The journey up north. Or, “Goodbye 5*, hello real Ghana”
22nd Feb 2012
Long blog post.
Long time before I'll forget this adventure.
When I was told to bring an alarm clock, because the busses leave early in Ghana, I promptly popped that on my list of pre-trip birthday presents, and one was magically conjoured up (or at least ordered on the ASDA website, which to me now does seem like magic) by my wonderful friend Penny and it was popped safely and happily into my bag.
Now I wish I had left the damn thing at home. 4am starts. Three days running. After hardly any sleep because the air con is too loud (oh how I will regret complaining about air con!) / the sheets are like plastic table cloths / there is a party of flies in the bathroom and all species and type are invited so I daren't go to pee even though I'm desperate... not a mix to make a happy bunny.
The journey up north was carefully assembled so as to gently tease us away from the comforts of the pretty 5 star pool-and-posh-food-endowed super tranquil hotel and first nudge, then push, then firmly shove us out into the outside world of real life in Ghana. Our first bus was with V.I.P., which could equally stand for Vivacious and Intriguingly Posh - as it stands there bold and bright with its white leather reclining seats big enough for the largest behinds of African men, pretty frilly curtains (Mary Poppins style springs to mind), the huge wide-screen T.V. to project the large and LOUD Nigerian film actors' hollering and wailing in their high-drama 'Nolly-wood' movies, and pretty little shelves for bags (I don't know what type of bag you could fit on there though, other than maybe a tea bag or two). It may well be one mighty shiny bus, but that doesn't change the fact that the roads are bumpier than a crocodiles backside. As you can see by the photograph though, I was more concerned about the packed lunch we got for breakfast...egg butties and a banana. Hmmmm, and they call this V.I.P.?
So the journey to Kumasi was one where we sat in comfort far removed from the realities of the sweltering heat outside, and gazed through the windows as we left the city and headed into the suburbs and then the 'countryside'. The petty traders by the roadside, the little kids playing by the boreholes, and the women carrying bright silver bowls of water on their heads gazed right back. From this distance it was hard to make out the expressions on their faces, but every now and again an enthusiastic wave or the scrambling of children over rocks and each other to brandish their bright white smiles at us, served to remind me that people here are happy to see us, as they are happy to see everyone else.
We eventually arrived in Kumasi, which we failed to explore, as we had simply run out of energy. Leela and I had what looked like some kind of effort towards a honeymoon suite (complete with cute but totally manky koala teddy bear) and we made ourselves at home knowing the down-starring has started here. Early in the evening, rain came. I was quite excited by this, after an uneventful day, and so went outside to do a little dance in the rain, thinking, ah this reminds me of home! Only to regret that very shortly after as the torrents became torrential and I got absolutely drenched.
Venturing out in the dark after the rains was the real highlight, the back streets near where we were staying were pretty much deserted and the smell of rain and damp sand mingled with smoke from the chop bars and the perfume of girls dressed up for a night out. Street chop was chicken and fried rice, and we found a nice little abandoned construction site for what was probably intended to be an market block, but like so many others had been stopped halfway because the funds ran dry. This was the perfect vantage point to see a Saturday night in Kumasi. It's probably best described as quite similar to a Saturday night in Hull to be honest.
The next day we took an STC bus (down again one more star) which trundled us up to Tamale, where the real journey was to begin. Done with any pretence now from our VSO reps who had so kindly looked after us until now, we were quickly shepherded to the nearest tro station and bundled onto the broken back seat of a sweaty, dilapidated, rust bucket of what was once a minibus, but now resembled a 5 year olds battered and neglected toy car (never even seen a star). Traders banged on the windows, shoving bags of water, hair combs, chicken legs, boiled eggs, plantain, batteries, sweat rags, pegs and all manner of things in the windows as we waited the half an hour to leave. We were in good company though, the row in front held a businessman in suit with obligatory shiny mobile phone, lady breastfeeding newborn baby, and an elderly women who had the facial lines that said 'I am wise old lady from African village' and 'don't mess with me' in equal measure. The journey was long and painful, but somehow, we managed to dig deep, and humour got us through, helping to distract us from the number of bruises swiftly gathering on our backsides.
The scenery was pretty much the same the whole journey from South to North... endless yellowy-brown parched scrubland with black burnt out sections where they have tried to regenerate the land, some green-ish brown thirsty looking trees, and hundreds of small black plastic bags scattered literally everywhere (the biggest spoiler of beauty here that I have met so far and a huge environmental downfall). Every now and again there would be a small glimpse of a little African mud hut or a bright flash of colour in between the trees, suggesting a little village or small rural community nearby, but other than that it was looong orange dusty roads which seemed to go on forever.
After the 12 hour sweat, grime and and bruise ridden journey I was thanking the Ghanaian Gods for the volunteers that met us and that I was staying with for my stop-over in Bolga. If it wasn't for the fact I'd never met them before and thus didn't want to come across as a complete wet lettuce, I think I would have actually collapsed in a heap on hearing there was no water or electricity. Instead we went for dinner at another volunteers house (pasta woo hoo) and sat on their roof terrace drinking sangria, so soon my woes were forgotten.
That night I fell asleep wondering... am I really going to have any energy left for Zebilla?
Sweaty love from Ghana,