So, Ghana wow. From the moment I stepped into Takoradi, it began to take my breath away. Our first goal was to find a working ATM I was with my roommate and we followed a group of 5 into the city, trying 4 ATMs before finding one that spat money back at us. On our way there though, we began to see women walking up the street after we exited the port.. with HUGE baskets balanced on their heads. I always imagined these women with their arms up for support no way. They do it all hands free, and its one of the most incredible things Ive seen in this culture. It can be anything from a wooden-framed glass box containing bread loaves, to crabs with their claws dangling over the edges of metal bowls which I would only ever use to mix cookie dough. Beneath whatever they carry atop their bodies rests a small supportive roll of cloth to make sure their heads dont bruise. The strength and balance in these womens necks is impeccable. Then, one of them turned around only to reveal a small, bobbing black head popping out of a long cloth wrapped around her. His feet hung out the sides, and arms had been tucked in and he was fast asleep as his mother carried him around trying to sell the goods she carried. I continue to ask myself how these women wrap babies to their backs?
You would think that this image of a woman wrapped like this carrying something on her head would appear in a rustic, tribal setting.. however these women were EVERYWHERE along the sides of the busy city streets, wearing their children like backpacks. At one point, right as we found the cash machine, three kids ran up to me and stopped in their tracks about a foot before me, and began to wave bearing enormous smiles saying Hi Obruni! I asked if I could take their picture only to receive an enthusiastic yes! And they quickly posed for me. I introduced myself to them but realized my friends had kept walking and started to catch up. I was suddenly tapped on the shoulder, and turned around to find the mother of these kids holding up her baby and asking for him to be in the picture too! I thought I was about to get yelled at, but these people just want to share everything they have with newcomers even their children! So amazing.
Alexa and I realized that she wouldnt have time to accompany me to Kakum National Forest and make it back to Takoradi in reasonable time to sleep here, so she bailed on me but I recruited a friend named Cookie, who I later found out is named Eric, to come with me and camp out in the forest overnight even though he was entirely ill-equipped to do so in flip flops with no change of clothes, etc.
We asked around for a Tro-Tro station and ended up in a sea of busted old VW vans that came in all different colors some packed with people, some empty, and most with stickers on the windows and chunks of paint missing. We each paid 2.50cedi for a ticket, and within 5 minutes the van had filled up and we were on our way to Cape Coast. Eric and I were in the front seat, and there was a beautiful breeze coming in through the windows. I had my camera around my neck, and when I turned around to inspect my fellow Tro-Tro goers, I got harsh looks and requests for no pictures. I thought this was interesting as this was not my intention, but kept my glare forward for the rest of the journey. About 5 minutes after we left, the driver pulled over and got out, and a new driver came and took off which seemed strange but I guess wasnt. We had a full view of all of the villages we drove through Sekondi and Elmina among others with windows opening up between trees and villages of the ocean right at the roadside and riddled with palm trees. I could not stop smiling, despite the hideous stench that came from the driver to my left. I was enjoying even the foul parts of my day and soaking up every ounce of life.
Each village we passed through looked similar and often times like slums, with cement or mud walls and palm leaves or sheets of ribbed metal for rooves. There were children EVERYwhere, and every time we stopped they often pointed at Eric and I as they whispered to each other. I found the best way to approach this was with a smile and a wave and they would erupt with laughter through our passenger window. Often times they would yell Obruni! and cover their mouths, giggling, as they were screaming White man! to Eric. It is a term of endearment here. We also heard a lot of Akwaaba, which means Welcome in Twi, and just goes to show what a hospitable culture this is. We arrived in Cape Coast and it was.. crazy, to put it simply. There were people EVERYWHERE. Traffic was terrible, and people were auctioning off anything and everything imaginable pens that had pull-out 2010-2011 calendars in them, baby dolls with terrifying faces, bruised bananas, every type of shoe youve ever seen everything.
After a 2-hour ride, we got out of the Tro-Tro and our driver helped us find another one to Kakum, and we boarded a near-full van in the front row. A woman with an infant squeezed herself in next to Eric, and within two minutes had pulled her breast out to feed her child. The expression on Erics face was.. priceless to say the least. When she was done feeding, she held her baby up for me to see and coo at for a moment before tucking the fastly sleeping child under her arm.
I quickly realized the B.O. smell in the Tro-Tros was something common among them all. After allowing several merchants to enter the van trying to sell their stuff, the driver got in his seat and a 5th person squeezed into our row before closing the door. This person is the one who collected money from all the passengers throughout the journey, about 1cedi. The door refused to close as the van was possibly the oldest and most broken down vehicle Ive ever had the pleasure of riding in, so the man pulled it almost-shut and held it in place as we took off. Eric pointed out to me the electrical tape holding two wires together under the dashboard indicating that the presence of a key was a façade and the car had been hotwired. (This explains why they kept the van running WHILE filling it with gas )
The rest of the drive featured palm trees and exotic tropical plants on either side of the road. There were frequent checkpoints where cops would talk to the driver for a moment but then allow us to continue on. Many of the drivers waved to each other was we passed other vans by. It was suddenly past 3:00, meaning wed been traveling through chaos for nearly 3 hours and were very ready to be dropped off at the front entrance to the park when wed finally arrived. There was a kid, a man and a woman trying to sell water bottles full of palm wine and palm fruits, so we bought a fruit for 1cedi, cracked it open and shared it. We were told to suck on the jelly on the outsides of the seeds and spit out the rest it was so strange at first, but sweet and tangy and deliciously refreshing. We paid an initial fee of 1cedi/person to a man who called us both Obruni followed by laughter, and made our way up to the reception desk close to 4:00 when the park closes.
It cost about 70cedi for a guided canopy walk, mosquito net, platform and mattress for the night in the jungle, a flashlight, a guided morning hike, dinner and a couple beers. This came out to about $50, which I found reasonable. The canopy walk was very short but thrilling, it seemed quite sturdy and provided an awe-inspiring view of the tree-tops. Unfortunately, we did not see any monkeys because it was too late in the day. There were 3 people on the canopy tour with us, all from Nigeria and clearly well off. I dont know what would inspire a person to wear a tie, shiny leather shoes or heels through the forest on a canopy tour, but it seemed suitable to them so .. to each their own.
We went back to the main grounds after the damp hike back from the canopy tour and were handed our beverages and dinners, which had been boxed up. Our guide showed us to our platform by 5 and left us there for the night. We quickly realized we were the only two people left in the rainforest until the morning at 5:30 am when we would meet back up with our guide. The mosquito net had holes in it, which we plugged with crumpled receipts and forks, and all that protected us from our filthy, jungle-worn mattress was a sheet (which I cant guarantee was clean ). The mosquito net had to be tucked in under the mattress, so we were confined to that small space for the next 12 hours. :-\ We enjoyed our dinners of indescribably greasy chicken legs and fries, and filled our bellies with some bottled Ghanaian Guiness. Soon it was dark out and after 7:30, so both of us tried to sleep to no avail. The forest grew louder as the night grew darker, and bush babies came out with horrendous cries at about 10. Id finally found sleep at 1, until the full moon blinded me awake, and the night went on like this until our guide, also named Eric, came to get us in the very early morning. (to be continued )
Thursday, September 23, 2010