Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Ps visit Ghana - Part 1

SJD and I were quite thrilled (and a bit nervous) to host my parents during a two week visit to Ghana. Thrilled to see them. Thrilled to experience some of Ghana together. Nervous about setting out on a journey in a small somewhat tempermental car on less than stellar roads to see who knows what. My fingers have finally regained enough dexterity from clutching the steering wheel to share a few thoughts and pictures. So here goes - the somewhat abbreviated Tour de Ghana.

(We did allow the Ps a full 36 hours to acclimate to the new surroundings.)

Accra to Cape Coast to Kakum - With the car fully overloaded and the Ps strapped in, we set out down the coast to Anamabo Beach Resort, near Cape Coast. One hour later, and just eight miles logged, we're stuck in traffic. Sigh... The idle time leaves a good opportunity to attempt to explain some of the common road side professions - hawkers, scrap collectors, cell phone kiosk... At last the traffic begins to move at a more reasonable pace, and Accra is left behind to wallow in diesel exhaust.

A few hours later we arrive at a quiet the little seaside refuge - Anomabo Beach Resort. Just palm trees, clean beaches and basic clean huts. It kinda makes my little camping heart skip a beat actually. But, any feelings of guilt are quickly forgotten once we take a dip into the warm salty sea.

Here, Mom P grabs a wave on the boogie board.

And here, the Ps get knocked over like bowling pins by the undertow.

Once the Ps were plucked from the ocean, showered and dressed, it was back on the road to Cape Coast Castle.

The slave trading past of the Gold Coast is well documented, and rather than mis-state or omit or gloss over important facts, I will simply encourage you to browse the following link. Cape Coast Castle It is difficult to fathom the deliberate organization, appalling treatment and cheapness of life. The road of recovery is long and bumpy no doubt.

The next day we headed a bit further north to Kakum with thoughts of spotting rare forest elephants and all sorts of monkeys. Kakum boasts a suspended plank canopy walk about 1/4 mile in length high above safe ground. The view is quite pleasant and safe feeling. The guide assured us that the bridge could hold 4 tons - or one elephant. Of course none of us questioned how any of this was verified, but followed his advice to proceed just two at a time just in case.

Unfortunately we did not see anything larger than a few pesky insects. I'm sure it had everything to do with the time of day, heat and obstructed canopy, and nothing, absolutely nothing to do with chatty college students or screaming children scaring away animals. I, for the record, always behaved like an angel on group tours at any given age.... No comments? Ok, moving on.

We passed through Cape Coast again to seek out Global Mamas shop to for a few gifts.

Back at ABR for more late afternoon beach time and unexpectedly timely meals. SJD and I had to break the news to mom and dad that accommodations and service would steadily become a bit more "rustic" in the days ahead.

Cape Coast to Lake Bosumtwi - I enjoy driving, but prefer to ride a bike around town. I was begining to realize that I have not really driven much lately. The open winding roads were a nice change from Accra (or Washington's) gridlock.

We didn't have any planned stops or lodging arranged for this night, so we kinda had to try to arrive early to see what was available. Lake Bosumtwi is a lake formed by a meteor strike. Right smack dab in the middle of a few remote guest houses, villages and a muddy, rutted track. Amazing! I'm already stepping well beyond my area of expertise.

Initially we started up one rough track towards an advertised Rainbow Lodge guesthouse, scraping the gas tank all the way it seemed. Alas, we decided a few of the ruts appeared insurmountable. Put the car in reverse and scooched back down the track. All turned out well. We located the simple and clean Lake Point Guesthouse on an equally icky track in the opposite direction. I'm doubt whether Subaru engineers had this kind of driving in mind.

So boats are not allowed on the lake for sacred reasons that I can not begin to explain. Inhabitants float around on planks of wood fetching fishing nets or crossing the lake. Above, SJD teeters on one of them. SJD and I took a nice long walk part way around the lake through a few banana groves and a village or two.

The guesthouse operator, Stephen, assured us that the track continues 'round the lake, but it gets very difficult at some points. He said we should allow 9 hours to complete the loop. SJD and I grinned, thinking about the biking opportunities. Apparently they used to rent bikes, but twice people have ditched the bikes on the opposite side and hired a floating plank ride back accross the lake. Sounds like our kind of trail!

Adanwomase to Kumasi to Kintampo - Another big day of driving with a planned stop at the kente weaving village of Adanwomase. SJD and I have seen kente weavers before, but still found this guided tour very thorough and fun. Just the four of us and the guide. Sette allowed, (ummm, directed) us to participate at every step of the way. You have to look carefully to tell who is the professional and who is the tourist.

Spooling the bulk thread with a hand crank mechanism.

Warping the thread. Basically, during this step you carry a rack of ten of more spools of the thread back and forth between four posts. There are some gyrations performed at each end. If things go well, and you do not A) drop your spools B) break the thread C) turn the wrong direction, somehow the threads wind up in the correct order for weaving. I believe we all failed to perform this task despite having a spotter.

Weaving. Concentrate...

Okay, note that Sette wisely gives us a mini bulk spool or half the warping spools, or a single color/pattern to follow.

And of course wearing. We supported the local economy a bit and jumped back in the car.

Somewhere outside of Kumasi we blinked and zipped past our turn. The gravitational pull of the Kumasi chopped auto market was too strong for the Subaru to resist. As warned by Patience, all sorts of vehicles were being assembled, repaired or dismantled along the side of the road. I crossed my fingers that the fuel pump would keeping doing it's thing long enough to get out of town in one piece.

"Nice dual carriage way," replied a taxi driver referring to the Kumasi-Techiman road. A while later we were making decent progress out of Kumasi. The dual carriage way will be nice once it is built. For now, it is a dusty gravel tro-tro race track with occasional diversions around operating excavators. Onwards to Techiman.

Originally we intended to stay near Baobeng Monkey Sanctuary, but revised the plans, promising monkeys later in the trip. We pushed on to Kintampo for the night. On the map it seemed like a good idea, putting us 40 miles closer to Mole. The roads eventually turned to pavement albeit the type with frequent pothole fields and desintegrating edges. We lost track of the number of disabled tractor-trailers between Techiman and Kintampo. You name it. We saw it. How you remove an entire motor on the side of the road, I don't know, but it is a fairly common site here.

Upon arrival in Kintampo around 6pm we found out the recommended Life Hotel was fully booked. Back down on the main drag options were looking rather grim. We stopped in at the Toronto Guest House down a noisy side street. The TGH doesn't have much curb appeal, and is even less appealing inside. Ok, it is scuzzy in fact, even at just $5 per night. Someone really should inform authorities in Ottawa quickly! I think the lone staffer even suggested that she did not want us to stay there even though rooms were available. We agreed.

In the relative scheme of things, the tent stashed in the back of the car was looking better and better until we rolled into the parking lot of the Falls "Executive" Lodge. Apparently the four extra guests tipped the balance sheet in favor of convincing the owner to fire up the generator for the evening to lure us in. Ah, the economic impact of tourism... Too bad it conked out at 1am with windows sealed. Except for repeatedly referring to my mom as "mama," the staff was pleasant. Yes, we know it is a sign of respect, but it still wears a bit on our foreign ears. Ok. enough hotel reviews.

Kintampo's surroundings probably warrant a bit more exploration of waterfalls on a future trip.

Kintampo to Mole National Park - Up early again for another 140 miles to Mole where we would stay for two nights. The main road to Tamale is very nice. The hills give way to savanna. At mile 88 we make a left turn onto the dirt road to Damongo and Mole. FIFTY-TWO miles of dusty washboard was ahead. According to the GPS we were only able to average an astonishing 15 mph for 52 miles and I still thought the wheels might fall off the car. The bumps could vibrate the car to a halt from 30mph. I was conviced the struts would be blown. Or the bumpers would fall off. We saw more pedestrians and cattle than cars, so felt safe enough driving in the gutter on the left side of the road.

Mole is difficult to reach, but well worth the effort. The motel lies at the southern tip of the vast and remote protected national park. Views from the porch overlook a nearby watering hole that attracts elephants and a variety of bucks, bush hogs and birds, monkeys and baboon. The silence and abundant wildlife finally made things feel a bit more like story book Africa.

We dropped our bags in the rooms, ordered dinner and met a guide for an afternoon safari walk.
The walk is quite nice. Once again the elephants were elusive down in the valley. The next morning from the porch we had some good views of 15 or so elephants romping about in the water, then drying off in the sun. Slow motion excitement!

Larabanga - Hassein Salia seems to be doing something right. He offers "hassle free" tours of his village showcasing the historic mosque, various clan residences, shea butter processing, fruit trees and a primary school run by volunteers.

Below: Shea nuts being boiled to soften the skin. Then, they're left out in the sun for drying before peeling the skin.

There is a rock formation that is of some religous significance smack in the middle of the Trans-Sahara Trade Route. The rock was removed several times for road construction, but miraculously reappeared each time. (Lately I've also seen several semi engines miraculously removed from trucks by hand...but it make for an interesting story in any case) Eventually the road was diverted around the sacred rock. There is the rock, and there is the gentleman ready to hassle us.

In a somewhat amusing shake and bake move, Hassein lured the white robed gent down a ways down the hill before telling us to hop back in the car to speed up to the top for a better picture. Better skee-daddle.

Perhaps we got a little bit of the special attention, but we did have a lot of time to listen to him. I'm sure he would have continued sharing his thoughts on the Ghanaian equivalent to small town politics and power and the challenges of operating a school, had we been able to tolerate the heat any longer. We shared lunch back at his compound before heading back to Mole.

More later on the trip from Mole to Tamale, through the Volta Region and back to Accra.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know I was here catching up with the news. I hope the Ps had a great time and are home safe recovering from their "vacation"!