Big Up from Aribinda

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Oh Ghana!

Well, well, I have now seen even more of West Africa. I hope to get to about 8 countries in this part of the world. Ghana is definitely a high-light spot, with great jungles and rainforests, good wildlife, beautiful beaches, and more great people and West African culture. It is different from Burkina, but not that much really. At least in my eyes. I will explain. You'll just have to read this and see if you agree with me or not.

We started (a bunch of volunteers and I) by taking a bus on a Saturday morning from Ouagadougou to Kumasi, the cultural capital of Ghana. We all arrived at about 6:30 to get on a bus that was supposed to leave at 7. We got on and had to hanker with the workers about how much to pay for our bags. That was ridiculous. We all sat on this bus for about 3 and a half hours, wondering why the workers weren't loading the damn thing. Well, at about 10:30, another, full bus pulls up. We got off the original bus and got the worst seats in the rear on this other crowded bus. An ominous start huh. The trip to Kumasi was long and hard. I thought transport was just bad in Burkina. Turns out transport is worse in Ghana, in my opinion. It is even worse in Togo and Guinea I have heard. We stopped at about 8 pm somewhere south of Tamale. I get off the bus and the first thing I hear a Ghanaian say to me is 'Hey white, hello, come here!'. Just like Burkina in a way. I just freaked out laughing and he joined in with me, the white boy and the black African exchanging cultures.

We get into Kumasi and quickly realize they don't speak English that well. Things like 'What do you say' and 'Why, why, why, why, please!' were uttered early on and I found myself having to repeat many things. They also say please at the end of things often, like when you ask for a milk stout. 'Do you have milk stout here?' 'Yes please' is the response. They also speak like Yoda, that is, they invert things very often. They also pre-empt your speech. You say 'hi' and then they say 'I'm fine.' They say 'You are welcome' as a greeting. I like that. That's just their diction. Overall, the level of French in Burkina is better than the level of English in Ghana. Just my opinion. One awesome thing they say is to chop is to eat. So, we started using the term to chop really quickly instead of to eat. It was awesome to see the way the Ghanaians reacted to us when we would just blurt out 'I want chop something.' Hilarious.

We arrived in Kumasi at about 4 am and we were on a tro-tro at 5:30 am bound for the coastal port town of Takoradi. A tro-tro is a large vehicle, sometimes a typical old school Toyota van, sometimes a big boxy Mercedes rig, that Ghanaians love to cram into. They are sometimes extremely uncomfortable. The Ghanaians are also smart about transport. They wait for it to fill up, so sometimes you may have to wait for 30 minutes to an hour just to get to your spot. Kinda sucks, but that is better for the environment. We made our way from Takoradi to Agona Junction to Ezile Bay, an awesome secluded hide-away that is close to the village of Dixcove. We stayed a night then packed it up for Busua and checked in at Dadson's Lodge. Busua was awesome.
Most of our time was spent throwing disc on the beach, swimming, and drinking the aforementioned milk stouts. Frankie and the other guys at Black Star Surf Shop were great guys and Charlotte at Orkowye Tree Restau was awesome. We were eating jollaf rice and plantains, fresh lobster, curried lentils. It was a delicious change-up to what I eat in Burkina, let me tell you. We kept getting accosted by this guy, the juice man. We called him Daniel the Pancake Man. There is this spot in Busua where you can get good breakfasts, run by a dude named Daniel. Well, this little guy was the juice guy, and he wasn't Daniel. He loved to try and rip us off, it was ridiculous. Right when you came out of your room, he'd be outside, grabbing you by the wrist, trying to sell you a half-liter of juice for $4! We found out he wasn't the pancake man when the real Daniel introduced himself after we did a little sea kayaking. That was hilarious. That impostor was terrible. We kept joking that he was following us around Ghana with juice, calling him the juice man formerly called Daniel. What an ass. If you hit the beach in Busua, watch out for the juice dude! Then, Gabriella, the German lady who is known for her pizza and beach bungalow at the Black Mamba Corner. Aye aye aye, a piece of work mes amis. That's for the next blog...

I saw two former slave castles, one at Dixcove and the other a ruins at Butre which is eroding away on the top of a hill that abuts the Butre River. We walked up to Butre with Steve, the concierge of Dadson's lodge and we got a guy named Anthony to take us on a hollowed-out ride up the river. We turned around and then they took us to a spot where they make palm liquor. It was a cool setup, with two fifty-five gallon drums full of fermented palm juice. They would fire the drums with a wood fire and run the distillate through a set of coils which were submerged in water to cool the liquor. They would make palm wine with it. Tried both, the palm liquor was sweet and damn rough. I made a face, as I always do when drinking hard A. There was a real cool spot at Butre called the Hideout, a little resort. That is definitely worth checking out later.

The next morning, we packed it up and headed to Accra, the bustling capital of Ghana. It was a madhouse. The market was going full steam when we arrived and we had a hell of a time getting through. Ghanaians will also grab your wrists when they feel it is appropriate. I think I looked hard and salaciously at a woman's peppers. She had these ridiculous green, yellow, and red chilis sitting there. So, she grabbed my wrist to try and make the sale. I jerked my arm from her violently and made my way through the mob. Then, she and a few other Africans responded with shouts of anger and disbelief. We stopped off for a quick chop, then got to the tro-tro station and hopped transport to Hohoe in the eastern Volta section of Ghana. The ride was good actually and it was very beautiful when we crossed Volta Lake, the world's largest man-made lake, at a bottleneck point close to the southern end. We made it to Hohoe a little late and crashed at the hotel.

The next day, we packed it up once more and made our way to Wli falls, the highest falls in West Africa. Our guide Charles was way cool. There are over 200 different species of butterflies that call Ghana home and our path was continuously dotted with the beautiful little things. We checked out the lower section of the falls then decided to get up to the upper pool. Little did we know the trail was rough. After a hell of a trip up, we got to the upper pool and stopped for a dip. It was beautiful. We lingered for a while, made our way back down and then chilled in the bottom pool. We met two German volunteers who were teaching in Ghana for 6 months. We told them we would be in country for a little over two years and they were very surprised, even incredulous. They thought that was a little too long. But that's what makes the Peace Corps Hard Corps! And, we get the most authentic, get-to-know-the-culture experience. That night, we went to the hotel/restaurant at Wli and had a grip of milk stouts. The whole time, we Americans were book-ended by a flock of British girls and two German couples. Well, the German couples didn't like us much. They muttered some profanities toward us, but we never confronted them on it. We turned into the typical American loudmouths, you know, the ones who don't respect other cultures. Well, we broke into shouting about the crazy pizza lady's antics, and at the climax, I leaned back on a plastic chair and I snapped the two back legs at just the right time. It was so hilarious. I got a new chair and we heard the British girls mocking us. Damned Americans. We work hard and play hard too damnit!

We then camped a cold, very uncomfortable night by the Wli falls trailhead. I maybe got an hour of sleep. Once again, we packed it up for Mount Adjufato, the highest peak in Ghana at about 900 meters. Our guide Alex was pretty good and we made it up the medium difficulty trail in about 40 minutes. Due to the seasonal winds in this part of Africa, visibility was bad. We could look over into Togo which we were very close to, but that was about it. Overall, transport was expensive to the mountain and it wasn't a very good hike and I wouldn't recommend it. If visibility was better, maybe. After that, we made it to the monkey sanctuary at Tafi where we got a decent room and a package deal that was pretty good. We ate, woke up early, fed a few monkeys bananas, did a jungle walk, and took off. Overall, wouldn't recommend that either. I have seen monkeys in Belize and Guatemala that made the single species that dwelled at the sanctuary look puny and boring.

Then, we decided it was about time to get back to Tamale to get transport back to Burkina. Man, traveling in the east of Ghana is not fun. It was tro-tro ride for 40 to 50 km at every village. We had to embark/disembark so many times it wasn't cool. We also payed hefty prices. At one point, we told the guy we were not going to pay $2 for the ride to the next village, which was a measly 5 km away. We started walking. Then, after 2.5 km, a group of Ghanaians asked us where we were going. We said to the next village. Then, they tell us that the next village was 35 km away! Just don't understand the language block in this country, but it can be bad. I guess we were not clear enough with the dude at the station. Then, luckily enough, a tro-tro stopped and picked us up. We ended up paying 2 bucks for the 35 km ride. From there on out, it was 40 km, 2 bucks a pop. We started getting ragged, money going short. We had to make a tro-tro stop cause Adlai and I had to take a piss real bad. Then, we got hit up by the most insistent beggar who didn't understand a drop of English. A weird thing in the east of Ghana too is that the people will laugh at you when a beggar just won't leave you alone. In Burkina, middle-aged people will shoo beggars away. But man, that guy was so persistent. We all had to go to the bathroom often, but it seemed as if there were no bathrooms. So, we would pee on the side of the road. Well, at one point, Clay and I had to go bad and couldn't find the latrine. So, we walked down a ways from the station at the behest of a Ghanaian who told us to pee on the side of the road down the way. I went by some derelict tires which were filled with cobwebs. I peed only on the ground. I see Clay coming back up and I see a bunch of Ghanaians laughing. I ask Clay if he went and he said the Africans told him not to go on the side of the road. Then, the same Ghanaians who were laughing at us started screaming at me. One guy seemed to start my way but all I did was look back at them and shrug my shoulders and give them a 'What Did I Do' look and hand gesture. They kept screaming at me and I thought I would be in trouble... if they came after me. Turns out they were too lazy to come after me. It's weird that they would do something like that, cause they pee anywhere, anytime. Double standards suck.

But transport in the east is bad. They kept giving us the 'white price', not the right price. The waterfall is definitely worth seeing, but if you travel in Ghana, always take the oft-traveled Accra-Kumasi routes. That will work better. I am definitely going back to check out the beach at Busua and Butre, then hopefully get a few days in Takoradi, Accra, and Kumasi. It was such an awesome place. Just the travel. I now realize Burkina actually has some of the best transport in West Africa. But, it's all relative. Hey, I am lucky to be doing this at all, n'est-ce pas?!

Yeah, if you're coming to West Africa and you speak English, Ghana is the place to be. It is beautiful and the people rock. Twi and Ewe are fun to practice and Ashanti culture is cool.

Until the next episode... Beware the Black Mamba Corner...