Archive for the ‘Other Travel’ Category

Ghana – Green Turtle

Saturday, June 9th, 2012
Our last four nights in Ghana were spent at Green Turtle lodge on the coast near the Cote D’Ivore (Ivory Coast) border.
Much of the four days was spent relaxing by the beach, reading and napping. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get Internet (no MTN coverage, had we had an Airtel or Vodophone SIM, we would have had coverage). This is one reason why people in Ghana have more than one SIM card for their phones – some areas are only covered by one or two carriers. No one seems to cover the entire country.

We had our own little hut. We opted for the less expensive hut that didn’t have built in facilities. Instead we used the shared composting toilets, which were kept very clean. The outdoor showers were definitely highlight, with lots of space and enough water pressure to rinse the soap and salt out of your hair! Our rooms, however, did not have fans. Each room had a solar panel that provided enough electricity to run the light. There was no outlet or other electricity in which to run a fan. We were, however, able to charge our varioius devices using the bar power strip (which was also solar powdered). This was quite adequate on sunny days, but on cloudy days they need to use most of the power to charge the batteries for the fridge (cold beer being a priority)!


Shortly after arriving, we met a group of medical doctors (or soon to be medical doctors) who had been studying International Medicine and doing research placements in Ghana. They were finished their work and on a well needed vacation before heading back to the UK to finish their schooling.

The first morning, we went to try out swimming in the surf. It was a relatively calm day, such that we were able to get past the breakers and enjoy bobbing up and down – although we did notice the tendancy to drift out – so we kept an eye on how far we were from the shore. Swimming back in afterwards, Becky was reminded of the force of the waves when she was knocked down in the shallow waters and bumped both her knees on the bottom (ouch).

The next mornings swim didn’t go without incident. The waves were certainly more powerful. We were not able to get out too deep as we kept getting pushed back in. The force of the breakers and the accompanying undertow were a reminder of how powerful things were. One of the doctors got out a little too deep, and then got stuck with too many breaking waves too close together. She would barely get her bearings and get hit again by another wave, with each wave trying to pull her out further. Fortunately, the water wasn’t too deep where she was that Scott was able to still reach the ground. He quickly swam/walked out to her and helped pull her in past the breakers and back to shore. From that point on, we were very careful not to get in too deep (actually, Becky choose not to go in again, as she had been knocked down unexpectedly a couple times that morning in the water that was only waist deep).

One morning Scott and the doctors went out for a canoe tour in the nearby mangrove (operated by some people from the nearby village). Becky was finding it difficult to sleep at night, and the early mornings was the only time she slept well, and she didn’t want to give up the sleep for a canoe trip. As she enjoyed some uninterrupted slumber, everyone else enjoyed a canoe trip.

It was a peaceful and placid paddle, with all of us in a big dugout canoe. It felt a bit tippy, but would only tip a little ways and was quite stable – good secondary stability.  We saw some interesting trees in the mangrove, and heard some birds, but most were too deep in the forest to catch more than a glimpse.

In addition to lazing about, we had the material we bought in Benin tailored. Unfortunately, the local town only had a men’s tailor, so Scott got two nice shirts. Becky got a couple of other things made, but they didn’t look so good. She did, however, get a nice wrap (made from the same material as Scott’s shirt).  This village didn’t have electricity, so the tailor used a treadle-powered sewing machine.  The shirts were quite well tailored, and all for $10 CAD.

Our final adventure in Ghana was our return to Accra. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm, so we didn’t leave Green Turtle until the morning of our flight. Getting back to Accra involved a 45 minute taxi drive on rough roads (the picture shows one of the nicer sections), followed by a 3-4 hour tro-tro ride. We had hoped to take a nice air conditioned VIP bus, but when arrived at the town there were no buses in sight. Scott quickly arranged seats for us on an almost full “air-conditioned” tro-tro. Becky, quickly thought to purchase an extra seat, so that we had the entire back row to ourselves. Within 5 minutes the tro-tro was full and we were on our way. Unfortuantely, the air conditioning rarely made its way to the back of the tro-tro. We boiled most of the trip. At one point when we were stopped, Becky was able to purchase a couple of bags of cold water – this is the water that the locals drink which is cheap but not as certain in its purity – but it was cold, and served well as an icepack to help us cool down. Our tro-tro experience emphasized how good of a decision we made when we decided to hire a car and driver. Trotro’ing around for a week would have been both inconvenient and uncomfortable!

Back in Accra, Becky hatched a plan to go to the Movenpick hotel in Accra and enjoy a swim before heading to our flights. The Movenpick is the most expensive hotel in Ghana – at about 350 Euro per night. We certainly could not justify a night in the hotel, but for 25 Euro each we could enjoy a refreshing swim in the pool. Of course, this was before Becky remember that swimming pools in Ghana are anything but refreshing. After dismissing the idea of a swim, we found out that as long as we had our own towel, we could use the swimming pool showers for free. So, we each took a refreshing shower, changed into clean cloths, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the free Internet in the air conditioned lobby. We did buy dinner at the Movenpick before taking their free shuttle to the airport. It was $30 well spent!

Our flight home was uneventful, but landing in Washington’s Dulles airport was surreal – bright lights everywhere, concrete, glass and steel, self-driving trains, masses of people who looked like us… It brought to home just how easily we can get accustomed to our surroundings, and how much luxury we live in, just by virtue of being born in North America.

Ghana Day 6

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

We were a little surprised to learn that we had 7-hours of driving ahead of us today. Most of the day would be spent in the sweaty bumpy Land Rover. We did, however, pause to take a few photos whilst driving.

We had seen a few of these smokey compounds along our journey, but didn’t know what they were. Apparently, they are making palm oil. The process is very dirty and smokey. I can’t imagine the health hazards associated with living in one of these compounds.

In every village we pass through, there are signs on the side of the road celebrating someone’s life. If the signs are any indication, life expectancy is Ghana is pretty high. We often see signs with people who passed away in their 80s and 90s.  It is a sign of wealth and respect for the deceased to put up an expensive funeral board, so many of them are brightly coloured and professionally printed.

Even the police need sponsors in Ghana. Each of the road checkpoints (quite frequent, as we passed through 3 or 4 each day), has an associated advertisement. This one is for foam mattresses.

We did pause briefly in our day of driving to have lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in Cape Coast. In the picture above you can see the “white washed” Cape Coast slave castle. It was last restored in 1992. More recently, it is famous for the visit by Barack and Michelle Obama. Michelle’s ancestors left Africa through the gates of this castle.

We ended up with a personal tour because we couldn’t wait for the scheduled one. We didn’t want to be too long as we wanted to get to Green Turtle before dark. We had a really good tour guide, who told us about how the slaves were sold to the colonists by the warring chiefs. We did, however, hear of other guides that told a totally different version of events, that involved the colonists rounding up slaves and oppressing the local people.

It felt very odd being led into each of the dungeons. What was especially weird was the voodoo shrine setup at the end of the male dungeon, as if this were a holy place. In each of the dungeons there were many wreaths of remembrance left by descendants of slaves.

Just like in the time of the slave trade, just outside the gates of the castle, there is an active fishing village. Life outside the castle gates couldn’t be more normal.

After three more hours of driving, we finally arrived at Green Turtle. Here we said goodbye to our driver, Fofo. He hadn’t really signed up to taking us on a week long tour, but he did the job, and never complained about the change in plans. Overall we were happy with our decision to spend six days on a tour, and with the services Jolinaiko Eco Tours offered.  They were very flexible in adjusting to our requests, and we got to see many places in Ghana we otherwise would have missed.

Ghana Day 5

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Breakfast at the butterfly sactuary was our most exotic yet. They just kept bringing us food. We pretty much rolled out of breakfast into a morning hike.

Again our day began with a hike. Actually, this was more like a walk in the woods, as the terrain was rather flat. Becky had expected the guide to be telling us about butterflies, but the interpretive talk was more about the different kind of trees in this forest. The area is protected, and several scientists are carrying out experiments on the growth patterns within the forest. Several times, we walked through taped areas where scientists were counting everything that grew.

With a full belly and some fresh air, Scott needed a nap – and you know, he can sleep anywhere!

Becky hiding being the interesting root of this huge tree.

After walking through the forest, we returned to the lodge via a road. At that point, we saw many different butterflies enjoying the sun on the road. The colours were often rather vibrant.

We had only a short drive to get to our destination for the evening, so we asked Fofo to bring us someplace where Scott could get a haircut. We ended up on the edge of Kumasi, where Scott had his cheapest haircut ever – less than $2 including a generous tip. The stylist really wanted to shave a pattern in Scott’s head, but Scott resisted. Unfortunately, this place was not open – we were very curious about the brass band. The people in the shop were very interested in coming to Canada, and wanted to know how to get in.  Scott explained that going to school and becoming a doctor or engineer was probably the easiest way, which didn’t really excite them.
Tonight’s logding was at Lake Bosomtwe – Lake Point Guesthouse. We had a nice little cabana, with a ceiling fan (which was unfortunate as it often just pushed the hot air down). The rooms were clean and quite nice. The food at the restaurant was pretty good too. More importantly, there were MTN towers nearby so our Internet felt lightening fast!
Lake Bosomtwe (also Bosumtwi or Bosumtwe) is Ghana’s only large natural lake, and was created by a meteor impact.  It is currently about 80m deep, and the size varies dramatically with rainfall and evaporation. In the warm afternoon, we thought we might enjoy a swim in the Lake. Given its size and depth, we expected a nice cool swim, unlike swimming pools in Ghana which are too warm to be refreshing. Just before we began to wade in, some German tourists mentioned to us that it was “like a bathtub”. Now, this is a term we use to describe a swimming pool that is luke-warm, or warmer than it should be for a refreshing swim. We waded in and found the water was actually HOT. It was almost warm enough to be a jacuzzi!  A very odd sensation, wading in a huge lake of hot water!
We saw many people fishing from wooden plank boats, which looked quite tricky – we learned later that the local religion forbids metal touching the lake, so fishing from metal boats is prohibited.
Since there was no chance of a refreshing swim in such warm water, we headed back to our room for a cool shower, and spent the afternoon enjoying the fast Internet. The resort itself didn’t have Internet, but there was an MTN tower close by, so Becky’s phone was getting remarkably fast Internet, such that both of us could use our iPads on the Internet at the same time, using Becky’s phone as a Wifi hotspot.

Ghana Day 4

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

We awoke before breakfast started, so we decided to walk around the resort and take a few pictures.

The resort had a swimming pool that would have been really nice when it was new. It was definitely showing signs of disrepair as many of the tiles in the mosaic and along the steps were missing. The pool was thoroughly cleaned in the morning, but all the missing tiles made it look dirty. We have found that pools don’t get much use. We initially thought a dip in the pool might be refreshing, but with the consistent 30 degree weather, the pool is too warm to be refreshing. Unfortunately, they would need to invest in a lot of ice to make it cool enough for a swim.

For breakfast, we enjoyed sitting on the patio looking out onto the lake. One challenge they have with it getting dark so early (6 pm, before supper is ready), is that various insects are attracted to the lanterns. This one was sitting by our breakfast table – not exactly appetizing.

Our destination for the day was the butterfly sanctuary, which involved a lot of driving. Before we left town though, we stopped in at the Cedi bead making factory. Here they handmake beads out of recycled glass. In the picture above, the owner of the factory demonstrates how the different types of beads are made.

This type of bead is made by first marking the basic shape in a mold by melting small pieces of glass. Then paint is made by pounding down the glass into a fine powder, adding dye, and water to make a paste. Someone then paints the pattern onto each bead individually. Once the beads are painted, they go back into the kiln for a final firing to set the paint.

The kiln itself is made out of clay from termite mounds. The termites do a really good job of mixing up the clay into an equal consistancy and their saliva makes the kiln clay more heat resistant. In the picture you see many molds read to make round beads.

After the bead factory, we had hoped to visit a fair-trade cocoa farm (one of Ghana’s largest export products). Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the farm was closed. This meant the long drive to our final destination was not broken up with any stops.

At one point, Fofo pulled over quickly. The Land Rover had blown a fuse. He pulled out the toolkit, made a few repairs to the wiring and after about 15-minutes we were back on the road.

Dinner at the butterfly sanctuary consisted of – you guessed it – groundnut soup and chicken. Again, it was delicious and completely different from the other varients we had tried. Dinner also included semi-cold (they called it cold but it was verging on warm) Star beer (cheap Ghanian beer that is actually pretty tasty) and bottled water.

The guidebook listed our room as a “fan” room – and indeed our room came with floor fans (our favourite type). But what the guidebook didn’t mention was that the guest house was not on the grid. They only had electricity when they ran the generator from 6-9pm. Again, we were grateful for our headlamps! Unfortunately the lack of fan meant it was a warm night. The room, however, was by far the largest we stayed in, and it was both clean and cheap.

At this point Becky had an ah-ha moment. She realized that if she thought of travelling through Ghana as “camping” with the mosquito nets as the tent rather than vacationing or travelling, then her expectations for accommodations would be more inline with reality. It is only too bad that this didn’t occur to her sooner like when she was packing for the trip, as it would have likely changed how she packed – and made for a more pleasant experience. It certainly did help for the remaining week.


Ghana Day 3

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

Since palm wine is mostly harvested first thing in the morning, this is how our day began. On our way towards breakfast, we followed our guide through the paths beyond the village to see the palm wine harvest.

Palm wine is extracted from recently felled palm trees. The farmers cut a hole in the base of the tree and set a jug under it to collect the sap that pours out. When it can be sold within 12-hours, it fetches a good price, but often they can’t get it to market fast enough. The alternative is to let it ferment, and then distill it into palm gin. We were given an opportunity to try some of the wine, which we each took the tiniest of sips (it was a pretty unsanitary operation). Becky definitely did not like the taste, and certainly would not be seeking out further opportunities to try it!

We enjoyed our breakfast on plastic patio furniture at “Stella’s Inn”. It wasn’t exactly as we had visualized it when Cindy at Jolinaiko recommended it.  Plastic tables were set up out front for the tourists, allowing you to watch the world go by. It made for a uniquely Ghanian experience. Breakfast was the usual spread, made especially for tourists (fried eggs, toast, fresh fruit, and hot water with your choice of instant coffee, tea, or milo) but also includes pieces of fresh avocado and pineapple.  The locals were eating a more traditional breakfast of stew with rice, which Scott was more interested in.

After breakfast we were assigned a new guide to take us on the hike to the waterfall, as our guide from yesterday was taking the students who arrived yesterday on a longer mountain climbing hike before they went to the waterfall. The trail itself was relative flat and the trees provided a pleasant shade in the morning heat.

Along the way, this land crab crossed our path. Our guide picked it up so Becky could take a picture. She implored him not to kill it and just return it to the jungle. She would have be just as happy to take a picture of it in its natural setting. This is an aspect of eco tourism that the guides haven’t really grasped yet.

The waterfall was gorgeous. It reminded us of the waterfall that we flew into on our helicopter ride in Kauai several years ago. The water was so inviting! There was a no swimming sign but our guide ensured us that it was there for the locals, as many of them don’t know how to swim. He said it didn’t apply to tourists 😉

Given how hot and sweaty we were, and how much we had been looking forward to the refreshing swim, we decided to go for it. We had heard from the other tourists staying at the guesthouse that it was very refreshing. One of them mentioned that the water was clean enough to drink, but we didn’t buy that! It was, however, very refreshing after the hike there, and we both very much enjoyed the brief swim.  Scott did look around for the snails which carry Schistosomiasis, and didn’t see any, but we found out later that no fresh water in Ghana is safe from the parasites.  Whups!

We had hoped to also get a chance to take the “village tour”, but alas, we were out of time. We wanted to see the Akosombo dam, and the last tour of the day was at 3pm. As it was, our hike took a good chunk of the morning, and we needed to get back on the road. At this point, there was no sign of the new driver and vehicle, so it looked like we would be spending another day in Fofo’s un-airconditioned Landrover.

Our guide (the girl Scott is talking to) seemed quite knowledgeable and was able to talk a lot about the dam and where the power was used.  It was completed in 1965, and can produce 1020 MW of electricity, about 10% more than the Kenney Dam in Becky’s home-town of Kemano. Since this is the largest dam in West Africa, and backed by the largest man-made lake in the world, we expected it to be significantly grander.  Power is proportional to the height of the water fall though, and the water falls 800m in Kemano compared to just over 100m at Akosombo, so in Kemano the same power can be produced with only 12% of the water flow.  The height of water thanks to the Coastal Mountains in Canada makes a big difference.
This visit really brought home the difference in electricity consumption between Ghana and Canada.  Akosombo produces about two thirds of Ghana’s electricity, and much of that is used by the VALCO aluminum smelter.  The Kenney Dam produces less than one percent of Canada’s electricity.  Canada produced almost 600 TWh of electricity in 2011, compared to about 6.75 TWh in Ghana.   After spending time in Benin, we began to think of Ghana as pretty modern and well-electrified, but this puts some of the disparity into numbers.
The guide also talked about how 80,000 people were relocated and adequately compensated when the area was flooded.  If true, that’s better than we did with the relocation of the Innu for the Upper Churchill Falls dam.
Unfortunately, Scott was pretty animated when he was discussing something with the guide and when he went to put the camera in his pocket he dropped it onto the rocks. The screen shattered on the corner, but fortunately, it was still usable. This wasn’t a good trip for us from a camera perspective, Becky’s camera died on the third day (it was the same one she bought in Greece during our GoingEast trip, so it had a long life). The camera that Scott dropped was bought only a week before we left for Africa!

We were amused that many of the signs for the workers were in Chinese. China is providing a fair bit of funding and much of the skilled labour for the refurbishment project.

After our tour of the dam, we stays at a resort (with air conditioning) located on the river just below the dam. The restaurant had a beautiful view.

Since we’d skipped lunch, we figured we try out a pizza for a snack. It was perhaps the oddest pizza we’ve ever had! What we did learn was what food they had for dinner. They had a pretty impressive menu, but when the waiter arrived,  he listed the three dishes they actually had. So, rather than making us guess (which is what usually happened), we knew that we only needed to choose from the three specific things.

For dinner, Becky had shrimp, and Scott had fish with banku – a white paste made from fermented corn and cassava dough. Banku is fermented in a similar way to Sourdough, so he was looking forward to trying it.  It definitely smelled well-fermented, and had a gluey consistency reminiscent of severely overcooked porridge.  We both tried a bit, and found it to be acquired taste, putting it mildly.  Scott will eat almost anything, but all but those first two bites stayed on the plate.  He doesn’t plan to acquire a taste for Banku any time soon.  It was so memorable, we forgot to take a picture!




Ghana Day 2

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Our day began with a hike through the tropical rain forest. The area was rather hilly, so the hike involved a lot of ups and downs.

On our hike we passed through areas were farmers had cleared to make fields. The most common crop in these fields is cassava, which is used to make fufu and banku. These are two starchy foods that are staples in the Ghanian diet.

Our guide used his machete to cut a path where plants had grown over the path. He also banged his machete against his walking stick on regular intervals. He said the metallic sound was to scare away snakes.

In case you ever wondered what a wild pineapple looks like. I don’t think I’d ever seen one before.

We passed through a cocoa farm, where the farmer was still sleeping on her bench. The “farm” consisted of about 10 or 12 trees in a small grove. When we initially walked through the farmer was sleeping, but on the way back she was awake and talking to someone on her cell phone! When the cocoa pods are ripe they turn yellow.

We had seen these huge snails in the market, but I couldn’t get a picture then. I wonder if they taste anything like the escargot we get in a can at home?

The hike involved a few too many hills for Becky’s knees, so she stopped for a rest and skipped the last 5-10 minutes, while Scott and our guide continued down the steep trail to the waterfall.


When we returned from our hike, we took advantage of our room at the lodge to take a shower and put on some clean clothes. We heard from our tour company that the air conditioned truck was still broken, and that Fofo would continue as our driver for another day. Our next night’s destination was Liate Wote, an eco village that is set up to allow tourists an opportunity to experience different aspects of Ghanian village life. The tour company owner said that we should be sure to sit on the patio at Stella’s Inn and enjoy the view of village life. This certainly put an image in Becky’s mind that didn’t align with the reality when we got there.

Before heading to Liate Wote, we stopped in at the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. Becky was really skeptical of this plan. She entered the village expecting it to be a bit of a tourist trap. It does feel a little like some of these “tourist” things are set up to separate foreigners from their money. This may be our jaded view though – none of the little tours were very expensive, and they do provide some hard currency in areas which otherwise focus on subsistence agriculture.  In the case of Tafi Atome, tourist dollars have resulted in some significant improvements to the village.  Also, there is so little tourist infrastructure in Ghana, it needs to start somewhere. These small tours are at least an attempt to create a tourist economy.

The monkey sactuary turned out to be a pleasant surprise. We began with a nice walk in the woods. Unlike this morning’s hike, the trails were all very flat, which made it quite relaxing. As we walked along the trails, another guide walked through another area of the forest, both guides making calls to the monkeys. The guides kept in contact with one another over cell phones as they tried to find the monkeys – it took about 30 minutes of walking before they found some monkeys for us to visit (and feed).  Because we were there at noon, rather than early morning or late afternoon, the monkeys were far from the trails, and likely resting.  Given the heat, they were smarter than we were!

Our guide demonstrated to us the correct way to feed the monkeys. The monkeys in this forest are protected. The locals belief they are some kind of spiritual beings, and as such have protected this area. There are no banana trees within the monkey sactuary, so the monkeys get a treat whenever tourists come to visit.

Unlike the monkeys at the Batu Caves in Malaysia, these monkeys are tame and not aggressive. They are happy to grab a banana out of your hand if you aren’t holding it tight enough. If you do hold it tight, they will peel the banana skin back and pull out the banana – all rather quickly. Their hands do not have claws and they never hissed at us or showed their teeth.

Overall, we really enjoyed the visit to the monkey sanctuary.

Along the way to Liate Wote, we passed by this very large baobob tree. Fofo said it was the largest one in Ghana. We jumped out of the truck to take a picture. While Fofo was taking a picture of us around the tree, a local man came and told him he couldn’t do this without permission. After some lengthy discussion, we ended up paying the local man a 2 Cedi “tourist tax” to be permitted to take pictures of ourselves around the tree.

As we approached Liate Wote, we could see that some thunder storms would soon hit. We pulled into town and ordered our supper.  It was between 2-3 pm – but supper is usually ordered well in advance, so people can get ingredients if needed). They didn’t have a menu, and Becky’s stomach was a bit uncertain, so we ordered what we knew – groundnut soup with chicken. We headed to the visitor centre to see about a hike to the famous Tagbo waterfall. When we arrived, they said the storm was coming soon, and suggested that we check into the guest house, and if the storm doesn’t arrive, then we could hike. Otherwise, the hike would need to wait until the morning.

As soon as we got to the guest house the rains hit. It poured. We started to think about food and wondered how we would get our supper. Not soon after that thought occurred, a young boy of about 10 arrived with a basket containing our dinner, including cutlery, napkins, cups and everything else we needed. The groundnut soup was quite different from the previous version we tried, but still very good.

Our room was simple, but clean, and had a floor fan and regular electricity. We find that we prefer floor fans, because we can place them inside our bed net – creating a pleasant breeze through the night. The guesthouse did not have towels, so we were glad to be carrying a travel towel with us. The shared washrooms and showers were clean and we seemed to never run out of toilet paper. Overall, a great accommodation choice (at it only cost 15 cedi for the night).

Once the rain let up, we went on a tour of a mushroom farm. Apparently this was originally created as a women’s cooperative development project. This man was now trying to keep the farm alive in a much smaller form that it was when it was directly supported by development money. One issue is that that the mushrooms need sawdust to grow, but they didn’t have a road to the farm.  This meant there was no way to deliver the large volumes of sawdust needed. They also needed to order the spores from overseas. In many ways, it seems like a poorly planned development project (of which there seem to be many in this part of Africa).

Before leaving the farmer (and making a donation to support the farm), we were asked to sign the tourist book. This is a common practice in Ghana, and we found ourselves signing these logs everywhere we went.

We had hoped to do a village tour before dark, but just as we finished the mushroom farm tour a group of students arrived on motorcycle taxis. Our guide needed to go find them a place to stay, as the guesthouse didn’t enough enough empty rooms for the new group. Overall, a nice day in Ghana – and we did several things that we otherwise would not have had we not had the truck and Fofo to take us there.