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Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ghana Part I (Sponsored by Vodafone): Kintampo Falls, Kumasi, malaria, Dixcove, Busua Beach & Brenu Beach

It seems that again we regret not doing blog entries more frequently. We arrived in Ghana over a month ago and so much has happened that now I'm tasked with summing it all up...not an easy job! You'll notice at the top that I've put 'Sponsored by Vodafone' as it seems like the entire country is sponsored by Vodafone: everywhere you look there are Vodafone signs and the houses, huts and shops are all painted in the famous brand colours.

I hope the telecoms giant is doing a lot for this country as the locals are doing a damn fine job of their advertising. Come to think of it, the Malians were doing the same for Orange so maybe I should change the Mali entries to say "Sponsored by Orange" too?

 Here you can just about make out the Vodafone painted hut in the background. These were EVERYWHERE!

Anyways, when we crossed the Ghana border we all got excited about the fact the passport office had weighing scales - the first we'd seen since we'd been out here. To Neal's delight, his prediction based on previous experience came true: the girls had put on weight on the boys had lost weight in the two months or so that we'd been on the road.

From the border we headed to a place called Wa to camp up (and watch a pretty spectacular electrical storm) before heading on to a  National Heritage site called 'Kintampo Falls". We happened to get there at the same time that the local university (-ies?) broke up for their holidays and the place was heaving! If you've ever seen MTV's 'The Grind (from the mid-90's, not sure if they still do it) or been to Spring Break in Cancun, I'd imagine that this was their take on that: All the young and beautiful turned up with beer in hand to dance and sing under the falls.

Kintampo Waterfalls was (were?) heaving!

Spot the white guys

There's one of them!

Most of us got stuck in, mingling with the locals and generally being bemused by the attention they bestowed upon us, rarely leaving us to relax as they hugged us and had photos taken with us and threw up their various intricate hand signs (a gesture no doubt influenced by the gangsters and rappers from the U.S.).

I have no idea who these guys are. They are just 2 of the dozens of locals that wanted a photo taken

In the words of Facebook: Adam Kennedy likes this

It was a pretty cool day and we relished in the opportunity to get wet in fresh, running water as it had been a while since many of us had had showers. The whole experience was made even better by the fact that we camped within the site compounds and had the whole waterfall to ourselves after the public were turfed out at 5.30pm.

Pick it. Lick it. Roll it. Flick it.

That beard (R.I.P.) now wanders alone in the wind on some Ghanain campsite

A few of us walked down the 150+ steps beer in hand to have a natural shower under the light of the moon with a little added help from the fireflies. A couple of the boys got a bit too excited about having free access to the girls changing rooms whilst we were down there: cue the comedy fashion show of left behind underwear.

The next day we made our way to a place called Kumasi which, according to the bible (LP) is Ghana's greatest city, capital of the ancient 'Ashanti Empire'and home of 'Kejetia Market' - possibly Africa's biggest market. Here we stayed at the 'Presbyterian Guest House' - an old colonial building with big lawns and verandahs that must have been made especially to watch electrical storms.

Within a couple of days there was a strange mood in the camp as people started to get very ill: Zakiya, Yoichi were the first to show signs of illness (nausea, low energy, frequent trips to the toilet) but Neal, Sonya and Dave (aka Mark) soon followed. When Zakiya's temperature reached 104 degrees, it was time to get her to a doc. She came back a few hours later having been given a drip, some Paracetamol and a strong dose of the stuff they use to purge the malaria parasite from the body - although she hadn't officially been diagnosed as having malaria (they couldn't take a blood test that day as it was a local holiday - the Ashanti King's birthday - and no nurses were available.)

That evening, two English sisters (Sophie and Claire Curtis - I think) who were also staying at the guest house came over to see what the truck and tents on the lawn were all about. They knew a lot about the place as Claire was a MicroBiology (or something similar) student doing field work for her thesis on the ecology in the nearby forests. Her sister Sophie had come to join her for a month (and I should add had made her way down overland from the UK in less than two weeks. As the girls told us of local customs, the lingo ('Etu sayn?' = How are you? and 'EeyeahPa...Pa! Pa! Pa!'= I'm good, very good) and places to visit, the heavens opened and the healthy ones amongst us decided that rather than get the jucos out we'd accompany the girls to an eatery of their choosing. This turned out to be a local hotel that did just about every European dish available (awesome pizzas) as well as all the local options ('fufu' - mashed kasava, kenkey (fermented maize meal) and jollof rice (mildly spicy rice with beans and veg in it). (It's worth noting that the girls also recommended Vic Baboo's restaurant which was also very good.)

As good as the food was, Yoichi's (who had come along despite feeling rough) condition continued to deteriorate so we put him in a taxi back to the guesthouse, and Neal wasn't much better either. The next day Lara, Leon and I escorted Yoichi to the doctor, acting as carers and translators (not to mention helping him avoid some of the waiting chairs which had been soiled by other waiting patients  as we sat next to them...some of these people were REALLY ill). Within a couple of hours of going back and forth between the doctor and nurses for blood tests and drips, the Yoichmeister was diagnosed with malaria. Whilst we had been waiting with Yoichi, Neal came into the waiting room too, declaring "I'm going down, maaaaaan!"...sure enough, an hour or so later he was diagnosed with malaria as well (something he seemed strangely excited about...another traveller's tale to tell I guess!).

Back at the guesthouse, Dave and Sonya  - who had been having similar symptoms and seemed to be at the early stages - were given the same medication the doc had given Zakiya, Yoicihi and Neal. (Fortunately, Mark the driver, had an ample supply of this stuff.) As the medication kicked in, we decided it was time to move on and our spirits were all lifted by the prospect of being on the beach the next an idyllic wee spot called 'Green Turtle Lodge'.

The truck ("Ruby') jus' chillin' at the Alaska resort

Seeing the sea for the first time in a while got everybody excited

The road to Green Turtle Lodge

We'd just missed the turtle season by about a month but that didn't stop us enjoying the place: free pool table, free table tennis (albeit on a rickety old home-made table), good showers, tasty food, cocktails that even Jesus himself was reported to have enjoyed and waves intended for bodysurfing (but often too intimidating for the weaker swimmers).

This sign was made even funnier when a very tall guy came in and obscured part of it. Can you guess which part?

The place was full of other travellers with their own stories to tell - the two English sisters had moved on from Kumasi before we did and they greeted us down here and before midnight we were drinking beers and playing pool with two more Brits (Toby and Michael) who were making their way overland from the UK to get to Cape Town in time for the World a Renault 5. Awesome. (Although last we heard, the boys were in The Congo and their chosen wheels had gone missing!)

Mike & Toby with their Renault 5 beast

The well-stocked bar. Why not make it a double?

Africoco's were amazing. Like a better tasting White Russian. If I can get some Takai Liqueur from somewhere I'll be making a lot of these back home.

Our time at Green Turtle saw the anniversary of Laraldo and my 4th year putting up with each other (5th May) so we treated ourselves to an upgrade from a tent on the beach to one of the rondavels with a fan, mozzy net, shower and it's own self-composting toilet!

Four poster bed. Giggitty!

The view from the room in the morning. Life is tough.

Early the next morning (6am) a few us headed out on a canoe tour of the local mangroves which we'd booked the night before (I feel compelled to tell you that Laraldo failed to get out of bed for this. She likes sleeping.) We didn't see much in terms of wildlife on the tour (some salamanders, vultures, kingfishers and cormorants, the movement of monkeys in the trees but not the monkeys themselves) but it was good to get out on the canoes (as unstable as they were) in the peace of the early morning.

When we got back from the tour, we packed up the truck and moved down the road to another beachfront resort called 'Alaska' on Busua Beach. The location was stunning, the waves were small enough for everybody to get involved, but big enough to get some good bodysurfing in, and there were lobsters in abundance!

Our first night there was me and Kyle's turn on cook group so we bought half a dozen lobsters (straight off the boat from some local fishermen) with the intention of cooking a lobster risotto(-ish) dish. We boiled up the lobsters in some seawater (as the locals had told us to do) and let the meat soak for an hour or too in a beautiful chilli, lime and garlic marinade. We then mixed it with the rice and veg and served it up...but, oh shit - I'd forgotten that we'd cooked the lobbys in seawater and, stupidly, boiled the rice in the same water so as to get the flavour of the lobster in it. As the group ate in silence I could tell something was wrong. A few said it was good, but VERY salty. At first we blamed it on the truck's supply of cheap soy sauce but then the penny dropped and I remembered what I had done. In the words of Homer Simpson, "D'oh!" I knew it was bad as I couldn't eat a mouthful of it and normally I'd eat anything (except maybe coleslaw and boiled potatoes...the former I'm coming around too and the latter is too boring to eat). I was feeling rough anyway and this was the icing on the cake. Straight in the bin.

Pinchy would have wanted it this way!

The next day I began to feel worse and worse and knew it was something more than just the salty risotto. My back ached, I had no energy, I felt dizzy and yes, toilet trips had begun to get more exciting. I found time to pop across the road to a hotel and use their wifi to gloat on my Facebook staus that 5 out of 15 passengers had had malaria but Lara and I had remained unscathed. Hours later I was in my tent whimpering like a little girl and taking the same meds the other 5 had taken. (it turns out that Karen (Neal's wife) was going through the same thing. The tally was now at 7 out of 16.

Two days of sweaty, feverish agitation in the tent was more than enough to convince me to get rid of my two month old ginger beard...much to Lara's delight! All the while, the vultures gathered on the beach - did they know something I didn't? 

"Whatta-we gonna do?" "I dunno. Whaddayou wanna do?" (A Disney's Jungle Book reference.)

Episodes to report on whilst I lay in the tent recovering include: the baby vervet monkey chilling on the bar and by our tents...

Spot the monkey  - his name's Ian! (The little guy sat on the bar didn't have a name.)

Eating chicken feathers after Team Disco (Dave & Ian) had killed and plucked one for dinner.

The PROPERLY COOKED lobster dish served up by Lara and Sonya, the big phallus ornaments up as you strolled through the grounds...

and Yoichi's mad (possibly Larium induced?) one-man venture to a desert island 1 mile offshore on a body board.

Yoichi's Island (kind of like Takeshi's Castle). You can just make his white shorts out about 1/3rd of the way in on the left

As I got better I found myself back in the ocean enjoying the waves with Lara and the others in time for moving on to our next destination...Brenu Beach...but I'll save that for the next entry.

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