Monday, 3 September 2012

The Ghanaian Pin

GHANA (Wednesday, July 18 - Friday 03 August 2012)

Our pins: Cape3points, Winneba, Cape Coast, Tema, Accra

Heading to the borders
Elubo - Accra: Less than 500 km in our first English speaking country on our trip.. new people, new experiences and hard feelings all mixed in our new travel life.. something has changed in our daily routine.. at the end, Ghislain waved us goodbye for his superhuman attempt to cross the most tricky African borders..

Early in Wednesday morning, we left from our spacious hotel in Grand Bassam and headed to the Ghanaian borderline in Elubo. The route was quite boring without any off-road section while Ghislain stopped several times to "visit" the nature (he has tried every shit that can be eaten). In the Ivorian borders we stamped everything in success without any trouble. One more time, the local customs officer had not idea about the Carnet and how to fill it and we saw him to put the Zikos plate number in the field of "Exit point"!

All stamped!!

In the Ghanaian borders, it was the first time that they asked for our immunizations certificates. It was also our first time that somebody tried to make our life difficult for no reason. A guy that self presented as "The vet", denied the entrance in the country unless we removed the scalp that was in the front of Zikos (found in Senegalese countryside by Ghislain). After a long conversation, we disapeared with our car without anybody can do something. Despite the fact that we asked for a kind of ID or certificate from "The vet", he never came up with anything relevant and this really pissed us off. It is very funny that the policeman spent more time to look Nikos' tattoo than finding out what happened with the vet and his request to take away the scalp. All in all, we were in Ghana will all our documents stamped by the local authorities!


Escape Eco-lodge
While Georgia was very close to make another dream come true by visiting the Green Turtle Lodge (by reading other travelers stories) in Dixcove, close to Takoradi, we ended up in the heaven. It was there that we realized that neither people in Ghana do not speak real English but a sort of dialects with bits of English (as Ghislain used to say about locals in Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea etc). Why? Because we were asking for directions to the Green Turtle Lodge and they sent us -by mistake- to the Escape Eco-lodge because the only word they could understand was "lodge". Thanks to them, after an hour of light off-road, we found out the heaven in Cape3Points!

This place can only be the heaven. The last three years, a Canadian-Ghanaian guy, was running the lodge in an eco-friendly way. Before our departure, we had also visited a similar eco-community close to our hometown, in North Evoia (Free & Real) and it was quite the same (without any economical orientation). Hand made bungalows from bamboo, water right from the well, eco-toilets with earthworms and sawdust instead of water pipes and small solar panels made up an amazing must-see destination. What is more, the
geomorphology of the area was ideal for water sports like surfing especially before and after the rainy season. 

Zikos in heaven!
It was empty when we arrived and all the guys warmly welcomed us. We spent three thrilling days there, after our adventures in Guinea and Ivory Coast. We enjoyed plenty of lobsters, we swam in the Atlantic ocean, we relaxed and we emptied our minds from stress. Surely, it is the utmost destination for anti stress therapies and we are sure that the local people can help a lot.

In Friday morning, we set for Cape Coast before arriving to Accra for the visas stuff. However, we did not manage to find a safe place to camp and we continued to the next village before the capital. It was in Winneba, a small  fish village, where we found a really nice place to camp. In Manuel Guesthouse we spent our next two weeks surrounded by some very interesting people and having some unique experiences. In the meantime, time had come for some important decisions before continuing our trip.

From Senegal, we were thinking to put Zikos in a cargo ship heading to South Africa and so avoid Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola. Not only the crossing itself but also the visas seemed to be a headache for the majority of other travelers for these countries. Georgia had the last word and decided to the get the safe -but far more expensive- side. However, for three reasons, it is worthwhile to think twice if you are ever about to take such a decision: 

1. West African shipping companies do not have the best reputation with a lot of hidden costs and charges not to be referred to their initial offer. TRUE

2. What is more, African airlines do not have also the best reputation. FALSE
3. Finally, we would stop our trip and be out of our daily driving-travelling routine for one month.. IT DEPENDS

Ghislain & Georgia
On the other hand, Ghislain had rather different plans than us. He wanted to try the impossible. He intended to cross the most tricky borders in Africa and pass from Chad to Sudan and then Ethiopia. Nobody else in the last 10 years or so (we mean any recorder expedition by amateurs) has ever crossed Central Africa to travel east and then south. The vast majority of travelers preferred the way from north-west-south and then east or vice versa. No matter how many times we tried to change his mind, we was so passionate and focused on his initial plans that he could not see the time to depart. He got a visa from Accra for Burkina Faso and he headed north. He was planning to cross Burkina, Niger, Chad and then Sudan. Alternatively, we was planning to put his bike in a cargo plane and fly to Khartum or Addis Ababa. We met him at the right time in the right place and we spent an unforgettable month across 5 countries together. We already miss his funny French-English, his bravery and his blue-red bike that accompanied us. We wished him good luck and advised him "Never look back, never get back, only look ahead and go forward". 

Once again, you can follow Ghislain's blog:

Joe, Nikos, Georgia & Zikos
Manuel's guesthouse was all booked over the past two months by a group of students coming from Grand Valley State University of Michigan (US), who were taking part in local programs against human trafficking and child slavery. Joe, a professor of social psychology was their leader and on Sunday he invited us for breakfast. He explained to us what they were doing, what their role was, what kind of "tools" they used and why 10-15 young students were working as volunteers in a small fish village in Ghana instead of having their holidays somewhere more comfortable in the States.

Unfortunately, child slavery is a real fact in Ghana. Very briefly, in Lake Volta, north-east of Accra, net fishing is widespread and generates a huge income for local fishermen. However, the sea bed is very rocky and nets are getting destroyed. Guess what? To "buy" a 5 years old kid to untangle the nets, it's cheaper than to buy new nets. Most of these children die, are drown or get blind. No need to trace for the reasons of child trade. A family with 6-7 children sells one to raise some money for the rest. Pure mathematics.

James Kofi Anan
James Kofi Anan was one of those children who managed to escape when he was 13 years. He got back, his father wasn't very happy, he has been educated, he made a lot of money as a banker and in his 30 something, he quit everything and devoted all his life to the organization "Challenging Heights", which he founded so as to fight the child slavery and help all these kids. In this organization, Joe and his youth team spent two months and made a significant impact. Great team, great job and a great source for inspiration!

Lost in hugs
In one of the days, we visited the private school of Challenging Height and we offered a pack of stationery, we played with the kids and our visit accompanied by enthusiasm from the staff and the founder. What is more, we fulfilled one of our goals since we decided to put Africa first in our world tour. We saw at first hand how things work in a NGO, what kind of actions they take, we realized the problems and the issues and we helped them a bit by our means. No charity runs, no raising funds, no advertisement, no promotion. A bunch of smiles and some handshakes is enough to understand these people and take action by yourself. And the only thing you can do is to stay there and help (like Shara, an American girl that she was under an one-year volunteer scheme and received our pack on behalf of the CH school).

Canopy walk in Kakum NP
The upcoming weekend, we visited the Kakum National Park along with Ope, Erich and Caroline, students from the US as well (we were together in the same hostel but they were not in the Michigan team). It was in Cape Coast that we rented a taxi for the whole day and went across the local tropical savanna. We did not see any wild animals as we were out of season but we took the famous "Canopy Walk" up to a 300 m length bridge in a height of 40m from the ground. It was an astonishing walk right in the heart of a tropical rainforest and another one life time experience in our trip!

After Kakum NP, we visited a wildlife reserve or Monkey Forest which is managed by a Dutch couple. They fell in love when they first visited Ghana and they decided to build a hostel there. The building site was still there as they never finished their initial project. They realized that nature and wild animals are in priority and they eventually devoted themselves to this sanctuary where they protect, feed and at the end release back to the forest monkeys, african civets, crocodiles, antelopes etc. We saw a tremendous passion, zeal and love for what they do. You should not miss it if you ever be there!  

Sleeping beasts..
The day ended on a floating restaurant where they hosted some crocodiles. All except Nikos had the chance to get plenty of photos next to these beasts that were in nirvana. You have to see Ope struggling on their back before touching them gently. Awesome!
Elmina Castle
On Sunday, we returned again to Cape Coast so as to pay a visit to the most legendary slave castles in the "Gold Coast". First in Elmina, a small village 15 km away from Cape Coast, a Portuguese fortress was standing there to remember to the visitors how much the black people has suffered. Ghana, because of its strategic location in the Atlantic and their rich reserves in gold (=Gold Coast) was the most popular European destination on the coastline of the Gulf of Guinea. Portuguese, Dutch, English and Spanish navigators, merchants and imperialists built castles and transit centers for commercial reasons at first (storage etc) which then turned to central stations for the transatlantic slave trade that took place from the 16th century onwards. In this way, all the American continent filled up with black servants and slaves. The superior strength and physical capabilities of black people made them great "pieces" for exchange between the local Africans and European traders. A total of about 12 million people crossed the threshold of "No Return Door". What a shame for all those people.
My hands are not for hitting!

In one of the days we also visited the Rehabilitation Center-Rescue camp  for the children that were rescued in Lake Volta, which is also managed by JK Anan and is funded by the Hovde Foundation, an American Foundation that supports similar centers around the world (Peru, Kenya etc).

"My hands are not for hitting". The dominant sign within the entire Center as all kids are used to hit and be hit by their past masters and it is one of the bad habits they were "carrying" after the rescue. Without any education, heavily abused and mentally disabled, it was about 40 kids of all ages that made up the "new generation" of JK Anan. The smooth rehabilitation, education and the socialization of these children are the main concerns of Linda and the other people working in the Centre as social workers, cookers or as teachers. 

Ope & Nikos building
Come on guys.. We can make it!
On previous days, Erich had started to build a small storage place outside the Centre so as to place the generator, which operated within the yard. On the day of our visit, we helped him to finish the roof line of the small warehouse. Having only a wheelbarrow, a shovel, an old cement and using our hands in some cases, we tried to make something remarkable. With the help of a local farmer who applied the local practice and expertise, we managed to finish it. You cannot imagine our feelings since we left from the Centre!

Good bye Zikos

Very early on Friday morning, we departed from Winneba and headed to Tema, Ghana's port. After 3 hours in a terrible traffic jam (Ghana is supposed to be the worst ever within West Africa) we met the Ghanaian agent. We went together in their company's depot so as to load Zikos in a container. It was not the best for us to leave our "home" for a month or so. The customs officer did check nothing at all and he just noted the plate number, the chassis number and the container number! We wrapped the car, we sealed the box and waved goodbye to Zikos. Late in the evening, we took a flight with Air Namibia from Accra to Cape Town via Widhoek (the capital of Namibia). The best flight ever in brand new airplanes with great service without any delays. If you ever need to get a flight, try Air Namibia for sure!

Dr. John Evans Atta Mills

During our stay in Ghana (24/07), the country lost their President, Dr. John Evans Atta Mills. The Ghanaians (like Nigerians) are famous for their open ceremonies-parties that are organized in order to mourn and they are all dressed in black and red. We came across a lot of parties where people paid tribute to their great leader under huge tents with a lot of music and dance as well. 

Give me more colors!
We liked: The local cuisine (Georgia once again tried everything), the vanilla ice cream Fan Milk, the very cheap diesel and our handmade fashion collection with colorful fabrics that we bought in the Winneba market.

We did not like: After Mauritania and Morocco, it was in Ghana that all local merchants and taxi drivers charged with the "tourist tax" that means a 50% higher price at least compared to what locals used to pay.

We saw: Countless coffin-making businesses in every small village and town (second largest business in Ghana), countless churches and other Christian stuff and therefore countless relegionists (the largest business in Ghana), countless schools and schoolboys with colorful skirts.

We heard: All local people used to call us "Obrouni". Obrouni means "white and foreigner" in Ghanaian language. 

Average price for diesel 0,78 euro

Local currency: CEDI - Exchange rate: 1 euro ≈ 2,20 CEDI


Tro tro
Driving in Ghana: Perhaps the most crazy and dangerous drivers that have encountered so far in our trip. Incredible speeds and constant overtaking without stop. Tro tros and taxis were the worst ever drivers and they made the life of others difficult. In all cases, the vehicles are devoted to the God, Jesus and any other religious stuff that fills the Ghanaian people's lives. Finally, in one more country, without being able to understand the real reason, we paid tolls. There was also a special category for 4X4 vehicles (0.50 euros).

Car: No off road, no adventure, nothing at all. It was only 500 km across the coastline for Zikos. The tro tro was so cheap that we were moving on them all the time. That means extra "relax" for him and no money on diesel.

Click here for our photos

ATTENTION FOR OVERLANDERS: If you are looking for a shipping agent to ship your car from Tema, we strongly recommend you NOT TO make use of the company BJH Logistics. Email us for further information. 

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