24th March: Today we drove to Larabanga where we intended to stay one night, and from there drive on to Tamale to pick up
Johans friends, Ron and Jeannette, before heading on to Mole national park. Larabanga is a small village which has one guesthouse that is recommended for people who are travelling the Mole dirt roads without the intention of actually going to the park. It's called the Salia Guesthouse and is run by the two Salia brothers. The place is fine, a bit run down, and the Annex is honestly a lot better, but it's a safe place to sleep. The main problem however, has nothing to do with the guesthouse itself, but rather the fact that the rest of the villagers try to "create a competitive environment" by essentially stealing any patrons away from the brothers and hosting them in their own houses, or by telling them that the brothers are overseas and the guesthouse closed. We were fortunate enough to encounter the brothers first and they booked us in. Once settled in we headed to the local "spot" (bar), which I found a bit strange because the villagers claim that the populace is 100% Muslim. Anyway, we sat and drank and chatted to the locals for a good portion of the afternoon. When their interest became a bit too overwhelming we made our way back to the guesthouse where the men of the village had collected for their afternoon tea. They invited us over and we partook of their special green tea that also contained an ingredient they called gunpowder. The tea had an amazing calming affect on me and I began to wonder wether there weren't other types of "greens" mixed in as well. While we were sitting there the older brother told us that we needed to choose our supper. What we didn't realise was that the choice wasn't between meals but rather between different sized "grass cutters". We were all taken aback when a kid came walking up with two giant cane rats. Funnily, after everything I've eaten thus far on the trip I wasn't phased in the slightest at the thought of eating a giant rat, I was actually eagerly anticipating it since it's meant to be a delicacy in some places. I'm not sure wether the others felt the same way, but there must have been quite a display of conflicting expressions on our faces. When the brother saw our reactions he quickly implied that he was just joking and that supper would be a casava. Little did we know, but this introduced a whole new set of issues. The whole way through the meal Sarah kept on saying, "but isn't casava that really poisonous root vegetable that kills so many people every year?" I thought about it for a second, and then I kept shovelling the casava chips down, I even stole another womans plate and ate hers. Not even the threat of imminent death could put me off my food.
25th March: Last night was quite surreal. I woke in the middle of the night and stood up to check on the cars (I was sleeping on a roof again) and when I looked down to the road what I saw caught me by surprise. Now, Larabanga is a small village, it has two inroads and one road heading out to Mole national park. All these roads meet in the centre of the village just outside the Salia brothers house and create a type of town square if you will. Well, when I looked down, every single geep, sheep, goat, dog,and chicken was sitting in the square. I freaked out for a bit and envisaged an animal uprising, but once my paranoia diminished somewhat I really began to appreciate the sight. It's something I'm quite unlikely to see anywhere else.
Something I'd be quite happy not to deal with anywhere else is the constant barrage by the mosque Imam. Last night the three mosques went on constantly. One would start, then the other guy would be like "bugger, his soul is gonna be more fortified than mine!" so he jumps out of bed, scuttles across the road, enters the mosque, tap tap taps up the stairs, and begins his bleeting!Maybe if they knew how their bleeting stimulated the sadistic urges in me they would reconsider the purpose of their sub - conscious manipulations! At 4am The Mole bus also came charging through, hooting and waking up the entire village, I snore snorted awake, picked up my head to see what the ruckass was about, and was snoring again seconds later.
We found out this morning that the casava contains natural cyanide and if not prepared properly or the cyanide is re-constituted often then it can induce paralysis and blindness before death. Now I'm really freaking, that gluttonous second plate could really be my undoing. Bugger! Imagine that, death by root vegetable, what a lame way to go.
Today we drove to Tamale. The 86km stretch of dirt road from Larabanga was possibly one of the worst yet, second only to the Senegal pothole ordeal. It was just 86kms of tooth chipping corrugation. If we had known how bad it was we would have decided against the Tamale drive, now we have to do the same track twice over again. We arrived in Tamale and made our way to TICCS for accomodation. It's a really decent place with equally decent rates. We had heard that the SWAD restaurant around the corner was a definite must so we walked across and had a few beers and some food, and honestly, the place is brilliant. The menu is huge and creates much indecision but its very difficult to make a wrong choice, it's all good. After the meal Pat and Sarah returned to TICCS for an afternoon siesta and Johan and I stayed on for one more drink. That one drink turned into another, and another, and then a couple more. Before we knew it, it was 9pm we were plastered, and had managed to meet an exchange student, Tammie, who was full of praise for the local gin and invited us out to get some. We eagerly agreed and headed off. The mission for gin took us to a local night spot just down the road where we purchased a 750ml bottle for 2Cedis (around 2Euros). The gin was great, maybe a little too much so, because it seemed to just vanish before us. In no time at all it was finished and I was beginning to feel the onset of gin induced retardation, so we paid the 2 Cedis and headed to bed.
26th March: Today we chilled, did laundry, I nursed my hangover. Somehow the SWAD desire overcame us all and we went
back for some chow, the place is really great.
27th March: Today we left at 5am and tackled the bastard piste from hell to Mole again. I was so exhausted that despite being
thrown around in Johans car I still managed to fall asleep. Once in Mole we immediately headed for the pool. We spent most
of the day between relaxing at the pool and walking to the lookout point where we could watch the elephants wallowing in their own pool of water. At 3pm we headed off for a safari drive. The drive was good, we saw a lot of elephant, and a span of Kobb (buck). But after about the 50th Kobb sighting my eyes began to get heavy and I fell asleep. They say there are predators in the reserve but I'm a bit hard pressed to believe that with so many Kobb around. The drive was also only two hours long and we were unable to really get very far in the park so I think we may have missed out on a lot of wildlife.
28th March: We went for a Safari walk this morning. It was quite brutal trying to get up at 6am and be ready for the walk. The
walk was fun but if I wasn't doubting the presence of an array of wildlife before, I really am now. There is nothing but elephant and Kobb in this park. The day became really steamy so we returned to the campsite. While there a troop of baboons arrived and began harassing the campers. One jumped on the Nissan, began eyeing out the tent before having a go at Pat, another one went for a young couple and another stole a packet of spaghetti from a group that was just setting up for lunch. We then decided that the pool was probably the best place for us to be. Well, while we were there the baboons arrived and began harassing again. One girl, Breanna Watkins (Part of a family of five canadian travellers), was one of the unwitting targets of baboon persecution. I must admit I was quite impressed with how she conducted herself. She didn't scream or run like other girls may have, but rather, when the baboon advanced, she launched a chair at it. It fell from the wall it was perched on, but wasn't finished and had a second go for her. This time she launched a water bottle which nailed it in the face. It fell a second time, but obviously agitated at being outdone by a girl it wanted revenge and tried for a third attack. This time she emptied her table of ammo at it by launching her diary and collection of books. It fell again, and may have considered trying a last time, but fortunately, Breannas' father had foreseen the skirmish and had hastily made his way around the pool to her. Brandishing a long pole he chased the beast off. Thereafter we were full of wisecracks about the dangers of a woman and how we actually felt sorry for the baboon.
29th March: We attempted to sleep in today but I think all our internal clocks have been set to 6am, so it proved to be a fruitless endeavor and we were off early anyway. Today we decided to leave Mole and drive the approximately 200kms to the monkey sanctuary. We arrived at 1pm and planned to do the monkey walk at around 3pm. It was a brilliant experience. The forest is relatively small, yet the place and its inhabitants are protected by the local community. We enjoyed a great hour just walking through the forest, feeding the monkeys bread and witnessing their goings on first hand. I also got some brilliant footage of one of the males getting pissed off and chasing the group, as well as a little piccanin with a panga threatening me. She must have been about five years old, but I still wasn't going to screw with a panga brandishing midget (they are small and agile and really frightening), so I turned off the camera on command.
30th March: We drove until Kumasi today. When we arrived we pulled into the Presbyterian church mission which has the
cheapest accomodation available in the area. Once the campsite was set up we walked to the Kumasi market which is held
every day of the week and is supposed to be huge. Huge it was, and unpleasant. we walked through the whole place and
found no suitable fruit or veg. On the way back out we found the spot though. Ironically it was right near our beginning point for the excursion. We purchased chillis, ocra, peppers, tomatoes, a pineaplle and watermelon for peanuts. Once back at the mission we set about cooking supper. Johan made his first hobo stove attempt at boiling water. It failed dismally, it took too long and the whole effort was cut short because we needed to cook before the approaching stormclouds dumped their load on us. Dumped it they did, all over us, but fortunately after we had eaten. I slept like a rock to the soothing sound of rain hitting the canvas.
31st March: Today we drove from Kumasi to the Green Turtle Lodge on the west Ghanain coast. A 200 km drive, which should have taken no longer than 3 hours, became a 6 hour drive when a massive storm kicked in. The road was just barely visible, gale force winds were dislodging signs and sending them hurtling across the road, numerous car wrecks were beginning to litter the road, but we continued to plod along at around 30km/h. Eventually, twenty minutes before our desired destination, the storm abated, the clouds dispersed and the sun came shining through. The whole display was all very tropical, beachy and beautiful.
1st April: Patricks Birthday!!! I woke up a bit worse for wear, and he was trying to fix the inverter and hence his mood wasn't
exactly sparkly either. So I sat around for quite some time before the opportunity arose to wish him happy birthday and give him the geep bag I'd brought in Dogon country (it's quite cool, comes with nipples and all). The day passed in a blur of sun, surf, sand and Sudoku - damn the Japanese and their intellectual "games" that make you feel like your culture is just like sooo stupid.
Late afternoon the wind picked up and we decided it was time for a kiting lesson. What I haven't mentioned is the fact that the only reason the wind had picked up was because there was a storm looming, and I was the emblematic key on Sir Isaac Newtons kite. Everything went fine for a while, I was just a bit paranoid about being struck by lightning, so when I did start getting shocked I freaked out just a little bit. It just kept kicking me and sending jolts through my body, I shouted to the others that I was being shocked, but all I got in return was blank stares. After about the fifth electric surge I "strangely" lost concentration and the kite fell. Pat also tempted zeus' wrath and also got shocked. "Apparently" there was quite a bit of static in the air... No shit!
April 2nd: More sun, surf and sand...oh, and laundry.
April 3rd: Another well hung morning. Worse for wear is actually starting to sound better than I feel. Arbed today, chilled until
about 3pm when we attempted to do some kiting again. Didn't get shocked this time, it was great. Johan went first, he was doing well, until he became a bit over-eager and attempted some jumps. He picked up a big wind and it launched him, well,
not exactly launched, but rather hauled him up and dragged him five metres away from the water before face planting him in the sand. It was massive, the fact that it was a complete accident didn't detract from the coolness of the maneuver. When he stood up every part of him was covered in sand. He was finished with the lesson after that and went to shower because, as he said " there is sand in places I really don't want sand." I took over and all seemed to be going well, until I decided to do some body dragging in the water. I made it most of the way down the stretch of beach, but rather than focusing on the oncoming waves my concentration was focused solely on the kite. There I was, gliding along happily, thinking to myself "man this must look cool to anyone watching", little did I know, what must have looked really cool was the monster wave that was about to chew me up. I got nailed, in the seconds that it took for me to be churned up I swallowed my words, as well as a few litres of water, as the wave beat the pretentious crap out of me. When it spat me out I just lay there for a while and let humiliation and humility wash over me.
April 4th: We left Green Turtle Lodge today and began the stretch to Accra. On the way there we stopped off at the Metal
Cross Fort, which was closed, and thereafter headed for the Cape Coast Castle, it was open. We took the tour
and got to marvel at the beautiful and well maintained construction. The tour also gave an enlightening account of the slave
trade of the time. After that we got harassed at the cars by hawkers for a time. When we did eventually manage to remove their fangs from our ankles we were off and looking for accomodation. The plan was to head to a waypointed campsite just outside Cape Coast called Akabanze. When we arrived we didn't think they would allow camping because the place appeared quite jacked and the bungalows led us to believe that rabble type overlanders weren't exactly the target market. Fortunately we were, and could camp, so we set about pitching our tents. Actually, I lie, we headed straight for the bar. The owner came over and we all began chatting. At one point she told us that instead of cooking our own meal, that we could give her all our ingredients and the kitchen would do the cooking. We agreed and settle on having a fish and groundnut soup. The food took some time to be made, but while we waited we were treated to snacks and continued chatting. When the food came it was fantastic, nice and spicy and really very filling, which I hadn't expected from a soup. After supper the owner (Suzanne) told me that they were going out to town in Cape Coast and invited me to join. Now, with hindsight being in my favour, I may as well have dressed in red and white horizontal pin-striped clothing with a big pointy hat and told people my name was Wally. The only difference being that Wally is difficult to spot, whereas I on the other hand, stuck out like a sumo at a cannibal convention. The first place, Oasis, was where all the Europeans headed and was painfully quiet and dull, so we immediately moved on to the "Hacienda Plaza". The two places were a lesson in contrast. This place was pumping, there wasn't any space to move, there wasn't any possibility of being heard, and one other thing there wasn't anything of was people of a lighter skin tone (how very pc of me). We spent an hour there attempting to communicate through hand signals and gesticulations before moving on to the next spot which was simply named "the petrol station", which I found a bit weird. When we arrived I was totally enlightened, it was no joke, the place was actually situated in a Shell garage parking lot! So after an hour of personal fretting about the blatant violations of the garages no smoking policies I managed to convince everybody to return to the Hacienda. We spent a further hour there before going to the Oasis for a cool down. We met some local Rastafarians, watched them play with fire, and then headed back to the campsite. I was poked by the time we got back, so poked in fact that I was fast asleep the moment the zipper was closed.
April 5th: Because Akabanze proved to be such a decent spot we chose to remain here for one more day. So today was just
spent relaxing.
April 6th: Today we left Akabanze and drove to the capital city, Accra. This was going to be one of our biggest stops in Ghana as it is here that we intend to acquire some of our onward travelling visas, as well as getting the car serviced. For accomodation however, we will be staying 30kms out of Accra, in Kokro Bitey, at a place aptly named "Big Millys Backyard". It would appear that the world is indeed a small place, or there are just a lot of people who are affected by the lonely planet syndrome, I say this because on arrival we encountered a number of fellow travellers that we had met previously on the trip. Firstly, the Watkins family was there, one guy we had met at Macs refuge, a girl from the monkey sanctuary, and finally, later in the afternoon while we were sitting at the bar, Tammie from Tamale arrived in a taxi. Apparently, Big Millys is quite the touristic melding pot and we were the proverbial poetjie.
April 7th: We went into Accra today to organise our Nigerian visas. The process was relatively straightforward, with the only
anticipated glitch being that of a requirement for a Nigerian letter of invitation. Once we were at the consulate the "perceived" glitch was easily overcome when we were informed that, since we were passing through, and also since our means of accomodation was the car, that all that was required was a copy of our drivers licences, the cars insurance and registration documents, as well as the carne (A copy of each document needs to be made for anybody travelling in the vehicle). In two days time we learn if our application was successful. Once everything was done at the consulate we drove to the local SHOPRITE MALL! Can you believe it! My word what a pleasure. Being there was such a breath of sterilised and conditioned air. It was honestly like being back at home. Packaged meats, Ma Baker pies, Mrs Balls chutney, Savannahs, TV Bars, anything and everything South African, they have it. We went just a little bit crazy on the purchases. Thereafter we went to GAME!! Mwahahaha (evil laugh) - It would appear that our intricate plans for a gradual worldwide South African takeover are coming to fruition! Word is that we practically hold London in our almighty grip as well! I found some iPod headphones in Game. My descent into total introvertedness is complete, any attempts at stimulating conversation are going to be completely one sided, well, as long as nobody realizes that I am a master of the smile and nod technique. We left the shop at 4:30pm and the traffic was abominable. It took us the better part of 3 hours to drive the 30kms to Big Millys. 10km/h! I could've run there faster! And I would've I tell you, if the iPod and I hadn't had such pressing matters to attend to - the ultimate African overland soundtrack.
Ghana Continued...