Archive for April, 2012

A Northern Odyssey

We’ve been living in Ghana for about six months now, but had not explored beyond the south coast (between Accra and Cape Coast).  So we added some leave to the Easter break, and headed north for ten days.

Kumasi

Our trip had an inauspicious start, when the taxi taking us to the bus station in Accra got a flat tyre.  The bus journey to Kumasi (Ghana’s second city, in the Ashanti region in the middle of the country) takes six hours, partly because the road is so bad in places.   And the taxi driver in Kumasi could not find our hotel – but eventually we got there, and stayed three nights.

Kumasi’s main tourist attraction is probably the vast market: the largest in West Africa, though rather too crowded and noisy for our taste.  We made a couple of trips outside the city.  The first was to Lake Bosomtwe (created by a meteor) where we walked and hired a pedalo.  The other was to see one of the traditional shrines of the Ashanti people, and then go to a village where there is a community-based tourism project: a guide shows you how cocoa is grown and kente cloth is woven, and the fee for the tour benefits the local people.

Lake Bosomtwe (an ancient meteor crater)

Besease shrine, an example of an Ashanti ritual building

Ian has a go at weaving kente cloth

...and showing off the finished product

Further north…….

On Monday 9th April we were picked up by Ahmed, who was to be our driver/guide for the next five days.  He took us north to Tamale – an even longer journey than Accra-Kumasi, but surprisingly the road was in better condition.  The scenery changed on the way: in the Kumasi area it was very green, with tall grass, bushes and trees, almost jungle-like, but further north it became savannah, grassland (mainly red/brown) with occasional trees.  On the way we stopped to visit the Kintampo Falls.  We were totally flabbergasted by the number of (local) people there: evidently it’s the place to have a picnic and a splash on a public holiday!

Kintampo Falls on Bank Holiday Monday

Tamale is the largest city in northern Ghana, which is predominantly Muslim, in contrast with the strongly Christian south.   You therefore see plenty of mosques, large and small, in Tamale, and also plenty of bicycles and motorbikes.  The city is frenetic, and not easy to walk around.

Mosque and motorbikes in Tamale

The next day we went even further north, to Tongo (where there are interesting rock formations, unlike anything else we’ve seen in Ghana) and then Paga, where we saw one of the sacred crocodile pools, and also visited the Pikworo Slave Camp (disused, of course) and Paga Pia’s Palace, an example of the traditional buildings used by extended families in that area. Paga is very close to the border with Burkina Faso, so you cannot get further north in Ghana!

Tongo Rocks

One of the inmates at Paga crocodile ponds

Demonstrating drumming and dancing at Pikworo slave camp

Food granaries at Paga Pia's Palace

……. and west

From Paga we travelled west to Wa, the capital of Ghana’s Upper West Region.  Near Wa is the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary, where we had a canoe trip on the Black Volta River, which forms the boundary with Burkina Faso.  The trip was successful in that we saw a number of hippos in the river, although we were somewhat concerned by the state of the canoe, which leaked like the proverbial sieve and had to be continually bailed as we went along!

It's a hard life being a hippo on the Black Volta

The next day we headed east again (by a more southerly route) to Mole National Park.  The park entrance is close to the village of Larabanga, where we saw a fascinating ‘mud and stick’ mosque, claimed to be the oldest in Ghana.

Larabanga Mosque

We stayed two nights at the Mole Motel in the park itself, during which time we went on a driving safari and a foot safari; we saw elephant, antelopes, warthogs and baboons.  We also did a canoe trip from the nearby village of Mognori.

A thoughtful baboon

Antelope in the trees

Why did the elephant cross the road?

Warthog on the move

We spent the intervals between trips sitting round the swimming pool, having the occasional dip and also wandering just a few yards to the viewing platform, which overlooks a couple of watering holes.  On our first day we glimpsed elephants and antelopes there.  During our first night at Mole, there was a violent tropical storm.  We awoke in the morning to find two puddles in our room, where the roof had leaked.  Unfortunately Sandie’s camera bag was standing in one of the puddles, so it and the contents were saturated.  Luckily the cameras continued to work, and we managed to dry out all the Ghanaian banknotes in her wallet!

The viewing platform at Mole Motel

Drying out our cash (liquid assets?)

Kumasi again

On Saturday 14th April we had to get up at 3am, in order to reach Tamale in time for the 7am bus to Kumasi.  We stayed overnight there, this time in a city centre hotel with a good restaurant attached, which made a suitable place to celebrate Sandie’s birthday.

The main purpose of our second stay in Kumasi, however, was to witness the Akwasidae festival which takes place every sixth Sunday at the Manhyia palace.  The Asentahene (king) of the Ashanti people arrives in a procession and receives gifts and homage from his subjects and the lesser chiefs.  It is a colourful spectacle, with drums, horns, and many people in traditional dress.

Ashanti leaders in traditional dress

Hornblowers announce the arrival of the king

The ceremony took place later than expected, so when we left we went straight to the bus station for the six-hour journey back to Accra.  We had thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the north, and been privileged to see more of the country that is our current home.

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A Season Ticket to Big Milly’s?

It is three weeks now since we returned from England, and life in Ghana has continued more or less in the usual pattern.

At work

It has been a busy period for us in the office. Just before we left for England, the Omega pupils took their mid-term tests, and the data was meant to be entered by the time we returned, so Ian could get on with the analysis. But there were the inevitable delays, so we ended up rushing to get all the analysis done, the feedback printed and collated, and 72 individual booklets bound in time to be given out at a teacher workshop on Friday 30th March. Feedback for school managers is now ready for distribution, while feedback for Omega management is still work in progress!

Omega Schools teachers discuss the feedback on their pupils' test results

A busy time was also enlivened by visits from James, our sponsor, and a group of his postgraduate students who were based in the schools for a month. Unfortunately James was unwell for much of his time here, and was taken to hospital suffering from malaria. We’re glad to say he is now back in the UK and recovering.

On Friday 23rd March Sandie attended a ‘Literacy Festival’ held (outdoors) at one of the schools. It was an enjoyable event, although not quite what she expected from the title! Pupils from five of the schools participated, and while there were some poems and playlets, most of the presentations focused on music, song and dance. Some groups had been trained by the Newcastle students, who came from various parts of the world, so the festival had a truly international flavour.

Pupils perform an Indonesian dance under the guidance of one of the Newcastle students

A young dancer from Omega Schools

At home

In the blog before last, we wrote about problems with the water tank; we were told that we (and our neighbours) would be without water for three days while it was fixed. As the neighbours’ supply had run dry, we were told to empty our water on Sunday 26th February, so work could start on the following day. We sat up late that night with all the taps on, not looking forward to three days with no showers or flushing loo. But the next morning, to our surprise, the water had come back. We still don’t know why, but it meant a delay in getting things fixed, and so the job was done (luckily for us) while we were in England!

We have had the usual power cuts at irregular times, sometimes lasting for several hours. We brought back from England a large supply of candles, as well as lights that fix to our caps (modern version of a miner’s lantern, very useful when moving around the flat in the dark). We needed holders for the candles, and discovered that, while beer bottles do not have the right sized necks, wine and cider bottles are perfect. It means we have to drink more in order to have more candles – a struggle of course, but we’re managing to cope.

Candlelit evenings on the balcony

Outings

There are a limited number of places we can reach at weekends, so recently we’ve revisited ones we’ve been to before, but with some variations. Yesterday we went to Accra, for the first time in over three months. This time we visited two new places: the enormous Makola Market, which sells absolutely everything, and the Nkrumah Memorial Park. The latter is a mausoleum in an attractive garden setting, and we discovered it is much favoured by wedding couples as a background to their photos! Our guidebook recommended a nearby bar, overlooking the sea, so we went there for drinks, and liked it so much we decided to stay for dinner.

Tomato seller at Makola Market

Mind your heads - in the narrow lanes of Makola Market

Nkrumah Mausoleum

Preparing the bride for wedding photos

A week earlier we went to Big Milly’s Backyard, on the beach at Kobrobitey: not far from home, so usually we go just for the day. This time we stayed overnight, in order to have dinner in the restaurant overlooking the beach, and take part in the dancing which is held on Saturday night. We enjoyed the evening, especially chatting to some of the young people we met there. However, the music was rather loud for our taste, and went on very late.

On the beach at Big Milly's Backyard

As we’d had dinner at Big Milly’s we decided to go elsewhere for lunch the next day. We’d often walked past the Kokrobitey Garden Restaurant, and seen the sign advertising it as ‘the best in town, probably in the world’. Not sure the claim is entirely justified, but the pizzas were excellent, and enormous. Moreover, we were able to get cappuccino (first time ever in Ghana) so that restaurant is now high on Sandie’s list of favourite places!

Low-key advertising for Kokrobite Garden restaurant

Giant pizzas for lunch!

Cappuccino at last!

As it turned out, it was probably just as well we decided to eat somewhere other than Big Milly’s that Sunday. The next day we were invited to have dinner with James and the students – at Big Milly’s. So another trip to Kokrobitey, by taxi this time, and another pleasant meal in good company. It was interesting to see the place on a Monday evening – very quiet and a complete contrast from Saturday!

Dinner at Big Milly's with James and his students

We’ve recently discovered a couple of restaurants nearer to home, which we can reach without too much difficulty in the light, although we need a taxi back. We’ve also been for a couple of walks, to explore more of the local area. One took us over McCarthy Hill, where rich people live in enormous houses, with paved roads and an amazingly litter-free environment. It’s quite a short walk from Gbawe Top Base, where we live, but a completely different world!

McCarthy Hills - where the other half live

An unusual notice for these parts!

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