GHANA, PART 1, TO ACCRA
We left the park early, but not before witnessing a large herd of elephant stroll through the camp and down to the lake to bathe, WOW! On route to the border we stopped for bread and some Ghana currency, 1€ =12,000cd, I only hope that the petrol is cheap! At this rate we will need at least 2,800,000cd`s to fill up Grommet, very scary!
All of a sudden you realise that everybody is speaking English, truck drivers heckling, hustlers hustling, police, customs, local radio all in English. No more “bonjour ca va” etc, etc, well for a while at least not until the next Francophone country. No cash to cross the border, everything polite and straightforward. While keeping an eye on Grommet and waiting for Blanca to finish with the formalities I was even offered a seat in the shade and some cold water by the local police.
With Cote d’Ivoire closed for the moment Ghana has become a major transit route through to the rest of West Africa and here at the border were trucks galore. Another thing you notice here is that it is HOT, HOT, HOT.
Following the border we stopped at the next main town Bolgatanga and the cyber-café to check our e-mail and hopefully some news from Tina. It was getting late, border crossings however efficient just seem to take forever. Blanca, while talking to a Turkish guy Mehmet, inquired about places to stay. He kindly offered to let us park and camp in his garden having warned us of the dangers of bush camping in the area, with tales of armed robberies, murders etc. Sounds like we are back in London. We gave up with the internet, just too slow, thanks for all the cards etc, it is always great to receive news from home.
We followed him back to his house, and after parking Grommet were invited in to meet his beautiful, heavily pregnant wife Rokia, who is from Guinea-Conakry. We were both a little bit embarrassed as we were covered in the usual post piste terracotta dust.
We sat for a while, chatted about our travels over ice cold cokes, one thing led to another. We were invited to stay for dinner and could make use of the guest suite.
The first real rare steak I’ve had since Spain, complete with a pepper, cream and bourbon sauce. We talked late in to the night over a glass or two of red wine then retired to bed. The bed was huge, we slept so well it was hard to get up the following morning, it made a change not to be fighting for space with Blanca! This was truly heaven.
Mehmet offered to take us on a tourist tour of the area. The reservoir with its old club house, empty swimming pool, roofless squash court and net-less tennis courts fading back in to the bush. It must have been quite a buzzing place in the early 90`s, the score board above the bar tells of all manner of tournaments during its brief occupation. The colonial occupants long since departed, the bar now home to a few locals who come to share a Guinness amongst the gathering dust and fading paintwork. We also managed to fit in the Bongo Hills with their enormous pink garnet boulders. With still no word from Tina and an address in either Kumasi or Accra, Mehmet and Rokia invited us to stay a little longer and spend the New Year with them. We gratefully accepted. The food here is terrific and appears to have brought a temporary halt to the Africa diet……..
We have also had the opportunity to catch up with world news and the terrible tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It makes a change to talk to people living and working here in Africa and pick up on a different perspective as opposed to that of our usual diet of rough guides, other over-landers, travellers and tourists. We still can’t believe our luck staying here, it is definitely one hell of a Christmas present and we can’t thank them enough. On one of our trips out with Mehmet we met a local man who must have been at least in his 90`s, quite amazing for such a poor area. We also went to see some of the small scale gold mining that goes on in the area and were very fortunate to see a tiny amount of gold dust at the bottom of the pan. We were so excited, like little children.
While in Bolgatanga, Blanca had her hair put in braids Africa style and Rokia gave her a very fancy dress so she really looks the part, all that’s left is to top up her tan for the full effect.
We were very sad and it was very hard to leave Mehmet and Rokia, we had such a great time with them but we still had a lot of Ghana to see and Blanca was in search of the perfect beach.
Our next stop was Tamale a busy African town, the problem was none of the hotels would allow us to park and sleep in Grommet. Finally after a lot of searching we found a small guest house with a large courtyard run by Elizabeth, a local woman. I think she found the whole concept of the mobile home completely bizarre. Crazy white people….
The internet here was pitifully slow, so we decided to try and get some money from a branch of “Barclays Bank” this only took two days. Grommet nearly gave the security guard heart failure as I pulled into the car park, he shot from his hut, Kalashnikov at the ready.
While waiting to be served, it is quite something to watch the people arrive and leave with sports bags full of money. I am not quite sure what you do if you want to buy a new car or house and pay cash. I would imagine that you would need to borrow a small lorry.
Now with some money and fuel in Grommet we headed off by piste for Makongo and the ferry across Lake Volta.
We were discovering that off the beaten track here in Ghana, there is very little infrastructure for tourists, in fact, very little infrastructure at all!
To make matters worse, the whole of the countryside seems to be on fire, with controlled burning of the now dried grass and vegetation, which makes bush camping a little dangerous. This being so and the fact that the next ferry was at 5.30pm, we opted to stay in the village and catch the ferry the following morning.
We found a perfect spot under a large mango tree in front of a house, following a few enquiries; we found the man whose tree it was. There was no problem to camp there and he even gave us the key so we could use the toilet. When I opened the roof tent to set up camp, we were immediately besieged by children and villagers. The children just stared with amazement, while the adults requests ranged from something simple like our address, to, can we give them a visa, tractors and financial aid to set up commercial farming. My favourite comment was, ‘were you selected by the senior members of your family to visit Africa?’ I am not quite sure if the concept of tourist, let alone that of over-lander, had quite reached the village, thus confusing us with NGOs (non government organisations) or government organisations and charities on a fact finding tour. Here in Ghana it can take a long time to set the facts straight.
Deciding to escape any further interrogation, we took a stroll trough the village market and down to the jetty to watch the ferry come and go. Here we met Idarisu Inusah, one of the chief’s 25 children by one of his four wives, who also doubled up as the village photographer. I think we must have quadrupled his business that day as everybody wanted a photo with the ‘white man’. Having posed with every man and his dog we headed back to Grommet in search for some peace and quiet and to cook some food, but again we were besieged.
Eventually, still hungry tired and exhausted, we went to bed.
The following morning the ferry terminal wasn’t much different from the village; here we met chiefs, district officials, head teachers and the chief of police on route to Accra for the inauguration of the new president. More interrogation! Still once on board the ferry, we were able to join our new found friends and dignitaries on the bridge and a better view of our trip across the Volta.
Tired and hungry, we were in desperate need of some bush camping and a rest, but where? Everything was either on fire, burnt or about to be burnt. At last I spotted an old abandoned road construction site and we found a spot right out of the way on what was once a tennis court. Bliss, no visitors, no goats, no chickens, no mosques and most important no fires. Time for Grommet’s usual check over and a detune once again for the low octane fuel.
To check the mixture, I removed spark plug number one, it was very tight and didn’t come out easily, still its colour was spot on so the mixture wasn’t far off. The trouble was, now it was out, the plug wouldn’t go back in. No problem, ‘I’ll just liberate one from the box of spares which is bound to fit’. Unfortunately it fitted too well, the head had been drilled out oversized and a bigger plug fitted by the army! Thanks guys! After about two hours of trying, cleaning threads, etc, I was finally able to persuade it to go back in. We had both feared the worst for a while, stuck in the middle of nowhere while we waited for a new cylinder head to arrive from the UK.
With everything now up and running we set off the very next morning for the Bobiri Butterfly Reserve.
What should have been a beautiful scenic route through was left of the rainforest was now shrouded in the mist of the Harmatan (a dusty wind from the desert) mixed with the smoke from all the fires.
In order to reach the reserve we had to pass through Kumasi, famous for its traffic congestion and this day was no exception, Blanca was able to shop for provisions as Grommet and I crawled through the city. Just outside the chaos of Kumasi, we met up again with Lilli and Steffen, the two German bikers before taking a small piste that leads right into the heart of the rainforest reserve, which was set up by the British in the 30’s. The lodge and small collection of buildings ooze colonialism, all that was missing were the gin and tonics. There was even a British Army Lt Colonel called Paul from Accra and Ken, an eccentric wildlife photographer here to record the butterflies and insects for his photo library back in Cornwall .
Bobiri is superb, while here in the park, we took a guided tour through the forest, it was amazing to experience and feel what Ghana must have looked like before deforestation and commercial farming had raped the landscape.
Emerging from the forest on to the track we were suddenly dazzled by the sunlight and swarms of brightly coloured butterflies. I’ve never seen so many butterflies before in my life and they say that there are over 400 different species here in Bobiri and I can well believe it. At night we were joined by many kind of moths, cicadas, tail- less whip scorpions (harmless), fortunately we had an expert on hand to identify them.
While we had our own tame expert, we continued the ‘what is the best anti-malaria prophylaxis in Africa’ and ‘what does an anopheles mosquito look like, is it big or small? And when is it active?’ debate. I still don’t think we are any the wiser!
Two days in Bobiri and it was time to find the ‘perfect beach’ and visit the canopy walkway at the Kakum National Park. The weather at the coast has also been marred by the Harmatan wind and everything is shrouded in a grey mist, still the sea is warm and it’s good to get a bit of exercise.
The German owners of the Biriwa Beach Hotel let us camp in the garden and use the shower and toilet facilities. There is also a very quick satellite Internet link so, at last, we could send our updates to the site. The many vultures and pied crows that sit in the coconut palms view us with interest. But I am not sure if the little meat left on these old bones would keep them happy for long.
While we were here we left the motorbikes and Grommet in the garden and took a local taxi to Kakum National Park, it was great to be a passenger for a change.
Kakum boasts the first canopy walkway in the world from which there are great views of the forest in the valley below, some parts of the walkway are over 100ft from the ground. Steffen, who doesn’t really like heights, following the first couple of walkways was soon taking them all in his stride and Lilli bought him a t-shirt saying ‘I survived the walkway’ to prove it.
Lilli and Steffen are now at the end of their trip in Africa and were anxious to check out the shipping possibilities for the motorbikes, so they set off for Accra, leaving us alone once more, or so we thought. Then a huge sand coloured east German truck pulled into the car park with gearbox trouble and Judith and Ralf on route to Cape Town from Germany. What has happened to all the British overlanders? All we seem to meet is Germans in big trucks or on motorcycles, with just a few French and Belgian’s in Land Rovers!
What has happened to the bread? Long gone are the French style baguettes of Francophile Africa, now we only have sugar bread, tea bread and butter bread, all of it sweet, processed, plastic bagged, disgusting and if you are very lucky, fresh.
Some of you would have been aware that our original plan was to ship Grommet by boat and we would fly and collect him in South Africa, but due to the exorbitant cost, Grommet’s size and the possibility that he may not actually arrive, we have decided that we will drive all the way.
Blanca has worked out a route avoiding most of the really dangerous bits.
The next week or so in Accra will be a very busy one, getting the visas for Togo, Benin and Niger, letters of recommendation from our various embassies as well as saying farewell to Lilli and Steffen before they fly back to Germany.
While in Accra we hope to meet up with Didi again and a friend of Mehmet, who is living and working here and has promised to take us to a restaurant that makes a fairly good Turkish pizza. There are also a couple of European style supermarkets where we hope to stock up with provisions for the next step of the journey.