Category Archives: Travelling in Ghana

Accra Accra!

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Hello,

I’ve been home for almost a week and thus have been really lazy about updates. Here’s a bit about my last few days in Ghana:

After bidding adieu to CRAN and my ProWorld family, I had one final goodbye left. I decided to head to Accra early and spend my last few days there. Thus, I hugged Auntie Alice goodbye on Saturday morning and left Cape Coast. Fittingly, it started to rain. I joked the Cape Coast was crying because I was leaving.

I decided to take the Metro Mass bus to Accra because of my two large suitcases. Caleb, KC, and I had to wait about an hour to get on the bus, but I only had to pay an extra three cedi for my suitcases! It was one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever experienced. First, I was kicked out from the front row seats and forced to squeeze in between two rather large women because “No ladies in the front!” Really. Secondly, I spent the entire ride simply praying that we would make it alive. We passed several trotro accidents, a bus accident, and an exploded gas tanker.

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

Eventually we made it to Accra and were able to head over to the Salvation Army Hostel, or as I affectionally call it, Sal Val. We had terrific pizza at Mama Mia’s and went to a spot for a drink. We then felt obligated to visit a bar called Hemingway’s, which happened to be a casino (My first!). Both KC and Caleb won playing roulette and I mostly stood around for good luck.

These flowers smelled divine!

These flowers smelled divine!

While Ghana isn’t exactly a tourist mecca, it was on my bucket list to visit the more touristy attractions in Accra. Luckily, Caleb and KC were game and we first headed to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park which hosts the tomb of Ghana’s first president and his wife. The park was gorgeous with flowering trees and statues. Strutting around the mausoleum was a peacock. After snapping some pics near the tomb, we visited the Nkrumah museum. It held random objects that the president used, including his desk and a mirror. I was most interested in the collection of photographs featuring Nkrumah with other world leaders such as JFK and Fidel Castro.

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The back of the mausoleum.

The back of the mausoleum.

After our visit to the park, we walked to the National Museum of Ghana. Of course we got lost along with way, but Ghanaians are always willing to point you in the right direction. The museum was okay. It had some arts and crafts like carved stools, woven fabrics, drums, and weapons. The museum had an interesting section on the slave trade. I was a bit perplexed by the second floor of the museum. It hosted quite a few Roman artifacts and a few Egyptian ones. I’m not sure how those two connect. Outside the museum was a lovely sculpture garden which we took a quick tour around.

The National Musuem

The National Museum

Sculpture Garden outside the National Musuem

Sculpture Garden outside the National Musuem

When Monday rolled around, it was time to say goodbye to Caleb and KC as they were catching a flight to Tamale, or so I thought. KC had been having sharp pain in her abdomen and wanted to stop at a clinic before the flight. It turns out she had appendicitis and needed surgery. Obviously they didn’t make their flight and they spent the day in the hospital. KC is fine and is currently at her homestay recovering. I spent Monday hanging out with my Ghanaian hostel roommates and watching movies. Caleb came back and took me out for my last dinner in Ghana. Before my flight on Tuesday, Caleb and I stopped at the hospital to visit KC and watched a movie. One of my roommates bargained to get me a cheap taxi and I headed to the airport. As I drove through Accra for the last time, it finally hit me that I was leaving this amazing country.

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Sweet Dreams, Mefloquine!

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Ghana is one of the many in countries in Africa infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  If caught quickly, malaria can easily be treated with a three-day course of antibiotics. Other cases can be more serious and even deadly. Obviously, I want to avoid getting malaria, so I use bug spray laced with DEET and take an anti-malarial prophylaxis. Due to different drug resistances, the main two anti-malarials taken by travelers to Ghana are doxycycline and mefloquine. Doxy is a daily prescription and mefloquine is taken weekly. I take mefloquine.

Mefloquine Structural Formula. Coutesy of Wikipedia (I know)

Mefloquine Structural Formula. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mefloquine, also known as Larium, was created as a response to the thousands of malaria infections experienced in the Vietnam War. The U.S. Army developed the drug in 1971 after strains of malaria became resistant to chloroquine. It was cheap to make, effective, and only needed to be taken weekly. It entered the commercial market in 1989, and is currently the third most prescribed anti-malarial. Only generic versions can be purchased, as the brand-name manufacturer, Roche, no longer sells Larium in the U.S.

Several years after being commercially sold, doctors began to notice some problematic symptoms among those taking the drug. According to the FDA, the neurological side effects can include dizziness, loss of balance, or ringing in the ears. The psychiatric side effects can include feeling anxious, mistrustful, depressed, or having hallucinations. In addition to those, mefloquine can cause hair loss, chronic insomnia, diarrhea, and migraine headaches; the drug has also been attributed to numerous psychotic episodes. These symptoms generally disappear after stopping the drug, but in some cases may be permanent.

Roche claims that serious psychological side effects only occur in one in 10,000 people. However, Dr. Paul Clarke, an infectious disease specialist from Great Britain, organized his own study after witnessing side effects in a greater frequency. According to Clark’s study, the actual frequency of disabling effects is closer to one in 140 people. This dramatic difference is mostly due to Roche’s qualification of “serious” versus Clark’s “disabling.” The drug company only considers a case serious if it causes death, hospitalization, or a long-term disability. Between 1997 and 2001, the FDA recorded eleven suicides and twelve suicide attempts that were linked with mefloquine.

So innocent looking, yet so dangerous.

So innocent looking, yet so dangerous.

On June 29th, 2013, the FDA released an announcement that strengthened the warnings about the neurological side effects. Then in September, the Surgeon General’s Office of the Army Special Operations Command ordered a halt in prescribing mefloquine for the approximately 25,000 Green Berets, Rangers, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations soldiers. Furthermore, the Pentagon has been reviewing the potential neurological side effects on service members, as the side effects can often mimic other issues, such as PTSD. The review is expected to be completed this January.

So if mefloquine has all of these worrying side effects, why did my doctor prescribe it? As a proud member of the pasty people population, I didn’t have much of a choice. I’ve taken doxy before and experience sun sensitivity–not exactly ideal for traveling to a country so near the equator. Plus my doctor was hesitant to give me doxy for such a long period of time. I would have to take it every single day for almost six months. Lastly, buying that many pills can get pretty pricy.

So I’ve been taking mefloquine for about three and a half months now. So far, I haven’t had any of the scary side effects, like hallucinations, but I do have some of the more mild ones. I suffer from insomnia, especially on the days I take my dose. Even when I’m super tired, I have trouble falling asleep and wake up several times a night. Secondly, I’m frequently dizzy. It’s usually not too bothersome, but the vertigo has gotten so bad once or twice that I had to lie down or risk falling over. Lastly, I’ve experienced very vivid and occasionally lucid dreams. Since I never used to remember my dreams, this is an entirely new and often pleasurable experience. I even woken myself up several times laughing hysterically for no reason. I realize that taking mefloquine is not ideal and can be very harmful for people with history of mental illnesses. If I start experiencing any of the serious side affects, I plan to stop taking it immediately.

For more information, read this super scary article by CBS News, and one by The Guardian:

Kumasi: “Wow! White Peoples!”

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I apologize for the lack of updates last week. I experienced a bunch of power outages, sometimes lasting twelve hours at a time. The Internet connection also was “finished” most of this week. On top of the technical difficulties, I’ve been fighting a bad head cold. So instead of staying up writing, I’ve been trying to catch up on my sleep. Having a cold in 85-degree weather is so gross! I then managed to acquire food poisoning, and spent most of my Sunday attached to the porcelain throne. Needless to say, it’s been a tough week.

Despite being sick, I was determined to travel somewhere this weekend. I had Friday off of work as was a national holiday called Farmer’s Day (Pretty much the Ghanaian equivalent of Labor Day).  Thus I convinced Abby to accompany me to Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana. Other ProWorld participants had fairly negative experiences in Kumasi, but I was determined to see the market, the zoo, and the palace. So armed with an outdated guidebook and no sense of direction, Abby and I headed to Kumasi.

Kumasi is about four hours directly north of Cape Coast. The ride was fairly uneventful except for the fact that the trotro was nicer than usual and air-conditioned. Abby and I rationed our water to avoid having to squat on the side of the road. As this trip was last minute, we didn’t plan on where we were staying, or what we were doing. We used my Bradt’s guide of Ghana (5th Edition) to pick a cheap hotel/hostel and figure out what we wanted to see. We found the perfect hotel, the Nurom Inn, Annex as it was in a central location on the map, and supposedly incredibly cheap. I tried the phone number list, but no one answered. This wasn’t surprising, as phone numbers change frequently here.

The closed Cultural Centre

The closed Cultural Centre

After reaching Kumasi, we were quickly introduced to the horrible traffic. Most of the vehicles here run on diesel, so we were asphyxiating on the fumes, and decided to walk. With the guidebook’s map in hand, we weaved through masses of cars and people to find our hostel. While Kumasi is unique in its actual use of street signs, we discovered that most of the names of the roads did not match those on the map. After wandering around and stopping to ask directions, we made it to where our hotel used to be. Yes, used to be. Apparently, the hotel had closed a while ago. So we referred back to the list of hotels and started walking around to find one that wasn’t too expensive and actually functioning. After about an hour and three hotels later, we finally got a room at the Sambra Hotel. We got stuck paying much more than we wanted to ($70 GHC), but the hotel was very nice. Our room was air-conditioned and we need to sleep under a blanket. Heavenly!

The market spills out into the streets

The market spills out into the streets

The restaurant we wanted to eat at was closed for renovations (Sensing a trend here?), so we just ended up eating at our hotel’s restaurant. It was pretty tasty, though a bit overpriced. By then it was almost 5PM, leaving us only an hour of daylight. Not wanted to waste precious time in Kumasi, we decided to tackle the market. The Kejetia Market is touted as the largest market in West Africa. Most travelers choose to use a guide to navigate the overwhelming huge market. Being fearless adventurers (And stubbornly cheap), Abby and I decided to head out on our own.

A glimpse of the market

A glimpse of the market

The first challenge was to figure out how to actually enter the market. While it overflowed onto the surrounding streets, we wanted to see the heart of the market that was surrounding by fences, train tracks, and buildings. So we weaved our way through, getting stuck in the smelly fish section before stumbling into the fabric and used clothing area. To the casual observer, the market is completely unorganized. While there are some random stalls here or there, the market is fairly well divided by product. There’s the food section, house wares section, apparel section, and more. For example, we walked through an area of the market that consisted completely of shoe vendors.

Inside the market

Inside the market

Walking through Kejetia Market is an overwhelming sensory experience. There’s the smell of fish, vegetables, leather, and body odor. Vendors are yelling out prices and urging you to visit their stalls. The aisles are narrow and you have squeeze past thousands of people in a mixture of traditional dressed and used clothing shipped from the West. Since Kumasi lacks a large expat population, Abby and I certain stood out. We were hassled to buy things and practically dragged to stalls. My favorite line was when a man selling belts exclaimed, “Wow! White peoples!” Strangely, the hassling didn’t bother me. I suppose I’ve simply gotten use to it now.

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The next day, we got up bright an early to hit all of the other major highlights in Kumasi. We started with the Centre for National Culture. Unfortunately, it is closed on Saturdays, so we weren’t able to go into any of the art galleries. We did take a couple pictures outside. We also spotted the large bat colony that naturally lives in the trees right next to the center. The bats were huge, about the size of a salad plate, and were making little screeching noises.

This picture isn't that impressive, but the amount of bats flying around certainly was!

This picture isn’t that impressive, but the amount of bats flying around certainly was!

We then headed next door to the Kumasi Zoo. It was the most depressing place I’ve ever been. A lot of the animals were stuck alone in tiny cages. The monkeys, in particular, seemed the saddest due to their social nature. There were camels that were free to wander around the zoo. One thought my hair was hay and attempted to take a bite. The cutest was this baby elephant. He was locked in a small pen while he was eating breakfast. He really liked me for some reason and started sniffing me with his trunk and playing with my hair. I desperately wanted to take him with me and put him in a zoo with other baby elephants to play with. We only managed to stay about a half an hour at the zoo before getting too upset and needing to leave.

"Let me out of here!"

“Let me out of here!”

After the zoo, we decided to head over to the Manhyia Palace.  It was a long walk to get there, as we had no idea where we were going and it was mostly uphill. This Manhyia Palace is the official residence of the Asantehene, or the Ashanti king. While Ghana has a parliamentary government, it still also runs on the tribal system. Thus the king is considered to have the second highest political position. He is in control of handing all affairs and disputes with the chiefs and paramount chiefs.

Entrance to the Manhyia Palace

Entrance to the Manhyia Palace

The first palace was built by the British and given to Asantehene Nana Prempeh I after he returned from exile in the Elmina Castle. It was given to him because his previous palace had been burnt down during a war between the British and the Asantes. This palace was turned into a museum after a new palace was built directly behind it. The museum contained a life-size effigies of several kings, original furniture, kente fabric worn by kings, and other relics. The most random was the king’s first refrigerator and television. I didn’t realize how important the king was to Ghanaian society before visiting the museum. He has been visited and given gifts by many important leaders, including Pope John Paul II. I enjoyed our tour, but unfortunately was not allowed to take pictures.

The outside of the palace

The outside of the palace

After our tour, we got a quick lunch of fried rice and got on a trotro to return home. Our trip to Kumasi was short, but we were able to visit all of the main tourist attractions. While Kumasi wasn’t my favorite destination in Ghana, I am very glad I went and enjoyed my trip. I was proud that Abby and I were able to navigate the confusing city and only took one taxi the entire time! If you had told me during my first week that I would be randomly wandering around a major Ghanaian city, I would have thought you were crazy. This goes to show how much I’ve grown and adapted here.

Breman Odwira Afahyea: It’s Festival Time!

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This weekend I traveled to a remote community called Asikuma for a festival celebrating the Breman State. Asikuma is where my friend, Abby, lives and works during the week. We spent the weekend with her homestay family and attended the Grand Durbur, or the main festival program.

Mary, Sarah, and I left Cape Coast on Friday afternoon to make it to Asikuma in time for dinner. It took about two hours, a trotro ride, and a shared taxi tide to get there. Once we made it Asikuma, we wandered around Our Lady of Grace Hospital looking for Abby. Eventually we found her, and made the half an hour walk back to her house. We ran into a parade along the way, and I was escorted by two men dressed in monster masks and clown costumes. It was one my weirder moments in Ghana, which is really saying something. Once we made it to the house, we met the some members of Abby’s homestay family, Auntie Maggie, Sister Bebe, Grandma, and Petra. They showed true Ghanaian hospitality by supplying us with several beverages and giving us the best bedrooms to stay in. We ate a delicious supper of jollaf rice with chicken, pineapple, and watermelon. We all went to bed early in order to get a good night’s sleep before the festival.

We got up bright and early to fit in a brief tour of the town before the Durbur was scheduled to start. Of course being Ghana, the scheduled starting time and the actual starting time were quite different. The program was supposed to begin at 11AM, but when we arrived at the time, the grounds weren’t even set up yet. The program would eventually begin around 2:30PM. So, we did a bit of shopping and headed back to the house for lunch. Shawn, ProWorld’s country director, met us just in time for the festivities, as Sarah needed to return to Cape Coast that evening.

Festival grounds!

Festival grounds!

We went back to where the festival was being held (this time by taxi), and found the seats that Sister Bebe had saved us. We had a great view of the procession of regional chiefs, but were baking in the direct sunlight. I had forgotten to put sunscreen on the tops of my feet and they were on fire! Once all of the regional chiefs had greeted the Paramount chief and took their seats, a man in traditional clothing approached us. Apparently the chiefs had noticed that we were sitting in the sun and invited us to sit next to them under one of the tents. So we awkwardly paraded across the field in front of everyone and took our seats of honor. Since we four of us were the only foreigners to attend the festival, I suppose they wanted to make sure we were as comfortable as possible and could enjoy our visit. The festival proceedings were several hours long, so I was extremely grateful that we were invited into the shade. Also, Mary and I were given programs for free, even though they were charging everyone else one cedi. Since most of the festival was conducted in Twi, the program ensured that I could understand what was happening.

Procession of the regional chiefs

Procession of the regional chiefs

So the Afahye was being celebrated for several reasons. Most broadly, the festival celebrated the development of the Breman state in areas such as career training, environmental preservation, sanitation improvements, and improvement of infrastructure. The Durbur contained an “Appeal for Funds” portion, in which community members were encouraged to donate to the implementation of the Breman’s 5 Year Strategic Development Plan. The Breman Odwira Festival also was an integration of smaller cultural festivals such as Okyir, Bayerdi, Akwanbo, Abangye, and Essa. For example, Bayerdi marks the yam harvest and Akwanbo commemorates the annual ceremonial clearing of all weeds along the ancestral routes to Asikuma. So really, the Breman Odwira Festival is combination of cultural activities as well as a fundraiser for the community.

Traditional Dancing

Traditional Dancing

As a non-Twi speaker, the Durbur consisted of a procession of regional chiefs directly followed by a greeting and a prayer. Then the Paramount Chief, Odeef Amoakwa Buadu VII, gave a welcome address. We got to see some drumming and traditional dancing, and then a few more speeches. After that, there was the fundraising portion, another prayer, and the final procession.  I really enjoyed the final procession that winded through town, culminating at the royal palace. The Paramount Chief was carried in a throne and was followed by musicians. All of the regional chiefs fell into a line behind him. Everyone danced, clapped, and cheered the procession onwards.

Odeef Amoakwa Buadu VII

Odeef Amoakwa Buadu VII

After the procession, we again headed home for dinner. After a quick meal of spaghetti with hard-boiled eggs, we readied ourselves for a night out. Honestly, I wasn’t too excited about partying as my few experiences here in Ghana have left me somewhat uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of the incessant staring and frequent groping, or being made fun of for my lack of dancing skills. Shawn and Sister Bebe decided to come with us (for which I was very grateful) and we walked over to the taxi station, which had been transformed into an open square with a stage. In Ghana, if there is music playing, people will immediately start dancing. That’s why it was so strange that no one was dancing in the square despite the music playing and dance groups performing on stage. It started to rain, so we decided to go back to the “spot” by Abby’s house for a drink.

We all had a tepid beer and some tasty mystery meat before the rain started to pick up. We managed to make into the bar before it started pouring. At that point, the old lady in me just wanted a shower and bedtime. The bar quickly turned into a Ghanaian version of a frat party. I kept getting spilled on, groped, and was generally hot from the amount of people jammed into the area avoiding the rain. As soon as the rain slowed, Mary, Shawn and I grabbed a cab back to the house, leaving Abby and Sister Bebe to continue frolicking. I took my much need showered and conked out.

When I woke up on Sunday, the sky still looked ominous and it was sprinkling off and on.  We ate an early breakfast, and packed up our things. Apparently there was some sort of major Catholic celebration going on in Cape Coast, so Sister Bebe and Abby joined us for our trek home. I was so tired from my busy weekend that I spent the rest of the day reading and napping. Oh well.

I really enjoyed the Asikuma festival and am really glad that I was able to take part in such a rich cultural experience. Funny enough, I got hit on more during this weekend than I have during my entire stay in Ghana. I left about twenty-five boyfriends in Asikuma. So many choices! 😉

Here’s a video of questionable quality that I took of the festival. Ignore the cheesy IMovie transitions!

Basking in Busua

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This past weekend, I went on another trip. Unlike my bustling journey to Volta, I had a super relaxing time  in the little beach town of Busua in the Western Region.

On Saturday morning, all of the ProWorld participants got together for our monthly Impact Project. This time we had to make cement bricks, which will be used for building a new clinic. It wasn’t fun, and I admit that I tried to “supervise” as much as possible to avoid doing actual labor. To make the bricks, you need to mix cement powder with sand and slowly add water. Then you shovel the cement mixture into the molds, making sure to pound it in there. Then you open the mold and plop the brick out to harden in the sun. I managed to avoid mixing the sand and cement and got the easy task of drizzling in the water. I then helped pound the molds and carry them over to where they were drying. The bricks were very heavy and we had to carry them in pairs. It was extremely hot that morning and we were all sweating. After making around forty bricks, we were very happy to be finished and get out of the sun.

After our brick-making experience, we got on a trotro to Takoradi. Along the way we bought Fan Ices, which are ice cream sachets, and bowlfruit, or doughnuts. Once we made it to Takoradi, we took another tro to a small town outside Busua and finally a taxi to Alaska Beach Resort. We dumped all our stuff in our little hut and immediately went to dinner. We feasted on mediocre burritos and margaritas. After that, we headed over to a rooftop bar where we danced with our Canadian-Ghanaian bartender, Sewaa, and met some fellow obrunis who work in Accra. After returning to our hut around midnight, we all agreed that we would sleep in late the next day.

Alaska Resort

Alaska Resort

Of course I was up and ready for breakfast around 6AM. We enjoyed delicious egg and cheese sandwiches and planned for a fun beach day. Busua is known for having some of the most beautiful beaches in Ghana and great surfing. While I decided to save surfing lessons for my next visit, I definitely wanted to take advantage of the warm water and soft sand. We swam for a few hours before warming ourselves under the brilliant sun. We had a brief lunch and then decided into looking into rent some sea kayaks. It turned out the kayaks were a steal at 10 cedi ($5USD) for an hour and decided to rent a couple. Max decided to surf instead, so the girls paired off for the kayaks.

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The problem was, none of us had ever been sea kayaking. The men who rented the kayaks merely gave us life jackets and told us, “Two to a kayak. Paddle together.” We also had terrific timing and decided to kayak during high tide. Using some common sense, we figured that you had to swim out the kayaks past the break waves and then climb on. Easier said than done. Abby and I battled the waves for a good twenty minutes, swimming out with the kayak only to be knocked back to shore by a large wave. Robin and Lexie were having even more difficulty, as they are quite a bit shorter and couldn’t touch the bottom. I got knocked around by the waves a lot and probably would have drowned without my life jacket. I miraculously managed to not lose my sunglasses. Eventually we were saved by this European man who grabbed our kayak after a particularly rough wave swept it away. He said he’d help us get on it and took control of swimming it past the waves. When we made it past most of the big waves, we still faced the struggle of actually climbing onto the kayak. The water was too deep to touch the bottom and I lack upper body strength, so I performed a body roll to heft myself up on it. It must have been a hilarious sight. After bidding our helpful European a fond adieu, we began to paddle towards this island. We neared the island and noticed the strong waves. We decided to turn around rather than risk getting stuck on the island with no one to help us get past the waves. With my arms burning, we managed to make it back to the beach where our European and his family congratulated us on surviving. Getting past the waves was terrifying, but once we were paddling, sea kayaking was an amazing experience. I’m so happy that I went!

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After kayaking, we were exhausted. We went back to our hut and laid on our beds for over an hour. Max returned from surfing and eventually we mustered up enough energy to go to dinner. After a disappointing dinner (the burritos were “finished”), we returned to our hut with intention of going back to visit Sewaa and the rooftop bar.  However, we got sidetracked by our beds and were asleep by 9PM.

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The next morning, we slept in before having breakfast and catching a taxi and two trotros back to Cape Coast. I was sad to leave Busua as I had a fun and relaxing weekend. Abby and I promised each other that we would make it back before I leave in January. Besides, I still have to take surfing lessons!

Busua tips:

Cheapest lodging: Alaska Resort (beware of cockroaches and communal baths).

Eating: Eat at the restaurant attached to Black Star Surf Shop. I particularly recommend their breakfasts. The banana cinnamon oatmeal and the egg and cheese sandwiches are delicious. The restaurant at Kangaroo Pouch Resort appears to have the best burritos, but avoid the rest of the food if they’ve run out of burrito ingredients.

To do: Take a surfing lesson for about 40 cedi ($20). Rent a sea kayak (Preferably during low tide!).  Go swimming or relax on the lovely beaches.

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Alaska Beach Resort

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Our little hut

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Guide to Transportation in Ghana

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Despite the terrible conditions of the roads, there are several options to getting around Ghana. Here’s a bit of info on the ones I’m familiar with:

Walking

Due to my lack of regular exercise, walking is my mode of choice. You get to interact with locals, browse stalls, and get a bit of sun. It’s also brutally hot to walk anywhere and I always get to my destination drenched in sweat. It is very important to pay attention while walking. No rocking out to your iPod! Drivers don’t look out for pedestrians and there are very few stop signs/lights. There appear to be no road rules and people drive all over the place.  Not to mention, the roads are bumpy and have “obruni traps” or open sewers that you can fall in. When it rains, there are huge puddles and it gets muddy and slippery. From personal experience, avoid wearing sandals after a heavy rain. Despite being very vigilant while walking, I was already hit by a car. I was at Sunday Market and was stuck in a huge crowd of people with nowhere to move. A taxi also decided that it wanted to go through the crowd and started edging through. I got hit at like 2MPHs in the back of the legs as the driver tried to push his way through the crowd. Obviously I flipped out at him. This is a lesson that drivers here do not care for safety, so you really need to pay attention.

Shared Taxis

Shared taxis are often the transportation of choice by Ghanaians. Pretty much they are taxis that have a set destination and will let you out anywhere along that route. The “shared” aspect comes from the fact that you will share the taxi with three other people (Or more if they pack in people illegally). Shared taxis have set prices along their routes are inexpensive. You can pick up a shared taxi at the side of the road by pointing in your desired direction, or if you don’t know, shouting it at the drivers. Drivers will honk if they have open seats in the taxi. You can also go to a taxi stand and look for the car that is going to your destination (They use portable signs). You might have to wait at the station until the car fills up completely. Note: if you are a foreigner and no one else is getting in the car, it is important to tell the driver that you wanted a “share.” Otherwise you will be charged for a drop taxi (see below).

Drop Taxis

Drop taxis are just like regular taxis back in the United States. They take you from Point A to Point B. Unlike western taxis, it is important to decide on a price with the taxi driver before getting into the car. Depending on the time of day, the amount of passengers, and the distance, drop taxis can be expensive. If you stay out late at night, they can often be your only option of getting home. I usually try to avoid taking drop taxis because of the inflated price. Because I don’t live too far away from the main road, I usually try and find a shared taxi and walk the rest of the way. This isn’t a problem as I don’t usually stay out very late. You can take drop taxis long distances, but because of the price I don’t recommend it. Like shared taxis, you can either pick up a drop taxi on the side of the road or at a stand.

Trotros

I have a love-hate relationship with trotros. A trotro is a large van that holds about fifteen to twenty people and goes to a set destination. However, you can get off anywhere along the way to the final destination. Inside the tro is the driver and his mate. The mate is in charge of taking the money, telling the driver when to pull over, and opening the sliding door for passengers to get in and out.  The pros of taking trotros are that they are extremely cheap and go pretty much everywhere in Ghana. Not to mention, you get to meet a diverse amount of Ghanaians. However, you are usually crammed in with a bunch of sweating people and having to keep getting in and out when someone behind you or next you reaches their destination. Plus trotro drivers seem to be the most reckless. They speed uncontrollably, pass cars around curves, and are generally unsafe. Like taxis, you can either pick up tros on the side of the road or at a trotro station. If you go to the station, you will have to wait until the van fills up, which can take a while depending on the destination. If you are on the road, simply point in your desired direction. Tros will honk if they have open seats.

This particular trotro is referred to as an "Obama." I have no idea why.

This particular trotro is referred to as an “Obama.” I have no idea why.

Buses

Buses go to most major cities in Ghana. They are more comfortable than trotros and are a bit more expensive. Depending on the bus, it might be air-conditioned or have a TV. There are technically set schedules of when each bus departs, but it is hard to find out the schedule, and can depend on how full the bus is. While buses will let you off along their set route, you can only pick one up at a bus station. Buses are a good option if you have a lot of luggage, but don’t want to hire a private car. I’ve take the Mass Metro bus, aka Ghana’s answer to Megabus,  to Accra. Warning: Mass Metro can take a long time. Accra is only two hours away, but it took me seven hours using Mass Metro. Worst Ride Ever.

Ever seen plantains on your bus ride?

Ever seen plantains on your bus ride?

Trains

Apparently there used to be trains that took you to several of Ghana’s main cities. However, this service shut down and I’m not sure if it will resume. This is sad because I really like trains!

Planes

Many large cities in Ghana have small airports in them (Though Cape Coast is airport-less). Apparently you can get fairly inexpensive tickets to travel in country. While I haven’t tried it, using these airports is by far the quickest way to get around Ghana. It might be worth it if you want to travel to the northern regions.

 

A weird quirk about trotros and busses are that women are not usually allowed to sit in the front seat near the drivers. Apparently the male drivers are a superstitious lot and believe it is bad luck for a female to be up front. After some negative experiences with this, I find it ridiculous and annoying.

Volta Region Day 3: Monkeys and Kente

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Irritated by the previous night’s food service, we decide to skip breakfast at Mount Paradise and find something off the road to eat. Because it was Sunday and most people were in church, the options were limited. I ended up eating an entire loaf of plain white bread. Yay carbs! We then headed over to Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary.

After buying some bananas for the monkeys off the street, we paid our admittance fee and started our trek into the forest. Unlike many other sanctuaries, the monkeys at Tafi Atome are wild and roam the forest freely. Our guide led us down a muddy path, making a strange lip smacking sound to attract the monkeys. We thought we had gotten there at 8AM, thinking that was plenty early. Unfortunately several tourist groups had already past through and fed the monkeys, leaving them fairly satisfied. We were able to see two families of Mona monkeys. Max and I had the best luck at feeding them. I got to hold a banana while a little monkey peeled it and ate it out of my hand! Because they weren’t very hungry, none of them climbed on us. Despite this, I really enjoyed visiting Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary and would love to go back.

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Mona Monkey

We then got back into our trotro to head to our last destination in Volta, the Kente Village. Kente is a traditional woven fabric that was originally worn by kings for important occasions. As our guide told us, the people of the village were inspired by spiders building their webs. Thus in that village, it is taboo to kill spiders. We were taken to the “factory,” which was just a large room with a series of looms. Each loom belonged to a specific family. I found it interesting that both men and women weave kente as egalitarianism can be lacking here. After watching a demonstration, we were then given the opportunity to try weaving a bit. Weaving kente is difficult as it involves both your hands and your feet. It takes a lot of coordination which I lack. We then were showed some finished kente to buy. Apparently you were supposed to buy from the family of the person who showed how to weave. Abby and I missed that memo and we bought from someone else who had cheaper and prettier patterns. Our teacher proceeded to yell at us and convince us to buy some more from him. I firmly declined and once again thanked him for helping us. He was not happy.

Kente Cloth

Kente Cloth

Once we all bought some kente, we headed back to the trotro to begin our long trip home. We were starving, as we had eaten very little in the past two days. Thus we decided to stop in Accra to get some tasty vittles. We stopped at the Accra Mall, or the only mall in Ghana, to stretch our legs and get some pizza. The pizza was the best that I’ve had in Ghana (which in American standard isn’t saying much) and I inhaled four slices, some French fries, and an ice cream. It was the first time all weekend that I was actually full. We stopped at the grocery store and I pick up some cheese and chocolate—two staples sorely missed in my current diet. We then got into the tro for the last time and headed home. We arrived back in Cape Coast around 8:30PM and I promptly went to bed.

YAY CHEESE!!

YAY CHEESE!!

Despite a few negative experiences (lack of food, hellish hike, etc), I adored the Volta region. I would definitely add it to any must-see list for anyone traveling to Ghana!