Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Two things I forgot

Sorry I forgot to share these things with you.. Check out my favourite ad in Ghana for the Bank of Ghana's changing currency (contains every stereotypical Ghanaian possible - school children, nurses, tro-tro mates, builders, women in West African dress - so good!) and also 'End of the World'. My American friends were continuously saying 'WTF mate?' to me and I never understood why until I saw this. Both of these are hilarious! Turn up the sound! - End of the World - The Value is the Same

Enjoy and post me a comment telling me what you think of them!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Until next time...

So I've reached the end of my journey through WA. Stay tuned for the Japan-Trans-Siberian next year some time!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The week from hell up north: Part II

We were pretty hungry by the time we reached Wa so we grabbed some fried rice and chicken at a place called Amazing Fast Food. It was pretty amazing. Irene, Marie and Rula all wanted to head towards the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, the next stop on the agenda of Kevin and Lee, so we all caught a tro-tro to Wechiau village. This was an unusual tro-tro of sorts - it was a pick-up truck, 3 seats in the front, a bench along each side in the back, and then 3 small loose benches in the middle. They managed to fit a good 20 or so people in the back of that thing, along with luggage and extra people sitting on top. It was interesting, that’s for sure.

Wechiau is a pretty small place, its main drawing card being the hippo sanctuary about 20mins away. We were taken straight to the tourist office, where we paid a lot of
money for a bed and transport there and back, and then the same pick-up took us out to the sanctuary along a dusty road. There were two other Dutch guys, Maarten and Ries, already there chilling out. When we got there we were informed it was too hot to sleep in the rooms so we would have to sleep on the roof. Fine by us, but why hadn’t we been told this before we’d paid for the rooms? The place was pretty cool overall - we had bought rice and some other food stuffs in Wechiau before coming and we cooked them up on a coal fire, eating by lantern light. Sleeping on the roof was quite fun! I’ve never done it before, but it’s really peaceful.

In the morning we had our hippo river safari cruise. We wore life-jackets (we were
surprised about this!) and headed out on canoes. It was pretty relaxing being pushed along on the river, even while we were being eaten by small black bugs and our canoe was filling with water. Kevin did a good job of bailing us out for the 2 hours or so we were out there. We did eventually see 2 hippos! It was pretty cool - we stayed up against the side of the river and watched them from afar. We only saw their ears poking up, but we knew they were there. We were just about to leave when one of them disappeared and re-appeared half the distance away from us than it had been before. Our guide and the two guys paddling started yelling at each other in their language and started paddling sooo fast. It was quite scary! They can kill you, you know.

We had arranged for the pick-up to pick us up from the sanctuary at 10am on the warning that if we got to Wechiau after 12 we wouldn’t be able to get a tro-tro to Wa.
We waited. And waited. It finally turned up at 11:30. Frustrating again. Maarten and Ries decided to join us in the truck rather than ride the bikes back. In Wechiau we found a tro that was headed to Wa, so we’re still not really sure if all the worry was worth it.

We waited in that tro-tro for a good hour and a half, waiting for it to fill up. While we waited, we had some fun with the kids that surrounded us, ate some biscuits and mangoes, watched the tro-tro next to us filling up and pretended to be tro-tro mates, calling out the windows ‘Wa, Wa, Wa’, trying to get some people interested in heading our way so we could get a move on.
The tro next to us was crazy! They tied about 20 goats together by the legs and necks and put them on top along with the crazy amounts of luggage and people, put some goats under the seats, strapped a big wooden basket filled with chickens to the side, jammed in as many people as possible and off it went. We also saw a goat strapped to the back of a bicycle, looking rather uncomfortable. We were pretty happy to get going when we finally did.

20mins later, our tro-tro stopped. Out of petrol. We were furious when the driver said it was our fault for not paying our fare
at the beginning. That way they could’ve gotten petrol, he said. What were they doing while we waited in Wechiau for an hour and a half? So we waited on the side of the road for 2 hours. A poor guy rode up on his bicycle at the wrong time - the mate borrowed it to ride to the next village for petrol, and meanwhile the guy was stranded with us for an hour and a half! We had some fun while we were there, of course. There were a bunch of kids standing under a tree, staring at us the whole time we were there, and at some point they came up to us in a line, took each of our hands one-by-one and did a little bow. It was really cute. The Ghanaians on our tro bugged each of us for our addresses, and at some point in the conversation they mentioned wanting it in reverse or something, so we each wrote fake addresses backwards on a piece of paper. One of them asked me if I am from ‘Holland or Japan?’ It had been such a stupid day so the two ridiculous options he gave me made me sit on the road and laugh til I cried. We also created a human barrier across the road and wrote SOS in the dirt to make cars stop and help us. Eventually a motorbike rode up with 2 guys on it, a container of petrol on both sides and the bicycle strapped to the back. We were off!

As soon as we started moving, after some difficulty, smoke started coming up from the engine between the driver and the passengers next to him. The driver was going along breathing out the window like it was completely normal. I feel pretty lucky
that I wasn’t able to smell for my entire final week in Ghana, because I missed out on the intense smell of petrol fumes. We asked the driver to stop and check the engine, which he did after passing through 2 villages. When we finally did stop, Irene, Marie and I were so concerned that we decided we couldn’t possibly continue on in that tro-tro. There was one other pick-up in that village, so I ran around asking who it belonged to until I found the owner. He agreed to take us the remaining way to Wa for a small fee.

Some of us had luggage strapped to the top, so the two Dutch guys jumped up there to untie the ropes. Meanwhile the Ghanaians were still trying to push-start the tro, almost deliberately trying to make the guys fall off, while the driver told us there was nothing wrong with his car so we had to keep going with them. When we finally got in the next car with all of our luggage, we were surrounded by the driver and all the angry passengers from the tro-tro, demanding that we pay our full fee. We refused at first, but eventually paid it out of frustration. THEN the guy had the nerve to say he was missing 10,000! We were all yelling about it for awhile, with the soon-to-be next
driver trying to help by being a mediator, counting the money and so on, and then Kevin’s frustration spilled over into a short screaming rage, swearing and telling everyone to get away from us. We were all slightly on edge so I ended up paying the guy another 10,000 so we could get away from there. As we drove off for my 2nd feeling-safe-in-transit time, I looked back to see everyone jumping back out of the tro-tro as thick black smoke filled the vehicle. Suckers. The driver of this pick-up was so nice to us, waiting at the station so we could buy tickets for the next morning to our destinations, and then driving us to a hotel. We all got rooms and then walked to a fancy hotel for a well-deserved dinner.

The next morning, we ate tea, egg and bread in the Wa station and then said our goodbyes. We were a good bunch. Kevin and I headed to Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region in the centre of Ghana. On our way there we passed an over-turned bus on the side of the road. The crash had happened the day before and some passengers were still sitting there with their luggage. I felt completely unsafe in that bus after that. We stopped at a small town later and we bought digestive cookies and crackers to give us some energy, and I tried not to throw up when I saw some pit toilets filled with maggots. After we started moving again, the driver decided not to slow down for a bump in the road and we were all thrown from our seats. Our heads almost hit the roof twice, and the poor guy next to us (in the seat I was supposed to be in, no less) - his seat had come off the metal frame, he’d tried to support himself with the seat in front of him, which had also fallen forward, and he’d ended up sprawled half across the broken chair and half down the exit stairs, on top of the goat that was being brought along with us. I’m so glad I’d decided to move chairs, or we might have spent the night in hospital rather than in our hotel! The guy was fine by the way.

We had almost reached Kumasi when we found that a bridge in front of us was flooded so we were caught in a long traffic jam. We’d had enough, saw a lodge just across the road, and jumped ship for the 3rd time in less than a week. In the morning we walked across into Kumasi. I was so tired by that time that I spent my whole time in Kumasi sleeping and only really waking to eat meals. Kevin managed to explore a little and bought himself a handy machete! We stayed the night and then headed back to Accra the following morning. When we finally got home, we gave each other a high-five for surviving to tell the tale. I was going to say to Kevin that we had had such an unlucky week, but then I re-thought it - we may have had the best luck in the world.
  1. The rice seller across from Amazing Fast Food
  2. Our first pick-up ride
  3. Fuzzey Fuel in Wechiau
  4. The view from the roof at the Hippo Sanctuary
  5. The roof we slept on
  6. From the left - Kevin, Maarten, Marie, Ries, Irene and Rula in our trendy life-jackets
  7. Me looking possibly tired and over the river safari
  8. Serene
  9. Hippo!
  10. See the water filling our canoe?
  11. The dusty road from the sanctuary to Wechiau
  12. The tro-tro next to us in Wechiau filling up - note the goats on top, and the big basket on the side is full of chickens
  13. The crazy tro-tro on its way
  14. A poor goat strapped on its side to the back of the bicycle
  15. The gang looking bored on the side of the road after our tro ran out of petrol
  16. In the middle of nowhere..
  17. Everyone was complaining of the smell of fish the whole time we were in the tro. We found the cause..
  18. The Ghanaians fell asleep basically as soon as we stopped
  19. The great driver who saved us from the smoking tro. See how dirty everyone is? That's what you get for riding in the back of an open pick-up in the north of Ghana
  20. Breakfast at Wa station
  21. Overturned bus..
  22. The maggoted-up pit toilet
  23. The most beautiful church I saw in Ghana - Kumasi
  24. Dinner on one of our nights in Kumasi - rice from a street vendor, eaten in our hotel room under the blue light
  25. We made it!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The week from hell up north: Part I

Kevin and I met at the STC bus station, me running late and having awoken with a cold that was to last the entire week. Our bus to Tamale was supposed to have air-conditioning but when we arrived at the station, they returned some of our money because apparently no air-con bus was available. This was going to be a bit sucky for the 13-hour trip ahead of us, but what can you do. They did manage to shove a lot of things on the bus with us as usual - including a photocopier sitting next to the driver.

About half-way to Tamale, thick storm clouds started covering the sky, and then the rain started. Kevin and I were slightly worried because we knew that rain in Ghana is bad news - the roads are slippery, everyone keeps speeding and overtaking in their usual insane manner and noone turns on their headlights for fear of using their
petrol. Sure enough, 2 minutes later I look up to see a massive truck headed straight for our windscreen. The truck and our bus swerved out of the way, with our bus pushing the taxi it had been trying to overtake off the road. Our bus pulled over for awhile so that the driver and the taxi driver could scream at each other, and then we continued on. Meanwhile Kevin and I were still trying to gulp our hearts out of our throats… We honestly thought we could have died in that one and decided that, since it was also almost getting dark, staying on the bus wasn’t worth the risk. We got off at the next little town, Kintampo.

We stayed at a hotel which happened to be right across the road from the STC bus station, and it only cost 65000cedis for a double room - about $8.90. Sitting in the reception area of the hotel, drinking a beer, was the chief of Kintampo! We were so pleased when we found out that we’d met a chief in Ghana. He saw us pay half each for the room and told Kevin that it wasn’t right and he should’ve paid for the whole thing. We told him it was okay, we were just
friends and we were paying half each. ‘We don’t do that…’ with a shake of the head was the response from the chief. He told Kevin that he had better be paying for my dinner then. Hilarious!

In the morning we got a tro-tro the rest of the way to Tamale, the first of 2 times I actually felt safe in transit during this week of hell. A guy nearby was trying to charge us money to sit in the front seat, then tried to charge me money to put my backpack in the back. Later on we figured out that the guy had nothing to do with the tro at all!
Luckily by that time we were well-seasoned travellers so we hadn’t paid him any money. In Tamale we got tickets for our next bus which would take us straight to Mole National Park, ate lunch and met a bunch of other obronis obviously headed in the same direction.

It came time to board the bus and all the Ghanaians, having no sense of queuing or order, shoved into the bus door. One woman behind us was yelling at us to get out of the way so she could get through, meanwhile we’re all packed like sardines
against the bus side being pushed in every direction, one of the other obronis dropped her bag of sachet water all over the ground because of the shoving and another woman started stealing it! Kevin told her it was our friend’s water so she should stop stealing it and the woman went ballistic, saying we would have to pay her for the water! It was so frustrating. When we eventually got on the bus, Kevin and I were told we were standing. We had paid good money for standing room only on a 6-hour bus trip along a dirt road? Great. We ended up getting seats anyway, Kevin next to a girl he’d met somewhere along the way, and me next to 2 Dutch girls, Irene and Marie, who had a spare seat because Irene had an infected mosquito bite on her foot and had to keep it elevated. We made it Mole at about 8pm, got a triple room which we shared with Rula, an American chick, ate a fabulous dinner with alcohol that we definitely deserved and then went to bed.

In the morning, we all woke early for the 6:30am safari walk. I had only brought thongs with me and so I had to wear these massive black boots. The safari was pretty cool - we saw a bunch of deer-like animals and then at the end we chilled out near the elephants’ watering hole for awhile watching elephants bathe. By the end though, I had about 15 blisters on my feet. Luckily, Rula had some disinfectant cream with her
which probably saved me from the same fate as Irene from the bus. For the rest of the day, we ate lunch and dinner and slept a lot. We were all pretty damned tired and it was great to just chill out, watching the monkeys outside our hotel room window.

Our plan from Mole NP was to make our way to Wa, the capital of the Upper-West region of Ghana. To do this, we woke up early again and walked the 6km to Larabanga a small town probably not worth much of a mention. Irene and Marie were there having caught a 4am bus from Mole (we were too tired to wake up that early). Now all we had to do was wait for the bus that would come through Larabanga on it’s way from Tamale to Wa. Kevin, Rula and I grabbed some breakfast at a small place
(egg and bread, staple breakfast). The bus did come through, but it was full - something we weren’t quite prepared for, since it only comes once a day! We ended up sitting on some rickety benches with people staring at us for a couple of hours. We bargained a deal with a taxi man, so the 5 of us would each pay 150,000 each (way more than we should have paid, but we were desperate) and then he came back and demanded an extra 10,000 from each of us for FOOD! Food costs way less than 50,000 for sure in Ghana, and it’s not like he couldn’t afford it with the 750,000 we were about to give him! We broke off the deal and were trying to sort something else out when a tro-tro came, headed for Wa. Relieved, we jumped in.

We got as far as Bole (about half of the way) when we were told to get out - turned out the tro-tro wasn’t going to Wa after all! We were so mad because we’d paid a good
amount of money thinking we were making it all the way to Wa. A cool Ghanaian dude in the tro with us helped us out by getting the current driver to give the next driver some of our money so we didn’t have to pay again. Next tro-tro - we were going along and the tyre popped! Luckily we had just slowed down to let some cattle cross the road as it could have been a nasty crash if we were going faster. We did make it to Wa in the end.

  1. Some of the road heading up north. See the photocopier at the bottom there?
  2. Kevin and me looking slightly frazzled
  3. The rain coming down just before our crash
  4. Kevin on the balcony of our hotel in Kintampo
  5. A small village on the way to Tamale
  6. Mole NP
  7. The view from our room
  8. And again
  9. And again.. How cool is this place?
  10. Me in my phat boots
  11. Me, Rula and Kevin on our safari walk
  12. Elephant!
  13. This is what it would look like if I stood next to a lake with elephants in it. Hang on a second..
  14. Irene and Marie, chillin out in Larabanga
  15. The road from Larabanga
  16. Us, excited to be leaving
  17. These legs came down from the roof about half-way through the journey
  18. Our popped tyre

Francophone West Africa

I woke up fair early and made it to the Accra tro-tro station to get my fast but thankfully uneventful tro to Aflao, a small town on the border of Ghana and Togo. I only had to wait for an hour and a half for it to leave as well! That time was used trying to find someone selling tissues, with a guy following me around helping me. I didn’t find any tissues but about 20mins later the guy came up to my tro-tro window with 2 packets. I have no idea where he found them, but it was mighty helpful of him.
At Aflao, I walked across the border without much difficulty (bar finding out that my Ghana visa would be no longer valid and I’d have to go straight to Benin to apply for a
new one the next day..). I was speaking to a Ghana official about where I should get a Togo visa, to which he replied ‘We’re still in Ghana, which is why you’re still speaking English. When you cross the border you can get your Togo visa’. I was thinking to myself, yeah right, walk another couple of metres and it will be suddenly all French.

Enter Togo. I was surrounded by French-speaking people offering me taxis and zemi-johns (motorcycles used to transport people like taxis), hotels and currency exchange. Feeling flustered and anxious, I ran into the Shell petrol station nearby to drink water, calm myself down and read up on
hotels in my Lonely Planet before heading back out there. I asked a woman how I should go about catching a taxi, but she couldn’t understand me so she pulled over her friend, who pulled over his friend, and again I was surrounded by 7 French-speaking Africans including a taxi driver who was trying to figure out where I was going. I jumped in the taxi and managed to mumble ‘Hotel le Galion’ before bursting into tears. ‘Ooh la la’ he said, and off we went.

I stayed the night in Togo at a Swiss-owned hotel. It was pretty nice and the owner’s son talked to me for awhile, calming me down again. In the morning I took a share-taxi into Benin. The driver was pretty cool, answering all my questions along the way and slowing down when there were photo opportunities. They fit 4 in the back and 2 in the front, plus the driver. I was the one sitting in the middle next to the driver. They put a cushion or blanket over the hand-brake so it’s not too uncomfortable.. In Benin, I went straight to Ghana Immigration in Cotonou (sort of like the Sydney of Benin, capital in everything but it’s name) and
after some few problems (they were closed), I managed to do my application and leave my passport there. After this I headed straight for the real capital, called Porto Novo.

Porto Novo is a nice quiet town where I did not much besides eat dinner, sleep at a dodgy hotel and eat breakfast before heading back to Cotonou. Breakfast was at a place called Cafeteria Place Catchi, a small table set up every morning by these two guys, one making omelettes while the other makes coffee. All of their customers
besides myself were Beninese men so I’m sure I didn’t look out of place at all.

On my way back to Cotonou, I took a detour and visited a stilt village called Ganviè. I ended up doing the tour with a French couple who were pretty nice, and I’m sure our guide was rather knowledgeable too but he was speaking in French. Ganviè was pretty serene. I’m still not quite sure why you would want to live in a house in the middle of water, but I guess it’s just the way it goes. The people out there hated having their photos taken,
with one boy almost over-turning his boat because he was so angry at me when I pointed my camera in his direction. It’s always good to see another way of life though.

I decided to stay the night in Cotonou so I found Pension de Familles from my trusty LP and checked in. By this time it was
getting to be almost 5:30pm so I grabbed some dinner (crêpes, since I was in a Francophone country) and bunked down at the hotel. Apparently Cotonou is so dangerous that you don’t want to walk alone at night, and I wasn’t planning on risking it. It seemed to me that the electricity problem in Togo and Benin was more serious than in Ghana, with generators on all over the place for most of the time I was there. The guy in the hotel assured me that their generator would be on all night, but at 4am it turned off. Maybe it ran out of petrol or whatever, but I was suddenly being eaten by mosquitoes and sweating.

In the morning, I went to a patisserie and bought chocolate croissants, yoghurt and juice. Man the French were so much better at taking over countries than the English! I
headed back into Togo (one of the Benin officials asking ‘do you remember me from the other day’ - gross), checked out the fetish market in Lomè, the capital, filled with fetishes and ingredients for ‘medicines’ and then crossed over the border back into Ghana. I don’t feel as though I accomplished much during my time in Francophone West Africa, but I am glad that I went alone and I survived it.

  1. Me waiting for the tro-tro to leave
  2. Crossing borders.. Ghana-Togo
  3. Hotel Le Galion
  4. Lome's beautiful beachfront
  5. Me riding a zemi-john!
  6. Crossing borders again.. Togo-Benin
  7. Cafeteria Place Catchi - the guy on the left makes the coffee, while the other whips up omelettes
  8. Heading out to Ganvie
  9. Ganvie
  10. A beautiful sight
  11. Some ingredients for those potions you've always wanted to make
  12. CUTE girl on the tro-tro back to Accra