Archive for May, 2012

A private tour of Accra

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

We were a bit more adventurous today. We were reminded of our friends in Turkey who once told us “if you don’t ask us for what you want, we will think you do not like us.” It reminded us that what we consider “polite” in Canada may not be considered polite elsewhere. We also realized that we had no idea what is polite in Ghanaian culture. Unlike other countries we visited, our tourist books and other reading did not tell us much about the culture here. We still don’t feel like we understand, but after talking to Aba for a while we at least feel a little less confused.

We asked Aba about hiring a taxi for a few hours to drive us and show us around Accra. Aba’s brother Kweku volunteered to be our tour-guide for the afternoon. He spent several hours of his afternoon graciously showing us all different areas of Accra. We learned that the different neighbourhoods change very quickly. There are many places where there is a poor neighbourhood right next to a more expensive one.

We are very glad we did not explore on our own. We are way beyond our comfort zone in some areas here. Things change very quickly from nice to not-nice without a lot of warning. We got out and walked a couple of places with Kweku, where it would not have been safe for us to walk without a local guide. We also saw some very nice areas, like the university and the more touristy area Osu. We are staying in a neighbourhood called Dansoman, which is an estate neighbourhood (middle class).

Today is Sunday which meant that many of the shops where closed. As a result, the streets were pretty empty. We were able to drive through the market area today, where we walked yesterday. It was so packed yesterday that it would have taken a long time to drive through the crowds of people.

Tomorrow morning we leave Aba’s at about 5am in order to be at the bus station for 5:30 am. Our bus leaves at 6:30, or at least that is what we’ve been told!

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Aba in front of her house in Dansoman neighbourhood.

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Fisherman at Jamestown (used to be the old port in Accra). It is not too safe of an area for foreigners to wonder without a guide.

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Also in Jamestown – There were a lot of people, enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon. A bit of a football match was happening on the beach. Scott got caught by a wave and his feet were soaked. The lady in the foreground of the picture said that he was blessed. Kweku tells us that the women from that tribe are good at saying things to make people feel equal – so because we were not wet, Scott received the blessing.

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The train tracks in the middle of a poorer part of town. There are many people on the streets here – many sit in front of their shacks or stores because they have no where else to sit. The density of people in the poorer areas is much greater than in the more affluent areas – you could use population density as a measure of the expense of the neighbourhood.

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A hand cart used to bring goods to the market.

A visit with locals

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Saturday and Sunday night we are couchsurfing with a generous local host Aba. Aba’s family is from the Cape Coast area but her parents move to Accra so this is where she grew up. She runs a catering company, cooking food on contract for weddings and other special events.

Before coming to Aba’s house, we stopped by the ABC bus terminal to buy our bus tickets for Cotonou. We leave at 6:30 on Monday morning (needing to be at the terminal at 5:30 am) at a cost of 79 Cedi each (about $40). We were slightly delayed heading to the bus terminal by a rather quick approaching downpour. The storm began with a crash as one of the windows in the hotel restaurant suddenly slammed shut, shattering the glass. We decided to lounge around at the hotel for an extra hour in hopes that the storm would blow over – which for the most part it did.

Our taxi ride out to Aba’s was a bit of an adventure. She lives much further away from downtown than we expected. We tried to negotiate the rate down, but really, for 10 Cedi we got a pretty good deal – it was at least three times further than any previous rides which we paid 10 cedi, 6 cedi, and 5 cedi. Scott had actually negotiated down to 9 Cedi, but felt guilty after we figure out how far it was and gave the driver 10. The drive was also very interesting, as we passed out of downtown Accra into the less developed suburbs. Some of the areas we drove through were pretty poor, and seemed more like stereotypical Africa than downtown Accra.

We arrived at Aba’s (fortunately, Scott gave the cell phone to the driver, and Aba provided specific directions), to meet several friendly people: Aba, her sister Nancy, and neighbours and other relatives. The storm had knocked out the power (and we saw a some damage to billboards – some blocking streets – and houses as we drove). Apparently, the rain is normal, but not with such sudden winds. In addition to the power being out we were also without running water. Good thing we are adventurous, as this is definitely interesting.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner by candlelight with Aba and her sister Nancy – fried chicken, cabbage and carrots, rice and a red sauce that was like spiced ketchup. Nothing too spicy, which made Becky happy. We had some great conversation talking about politics, gay marriage, religion in schools – pretty much everything you are taught not to talk about – I think everyone learned something and had a good time.

By 9 pm we were getting ready for bed. Still no power, which is unfortunate, as it means we hear the neighbours generator and the ceiling fan doesn’t run. It also means the water isn’t running, so we are flushing toilets and washing hands using a large rain barrel (just like the ones we have at home), that was filled the last time the water was running.

We are starting to figure out how things work around here, but are still feeling pretty out of our element. Tomorrow, we are not at all certain what we shall do with ourselves. We do know that we need to over our Canadian sense of politeness and start asking more questions about what is culturally polite behavior.

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The neighborhood where our hotel is very clean.
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We went for a walk near downtown and saw many women selling things that they transported on their heads.

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Wild rains with heavy winds.

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A billboard that broke during the heavy rains and winds.

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Dinner by candlelight.

Arrival in Ghana

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I’m in denial. The reality started to sink in when we landed, but it hasn’t really sunk in yet. We are in Accra, Ghana – that is – West Africa! The smells remind me of a combination of Costa Rica and some kind of burning smell. Scott said it reminded him of diesel, I thought it was more like burning vegetation (like Thailand without the spiciness of Thailand) or burning coal. We can’t quite figure it out. Unfortunately, our flight was late leaving Washington DC, such that we arrived at our hotel at dusk. It’s not safe for us to wander the unfamiliar streets at night, so tonight we will forgo the walk downtown and eat at the hotel (after a quick swim in the hotel pool).

On the drive from the airport to the hotel, we got to see street vendors trying to sell various things whilst the traffic was stopped. The women selling things (water, some snack foods) carried the food on their heads using a special tray. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures, we were tired. At major intersections, traffic was controlled by a policeman or some other uniformed traffic official. I don’t recall seeing any lights.

Getting through the airport reminded us how unpracticed we are at arriving at airports in developing countries – with the many touts that try to “friend” you by helping you with something and then try to separate you from your money. Today, Steve decided to be our new friend and offered to have us use his cell phone call the hotel for pick-up. Of course before long, we saw ourselves give him 20 Cedi (about $10) to recharge his phone (way more than he needed – he had asked only for $1 US but we didn’t have any small bills, and with a few switch ups we ended up giving him the 20). He did help us order the shuttle and took us outside to wait for it. He answered many questions, and he and the parking lot attendant kept us entertained while we waited for the shuttle. He made sure we got on the shuttle, but of course asked for another “tip”. Given that excessive overpayment for the phone, we were not about to give him more. The hotel shuttle driver was amused at his boldness (and perhaps impressed at our ability to say no). We did realize that we need to carry more small bills. It was a good reminder that we are naive, especially in airports. We are too accustomed to arriving on bicycle without the hassle of tourists and touts – such that people tend to be much more genuinely friendly.

Although we arrived late, we both got a reasonable amount of sleep on the plane. They had messed up our seats somehow, such that when we went to checkin we were not seated together. When we got to the airport in Ottawa, we asked them to put us together, but they couldn’t because all the seats were locked – something about an equipment change. By the time we got to Washington the plane was packed. There was a huge waiting list for seats in economy, and no easy way to move us. We went to the lounge (Scott is Aeroplan Elite, so we get access), and asked there if they could get us seated together. After several more gate changes, and flight delays, Scott went to the gate with our story, and somehow a gate agent took pity on us. Not only did we get seated together, but we scored a free business class upgrade! Thanks United! This certainly made for a nice start to our vacation, and made up for the three hour delay 🙂

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Scott lying in his very comfortable seat. Looks a bit like a coffin though…

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First dinner in Ghana – Groundnut Soup and “Red Red”

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Roof of the airport as the sun went down (yes, not very exciting, but we were very tired when we arrived, and didn’t take many photos… more in the coming days)

Riding through the tulips

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

For the first few weeks of May every year, Ottawa is in bloom. This year is the 60th anniversary for the annual Tulip Festival. From the Tulip Festival Website:

The tulip was a gift in perpetuity to the Canadian people for providing a safe harbor to the Dutch Royal Family during the Second World War. The festival’s mandate is to preserve this heritage and celebrate the tulip as a symbol of international friendship by engaging local organizers, volunteers, artists, performers, tourists and festival-goers in what has become an annual ritual of spring and one of Canada’s best loved and well-known cultural events.

On Monday, I had an opportunity to ride through some of the spectacular tulip fields. Unfortunately, the warm spring has meant that most of the tulips are already finished and the festival still has two more weekends.

Here are some pictures:
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Note that this blog post was prepared completely on my iPad – mostly it is an experiment to see how much I can do on the iPad.