Saturday, 28 March 2009

Cocoa and Mango (but no Bovril!)

We've been living the lazy life recently. Five days at Green Turtle Lodge doing pretty much nothing other than eating, sleeping and having dips in the sea to keep cool. Hannah did brave a couple of morning runs, now we're on the coast the temperature is in the low 30's and much more bearable. We had a stroll to the village at the end of the beach one morning, a really lovely walk until we got nearer the village. Rural Ghanaians don't view beaches in quite the same way we do, they put them to a more traditional use - a public toilet. This made the area of the beach nearer the village a bit of a minefield and a pretty smelly one at that. A percentage of the profit from Green Turtle goes into a village fund and turtle conservation in the area. The lodge also employs people from the village keeping relations very good.

Eventually crowbarring ourselves away from Green Turtle we headed for Kakum National Park, one of the few areas of natural forest left in Ghana. There is a canopy walkway there which we thought would be interesting, although it would involve me facing up to my fear of heights! We spent the night in the national park and got up at 5am to do a forest walk, apparently the best time to do it. The walk was pleasant enough, although we got the impression that our guide, Fred, was more used to doing school trips. The canopy walkway was more impressive, particularly in the early morning light with the mist over the trees.

Next stop, Accra, mainly to track down the Nigerian Embassy to sort out our visas. We wandered into one of the western style supermarkets that exist in this part of the world, full of ludicrously priced imported goods. Very excited to see the Bovril we've been craving since our jar from home ran out in Senegal; slightly less excited to realise that the price was over £10 per jar. Decided our cravings weren't quite that extreme. (At least we weren't after Nescafe Gold Blend which was going for £25 a jar - bearing in mind too that Ghana is a coffee-growing country!) Also managed to track down a smoothie bar - asking for directions to the smooTHie bar didn't seem to work, it's smooTie apparently!

We picked up the Nigerian visas, all surprisingly hassle free. Then on to the hills on the outskirts of Accra, to Aburi, a town where the locals go at weekends and holidays to escape the heat. Pulling up outside the botanical gardens, a guy wandered over to the car and pointing at the ground said "Your diesel tank, come and have a look". Sure enough, diesel was pouring out of the bottom of the car - annoying enough anyway, but doubly annoying having just refuelled! I rapidly crawled under the car to try and stem the flow, and eventually managed to track the problem down to pump that transfers fuel from the auxiliary tank to the main tank. After about 20 minutes of battling and some Ghanaian guy saying "God will provide" over and over again we eventually got it back together. The Ghanaian guy then asked for payment for "waiting for us". He didn't get his money and we gave up on the idea of the botanical gardens as I looked and smelt like the diesel equivalent of the swamp monster!

Resuming our mission the next day we had a stroll round the gardens. They were pleasant and diverse, a wide variety of trees and some crazy, and very agile animal that looked like a cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk. Lots of birds and butterflies including a stunning sunbird.

Another interesting stop off was a cocoa farm. Cocoa was imported to Ghana from Fernando Po in 1876 by Tetteh Quarshie. This was the farm he set up, first bearing fruit in 1879 with two of the original plants are still standing today. Ghana first exported cocoa in 1891, Within 20 years it had become the worlds biggest exporter. Today it still stands in second place. Hannah and I both really enjoyed the brief tour, unlike a field in the UK, a cocoa farm has a variety of plants all having a purpose. There was plantain, yams, chillies, vines and avocado all grown together for maximum efficiency and productivity. We picked a ripe pod and opened it up, taking a beans and sucking on the white flesh round them. Surprisingly, it tasted really sweet, a bit like mango. We were then shown how the beans were fermented and dried and given the finished product to taste, the very familiar taste of cocoa, although not as bitter as we'd expected. We then purchased some Ghanaian chocolate at the end - they should stick to growing rather than manufacturing.

The fruit in Ghana has been amazing (except the oranges, they should leave those to Morocco). We have however been having a few issues. A couple of weeks ago Hannah decided she wanted tomatoes, so seeing a road side stall selling them she went to get some. Unfortunately she got more than she bargained for, and ended up with a whole carrier bag full (made even more unfortunate by the fact that I don't even like tomatoes!) The women selling fruit generally don't speak much English, and it seems less hassle to just take what you're given for the sake of a few pence rather than trying to explain you don't want to buy in bulk. I had the same problem with mangoes, we now have 16 to get though. Good value for a pound, but they're all quite ripe and need eating very soon!

The following morning we decided to drive up to "Mountain Paradise Lodge" near Biakpa, attracted by the promise of good food and home roasted local coffee for breakfast. The lodge was in a stunning location overlooking Mount Gemi. An Anglo-Ghanaian couple turned up and showed us the joy of sucking on cashew fruit, yes, there is a fruit as well as a nut. The nut hangs off the bottom of the fruit, it unfortunately can't be eaten without being dried and roasted. The fruit had a strange, sweet flavour, but despite being very juicy it makes your mouth feel extremely dry.

The next morning after our coffee (they should stick to growing rather than manufacturing) we set off for a walk laid out by the lodge through the neighbouring forest. It was a very 'fruitful' walk, lots of avocados, mangoes, cashews, bananas and cocoa, although the real stars of the show were the insects. Countless species all over the place, the most stunning were the butterflies, unfortunately never staying still for long enough to have a good look. The most shocking were the ants, we got out first close up view of one of Africa's most venomous snakes, a green mamba (or maybe a boomslang, we're not experts), it had been killed and was slowing be dissected by an army of red ants. The walk was incredibly steep in places, there had been ropes put in place to help us up and down. It certainly wasn't a gentle stroll and our walking boots had their first proper outing in a while. On our return to the lodge we were approached by a man named 'Believer', he showed me a beautiful bamboo necklace he'd made, I had a look and gave it back to him. "Don't you like it?" he asked. I said I did, but I didn't want to buy it. "I'm not selling it, I'm giving it to you". I felt slightly embarrassed having rejected it initially, but having been approached by several hundred people trying to sell us necklaces over the last few months, the last thing I expected was a gift! So I'm now the proud owner of a bamboo necklace.

Being a world cup qualifying weekend we decided to try and squeeze in some football. With England playing on the Saturday and 'The Black Stars', the Ghanaian team playing on the Sunday we figured we should try to squeeze in both games. The watching of the England game didn't go as we'd hoped. We found a bar but it turned out Togo were playing Cameroon at the same time. As we were virtually on the Togo border, and these borders were drawn up with no correlation to African tribes, there are a lot of tribal links between eastern Ghana and Togo. This was almost their home team, to the extent that the Togo medical staff were all Ghanaian. So we settled down to watch that, a lot of smiles at the end with Togo going against the odds and winning 1-0.

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