Monday, 16 March 2009

Back to the beach

Strangely enough, visa collection went as expected! We then set off to get our Ghana visas. While trying to track down the embassy, we were turning left across a stream of traffic (they drive on the right here) when a couple of girls on a moped decided it would be a sensible idea to overtake us. I jammed on the brakes but it was slightly too late and they clipped the front corner of the car, losing control of the bike and skidding along the road. We were relieved to see both of them get up straight away and hobble over to the side of the road. Fortunately no serious injuries, just a few scrapes and grazes. We whipped out the first aid kit and got to work cleaning them up and dressing their wounds with a huge crowd looking over us - everybody loves "white man's medicine" over here.

One of the key pieces of advice for driving in Africa is that as a foreigner, any road accident you're involved in is your fault, no matter what the situation. As these things can quite easily get out of hand, we decided to play it safe, and offer a bit of cash to get the bike fixed and be on our way. Unfortunately neither of the girls owned the bike, so they wanted to wait for the owner to turn up to discuss what happens next. A guy who spoke a little English got talking to me when he saw me getting out some money to give them, suggesting I gave them half the amount, and offering to argue our case and do all the talking for us for a couple of pounds. Considering the potential sensitivity of the situation and language problems I decided this was a good idea. It was an hour or so before the owner turned up, and our man got to work. 5 minutes later it was all sorted as previously agreed. He then jumped in the car with us to direct us to the embassy which saved us any more stress!

We collected our Ghanaian visas the next morning and headed for the border. We took the road to Leo rather than Po based on Foreign Office advice, and all went smoothly entering Ghana in the early afternoon. Unfortunately Tumu wasn't quite as large as expected. We were in desperate need of fuel as we had been trying not to fill up until we reached Ghana. Diesel is half the price here, about 46p/l instead of the 91p/l we were paying in Burkina. Unfortunately we had no money to buy fuel, and no one wanted to change money for us. We eventually managed to track down a man who was willing to give us an exceptionally bad exchange rate, but we didn't have much choice so had to accept.

Ghana has been quite a dramatic change. With other countries there have been a few changes as we've crossed the border, but with Ghana, virtually everything has changed. Most obviously and noticeably for us, we can now speak English and generally be understood. Although not always, and the problems we still have with communication do make us feel slightly better about struggling so much with French! Secondly, Christianity has struck with a vengeance. Although Burkina Faso was 50% Christian, it wasn't that obvious, but the second we crossed the border the world started to revolve around God. Most amusingly, Ghanaians like to prefix their business name with a religious slogan. We've seen the likes of 'God is in Control Chop Bar', 'If God say Yes Insecticide and Chemical shop' and non religious ones such as 'No Food for Lazy Man Cafe'. The local dialects had subtle changes previously, but this is the first time the word for white man has changed from 'Toubab' to 'Obruni', and it's shouted at us by adults as well as children. The people also look different, wider faces. And despite the women doing most of the carrying in pervious countries they always looked delicately built, where as in Ghana a lot of the women seem quite butch, that combined with the fashion for shaved heads over here I'd say a little scary too! The other major change has been the weather, we've left the 40 degree heat of the semi desert and headed into the proper tropics. The oppressive heat replaced by oppressive humidity. The savannah giving way to our first glimpses of rainforest, although true rainforest is now fairly sparse in Ghana due to logging activity, there were some fairly spectacular sections through the hills near Kumasi. Roads are now lined with divine mangoes, bananas and pineapples; there is now a real abundance of fruit everywhere which our bodies are thanking us for.

The religion thing carries on over to cars, with various psalm numbers plastered on lorries, and phrases like 'Trust in God'. Unfortunately I think a few too many of the drivers have put a little too much trust in God and not enough in their driving skills. The combination of poor drivers, heavier traffic than we've had previously and good roads that enable high speeds has created a lethal cocktail. This is the first country we've hit that seems to have the 'biggest vehicle has right of way' rule on rural roads. Lorries and buses have no qualms about overtaking into oncoming traffic forcing other cars off the road. Bus drivers, carrying large numbers of passengers you would think might have some concern for others and their passengers, but while we'll slow down at the 50kph signs through towns and villages, they'll just swerve round us and career on through at 100+kph. In the last few days we must have seen the results of 15 or more serious accidents, several involving buses. We're just relieved we have our own transport and therefore the ability to drive defensively, rather than put our lives in the hands of someone with no common sense or driving skills. I do wonder why people feel the need to drive so fast on a continent where they're never in a hurry to do anything else.

We decided to head for the coast, so have been following the road south. There were waterfalls on route, and us being us, we decided it'd be rude to not stop by and have a look. The waterfalls weren't quite as expected. Some of the local lads had decided to take down a generator, computer and sound system, so the music was blaring and there was a party in full swing, with kids of all ages prancing and dancing around under the falls. I suppose it was a Saturday, and it's a nicer spot than any of my hang outs as a kid! On top of that we'd also timed the trip to coincide with a school visit, so that swelled the numbers even more.

We wandered down to the falls, had a paddle and took the obligatory photos. Hannah got talking to a kid called Martin, probably in his mid teens. He kept asking for our address and to have his photo taken with us. 'I just want a white friend, I've never had one before' was a line that made us smile. There was a school photographer down by the falls and we went to have our photo taken with Martin, which was fine. Then every other boy in the school decided they wanted their photo with us, so they queued up, and one by one we got through most of the school. The poor photographer had a film camera too, so he's just going to have to get about 30 photos of Hannah and me developed.

We headed off to find a camping spot for the night, a few miles down the road there was a pop, followed by the sound of a rapidly deflating tyre. We stopped the car, and the tyre was completely flat in a matter of seconds. Upon inspection there was a huge hole punched right through the tread. We got to work changing the tyre to the rumbles of an approaching tropical storm. We managed to get the tyre changed and on our way before the rains hit, but we were now running very short of time to find a camping spot, and in the thick forest is was no easy task getting off the road. We eventually gave up and headed for a hotel and a night in a real bed.

The following day we continued south, (in our beautifully clean car, which had mysteriously been washed for us overnight) aiming to hit the coast that afternoon. We stopped at some stalls to get some bread for breakfast. Upon the announcement that we just wanted bread and not fruit the fruit sellers were a little distraught. One woman, Ya, I think her name was, took us to the bread shop. She declared the fact that I was her friend, immediately another fruit seller jumped to the front of the crowd and pointed at Hannah saying 'And you're my friend'. So now the white friends had been declared we could get on with what we were doing. Bread purchased, we were then physically escorted to the fruit stalls, and ordered to buy oranges and 6 pineapples. What on earth we'd do with 6 pineapples I have no idea. We eventually escaped with our lives, one pineapple and a bag of oranges.

After 8 hours of driving we reached the Atlantic and Green Turtle Lodge with plans to settle there for a couple of days. We were approached by a man who announced, “Hello Hannah, hello Will, I’m Ian” which seemed slightly strange given that we hadn’t actually introduced ourselves. After a few seconds Hannah twigged, 'As in Trombone Ian'. Ian was a guy (travelling with his trombone) that had contacted us before our departure as he was leaving at a similar time, and a similar route so we'd be assuming we'd bump into him somewhere. We had a good chat and catch up on the last few months. Exchanging stories of the humour and hassles of African overland travel.

So, I'm sitting writing this at our camping spot under a coconut palm on a beach in Ghana; there are tracks in the sand from turtles laying eggs last night and the sun is battling to break through the moisture laden skies. The equator lies just 500km to the south as the crow flies, but we have to head east for a few thousand km before we can head south again when we reach Cameroon, eventually crossing the Equator in Gabon.

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