Ok, so I'm going to have to start moving a whole lot faster with this whole blog thing,
so be prepared. I left the town of Kpando to head for the port where I could catch the
ferry. My semi-delusional hotel owner told me that the ferry would not be running today, but I'm fairly sure he was just trying to get me to stay another night. The ferry ran. I arrived at the small dirty port of Kpando Tokor and was almost immediately met by Abraham, a young kid who invited me to his house. According to him, the ferry wouldn't arrive until around 12 (it was 7am at that point), so I figured I might as well join him. His house was nearby, and I met his brothers who were playing spiderman on what must have been the only computer in town.
After we'd all talked and played spiderman for a while, they somehow convinced me to take my camera out and start taking pictures. We got a few group pictures, then a few more, and suddenly they'd filled up the memory on my camera (around 70 pictures). I didn't mind, as they were able to put them on the computer, so they didn't waste any of my precious camera memory. I let Abraham and his brother Wilson mess around with the camera for a few hours, as they drug me all over the place taking pictures of everything we came across.
I've been meaning to touch on this for a while now, and I guess this is as good a time as any to do it. Over the course of this trip, there have been so many things that I've
been wanting to take pictures of, but just felt bad about doing so. Things like a big,
muscular man riding a small pink bicycle with streamers, or a goat drinking out of the
same tub as an old woman make for great pictures, but I just don't quite feel right about taking the camera out in those situations. These kids were a similar situation. Yeah, they enjoyed playing around with it, but I feel like it's just too intrusive. It makes me feel like I'm just there to document the situation that these people live in and then leave. I'd like to think that I'll always be able to look back on these pictures and remember everything that I've done, but there is something to be said for just showing up and taking it all in without having to feel the need to photograph everything. In the end, I guess no harm was done, except for a virus that got onto my flash drive from their computer. I also got to meet a guy named Marvelous. Pretty much no matter what else happens, the fact that I met someone named Marvelous makes the whole trip worthwhile.
While we wandered around Kpando port taking pictures, we ran into Cristo, who had met up with Tim (the peace corps volunteer) shortly after I left the night before. Tim had told Cristo to look for me, and he joined us on our return to Abraham and Wilson's house to transfer some pictures and grab my bags. Abraham's family made me some food, which was quite good, and I bought them all some Cokes as a thank you. After eating, we all headed down to the pier to wait. When we showed up, I got one of my most memorable experiences of the whole trip. It may surprise some of you to know that my main goal in traveling is not to scare children. It's more of an added bonus. Anyway, there was a young kid there, maybe two or three, who apparently had never seen white people before. When he saw Cristo and I, it took a moment for us to register, then he just started screaming. It was a strange experience to have some tiny kid standing in the middle of the road, with tears streaming down his face and a look of sheer terror staring at us. He screamed so much that he couldn't breathe, and his mother had to take him away. Cristo works to help immunize people living in small island communities on Lake Volta, so he'd encountered this before, but it was new and exciting to me. Abraham actually got a great picture of the kid screaming, but I accidentally deleted it along with all the other random, off-center, out of focus pictures he took.
Moving on, we crossed the lake, which was an eerie experience. A dam was built on the Volta River some time ago, and the result was the largest artificial body of water in the world. Twisted trees poke up out of the water, and paths have to be cut so that boats can travel along the lake without hitting snags. It's not uncommon for boats to sink after hitting the trees, which are sometimes hiding just below the surface, and when this happens, everyone on board drowns. Ghanians think that lifejackets are for wusses, and that it's 'un-macho' to use them. Since the majority of people can't swim either, it means that everyone drowns when a boat sinks. Another part of Cristo's job is to try and help educate people about the benefits of lifejackets. It seems strange that people would rather die manly deaths than use a lifejacket, but maybe that's just me.
We made it across the lake without incident and jumped in a tro-tro that would take us to the nearest town. Donkorkrom didn't really have much to it, but we were able to sleep in a dormitory at a nearby church for $1, so we were happy. We found a decent restaurant and had a few beers and some good conversation before heading to bed. The next morning, we ate some breakfast and then split up. I got on an early tro-tro to Mpraeso, and Cristo stuck around to talk to the people running the public health center. The plan was to meet up later in Mpraeso, and go from there. Cristo was running low on money, so just to be sure he made it, I put five cedis in an envelope and left it with a girl at the market with instructions to give it to him when he came back to catch a tro-tro. He was also having some stomach pains, so I gave him my bottle of Pepto-Bismol.
Of course, things didn't work out, and we never met up in Mpraeso. I kinda figured we wouldn't, but it would have been nice to hang out for another night or two. Cristo, wherever you are, enjoy my Pepto-Bismol.
Mpraeso wasn't too exciting of a town. I got some decent hiking in, and moved on to Kumasi. Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana, and about ten times more hectic than Accra. The only reason I spent any time there was to explore the Ketejia market, which is supposedly the largest market in west Africa. Yeah, it was big, but not too impressive. Just like everywhere else in the world, everyone sold the same old crap, and the only thing that I found useful or interesting was the fresh fruit. By the way, Ghana wins the award for best pineapple. Hands down. Oh, and another thing I found funny. In the states, we have strict rules about not playing on the railroad tracks. In Ghana, they build markets on them. When the train comes rumbling through every couple of days, all the vendors scramble to pack up their things and get out of the way before they get plowed over. Unfortunately, I didn't get to witness any trains passing through, but I'm sure it would have been entertaining. I used the internet for a while, and returned to my overpriced room shortly after and went to bed.
From Kumasi I headed up to Baobang-Fiema monkey sanctuary. Again, it wasn't that exciting. Maybe I'm a bit tired of traveling, or maybe I've just seen so much so quickly that nothing really seems to be too interesting to me anymore. They monkeys were cool. There were troops of mona monkeys and colobus monkeys. A guide took me through the forests and villages where we could see them doing normal monkey activities such as playing in the trees, grooming each other, making monkey sounds, etc. I got a few pictures, but none were really good enough to justify my taking two days to get out there.
From Baobang-Fiema, I headed east to Bui National Park. It made absolutely no sense for me to go to Bui. It was really far out of the way, and there wasn't much to see that I hadn't already seen. The only reason I went was that hippos are a fairly common sighting, and I'd hate to leave Africa without seeing some kind of large mammal that can only be found here. A picture of a hippo would provide some indisputable proof that I actually was in Africa. Unfortunately, the river was running high, so the hippos weren't out and about as much as they normally would be. They were still around, but were hiding at the water's edge under thick vegetation. I saw some ears poking above the water, but that was about it. It wasn't worth taking a picture of, as they just looked like more leaves, but I suppose that deep down I can go home happy knowing that I saw hippos.
I wanted to go for a walk along the river later that day, but the rangers told me that it was too dangerous. Annually, hippos kill more people than smoking and traffic accidents combined. According to the rangers, they're not particularly aggressive, but they tend to panic if something comes between them and the safety of the water. If that something happened to be me, I almost surely wouldn't live to tell the tale. I figured it was best not to risk it, and headed in the other direction to the top of a ridge where I could see for miles in all directions. From my vantage point, I could see as far as the Ivory Coast, which was pretty cool.
Another added benefit of my little trip up to the viewpoint was my experience with blackflies. They look like little gnats, and at first I thought they were harmless. Then, after about an hour, I noticed that my legs were covered with little bleeding wounds. Those b****** flies had been sucking my blood the whole time, and I was absolutely covered in bites. I figured it was no big deal, as they didn't itch, and had come across some other real nasty bugs so far. In Ghana especially, I've been bitten by more bugs than I can count, and every bite seems to be different. Some of them are just tiny little welts that itch a little bit, while others turn into big purplish spots that burn for days. I even got bitten by a tsetse fly, which hurt real bad. Anyway, the blackflies turned out to be the worst, because the next day, my legs itched so badly I couldn't stand it. I've had my fair share of mosquito bites, and usually they don't bother me too bad, but these were almost unbearable. Scratching didn't help, nor did any creams I could find. It's been three days now, and it takes every ounce of my willpower to stop from screaming because the itching is so bad.
I skipped over a lot of stuff, but I'm almost caught up in these entries now. I haven't put any pictures up, as the virus that I got in Kpando may have deleted them, and I'll deal with all that when I get home. Only two more days here in Ghana, and then I'm on the home stretch. If anyone out there is in Seattle, I'd love to meet up, so let me know if you're around. Take care out there.