Friday, 16 December 2011


The Green Turtle Lodge on Akwidaa beach have read the ecotourism manual and ticked all the boxes. Sustainable buildings? Check – recycled materials, local designs, even compost toilets. Sustainable energy? Check – all solar-powered. Locally sourced food? Check. Local employment? Check. Conservation? Well, the name tells you everything.

They have even managed to keep the journey authentically rustic. The lodge lies several miles along what is a strong contender for the ‘worst road in Ghana’ title. Rutted doesn’t come close; at times our taxi was picking its way over medium-sized boulders scattered over a 45o slope. This would act as a barrier to many businesses, but the Green Turtle’s reputation ensures that the guests – mostly backpackers and volunteers – flock here year-round.

Hannah and I made the journey from Accra via Takoradi to enjoy a pre-Christmas break. Upon arrival, we saw why people loved it – a palm tree-lined beach stretching for miles in either direction, with the lodges hidden back in the trees as well as a bar made from an old ship. Four days was not going to be long enough.

The lodge runs one of the growing number of turtle conservation projects along the coast, and we booked to go on a turtle hike on the first evening. Along with several other visitors, all young enough to remind me it was 10 years since my volunteering days in Kefalonia, we set off along the sand. Five species of turtle nest in Ghana – green, loggerhead, olive ridley, leatherback and hawksbill – but they were all hiding that night. The walk was still enjoyable though, with phosphorescence sparkling in the waves under the bright full moon.

Life at the Green Turtle ambles by easily in a lazy haze of books, swims and delicious meals – a selection of different dishes are made each day. But by the third morning, we needed something active and booked a canoe trip along the river behind Akwidaa village.

Fufu, the Green Turtle’s dog, led us to the village where we met Ben, a local student who leads boat trips to save money so he can finish school. I was surprised when he started towing out a rotten old canoe that I’d assumed had been dumped there. This turned into to mild alarm when he fetched a small bowl. “To bail out the water”, he cheerfully explained.

The first stretch of river passed me by, as I made doubly sure that I could remove the water faster than it entered, whilst not removing the tiny hermit crab that was wandering around the boat to avoid the scoops.

Once satisfied, I relaxed and started to enjoy the mangrove forests. Ben’s keen eyes picked out cormorants, hornbills, kingfishers, toucans, and even two salamanders that slipped silently into the water. It was easy to imagine that there were plenty more species out there, hidden from view by the thick foliage.

As we entered a narrow side channel, we spotted hundreds of the red and black crabs that live in the mangroves. “Delicious”, remarked Ben, briefly forgetting his role as a wildlife guide. Still, it looked like there were plenty to go around.

We passed fishing villages on the way back, the residents waving as they cast out their nets from the bank. Ben dropped us back at Akwidaa and we walked back along the beach to the Green Turtle Lodge, content in the knowledge that all we had left to do for two days was sleep, eat and drink.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


One downside of living in Accra is the lack of open space: few parks or gardens for pottering, and the seafront is either built up or used as a rubbish dump. In contrast, one of the best things about the city is that a short drive from the centre, you can be on a tropical beach.

Labadi is the most popular city beach but this is essentially a sandy nightclub, more geared to drinking and dancing than a lazy day. A much better option is Bojo Beach on the western edge of Accra.

This thin strip of sand sits across an estuary and boats ferry visitors across the water. It looks shallow enough for wading across, but the people who live nearby use boats; it’s always good to
follow the local example.

There is a 6 cedi entrance fee to this private beach but it’s a fair price to pay if they manage to keep it unspoilt. The beach was near-deserted, remarkable even for a Sunday morning when most people are at church: a city of 3 million people, and less than 30 of them were at the beach.

Small wooden shelters were dotted along the sand and a waiter quickly found us “the best one”, carried our bags across, then came back to t
ake our drinks order. Good service by Ghanaian standards.

And so began a typical beach day: order beer; drink beer; order food; explain that ‘veggie’ means
no fish, not even in the sauce; read book; head for a swim; realise after two minutes that Ghana’s sea is a fickle beast that will quickly toss you about like an unloved toy; rush out; restart cycle with the next bottle of beer.

As the sun set, we piled back on to the passenger boat across to where our taxi driver was waiting. The boat was busier than when we had arrived, the beach filling up during the day, but it had not lost its peaceful charm. In a country with an increasingly well-marked tourist trail, Bojo still counts as a hidden gem.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Kpala Island

The Island of Hope Christian Academy is on Kpala Island, a small patch of land that stayed above water when Lake Volta was flooded in 1965. Ghana International School (GIS) has a partnership with the school, providing support to the teachers as well as funds and resources, and GIS staff visit each year. Always up for a free trip, I gladly tagged along.

The bus journey began in typical Ghanaian style. A prayer for our journey, then a long delay while we picked some people up at the mall, followed by breakfast and singing on the bus. The drive out to the Volta region is my favourite in Ghana (so far) so I happily sat back and watched the now-familiar villages fly past.

The real hubbub began at Kpandu, one of the main ports on the Volta’s eastern shore. The market was in full swing as we unloaded the bus with the provisions brought for the school. I climbed onto the bus roof under the pretence of helping, but actually to get a better view of the chaos below. Particularly eye-catching were the four cows neatly arranged in the back of a van, looking like to solution to a mid puzzle. On a nearby rooftop, vultures watched the action below, waiting for some fish or meat to be dropped.

Boat loaded, we were soon sailing across the calm waters of Lake Volta. We passed tiny inhabited islands on the way, little more than a few rocks; pre-1965 these were the region’s high points, now they stood out as the last refuges in the water. The fishers who lived there waved as we went past; the constant traffic across the lake means they are unlikely to feel too isolated.

The school children greeted us at Kpala Island and solemnly carried the boxes to shore on their heads. We were then given a guided tour of the school. The basic nature of the classrooms was a stark contrast to the modernity of GIS.

The teachers showing us round then led us to the school's pride and joy: a roundabout in the playground. This is not just something to keep the kids amused; it is the school’s generator, powering their new ITC centre as well as houses in the village. Just two hours of use a day is enough to power the school, and the children need little encouragement to hop on. It's an ingenious example of clean energy and hopefully will be replicated across Ghana.

After a singing and dancing presentation from the school, we ate lunch – tilapia of course, fresh from the lake that morning – before returning across the lake to Kpandu. Rarely has helping out on a school trip been so enjoyable.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Mount Adaklu

A post-walk beer is a regular feature of walks with the Ghana Mountaineers, but this was the first time we had started drinking before the walk. But this was all in the name of good manners – sharing a bottle of gin with the chief of Helepke village as we requested permission to climb the nearby mountain, Adaklu.

We sat in the chief’s dark living room – twelve walkers from Accra and eight members of the local tourism committee – exchanging pleasantries and making arrangements for the next day’s hike. I was unsure if there was an ancient tradition that meant gin must be shared, or if the chiefs just liked it. Either way, no one complained.

Outside, the large clouds that had been gathering over the summit let loose into one of Ghana’s violent tropical storms, with Mount Adaklu taking the brunt. As we drove back to Ho, I wondered what the deluge was doing to the mud paths we would be ascending.

We were up and ready to go at 05:30 the next day and after breakfast at the Bob Coffie Hotel (twelve of the smallest omelettes I have ever seen) we set off once more for Helepke, the largest of a collection of villages that circle the base of the mountain.

At 602m, Mount Adaklu is a mountain in miniature, but still large enough to mimic Mounts Cameroon and Kilimanjaro in its ecological zones that vary as you climb. We passed through maize farms in the village to reach the foot, then through tall grasses until we reached the treeline, where huge trees provided a dense shade.

The path through the jungle was steep and rocky. Nothing tricky under normal circumstances, but the previous day’s deluge had turned it into a type of gloopy porridge, causing everyone except our sure-footed guides to slip. The trickiest section was a near-vertical series of rocks up to a large boulder. Hard enough going up, it surely crossed everyone’s mind that we would also have to go down it.

Such trifles don’t bother most Ghanaians, though. Just above the rocky cascade was a cocoa yam farm. The farmer greeted us as he passed, then leapt down the rocks in his worn-out flip-flops while balancing an overflowing basket of the heavy tubers on his head.

The rain had also brought out the forest’s huge snails, which were enjoying the moist vegetation. The youngest guide with us was delighted, and collected several for his dinner. He assured me they were delicious; I was happy to take his word for that.

Beyond the yam farm the path levelled out as we crossed the plateau of this table-topped hill, and quickly reached the top. The guides proudly showed us the shelter they had built using the profits from tourism. They hope to encourage more visitors here, and the new road being built to connect Adaklu with the popular town of Ho will certainly help. The profits are also shared between all the villages around the mountain, so everyone gets their share, however small.

The walk down proved tricky, with some finding the steep and slippery paths a trial, but we all made it back to the village safely and headed back to Ho, where Kevin had organised a traditional Ghanaian lunch for us to finish the trip: light soup and fufu.

Fufu is a thick white dough made of cassava and it is one of the few trials of living in Ghana. It is best described as like eating Play-Do but without the novelty of being an interesting colour. It can’t even be described as bland; it manages to taste of nothing in a slightly unpleasant way.

It can take several hours to pound the cassava for fufu; why anyone bothers is beyond me. I managed about three mouthfuls, then gave up and ordered some rice to go with the groundnut soup – which by contrast is a delicious local dish. Feeling brave after managing a little fufu, I ordered a glass of cocoa bean wine, made locally. How bad could it be?

Very. Tasting of gone-off chocolate, which is essentially what it was, it was a hard glass to polish off. But having failed with the fufu, I was determined not to lose culinary face again. I held my nose, downed it, then ordered a large Star to wash away the taste, safe in the knowledge that Ghanaian beer is up there with the best that the country has to offer.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Near the Togo border are Wli waterfalls, one of Ghana’s most popular attractions. Our group loaded into the hire car and took the road north from Ho to Hohoe. Hotels in Ho market Wli as a ‘nearby attraction’ – a questionable claim when it is a three-hour drive, but the Volta Region is a beautiful part of Ghana, with forested hills rising above tidy village farms, so the journey is part of the fun.

The popularity of an attraction in Ghana can be roughly gauged by its booking office. At Wli this is a large room with tables and chairs, complete with adjacent snack bar and gift shop, so it must see a lot of visitors. We were assigned a guide and started off along the track to the falls. The path was still slippery following the previous day’s storms, and the fords where it crosses the outflow from the falls higher than usual, but the forest was refreshingly cool and butterflies flew about everywhere.

We heard the waterfall long before we rounded the corner to see it. It was in full spate, the water crashing around 30m out from the cliff and the spray covering the whole clearing. An impressive force of nature, only spoiled by the mounds and mounds of rubbish left in the undergrowth in every corner of the site. The waterfall was too forceful to swim in the plunge pool, so we passed the time trying (and failing) to get good photos, and getting soaked before heading back to the car. There are longer hikes around the upper waterfall as well; worth noting for a return visit.


The next day we headed for one of the Volta region’s most interesting places, and also one of the most remote. High up in the Avatime Hills is the village of Amedzofe and its nearby peak Mount Gemi.

The walk to the mountain is an easy half-hour pootle; it’s the drive there that brings you out in a sweat. A series of hairpin bends ascend an increasingly bumpy and poorly kept road. Quaysie lurched the car from side to side to avoid ruts and potholes, seemingly oblivious to how close we veered to the very long and very steep drop. I was relieved to reach the village.

We called in at the small tourist office in the village and our guide led us to Mount Gemi. The name is not an ancient Twi word, but named after the German Missionaries, who built the cross on its summit that doubled as a communications device during World War II.

This was about all he managed to explain; his attention was mostly on the village football match. Football is big news in Ghana, even in isolated mountain villages, and this encounter with Fume, a neighbouring village, was particularly spicy. I couldn’t understand the chants at opposition players, but they didn’t sound like friendly encouragement.

I asked our guide how many people visit Amedzofe each week. “Sometimes about 20, sometimes none, but it is fine, they are all welcome”. It’s a refreshing approach to tourism development. While it may not boost the bank balance, it helps to keep places like Amedzofe unspoilt as they slowly adapt to tourism.

After passing a cloud of biting gnats on route – the best technique is to run through swirling a t-shirt – we reached the summit. It’s one of the highest points in the region at 611m, and the views were incredible: miles and miles of dark green hills stretching out towards Lake Volta, with dusty brown villages dotted in every pass in between. Well worth a nerve-wracking drive and a cloud of biting insects.

Before heading off, we bought some cold drinks in the village and sat in stone chairs while a bunch of old men played Damii. This is a Ghanaian game similar to draughts, the main difference being that players have to slam the pieces down and shout regularly at their opponent. They ignored us completely as they focused on the next move or insult, so we drained our bottles and headed back to Ho, and the long drive back to Accra.

Friday, 21 October 2011


Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary is one of Ghana’s many excellent examples of community-based tourism. For over 200 years, the villagers of Tafi Atome have protected the small population of Mona monkeys that live in their forest. Earlier they believed them to be sacred messengers from the gods; now they realise that monkeys attract tourists, and the people we met also seemed to have a genuine affection for the little creatures.

This approach of conserving wildlife rather than hunting it is slowly catching on in Ghana, and it is reaping rewards here. Since 1996 they have run walking tours around the small forest sanctuary and it’s now one of the most popular attractions in the region. And all the money raised goes back to the community and to protecting the forest, rather than to outside tour operators.

Ruth, one of our new friends in Accra, had organised a long weekend in the lush and hilly Volta Region during the school half term, and Tafi Atome was first on our packed agenda. Our guide led us down the track into the forest, explaining about how the monkeys live. There are four troupes in the forest, which all roam different territories. After about 15 minutes, we spotted tails hanging down from the branches above. Pausing on the track, we waited as more and more furry faces appeared in the branches.

The monkeys know what to expect from visitors. They are semi-wild; while the forest is not caged off, tour groups bring bananas each day, so their lack of fear was not natural behaviour. The trick is to hold the banana firmly so the monkey peels it from your hand. I tried, but the young male managed to grab it easily and scamper off. It’s a shameful day when a small monkey is stronger than you.

We saw one of the other troupes as we continued (although they had already had their banana breakfast, so ignored us) and a third at the information centre, where they were posing for a coach party who had just arrived. The fourth troupe is apparently quite shy, but Mona monkeys all look the same, so it was hard to feel too disappointed.


After Tafi Atome we drove to Kpandu, a busy port on the Lake Volta shore. First stop was lunch – Quaysie and Robert were keen for fresh Volta fish – and we then went to see the Kpandu potters, a small cooperative of women who make pots and clay figures using mud from the lake shore.

The potters’ showroom is down a heavily rutted lane and the clouds burst started as we drove down it. Rain in Ghana is never a subtle affair and the car was soon hydroplaning down the river that had replaced the mud road. Several ominous crunches suggested the car’s undercarriage was taking the brunt. After some frantic steering, we parked (docked?) by the showroom.

The female potters showed us their creations and we all bought souvenirs – I opted for a small clay tortoise. They also demonstrated how they make the pottery by hand. Like Tafi Atome, it’s not flashy, and there is no hard sell to buy souvenirs; just people happy to show visitors part of their local culture.

The final stop of the day was the most curious. Just south of Kpandu, at Agbenoxoe, is Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine, where huge marble statues representing the life of Christ have been erected on a hillside. I wandered around impressed by the scale of the statues but a little bemused, as the whole thing felt slightly out of place here in rural Ghana. It’s another winner, though; pilgrims travel from across the country to visit. Religious fervour knows no bounds in Ghana.

As we made our way back over the hills to Ho, the clanking from beneath the car that had started in Kpandu became an increasing concern. The volume cranking up with each pothole that we failed to avoid, and the rhythm built up to a regular beat, before exploding into the unmistakable sound of metal scraping on tarmac. Not a good sign in the middle of nowhere.

We pulled over and Quaysie, who was driving, stripped off his shirt, wrapped it around his hands and reattached the hanging exhaust with the only material we could find … grass from the roadside. I am no mechanic but even I knew that this was unlikely to hold red-hot metal in place for more than about two minutes. And so our journey continued in a regular pattern of clanking, stopping, and grass-based emergency repairs.

We made it to Kpeve, where Quaysie found a mechanic to fix it with something sturdier. A crowd of children came to watch, and the mechanic swiftly soldered our battered exhaust back into place. All for the price of 5 cedi (about £2) – beat that, AA. Keeping a very careful eye out for potholes, we returned back to Ho tired, hungry and, for me at least, still smarting from the fact I was outfought by a monkey.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Tro tros

Heading for the Accra Mall , the flashy vanity project of John Kuffour, one of Ghana’s former presidents, Hannah and I decide to travel by tro tro – the cranky old minibuses that serve as Accra’s informal bus network.

The key to hailing a tro tro is to recognise the hand gestures made by the driver’s mate. Hand rotating in a circle means ‘Nkrumah Circle’, a point in the air means ‘Accra’ and the city circle, and three fingers pointing upwards means ‘37’. At first we were bemused, especially as most seemed to fly past. A fellow passenger helped us out, and hailed the next one passing. Apparently you have to shout and step out in front to show you want to get on.

Tro tros are hot, cramped, uncomfortable and invariably decrepit, and the random bits of rusty metal sticking out easily rip clothes (three dresses and counting for Hannah so far), but they are fun. Hawkers come up to the window at traffic lights, selling fried plantain and sachets of water, and the speed at which they dodge traffic beats any fairground ride for thrills. Shaken but happy, we arrived at ‘37’ to change for the service to Accra mall.

The buses only leave when full*, so we enjoyed the buzz of the informal market that surrounds the waiting vehicles. We bought fresh coconuts – deliciously refreshing and another unmissable Ghanaian experience – and took our seats while hawkers offered an amazing array of goods. Worm tablets (complete with graphic pictures), boiled eggs, handkerchiefs, papaya, meat pies, maps of Ghana, plantain, self-help books … you may be bounced about, but you won’t go hungry or thirsty (or get sweaty or wormy) on a tro tro.

* A Cameroonian friend visiting the UK got a shock when his train to Sheffield left on time, despite not being full. "The trains, they all leave when they say they will. Amazing!"

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Mount ‘Alaska’

After two steep hills on my first two outings with the Ghana Mountaineers, it was time for something different. Mount Alaska made for a pleasant change; rather than pitch up at the foot of the hill and then get sweaty for three hours, we parked a distance away for a leisurely walk in across the plains.

We headed through a village to a mixture of cheerful waves and confused looks from the villagers – where are these obronis heading so early in the morning? Ghanaians are very sporty – running groups fill the streets early morning, and every scrap of land is used to play football – but hiking doesn’t seem to be on the radar yet. Plus Sunday morning is, of course, time for church for most people.

Outside the village, we crossed a mango farm – complete with a nearly-treading-on-snake incident – and refreshed ourselves under the shade of a baobab tree before continuing across the scrub.

The final climb was simple, and the cool summit breeze was thankfully blowing. This breeze is where the hill got its unofficial name, with Felix complaining on a previous visit that “it’s like Alaska up here”. An overstatement perhaps, but anything other than sticky heat is a welcome treat in Ghana.

The hill is also the perfect spot to admire the Shai Hills, a small group of outcrops that hosts an array of wildlife in its forested slopes. Apparently … there was no sign of life in any direction as we gazed across the grasslands. One thing West Africa lacks when compared to the East is the large game wandering about in huge groups. The scenery looks beautiful, but empty and somehow lonely with nothing grazing below.

We did see some animals, albeit not wild ones, on the way back. Three boys were herding their cattle across the plains. Despite the relatively wet climate and abundance of grass, there are few herders in the plains north of Accra (this might be due to Tsetse flies that thrive in these conditions and limit livestock keeping). Mount Alaska may not be the most challenging climb, but the cows, with their long horns and humped backs, gave the walk an African flavour.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Ryan’s Irish Bar in Osu follows the blueprint of expat pubs across the world: a carefully recreated slice of home, in which people can imagine they are back in the country they chose to leave.

It’s a winning formula. When I met Nikki and Sarah at 7am for England v Scotland in the rugby world cup, the bar was already packed with grumpy looking men wearing white or dark blue tops, all clearing up the last of a cooked breakfast. Hungry, I checked the menu … 18 cedis? Eggs cost about 15 pesewas (there ae 100 pesewas to the pound) and Heinz beans 40 pesewas, so either bacon costs more by weight than cocaine or someone is making a tidy profit. I ordered a coffee and toast, a bargain by comparison at 7 cedis.

The game was dull, especially for someone who doesn’t like rugby much, and we were told off for talking by the ‘locals’. And with early kick-offs leading to early final whistles, I found myself in Accra at 9.30am on a Saturday with nothing to do. It doesn’t take long living here to realise that, drinking aside, entertainment in Accra needs seeking out. So I was happy to follow Nikki and Sarah to the Centre for National Culture.

Don’t let the name fool you; this is a market, where unsuspecting tourists are led to be ripped off. Inside the covered part of the market is a maze of narrow alleys, where animated stall owners pursue a hard-selling approach that is uncommon in Ghana. They even block you off in the alleys to deflect you into their stall, like a game of gift-shop pinball. It doesn’t work; the most common response is to quicken your pace, eyes down, and head for the nearest exit you can find.

We escaped to the open area at the back, where the stall owners are happy for you to wander about at your own pace. The dusty wooden sheds contained vivid paintings of village life, carvings of African animals long since hunted out of Ghana, and a collection of wooden penises that was second to none.

The reason for our visit was to collect a West African drum Nikki had ordered, and the young men who made the drums offered us a lesson in how to play them. We tried to mimic their quick hands and rhythms while outside their colleagues carved away on new drums. I desperately wanted to buy one, but they are made with goat skin. A vegetarian dilemma; could they make one from a goat who had lived a happy life and died of natural causes?

Post-lesson, Hannah joined us and Abraham, the drum teacher, offered to take us to the Rising Phoenix for lunch. And so the day descended into a boozing session by the sea. Star beers were sunk, pool was played, we met the Rastas smoking on the plastic-strewn beach, and in the evening we were treated to something we could never have planned – a beauty contest.

The Ghanaian Dale Winton introduced the three contestants competing for the title of Miss Accra, and led them through a series of acts which all seemed to revolve around bum-wiggling. I was too drunk to see who won, but it rounded off a varied take on a quiet Saturday in Accra.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Getting connected

“Life is simple until you enter the Vodaphone shop.”

So said an exasperated customer I overheard on a recent visit to the Accra branch of the mobile company. I was soon nodding in agreement. The Ghanaian approach to customer service takes a bit of getting used to. Not unhelpful, not rude, just … indifferent, as I found out while attempting what I had thought would be a simple transaction.

“I’d like to buy a SIM card, please”.
“Can I get one here?”
“My colleague will get you one.”

(Colleague tootles off around the corner while my sales assistant checks Facebook silently. SIM card arrives. I put it in my phone and go through the instructions.)

“Does it have credit on already?”
“How do I get credit?”
“You have to buy top-up vouchers.”
“Do you sell them?”
(Long pause.)
“Can I buy one?”
“My colleague will get you one.”

Getting our broadband installed at the flat was even more trying. For four weeks the Vodaphone staff and I went through a well-rehearsed routine.

At 10.00 am each day, I called the Vodpahone office and ask when my broadband will be installed. The sales assistant said they would call me back, then hung up.

12.00 pm. I ring again after no one has called me back and ask to speak with the manager. The manager tells me someone will be round that afternoon.

15.00 pm. I ring again to find out why no one has come round. The manager tells me they are very busy and will come round first thing tomorrow. We both know that a) she’s lying, b) there’s bugger all I can do about it, and c) I will have to call again tomorrow.

None of my attempts to speed things up worked. Being nice was met with indifference. Being angry, the same. My threats to take my business elsewhere also backfired, as the sales assistant switched to being extremely helpful, offering to cancel my contract over the phone until I had to humbly back down and confess I wasn’t going to switch providers. I think this counts as a lesson in the local culture.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Mount Iogaga

I had spotted Mount Iogaga from the summit of Krobo two weeks before. It’s one of the more distinctive hills in the plains north of Accra, steep-sided with a pointed peak. Thick forest covers the northern slopes, contrasting with the fields carved out on the southern flanks. Having admired it from afar, I was pleased a chance to explore came around so soon.

On route to Iogaga is a large agricultural project, led by Chinese investors. A clearly well-used dirt track led to a collection of buildings, where we parked up and headed along a rutted track to the hill. Heavy rain over the preceding week had turned the red earth into a thick gloopy mud; I was relieved my walking boots and sticks had arrived earlier that week. (Or rather, had finally reached me; they had been stuck in Ghanaian customs for six weeks for no apparent reason.)

Another steep climb kicks off this route. No calf-sparing zigzags in Ghana, just a direct line to the top. The shade of the forest helped keep us cool for the first half hour, but soon we were back among the tall grass. Kevin slashed away at the front again, and I secretly wondered if he purposely chose overgrown routes to give him and excuse to get the machete out.

Approaching the summit, we passed through a small bamboo forest before reaching the top. Another wearing walk was again rewarded with spectacular views – the payoff of hiking in Ghana’s crazy heat is quickly realised when you reach these breezy summits. Lunch was a leisurely affair, brightened by the many butterflies that joined us.

After descending through fields of yams and maize, we reached the cars once more and headed for the Aylo's Bay Leisure Spot on the Volta River. The post-walk beer is a ritual for the Ghana Mountaineers, and few places are more scenic than this tranquil spot. We cooled off slowly – Mike even stripping off for a quick dip in the water – before reluctantly making our way back to Accra.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mount Krobo

Five am is an early hour to get up for a walk. I was still bleary eyed as I wandered over to the small group standing outside Accra’s El Wak stadium; with an assortment of poles and rucksacks, they could only be the Ghana Mountaineers. Introductions were made and we set off for Mount Krobo, on the road from Accra to Akasombo.

Krobo is a granite inselberg that bursts out of the surrounding plains. It is sacred to the local Krobo people, having served as a hideout from Ashanti slave raiders in the 1700s and also from the British in1892. In typically ruthless style, the British forced them down by cutting of the water supply (the mountain is almost dry) and killed them when they came down. A cheerful story to kick off my walking in Ghana, I thought.

We parked at the foot of the mountain, from where a path led steeply up the through the rocks and tall grass of the northern slopes. After 15 minutes of steady going, we arrived at an outcrop. Kevin, the organiser of the club, said there were often baboons there. Not today, but the views across to lower Lake Volta more than compensated, the morning sun turning the overnight cloud into a haze.

Shortly afterwards we passed the site where the Krobo people had hidden all those years ago. Evidence of their stay can still be seen underneath a small rock overhang, including rock paintings, and smooth stones where people had ground flour.

Another push and we reached the summit at 07.30. Felix got the breakfast barbeque going and a small group of us went to explore a nearby outcrop. More fantastic views across the green Ghanaian plains that lie north of Accra, and I was particularly appreciative as this was the first time I had seen anything outside of the city.

Two bright orange sunbirds danced around in the branches beneath us as we climbed carefully down from our precarious viewpoint, and we returned to freshly cooked sausages (or the meat eaters did at least). We also went to check on the mango tree planted a year previously by a now-departed group member; it was still there, fighting its way through the thick grass.

The route down proved a little trickier. The mountain is not grazed regularly, and as it was the end of the rainy season, the grass was over 10 feet high. Despite Kevin’s enthusiastic machete-hacking, we took one or two wrong turns. The grass also proved something of a heat trap, blocking out the morning breeze; the reason for the early start became clear – it would be far worse in the midday sun.

Eventually we dropped out of the grassy maze into a small clearing with a collection of half-completed buildings. These are the remnants of a Peace Corps-led tourism enterprise that failed to take off. A man from Krobo village walked up and tried to charge us for walking on the mountain, but gave no explanation of who he was or why we should pay. Nice try. We declined and walked off to the strains of Twi cursing and headed off back towards the vehicles and, soon after, a thirst-quenching Star beer.

Friday, 2 September 2011

New home

After eight days of hotel life, we finally moved into our new flat. A last-minute change of plan meant we moved to the residential suburb of Dzorwulu (pronounced ‘jo-WU-lu’) rather than West Legon. Nearer the city and school, but still an unknown quantity.

The house and flat, hidden behind black iron gates, were dark as the school bus driver let us in. He sped off quickly, and we were alone in what would be our home for the next two years. The flat was big and looked nice, but felt strange and empty. Outside, it was very quiet, the streets deserted. The TV didn’t work. We didn’t have our radio. The silence was becoming increasingly oppressive as we sat together on the sofa, both feeling a bit lost and a long way from home.

Five minutes later came a knock at the door. Joanna, our new landlady, marched in and sat herself down. A big smile and she started chattering away and asking us about how we liked the flat. We were both relieved to have a visitor, and the conversation followed in a typically Ghanaian way, where our questions were half-answered each time.

“Is there a shop nearby?”
“I’ll take you shopping tomorrow, to the supermarket.”
“Ah, is it near here?”
“It’s much cheaper than the Mall, nearly three times the price there!”
“How does the washing machine work?”
“Charity, our housegirl will do your washing, no problem.”
“But just in case she is busy…”
“She can clean the flat too, just call her.”

Conversations take a bit longer, and you are never quite sure if you have found out what you needed to, but on our first night we were grateful for a talkative guest in our strange new surroundings.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


There are signs that you have been in a hotel too long. The barman brings you a beer without being asked. You have tried everything on the menu (a quicker process for vegetarians, granted). You have counted the tiles on the bottom of the pool, just for something to do. 148, if you were wondering.

The trouble with hotels like the Madindi is the ‘home from home’ aspect works too well. There is little inclination to leave their comforts when food, beer and a swimming pool are all under two minutes away. Plus the reliable wireless access means I can get my hourly fix of football news and Hannah can catch up with the German soap Verbotene Liebe. So with cabin fever kicking in, we headed into the city on our first weekend.

With two years to explore all the sights, we are not in a rush. And Accra is not exactly Rome; we would quickly run out if we rushed it. Osu castle is historically interesting, as it was the residence of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. But you aren’t allowed in. James Town is another historical part of town, but it’s not safe to wander about without a local guide, apparently. The Planetarium is Ghana’s newest big attraction, except it’s not open to the general public.

We did make it to La Pleasure Beach at Labadi, east of the city centre. It’s a funny place; a line of beach bars and cafĂ©’s, plus donkey rides for kids. Like a tropical version of Blackpool.

The National Museum is listed as a highlight and a city not spoilt for choice, and contained the usual collection of broken pots and ugly carvings found across the world. My favourite exhibit was the necklace made of human teeth – none in the gift shop, sadly, or Christmas would have been sorted – and the picture of a man eating snakes. Champions restaurant nearby was even better, with huge plates of jollof rice (spicy rice cooked in tomatoes) and fried plantain.

My fledgling attempts to birdwatch in Ghana (of which Hannah disapproves, seeing it as a middle-aged hobby) have also begun. We saw a beautiful kingfisher outside the museum, and I saw two vulture-type things on my way to Melting Moments coffee shop in Labone. (More accurate descriptions of future sightings may be possible once my bird guide arrives from Germany.)

Anyway, time for another dip in the pool. See if I can spot that tile with the crack in it again.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

First impressions

Accra is huge. As we flew in last night, the city lights seemed to spread for miles. No doubt we will soon settle into our little corner of it, but there is a lot to be explored.

The information gleaned from guide books pre-trip seems to be mostly right. It’s not too hot at the moment – August being the coldest month. People are friendly and helpful and we have yet to encounter the worst of the traffic (just a matter of time, I guess). And football is everywhere – the TVs show Premier League highlights on repeat and the names of Ghana’s big stars mark the shirts for sale in the numerous street stalls, with Chelsea having a worryingly high profile. (No sign of any Swindon or Hannover shirts yet.)

The local food is good, too. Our first meal was at Maquis Tante Marie restaurant. Red red, a stew made from beans and palm served with fired plantain, will be a veggie favourite. And best of all is the discovery, via a thoughtful welcome pack of groceries from Hannah’s new school, that cheese is alive and kicking in Ghana! The only downer is that Ghana has followed other African countries in making the piss-weak and tasteless Lipton Yellow Label its tea of choice. I have yet to get an explanation for this disappointing trend.

Hotels are expensive – $200 a night at the Midindi Hotel. It’s pleasant enough – a pool, Wifi, and helpful staff (one of whom drove us to a cash point when he realised we were stuck) – but it seems a lot for what is essentially a basic city hotel. Maybe its location between the airport and the US Embassy inflates the price a little. But future visitors, don’t worry; you can stay with us – provided you bring some decent tea.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

16 hours and counting…

… and the final preparations are done. Bags packed and repacked to meet weight requirements, boxes sent via DHL (except for the guitar, which came unstuck on its non-conforming dimensions) and flight details checked every hour or so, even though I know it is 10.45 tomorrow. Our anti-malarials went into the hand luggage - a three month supply cost more than my camera. The flat was cleaned yesterday (to exacting German standards) and so a few hours to kill time before leaving for Accra tomorrow.

Time to think about our new home for the next two years. It’s hard to know quite what to expect – the internet provides a website to meet every viewpoint these days, although most agree that Ghana is a beautiful and welcoming country – many repeating the cliche “Africa for beginners”. Accra’s reviews are a little more mixed; some describe it as an exciting, bustling city and one of Africa’s safer capitals, others dismiss it as a dull stopover that is best departed as soon as possible on route to the country’s more interesting parts (Cape Coast, the Volta hills, Mole National Park). It’s hard to know which views are correct – the truth is no doubt somewhere in the middle – and we will find out soon enough. Descriptions of the area we will live in – West Legon – make it sound safe, fairly pleasant and a touch dull, a Ghanaian take on Milton Keynes.

The goodbye to Hannover was a little easier than leaving Brighton two years ago. Less stuff to pack away for one thing (my worldly possessions, i.e. Star Wars figures, old football programmes and various walking paraphernalia are already tucked away in my dad’s attic) and fewer goodbyes. A farewell game at Hannover 96 was a typically frustrating 1-1 draw, and my last 6-aside game for Rote Kurve in the Fansliga ended with a last-minute fluffed clearance from the lumbering English defender (me) to cost us a hard-earned point against the league leaders. Hopefully there’s a team in Accra in need of some good old-fashioned English hoofing at the back.

Next stop Hannover airport, followed by Munich, Lisbon and, finally, Accra.