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.