Day 55 - Sunday 16/12/07 - Bongo to Bolgatanga
We've been raising money for a charity called the Atiamah Trust, set up by a friend in Chew Magna, which helps people affected by AIDS and HIV. The charity is based in Bolgatanga in northern Ghana and we'd arranged to pay a visit while we were in the area. We actually arrived a day earlier than planned but found Father Augustine by asking at the Catholic church and he arranged for Alice, one of the trust's counsellors, to show us around. We were taken to see the new resource centre, funded entirely by the Atiamah Trust, and to one of the local villages where home visits are carried out when people are too ill to leave their homes. In our honour, Alice arranged for the monthly meeting to be brought forward so that we could be there.
Day 56 - Monday 17/12/07 - Bolgatanga
From 8 am people started arriving to attend the meeting - some of them had come from miles around. The meetings bring together people living with HIV to provide support, medicines and food supplies. So many people told us how important the meetings were for them, and how they had been alienated from their families and communities, but they were learning to grow strong again. We also met some of the orphans whose parents have died of AIDS; Atiamah helps to pay for their school fees and uniforms. A real worry for the counsellors is that because Ghana is no longer considered a 'poor country' much of the international aid is being withdrawn, so independent aid is becoming even more important. A little bit of money goes a really long way out here - to help us raise more visit http://www.justgiving.com/capeoverlandtrip. Click here to see more pics of our visit.
Day 57 - Tuesday 18/12/07 - Bolgatanga to Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary
We left Bolgatanga to head south. All the locals say how bad the roads are in Ghana, but compared to what we've seen, they're immaculate - apart from the odd pothole or two. The land up here is so dry and parched, with lots of burnt out areas - no sign of the terrible floods that they had earlier in the year. Gradually the scenery started getting greener and the vegetation more dense and tropical, with banana plantations and palm trees. We stopped at the Kintampo waterfall for a very refreshing dip, then drove down a dirt track to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. On arrival, we recognised the red Land Rover of an English couple we'd met in Mauritania who were driving down to Ghana - but this time it was the daughter and her boyfriend who were driving it back to England. They had real coffee that they'd bought in Togo, so we stayed up chatting into the night.
Day 58 - Wednesday 19/12/07 - Monkey Sanctuary to Pitstop, Accra
It's started to get really humid now - our tent was soaking wet with condensation this morning, and the sky was muggy and overcast. The sun soon started burning through, so we headed off to the local village to pick up a guide for a walk in the forest. Officially it's a monkey reserve and there are various types of monkeys to see (including the black and white colobus with their long white tails), but the forest itself is just as impressive, with beautiful trees of mahogany, fig, mango etc. Back on the road again, we stopped for lunch at a small village. The street food is great - they dish out huge platefuls of rice and sauce and wrap it up in a plastic bag for you to take away (for about 30p). Driving through Ghana's second largest city, Kumasi, was utter chaos. They were digging up the road and had some crazy contraflow in operation - people seemed to be driving wherever they like. As we approached Accra (Ghana's capital) the roads turned into the wacky races with buses overtaking lorries, and cars overtaking buses four deep across the road. We'd hoped to arrive before dark but the final 12 km took us over an hour as the traffic ground to a halt. It was a bit tedious, but the hawkers kept us entertained by running the gauntlet between cars, selling everything under the sun. We found our way to Pitstop, a well-known Land Rover garage, where Ian said we could stay for free in his spare room - thank you Ian! It's so humid down here that we're sweating even when sitting still. .
Day 59 - Thursday 20/12/07 - Pitstop, Accra
As well as a bit of mechanics, one of our main reasons for being in Accra is to try to get our Nigeria visas. So we set off early and plunged ourselves into the mayhem. Accra isn't particularly difficult to navigate, but the traffic really is terrible - apparently its the English colonial influence: everyone has a car rather than a bike, which jams everything up. We found where the embassy should have been, but it was now a derelict building, despite web sources and recent guidebooks still giving this address. Some taxi drivers gave us directions to the new embassy (see Notes & tips), which proved to be spot on. We found the embassy, but alas, it was closed - apparently a Nigerian holiday today - but the guys on reception gave us some application forms and told us to come back tomorrow. While in the area, we went to a nearby shopping mall - wow! It was air-conditioned and playing Christmas music and felt just like a shopping mall at home (which I normally avoid like the plague). The businesses in Ghana all seem to have religious names - my personal favourites are 'In God We Trust Chemical Supplier' (pharmacy) and 'Jesus Never Fails Driving School'! We treated Ian to spaghetti bolognaise for dinner and sank a bottle of red wine.
Day 60 - Friday 21/12/07 - Accra to Green Turtle Lodge, near Dixcove
Back to the embassy for 10 am, and this time it was open - hooray - but the surly women at the desk insisted that we must have a letter of invitation or hotel reservation in order to get a visa. We'd heard that in Accra this wasn't strictly true, so asked for an interview with the High Commissioner. It seems nobody had the right paperwork because soon enough the High Commissioner came out into the waiting room and started shouting at people, asking each one in turn why they were there. When he got to us he ranted 'you expect a visa in two days? if I want a visa for England I have to wait one month!'... which is a good point, but it would seem this is just pantomime and eventually we were allowed to submit our applications and told to come back on Monday. There was no way we were staying in Accra for the weekend though, so we got on the road and joined the holiday traffic heading off to the beach. It took us about six hours to get to Dixcove but once we'd arrived we were so happy - Green Turtle is an ecolodge, with decomposting toilets and everything made from natural materials. You can camp right by the beach, and they make pina coladas with fresh pineapple and coconut juice. Definitely the right place to be for Christmas.
Days 61-65 - Saturday 22/12/07 to Wednesday 26/12/07 - Green Turtle Lodge
We spent the next five days happily lazing around, playing beach volleyball, building sandcastles and drinking pina coladas (beer for Robin). There's a really good bunch of people here, including Kenneth and Jo who we bumped into in Senegal and Mali. Apparently lots of overlanders intend to get to South Africa but get as far as Ghana and decide to stay. I can see why... in fact, this could be the crux of our journey. Will we ever be able to leave?
Day 66 - Thursday 27/21-07 - Dixcove to Big Milly's Backyard, Kokrobite
After much protest, we wrenched ourselves away from Green Turtle and back into the real world - a couple of people we'd met crammed in the mid-section. Our wake-up call arrived in the form of a policeman flagging us down with a speed gun, reading a number clearly over the 50 kph limit. It was clear that we were going to have to pay a fine, we just weren't sure how much. He started off by saying we'd have to go to court on Monday to pay a 50 cedi (£25) fine, then he gave us the option of paying him a 10 cedi fine on the spot. We opted for the latter (although in retrospect we realise we could have offered half as much and that locals pay 2 cedi). Just to really wrench ourselves back to reality we visited the castles at Elmina and Cape Coast. There are a whole string of impressive castles along this stretch of coast, all of which were linked to the slave trade. We did a tour of Elmina and saw the atrocious conditions the slaves were kept in before being shipped off to the Americas. Pretty horrific. Stayed the night at Big Milly's Backyard in Kokrobite - not a patch on Green Turtle - but a lot better than the castle dungeons.
Day 67 - Friday 28/21/07 - Kokrobite to Estuary Beach Club, Ada Foah
Back to Accra and to the Nigerian embassy to see if our visa applications had been successful. It took us two hours to travel about 30 km. We've agreed that if our applications are declined we'll head back to Green Turtle and spend our remaining three months there. We approached the embassy tentatively (I even brushed my hair). We'd heard that the embassy in Accra is particularly receptive to bribes and sure enough, the guy in front of us had actually brought a cake to give to the lady at reception - what a creep! When it got to our turn she said 'you were supposed to come back on Monday' and looked at us expectantly - obviously waiting for her present. We smiled back as sweetly as we could and said we'd had a problem with the car. There wasn't much she could do as they'd already our visas so she gave us back our passports and we quickly made our exit. Stopped for rice and stew by the side of the road and headed out of Accra towards Ada Foah where we'd heard of a good place to camp out on the peninsula where the Volta River reaches the sea. The Estuary Beach Club is only accessible by 4x4 along the beach, or by boat. Not a bad place to spend our last night in Ghana.
Day 68 - Saturday 29/12/07 - Ada Foah to Auberge Papillon, Klouto (Togo)
The road deteriorated as we headed towards the Togolese border. Robin stopped to buy a machete along the way - it only cost £2 - the women seem much more honest than the men and keen to do honest business. Even if you buy some fruit for about 10p, they'll conscientiously dig out some change. The border was extremely chaotic but at least they weren't shut for lunch and we were through in just over an hour. The capital of Togo, Lome, is right next to the border so there wasn't much time to draw breath before being plunged into more traffic. We're back in French-speaking lands again now and there are thousands of kamikaze mopeds again, but at least it keeps the traffic moving. Headed out of town and up into the hills near Kpalime. Spent the night at Auberge Papillion where the chief of the village, Monsieur Prosper, had organised a village party. There was lots of drumming and vigorous dancing - some of the women had babies on their backs who were being really bounced around, but apparently sleeping right through it. Great fun.
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