Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas Ghana or: How I Learned to Stop Being Landlocked and Love the Beach

Happy Birthday Maggie, Merry Christmas, and a Happy 2008! (I asked someone the other day whether or not you use an apostrophe, like Happy New Year's, or if you don't, or if you just drop the s all together. She said she didn't know and offered up Happy 2008 to save me the trouble.) As I'm writing right now I'm trying to think of everything we did in Ghana, and nothing is really linear but just mashed up and mixed together like a delicious ten day tropical casserole. So I'm going to try my best to remember everything day-by-day.

Day 1:
We woke up at 5am and headed to the bus station. Here's the station.
I was tired, but I decided to give out my christmas present to Becca. Adlai would have to wait until we were at the beach, as I didn't even buy it until then. I got Becca a knife since she's been cooking a la swiss army.

After that we sat on a bus for a few hours. We thought we were going to have a bus all to ourselves, but at about 10am (we were told to be there at 6) another bus pulled up already packed full of people and we were stuffed in for an overnight trip. I sat next to a British couple. The husband/boyfriend told me they only had ten CDs to get them to Ghana. Trying to make conversation, I asked, "so are the CDs music or news or lecture series?" He looked at me and said that they didn't have any CDs. Then I realized he was talking about cedis, the currency in Ghana. I bet they thought me an awfully odd bloke.

Day 2:
We get to the coastal area in the late morning. Here is the first non French bread I've seen in 7 months.

Our first place to go was a small resort, which we had to cross a footbridge to get to. And then walk through the jungle.

We had the beach all to ourselves, which was nice after a day and a half of transport. I lost my sunglasses the first time I jumped into the water, but diving into the ocean was worth it. Here's the beach.

Here's me at the beach.

A few other volunteers (Mac, Becca, and Adlai) took really nice pictures of the actual ocean. For some reason I didn't. We were in a tiny lagoon-shaped thing the first night, and I felt like a pirate hiding out. Plus there are dozens of slave castles along the Ghanaian coast, so I'm sure that a few hundred years ago cannonballs were hurled back and forth throughout the gulf. The resort was so secluded, in fact, that it lacked electricity, and the manager brought us lanterns for our rooms. Here's where I stayed.

For dinner I had fresh fish and pasta. It was awesome. And the night, she fell.

Day 3:
Sadly, even in paradise you have to brush your teeth.

I got the daily maintenance out of the way early, and then we left for our next destination: Busua beach. While waiting for the bus, we saw a guy cutting coconuts and bought a few to drink. Cheers mate.
We got to Busua pretty early, and had the entire day to hang out. Well, Adlai and I got there early. Mac and Becca were gone all day changing money. The beach was great, but getting there was just as good. Adlai and I jumped off the tro-tro (which is Ghanian for a small, uncomfortable yet adventurous bus) in Cape Coast, home to a slave fort.
Here's a view of the village from the top of the steps.
I'm pretty sure that if you click on these pictures, they should enlarge and let you see all the boats with their flags. That picture is a good one for most of the coastal towns that I saw. And there was a lighthouse.
Then we threw our backpacks over our shoulders and walked the 5 k through the jungle to Busua. We passed palm tree farms and lots of tropical birds. We ate at this restaurant on the beach. I had my first burrito in 7 months, and the milk stouts in Ghana are delicious, as I discovered during dinner.
Day 4:
We hung out at the beach most of the day. We tried to kayak out to an island, but Becca lost her glasses (Neptune must have a palate for prescription eyewear), so we gave up and Adlai did it on his own. We played frisbee with some kids, and we tried to teach them how to throw them.

Then, we talked with some navy guys that were docked a few kilometers away. They were pretty awesome. One told us that he thought peace corps volunteers would be just a bunch of hippies. I don't know if we proved him right or wrong, but we had a good time. Here we are living it up.

By the way, I don't think you've met Mac. I know I've put up pictures of Becca and Adlai, but so far, no Mac. He is an Oregonian Chemist turned West African Science Teacher. He's on the left in both pictures (above and below).

Day 5:
This day was the best first half of the day and the worst second half of the day out of the entire vacation. We woke up in the morning, had eggs, toast, coffee, and pancakes (how I love pancakes. My dad used to make them for Maggie every morning and I always thought, why do we have to have pancakes EVERY morning. Now every time I'm in Ouaga I pay 3.50 for a trio of them). We then walked through the jungle to this town a few kilometers away. Here are some pictures en route.

Out of the trees appeared this town with a dilapidated slave fort atop a hill.

There was a church there too.

There are churches ( a lot of them Methodist) all over Ghana, and lots of them are painted in cool colors like this one. And, even better, most businesses are named after Christian sayings. Walking through town, you can buy electronics at God Saves Entertainment, get your hair cut at He Died For Your Sins Hair Salon, and even buy fresh fish at The Lord Giveth Fish Market. No, I'm not kidding. And yes, it is awesome. After walking through this town, we found a guy with a boat to take us up the river into the mangrove forest.

That's our guide, Steve. Behind us is our trusty boat. I don't know much about mangrove forests, but Becca said they are a unique part of nature and are really interesting. I still know nothing about mangroves, other than it is very worth it to canoe into one.

Into the deep lads.

When we got out there another guide asked if we'd like to drink some palm wine. Yes, we would. We thought we'd pull back to shore and he'd give us some, but instead we got off the boat and walked into the jungle and found some guys making it. Over to the left is where they make alcohol out of the palm wine. They heat it up and then cool it through coils.

Here is me with a local kid, who I think is named Emmanuel.

Palm wine is sweet and delicious. Later that day, back at Busua, we saw a bunch of guys pulling in one of the fishing boats and decided to help.

Enter the worst half day of the trip. And a warning in all caps:


Told by others that, although the lady is a little crazy, the pizza is to die for, we headed over there. Enter scary music and spur of the moment semi-narrative style.

Four Peace Corps Volunteers walked into a Ghanaian jungle in search of pizza. Located on an isolated peninsula, the hotel/pizzeria stood atop a hill overlooking the bay. Only they couldn't see a thing. Blindfolded by total darkness and humidity, they stumbled onwards until they found a set of steps rising like a Mayan temple specializing in sacrifice. Climbing the steps, they saw the lone dinner table. 4 table settings, and 5 chairs. The volunteers would not be eating alone that night, it seemed. As they were prompted to sit down by the German woman, the Black Mamba herself, they heard mutterings in the shadows at the other end of the veranda. You are not safe here, leave this place, he said. He then stood up and approached the table, revealing a set of dreadlocks almost as old as he himself. A 50 year old rasta man. The knife, call the police, he said. The Black Mamba came out and told the volunteers, in a polite and strangely matter of fact manner, that her life partner had taken many magic mushrooms and other drugs, and was a bit out of his mind. She had given him three cars, and he had wrecked them all. But he didn't have a father, she mentioned, as if that cleared up the situation. He continued to threaten the volunteers, shifting back and forth in and out of shadow. You all leave, you are not from here, you and your **** money, leave. But we are all foreigners here, the Mamba told him. I am sitting here eating this slop, I am not an animal, I am a human being. Yes, yes. With each Bukowskiesque outburst, Madame Crazy told the volunteers in a loud voice, please, please help me. He is out of his mind, please help me and let us not stir him. Yet each plea for help from Madame Crazy was met with another diatribe from her lifepartner. I AM NOT AN ANIMAL. LEAVE THIS PLACE. **** **** ****** *** *****. The volunteers ate as the Mamba looked on. The swordfish pizza had bones, yet the volunteer from Austin was too frightened to anger the Mamba, so he swallowed them, sending silent sorrys to his esophagus each time; they cut like pringles and stale captain crunch. Dinner finished, they moved on to ice cream, which tasted like fish. Then it was time for the bill. Gabriella, what Mamba calls herself on official documents, asked the volunteers for help in calculating the tab. She handed the calculator to the Oregonian, and then snatched it out of his hands like he was doing something wrong. Then another volunteer took the calculator, yet even his degree from Wake Forest could not breach her fears. She grabbed the calculator back and tried to do it herself. Eventually she gave up, threw the adding machine at the table and took some money. The Pflugervillian had been, for the last ten minutes, alternately probing the jungle for possible exits and looking for the dangerous rasta to pop up with a machete. The volunteers eventually escaped with their lives, but just barely.

End narrative style. The lady really is clinically insane, and I do not want to even imagine how horrible it would be if a family showed up there to get something to eat. Her rasta boyfriend cursed and threatened us the entire time, she practically broke into tears multiple times during dinner (which, in the European fashion, she sat with us while we ate), and it was ridiculously expensive. And dangerous. If anyone you know is going to Ghana, please warn them.

Day 6:

Time to get off the beaten track. We headed East and then up North to Wli falls. We stopped in Accra for a little bit. They had pepsi there. And barracuda. We slept in Hohoe, a town pretty central to the tourist spots out there. They also had a Barclay's bank, where I changed some American dollars. I ate my 8th plate of fried rice and fried chicken.

Day 7:

We headed to Wli, home of the tallest waterfall in West Africa. Here is a picture of the town from the taxi.

The hike was intense. There are two falls, and most people stop at the lower falls. We continued up to the top of the mountain and had the chance to be the only people swimming underneath a waterfall. It was unbelievable. Here I am hiking my way up.

And the falls. Click on the pictures to get the full effect.

Look how green everything is.

This next picture is pretty good. We climbed up onto some rocks (as you can see), and the water was falling right on us. It would have made for a great photo op except for the fact that the water felt like bullets and I was a) in pain, b) worried I was going to slip and break something, c) worried I was going to slip and break everything, d) angry at myself for going up there, or e) all of the above. Either way, cool picture.

In this next one, I've sat down and am trying to find the best route down. Or I've resigned myself to living up there. Anyone have an escalator?

We (I) finally made it down, and after eating fried rice and fried chicken slept in our tents at the foothills of the mountain.

Day 7:

Adlai woke up early and took this picture. Or maybe it was Mac. I have no idea as I was asleep in my tent.

The next morning we got up and climbed the tallest mountain in Ghana. It was a 45 minute peak, so it was more quaint than anything else, but it was still cool. Here we are up top. Zoom in and look at Mac's face. It is so awesome. By the way, that is what we drink water out of.

Day 8:
We went to a monkey sanctuary. The monkeys were awesome, but the problem with them is that they move around a lot, making picture-taking difficult.

Here is Adlai, feeding one a banana.

We had to wake up before 6 for the monkey viewing, and I was a tired ape myself. But I rallied for a picture with two of the little guys. These pictures are for you Katie, keep asking Mom and Dad for a monkey for Christmas. One day they just might do it.

The next couple of days were transport, transport, transport. We had to take small buses and hitchhike from one town to the next. The road home was a long one. I have no pictures from those couple of days, and I'm trying to pretend that they didn't exist. We got to the border New Year's Eve Evening, got a taxi, and arrived at our hotel in Ouaga at 11:30pm, just in time to sit on the balcony with cheese and champagne, and to watch an unexpected fireworks display. Here we are last night. Everyone was full of falafels and hummus, and we have the smiles to prove it.

I had a great time, and I have so many stories that if we're ever around eachother in person I'd love to tell you about it; it's just kind of hard on the blog. But at the very least you've seen some pictures. Here are some quick thoughts:

No smoking. They don't smoke there. Wonderful.

Don't travel from Hohoe to Ouaga through the upper north, go back to Accra and fly/drive back.

The food is great. Even the native dishes and the street food is amazing.

Ghanaians are very nice.

The beach is very nice.

Okay, that's about all for me. I hope you like the pictures and I'll update again in another three weeks to a month (next time I get up here). I'm headed to site tomorrow morning at 7am. All the best, Clay.


Rachel said...

Happy New Year!! (why would new year need to have an s on it anyway...your wishing someone a singularly good year!)sounds like fun and the pictures are great. I see you ran into my son....I saw him in the last picture! I'll talk to you soon! Love you!

katie said...

Wow, what a good blog!!! I can't believe that crazy lady and her boyfriend, that must have been SCARY like the time we got held hostage, but probably worse!And the waterfall pics were amazing... Did you get to play with the monkeys?!! I am so jealous. I'm glad you had fun, your pictures are awesome and I can't wait to hear the stories in person...I Love you!


Maggy said...

hah. well that's funny about the pancakes because a couple weeks ago i told dad i was sick of pancakes and couldn't/wouldn't eat another one as long as i live if i can help it, therefore we have made a smooth transition into waffles for breakfast every morning =D.

Larry E said...

Clay...Life is full of Day 5's...
That's why they make Palm Wine........The Pics look Great....Larry

Phil! said...

AHHHH Real Monsters! Cool Story Clay. Do you need me to send you some antipsychotics for protection? Dude, I'm working in the psych wards. With the crazies, I offer them cigs, it seems to calm them down. Dude it's been almost a month, update!

subash said...

Umm through that entire story why is my favorite part your awesome beard?