Sunday, 18 December 2011

Adventures in Accra

Time flies when you're having fun, and adventures abound.  I have many, many stories to tell, some that started a few weeks ago, but right now... I absolutely MUST tell you how I spent the day yesterday.  It was a true TIA ("this is africa" - see Blood Diamond to know how it applies) kind of day, and everyone along agrees that it made for a great day.  We made vague plans the day before, including a little research on Accra that told us the Old Jamestown area would be the most interesting place to go.  In the midst of that, we were invited along to a large shopping mall that is pretty close to western standards, so the PLAN was to go to the mall first for lunch and then move on to Jamestown.  But as you know, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

Saturday morning, bright and early we got up for breakfast (okay, okay, maybe it wasn't so bright and early, but I was up at 8am on a Saturday when I wasn't working, that's bright and early enough for me!) and packed lunches etc for a day out.  The only real rules were that we needed to be back before curfew, and couldn't leave the area of Tema and Accra since we hadn't signed out our passports the day before.  The large group of about 17 people that we were travelling to Accra with gathered in the lobby and set out together.  A short walk through the dock area brought us to the taxi station just outside of the port.  First stop was Community 1 where we were going to switch from Taxis to Tro-tros as they are much cheaper.  (Tro-tro is the Ghanian version of the Poda-podas in Sierra Leone.  Except Tro-tros have padded seats instead of hard metal seats and appear to be in better repair)  So we split into groups small enough to fit in Taxis, told them we wanted to go to Community 1 to catch a Tro-tro to Accra, and off we went.  Laura and I shared a taxi, and made it clear we needed to stick with our friends.  Noel, Justin and Michelle were in the taxi behind us, so our taxi driver made a point of keeping track of them.  The other 12 people in the group... we lost track of.  COMPLETELY!  We arrived in Community 1, at a spot where we could catch other taxis and reminded him that no... we wanted a tro-tro.  So the two taxis set off again and dropped us on the street telling us to stay there, we were at a tro-tro stop, and one would come by to take us to Accra. 
There we were, 5 of us waiting on a Tro-tro and no clue where the other 12 people in our group had been dropped off.  Not the best start, but we figured it wouldn't be too hard to meet up for lunch once we got to the mall.  As each tro-tro passed we called out "Accra?"  Soon enough, one with enough space that was headed in the right direction stopped.  This tro-tro stopped about every 2-5 mins along the way, picking up and dropping off passengers.  The roads varied from paved to pitted to full out pure-potholes dirt roads.  We never seemed to leave populated areas, and I don't think we got out of second gear more than once or twice.  The journey that we were told was about 1 1/2 hours took 2 1/2hours, until as we went around a corner in Accra, a sudden lurch combined with a grinding/dragging metal noise brought us to a halt.  (It reminded me of the noise when the catalitic converter dropped out of the car I was driving... very unpleasant to the ears!)  A couple of passengers peered out of the side windows, and suddenly we were all piling out.  We had lost a wheel.
Wait, let me clairify, we had lost an axle and a wheel.  Yup, God had his mighty hand upon us.  We lost the axle and wheel without flipping anything, without any injuries, and we never went at high speeds down a highway where it could have caused a major accident.  Instead, we lost it on a slow turn, right within the two mile radius we had originally thought to stop and explore when we made tentative plans the night before. 
After discussion with some fellow passengers, we realized where we were, and the fact that we were miles and miles from the mall we had planned to have lunch at.  Which meant that Michelle, who had plans for a leisurely day at the mall was now stuck with the rest of us adventurers who wanted to walk around and see a little history and culture from the area. 
Within minutes of beginning our walk, we came across a "Fan-milk" vendor.  Similar to ice-cream, Fan-milk is what gets sold on the street here as a sweet cold treat.  We stopped and each got some, wiping one end of the plastic off on our shirts to "clean" it, and then tearing the corner open with our teeth and sucking the popsicle-textured treat out of a corner of it's package.  Excellent treat to begin a walk in 30 degree temperatures.  And it helped to make up for Michelle's change in plans.
Our first intended stop was the Jamestown Lighthouse, which took us just over half an hour to reach.  As we passed the Jamestown Fort (which was also on our list of things to see), a man dressed all in white who introduced himself as Alex stepped out and greeted us.  He was volunteering to be our tourguide of the area for no cost... just whatever we wanted to give him at the end.  He would take us to see the Fort, the Lighthouse, the Palace and the fishing village and we could take as many pictures as we wanted.  He quoted us 5 Cedis (local currency - worth about 60 US cents per 1 Cedi) per person, per area we wanted to tour, but said the palace and fishing village were free.  We argued that we had heard the tours were 1 Cedi each and we weren't going to pay more than that.  We also didn't really want a tour guide, so after some discussion, moved on. 
As we approached the lighthouse another prospective tour guide latched onto us and tried to convince us how we needed him there to negotiate a better price of 3 Cedis a person to tour the lighthouse.  Again we tried declining.  I'll spare you the details, but after a lot of talk and attempted negotiations, they both ended up taking us to the Palace for a short tour. 
It was a little anti-climactic, somewhat like an abandoned home... where none of the girls were allowed to walk in certain areas, because we were still of "menstruating age."  The paintings on the walls were three-dimensional, which was kind of neat, and the explainations were interesting.
The hand holding an egg symbolized how a ruler needed to lightly grasp power, not grasp too hard or it would break, and not to let go or it would fall and break.
What we really wanted, though, was to tour the lighthouse.  We finally decided it was worth the 3 Cedis each, and walked back to the lighthouse.

Sure enough, the views were spectacular, and gave us a view of the fishing village, the local area, and far beyond to the castle we were hoping to see (but ended up not getting to as it was getting late).
We also took the opportunity to relax and have some lunch.

The door at the top of the lighthouse was small, and we had to go through it backwards as we went back down.

Mainly because it led to this lovely ladder... or shall I say these two ladders, because one was missing a few rungs.

The rest of the stairs were kind of a fun spiral... though Michelle was asking us not to go bowling... ie: falling down the stairs and knocking down everyone else below us!
Skipping the fort, as we didn't want to pay more, and skipping the fishing village because we didn't feel the need to tour it, we decided to try and find a market to walk through.  We had a few marked on a map we had printed out.  Along the way we stopped for some fresh coconut to refresh us.  Soooo nice.  One coconut each, and bought a few bags of water as well(500ml bags, ripped open with your teeth and sucked out... just like with FanMilk).   Always important to stay hydrated in this kind of heat.
Once we found the Culture Life Center/Market, we split up and agreed to meet at 3:45 back at our starting point.  So many neat things to see, but Laura and I focused on fabric and had some fun bargaining.  We got back first and sat out in the sun waiting on our friends.  Noel and Justin got back next and were followed a few minutes later by a man intent on selling them pants.  Bargaining continued and Noel got them for the price she wanted! 
That's about when we met a new friend... Colin Powell.  At least thats the name he introduced himself with.  Asking each of us where we were from, he proceeded to correctly identify capital cities and other odd facts of our home states/provinces.  He continued to try and wow us with his geography knowledge which I will readily admit is far better than mine!  He even sang the Canadian anthem... completely off tune but all the right words.  Michelle finally showed up after almost 10mins of us chatting with Colin Powell.  We asked him if there was a restroom nearby and he guided us to one where we paid 30 pesewas (like cents to a dollar, 100 pesewas make 1 Cedi) per person, were given a small allotment of toilet paper and running water to wash our hands after.  
Then he offered to show us his shop which was "right nearby".  A short walk through a small community, jumping large ditches of black water, we arrived at a small cement room filled to bursting with wooden carvings that he had made and polished.  They were gorgeous, and he soon had talked each of us into purchasing at least one item.
Afterwards we got a picture with him.  He was a character we won't soon forget!

As we walked from there, we passed the point where our Tro-tro had broken down, and sure enough, the gouge in the road remained!!!!
We walked to the station where most of the tro-tros and taxis start their journey, and got in line for a tro-tro to Tema.  Fortunately it wasn't a long wait, though we didn't get on the first one.  They don't actually leave until the Tro-tro is completely full.  As we waited we bought more Fanmilk, this time I tried the strawberry flavored Fanyogo (as you can probably guess, this one is made with yogurt instead of milk), since Laura said it was better than the fanmilk.  I think I agree with her!  And Laura bought some fried plantain chips that she shared with us.  They remind me of potato chips with a bit of a banana flavor to them.  The tro-tro was even nicer and bigger than the first one we had taken... and it took the toll road this time, which meant it could go 100km/hr... something that is very, very rare in West Africa, as most roads are not  in that great of shape to be travelling at speed.  Though it did cost a little more because of the toll road (1 Cedi instead of 70 pesewas like our trip to town cost)
We passed the mall that we had planned on going to for lunch, after about half an hour of travelling, which made us glad we hadn't tried to back-track when our tro-tro broke down at noon and we realized that we had passed our intended first stop.

Once back in Tema, we decided to try and find a store we had heard was the African Walmart...Melcom Plus.  We asked one person and were pointed in a vague direction.   Walked another 100 meters and asked another person, again vague pointing... continuing this pattern, only one person pointed us opposite of where we should go, and after about 10 mins of walking, there it was... the biggest, brightest store in the area.  Even entering the parking lot we were a little overwhelmed.  The store was... everything we had heard it would be.  We found a few foodstuffs for snacks and in case no one had saved us supper, and then went out to find a taxi to the port.

Arriving back, we were welcomed by Christmas lights and decorations.  Home sweet home, what a great day!!!!

No comments: