Ghana: Accra & Ada
27th November - 10th December 2000
We made an early start to catch a bus east along the coast. I was headed for Accra, where I planned to spend a night before continuing my trip along the coast to the deserted beach resort at the mouth of the River Volta I had read about in my guidebook. Kjell meanwhile was headed for Kokrobite, a beach resort just before you reach Accra. He wanted to spend a few days there at a drumming school before leaving the country and going to Lome in Togo to catch a return flight home. A couple of hours drive from Cape Coast we reached the turn off for Kokrobite and we parted company as Kjell clambered out of the overcrowded minibus to hitch the rest of the way to the coast. Not long after I arrived in Accra and was dropped off somewhere on one of the main highways in the western suburbs. I didn't really have a clue where in the city I was, the suburbs sprawl for miles and I could have been anywhere. Amidst the chaotic traffic I found a taxi and asked to go to the Asylum Down district of the city. This district is just northeast of downtown and has a few good cheap hotels to choose from; it is also quieter than staying in one of the downtown hotels. As we drove I studied my map intently and soon worked out I was travelling north along the ring road; the traffic was very heavy and soon ground to a standstill as we approached Nkrumah circle, the main intersection in the city.
I checked into the Lemon Lodge hotel, next door to the Burkina Faso embassy on 2nd Mango Tree Avenue. This was a quiet tree lined avenue a few blocks away from the noise and traffic on the northern ring road. On a corner was a small soft drinks stall that made a pleasant spot to sit in the shade while drinking an ice cold drink. The hotel was clean and the staff friendly, I would only be in the city for one night and spent the afternoon doing boring things like visiting the bank and checking my email. My last weekend I would spend in the city before flying back home; I would explore the place in more detail then.
Early the following morning I took a taxi to the Tema station from where minibuses to Ada departed from. I think the taxi dropped me off at the wrong station, as I had to walk miles to find someone leaving for Ada. By the time I did I was exhausted and the cheery mood I woke up in had gone. I was looking forward to today; I was off to a quiet beach resort to relax under a palm tree away from the complications of modern living. Now I sat in a cramped minibus on an uncomfortable seat soaked in sweat under the baking sun. Ada is a small town 110km east of Accra at the mouth of the river Volta. The small resort I was heading for was described in my guidebook as the finest (and cheapest) in the area. Only accessible by canoe the simple reed huts and small bar sit on a sand bar between the ocean and the estuary. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the next paragraph in my book that read; in 1998 the resort was badly damaged during a freak storm but by now should be up and running again. When I arrived in town, which seemed deserted I asked directions for the tourist information office. From here I should be able to make arrangements for a boat to take me out to the resort.
That is when I received the bad news that yes, the resort was badly damaged a couple of years ago in a freak storm and no it was never rebuilt. Instead the owners had bought some land along the coast and rebuilt the resort there. I took a taxi the short distance to the new resort straddling the track that served as the main road along the coast. To say I felt disappointed would be an under statement; since crossing the border into Ghana I had been looking forward to unwinding at this resort after my long trip across West Africa which began in Banjul in The Gambia. The new resort was excellent and I could not fault it; it was just in the wrong location, along the coastal strip with the other resorts and a road running right through it. I wanted to get away from civilisation and the old resort, out on a sand bar only accessible by boat, really had appealed to me. I booked into a reed hut and planned to make myself at home for a few days and to make the most of the place now that I had come so far.
There were about twenty huts in the compound with a restaurant and bar too. I settled in and sat outside my hut to see who else was staying here. The place was deserted that afternoon, I guessed that everyone had either gone to the beach or taken a boat along the river. I crossed the road and walked to the beach; it too was deserted, just a few fisherman in the distance hauling their boats onto the beach. The wind blew strongly off the ocean forming giant waves that crashed onto the white sand. The waves and the currents made it too dangerous to swim, which added to my day's disappointments. I walked the beach instead, passing by a few palm trees on the way; most of the land was just covered in shrub and grass and wasn't the lush green tropical beach I expected. Next door to the resort was a building site with a half built house, a similar story along the coastal road which was littered with half completed buildings.
In the evening I found the only other two guests staying at the resort; I joined them for a beer. While we sat there the staff busied themselves setting out dozens of chairs and tables across the compound. My spirits lifted in the anticipation of a lively evening ahead. It didn't last long though when Boris, one of the other guests who had been staying there the last few days, told me that every evening they set out all the tables and every evening no-one else turned up. A couple of days ago he had been the only guest and had had the bar to himself. Boris was from Brussels in Belgium; he was the curator of African arts at the national museum and was out in Ghana on a business trip. The other guest was Carlos from Barcelona in Spain; he was travelling around Ghana on a three-week holiday. We spent the evening sitting out in the warm evening air, drinking beer with the sound of the surf crashing onto the beach in the distance.
The hours past by and turned into days and we were either asleep, drinking beer or strolling along the beach. The resort began to take on its own charm and we all fell into a routine of doing nothing while the staff carried on their endless routine of putting out tables and chairs each night and then stand around just serving the three of us beer before packing away all the unused chairs at the end of the night. The owner and staff were extremely friendly; it was more like staying at someone's home than a beach resort. Most of the day the owner would sit in his chair next to the bar watching life go by. In the evenings he would join us while we drunk our beer for a chat to make sure we were enjoying ourselves. After arriving in Ada and finding the resort I was heading for had been washed away, this new resort really began to make up for my first days disappointment. I found myself spending most of the day relaxing, doing nothing, which was the whole reason why I had come here in the first place.
On my third evening, we were once again sitting around a table drinking beer; the bar had run out of our preferred brand so we made do with whatever beer was left. The tables and chairs had again been set out as the sunset and remained unused for the evening. It was about nine o'clock that night when a taxi pulled up at the gates. We joked that it could be a group of travellers arriving to check in when three girls with backpacks walked through the gates and up to the reception hut. At last we had some other people to talk to instead of spending the evening telling the same old jokes and stupid stories; every evening though we still managed to make ourselves laugh but I think the beer played a major part in that. The girls checked in and disappeared into a hut; we waited for them to reappear and put some spare chairs around our table to accommodate them. When they finally emerged from their hut, they walked straight past our table, without even acknowledging us, and sat at a table on the opposite side of the compound. Boris was not having any of this and got up, grabbed his beers and said he was going to introduce himself; we grabbed our beer bottles and followed Boris, pulling up a chair each at their table.
The three girls were from England and had been teaching English at a school in Accra. They were volunteer workers and had finished their assignment and were now taking a few weeks off to explore the surrounding area; their next stop would be Lome in Togo. Some of the staff from the bar joined us too and at last we were having a lively evening. This stretch of the coast is one of the main breeding grounds for turtles; someone asked one of the staff whether it would be possible to see any of the turtles hauling themselves up onto the beach to lay their eggs, as this time of year was turtle season. One of the barmen offered to take us along the beach on a turtle hunt. We finished off our beer, grabbed our cameras and torches from our huts and set off walking west along the beach. The moon was almost full and hung in the sky in front of us lighting the way. We walked for a long time but all we found were the trails left by the turtles in the sand; it seemed that we were too late until we found a trail leading up the beach and no return trail back to the ocean; we had found a turtle. At the top of the beach a turtle was busy excavating a large hole to deposit her eggs. We sat and watched while the turtle worked; it was some time before she finished her work and hauled herself back down the beach and off into the ocean. We walked back along the beach to the resort feeling content that we had found a turtle. It was 02.00 in the morning by the time we returned. After having a cold refreshing beer we turned in for the night in our reed huts, the hypnotic sound of the surf crashing on the beach in the distance sending me off to sleep.
Eventually it was time to travel back to Accra. It turned out that Carlos and I were booked on the same flight back to Europe on Sunday evening, so we travelled together stopping for a night at another beach resort just outside the city. The day we left Ada was Election Day. The country seemed quiet, the roads empty; everyone was queuing up outside the polling stations. In every town and village we passed through there were long lines of people patiently waiting for their turn to vote. On the eve of the Election Day president Jerry Rawlings made an address to the nation. The main focus of his speech was the democratic process and how the eyes of the world were watching Ghana. These elections should be an example to the rest of Africa on how to run a peaceful, honest and fair election. He started his speech as follows:
'My fellow countrymen and women, exactly four years ago, on 6th December 1996, I spoke to you on the eve of election day. Then as now, I spoke not out of partisan interest but as the president of the Republic of Ghana who has concern for the well-being of all our people, no matter our political affiliations...' His speech went on to say how the democratic process in Ghana had matured and how any new government needed integrity to run the country. This integrity would be gained through honest and fair polls and respect for the people's wishes through the democratic process. He finished his address by saying, 'My beloved countrymen and women, my brothers and sisters, as I stand before you this evening, I remain very keenly aware of the significance of this momentous opportunity to consolidate our democratic aspirations in the full view of the rest of the world which has grown sceptical about the ability of Africa, especially black Africa, to chart a viable and persisting democratic process for generations to come. I therefore take this opportunity to assure you all that wherever the future takes me after 7 January 2001, I will always cherish the hope that Ghana remains the jewel that it has become.'
A day after leaving Ada I was back in Accra. The Lemon Lodge hotel was full so I checked into the Asylum Down Hotel instead and had a single room for US$1.50 a night. They were both budget hotels but I think I preferred the Asylum to the Lemon. Accra is a large sprawling city with a population of 1.7 million. The city is on the coast, which helps ease, the pollution from the choked main roads. There's not a great deal to see in the city, it is more a place to meet the people, who like in the rest of Ghana were friendly and open. The commercial heart of the city is the Makola market. I walked past it many times, there was always a tide of people coming and going; I never had the energy to wander around it, the heat, humidity and crowds would probably have finished me off within an hour. Down near the coast on 28th February Street is the arts centre and art market. This is where I spent my time shopping, purchasing a small collection of Ashanti woodcarvings. Arts and crafts from all over the country were for sale here including woodcarvings from the various tribes, masks, brass work, cloth and beads etc.
I checked my email later that day and found a message from Teresa, one of the American girls I had met in Mali a few weeks ago, saying that both Tara and herself were in Accra and staying at another hotel north of the downtown area. We met up later that day and over the weekend we hung out together, meeting up for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a few beers in the evening. Teresa's boyfriend lived in the city, had a car and knew quite a few people around town. Some friends of his family ran a stall in the fetish market in Ussher Town, a suburb just north of James Town and the two forts on the coast that have taken their names from these two districts.
Tara had been invited to meet them and as she was a professional photographer, to take photos of the stall; I joined her seeing my opportunity to also take some photos of a fetish stall, which is generally taboo. In most towns and cities there is a section in the market for fetish stalls or a separate market altogether like this one in Ussher Town. The stalls sell the various things needed by traditional believers to perform their religious ceremonies as well as ingredients used by traditional healers; these include mainly animal parts. This stall had for sale, of what I could recognise, birds, cats, elephant skin, baby crocodiles and all types of various dried animal skins. It didn't smell too fresh, the dead animals and parts had all been dried out in the sun. There were a lot of other things for sale, most I didn't recognise. There was no problem taking photos of their stall. When we asked why it was okay to take photos when at every other fetish market it was strictly forbidden, the owners told us that they don't believe in any of these traditional beliefs. They were business people and were just in the market to make a profit; they were also devout Christians, which suddenly explained it all.
For the remaining days I spent in Ghana after the election on Thursday 7th, which did pass off peacefully, everyone was glued to a radio listening to the results as they were declared. Every bar, restaurant, hotel, shop and taxi had a radio on, the results droning out. After a day it began to become apparent that the opposition NPP was winning in both the presidential and parliamentary votes. John Kufuor the opposition candidate won 48% of the vote while the ruling NDC candidate, the current vice-president, John Atta Mills gained 45%. This was not enough for John Kufuor to win outright and the country went to the polls again a couple of weeks later for a run-off between the two candidates.
Finally Sunday evening approached. I had spent my last day, once I had recovered from my hangover on Saturday night, on the beach. On our last evening, Saturday, we drove south out of the city to a large bar and restaurant on the beach. There was a local band playing, the place was very busy. We had a table on the terrace overlooking the rocky beach, the waves breaking below us; it was a perfect way to spend the last night of this trip. On Sunday morning I felt a little worse for wear, I was dehydrated from both too many beers and the relentless hot weather, day and night. When Carlos arrived in a taxi at the Asylum Down Hotel that evening, I really didn't want to get in, but unfortunately this trip was over. I wish it could of continued and even as we drove through the suburbs of Accra to the airport I began to mentally plan my return trip to Africa.
A trip around East Africa; now that sounds interesting. With that thought I flew home determined to start saving as much money as I could over the next year to return and further explore this most fascinating of continents. While back home the result of the presidential run-off poll was announced. John Kufuor, the NPP opposition leader won and took up his new role as president of the Republic of Ghana on 7th January 2001. Jerry Rawlings' last wishes as president had come true. The people had spoken and the leaders had listened; a peaceful transition of power took place under the eyes of the international community who could only praise Ghana as an example to the rest of Africa on how to run free and fair elections.
Thirteen months after returning from this trip I returned to Africa for six months starting my journey in Uganda.