Tuesday 5 April 2011

Ghana fun

Rambling notes from my first few days in Ghana:

Took a trip along the coast to Elimna for a couple of days before the MEST activities get started.

Took the STC Bus (State Transport Company). The bus was meant to leave at 10am and take about 2.5h to get to Elmina. I ended up waiting 3h for the bus and it took 4h to get there. That is kinda similar to taking a train at the weekend in the UK, so it was not too bad for me, but the Dutch girl I was sitting next to at the station struggled.

Had my first experience of a Ghana public toilet there. I have over 20ps, he hands over a wad of toilet paper. The facilities themselves were grim.

Got to the guest house – the Almond Tree Guest House – and it was as nice as the Tripadvisor reviews said it was. Even nicer maybe. I was staying in the Bob Marley room with air-conditioning. The power went off in the middle of the night but I had already cooled the room down so it wasn’t too bad. I only had hot water once – not sure why – but the cold showers weren’t exactly cold so it wasn’t too bad.

On the Sunday I took a trip along to see Elimina Castle, which was built by the Portuguese as a place to trade slaves. Took a dodgy old cab along the road to get there, as soon as a I got out the cab I was surrounded by about 5 or 6 teenagers. “Hey what is your name?” “Where are you from?”

I made a less than voluntary donation to their “school.” I hope they enjoy the $20. I also made a less than voluntary purchase of a couple of bracelets which would have my and W’s name on them, ready by the time I left. They also wanted me to write my surname down, but I wasn’t sure why (I would realise in about 1h).

Did a tour of the castle. It was taken over by the Dutch and subsequently sold to the English in exchange for some land (in Sumatra maybe?). Needless to say the conditions the slaves were kept in were horrible. It’s hard to accept that slavery by Europeans was once normal. L

In the castle I got speaking to an English tourist who agreed that the “young salesmen” were quite intimidating and said he had also been totally gamed when he first got there. As I left the castle a couple of my enterprising young friends noticed me, and my heart sank a little as I noticed them beckoning to all their friends to join them. Great.

They had finished my bracelets. Lovely. They had also prepared a “present” for me – a large shell with “To our Scottish friend Steven Renwick from...” and all their names and their email addresses written on it in black marker pen. I tried to decline it, then I said I would take it if it was really free. “Yes it is free!” “Really free?” “Yes!” OK, so I took it and hid everything in my bag so I wasn’t too obviously a tourist mug. Then my friends decided they wanted my free gift back. I guess the marker pen must wipe off easily.

My rubbish taxi was waiting for me and nearly ran a couple of families over as it sped to meet me and then it took me back to the guest house.

Once back at the guesthouse I asked them to send a decent cab – i.e one with seatbelts would be nice, and a/c would be nice too. They sent Abraham. He had seatbelts, but the a/c was a bit dodgy. I paid him a vast sum to be my driver for the afternoon and he took me to Kakum National Park.

At the national park I went on a jungle canopy walk, suspended 30-40m above ground-level. Everybody else on the tour was Slovak but thanks to my incredible language skills I was able to effortlessly blend in as one of them, despite only saying “How are you” and “I left my pineapple of the bus, please ask the vicar to send a replacement”. They had also stayed at Elmina and had also run in to the young entrepreneurs outside the castle.

I saw lots of Ghana countryside on the drive to and from the national park. It really is like you see it on TV – a mixture of corrugated iron houses, mud huts, and concrete constructions – with a couple of notable differences. 1) The plastic rubbish everywhere – I didn’t realise what a blight plastic is till I had seen it strewn everywhere in the Ghana countryside. It is *everywhere*. 2) Ghana seems to be sponsored by Vodaphone – you can go through a village and 50% of the buildings will be red with the Vodaphone logo painted on. Very odd. Apparently Vodaphone offers to paint houses for free and the deal is you have to accept Vodaphone branding.

Today I got a taxi back to the STC station in Cape Coast. Abraham’s car was playing up so he sent a friend. Just before the taxi showed up a rainstorm started. Lucky I had my waterproof jacket with me as I was getting soaked inside the car. This was the worst taxi yet. I could not see out the windscreen so I’m not sure how he could. Anyway we made it.

“The white man wants to go to Accra” they shouted when I came in. It was 1045 and I was wanting the 11h bus. I was told there is no 11am bus – only 3pm. Bummer. Turns out that was not true – the 11am had been pushed back to 12 and it eventually left at 12.30pm with me on board, which is where I am now writing this post.

Further: got chatting to a young guy on the bus who was totally in to Manchester United. He gave me a minute-by-minute rendition of their last game. We had even travelled to Russia for the Champion's League final. Amazing dedication. Unfortunately though if football is the universal language then I am only semi-literate but I did my best.

Got a taxi from STC to the hotel. As my taxi pulls up who is getting out of his own taxi, but Mike! Many beers were drunk that evening...

Today we did our first MEST day with a tour of Accra, but I'll make that a separate post...


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