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

Overlanding 101

November 15, 2016

Yesterday was the first day of my first group tour ever!   I have never signed up to travel with strangers before, mostly as I am happy to do my own thing at my own pace, so it will be an interesting few weeks.

I am overlandingwestAfrica.com from Freetown, Sierra Leone to Accra, Ghana with 17 others and a guide and driver/mechanic.  Many of my fellow passengers have been on the truck since Dakar, and it is an amusing motley crew.   The easy going Australian couple who have been overlanding since the eighties, a quirky American who is making flying visits to lots of countries to ‘tick them off his list’,  a couple of women in their 30s/40s who are going through self confessed ‘mid life crisis’, some overlanding virgins on their first trip to Africa, at least two trump supporters and quite a few seasoned travellers.   The youngest person on the truck is 26 and the oldest is 69, mostly brits and aussies with a Swiss, Dutch, Chilean, Norwegian and German thrown in for good measure.  Many of them are on the truck of a full three months.  One hardy (/bonkers) soul started this trip immediately after three months on a truck in west Africa…… I think the allure of overlanding might be wearing thin for her.  

We were briefed by the fearsome and indomitable Zoe (veteran Canadian overlanding guide) over dinner and allocated truck jobs, which range from bins, to fridge cleaning, locker loading and managing the charging station on the truck (a potentially stressful job given the number of devices on the truck).   Most jobs are daily, so I mindfully volunteered for kitty supervisor which I only need to do once a week.  No doubt I will chip in on another few jobs as we go.

We are getting ourselves sorted to leave Freetown.  Applications for our Guinea visas went in, with the usual rigmarole of ‘no sorry, we don’t issue visas here, no it’s not possible’….. to an eventual demand for a ‘special processing fee’ for foreigners and a rush service, and a bit of negotiating to get the fee down from usd 300 each to 200 each. We also have to get an extra visa for Mali as we are unsure if we can cross a key border between Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire so we might have to make a detour (yay, potentially a bonus country).

Everyone is making the most of the day in Freetown to enjoy running water and access to better food than you can get in tiny villages.  I have moved to a different (but still overpriced) hotel with the group, where it is possible to shower, although you do have to yell out the window to the owner who does some magic to make the water come on in your room eventually.
Nothing happens fast here!  Meals in particular will require at least an hour from when you order, even my eggs on toast for dinner took an hour.    Meals with 20 people take even longer to prepare…  collecting and counting the money from everyone for the bill takes the longest (last night it was 3,000,000 for dinner).  It is amusing to see what Truckmates have stocked up on at the supermarket.  I have lots of baked beans and tuna.  Vegemite, marmite, peanut butter, tea, gin, vodka, tonic and nuts seem to be firm favourites.    Two of our number have bought huge boxes of food from home.   90% ordered burgers for lunch! We are adhering to all the western stereotypes.

Heading off tomorrow!  Looking forward to starting camping.  Amusingly I did say to hubby that the one thing I didn’t want to do was share a tent with a trump supporter, and it turns out that I will be.  We are sure to have some challenging but friendly discussions under canvas in the next five weeks.

More when I get to the next wifi spot.

Sierra Leone – baking in Freetown, 

Arriving in Freetown is mildly bonkers.   The airport is inconveniently located at Lungi – 3 hours drive by road, 5 mins by helicopter (but they crash often, so not advisable) or 45 minutes by ferry.   It was a typically comical African process with hundreds of guys trying to facilitate your way.   Surprisingly the aggressive hassle factor was pretty low in spite of the crowds and the dark.    The plane was a fairly standard cast of characters for the region – a smattering of missionaries (I have already been given my first prayer literature), a large group of development workers (with huge suitcases), a legion of Chinese workers sporting huge phones who are here to work on infrastructure projects, and finally five overlanders ready to join a truck.

St. John’s church
My hotel in Freetown is an overpriced dump which took an hour to check me in – they have six rooms – but the aid workers beat me here so all eight of the staff were occupied with unloading their bags.  The mains electricity was out most of the night, so the generator was roaring and the aircon was on but doing nothing more than blowing out the occasional tantalising breeze on my leg, cruelly reminding me for a micro second of what functioning aircon would do.  There were no sheets on the bed, so thankfully I had a silk sleeping bag liner to put on the bed.   All this luxury for a mere $75 per night.  Am now awake ready to face Sunday feeling only slightly groggy and sweaty.  That feeling didn’t really improve with a cold shower…. I tried the hot but it was brown water and still cold 🙂

Breakfast was the standard African tourist fare – greasy omelette, white bread, Nescafé, but today’s offering was enhanced with a fiery ginger jam which was stonkingly good.   My appetite for brekkie endured in spite of having three very naked men performing their morning ablutions just under the restaurant.

The famous tree
I went for a wander around town to see the ‘sights’.  It’s Sunday so the women and kids are resplendent in their church gear.   I got a few stares, many offers of money exchange, and two people who asked me if I was Chinese.   But remarkably little hassle compared to other cities in the region.   The number one sight was an old tree in the middle of town which is ostensibly hundreds of years old, followed by a few ‘cathedrals’.   I thought about stopping somewhere for coffee but nothing was open.  This is the first capital city I have been to without an international chain hotel, so the reliable fall back option of an expensive coffee and a piece of not great cake was off the table also.

Sacred heart cathedral
Walking was a great wake up to my senses.  It is a high risk, high reward strategy to breathe in through your nose in Freetown.  If you are in luck there is a heady scent of ginger and spices, chicken cooking in chophouses, and the fragrant women passing by.  However you are equally (perhaps more) likely to be assaulted by the pungent scent of the open sewer that runs alongside the street.   Less risky is to keep your ears open, as with the right wind and in the right place, you are rewarded by a break in the cacophony of car horns with the uplifting harmonies from the choirs emanating from run down corrugated iron churches.

Slums near Congo cross
Time for lunch – I had retreated to the hotel as they ostensibly had a restaurant. In true African style I was given a huge menu to peruse at length, and when I went to order was told it was Sunday so they had chicken or fish, with rice or chips…….  doubt I am going to get to racing weight on this trip.    Grease ingested, now time for a nap
* note wifi is spotty at best in west Africa, so most posts will be photo lite until I get somewhere with decent signal
November 13, 2016