Dec 20, 2008

This morning we left Ouaga and headed towards Ghana. On the road out of town we passed several carts selling fresh bread. Having read that Ghana doesn’t have much in the way of the good French style bread that we’ve been eating for months, we stopped and bought 10 small loaves to freeze up for Ghana.

We then drove through the Po Nat’l Park where unfortunately we could not see any animals from the highway, and we were unable to leave the highway as the park has no other roads, and for that matter, no other infrastructure either.  Just about the only "animals" we saw were the live chickens strapped onto the back of motos being taken to market.

Just before the border we passed through an area populated by the Gourounsi people. These people live in similar mud brick compounds as what we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, the difference being that they decorate their compounds with geometric designs. Add a bit of spice to life.

We then arrived at the Burkina Faso border with Ghana. Check out, as usual, took only a few minutes and consisted of getting an exit stamp in our passports and an exit stamp on our Carnet. All the time, we were fending off offers to change money into Ghanian Cedis. We declined all offers as the unofficial rate at borders is generally poor when compared to banks, and we have found that we can get money easily out of bank ATM machines.

At our last Burkina stamp, one of the police indicated that our vehicle insurance was not valid in Ghana and that we needed to buy insurance – lucky for us he had a friend who could sell us some. Well Kim didn’t like the sound of that offer, so we passed. If insurance is mandatory, we would buy it in Ghana.

We then drove to the Ghana border post where we were directed to the police office to get our immigration stamps. Then we went next door where another set of police officers (all women) wrote down the details of our Fuso. Now we crossed into Ghana and continued to the Customs Office to get our Carnet stamped. We asked the official where we could buy vehicle insurance and were told that insurance here was not mandatory. So see, it appeared that the Burkina officials were part of a scam to pocket money paid for unnecessary insurance coverage. One last stop at Ghanaian police, who also wrote down our vehicle details, and we were free to go.

So what did we do about money? About twenty miles into Ghana is the first major city where we found a bank with an ATM and got our Cedis. We then filled up with cheaper Ghanaian diesel before heading out of town looking for another bush camping spot.

Dec 21, 2008

Oh yeah, did we mention that this is our first full day speaking English again since we left Belgium? Ghana was an English colony and as a result the official language is English. However just because it is English doesn’t mean that we can understand everything said to us. There are regional dialects and tribal languages, not to mention a form of "pidgin" English that is a mix of tribal, slang and English.

This confusion over the language combined with a change in the currency does lend itself to mistakes and attempts to take advantage. The government introduced a new Ghana Cedi (the currency) two years ago to replace the old currency that had devalued to the point where 10,000 equaled a single US dollar. Now the exchange rate is basically one for one. But in our first attempts to purchase vegetables, we were quoted correctly in the new currency, incorrectly in the old currency and at grossly inflated prices, so this put us on our guard as to whether or not some people were trying to take advantage of these confusions by charging us the wrong price.

This even happened at a toll-booth on the main road. The first toll person charged us the correct price of 13 cents (yes only 13 cents, hardly even worth the time and salary of the person to collect it), while the second toll person attempted to charge us one dollar. When we showed him our first toll receipt he quickly recanted and charged us the correct price.

Our destination today was to be the Mole National Park and Animal Reserve. On the map it was only about 200 km (120 miles) away, but it is Africa and roads don’t always lend themselves to fast travel. We made it about 20 km away from the park when darkness fell and we had to grab the first bush campsite that we came upon. The 89 km from the main road to the park entrance turned out to be our worst and slowest road to date on the continent. In fact, we could easily compare this road with the Carretera Austral in Chile or the Cape York Road in Australia. Take your pick, a poor quality corrugated dirt road has the same effect on driving no matter what continent it may be on.

Dec 22-24, 2008

It always amazes us when we choose bush camps at the last minute and they turn out to be really great spots. The road we chose led to a reservoir. The road was actually the dike and we were up above water on one side and trees on the other. It was like walking on a canopy tour. In the morning we took our walk and were treated to scores of water birds on one side and scores of arboreal birds on the other. We saw several new species and were treated to lots of bird song. Oh and we heard our first owl of this trip last night as well.

We finally got back on the road and made it to the Animal Reserve. We had heard good things about this park and were looking forward to visiting. The first good thing was the entrance fee. The fee was not based on the amount of days that we might stay but rather it was just a one time fee and it only cost about $10.00us which included us, the car and the camera. The next good thing was that in the first five minutes driving we saw several antelope and some monkeys.

We arrived at the park information center and talked to some of the rangers on duty. We confirmed that we needed a guide to visit the park, but that our vehicle was too tall for most of the game roads. Uh oh. But the good news was that the rangers lead walking safaris twice a day for the unbelievable price of 75 cents an hour. Yes, that’s 75 cents. We decided that that would be just fine.

We continued on to the Mole Hotel right next door. We had heard that the view from the hotel was terrific and that they had a camping area and a pool. The hotel sits on a rise above a plain with two watering holes where animals come to drink and laze.

When we arrived, we discovered another large overland vehicle already there enjoying the view. It was nice to visit and discuss vehicles with them. But back to the view. It was really beautiful to be able to look down and watch the animals and look for, wait… what is that? Is that an elephant? Yes, it is an elephant! We can see an elephant from our vehicle! How cool is that? Oh and while we were watching the elephant down below, three warthogs wandered through camp.

At 3:30 we set off on our first walking safari. We headed off down the hill toward the watering holes. We saw bush bucks, water bucks, vervet monkeys, crocodiles and tons of birds including a saddle beaked crane which is a huge black and white crane with a black, red and yellow beak. Really beautiful. But try though we might, we did not find the elephant. Oh well.

The next morning we awakened early for our walking safari. As we were finishing up breakfast, we heard a commotion outside and discovered there were baboons in camp. Baboons are large and aggressive and very smart, which can be a dangerous combination. Too late we remembered that we had left a bag of trash on our roof (out of reach of the animals we thought) and in a flash, one of the baboons was up on the roof rack ripping the bag apart. Unable to dislodge him from his find, we had to wait for him to leave so we could clean up the mess. The next morning we had another problem with the baboons as this time, they attempted to get in the front door before we were able to frighten them away. Can you imagine the mess they could create inside? I shudder to think.

We spent the next two days doing walking safaris, watching the animals at the watering holes and lounging at the pool. Now this felt like a vacation. We even had dinner in the restaurant one night. But we never managed to see the elephant from the ground. But we weren’t disappointed. We saw him everyday from above and on the last afternoon he decided to spend his time playing in the watering hole. It was just a great experience.

Dec 25, 2008

Today was a driving day as we had to make our way back out that terrible road to the main highway. For the drive out we decided to lower the air pressure in the front tires to try to soften the ride. And it did seem to help a little and we got our speed up from 10-15mph to 15-20mph so that the 50mi journey only took 3-1/2 hours instead of four.

We made it as far as the Kintampo Waterfalls where we had hoped to camp for the night. However, it being Christmas, the place was hopping with local tourists and very loud music. Having thought this might be a possibility, we had kept our eyes open for bush camping possibilities on the way there. We turned back up the road and checked out a dirt track where, though only 100 feet from the highway, we were mostly hidden and where we spent a quiet night. In the morning we followed the track into the bush and came out at the creek that must flow over the falls. There was a small cascade where the creek crossed the track, making for a nice treat.

Dec 26

As we continued our drive south toward Kumasi, we found the road quality deteriorating. In places the pavement simply disappeared leaving us to negotiate our way, slalom style across gaping potholes while dodging reckless tro-tro (bush-taxi) drivers.

About lunch time we arrived in Techiman. This is just a small cross-roads town, but we were able to get several matters taken care of. We located a new 220/110 volt transformer – now we can try to top off the voltage in our house battery pack using our Honda Generator. We also found a truck wash where we could get our Fuso its first bath since Morocco, some five thousand miles ago. While the truck got a thorough, $10us hand wash, we availed ourselves of lunch in the attached "Chop Bar".

A chop bar in Ghana is not where car thieves go to chop up stolen vehicles, here it is a low priced eatery. We were able to order the local dish, fufu, which consisted of a stew base of groundnut (peanut) sauce, two balls of ground millet (like huge dough balls) and stewed goat meat. Other than being a bit spicy, it was delicious.

Just past town, the road was under construction – so much for our clean Fuso! Actually, the road wasn’t really too awful but for some reason, there were at least a dozen trucks crashed off the roadway. We know that most of the trucks, tro-tros and taxis are in really bad shape – we can see how bent their frames are, we see them rebuilding every part on them while broken down in the middle of the road, but the truck carnage on this stretch of road was higher than we have ever seen. And worse, they all looked recent – as most of the vehicles were still loaded with cargo! It was as if some hurricane blew through and pushed everyone off of the road. We even saw a rolled, smashed taxi – apparently the driver had somehow been able to get it back on its tires – driving down the road with its roof flattened down right to the steering wheel!

Hoping to find a bush camp near Kumasi, we drove a bit later than we planned, and found ourselves on the outskirts of town where there was no camping to be found. So we located a hotel with camping from the list on our gps, and headed into the heart of the city to find it. Since our gps mapping software lacks city street maps here in Africa, we just point ourselves in the "right" direction and hope for the best.

This time, our best got us navigating right into the center of the city and right into the largest street market in all of West Africa, yikes! Too late, we found ourselves surrounded by vendors who had set up shop right in the street. Unable to back up, we spied a street just off our right and made a quick turn onto it. Slowly pushing our way up the street, with vendors and buyers getting out of our way, we got out of the market. Just a couple of streets later, we recognized some landmarks and realized that we were just around the block from our hoped for destination. One of the landmarks happened to be a Barclays Bank, so we stopped to get some more money from the ATM. As we headed down the street to our destination, the parking guard saw us coming and ran into the street to greet us and to escort us into the camping/parking area. Some days we just don’t know how everything works out so well, it’s a mystery, but it just does!

Dec 27, 2008

In the morning we headed out to find a grocery store to stock up on packaged goods. Eventually we found three stores that had most of what we wanted. The last store even had a jar of olives for $7.50us and a chunk of Gouda cheese for $12.00us, neither of which we bought. After returning these items to the truck, we headed out for the Kejetia market for our fresh food (this was the market we attempted to drive through last night).  According to our guide book, this market is the largest in West Africa and from what we experienced, we could believe it. After attempting to penetrate into the center, we finally gave up after several minutes of wall to wall, non-stop bodies. We retreated to the outskirts where we found a three story building where we could climb up and view the market from above.

Afterwards, we found the edge of the food market and stocked up on the regular items, (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants) and picked up some items that we hadn’t seen in a while (mangos and avocados). By the time we were done, we were exhausted (the heat and humidity don’t help) and we headed for a tourist restaurant where we were able to cool down and have a late lunch.

Dec 28, 2008

The next morning we set off for the coast, encountering more beat-up roads. Today was election day in Ghana (actually run-off election day) and we passed many polling places. Some of them had lines of people waiting to vote, while others appeared deserted. There were lots of people on the street however and they were all dressed up (either for church or the election). Everything was peaceful however and we finally made it to Cape Coast at about 3:30 and found a very interesting "day spa" where we were granted permission to park overnight by the security guard. After having a cold drink in their restaurant we had a very interesting conversation with an American who is a Black Israelite, living in Israel for the past 30 years and helping the day spa set up their restaurant.

Just as it was getting dark, the manager of the facility paid us a visit and informed us that we could not park there for the night. Don talked to him for a while but was unable to get him to change his mind. Apparently the security guard never asked nor told the manager that he had granted us permission and it wasn’t until dark that the manager realized we weren’t leaving. Great, now we had to find a place without being able to see anything.

We headed off down the road and surprisingly found an empty lot next to a beach resort, where the duty manager granted us permission to park.

Dec 29 – 30, 2008

Anxious to not overstay our welcome, we set off early and headed to the town of Elmina. Elmina has a castle/fort that was built 500 years ago by the Portuguese. It was later taken over by the Dutch and turned into a huge center of the slave trade. More than 1,000 people destined for slavery traveled through here every two months. The town also has a huge fish market due to the presence of hundreds of fishing boats that call the tiny harbor home.  We took a very informative tour and then had lunch in town. This time we asked what dishes took the least time to prepare and had the local dish of red-red, which consisted of beans in a sauce with fish. Very tasty.

The "Gate of No Return"
where slaves were loaded onto ships

We asked about the status of the election and were told that the opposition candidate, John Atta-Mills was ahead in the polling.

We then headed off a few kilometers down the road to the Ko Sa Beach Resort. We parked outside the gate to check to see if we could fit inside. We were warmly greeted by the owner, Noel, and shown to a spot. We squeezed down the drive and maneuvered our way in. This is a lovely location on the beach (wish we could have gotten a little closer to the water where the breeze was stronger) and we spent two days there, swimming at their rock-surrounded beach, using their showers and eating their good food (we even had lobster!). We were also able to do laundry and fill up with water.

Once again asking about the election, we discovered that one constituency had not had the full opportunity to vote, so they were going to vote on Jan 2 and then the results would be announced.

Oh and have we mentioned the humidity? It is usually in the 80+ percent range and sometimes higher than 90%. As I write this, at 10:00 in the morning it is 95 degrees F and 81% humidity. If we don’t move, we don’t sweat, but even the act of eating makes us feel like we are melting.

Dec 31, 2008

For New Year’s Eve, we decided to move on to Green Turtle Lodge which is an institution in this part of the world. It was a tough decision as Ko Sa was so nice, but new things are nice too.

So we moved further west along the coast and after traversing a terrible 10km stretch of road, finally arrived at Green Turtle – and its low hanging palm trees. We spent a few minutes debating and then asked if it would be OK to cut off a few branches. The answer was yes, and so we moved down to the spot indicated for us, slowly clearing the way (other large overlanders will thank us). We pulled in, meters away from the water and sat down to enjoy the breeze. We ended up parking next to our old neighbors from Mole NP.

For New Year’s Eve, the lodge provided a buffet dinner and African drumming and dancing. The food was so-so, but the drumming and dancing were terrific. At midnight there were fireworks and a bonfire.

Jan 1-2, 2009

In the morning, we pulled out the stash we had been saving and had French bread with Camembert cheese and smoked salmon. To this we added fresh mango. What a feast to celebrate the new year!

We spent two more days relaxing and on the last afternoon we were able to buy a fish from a local fisherman who jumped off his boat offshore and swam the fish in. This was a large kingfish and we purchased it for 4 Cedis which is about $4.00us. Don cleaned it and set it aside while we figured out how we wanted to prepare it. We ultimately decided to wrap it in foil with onion and seasonings and poached it on the BBQ. We added fried rice with peppers and carrots to our meal and when it was completed we had a feast. We refer to this fish as the "wonderfish". It had no scales, cooked up marvelously and came off the bone effortlessly. It also fed us for three meals.

Jan 3, 2009

The vote results were announced today and Atta-Mills was proclaimed the winner. The losing candidate Akufo-Addo accepted defeat gracefully and all is peaceful. Seventy-three percent of registered voters voted, comprising over nine million votes. Voters in the US could learn a lesson from these people, where typically less than fifty percent of registered voters vote.

Today we headed off to the community of Beyin after visiting the fort in Dixcove. Twenty-nine surviving forts line the Ghanaian coast. Some are in fairly good condition and others are in ruins. The forts were built by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British but strangely the ones we’ve seen all look very similar.  The town of Dixcove is a small, cramped fishing village and when we arrived to visit the fort the fishermen we literally dividing and cutting up their catch right on the town's beach.

We arrived in Beyin late in the afternoon and the visitor’s center (where we wanted to find out about trips to the local stilt village) had already closed. We visited the restaurant next door (owned by Mathew, a Ghanaian who lived in the US for thirty years) and received permission to park overnight in the parking lot, just a few steps from the beach.

Jan 4, 2009

In the morning, Don wasn’t feeling well (could it have been last night’s dinner at the restaurant?) so we relaxed for a couple of hours. At about 11:00 Don decided he felt well enough to do the canoe trip to the stilt village. We visited the visitor’s center and were set up with our guide, Ben. We walked down a raised walkway and boarded a canoe just like the one we have at home (!). The boat ride was very nice down a man-made canal and then into the fresh-water lagoon where the villagers have built their homes and businesses on pilings in the water. About 450 people live in the village and it is just like a regular village with homes, shops, schools and even a police station. We wandered around for about an hour and then returned back the way we came.

Don was pretty tired after our outing, so we relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon. By evening he was feeling pretty good, so we decided to have dinner at the resort next door and had a tasty meal with a bottle of South African wine for a total of about $24.00us.

Jan 5, 2009

Today was a full driving day, stopping only to visit the fort in Beyin, Fort Appollonia, and to buy some tomatoes. Along the way we passed many of the old fuel stations that are still functioning, selling fuel to anyone brave enough to fill-up. 

We arrived at Anomabu Beach Resort, 30km east of Cape Coast at 5:00pm. We had heard about this place from other travelers and were surprised when we arrived to find that the price to camp had risen considerably. Others had paid $4.00us each, but now they wanted $10.00us each to camp (including breakfast.) We debated and decided that since it was 5:00 and Ghana had been very cheap so far, it was OK to stay. The beach was very nice and there was a good breeze, so we took our sundowners and sat at one of their tables and watched the sunset.

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