accra among other things!
May 25, 2009
We've now reached the big city of Accra in Ghana. Our arrival into this city came with a bit of shock and realization that our simpler life on the road would end at some time. We've been in Africa for just over 3 ½ months and have lived rather minimalistically. We haven't indulged into many high class hotels and restaurants simply because we often chose that we didn't need them. We've been happy with street foods and with very moderate accomodations (other than an air conditioned room in Abidjan). Our time here ends on June 8th and I was coming to the realization that I'm going to miss walking around to fetch food. So much of life happens outside here. From cooking to sleeping, it's all done outside. Arriving here reminded me that we're going to be caged up inside when we return to Canada and that's what I'm going to miss the most I think. I loved being outside here and loved that part of the culture.
On Monday May 17, we walked to the trotro station in Hohoe in search for a trotro to Accra. There we had an option between taking a van(trotro) with air conditioning and one without. The price difference was only about a loonie but yet we decided we'd probably be okay without the AC. So we got on, waited for the van to fill up with other passengers. In the meantime, we got approached by all of the different vendors who make their livelihoods by selling at these bus stations. They're probably the easiest to deal with too. They simply walk past you looking to see if you're interested in their goods. If they see that you're showing any inkling of interest, they will politely wait until you ask them what you'd want. So for us, we bought the usual sachets of “pure water”, some peanuts and bananas. You can get everything from bread with marganine, fried yams wedges with pepper sauce, apples and grapes from south africa, avocadoes, mangoes, iced milk treats(fanchoco/ice/yogo), fried dough balls, fried casava/onion balls, boiled corn cobs, roasted plantains, roasted corn, oranges, meat pies, delicious little cakes, and a multitude of different things. These stations are a real food haven!
So rolled into Accra on Wednesday May 20. So who would have thought that big fancy high rise buildings would exist in West Africa. Every new street we passed had interesting new sights that our eyes had been shielded from in the past months. We saw big shopping malls, supermarkets, massive billboards, fast food restaurants with jungle gyms, massive bank buildings, ATMs on every street corner, big internet cafes, big fancy European cars. WOW! We had seen Abidjan but I don't think that Abidjan is developed to this level. Also, Abidjan seems more difficult and more expensive to travel around in so we didn't really have a chance to see it in great detail it's version of commecial suburbia.
After unloading our packs from the trotro, we looked at the map in our guidebook and determined the route we would take to find a hotel. It wasn't long after we were out of the station that we pulled out our map again and tried to re-orient ourselves. Our bearings were totally messed up but yet we kept on walking in the direction we felt was right. Walking here proved to be a bit of a challenge especially with so much traffic at intersections and so many vendors on the streets and sidewalks. We walked for about 10 minutes then we regrouped on a street corner where we discussed if this street in front of us sparked a memory from our map or not. Anyways, it wasn't long before people noticed that we seemed, I wouldn't say lost because we're never lost but that we maybe seemed confused. This man was a police officer and kindly pointed us in the direction of a few hotels. They were a little off of the beaten track but it worked out fine. So we stayed one night at the New Casanova Hotel then the following day we checked out, stashed our bags at the hotel and went in search of another hotel. We found another hotel (Date Hotel) for about ½ the price but had to sacrifice not having our own bathroom and a good view of Accra... oh well! Anyways, from there we moved to Pacific Hotel where we spent a sleepless night of crummy air circulation and mosquitoe attacks. It didn't help that we had the screenless window wide open. And then for our most recent night, we found something of really good value that is very clean and has air conditioning , although it doesnt work! The ceiling fan works almost just as well in my opinion!
We've been walking a lot during the days to check out hotels and visit some of the local attractions. We went to a supermarket yesterday and found a medly of other nationalities inside. It was as if everyone would pause briefly to look at us and each other in order to determine where the person could potentially be from. It was a really odd place. We found some well needed dental floss there!
There's a good variety of international restaurants here. We've walked into a lot of places to check out menus or to order a nice cold drink. We've splurged a few times (spent about $20CAD for a meal for 2!!) but really have been content with the food we find on the street. We visited the stadium here and went to a premier league football match. The fans were pretty exciting to watch in addition to the football itself!
I've got a little story about last night. It was about 8:30PM and Robin and I we're going to the new Accra mall to meet up with one of her friends who had lived in Calgary (Kwame). We were really excited to meet up with Kwame as its always nice to hear stories and suggestions of places to go from someone who lives here. So we asked the hotel staff which trotro would get us there. We got the information, went on the street and boarded our trotro. The trotro system still amazes me. Every trotro is manned by a driver and a loader. The driver drives a set route and the loader announces the destination to potential passengers as well as opens the door and collects money from the passengers. So anyways, we're in this trotro and we're stopping at every stop to pick up new passengers. In the process, the loader has asked for his money so I reach in my wallet, pay the fare for both Robin and I and put my wallet away in my back pocket. Well a few trotro stops from this event, we load up a group of young kids who are all wearing the same blue t-shirts. They were clearly wearing uniforms of some sort. Four of them sit in front of Robin and I and this other guy in a solid green shirt sits to Robin's right. Robin is now between myself and this guy in the green shirt and decides to greet him. She notices that he acts a little skiddish and almost frightened when she talks to him but she doesn't make it out to be a huge deal. Well anyways, we reach our stop and this guy to the right of Robin doesn't seem to have the common sense to slide over and to move out of the way to let us out of the sliding door. So Robin forces herself in front of him and then comes my time to do the same. Well this guy proves to be impossible to get by. As I've pretty well got my ass in his face, I'm shaking my head thinking, what is this guy's problem. Well I force myself through his barrage and get out of the trotro. Immediately afer exiting, I pat down my pockets and sure enough, my wallet is missing from my back pocket. I tell this immediately to Robin now that we're standing outside. At this time we both kind of panick and I'm also second guessing myself thinking that I might not have put it away as usual but know this guy has scammed it from me. I'm in a bit of a panic as I know this trotro is about to leave so I tell someone in a panic and we begin to scan the floor of the trotro. In the meantime, this guy in the green shirt sneaks by me and out of the trotro. I've got my head scanning under the seat but notice his green shirt. Meanwhile Robin is outside asking me questions and explaining to others what has happened. I remember not knowing if I should try and hold him there but he sneaks off and Robin and other passengers see him boarding the trotro ahead of us. One of the boys in the blue uniforms says that he is certain it's him that took my wallet. So we rush back into the trotro and chase the suspect trotro to the next stop where i can see him already walking briskly away in the night. Me and a few other guys jump out of the still moving trotro and start interogating him. He opens up his knapsack and we see that he's got 2 sets of soccer cleats inside. He says that he's a footballer, that he's on his way home and that this justifies his innocence. Robin and I are hit with waves of uncertainty and doubt. What if this isn't the same guy, what if we're wrongly accusing someone... but Robin takes a good look at him and asks if he was sitting beside her. She immediately recognizes his face and we see that he has a smirk on his face. Yet he doesn't seem that bothered that we're accusing him and again riffles through his bag to show us his soccer cleats. This boy was clearly the culprit but at this time we knew the wallet was probably gone. Either he had taken the money and tossed the wallet or it had changed hands. It's nuts but now we were stranded on the outskirts of Accra with no money. The people around us had been super helpful in catching this guy and they knew that there was nothing we could do about him. The culprit walked away happy and surprisingly carefree that he had been accused. Oh how I wish we could have held him there and reasoned with him but our heads were in a bit of a panic. Anyways, the people around us were very helpful. A guy named Isaac gave us enough money to catch a trotro back and said he'd hang around for a bit to check to see if this guy came back to pick anything up he might have dropped on the ground. It was pretty humbling to be treated with such generosity. In the end, another man named Alex who was waiting for his wife at the trotro stop decided to pay for a taxi back to our hotel. We really owe it to those guys. After talking with these guys and to our hotel staff, we felt that we had been pretty lucky. This little episode was pretty mild and really, what's a few cedis and 2 bank cards when our lives really weren't threatened? We've learned not to let our guard down. Just beauce we hadn't been robbed before, doesn't mean we shouldn't be careful and aware of these petty crimes. It's all behind us now!!
So I think that from here we will go back to the beaches we visited when we first arrived in Ghana. We're going to finally try to surf! Also, we're looking into europe right now. We really don't know what's in store for that part of the world. We're starting inthe UK on June 10th and then from there we have a mixed agenda. Meet up with cousins, sisters, friends and probably going to try to do some couchsurfing. A couple we met here in Ghana are now in Europe and are doing just that. The concept is pretty neat. It works on the basis that people can offer up their couches or spare beds to strangers as long as you're willing to host travellers in your own home. It's an internet based concept that allows you to post your profile on the web and allows you to search other members willing to host you in other parts of the world. Members are rated on a criteria and the service operates on donations from members. We're excited about trying it out and to meet new people this way. If you'd like to check it out, you can do so at: www.couchsurfing.org.
Again, I have to stop myself. I realize that I'm jumping around from topic to topic (as I usually do). So until next time, keep safe and continue having fun! Take care you guys!
Jerome and Robin