Sunday, August 28, 2011
Written by Chad
This isn't just a post about three dudes visiting Ghana- it's also the gruesome account of seventeen lobsters being boiled alive by their hand for a single lunchtime meal. But more on that later. First, here's what our trip looked like:
We crossed the border from Togo into Aflao then proceeded to Accra, Kokrobite Beach, Cape Coast, Kakum Rainforest, Takoradi, Akwidaa, Kumasi, and then back to Burkina.
If Ghana has taught me anything, it's that I may need English rehab in 2012 before returning to the States. We've only been speaking French for 10 months, so I don't know why the transition was so awkward for us to talk in English to African people. Straight to the final hours of our week in Ghana, we kept accidentally greeting people with a Bonsoir or exiting taxis with a Merci. We considered carrying with us a "French jar"- the same concept as a "swear jar" but you throw in a penny each time you forget to speak English. We also said translations of French phrases that don't exist in English- for instance, wishing street peddlers better sales by saying "Good market!" (Bon marche).
The pace of our principal method of travel, the almighty tro-tro, resembled that of an asthmatic marathon runner. The vehicle would stop every few miles alongside these street peddlers for no apparent reason other than to delay our ultimate arrival. Occasionally a curbside man would present the prize of his morning hunt to us- a toddler-sized guinea-pig-looking creature that I'm guessing we're supposed to cook and eat. They're called "grasscutters" and definitely worth a google.
On other occasions, we would pull to the shoulder as merchant women would try hawking their wares from head bowls. There was one lady who grew frustrated that Luis and I weren't reacting to her local language sales pitch, so she yelled, "Lick my face!" which we later determined meant "Look at my face."
Our first destination was Accra, the capital city of Ghana. It's a vast, clean metropolis with all the modern chicness of the most happenin US cities. Words cannot express the rapturous emotional and spiritual experience of walking into a three-storey KFC on opening night. This was the universe's way of rewarding us for having suffered over 24 hours on the road. Here we belonged. And oh the anticipation as we waited in line, our hearts beating with blood soon to be filled with fast food chicken grease. As I stepped up to the cashier, she smiled as though we were old friends and in that moment an overwhelming appreciation for all of existence brought tears of joy to my eyes. Barely able to speak, I placed my order: "I'll have a chicken sandwich, please."
The cashier replied, "Here they are called 'chicken burgers,' sir."
"Oh, forgive me- one of those," I apologized as I received my tray. Ascending the stairs to eat our "burgers," we felt as though our souls were ascending as well- to a higher plane of deliciousness. As I gobbled down this palatable perfection, I wondered what could be better?
I'll tell you what would be better: going to Accra Mall and watching two Hollywood movies in a row. Thumbs up to "Horrible Bosses." The mall was the ying to our village life yang. Perusing the mall's Walmart-grade megastore "Game" balanced out our chi like some sort of Zen meditation. I gulped down some ginger beer and walked into a Mac Store where all the repressed memories of American gadgetry came rushing back in an instant. With wide eyes fixated on the glowing display, I spoke the product name like a kindergartener sounding out his first two-syllable word: "i. Pad." I wondered, in my ten-month absence just how far has American technology progressed. Flying cars?
That night we celebrated Doug's 23rd by pigging out on pizza at Mama Mia's followed by a night out on the town gambling. This means we went to a casino and watched Doug lose 4 dollars at a slot machine at which point he surrendered.
We fled the city just in the knick of time to hit up Big Milly's Backyard, an expat resort on Kokrobite Beach, where we would chill for two days. We never met the famed Big Milly (who we assumed would greet us with a bearhug, pinch our cheeks, and tell us we need to put some meat on our bones), but almost as good- we met dozens of Brits, Danes, Germans, Statesians, and more Brits. We would play cards and share stories with these people who liked to call us Yanks and there was much silliness.
Cape Coast happened next. Nearby Kakum National Forest exceeded expectations. My life in suburban Virginia hadn't yet exposed me to these rainforest thingies that everybody always wants to protect. As we walked atop some netted bridges that some Canadians built in the Eighties, the thought occurred that maybe it was me who needed protecting. From falling to my rainforesty death. Between vertigo-induced panic attacks, we listened for monkey calls, which according to our tourguide Ebenezer sound like the name of the park: "Kakum! Kakum! Kakum!" On our way down we saw a tiny yellow snake and a type of ant that allegedly can kill and devour an entire elephant. We also ate a cocoa fruit from which all chocolate is derived, though it tastes nothing like a Lindt truffle.
Continuing our westward trip all the way to Akwidaa Beach, we lodged at the Green Turtle. Had we visited a week later, we might have seen turtles laying eggs on the beach, but not this time. Tucked away on ten-kilometer "road" which might as well have been a minefield for all its craters, we held on for dear life. Here's a video of our tro-tro pogoing down the DMV's worst nightmare, trying its best not to lose a tail pipe:
It was in the seaside village Akwidaa that we murdered seventeen innocent lobsters and devoured their innards in a gluttonous frenzy. We paid slightly less than a buck per lobster. At some frou frou, ritzy bistro we might have had to dish out our paychecks for an entire two months to attain such quality dining.
After this pinnacle of gourmet dining, the next destination Kumasi had options such as "Baby Pee Eating Palace," but we didn't stop to ask what they have on tap.
After 13 days and 3 countries we returned to Burkina Faso, but before we left, Doug wrote the Ghana volunteers this dry-erase board note:
Friday, August 26, 2011
Written by Chad
These are my California buddies Luis and Doug. Two weeks ago we left our villages in the dust and made off to greener- well, sandier- pastures along the coastlines of Togo, Benin, and Ghana. We hit up Lome, Togo then Vogan, Togo then Ouidah, Benin then Grand Popo, Benin and onward to Ghana. Here's what that looks like:
After securing visas and all that red tape nonsense, we boarded a bus from Burkina to Lome. Luis befriended a shoe salesman who guided us amateurs through the border station.
It was nearly a twenty-hour trek and we passengers endured the same in-bus movie two and a half times. The road in northern Togo was so pothole-laden that at times I wondered why our bus didn't just plow on through the cornfields instead. Despite its bumpy highways, Northern Togo is gorgeous. The road follows a valley between a range of picturesque cliffs. At sunset our resilient bus scaled a mountain range and then careened wildly back down to sea level, seemingly without a foot being laid on the brakes.
Kind of like my college campus, Togo's capital Lome appears to be a city perpetually under construction, never quite ready for its postcard photo. On the boulevard you see three especially colossal bank complexes, shrines to the fiscal gods, that make all other buildings seem Lilliputian.
On our way out of town, our bush taxi slowly waded through an enormous puddle. While the children remained calm, I scrambled frantically to survive our imminent puddly demise. One hand prepared to pry open the window and the other hand searching my perimeter for a bucket to bail out our capsizing vessel. Despite my preparations, our taxi inexplicably drove through this watery grave. I may have missed the exact moment when Mrs. Frizzle swooped in and transformed the vehicle into a boat.
When we found the "fetish market" section where exotic animals are sold for voodoo spells, a kid immediately offered up a squirming chameleon. The selection was impressive: discounts on monkey heads and porcupine spines, rebates on jaguar pelts and warthog tusks, and money-back guarantees on alligator teeth. Nervously, I scanned the vicinity for a voodoo doll resembling myself, but fortunately no Togolese witchdoctors have made an enemy of me yet.
Walking across the Benin border was a breeze, but don't tell any criminal masterminds you may know. And then we caught three motos from the highway, shuttling us to Ouidah, self-proclaimed city of the slave trade. We arose bright and early to walk the 4k beachbound road where slaves were escorted in chains onto ships. Symbolic African animal statues now line the walk along with other attractions. We passed the site of the nation's annual twin festival. We saw an abandoned stilt village on the marsh (the preferred architectural style in Benin). Finally we reached the Point of No Return where slaves, many of whom seeing the ocean for the first time, were whisked away to colonies spanning New England to Brazil.
Ouidah also happened to be celebrating some sort of festival in which spirits of the dead roam the streets in a parade, accompanied by drummers and giggling children. A local assured me these are "good" spirits of the dead. Whenever the music crescendos, the spirits chase after the kids as all the little ones scream and disperse like in a game of tag.
Next we braved the perilous Python Temple, home to approximately twenty heavily drugged pythons. The curator showed us some broken bike parts in a hole with ground corn grain sprinkled over it. I couldn't understand what he said this represents, but apparently it keeps enemies away. Under normal circumstances the pythons hung on our necks might have regarded Doug, Luis, and me as tasty desserts. But whatever cocktail of sedatives and tranquilizers they laced the snakes' lunches with, these sleepy guys were barely able to slither.
I grew emotionally attached to one particular python over the course of our five minutes there, nicknamed him Severus, and briefly envisioned an elaborate escape plan. Were I only to liberate Severus from his oppressors and this Clockwork Orange-esque prison, he could once again realize his snakey dreams. But then as I stuffed him into my shirt, I considered Severus' drug rehab fees and the costs of separation anxiety therapy. Not to mention a curse would befall me due to the protective magic of the corn-grain-covered bike parts.
Next up after Ouidah, we arrived at Awale Plage in Grand Popo, something that easily belongs in Disney World. The staff all dresses like pirates with red bandannas and the grounds have bizarre topiaries, trellises, ornamental vegetation, and giant chess boards that give it the distinct feel of Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately a group of Cotonou high schoolers had booked the very last room, so rage welled up inside our hearts as we watched them check in. The resort referred us to the new apartment complex next door. We arrived at a building that cannot be called anything but a castle. We waited at a wooden table in a huge empty room until the proprietor arrived. He sat down with us as if us staying one night was some kind of important business ordeal requiring mountains of signatures and paperwork. We were the only guests that night so we slept at the top of the castle, ready to defend it from invaders. The next day Luis and Doug used bathrooms in other unlocked rooms, only to be walked in on by touring guests.
The next night we dined and dormed at the Auberge which to me resembled a beachside plantation house from Forrest Gump. There we chanced upon a fellow countryman, a Burkina-based director of photography who has had a hand in some of Burkina's most celebrated films. Our time in Benin taught us that Obama Beer tastes bad- maybe Tea Partiers can sell it during the upcoming campaign.
The next day we hitchhiked back to the border of Togo. There at the border we stood at our second Point of No Return- this time because our visas, unbeknownst to us, were marked "single entry." Would Doug, Luis, and Chad gain re-entry into Togo? Would they continue onward to Ghana? Find out in the second and final installment of this two-part vacation series. Actually if you've had the patience to read this, you've probably already read part two, since it appears above this post on the webpage. Just sayin.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Table of Contents
- ► 2012 (13)
- ▼ 2011 (27)