Here ends my time in Ghana

•18 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I returned home complete with all my rock samples (roughly 100kg) on the train from Heathrow. I have had an absolutely amazing time in Ghana, and was quite sad to leave it all behind. There is a tremendous amount I have not yet seen in the country including the vast majority of the main tourist circuit in the coastal west. All in all it was a marvellous trip, especially considering I spent only £100 on the whole excursion.

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Exploring Accra

•17 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I returned to Accra on Sunday via the trotro again. This time it was much more as I had expected being rammed, in a bright orange van with 25 other people. There was a boy who’s dual purpose seemed to be collecting the money (about 50p for 100km) and holding on the door! I also had to get out at Tema and try to catch another one to Accra as the one I was on ‘branched’. This was an experience in itself and I was getting nowhere, trying to get into the practically full tros with all the pushing an shoving from the umpteen other people trying to do the same. I was very relieved when an empty one turned up after half an hour of jostling.

I got into the main trotro station at about 1 and seeing as it was close to the ‘sights’ of Accra I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to look around the city I had been in so much but seen very little of. Contrary to all I had been told about Accra, I experience very little hassle presumably because it was a Sunday. I walked into Jamestown which is one of the most deprived areas centred around a colonial lighthouse and James Fort, a colonial outpost which operates as a horrendous prison. walking back into Accra I passed the Nkrumah Mausoleum, which was garishly ostentatious and another fort called Fort Usher. I ended up ducking into the open door of this one to avoid a boy who was hassling me and to have a drink. The caretaker was asleep actually let me look around the fort which was really amazing. It had been used as a slave holding centre before being turned into a prison which closed in 1997. It was pretty chilling seeing the cells which held 14 and were no bigger than my room, as well as the dark political cells. I saw the cell in which JJ Rawlings, the previous dictator, was held following failed coups before his successful one, with hooks in the floor and ceiling between which he was tied upright night and day. There was also a cell, about a metre by metre and a half in which Kwame Nkrumah himself was held by the British for 2 years before becoming President in the 50s following independence. It looked as though no-one had even entered the cells since the fort was decommissioned. It was all the more chilling to know that 500m down the road there was an identical fort still being used in exactly the same way. It struck me as remarkable that many of Ghana’s presidents had been held in this fort in barbaric conditions and yet when they came into power they kept it running and did the exact same thing to their opponents.

Slightly further on was the ‘cultural centre’ which was essentially a large tourist market and allegedly the most pushy in Ghana. It was quite good fun, and after half an hour of wandering around and arguing they sort of realised I was a tightwad and the hassle diminished. Nonetheless I spent the small amount of money I had remaining on a few ‘small-small’ items even swapping my cheap old flip-flops for a few rather good things.

Last on my tour of Accra was the truly hideous independence monument situated on a vast parade ground. It is quite probably the worst building I have ever seen. It was getting dark so I spent minimal time there before getting a taxi back to the hotel.

Ada Foah

•15 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Having returned to Accra once again I was faced with another week of killing time in the hotel. Bolstered with confidence from my successful trip to Mole I again appealed to be allowed to go on an excursion, this time to the village of Ada, 100km east of Accra on the mouth of the Volta. It has two upmarket hotels and is a popular place for the expats of Accra to retreat to. Even more appealing is that I was allowed to travel there on the tro-tro which is a key experience of Ghana I had missed out on so far. Tro-tros are a network of any privately owned vehicle that takes passengers and seem to operate on a ‘leave when it is full’ basis, they are by far and away the most common mode of transport in Ghana and undoubtedly the most perilous. They are usually converted vans, that were never meant to carry passengers at all, let alone the 25 that are crammed in. The network as a whole is remarkably efficient though, mainly because there are so many trotros (over half of all traffic). Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your viewpoint I ended up in a luxury tro, entirely by accident in the insane business of the main station. It had about half the normal seats and even had air conditioning! From the drop-off I got a shared taxi to ada, which operate like the trotros but on a smaller scale. As my decision to get to Ada had been late in the day I arrived when it was dark but went straight to a reasonable guesthouse thanks to the guidebook.

The next day I set about finding a cheap almost resort by the name of Marantha beach resort. It turned out this was about a 40 minute walk through a fishing village called Azizyena, made entirely of palm frond huts in which I got hopelessly lost until I paid a boy to take me to the place. Nonetheless it was marvellous to be on my own, and a completely different feeling than being with a Ghanaian the whole time as I had been before. The resort itself was rather lovely, run by the villagers with the rooms being a palm hut and situated, like the village, on a 50m wide sand bar between the sea and the estuary of the Volta. There was no water and the toilets were basic verging on dangerous. Swimming in the estuary was to be kept to a minimum due to bilharzia and in the sea was best avoided due to current coming from Accra and the Ghanaian tendency to view a beach merely as a toilet. This also meant walking along the tidal area of the beach was not a good idea as dodging the fresh turds tended to take the enjoyment out of it.

Nonetheless I had an amazing time and ended up staying there for 2 nights, although I got hopelessly sunburnt on the first day. There were some moderately irritating American peace corps who were alright company and the surroundings could not have been nicer. The second day was mercifully a bit cloudy, and I ended up going into the village of Ada (via a boat this time) and then paying a chap to paddle around in his canoe. I was paying by the hour and so paddled as well as him, as hard as I could to save money, which resulted in being quite sore for many days afterwards. It cost £20 for 4 hours and was easily the single most expensive thing I have done in Ghana. It was entirely worth it though, and we paddled to an Akpateshie distillery on one of the estuary islands were I had the most fantastic coconut although was not entirely taken by the Akpateshie! I also paid to use the pools of one of the posh hotels (and more importantly the shower) before returning to Maranatha. All in all the excursion cost around £50 including the canoe trip but it was well worth it as I had not really had the freedom to explore alone before.

Mole National Park

•8 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Mole National Park was absolutely fantastic. After being so close for so long and entirely unable to get there, I had built it up in my head a tremendous amount and when I got there it lived up to my expectations spectacularly. I ended up being driven by Frank, one of the company drivers, after hiring the best car in Nsawkaw (which was still pretty crap). It cost 200GHc for the trip which is about £100 but the company footed the bill for absolutely everything except the beers i had by the pool in the evening! The drive took about 4.5 hours to the Mole Motel, an absurdly name seeing as it is about 50 miles from any main or tarred road, down a seriously crap dirt road. The motel is built on an escarpment overlooking a large watering hole and grassy plain which means you can sit on the viewing area, cold beer in hand, and see elephants, kob, bucks, warthogs and all sorts. Being the wet season it was considerably harder to see wildlife as there is grass everywhere and the animals do not need to return to the watering holes to drink and bathe, but nonetheless there was plenty to see just from the motel.

I was there for one night and so I went on a guided walk into the bush twice, in both the afternoon and the next morning. You were not allowed to walk into the bush without an armed guide but it was only 50p an hour so did not exactly break the bank. On the first trip we saw two elephants as well as assorted antelope type things and warthogs. It says on big signs that you are not to go closer than 50m from an elephant which the guide obviously hadn’t read as he happily took us to within 25m. With one he took us to sit on the edge of a village hut which was in the path of the elephant and we sat there while it passed within 10m in front of us. They are absolutely awe-inspiring creatures.

The motel was rather nice, although power only ran from 7 til 10 in the evening. There was a pool from which you could see the view and the food was really good. When I first arrived I walked through the pool area and was quite shocked to see so many white people. Over the past month or so I’ve only seen two others and to suddenly be surrounded by 20 was quite strange. In the evening I got chatting to some English students who’d all come out here volunteering for NGOs and were travelling for the last part of their stay. I was definitely occupying the moral low-ground being here with a gold exploration company! The next day I met a chap who’d come here from Nottingham on public tranport (except Mauritania which he’d flown over because of the coup). He only had 10GHc which would not have even got him away from the park or allowed him to stay so I changed him some more, which I have had no call to use as the company keeps paying for everything!

In the pits

•6 September, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Unfortunately my hopes of exploring Accra were dashed by dysentery and now I find myself back in Nsawkaw, despite having supposedly left here for the last time a week ago. The only interesting activity I have undertaken here was a trip to a mine at Ahafo which is 3 hours south of here to collect sample. It consisted of 20 minutes looking at the mine and getting samples and then an hour and a half trying to get the samples out through the security gate with numerous forms etc. I suppose all part and parcel of an operating gold mine. Tomorrow I have secured a trip to Mole national park (Mo-lay) which has been like the holy grail of tourist attractions in Ghana while I’ve been here, tantalisingly close to Nsawkaw but entirely unfeasible to reach. Seeing as I have really run out of things to do, I managed to plead my case and am hiring a pick-up and driver to take me there for two days. Apparently the chance of seeing elephants is high (fingers crossed).

Back to Accra once again

•29 August, 2008 • Leave a Comment

It has reached the end of the month again and so just as I arrived in Nsawkaw from Burkina, the next day was time to head out again, this time to Accra, as everyone was going on break. That means I have been in a car for 24 hours out of the last 48. Unfortunately Al, the other Oxford student, is no longer in Accra and neither is Anton, the south african who showed me around last time. Hopefully I will be able to get a taxi from the guesthouse and explore some of the area around Accra on my own, I only have 2 weeks left and I’m starting to feel I need to see as much as possible before it runs out! Taxis are about 25p an hour so it shouldn’t break the bank.

Burkina Faso

•28 August, 2008 • Leave a Comment

 

morning

morning

It is certainly interesting to spend 4 days in Burkina, although 2 of them are entirely occupied by the 12 hour journey there and back. The Burkinabés (people of Burkina) at the Gaoua field camp are incredibly welcoming even though there was a considerable language barrier, they certainly don’t understand any of my attempted French. The Gaoua situation is almost an exact mirror of Nsawkaw, being the centre of company operations in Burkina. The fieldcamp itself is considerably more civilised with tiled floors and curtains and such. On the downside the bathroom had no fewer than 40 mosquitos in it and one 2″ long beast, so I tried to minimise my time in there. I was also rudely awoken one night by a lizard noisily committing suicide in my air conditioning unit. The colonial influences are quite noticeable, in Ghana I get given white sliced bread and marmite for breakfast whereas in Burkina it is crepes, baguettes and fromage blanc.

Naba, Odil & Naré

Naba, Odil & Naré

The man in charge at Gaoua is the improbably named Athanase Naré and he showed me both core and the field on the two days I had. He is phenomenally cheerful and has an absurdly sized gold ring along with curiously long fingernails. Staying in the fieldcamp is a visiting professor from the university of Burkina called Professor Naba, who is very useful to have around due to his knowledge of the dating stuff I am to be doing.  There are also a couple of South Africans, who are here to fly some airborne geophysics, and all the geologists who don’t really speak English.

Southern Burkina is much more sparsely vegetated than Ghana, although as it is the wet season everywhere was covered with lush grass and considerable flooding. Curiously they grow a great deal of rice here, despite bordering the Sahara, which I thought was quite strange! The Burkinabés (and northern Ghanaians) build a different style of house, which are made of mud bricks with flat stick roofs covered in mud (or corrugated iron) and then little ramparts to protect the roof from the wind. Their houses are built as large compounds which presumably house more than one family, but these compounds are much more dispersed, not really congregating in villages but being spread all over the place. Each compound also has a larder which is built on sticks off the ground and has a pointy round grass roof, making them look like witches’ cottages and meaning each compound looks a little bit like a castle with a small turret.

Women panning for gold

Women panning for gold

The day spent in the field was interesting as we encountered quite a few Burkinabés. There were several groups of women panning for gold, as apparently it is sacrilegious for men to search for gold here. They were considerably more hostile and the day before I arrived, the geologists carrying out soil samples had been attacked by the locals brandishing machetes. We had to go and pay some ‘dash’ to a local bureaucrat to try and prevent a similar situation occurring again. The situation had arisen because the geologists had refused to pay some locals for the umpteenth time for digging a small hole on ‘sacred’ ground without first paying the sacred fee that presumably makes it less sacred. It sounds like they have many problems here with the locals trying it on to get money which is a stark contrast from Ghana where everyone we met was always happy to meet the geologists.