One month to go…

2-28-10

I am exhausted. I returned from my ‘relaxing’ weekend about an hour ago and I am more than ready for bed. Dawn and I had the most stressful and stress-relieving weekend one could possibly have in Ghana, and it all started with the bus to Hohoe (pronounced Huh-hoy, not ho-ho…) that would never come. We arrived at the Madina station at about 4pm after taking a taxi and a trotro from Pokuase. There we met an actual line of people all waiting for a bus to Hohoe, comprised of about 30 altogether. This was the first line in Ghana that I have experienced. It was shocking that for a moment I didn’t even know what to do. After finding the end of it, we stood for about an hour while two vans came and left with people. Unfortunately, as does always seem to happen to me, we ended up being just short of getting on the second van, so we had our pick of seats for the third. It took forever to come! In the time we waited, I bought cell credits and some snacks, and Dawn bought a pen. We also managed to have several conversations about a variety of topics including our expectations for the weekend. My goals were relaxation and good food. I am exhausted from the constant badgering that Ghana doles out, so I was more than willing to pay a bit extra to stay in a nice place and be pampered for a day.

And so we took the third trotro to Hohoe. The ride was bumpy and I was squished in with people. The road until Akosombo was well paved and lovely, but the second half of our journey was terrible. My head touched the top of the van on several occasions and I kept fearing a concussion. We didn’t arrive in Hohoe until 10PM. Yes, this was stupid and scary, and yes Dawn and I almost peed ourselves.

The only three pieces of information about Hohoe that we had were that 1. It was a dump, and not to go there, 2. It was a nice town with friendly people, and 3. Not to stay at Matvin Hotel. Needless to say it didn’t take us long to figure out who to believe. We had decided to stay in one of the two nicest hotels in the tourist book, but after getting a taxi to take us to both (down winding residential dirt roads and through weeds mind you) we learned that they were both full. So we moved down the list. We got the driver to go to another hotel and as we drove I called all of the ones on the list (even Matvin). They all were full. It turns out there were two important funerals in town that weekend (in Ghana the last weekend of the month is usually reserved for important members of the community). We eventually found a room at the Taste Lodge (this later became the Tasty Lounge whenever referred to by Dawn or myself because the name was so bizarre). The name says it all. Dawn and I once again shared a bed, managed to break the toilet after flushing it once (and refused to put our hands in the tank to fix it) and found no promised minibar or safe as promised. We needed a drink after seeing the room (it cost 30GHC (appx. 22USD)!) so we headed for the main street.

I hadn’t eaten since the morning and I was starving. Tasty Lounge had stopped serving dinner but I was very hesitant to eat at a chop bar in town. I decided to fill up with Smirnoff Ice instead (much safer). We found a pool bar that had good music and a couple of white people, as well as a pool table in front of it and decided to stop in. There we had a drink and talked grudgingly to the DJ, Dave, who gave me his phone number and expressed his great sadness for not being able to take us to the falls the next morning. Eventually he told us about the two robberies that happened two days before and warned us about being out at night. We took this as a sign to go back to our lodge where we slept on one pillow made of sand and one higher than an encyclopedia set.

The next morning we woke up at 7AM with the hopes of arriving at the falls early and our first interaction was Me: Good morning. Dawn: Let’s get out of here as soon as possible. And so we did. After a mediocre breakfast we made our way back to town and got a taxi to Wli Falls for an astronomical amount of money.

When we arrived in what was supposed to be a ‘charming’ village outside of the falls, we paid six Cedis to see the falls from the lower level, and was then told that we were not allowed to go without a guide (who we should tip upon completion). The man, Samuel, took us down an easy path where he first pointed out a papaya tree. After a few more minutes he pointed at a cocoa tree, waited a few seconds, then turned to us and said, “I go make pee pee now”. We took this to mean leave him alone for a bit, so we walked away giggling at the absurdity. Those were his last words to us. We followed him in silence down the path for an hour, crossing nine bridges along the way, and suddenly came upon a clearing next to the waterfall. It was absolutely beautiful. The falls are about 60m in height and fall into a shallow pool of water that is safe for swimming. Next to the water on the cliffs were large bat colonies (freaky, they looked like hoards of mushrooms from where I was) and moss. Both of us spent a considerable amount of time taking pictures, and then we told Samuel that we wanted to go back (he had previously tried to convince us to stay at the falls and swim and then pay him to go and come). When we finally got back to the entrance we each gave him one Cedi and hoped he wouldn’t be angry. He wasn’t.

To get back to Hohoe we commandeered a share taxi. It was the driver, two front seat passengers, four of us squeezed into the back seat, and then one man we picked up along the way who got into the trunk. We only paid two Cedis each, though, which beat the ten we had paid to go. We returned to the Tasty Lounge, got our stuff, and set off for Akosombo.

It was easy to get a trotro to Akosombo. We lucked out and got an air-conditioned ‘American Fort’ van, but the trick was surviving an hour in the hot sun in a van whose windows couldn’t open. Yes, one hour later the van filled and we set off. The ride was bumpy to say the least. Both Dawn and I hadn’t drunk much for fear of needing to pee, so we were lightheaded and thirsty. On top of that the air conditioning didn’t reach the back where we sat. I hit my head on the top of the van several times and I feared a concussion. By the time we arrived in Atimpoku I couldn’t walk in a straight line, so we got two waters and sat in the shade trying to figure out our next move (the trotro dropped us there because, as we found out, it didn’t go into Akosombo proper). Eventually we walked up the road to one of the hotels in our tourist book and looked about a room. It was expensive and smelled like roach spray, so we kept walking. Unfortunately the next hotel was lovely but full, so we decided to go to Afrikiko Hotel via taxi with the hopes that they would have room.

They did, but it cost more than we had in cash and they only took Mastercard. We pretended like this wasn’t a problem, and after eating a nice lunch (I had pork chops with sautéed cabbage!) a monsoon blew in, breaking glasses and tearing a portion of a hut roof off. We waited for the rain to stop, and then made our way to the only bank in town to hit up the ATM. It only took Mastercard, and was also broken. After a moment of panic we asked a man where the next closest cash machine was. He said Kpong, so we got a trotro there and got off on the road to Kpong because the mate said we should go to Juapong instead. It was dark, we couldn’t see which cars were taxis and trotros and which ones were private, and we kept getting strange looks from everyone who passed. Eventually we got a taxi which overcharged us (surprise!) and took us to Juapong. As we approached the bank the lights of the town went off and we both looked at each other with the same dumbfounded expression. So we made our way back to Akosombo to pack our things.

When we got back to Afrikiko we explained our situation to the clerk, and he told us that he would take the Visa card if we had no other option. A woman behind us overheard this and told us that there was an ATM at Volta Hotel, and that it may take Visa. She called a taxi driver, George, who picked us up and took us there. Finally our crisis had been solved!

That evening Dawn and I celebrated with gin and tonics and had a great conversation with our new friend, Elviar. She was born in Cameroon but moved to France at the age of two. She became a doctor, and then met an Italian man and fell in love. This resulted in her leaving her practice, selling her apartment, and moving to a small town in Italy onto her boyfriend’s grandfather’s land. After three months there, she came to Ghana to think about her life decisions, and at the time we met her, she had been here for a week with no clarity.

On Sunday morning I woke up at 6:30AM with a runny nose and never went back to sleep. At 7:30, we went down to the restaurant for a buffet-style breakfast that was supposed to be from 7 to 10AM, but it wasn’t ready yet. We had until 9:30 to leave for the river cruise we wanted to go on, so I sat with a cup of coffee next to the Volta River and relaxed. As with every body of water here, there were fishermen pulling in their nets that morning, so I took pictures and talked to one of them. As opposed to Lake Bosomtwi, the fishermen of Volta use canoes for their travels and often fish in pairs. Based on the foods around Akosombo I surmise that they catch perch, tilapia, oysters, and prawns. It was very relaxing.

After breakfast (which included baked beans… just another one of Ghana’s quirks) we called George, the taxi driver from the night before, and he came and took us to the marina where the Dodi Princess was waiting for its newest passengers. The boat ride was splendid. I drank several Smirnoff Ices and watched the islands and coastlines change. The boat sailed for two and a half hours and docked on Dodi Island, where strategically placed children sang songs and begged for money. I was in no mood to deal with this, and it bothered me that they were so aggressive about it, so after a brief tour of the island, I went back onto the boat.

The hours to return home were also wonderful. A live band had been playing for the entire journey, and I filled up on a distinctly Ghanaian lunch (grilled chicken with spaghetti and tomato sauce and hot pepper and a side of rice). When we neared shore I called George who picked us up and took us back to the hotel. We packed our things and headed for the road, trying to get out of town before the storm hit.

Our trotro back to Madina was comfortably crammed to the point where the mate had to stand for the entire journey. When we reached a check point, he ducked down and a woman covered him with her skirt and purse so that we wouldn’t get pulled over. It was really funny, and the entire cabin laughed for a long time. All in all it was a great weekend. I have many memories that will last past this trip, and I am happy that we made it back safely.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #58: CARRY ENOUGH CASH WITH YOU.

Practical Ghanaian Travel Tip #59: Booking hotels in advance is often not necessary and not practical since it holds little weight in Ghana. However, if you are going to a touristy spot, it may be worthwhile to attempt a few reservations.

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