothic cathedral – shaped termite mounds. At Bupe, we crossed the Volta River – the reservoir on the river backs up to near here from a dam almost on the coast. Cattle, pigs and goats became much more common.
The major economy is charcoal production. Huge rows of long nylon bags were stacked on the side of the road at every town, sometimes numbering in the thousands. A corresponding amount of cord wood was piled beside the homes.
The typical African village scene reappeared with thatched, mud-brick homes. Huge tubers of cassava appear to be the main food. Women in every town spend hours crushing it in large pestles. Women pumping water at wells consumes much of their time and energy.
We turned west at Fuhula and set up a bush camp next to the road on the way to Mole National Park. The villages we passed the next morning have probably looked the same for the last 500 years with the addition of green plastic garbage bins, yellow plastic jerry cans and bright print clothes festooned on clothes lines – round, thatched roof mud-brick huts in tiny family compounds and stick fences. The Christian villages had pigs, the Muslim ones didn’t, but this is primarily Muslim country north of the Volta River. The grass was burned regularly producing open areas and a few larger trees. Herds of grey, long-horned cattle were being herded. We filled our jerry cans with water at the village well in Damonga. A submerged electric pump filled a gigantic raised black plastic cistern and 25 women were waiting in line to fill enormous metal bowls and yellow jerry cans. They put plastic bags in the basins to prevent spilling. They preferentially filled our cans.
Bars have a black board standing on the sidewalk announcing that evenings line-up of English Premier League Games. That is the one constant throughout West Africa.
The friendliness of the locals varies with the size of the towns – we are mostly ignored by the children and most adults in the cities but get a crowd of screaming, excited kids in the tiny villages.
LARABANGA. We turned north here, just south of Mole NP has a population of 4,000, 100% Muslim. There are 13 mosques in the town, the famous of which is the mud-and-stick mosque, reputably built in 1431, the oldest in Ghana and one of the oldest in West Africa. Four of us went on a tour of the mosque (10CD) given by a local teacher. The mosque was built by an Arab from Medina of mud bricks, logs, plaster and is maintained once a year after the rainy season. It has 6 large mud supports on each side, a dome on the east side with the mihrab and a conical minaret on the north side. Pointed white, the black sticks protrude from the sides. The south entrance for the men has a pattern of black diamonds on that support. The west entrance is for the women and enters a room not connected to the east section with no view of the mihrab. I had a good look from the north door into the interior – a cement floor, a low wood roof, black logs supports and structural columns making for a dark tiny interior with ony two windows.. An Indian woman had worked in the town for 2 weeks and had donated prayer mats.
After the good tour, we were harassed for donations to the school and then the guide asked for money for the tour as our 10CD fee only went to the upkeep of the mosque.
The local people used the area of the park for hunting and farming and resented loss of their livelihood when the area became protected. As a result poaching continued for several years and still happens today.
MOLE NATIONAL PARK
In the north of the country west of Tamale, this park was established in the 70’s to protect animals traditional eaten by the local people. There are 300 species of bird, and 94 species of mammal including 400 African savannah elephants (as of the only census in 2007) and buffalo. The safaris here must be the cheapest in Africa. Sightings of elephant are best from December to April and seeing other mammals year-around. The park’s only accommodation is at the Mole Motel with a tremendous location on an escarpment overlooking large water holes.
Buses are available from Tamale passing through nearby Larabanga.
Beside animals, Mole offers several cultural opportunities including the famous mud-and-stick mosque, reputably the oldest in Ghana. Ten kilometers east of the park is Mognori, where the people offer cultural tours, a cultural performance, and ecotourism. Villagers also offer canoe safaris on the river great for birds, and opportunities to see shea-butter production, traditional medicine and homestays.
On the first day at Mole NP, we arrived at the campground (running water and showers!) by 10am, secured the truck against the aggressive baboons (put all food from the overhead rack into our lockers) and arranged the jeep safari for four hours starting at 4pm (115CD). We invited a young German couple to join us and their payment covered the tip making 14 in two vehicles. The lodge had a swimming pool (10CD) and great wifi allowing me to post the travelogue from 3 countries. We saw an elephant down at the water.
We sat on narrow bench seats on the roof along with the ranger with his 357 rifle. In the light, we saw 4 African savannah elephants (all males and very approachable for great photos), bushbuck, warthogs (in the bush and then lying in the warm culverts in the town on our way back), roan antelope, pattas monkeys, baboons, and Nile crocodiles. When it was too dark to see, they provided battery-powered search lights and saw one elephant, a black tailed mongoose (in the town), several genet cats and the eyes of bush babies. The night portion was not that worthwhile and could have been missed. After we returned some ate in the restaurant and 7 of us took part in a traditional meal of fuku (cassava in a big ball) in a peanut/beef sauce (more of a culinary experience than gastronomic) for 10CD.
This is well into the dry season and at least 80% of the park had been recently burned, mostly by the rangers and occasionally by poachers. The best thing to see at night were all the fires – literally a ring of fire. Poachers are a problem, not for the elephants, but for the other animals who are used for bush meat locally and as far south as Accra.
On our last day at Mole, we went on a two-hour safari walk starting at 7am, and saw five African savannah elephants (2 in bush and these two again at the waterhole), bushbuck, kob antelope, vivid grey monkeys (several in a tree and then again along the path), warthogs, the foot prints of hyena, black-tailed mongoose and porcupine, Nile crocodiles, cattle egrets, white backed (very large) and hooded vultures, grey herons, red-throated beekeepers (crimson throat and green back), hadada ibis, butler eagles, guinea fowl (domesticated, they are also wild and great flyers), hammer kop and many other birds.
After our great experience in Mole NP, we returned on the highway we had come on our way to Mole. Just before bush camping south of Kintampo, we had our daily stop in a city to replenish our food supplies. I had a great time with the locals. A man did a roaring business at the back of the truck selling ice cream for 25¢. A heavy-set women pointed to herself and then the ice cream so I bought her one. Not a word passed between us. I needed to buy some bananas for breakfast. It is amazing what hard bargainers some of the women on our truck are. After 5 minutes complaining or the rock-bottom prices, she left with no purchases and I had my bunch in 30 seconds. Life is just not worth the hassle and so much more pleasant for these people making a living selling stuff on the roadside. I watched a crowd of guys playing cards and could not figure anything about the rules. The stakes were a pile of ordinary rocks. I kept asking them what was happening and they seemed to not have any interest in explaining them, but invited me to play. Totally confused, they played my cards for me as if there were rules and I won, earning a rock. They roared when I put it in my pocket. I finally gave up no wiser as to what was going on. Five little kids were standing near the truck watching us intently. I asked them all their names and ages and one asked for some pineapple and I broke the rule of giving stuff to kids. For 25¢, we all got a chunk and I gave them a gentle lecture that begging was not good. Kids here are so cute, it is almost tempting to take one home.
ADANWOMASE & KINTE WEAVING. We took an alternate route to Kumasi to visit the kente cloth-making town of Adanwomase. After finding the visitors centre, we had an excellent tour of the entire process of kente cloth-weaving and the production of cocoa (contact Eric at 233-555028263 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website: www.adanwomaseTMT.net.tc to arrange a tour; 20 CD for both the kente weaving and cacao production tours).
Strip weaving has existed in West Africa since the 11th century. In 1697, the king of the Ashanti people selected weavers from 4 towns to travel to Bonkutu, a trading centre in northern Cote d’Ivoire to study the art form. They returned and created their own designs, giving birth to the cloth known worldwide as Ashanti Kente. Adanwomase has been the home to royal weaving.
We saw the entire process from raw cotton, to thread, thread spinning, warping, and weaving the 6” wide strips. It is all done by men (women are busy looking after the home, are “unclean” when they have their period and if pregnant their belly would get in the way of the loom). The unique kente cloth designs chronicle local history and knowledge and have specific names and meanings that reflect cultural values and historical events. The strips are sewn together to form traditional Ghanian clothes: the huge one-piece cloak worn by men and the three-piece outfit worn by women. The cloth is worn by royals during ceremonies, for worship, outdoors, marriages and funerals (black and white patterns).
After seeing the fascinating weaving, we were taken out to the local cacao grove, we sucked the sweet kernels and the entire process of drying to eventually produce chocolate.
Ghana was the world’s largest producer of cacao until the a mammoth fire destroyed most of the cacao trees in the country. Now Cote d’Ivoire produces more cacao but Ghana is intent on regaining its position.
We then drove about 19kms SW to Kumasi.
KUMASI (pop 1.98 million)
Once the capital of the rich and powerful Ashanti kingdom, Ghana’s second city is still dripping with Ashanti traditions. Its heart, the huge Kejetia market, is the cultural hub and its wares spill into the city so that no matter where you are in Kumasi, it sometimes feels like one enormous marketplace.
Kumasi has some interesting sights but the city’s constant traffic congestion can be oppressive. Consider staying at Lake Bosumtwe, a gorgeous spot just one hour from Kumasi, and visiting Kumasi as a day trip.
If you’re coming from Accra or Tamale, you might feel a pleasant drop in temperature.
I couldn’t get to sleep one night so decided to walk down to the market area after midnight. Two young guys immediately hit on me. I asked if the area was dangerous and they said no. Then after a few meters, they said “Unless you’re white”. I had a beer and walked home past the numerous prostitutes.
Kejetia Market. From afar, the Kejetia Market looks like an alien mothership landed in the centre of Kumasi. Closer up, the rusting tin roofs of this huge market (often cited as the largest in West Africa; there are 11,000 stalls and at least four times as many people working there) look like a circular shantytown. Inside, the throbbing Kejetia is quite disorienting but utterly captivating. There are foodstuffs, secondhand shoes, clothes, plastic knickknacks, glass beads, kente strips, Ashanti sandals, batik, bracelets and more.
Wandering around the market by yourself is absolutely fine: few tourists come here and shopkeepers will be pleasantly surprised to see you. I found this the friendliest, but also the most chaotic market I have ever been to. The market is several streets all with stalls five-deep on either side and share-vans plying the crowd. I bought two shirts and some shorts, all second-hand.
Prempeh II Jubilee Museum (8am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat & Sun) This museum may be small, but the personalised tour included with admission is a fascinating introduction to Ashanti culture and history. Among the displays are artefacts relating to the Ashanti king Prempeh II, including the king’s war attire, ceremonial clothing, jewellery, protective amulets, personal equipment for bathing and dining, furniture, royal insignia and some fine brass weights for weighing gold.
Constructed to resemble an Ashanti chief’s house, it has a courtyard in front and walls adorned with traditional carved symbols. Among the museum’s intriguing photos is a rare one of the famous Golden Stool. The museum also contains the fake golden stool handed over to the British in 1900.
National Cultural Centre. Set within peaceful, shaded grounds, it includes craft workshops, where you can see brassworking, woodcarving, pottery making, batik cloth dyeing and kente cloth-weaving, as well as a gallery and crafts shop.
Manhyia Palace Museum. Manhyia Palace was built by the British in 1925 to receive Prempeh I when he returned from a quarter of a century of exile in the Seychelles to resume residence in Kumasi. It was used by the Ashanti kings until 1974; the current Asantehene now lives in a modern compound behind the museum.
On display is the original furniture and assorted royal memorabilia. During the festivities of Adae, which take place every 42 days, the Asantehene receives visitors; it’s a fairly formal occasion but travellers are welcome.
ROYAL GOLF CLUB – KUMASI
One of the fellow travellers and me played a round of golf here. It is the home course of the King of Ahanti and he plays regularly, but usually alone with his coach. He hopefully also helps finance the course because we were the only ones playing that day. We eventually played with the professional; all three of us used his one set of clubs and he supplied us with used balls, tees and a glove. The caddy scouted ahead to look out for our drives. It was an enjoyable round – we all had easy swings and so my tempo was good from the beginning. The fairways were rough grass and we could improve our lie and the greens weren’t exactly smooth. But the course had some pretty holes. Green fees were 20$US and we paid the caddy 5$ and tipped the pro 10$ so it ended up being a pretty cheap round.
It was a long drive from Kumasi south to the coast and then east along the ocean to Big Milly’s Back Yard in Kokrobite, about 45kms west of Accra. It is a backpacker beach resort on the ocean and there were many foreigners here. The beach is dangerous with a high chance of being robbed – never go left anytime of the day but going right is apparently ok for a short distance and never carry anything of value. I wandered 10m to the right before I was offered some ganga to buy. I am not really interested but the toke was surprisingly good. Buying bud in any of these countries is not possible.
The resort has cultural shows most nights and we were entertained after dinner by a great drum and dance troupe. It comes with Milly’s but everyone tipped.
This is a big change from the higher land inland – very hot and humid and argh, mosquitos again. We had so spoiled as there have been no bugs of any description for the last week.
Ghana is an extremely religious country. By far the most common billboard sign is for revivalist conferences and American evangelical/fundamentalist churches along with Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons. I wonder if their mission is charity or proselytizing? Probably the latter. Every little town has at least 2 churches, even where the population is Muslim. I also wonder how apostates are treated here – quitting Islam is punishable by death in many countries and saying you are an atheist receives a hundred lashes with a cane.
The names of businesses belie the religious character: “The Lord’s Grace is Enough Beauty Salon”, “Gospel Winners Computer Services”, “By His Grace Beauty Salon”, “Almighty Beauty Salon”, “God’s Time Plumbing and Electrical”, “Hope for the Hopeless Guest House”, “God’s Favour Welding Supplies”, “What a God Metal Works”, “Come to Jesus Chop Shop”, “Love and Born Again Metal Shop” – I think you get the idea.
Some of my other favourite names were: On a mosque “Thank God It’s Friday”, “Big Brains Accounting, and “I Love My Husband Enterprises”, “My Good Wife’s Restaurant”.
Billboards are big business and most have a religious bent. But education schools and colleges, natural medicine shops, building supplies outlets are very common. Other unusual ones are those that celebrate the life of so-and-so, with a big picture of the revered dead person.
Christian cemeteries line the roadsides. They are elaborate, tiled raised tombs often with a picture of the deceased. The Muslim graves are more likely simply a pile of dirt with no marker, especially in the primitive areas. The most basic homes are mud bricks or simply mud between a lattice of wood with thatched roofs. The income disparities are huge with most living in rural areas suffering extreme poverty.
I talked for some time to the head chef at the restaurant at Big Milly’s. He is 27 and spent two years in Culinary School. He has worked there for 4 years and works 12-hour days, 6-days a week – all for the grand salary of 500 CDs, or about 120US$ per month. He wants to work cooking on a ship but to work for a Ghanian company requires connections – usually family or tribe. He applied to a Russian company but they didn’t want to black guy working for them. He speaks 6 languages: English, French, and 4 tribal languages (two Ghanian, Togo and Benin). It seemed to me that his main problem was socialization – he simply did not know how to think outside of Ghana. I gave him my email address, told him how to write a resume and suggested that he Google cruise ships, freight and fishing companies and apply in writing including his schooling and the extensive menu at Milly’s. He wants to work on ships for 13 years, save money and open his own restaurant. You could palpate his frustration.
We went into Accra twice, initially to get our Angola visa and then we all went to the Accra Mall, ate expensive Western food and got some wi-fi. I bought a few things that Steve did not seem interested in buying – vinegar for sweet and sour, my favourite dinner, and mustard that I like on sandwiches. The next day, we went to the nearby Westside Mall, ostensibly to watch the new Star Wars movie (which was not showing here but at the Accra Mall). Four were die-hard Star War Fans and caught a taxi all the way in to see it. Five or us stayed at the cinema and saw Passengers, a sci-fi movie about an interplanetary ship carrying 5,000 passengers in suspended animation for the 120-year voyage. Two woke early.
About a 4 hour drive west of Accra, we came here over the weekend while waiting a week for our Angola visas to get processed.
Cape Coast Castle. Originally built in 1484 by the Portuguese, it was successively occupied by the Dutch, Danish, French and eventually the English. Besides trading in gold (this is the Gold Coast), slaves were the other major commodity. About 10,000 left Africa here, all part of the three-way trade of slaves to the Americas, sugar, cotton and tobacco to England and Europe and then cheap trade goods to Africa. Relatively expensive at 40 cedes (10US$), we had a good tour of the museum, male and female slave dungeons, the chiefs quarters and the ramparts. We returned west to stay at the Stumble Inn Resort, about 5kms from El Mina.
It was nice to be able to camp on the beach with a nice breeze, but back in the trees at the truck, it was a real sweat box.
We have adopted an older British couple with a very eclectic travel goal – to hot-air balloon the most countries of the world. They are now at 88 but have a ways to catch the record, being increased regularly by another group with much more money (who are now in the Caribbean flying between islands and are funded by British Air and a count in the 120s). Our couple have a low-clearance Mercedes camper with a large metal box attached to the back carrying their balloon. They hope to follow us as long as they can, possibly to South Africa. It will be quite exciting to watch them. That night, we could count the lights of at least 60 fish boats out on the water. They fish all night and then return to town in the morning.
EL MINA. On our second day here, we drove into town to shop and possibly see the castle there. There are about 60 “castles” or forts along the West Africa coast, all involved in the slave trade. But the El Mina Castle was also 40 cedes, looked like the Cape Coast one and none of us went. We wandered along the water next to the long rows of fishing boats. Guys were lounging about amidst all the washed clothes hanging from everywhere. Each boat has the flag of a country or football team for recognition purposes. The water was absolutely foul – black, full of garbage and smelling like rotting garbage/sewage. But the cokes were 1 cede and excellent street lunch 2 cedes.
The poverty seems very entrenched. Most everyone seems to be scraping by selling stuff on the street.
That night (Sunday, Jan 22), there was a huge storm. It started raining about 3am and then a massive thunderstorm went directly overhead. With exceedingly heavy rain and winds gusting to at least hundreds of kilometers per hour, the water was driven through my fly like a fine mist. The tents in the beach were collapsing and it took two people to hold things together. The mist created puddles of water covering my air mattress. I was able to put my sleeping bag and clothes away to keep them dry and sat huddled in in the one end of my tent that was dry. A huge bolt of lighting surged overhead, the thunder followed immediately and a mammoth gust of wind collapsed the poles in my tent. I popped it back up and everything stayed together. It was an interesting hour and a half of the same until it finally slowed down. The truck was full of wet excited campers. I eventually got all my stuff packed and then tent down as we were leaving at 6:30am to go to the Volta region. I didn’t want to leave with everything wet so packed my backpack with everything to dry when we arrived there.
With three others, we eventually got a taxi to Cape Coast to wait a couple of hours for the large public bus to fill up to take us into Accra (nothing leaves according to a schedule but only when the vehicles is full. From the Kaneshie Motor Park, we caught another taxi, were able to change money on the street and arrived at the Tudu bus station. The Tro-fros (shared minivans) are great with three seated across, there is lots of room. I sat next to the back window and puffed away at my e-cigarette when I wanted to. It was four hours to Ho and another tro-fro winding up to Amedzofe.
AMEDZOFE (pop 1,000)
The highest town in Ghana at 750m, it lies across a ridge. We came primarily to escape the heat of the coast, see another part of the country and do some hiking over 3 days. The excellent tourist office was open and we checked out the guesthouse and decided we wanted something more luxurious. So it was a long plod back across town and a long climb up the mountain to Abraerica, the only hotel in town. Andy and I snagged the only room with two single beds and Toby and Mark shared a double bed (40 cede each) for the three nights. This is not a hotel for the disabled, it was at least 100 steps down to the sleeping area. The views from the dining room were stupendous down the mountains to the plains and Volta Lake (which was not visible because of the smoke haze). One afternoon, the angle of the sun reflected off the lake to show its location and one morning, the haze lifted for long views to the distant hills on the other side of the lake.
On our first morning, we climbed Mt Gemi, a 30 minute walk above the guest house on the other side of town. On top is a 3.5m cross placed in 1939 on the 50th anniversary of the Bremen Mission, a German mission established here to start an education college. We could see 6 small villages scattered across the valleys and ridges from the top. After lunch of rice and beans with hot sauce (2cede), we walked to Ote Waterfall. The trail had cement stairs and then a steep climb down on a well-constructed trail of large rocks with a rope for support. The falls cascaded down the high cliff festooned with pink flowers and then dropped below the first pools an equal distance.
On the way back, we walked by the town water supply, possibly a kilometer from town. Everyone in every family carries water back to their home. One woman made 12 trips per day. The youngest kid was 7 (he used a smaller pail with a lid on it) but from age 10 on, they make 6 trips per day (two before school and four after) carrying the huge basins. I don’t understand why they have not constructed a small dam and a pipe to bring running water into Amedzofe. As in so many African countries, getting water is a huge consumer of time and energy.
On our first evening, we attended a “revivalist” religious meeting held in the town square by Church Assembly. Conducted by two preachers, the volume was full on with the sound being full of feedback and distortion. The preaching was all fire and brimstone with no moralistic message – full of power, fire, hallelujah and amens. They yelled at full volume with one preacher speaking in English and the second in the local language. The locals danced and raised their arms. Three singers with microphones produced more distorted sound. At the end of the three hours, everyone was “standing for Jesus” and one of the preachers walked along the crowd, put his hand on the top of their head and twisted their neck back forcing them down. When the people “fainted”, two guys in suits held them up by their arms and women held onto their waist. The preacher was yelling “down” and they finally fell onto the ground. It was all very surreal.
As I have stated, Ghana is possibly the most religious Christian country in the world. Anyone you talked to could not help wanting to pray for you and convince you of the powers of believing in God and Jesus. They could not relate in any way to atheism.
Wanting to spend less than at the restaurant at the hotel, we found the only place that didn’t serve fufu and baku, both tasteless cassava concoctions that are the mainstay of the Ghana diet, and instead ate at Green Square Ventures with the best spaghetti in the world. Made with fried thinly sliced cabbage, onions, green peppers, green onions and scrambled egg (also available with sardines), all fried with the noodles, it was delectable, copious and cheap. Toby, who at 19, is a prodigious eater, could have polished off three servings, all in the same time it would take me to eat one.
WHI WATERFALL. The next day, Mark, Toby, the cleaning woman from the hotel and I went to Wli Waterfall, the tourist highlight of the Volta region. We hired a taxi there and back for 250 cedes ($60). Admission was 20 cede for the lower falls and 40 to go the extra 3 hours to the higher falls. The lower Wli Waterfall falls about 150 feet into a big pool. The cliff face was covered with thousands of fruit bats, who for some unknown reason, decided to all fly at once, almost blackening the sky. We walked back to the entrance, had lunch and waited almost 3 hours for the youngsters to come down from the upper falls (similar height to the lower falls).
On our last day in Amedzofe, the kids walked down to a lower village and some other waterfalls. I took the morning off, had spaghetti for lunch and we negotiated a taxi back down to Ho. After and endless line-up at an ATM, it was then a tro-fro to Atimpoku, where the road crosses the Volta River, just downstream from Aksombo and the dam that forms Volta Lake. About 10 minutes from the bridge, there was a police check, usually just a formality in Ghana. However, these guys meant business and were searching for firearms and drugs. They did the complete search of our luggage. One of the guys had some joints and was arrested. Amidst threats of being taken to jail in Accra, we foolishly did not accompany him.
The Angola visas were not going to be ready until the 27th so the truck stayed overnight at Big Milly’s Backyard on the 24th and came to the Aylos Bay Campground on the Volta River, 500m up from the bridge on the 25th. We arrived in the dark happy to find the truck on the 26th and informed Steve of what had happened. We had signed a waiver saying that we would not use drugs on the truck and dismissal from the trip was the penalty. But I guess we were not on the truck. Steve went into Atimpoku Police Station and rescued our felon. If he had been taken into Accra, charged and sentenced, his trip would have been over as we were to get more visas in Lome, Togo. So after a very scary event, all turned out well, and we all learned a lesson.
Steve and two others took a taxi back to Accra on the 27th. One fellow had spent five days with a Ghanian wood-carver and had produced carvings of giraffes, hippos and monkeys and with two blocks of ebony, had to mail everything home to Australia (500 cedes). Accra was the main place to receive mail on the trip and many in the group had had stuff mailed there. But all were unable to get it at the post office, so they also went back to try their luck a second time, and didn’t get it then. Steve went to get our passports with the Angola visas. We all swam in the river where there was a great rope swing and diving from the dock.
This town was built in the 1960s to house construction workers involved in the construction of the Akosombo Dam. Volta Lake is the world’s second largest artificial lake (it was the largest until the Three Gorges Dam was completed in China). Two of us went on a tour of the dam (10 cedes for the tour, 15 cedes for the ride up there). The dam is earthen filled, built by Italians and finished in 1964. At 8,500 square kilometers, the lake is the largest reservoir by surface area. The six turbines were replaced in 2004 to produce 1,024 megawatts, about 60% of Ghana’s power.
We had a lovely 2 days at Aylos Bay and left on Saturday, January 28th to drive to the Togo border east of Hohoe. There was no traffic and we had our fastest border crossing of the whole trip taking only about an hour to clear both immigration offices and enter Togo.