...images from planet Earth
Tuesday 27 December - Arrival / Busua
Late arrival into Accra and the usual long wait you get at African immigration queues. Two hours after landing I took a taxi to the hotel a short distance away as I had a flight out early in the morning. Tuesday 27 December - to Busua The short flight to Takoradi departed at 9:30. On the flight I noticed the air was thick with a grey haze that I later learnt was the Harmattan, the seasonal winds that bring Saharan dust over large parts of West Africa. Takoradi was busy, noisy and chaotic, like most towns that stretch along the major highways in Africa. I was met by a driver who took me down to the coastal town of Busua. Arena Lodge was set back a bit from the beach, and as a result didn't attract the backbacker crowds that the other places do. Jerry from Arena welcomed me and showed me to my room, which was simple but large and comfortable. Across the road a noisy event was taking place at the village church. I went for a walk along the beach. The colour of the sand and ocean and the crashing waves reminded me of the beach in Varaka in Kerala. Nearby Alaska lodge had a hammock and a beachside bar (and WiFi!) so I was to become a frequent visitor. It was a nice setting overlooking the beach. I lunched at Arena, watching the two tortoises that live in the garden. I had rice and casava (a local fish) before going for a nap, then out in the evening for a walk to orientate myself. I walked westwards along the beach and then back along the road. A girl who looked not much older than 15 called out to me to draw my attention to her restaurant offering chapattis and shawarma. I wouldn't have known it was a restaurant. I felt like a guest at someone's house. Audrey cooked the food herself while an elder sat outside. I sat inside to avoid the insects as another worker busied himself for some time trying to get the fan to work. The girl was very chatty and very keen to cook me more meals, and she asked for my number so she could take my order in advance for tomorrow night.
Wednesday 28 December - Busua/Akwidaa
Today I was heading for Akwidaa, a more isolated beach resort further west with some of West Africa's best beaches. I had looked into staying there so I wanted to take a look. I walked to the junction at Busua and took a shared taxi to Agoma. The plan was to get a tro-tro from there to Cape Three Points. The tro-tro station was a car park of old battered minibuses and also served as a market. Amongst the chaos I asked around for the tro-tro I needed and was directed to one which was wedged between others. I sat inside for a while before realising it wasn't going anywhere soon, so I went back to a private taxi driver I spoke to earlier and negotiated 120GHC (about £25) for the day. The driver, Charles, was loud and, like many other Ghanaians, incomprehensible and I found myself mostly replying with 'yeah'. He talked about how he knew all the hotel owners in the area we were heading to, Christmas and NYE celebrations and told me the Harmattan apparently only appeared a couple of days before I arrived. The road was dusty, slow and bumpy and it took an hour to get to Escape Three Points Eco lodge. I met the owner and had a wander round the beach and had lunch at the lodge - spicy fish and spaghetti. On the way back we stopped at Elize Bay which was clearly once a luxury resort but now it was a shadow of its former self and had barely any visitors. Had a beer there before heading back to Busua. Dozed in a hammock at Alaska lodge and went for a swim in the ocean. In the evening I went back to Audrey's restaurant. I didn't want to disappoint her and anyway, the food was good. Audrey was actually 21, and we exchanged some questions and answers. She told me she had studied catering and other things before serving me a mountain of rice with two small pieces of chicken. Back outside Arena a guy at a shop selling t-shirts asked me to step inside, whereupon he unwrapped a small bag of weed, urging me to smell it.
Thursday 29 December - Busua
After a pancake breakfast I went for a walk in the village part of Busua. Within a couple of minutes a Rasta came up to me and introduced himself as 'Ras Joe, the only Rasta in Busua'. He was a nice guy and offered to walk with me. He took me to his friend's shop, a small square room with a sparse collection of artwork and wooden carvings which were collected from other parts of Ghana and beyond. I sat down on the floor and then began a period of awkwardness as we talked about money, trust and friends. After we left I agreed a small fee with Joe for him to walk me to the village of Butre later. We walked around the Busua, across the bridge at the lagoon and to the beach on the west of the town, He showed me the 'palace' where the village chief lives, and pointed out the MP's house at the top of a hill. I parted with him and walked alone for a while to the other end of the village. I love observing life in scenes like this. I saw a young guy working on a construction site. He told me they were extending the library to accommodate a clinic, though there were no doctors in the village. Opposite an ITC (computer lab) was being built and nearby a number of children were hanging out near a neglected playground, as goats and chickens foraged. I amused the children for a while by taking their photos and showing them the pictures of them in exaggerated poses. Back to Arena for lunch and met with Rasta Joe for the walk to Butre. Joe needed to buy some weed, so we first took a detour through a field where some guys were sitting under a palm tree. I joked about him sending some of it to the UK to sell and, thinking I was serious, explained to me how it could be done. He had it all planned out, smuggling it inside a carved wooden elephant and using carbon to mask the smell. It was about an hour's walk along the beach and over a forested hill. As we walked he told me about his wife who left him and his two children for a wealthy man. He was evidently desperate to leave Ghana and travel to places. He had done some research into how to get sponsorship to get a visa to get to the UK, he seemed to know the whole legal process he'd need to go through. His plan was to get work in the UK, find a woman, teach drumming and set up a tour company to promote travel to Ghana. He told me of the importance of having children (he wanted 10-15) as they could go on to help their parents. 'Spreading the seed' was a necessity and wasting sperm was a sin. When we exited the forest and the village of Butre appeared ahead I was immediately impressed. It had a much more rural and old-world feel. There were no sealed roads though it was still busy with activity. Smoking of fish seemed to be big business here. We planned to walk up the hill to the old fort but the old man sitting by the entrance was demanding 20 GHC instead of 10 GHC, much to Joe's annoyance. A heated exchange began that lasted some time before we walked off. He was angry about the extra money being pocketed by the men, while the fort was being allowed to fall apart. We walked across an unstable and uneven wooden bridge over where the river met the sea. It rose steeply in the middle to allow boat to pass which made it look like something from a cartoon. We walked on to Hideout Lodge, a peaceful spot away from the noise of the village. I really liked the place, it had a nice vibe. It would have been good to spend a night or two there. I had a beer and chilled out for an hour or so before setting off back to Busua. On the walk Joe pointed out the stumps of palms which he explained was the result of palm wine production, which involved cutting the tree down to extract the wine inside. The rest of the walk was silent as he smoked weed and listed to music on his phone. It was hot and by the time I got back to Busua I was exhausted. That evening I ordered lobster for dinner and I was surprised when four tiny ones appeared. I basically ate the tails, but they were good and the sauce was excellent.
Friday 30 December - Busua to Kakum National Park
After breakfast I went for a walk around the lagoon as I wanted to take some pictures of the scenery I saw yesterday. I wandered around the mangroves watching crabs forage. It would have been nicer if the area further up the bank wasn't being used as a landfill site. A scavenging dog nearby appeared to eat some dog shit. I went back to Alaska lodge and sat and read for a bit listening to the sound of the waves. It was my last chance to relax before the journey ahead. I set off before midday and got a shared taxi to Agoma and then a tro-tro to Takoradi. I took a taxi to the bus station as Jerry from Arena had told me I could get a bus from there straight to Kakum but after several discussions it became clear I couldn't. So I had to take a tro-tro to Cape Coast (two hours) and then another tro-tro to Kakum. On this one I was lucky to get the front seat so I had space and a padded seat, which really helped on the bumpy dirt road to Kakum. I finally arrived at the park at 4pm, just as the kiosk at the entrance was closing. I totally took this for granted and I don't know what I would have done if I arrived 20 minutes later. I had booked a room in a treehouse but there was no one around to show me to it, and I was told I would have to wait till 6:30(!) for my guide to arrive. I was hot, sticky and hungry having only had some plantain chips on the way. I was able to order some food as the kitchen was closing, then I read as long as I could on a step outside reception as the light faded. To avoid being bitten I changed into long clothes and sat and waited. 6:30 passed and fireflies appeared around me as the night sounds of the forest grew louder and louder. Apart from some workers I was alone. It was nice, though I was getting anxious about my guide not turning up. At 7pm he arrived and led me through the forest lit by torchlight. It was 10 minutes walk to the tree house which was a 10m square platform built around the trunk about 20m up in the canopy. I lay down at around 8 and fell asleep soon after to the deafening sounds of the forest outside.
Saturday 31 December - Kakum / Elmina / Cape Coast
We were meant to set off at 5:30 to have a good chance of seeing wildlife, but the guide didn't seem to be ready and it was still dark anyway. We left at 6am and walked through dense forest for an hour or so. I enjoyed the forest walk and especially the canopy walk which I thought would be a let down from some of the reviews I'd read. Ladders tied together with wooden planks along the rungs were suspended between the trees. The last platform was 45m above the ground but we were much higher than the surrounding treetops and the views from here were impressive. The mist created by the Harmattan added to the mood. We saw some spot nosed monkeys far off in the distance. I spent some time there before walking slowly back and by 8am I was back at reception. After breakfast I had a quick look around the information centre. An impatient taxi driver was keen to take me to Elmina. I didn't feel like messing around with tro-tros again so I took his offer, though his car was so old it wasn't much more comfortable than a tro-tro would have been. We arrived at the Almond Tree guesthouse around 11. The rooms were named after celebrated freedom fighters and activists and there was a tribute to them in each room. I took a much needed shower and walked to the centre of Elmina. On the way I was accompanied by a young guy who was a computer engineer. He asked me if I believed in God and then proceeded to tell me about how he had died and come back to life after an accident. Elmina had been described as charming but I thought it was grubby. I had lunch and was joined by one of the locals, Sam. I fancied something Ghanaian so I ordered a fish stew with boiled yam and a bassi leaf drink. As we sat an incoming fishing boat had attracted a lot of onlookers who were cheering because it was evident it had secured a huge catch, I presume from how low it sat in the water. After lunch I went on a guided tour of St George's castle. The stories of the treatment of slaves by the Portuguese and then the Dutch were horrific, almost incredibly so. It was an interesting experience and the setting of the castle overlooking the ocean was quite special, especially the view from the roof. I headed back to the guesthouse before heading out to meet a friend in Cape Coast from the UK who was here on a voluntary work placement. We had dinner with two of her fellow workers, followed by drinks then partying on the beach to celebrate the new year.
Sunday 1 January - back home
I didn't do very much in the morning, it was too hot. So killed time before meeting my friend who was on the same flight back and hitched a ride with her driver. We stopped at a West Hills, a huge shopping mall on the outskirts of Accra. It was like stepping into another world after where I'd been for the last few days.