Ghana – seeing the sights of Accra

Finally solo!  I said goodbye to the truck and hit up the sights of Accra

I hitched a ride with the truck to the outskirts of Cape Coast to make my way solo to Accra. I was sad to leave the group and the truck. While I am definitely not cut out for group travel, it was an amazing experience and I saw places I never would have seen solo (particularly in the back country in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia). I also met an eclectic group of people, each with their own unique charms (and foibles). I really enjoyed Zoe and Jason (the leader and driver) who were in unfailingly high spirits, full of energy, and just got shit done in spite of the numpties on the truck (myself included) who forgot instructions, showed up late, didn’t do their jobs, broke the fridge etc….. it must be like leading a school trip but from a juvenile detention centre or herding a bunch of unusually feral cats. I did confess that if I had been the tour leader, most of the passengers would have been murdered in their sleep in Sierra Leone :-), especially the snorers and the late ones. 

The public loo at the mini bus station, no door (a curved wall), no roof and no water, and of course no paper….. but at least it didn’t smell
So, onwards to Accra – The mini bus system was extraordinarily efficient. Within ten minutes we were full up with 11 groovy Ghanaians with high tech phones, the aircon was blasting and I was wedged in between some bags. Several people offered me food and checked that I was comfortable. We also had a long conversation about African ladies backsides (prompted by how little room mine was taking up on the seat in comparison). I expressed admiration for the local derrières and was applauded by the men, but the women made a fair point that a big butt wasn’t particularly useful ‘what is it good for???’.   
The minibus was a bargain for £5 as the other mini buses squish in 30 plus and still cost £2. However, as is always the way in Africa, our minibus dropped us on the outskirts of Accra in the middle of a nest of vipers a.k.a taxi drivers. A friend from the mini bus (a preacher in training) and I shared a cab to the ‘circle’ after some tough negotiations, and then I walked and sweated the last 1km to the hotel (thankful for gps on the phone as the taxi driver didn’t know the location and didn’t want to navigate the one ways).  
Asylum down – the suburb where I stayed… apt!

I spent a full day exploring town – the lonely planet was correct in saying there are no show stoppers in Accra. First stop – the National museum which l closed for six months in 2015 – and has still not reopened

Jamestown Lighthouse

Next onto Jamestown, a vibrant poor neighbourhood with amazing open air boxing gyms. I accidentally ended up in the middle of an NDC rally/boisterous party (lot of beers were being consumed and it was only 9am). It was fun but I hightailed it out of there, as I was beginning to feel like a leprechaun with all the people stroking my arms …. normally just the kids do that to see if your white skin feels different but in this case I had fully grown adults stroking me….. weird! I had thought this was a celebration party given the mood, but when I checked google back at the hotel it turns out the NDC party lost the election – perhaps that explains the alcohol consumption. 
Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum
From there, the Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum (founding father of Ghana) – where had to wait 20 minutes for the ladies to arrive to sell the tickets – they were open, just not ready. The mausoleum is quite interesting, the museum is just a random assortment of photos of Kwame with the great and good, from Fidel Castro to queen Elizabeth. 
Next to the heaving sweaty mass of humanity which was Makola market. Crazy! Loud! Like usual I would have loved to have taken some photos but it wouldn’t have been a great idea.   
Dark star square
I strolled along to Dark star and independence squares where a mass church service was being held. Evangelical events are wildly popular here and they are advertised like west end shows. It was too hot for me so I continued walking to Osu – posh Accra – and fell into the air conditioned smoothy bar on Oxford st after walking 14k in 80% humidity at 30 degrees. Then I must confess I stopped by the KFC as was craving something familiar – bad tourist! And then I succumbed to the delights of the air conditioned shoprite and loaded up on chocolate cake… aaaaahhhhh. After that I felt sufficiently fortified to stroll the 4K back to the hotel.    
Divine ‘dirty bird’ – and the standard fry here is way more spicey than usual

Surprisingly apart from a few odd looks, a couple of persistent children and some opportunistic local charmers asking how I was, I had surprisingly little hassle in spite of the warnings from the guide book and the hotel (apart from the stroking at the rally). I have decided that if you walk everywhere then people assume you are too poor for a taxi or bus and feel sorry for you, or maybe it is just being one person versus a big group means you attract less attention.
Mass religion in independence square

Am heading off to Togo this morning. I investigated the public transport options yesterday and worked out a good route but was warned by the locals that the bus to the border might take up to 3-4 hours to fill up and leave Accra given it is Sunday. So, am cheating and paying four times the price for a taxi to take me to the border directly from the hotel. At £32 it is good value for 3 hours and 200k and am sure they are not overcharging me as I cross checked the uber fare (yes they have uber here). While I am all good to economise on hotels and I rarely spend more then $40 per night, typically $20, saving time and hassle on public transport is worth paying for.
Compelling local advertising
Accra, December 16-18, 2016

Ghana – Cape Coast and cleaning

We started the morning sweatily scrubbing 5 weeks of grit and grot off Aminah (the truck) and her kitchen equipment so she will be all clean for the next leg which starts in Accra in a few days. We all pitched in to scrub and mop. It is amusing to watch a bunch of overlanders ‘flapping’ the dishes to dry then, as tea towels are a luxury (and a hygiene risk) not permitted on the truck.

Cape Coast castle

Once the truck was clean, we headed off to Cape Coast to see the British slave fortress, allegedly one of the largest slaving holding sites in the world during colonial times. Interestingly, the custom of slavery was well established amongst the Ashanti tribes prior to the British arriving, but of course the British paid better and in alcohol and guns.   

School kids in the castle courtyard

The fort was similar to Elmina yesterday except, if possible, the slave chambers were even smaller. The chambers were ventilated with 2-3 tiny windows each and had no drainage…. apparently it was not uncommon for slaves to be knee deep in human waste.
Our bossy guide in the dungeons next to the shrine
The chambers were adorned with a shrine and bouquets from locals and the diaspora to remember their ancestors.   

The ‘door of no return’ has been widened here – it would have originally been person width size, and slaves were forced to turn sideways to pass on their way to board the ships. Symbolically, the door has been renamed the ‘door of return’ as some of the descendants of slaves have returned and passed through the door.   

The door of no return

Again, ironically there was an anglican church on top of male dungeon – they must have heard the singing in the dungeons. The governors quarters were at least the same size as the entire dungeon space.   

Original canons on the castle walls

We were invited to spend some time in the cell for the rebellious slaves who were left to die without food or water but I couldn’t bear the heat or the smell (I suspect some of it was from the 60 school kids who had just passed through), so I escaped to stand outside in the shade.   

Our mildly karmic tour guide – who was a bit of a slave driver – was very bossy, and herded us around like naughty cats.

View of the beach from the castle

Around the castle there is a bustling fishing community with all the associated smells, especially in the midday heat. We retired to the nearest place we could find that served burgers and waited on African time for burgers and fries – the fare of overlanders. We then made haste to the only store in town with a freezer to buy icecream.   

Fishing boats under the castle

After that back to the beach. A nice run as the sun went downalong the waters edge past the local fishing village, ignoring the calls from the locals ‘hey white lady – where you going?’. A few of the younger ones were more persistent and tried to run along with me but eventually gave up either when I sped up, or when I told them I was old enough to be their mama!

I am leaving the truck tomorrow, as they are headed to Kumasi and I am keen to continue on to Togo with my limited time left in west Africa. It will be weird not having 18 other people with me everywhere I go!   
Cape Coast, December 15, 2016

Ghana – slaves at Elmina

I had a sobering morning visiting the slave fortress – St George’s castle – at Elmina. I had the whole place eerily to myself. Originally built as a Dutch fortress it is the oldest colonial building in Africa.

St George’s castle

As expected it was grim, made more so by the guide’s descriptions. Mental pictures of 150 women cramped in any airless dungeon, unable to move, covered in their own vomit and excrement. Worse, the governor’s viewing gallery above the women’s area where he hand picked women to rape.

The gallery from the governors quarters where he could hand pick women to rape
The original floor the female slaves slept, ate and went to the bathroom on

The door of no return, which was the access to the ships, was harrowing. The death cell where ‘rebellious’ slaves were left to starve to death was worse. The irony of having both a Catholic and a Protestant church in the fort did not escape me – unfathomable to me how slavery could ever by congruent with the ‘love thy neighbour’ tenets of Christianity. The Ghanaians are pretty forgiving and like to talk about Elmina more as a reminder to humanity to not let similar events happen in the future.

The door of no return

The death cell
It was nice to be myself for the morning and to have the castle to myself. I had left my truckmates to go to Kakum national park for the morning without me, as I was not inspired by the reviews, nor of the thought of doing a ‘peaceful’ canopy walk with 15 others. Instead I caught a ‘dropping’ (shared taxi) into town and had a chat with a nice lady heading into town to sell her veges.

After the fort, I went for a wander around town. Elmina these days is a bustling fishing village with all the smells and activity that go along side that. People were largely friendly. A few kids shouted ‘Obroni, obroni’ (white person) at me, and when I responded with ‘bebeni’ (black person) they laughed. I went on a futile search for wifi and gave up to have a coffee with milk (half of the milk I shared with a persuasive cat) and watch the goings on at the market.

The persuasive cat

Like most places in west Africa the market was loud, vibrant and frenetic…. but cameras are not welcome – you need to come experience the smoking fish, frying plantains and ladies sales songs for yourselves.

It took me a while to find a cab back to the beach as the public trotros didn’t quite go that far (I would have needed three separate rides minimum to get close) and all of the offers were exorbitant for an individual taxi. In the end I hopped in a ‘dropping’ and waited for everyone else to get out and then persuaded him to take me back for half the lowest price I had been offered in town. Time for the hammock!

Elmina, December 14, 2016

Ghana – Ankasa to Akwidaa to Brennu

We had a quiet night’s sojourn in Akwidaa after a five hour drive from Ankasa. It was lovely and it was great to run along the beach this morning. The hotel was run down, but in a stunning location….  and am not sure anyone had stayed there for the past six months.

Akwidaa beach
We got to check out Ghanaian village life en route. This is a country with a deep love of god. The business names are wonderful – ‘obey gods will and live ventures’, ‘Christ the king photos’ and ‘jehovahs blessings’. My favourites were ‘god rules internet’ and ‘clap for Jesus fashions’.

Obey gods word and live

All powers belong to Jesus

The lord is my shepherd

Abundant grace
The obsessive fascination with celebrating the deceased is impressive – the coffins are richly decorated, special funeral fashions are required, and you show love to your family members by making huge photoshopped posters of them in commemoration.


Coffin making at the village edge

After Akwidaa we headed off to Brenu. We spent two hours faffing about en route in Takoradi – a side effect of group travel. A half hour pee stop as we all queued for the one loo at the petrol station, then a 20 minute ATM stop, then a 45 minute grocery stop, and finally a 35 minute fresh fruit and veg shop. More credits for my PhD in waiting. Amusingly (or not) it is always the same offenders who are late or last back to the truck, so there are always a few muttered insults when these guys eventually get back.

The pee queue in the shade
There wasn’t much to see in Takoradi but the ladies in the market were friendly and we had a bit of a dance with them to the thumping beats – I think they were celebrating the election results.
We arrived at Brenu beach around 3 and were delighted to find rooms with aircon, fridges and hot water – a trifecta of luxuries unheard of so far – and for only $25 a night each. Bliss!!! Looking forward to three nights in the same place and chilling out in a hammock. (Postscript: for the first time ever we had our room cleaned during a stay – bonus miracle :-))

Excellent mashup of Michelle and Barack
I had my last cook group this evening, chickpea burgers as we hadn’t found any decent meat. They were surprisingly delicious…. though most of the truck did ask where the meat ones were…. and as a treat, we had the old school favourite of bananas and custard. Thrilled to not have to wash pots again after this!

Wherever you are in the world there is football
it is quite a lovely location here, will be hard to summon up some energy to go check out the sites.

Brennu beach, December 13, 2016

Ghana – stuck in the mud in Ankasa

A birthday to remember – a tetse bite from ankle to knee, 6 hours stuck in the mud, and we had to leave the truck behind overnight and walk 7k to the hotel …….

We arrived in Ghana via the madness of the Noe/Elubo border crossing and headed up to Ankasa Nature reserve, the ’emerging eco tourist destination’ in west Ghana. There is apparently wildlife in the park but we didn’t see any! Some of the truckmates got up early to go on a forest tour but they didn’t see any either. However, it was lovely to get to run through the park, in the evening and morning, enjoying the peace and quiet.

We stayed at the Frenchman’s for a night, a simple but spotlessly clean guesthouse owned by one of Ghana’s most feted movie directors and photographers – Paul Kodjo, originally from Côte d’Ivoire.  After packing ourselves another overland lunch with a delicious array of fillings including Texana luncheon beef – yum!, (not! I was too scared to try it,) we headed into the park to see a cathedral of bamboo.

Honestly – this exists – blech
The inside of the can

The road bought back memories of Sierra Leone and Jason and Zoe had to dig us out countless times from the slippery mud. It took us three hours to cover the 10k on the road to get there as once we started into the park there was nowhere to turn the truck around!

The ranger watching Eva’s digging


We used our waiting time during digging to engage in a hotly contested competition to kill the Tetse flies on the truck. My roommate won the competition in the front of the truck with a count of at least 24 with the US approach of ‘kill first and ask questions later’. Our Dutch truckmate won in the back of the truck, with an unverified count, by wholly abandoning her typical diplomacy and turning into a murdering tetse maniac (with some collateral damage to her seat mates). I lost with a score of 5 and a huge bite on my leg and one on my foot. The floor was a carnage of smeared Tetse carcasses!

In the bamboo cathedral


Bamboo cathedral

We arrived around 1pm, it took us 5 minutes to walk to the ‘cathedral’, 20 minutes to walk around it. Ironically not everyone on the truck came to see it, so it was a rougher day for them.   It was nice but not that dissimilar to the bamboo forests we had seen on the Guinean border, so there were a few grumbles on the truck about the time invested to see some bamboo – ‘I could have gone to Bunnings and bought some bamboo, that would have been easier’ (from my favourite sardonic truck mate.) The time check was also made frequently by a few sharp observers that ‘we could have been at the beach by now’ as we had been planning to get to Akwidaa on the same day.

Digging drainage channels
The quagmire

The humidity was unbelievable and everyone was dripping sweat whilst sitting still in the shade. It’s pretty manky. My roommate has invested in some knock-off jaguar balm and uses it liberally to keep herself cool, and this has the bonus upside of eliminating some of the sweat smells on the truck.

Chain gang of drainage

After the ‘cathedral’ visit we had to figure out how to turn the truck around. That entailed another three hours of digging, mostly on one interminable slippy slope to get to a junction where we could turn. In the end we were all enlisted to haul gravel from 400m up the road back to the truck using any receptacle available. Some of us looked like santa’s elves using the old baguette sacks to haul rocks. It was a reasonable work out. So by 4.20 pm we had managed to turn the truck around.

Jo with the poo trowel scraping mud out of the tyres and Jason’s butt crack

All went well for about twenty minutes of driving until we hit a quagmire which we had passed successfully this morning, but weren’t so lucky this afternoon. When Jason (the driver) says ‘holy fuck’, you know you are in trouble. In the meantime the bite on my leg had swollen to epic proportions and reached from my ankle to my knee – ouch! (Thanks Ann for the medical advice, Su for the antihistamine and Becky for the cream).

So we spent 90 minutes digging channels to drain the water out of the bog. A landrover with two American tourists came up behind us and wanted an ETA on when they could pass. Hmmmmm. In the end they gave up, left their 4wd behind us and started walking back to town.   Night fell, which at least meant the tetse flies buggered off. We managed to finally get the truck out of the bog and to a stable place 50 meters further in but Jason rightly didn’t want to proceed further through the muddy road in the dark, as if the truck slid off the road we would have been in real trouble.

Kids welcoming us back at frenchmans

So, we ended up having to walk out of the park. It was 7.5k back to the hotel on muddy roads in the dark and my roommate and I made it 6.5k before we got a ride the final km to Frenchman’s. Nothing like an impromptu hike in the dark with a swollen leg. So at 8pm we were right back where we started this morning at the Frenchman’s, rather than on the beach at Akwidaa where we had planned. But we were grubbier, without any luggage (as we couldn’t easily get it out of the back of the truck) and we had left the truck on the road (with Jason sleeping on it). They managed to rustle us up some food which arrived 2.5 hours after we ordered it, and we all crashed out.
Another corker day overlanding! While it sounds horrific, these days are actually quite fun and the group tend to be less grumpy and more friendly after days like this! It’s a powerful bonding experience hauling gravel through the mud while covered in fly bites.

Ankasa, December 10 & 11, 2016

A day in the life of overlanding in west Africa

On a typical day you wake up early, either when the generator kicks in or when the sun comes up. Scrabble around in the tent, decide whether or not your clothes stink enough to merit a change, or whether you can endure one more day in the same gear. Pack up…. Deflate the thermarest and wrestle it into the bag. Fold up the silk sleeping sheet which was not necessary in the steaming night. Round up your still damp laundry from the night before and shake the spiders out. Squish everything into the backpack battling to keep the roaches out of your pack. Fold the tent, carefully!, making sure there are no passengers (roaches and large spiders) and that the tent is as flat as possible so it folds easily. If not folded properly it takes 15 goes and a near hernia to get it back in the tent bag. I am a master, mine always goes in first time.

Cook group prepping breakfast

On to breakfast. The cook group will have inevitably made eggs and bread, on rare occasions we are treated to cereal (very expensive here). Inhale large coffee (actually more like dirty water than real coffee but it is the best we can do). Then make lunch for the truck – more baguette, more eggs, sometimes tuna, sometimes pasta salad, sometimes a pink mystery luncheon meat (blech), on a good day some tomatoes and avocado.

Mosquito bitten overlander legs

Pack up the truck, everything has its place down to the sanitiser by the door. We squish ourselves into the truck, navigating around everybody’s washing strung up from the ceiling. Loud chatty people down the back, quieter readers up the front. Negotiate your place in the charging queue for your device (occasionally contentious). Drive, drive, drive some more.   
Stop every two hours or so to pee in the bush – guys to the front, women to the back (keeping the paper to put in the truck bin and reduce pollution). At some point we start the inevitable snacking, sharing squashed biscuits and half melted chocolate. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)

Loo at Tiwai camp – one of the nicer ones on our trip

Pass a small village where pale skin is seldom seen and enjoy the fact that the kids run after you and adults wave, and unlike other parts of Africa, they arent begging, they are just surprised to see you. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)
Pause for Zoe to get out of the truck to see if we can make it through the enormous puddles and/or for Jason to check we are on the right road. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)

Zoe in the road checking the water depth on the ‘highway’ from Sierra Leone to Liberia

Eventually eat your squashed sandwich and fantasise about yummy food from home. Try not to acknowledge the growing stink from your neighbours. Drive, drive, drive some more
Navigate a checkpoint. All involve a big smile (from us) and a friendly ‘how are you’. Some involve a stop and a protracted set of questions. All involve the ‘officials’ checking out Zoe’s legs. Drive, drive, drive some more. (Repeat as required)

Bush camp at the side of a dirt road

Eventually, at some point when dark threatens, we make camp (normally somewhere the guys know). Ideally there is water and power. Often not. By this time we might have been on the road for 10 hours but only managed to go 100km on a good day or 20 on a bad day. Put tent up (avoiding snorers). Try and find some water to clean yourself and wash your smelliest laundry. Hang up yesterdays laundry which still hasn’t dried. Make some tea. If you need the loo, don’t forget to take the trowel. Hang out and wait for dinner (keener ones will do bootcamp of squats and sit ups). Depending on the cook group dinner will be at 7 or as late as 9.30, but will always more or less be pasta/rice and some type of tomato based sauce. Have more tea. Go to bed and dream of having a hot shower.  
It sounds pretty grim, but it’s not. While it isn’t luxurious it is quite fun. For sure this will be my one and only overlanding experience as I am too much of a solo traveler, but it is fun and you get to see things, places and people you would not see on normal trip. And if you are going to have a proper overlanding experience (no internet, no phone, no other trucks, wild camping), then west Africa is the only place to do it