We were sad to say goodbye to Burkina Faso but very excited about
Ghana really seems like a major landmark on our trip as we will
have left French West Africa (for a while), we will re join the
coast, and if we were going straight down to Cape Town, we would
roughly be half way. OK so the last one is slightly tenuous but all
The border was straightforward and more official than anything
we had seen since Europe. Much as I have enjoyed speaking French we
both breathed an audible sigh of relief when we saw a sign reading
"Customs and Excise". I'm sure the novelty will have well and truly
worn off by the time we get through Nigeria.
There were other immediately noticeable differences, beyond
language. As I mentioned, everything seemed more organised than we
had seen for a while, marked by the use of DELL computers and
passport scanners and officials sitting in offices with fans,
rather than prostrate under trees with enormous antique ledgers. We
liked the sense of order but got the immediate sense that officials
in Ghana are going to be less approachable than the many friendly
gendarmes we had met along the way in Francophone Africa. There are
pros and cons I suppose.
Two other things changed over the border: money and bread. We
have left the CFA for a while and have exchanged it for the Ghana
Cedi. Sadly, we have also left the delicious crusty baguettes
behind. The last we saw were about 5km before the border. We joked
and said that the next woman we saw would be carrying Hovis loaves
on their heads. No joke. OK, so they're not Hovis, but suddenly
large white loaves appeared in the carefully balanced head baskets.
I guess you could say that it was the best thing since, well,
To be completely honest with you, British are completely
inferior on the bread front (except for whole meal, seeded batch).
Let's let the French have it, baguettes rock and the stodgy,
bizarrely sweet, heavy alternative here in Ghana is, at best,
You may be wondering what the random opening sentence to this
diary entry is about. In Ghana, one thing stands out. Almost every
shop or business has a name which makes reference to Christianity,
Islam, God, or just a positive outlook on life. We had heard about
these and were looking forward to a good chuckle. Whilst in Ghana,
we will try to select one for each day which made us smile.
In true, last minute, African style we called a friend of a
friend, Pat to see if we could pop by for the evening. Pat is
working for VSO on an educational project in Zebilla, a little town
in the far north of Ghana, which was just about 40km off the road
we were on. We had a great evening together and Pat kindly fed us
and gave us a bed for the night. Thanks Pat!
We set off early to get to Mole National Park and had a lovely
lunch stop in a local 'spot' (the term for a café or bar). We tried
our hand at a local specialty; chicken and fish ground nut stew
with a huge ball of 'baku', which is made from maize. You basically
use your fingers to take bits off the ball and dip it in the stew.
It was very tasty, and very cheap. I can't see myself doing much
cooking in Ghana.
We arrived in Mole in time for a swim in the pool which
overlooks the vast park and the nearby watering hole. The word on
the street is that elephants come here quite regularly to drink. If
I believed it would help, I'd have everything crossed.
We were excited to bump into our first British Land Rover since
leaving England - and it was green. It was being driven by Darrin,
from New Zealand but living in London, and his French girlfriend
Isa. Darrin is driving all the way to the Cape whilst Isa is on a
one month trip from Paris.
A personal childhood dream came true today. I saw elephants. But I
didn't just see them, we watched them for nearly an hour, from as
close as 40m, without even the protection of a car.
We had hoped that we would be able to see an elephant on our
early morning walking safari down to the watering hole. We saw
eight. They lumbered out of the trees from behind where we were
towards the water. We hung back to let them pass and then followed
them down and watched as they drank and then submerged themselves
fully to escape from the heat.
As the sun got hotter we ended the official tour and walked back
up to the pool with its vantage point over the watering hole. There
we were able to watch the elephants continue to bathe for another
hour or so before they headed back into the forest.
We lazed away the rest of the day and enjoyed a lovely evening
with Darrin and Isa. We will go our separate ways tomorrow but we
hope to see Darrin again somewhere on the way down.
We had an
unexpected visitor this morning in the form of an enormous bull
elephant plodding up to the fence of our campsite, no more than 30m
from where we had just finished putting down our tent. This
clinched the elephant experience for me, once and for all. We were
slightly nervous as they are, after all, very dangerous animals and
there was only us on the campsite. However, as we had just packed
up we were able to jump straight in the car and get some video
footage before driving off very slowly.
We did a long drive south today and felt like we had entered an
entirely new phase of our trip, at least geographically. In a
nutshell, we entered tropical Africa. Having passed through the
desert and into the bush, we now found ourselves in lush, dense,
tropical greenery. There is a price tag on this beautiful part of
the continent though - humidity. The humidity is only to get
worse as we head south we have been warned.
Surprisingly, we also experienced our first rain since Morocco.
Whilst it seemed fitting with the mugginess and the landscape, it
is not seasonal and something we certainly weren't prepared for at
this stage. Fortunately it was quite short lived whilst we were
driving although it did return in the evening which forced us to
eat our dinner in the back seats of the car. Rain really does make
everything much harder and we do hope that we can get through to
Namibia in time to avoid the wet season.
were left with two distinct impressions today. Firstly, the descent
of a hotter, stickier, sweatier cloud of humidity and secondly, the
tricolore of red roads, green palms and blue sea which are
indicative of Ghanas's coastline.
Neil may well have been left with a third distinct impression;
that his wife doesn't look good in humidity. Unfortunately for him,
my red, sweaty face and frizzy, uncontrollable hair, are set to
stay until we reach Namibia.
It has been a long and dusty road since we last saw the sea just
south of Dakar, in Senegal. Reaching the coast again certainly
makes us feel like we are well on our way, especially as, if you
trace this coast round far enough, you will come to Neil's parent's
home, which is our final destination.
We arrived in paradise in the early evening – Green Turtle
Lodge, about 200km west of Accra. It is on a perfect stretch of
coast line and our car is parked right on the sand, under huge
Sunday and Valentine's Day. It was nice only
to realise it was Valentine's Day when we realised what the date
was (something we rarely know anymore). Without ASDA's vicious
marketing , we are now free to decide what we do and (more likely)
don't need to celebrate.
Last night we overheard a guest enquiring about local churches
so we got in on the plans to go to the Methodist service in the
nearest village. It turned out to be quite an experience.
We were told that it started at 9.30am, so being British we
dutifully turned up at 9.29am. We really should have learnt our
lesson by now. The church was empty bar a lady dressing the table
with a white cloth and we were told that it actually starts at
'about 10.00' - about being the operative word. It really didn't
matter as we probably had the most beautiful place in the world to
wait for a church service – right on the sea. We became acquainted
with most of the local children and many of the adults as they
brought us chairs to shelter from the incessantly heavy rain.
In hope, at 10.00, we returned to the tiny church building where
there were now two people. We sat and waited until there were
roughly five members of the congregation present. It appears that
these courageous few have the job of launching into song, which
acts as a signal to the other members that church has indeed begun.
People dribbled in during the first song, including one member of
the percussion group, who nonchalantly sidled up the aisle,
straight to his drum and picked up the beat. By the end of the
third, rousing song, all three drummers were in place and we had
the full house of around thirty people.
The service was a fascinating mix of Methodist tradition and
African spirit. The singing was loud, enthusiastic, joyful and
often spontaneous. Members broke into song in the middle of the
sermon, danced up and down the aisle and shook each other's hands
We were amused as someone jumped up after about an hour and a
half to pop a clock on the wall. We weren't sure if this was merely
an afterthought or specifically for the benefit of their English
guests. Then a young goat wandered in and down the aisle which even
the locals found amusing.
The grey and windy weather continued all day but we have never
been happier to have a respite from the heat. The air and the sea
were still warm and we enjoyed some body-boarding in the violent
Two weeks ago, our Monday morning was kicked off by the sight of
some hippos. This Monday morning began with a huge green turtle on
the beach. It was amazing to see it crawl across the sand and then
head into the rough water. At this time of the year they come up to
lay their eggs. We were really fortunate to see one and without
even paying for the official turtle-spotting hike.
We had intended to spend the rest of the day in this spot, but
by midday we realised that sitting in the humidity isn't that
pleasant and that we were both ready to move on. We got everything
sorted in a couple of hours set off east towards Cape Coast.
Fortunately it's not far, which made leaving later in the day
After about 140km we found another beautiful spot to camp on the
beach – The Ko-Sa Beach Resort run by two Dutch couples. It was our
stickiest night yet, which has made us determined to find some sort
of fan solution for our tent, otherwise we will not be sleeping
well for the next few weeks.
Today we visited Cape Coast Castle,
which was an extremely moving and humbling experience. Having seen
first hand the atrocities of slavery, dealt out by the British,
amongst others, it amazes me just how welcome we have been made to
feel in Ghana and across West Africa. History it may be, but the
cruelty of greedy Europeans affected millions of Africans and tore
them from their roots and families for generations.
We saw the dungeons, where hundreds of men, women and children,
were kept in dark, squalid conditions to await either death or
shipment, like cattle, across the Atlantic. We also saw the lavish
living quarters of the amoral officials who lived upstairs, above
the dungeons, looking out to the sea, unaffected by the suffering
going on beneath them. It is hard today to understand how such
cruelty could go on, overlooked by so many and endorsed by the
Cape Coast Castle is one of those extremely sad places, which
everyone should go and visit. It represents a slice of history,
which we need to acknowledge, feel ashamed of and never allow to be
repeated. Sadly, slavery hasn't been completely eradicated. In
fact, there are statistics that say some of the countries we have
been through, especially Mali, still have many people working as
slaves. And of course slavery exists in many more subtle forms
Cape Coast is a beautiful and quirky town. There are lots of
shopping opportunities and nice eateries. We wandered around for a
while until the humidity overcame us.
Everyone in Ghana asks you the same question.
"Where are you going?"
It doesn't seem to be asked with any ulterior motives but simply
as a conversation starter or out of genuine curiosity. We give a
variety of answers. 'Cape Town' generally results in the typical
African response of a high pitch squeak and raise of the eyebrows.
'For a walk' normally just produces a blank expression. Surely if
you are walking you must be going somewhere to do something or why
on earth would you bother?
We had delicious street food for dinner. At £1.20 for a huge
portion of chicken and spicy rice, enough for two, it certainly
wasn't worth getting the gas on.
Seeing is Believing Never Hear They
Say and Act On It Drinking Spot
After another walk around the town in
the early morning we continued driving west to Accra. The road was
good and the journey straight forward with frequent views of the
Accra is unlike any African cities we have seen so far and
certainly has at least one foot in the First World. There was not a
donkey, chicken or goat in sight, there was development everywhere
and a very civilised road system. We enjoyed spotting familiar
brands such as Barclays, PWC, Ernst and Young and Holiday Inn,
whilst Neil got very excited when he spotted Shoprite, Game and
Woolworths – major chains in South Africa. If we were to choose an
African country to live in, this would be the most logical choice.
It is almost equidistant from UK and SA and is an interesting
amalgamation of all things British and South African.
We stopped at Accra Mall, a very modern shopping centre with
clothes shops, supermarkets and a cinema. We floated around on an
air-conditioned cloud lined with wine gums and Cadbury's chocolate,
trying not to feel bad about how excited we were to have a touch of
the Western World.
In the traffic jam on the way to our hosts in the northern
suburbs (contacts through our church in London) we could easily
have done our weekly shop and then some. Weaving between the cars,
with expertly balance goods on their heads, were street sellers
with everything you can imagine. To name but a few, we could have
bought maps, flags, tissues, super glue, fans, The Oxford English
Dictionary, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, a large gilded image
of The Last Supper…. It was rather like a mobile version of the
central aisles in Lidl, much to Neil's delight.
We got horrendously lost and arrived at City of God Church in
the dark but to a very warm welcome and an invite to stay in the
courtyard of Rose and Ian, an English couple, while we are here. We
have also managed to land up here just as their annual West African
conference is starting, which should be fun.
Today was a significant day as we made
the plunge and applied for our Nigerian visas. I have been rather
nervous about this stretch and, for a while, we were considering
shipping our car from here to Namibia. However, now we have made
the decision to go for it, we are both feeling cautiously excited.
It was all straightforward at the Embassy although rather
expensive. At a sum total of $200 we do hope that we get our visa
back tomorrow as promised.
Back to Accra Mall just for the air conditioning really, and the
fast wifi. Then we made our way back to the church centre to join
in their evening service.
People are starting to recognize us now as we drive back and
"Hello again, how are you? Have you had a good day? No, I'm
sorry I still don't need that enormous framed picture. We really do
live in our car and I really don't have any walls"
"Good evening. How was your day? No I'm afraid that we still
don't have any shiny leather shoes with us that need buffing.
Honestly look, I only have flip flops, I don't think it would work
on them, unless I try buffing my feet?!"
You get the picture.
We did pick up some delicious snacks and enjoyed the fact that
even a rush hour traffic jam isn't boring in Africa.
The evening service was fun and vibrant – African church at its
best. It is the closest we have felt to our church back in London
since we left six months ago and it did us a lot of good.
Still Go Slow Autoparts - With God
All Things Are Possible
We made it to the morning session of
the conference, which was great, and then drove back to the
Nigerian Embassy. They came up trumps with our visas ready earlier
than we expected so we decided to try our luck with the Benin
Three hours, 60km and lots and lots of wrong turns later
we were hot, bothered, frustrated and too late at the Benin Embassy
to apply for our visas. We had also learnt a new thing about
Ghanaians. They cannot give directions. An average exchange goes
something like this:
"Hello good morning, How are you? Would you be able to tell me
where the Benin Embassy is please?"
"Er…. You go straight, straight, when you get to the next
circle, ask someone else"
[At the circle]
"Hello good morning, How are you? Do you know where the Benin
"Er… You go straight straight. At the end of the road, ask
[At the end of the road]
"Hello good morning, How are you? Do you know where the Benin
"Er… You go straight straight, you see a green house and you go
"So it's off this road?"
"You go behind and the road goes down. When you get there ask
"Sorry, when I get where"
"When the road goes down"
"Are there any other landmarks I could use"
"It's near the Libyan Embassy"
"Where is that?"
"You go straight straight and then ask someone else"
As you can imagine, our hellos and how are yous started to
become a bit strained after a while. What we really wanted to do
was scream at the top of our lungs "HAS NOBODY THOUGHT OF USING
STREET NAMES??!!" Apparently not. Even the guy who works in the
Benin Embassy couldn't tell us the name of the street when we
Back to Accra Mall one last time to help us cool down and cool
off. Stacked with muesli and squash (the two European luxuries we
feel are worth paying over the odds for) we plunged back into the
same traffic jam for the third day in a row.
This time they saw us coming and we heard shouts of 'South
Africa!' and 'Bafana Bafana' from sellers we had met before as they
jogged up to our car window. We must leave Accra soon, otherwise we
will undoubtedly end up with a car full of laminated maps, toilet
rolls and DVD series about Churchill.
morning of practicalities and shopping before attending the evening
session of the conference at City of God Church. We felt hugely
blessed by the people who had come from all across West Africa.
They were so friendly and encouraging and now we feel emotionally,
mentally and spiritually prepared for the road ahead.