Friday, January 05, 2007

Tales of our grand are here!!!

Our adventure began last Saturday morning. We wandered around Cape Coast donning our backpacks trying to track down a cell phone. We are roughing it, but we figured it would be best since we were heading to who knows where with potential to end up trapped in a bush. Cell phones are in abundance here in Ghana but we quickly found out that our new phones from the states can’t be used here. Two hours between the Mobile X store and the Areeba store we were able to get a functioning SIM card (a harder task than we anticipated) and Tiffany convinced Freddy to rent us an old phone for the week at the whopping rate of $5. Victory!

Our next task was finding the correct tro-tro station. Once again, more difficult than you would imagine. We had yet to ride the tro-tro and we didn’t know that there where more than one place to catch them. Yet another hour of lugging our backpacks across Cape Coast we found the ride to Kumasi. A quick lesson in Ghanaian transportation: your standard options consist of taxi, STC bus, or tro-tro. The typical taxi ride is 4-5 passengers, the standard STC bus and tro-tro consists of no less than 5-7 people crammed into a row of seats in with the final seat is folded down leaving no aisle. Personal space is not a consideration. The heat and the four-hour trip to Kumasi was a bit much for your first experience on the tro-tro. We arrived in the late afternoon and decided instead of spending money on a taxi we would walk to our hotel. Note: Kumasi is known for two things. It is the capital of the Ashanti tribe and it is the largest market in all of Ghana. In our wandering not only could we not find the hotel but we also ended up in the middle of the market. Not where you want to be lost! Finally we made our way to the right side of town but the guesthouse was nowhere to be found. Asking for directions landed us in the living room of a Pentecostal preacher’s house. Needless to say we never found out where it was, but were lucky enough to find a room at the Guestline Lodge, which we were happy to see.

The next morning (hmmm I think we are up to Sunday now) we head out to see the few sights we wanted to hit while we were in Kumasi. First was the Ashanti Cultural Center. It was amazing to see how this fully functioning tribe governs the central part of Ghana. On the way back to the tro-tro station we wandered through the market again with a fresh view. To Tiffany and I the most amazing thing was…the chickens. Yep, the chickens amazed us. And not just any chickens. These where chickens traveling in baskets on top of women’s heads, rather content chickens, but big hens nonetheless.

At the tro-tro station we made the decision to go to a local Kente cloth village. Kente cloth is traditional African cloth that I am sure you have all seen. Though amazing to see how this process is done, it felt like a bit of a high school field trip. We are glad we went though. So here are lots of pictures….

From the Kente Village we make our way back Kumasi to catch yet another tro-tro to Nkronza. There we would be spending our Christmas at a place called Operation Hand in Hand. It is a home began by a Dutch doctor for mentally handicapped children. They have six guest huts and we were planning on occupying one for a bit. It was a long journey but we made it a bit road worn and starving.

The place was amazing. Garden-esque and friendly, we quickly settled into our mud hut with the outdoor bathroom. We happily stayed there for two days.

The children were always around and adorable. The focus of Hand in Hand was openly loving so many children who are cast out from the local society. Check out their website, we put a link to it on the sidebar. We celebrated Christmas with them; we had a wonderful meal, drumming, singing, and even a Santa! Ineke’s, the doctor who started it, husband was an American from Chicago and he was enamored with having Americans around since all their volunteers tend to be Dutch. Conversation and laughter was abundant. What a welcome break.

From Nkronza we took a day trip to the monkey sanctuary. It wasn’t terribly fascinating but we got to feed the monkeys. Here there are two types of monkeys who are sacred by the fetish (voodoo) priests and now are under protection. Yep, we saw monkeys….not too much more to say about that, except we did it.

From Hand in Hand we headed north to catch the much-anticipated yam boat. It was a treacherous journey across dirt roads and through bush fires. Just at sundown we arrived to Yeji at the northern tip of the Volta. Yep, just to find out that the yam boat doesn’t run at Christmas. The one thing our guidebook says is that you don’t want to spend the night in Yeji. This is one thing we agree with Phillip (the author) on. We stayed at a “nice” hotel. The Alliance. The hilarity of the evening was the only memorable thing. Tiffany and I decided to pass the time by playing cards under our headlamps drinking Ghanaian beer through a straw (and if you can believe it, we both made it through college never having drank beer through a straw). When heading back to the bar to grab another beer the bartender told us that there were two more Obrunis (white folks) there at the hotel in the room next to ours. We knocked on the door and come to find out it was two Dutch girls (I know the Dutch are everywhere) who where planning on the yam boat too….yep, we weren’t the only nimrods.

Early in the morning (now we are up to Wednesday) we wanted the hell out of Yeji. At 6:30 in the morning we were up and standing on the shore of the Volta willing to pay anyone who would give us a ride across to Makong. Four hours later…we board a giant wooden canoe with an outrigger motor and some other interesting characters for our forty-five minute trip across the Volta. The trip was nice. Wonderful people watching of how these fishing villages wake up.

In Makong we board yet another tro-tro. One the northern side of the Volta we couldn’t think of anything we particularly wanted to see. And the more we traveled the more we agreed. Tiffany was coming down with a horrendous cold and we both worried it could be Malaria so the goal of the day was getting to a major city that would have a health clinic in case the cold turned worse. Two tro-tros and four taxis later we arrive in Nkwanta. The northern part of Ghana is very, very rural. The majority of the villages are basic mud huts and the dynamic was fascinating. With impending sickness though we didn’t hesitated on moving on through. All the roads were unpaved so the orange dust that coated our clothes, our bags, our bodies, and our sinuses was unbelievable. I think that it was the only time in our lives that Tiffany and I looked like we had a tan.

In Nkwanta we stayed the night at the Kilimanjaro hotel. Slept and we were up and out in the morning.

The following morning we head to Wli Falls (pronounced Vlee Falls). We arrived in late afternoon and settled in to the best hotel we had found. That evening Emmanuel, the chef, told us just what we wanted to have. Tiffany had the Omu Tuo (rice balls) and Groundnut soup with Goat. I had Chicken and Jollof rice. It was all amazing. We reveled in the fact that we were comfortable and clean for the first time in days. Emmanuel’s Chicken and Vegetable soup did wonders for Tiffany’s cold which started to break.

The following morning we awoke and headed out to see the falls. The falls are 1200ft tall and we took a hike to the lower falls. Bathing suit on, I decided to brace the cold and head on it. Yea…it was cold. But I can say that I went in. The falls were beautiful and Tiffany got a great picture of the driver ants she has been obsessively looking for since we have been here (you can thank the National Geographic channel for this hysteria).

The afternoon was spent lazing around and enjoying a couch on the porch of the hotel. We met a guy from Austria and chatted with him for a while. That evening local children came to the hotel for traditional dancing. The children where amazing to watch. The even dragged all of us up there to try and teach us how to dance. By the way, we are pretty terrible and one of the schoolteachers just kept pushing me and yelling “Just watch! Do it like her! See, do it like this!” Tiffany and I are no match for the outburst of groove that came from the Austrian which sent us all into hysterics.

After two nights at the Water Heights hotel we set out to visit the city of Kpandu (pronounced Pan-do) for the sole reason that there were two ridiculous sounding tourist attractions that we figured we needed to see since we were in the area. Both were Grottos to the Virgin Mary. Let the pictures explain for themselves. The evening was spent at Catherine’s Lodge. No we didn’t meet Catherine, but we did meet the VERY creepy owner who was a 65 year old man…let’s just say he likes coconuts…big coconuts. We left as early the next morning as we could.

From Kpandu we were headed to Biakpa to meet up with the other volunteers for New Year’s Eve. We were going to stay at the Mountain Paradise Lodge. In the book it says that there is no transportation to the lodge and the walk is 45 minutes. Since we had been trucking all over Ghana with just our flip-flops and our backpacks we thought we could brave the hike without chartering a taxi. HA!

A common phrase on this trip was “Fudge Phillip!” for his, many times, warped sense of distance and time. This was not a simple 45-minute walk. It was 4km straight up the mountain. And we were making the trip at noon without a bag of water to our name. There wasn’t a whole lot of chitchat on our hike. But there was a good bit of sweating and complaining.

An hour and a half later, we arrive at the lodge worn out and thirsty. We nap until the other girls get back from their day excursions. That evening we all sat around drinking the gin we had brought (yep, on top of the other stuff in our bag we were instructed to bring two bottles of gin…), playing cards, and a traditional African marble game. After dinner and quite a few gin and tonics the local villagers came up and did traditional dancing around a giant bonfire all evening. Since all us girls hadn’t seen each other in a week it gave us time to catch up and reflect on the New Year. Not one of us made it to midnight though. Sorry, but we were thinking about you all.

The next day Tiffany, Nicole (a new volunteer) and I decide to head back to Cape Coast. It was four hours to Accra and then three hours to Cape Coast. It was going to be a long day, but possible. We got a ride down the mountain (determined not to make that walk again even if it was downhill this time) and catch the first tro-tro we see heading to Accra. The three of us pile in. We made it about an hour when the tro-tro breaks down. Not an uncommon occurrence which Tiffany and I were lucky enough to avoid up to this point. We sit outside the tro-tro and munch on boiled peanuts. Yes all you folks heard me right. Here they have boiled peanuts! I was a happy girl. Well, that was until the tro-tro started driving off…in reverse. We all look at each other in astonishment that our tro-tro, our stuff, and our money were gone. In reverse!

It took about two minutes before total panic set in and we all started walking up to find the tro-tro a ways up the street. We found it, still in disrepair though. At this point we began talking to the driver about getting our money back so we could hail another tro-tro. Our funds were running short so just cutting our losses wasn’t an option. Finally he yells that the bus is fixed so we climb back in. We make it oh…about three miles. Then we pull over again, the bus fills with smoke and water is pouring from the bottom of the van. Tiffany and I climb out through the window and Nicole pushes her way out the door. We broke down right next to a police checkpoint so we all storm over to a cop and tell our story. After about fifteen minutes the driver gives us half our fare back and we sit down on a roadside bench with no idea how we were getting back to the city. Most of the Tro-tros that would pass would be full on their way to Accra. The Police Officer came over and asked if were would be interested in traveling in private car. We all quickly agree. A Canadian Obruni comes over and says that his truck is full but we could ride in the back. It would not be a problem. Amongst their luggage and ours we were packed in tight for the delightful ride back. They stopped for lunch at Aylos Bay (where the other volunteers spent Christmas by chance) and the three of us had kebabs and beer while they leisurely lunched and swam in the river. They then gave us a ride all the way back to Women in Progress apartment in Accra. There was no way we would be able to make it to Cape Coast that night. We enjoyed a dinner of tuna and crackers and watched a terrible Pierce Brosnan movie (we were just tickled to see a TV) before a hard night sleep.

Early in the morning we jumped up and hailed a taxi to the Accra tro-tro station for an uneventful trip back to Cape Coast.

After the journey we collapsed in our beds happy to be in familiar territory after what felt like ages. We apologize that this write up didn’t come sooner but you have to admit that it was a long tale, and you don’t even know the half of it.


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