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Back to Bolgatanga and beyond 4-1-05

We left Cape Coast and headed off in convoy with Judith and Ralf for Accra. When you consider that the coast road is one of the main routes to the capital, it is in an appalling state and is more of a paved track through the bush. Some areas though are under construction and are akin to rough piste! Poor Grommet who had been cleaned and polished in Tamale by the night watchman, while we slept, was now filthy again. Lilli and Steffen had sent us a text with GPS coordinates of their location so, no in shala Spanish navigation. We arrived expecting horrendous traffic jams, for which Accra is famous, but fortunately it was Sunday and everybody was at one church or the other. About 20% of the population of Ghana are Muslim, 80% Christian and 100% believe in voodoo!

We found the Beach Comber guest house just outside Accra at Coco Beach with relative ease and were soon catching up with all Lilli and Steffen’s news over cold cokes and beers. They had already arranged shipping for the bikes at a reasonable price along with a couple of flights for themselves and were now in a last minute souvenir buying panic. There are also very sad at the prospect of going back to Germany and not continuing to South Africa with us, especially when they hear us planning the way forward with Judith and Ralf.

Everything now hinged on whether we could get the visa for Nigeria. We had read that this can be very difficult. But as is often the case the officials were extremely helpful and friendly and the visa was granted in 24 hours, so much for miss information. Next the visa for Benin, this was granted in 2 hours! Now with the all important Nigerian visa the route has changed yet again so avoiding Niger and Chad. Lots of planning, preparation and research to do now as it had never been our intention to drive all the way south.  The visas out of the way we had time to meet up with Ismail, a friend of Mehmet, we had met previously in Bolgatanga.

He proved to be a very useful contact as he knew Accra very well and was able to help us sort out a few things that would have been very difficult to do on our own. He also made available his driver Victor who showed us around.

On Friday after a day of rest, we met up with Ismail again. He had invited us to his house to meet his wife and two young daughters. We had a lovely meal prepared by his wife followed by real Turkish chai (tea). I was reminded so much of London and the great times we had spent in the many Turkish cafés and restaurants there. When it was time to leave Ismail’s wife presented Blanca with a traditional Turkish gift of a beautiful embroidered head scarf and hand towel. We have been really touched by everybody’s generosity and the Germans can not believe our luck and in a way neither can we.

Accra is a huge sprawling African city, similar to Ouagadougou with supermarkets, etc, but also a few English touches such as Barclays bank, the Post Office and there is even a Woolworth’s. Traffic here is horrendous, jams everywhere, I have a theory that the jams are in fact generated to allow all the many traders to wander at their leisure and ply their wares. Here the Opel Astra is king and favoured by all the local taxi drivers. I had expected to see a lot of Land Rovers in Ghana, being an ex-British colony, but no, they really have lost the plot. I think that I have seen more Land Rovers in London than in the whole of West Africa put together.

Near the guest house we found a good local bar serving food at such a reasonable price it was cheaper to eat out than cooking ourselves, big plate of spicy jollof rice with beef for just €2.

Ghana is such a beautiful country with a vast scope for development from mining to tourism, manufacturing to farming. All these sectors appear to be vastly under developed, yet the roadside is littered with redundant heavy plant and broken tractors, markets in all but the big towns lack the variety and quality fruit and veg of say Burkina Faso and the majority of manufactured goods come from abroad in particular China and the Far East. A little example, Ghana grows coffee and cocoa this raw material is exported and then re-imported as the finished product, Nescafe and chocolate but of course at a far higher price. Ghana seems to have been spoilt by foreign aid and the population seem to have forgotten how to do things for themselves preferring to dream of escaping to the West and that fabled “better” life. I’m convinced they would be much better off investing their “escape fund” here and Ghana would be a far richer county as a result.

Before moving on to Togo, Benin and Nigeria, we thought it would be nice to pop back to Bolgatanga and see our friends Mehmet and Rokia and with luck their new baby.

We bid farewell to Lilli and Steffen and headed north once again maximising on the chance that travelling on Sunday everybody would be in church. We still faced the problem that the country side was on fire, so no bush camping! The harmatan had lifted a bit giving fantastic views of the forested valleys clocked in smoke.

Opting not to stay in a guest house or hotel we headed for an eco-tourist site and the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. Here they allow camping, and hopefully we will be able to see some live monkeys as opposed to the usual bush meat variety. The piste to the sanctuary is not the best and required a lot of concentration once it got dark. The following morning early, we took a guided tour through the forest and were surprised by the quantity of Lowe’s mona and black and white colobus monkeys in such a small area. Fortunately the monkeys are regarded as sacred by the local villagers and the hunting, killing and eating of them is strictly taboo. The sanctuary was set up by a local man as a tourist attraction and has the highest density of monkeys of any forest here in West Africa. The villages also share in its monthly profits, therefore no monkeys, no tourists, no money! The mona’s are even allowed to forage in the village for scraps at breakfast and supper time, being viewed as an acceptable pest. There is even a monkey cemetery were they are buried along with the local fetish priest.

Heading north from Tamale the landscape is less populated, dryer and a lot hotter.

We arrived at Bolgatanga and everybody was very pleased to see us including Jin the dog who had a stick ready to play. They were keen to hear of our travels in the south, the places we had been and the things that we had seen and of course the photos.

But still no baby…..

Mehmet and Rokia were also very happy with the fridge full of goodies we had brought from Accra, cheese, bacon, fresh fruit, veg, wine etc. and we had saved them a 1600km round trip to the supermarket!

While here in Bolga we have a few tasks to do, a few extra provisions for the next part of the trip, it is great when the shop assistant carries the shopping to the car on her head Africa style. I’ll have to get Blanca trained up, could be useful in the future, for fetching petrol, water, food etc.

I wanted to have Grommet cleaned in particular the underneath, three months on and off road the dust and grime really starts to build up. The high pressure water jet is superb and pretty soon we had a bright shiny “new” car minus some loose paint here and there, but wow it is so clean. Problem is water and petrol engines……Grommet now refused to start, must be the Bolga voodoo! We pushed him in to the sun and went and had a coke. With the temperatures here in the high 30’s nothing remains wet for long and pretty soon we were off and a lot of kilos lighter!

All that remains is some oil for an oil change, when we get to Nigeria as we have covered about 9000km so far since leaving the south of Spain.

I was starting to think that we would have to set off for Togo without seeing the baby. Fortunately mother nature and Rokia finally got their act together and Fuad Musa was born on Thursday 27th January a small healthy baby boy.

Next on to Togo and Benin to meet up once more with Ralf and Judith the Germans with the huge truck before entering Nigeria.

We have had a great time in Bolga and had even managed to put on some weight despite a recurring stomach bug. This had Blanca snapping in to action and referring to our guide to African maladies, hopping it was dysentery, dengue fever, malaria or something far worse. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time to as there was no water, but in true African style a quick call to the fire brigade an the tank was refilled by one of the local fire engines. For me it was just a case of a strong dose of antibiotic and Imodium to restore the status quo. My condition didn’t prevent me from directing Blanca and Toffi roasting an 8kg shoulder of beef, the meat for our farewell dinner. It was hard for me to watch everybody enjoying the meal as I tucked in to tomato soup and rice.

We were again very sad to leave Bolga, but if we could ever stand a chance of catching up with the other Germans in Benin we had to be moving on. In the morning we bid farewell to Mehmet, Rokia and baby Fuad and set off, loaded up with cold roast beef and sponge cake and headed for the border with Togo.

The Togo visa was to be our first purchased at the border so we wanted to be early just in case of complication. The route was a confusion of pistes with no clear signage but with some inshala navigation we finally left Ghana.

We were now back in Francophonous Africa, cadeaux, police check points, abundant fruit and veg and at last the bagette was back in fashion. Despite the language barrier, everything seemed more familiar and simple, away from the confusion, deep discussion and constant interrogation of Ghana. It was also great to be back in the bush. In the morning following a bit of bush camping we were joined by a couple of local farmers for breakfast of coffee and cake. It was hard to believe that this is the main highway through Togo and was on a par with the worst in Mali. The decaying ashfalt sees that you spend as much time driving on the left as you do on the right.

To be honest it is often easier and safer to drive on the hard shoulder and avoid playing “chicken” with the oncoming traffic, broken trucks, crabbing trucks, crashed trucks and the truck repair men.

We zipped through Togo in a couple of days and opted to spend a night in a small auberge in Kande before crossing in to Benin the follow day. We parked outside and had a quick meal of Chinese noodles. Afterwards we went to watch some of the locals preparing for a political rally in honour of the president. Blanca had in the mean while arranged for a local guy to act as a guide for one of the local Tamberma country houses which are built like small fortresses to fend off slavers, etc.

Following a sleepless night, disturbed by the guardian and his radio, we loaded up with our guide and his friend and headed for our allotted house. When we arrived it was just as the guide book describes, with an instant rush to get naked and done various fetish outfits and round up a few things for us to buy. Not very natural but interesting non the less. This was obviously a popular tourist spot as everybody in the village had euro cent coins to change having been conned by the previous visitors. In the end we had seen enough and left our guides and headed for the border. An hour later we were in Benin but no sign of the post for Togo, so it was back to Kande to get everything stamped before we could carry on. The locals were beginning to wonder what this crazy white man was doing. The piste was good despite the new hazard of

Pigs wallowing along the route.

At last we were officially in Benin, next stop the internet café at Natitingou and hopfuly an e-mail from Ralph and Judith. They were already in Parakou and looking for accommodation. Following our luck with internet café we were rescued from trying to find a place in the bush by Isabelle a French woman living in Benin with Yves her Belgium husband and their baby Sarah. We were invited back to spend the night at their house. Yves is an agricultural engineer who is working for a project trying to develop cashew nut growing in the area, while Isabelle is trying to set up a project to help the local disabled children in between taking care of Sarah. We were invited to join them and some work colleagues for dinner at a local restaurant in a Tamberma house. What a great spot despite the blackout. In the morning freshly showered and following a fabulous breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, cereal with real milk, real coffee and French bread we had to bid them farewell and head off in search of the Germans. It is funny how things that you take for granted in Europe suddenly become a luxury and we are constantly amazed by the generosity of complete strangers.

The road to Parakou was good despite being under construction and we made very good time. This is a cotton growing area and the harvest was in, along the roadside were little terracotta villages with huge pillows of white cotton awaiting collection.

We arrived in Parakou and headed for the auberge were Judith and Ralph were suppose to be but the auberge didn’t exist. Nothing for it but a bit of impromptu bush camping and drifting of to sleep to the sound of fruit bats squabbling over the choicest morsels in a nearby fruit tree.

Now for plan B. Three o’clock at the internet café. With Grommet clearly visible it was time to send some e-mails and wait for Judith and Ralph. Three o’clock came and went so did four and five, so if they didn’t arrive by six then it would be back to the bush. In the mean time we popped in to a local bar for a coke. Here we met Pekka a Finish guy working on setting up a local power plant. We passed the time talking about our trip, he even offered to pay for a room for us in the hotel were he was staying. Then at quarter to six, who did we spot walking down the street but the Germans.

Pekka invited us to meet his boss Niclas, who had been waiting for him by the hotel pool all afternoon. Niclas very kindly invited all of us to join them that evening for a pool side barbeque. Our first gin and tonics in Africa! After a really good feed and plenty to drink we headed off to a night club, The Chinese Club but nobody knows why it is called the Chinese club as it isn’t remotely Chinese it just is. The following day we joined Pekka, Niclas and Nathalie their beautiful interpreter by the pool for a day of relaxation luxury and recovery!  Before moving on to Nigeria and who knows what……… As the border was very close we popped round to their site to take a look, bid them farewell and thank them for their hospitality.

Following the tales of the dangers of Nigeria we headed north in to Tarzan county opting to cross in to middle of Nigeria at Nikki. The exit from Benin went so well we decided to chance are luck and cross in to Nigeria………….!

Coco Beach

Coco Beach

Blanca with an afro

Didi, the yellow shoe god with follower

Colobus monkey

Mona monkey

Monkey cemetery

Rokia and baby Fuad

8 kg of beef!

Our guides

Life from the piste

Get your fetish items here

I am not coming out!

Tamberma Country House

Tamberma Country House

Isabelle and Sarah

Natittingou, save from the bush

Parakou, a little luxury with the Finns