Here’s an update on our trip…
I deleted the previous post called “Passing the Baton” because this post contains that (edited) plus much more.
Katy and I got in to Accra around 1:30 pm Monday afternoon where we met Ryan and Abbrey who drove us to the Beachcomber guest house where the kids stayed their first day in Ghana. When we arrived we were met by the kids who were fittingly spending their last day in Ghana there. They all looked fit and healthy despite (or perhaps because of) the arduous adventure they’d just completed. Since I’d been following the Blog I already knew the Cliff Notes version of their trip, but it was great to hear some of the details. Based on what they told me the documentary should be something special, and its filming could probably be a documentary in itself, especially the part in Kumasi. As for the heartfelt posts about the classroom project and the Tongo family… that didn’t surprise me at all because I know the family they stayed with from a previous trip when Kirstin was in the Peace Corps, and I know what the schoolhouse conditions are like there. It’s so great that they’re actually going to be able to sit down at a real desk and beyond belief that they now have a computer lab.
We had a few hours to kill before dinner so we lounged around the Beachcomber patio, had a few refreshing drinks with a spectacular view of the ocean. After a while we noticed that Katy was missing. Not much later Ryan appeared and said she was locked in the bathroom of our room for the last half-hour but he was able to jimmy the door open. One thing about Ghana accommodations, unless you want to pay high western prices is that only about half of the things in your room will work. There’s always some plumbing, electrical or mechanical issue. In Katy’s case it was a problem with the door mechanism…It was falling apart and when she closed the door from the inside she was trapped, par for the course actually. Hot water? Forget it. There’s a bucket in every bathroom that you’re advised to fill before you “bath” or use the toilet in case the water goes out (bring a flashlight if it’s after dark). Katy asked about the light bulb in the bathroom and was told “oh no, it is gone”. Want to charge your phone? Well the guidebooks say to get the UK adapter but my experience is you see a lot of the European two prong outlets as well, often in the same room… and be sure to check the voltage on your charging device. If it’s an older charger that’s not rated for 100-240 volts it’ll fry. And, by the way, try not to touch metal parts of anything plugged in as the grounding codes don’t seem to be universally adhered to.
That night we went to Frankies’ where we had our last western meal for a while (and the kids their first in a month), then we saw them off at the airport where they all gave Abbrey big hugs.
As for us, Kirstin is showing us the same attractions the kids experienced. In our previous trip we saw the sacred crocodiles of Paga, The Slave Castle, The Canopy Walk, etc., but not the Tafi Atome monkey sanctuary, Cedi’s Beads, or Mole.
The next morning we left for the trip up north through the Volta region with plans to visit the aforementioned places before continuing on to Mole with a sleepover at the Paradise Mountain Guest House. We wound-up pretty-much lost in the hills for most of the time but did find a random Kente Cloth village that turned out to be a lot of fun as we trekked through the village to a place where a couple of teenagers were weaving outside under a shade tree. We thought that might be the whole show but were then led to the main “factory” where around 25-30 looms with 8 or 10 weavers who were hard at work under a large enclosed building. So we got lots of videos, photos, and even purchased some cloth. This area also had quite a few drum vendors, usually just one or two guys selling their handmade drums from stalls by the roadside, so we stopped at one and picked-up an oblenten for me and a small djembe as a present. The lone vendor, who was carving out logs for the drums he was crafting, was more than happy to demonstrate the tone and quality of each to help us decide which ones to buy. After a bit more random wandering we found the road to the Monkey Sanctuary and off we went… along the way we saw a family of Baboons sitting on the side of the road…awesome! Just before we got there we bought a bunch of mangos from one of the countless produce merchants lining the streets at every stop. If you catch the eye of one merchant watch out because you’ll get more than you bargained for; you’ll get them all. At this particular stop there were at least six girls, arms laden with mangos which they shoved into the car for our inspection all competing with one another to sell us their fruit. We figured if the monkeys liked bananas they’d go for the mangos as well. At the sanctuary the little beggers were just as greedy for us as for the kids…even Abbrey fed them. However when we ran out of bananas and offered the mangos, they wouldn’t touch them. The couple that tried a taste spit it out and told the others to stay away with a little high-pitched chirping sound. The plan was to spend the night at the guest house there but it was full of Europeans and the home stay offered by the proprietors of the sanctuary didn’t sound too appealing … we were pretty gross by then. We opted to circle back to the Mountain Paradise Guest Lodge. Before we left, we took the “nature tour” at the sanctuary that was actually little more than a short walk through the woods with lots of very aggressive ants that crawled up your pant legs and bit you. Kirstin said the kids did an “ant dance” on this “tour.” I recommend you skip this part if you ever get there and just feed the monkeys.
We were traveling in Abbrey’s Toyota Carina which, loaded with 5 people and luggage, sits a bit too low for all but the best West African roads…. The kids have probably told you about West African roads by now . Anyway we had to get out and walk part way up the hill on the way to the guest house, basically the part where the kids entered the jungle on their trip to the waterfall to a part of the road that wasn’t quite so steep. Once we were settled in our rooms we were able to enjoy the view of the jungle and mountains beyond while enjoying drinks on their hanging bar at the edge of the mountain/jungle precipice while our meals were being prepared by the owners. We then came in to a sit-down feast and hit the sack. It rained that night and when I got up I was treated to a spectacular view of a stormy jungle mountain sky. One feature we didn’t get to experience was Sherri the cute but obnoxious kitten the Kirstin blogged about. Sherri was eaten by a dog before our arrival. While we were checking out, Katy was enamored by a traditional African game called Oware that involves moving handfuls of beads around a series of trays. It wasn’t the game so much as the hand-carved crocodile bowl container she wanted. It just so happened that they sold them there so she scored big time for only 20 Cedis (about 13 US dollars). Then it was down the mountain again with a goal to get to Cedi’s by 11am.
Cedi was getting ready to travel to Accra after a trip to the states, however, he knows Kirstin and hung around long enough for us to get there. When we arrived we were the only people there other than his staff and he gave us a personal tour of the facility including some of the new things he’s working on. I have a great video of the whole visit that I’ll share when we get back. Cedi’s place is really nice but the access road is a real challenge for small, overloaded Toyota cars and we bottomed out several times both going in and coming out. Going out we were significantly heavier due to all the beads Kirstin and Katy had crammed into their bags. Then it was off to Kumasi. Because of the route we had taken (we had to double back to get to Cedi’s) we wound-up on a trucking route to Kumasi that was riddled with huge potholes from all the big trucks. While going over one of the more “technical” parts of the road a railroad track severed the Carina’s tailpipe. We drove the last 60km to Kumasi with no muffler so we couldn’t listen to the cool FM IPOD player we’d set-up. We arrived in Kumasi well after dark, found rooms and hit the sack with plans for the morning to fix the Toyota (Abbrey), go Moto Shopping (Ryan), and hit the Market (Kirstin and Katy). As for myself, I had somehow injured my Achilles Tendon on my left heel and could barely walk so I stayed in the hotel for that morning. Abbrey got his tailpipe welded and new rear tires installed, Ryan couldn’t find a moto that suited his needs, and the market was packed so Katy and Kirstin had a great shopping spree. We were on the road by 1pm. The initial plan was to sleep at Mole that night and go on a walking Safari the next day, but with my heel I wouldn’t have been able to handle it so we drove on to Kirstin’s home in Tongo. We’ll be able to spend even more time in Mole than initially planned in a few days.
Driving at night on African roads is an adventure in itself. Speeding along in the dark at 90 km/hour, the pothole fields come at you like level 11 in a driving video game with 10 levels. The speed bumps at police stops and various community areas along the way require you to nearly stop the vehicle to get though. There are many police stops and commerce checks and because Abbrey was driving with a car full of white people he was stopped quite often for questioning. We finally arrived at Kirstin’s place around 10:30pm. Howa walked down from their house to greet us and after a quick bite to eat and we crawled into bed to sort things out in the morning. After a couple of days in Tongo my Achilles issue went away. I’ll send another update soon about our stay at Kirstins’ house and the progress of the school project but now Ryan and I have are gong to jump on our bikes and peddle to the school.