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31 October 2011

At the Green Turtle.

We enjoyed two nights at the Green Turtle, so we had an afternoon and then a full day to enjoy sitting on the beach and swimming in the ocean. The ocean was pretty rough, and kept sweeping us down the beach. My comment in my handwritten log book about the first afternoon spent on the beach at the ecolodge is "heavenly".

The Green Turtle ecolodge was cute and fun. Our room had solar powered lights that usually worked. No bathroom in the room, but there were composting outhouses and outdoor, open-to-the-sky showers enclosed by a circular stone wall. No hot water, but it was so hot outside that it didn't matter. Taking a shower under the open sky was fun. We had our dirty clothes washed (by hand) and dried on a clothesline. The Green Turtle web site has more information and photos.

The lodge was not near a city, so we had all of our meals at the Green Turtle. The owner is British, and the food was excellent. Our first really good meals in Ghana. John had kingfish which was particularly excellent; the menu changed each night, and usually included rice-based entrees and locally grown vegetables and local fish. There were salads and desserts. For breakfast, we had "ground nuts" (peanut butter) and jam and bread and French press coffee. As you can see in the photos, there was a large bar, right next to the beach. Besides drinking Stars, we played a stone game at the bar.

We were quite surprised when the same couple that we met at the New Haven in Accra walked up! They were staying at another ecolodge a short walk down the beach. We talked with them for a long time both evenings.

After dinner, we walked along the beach at night, listening to the waves. The time at the Green Turtle was beaching and relaxing and non-stressful.

Tammy stretching in the early morning. She went on an early morning run, still in training for the marathon.

More photos when you click on "read more" below.
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30 October 2011

Onward to the Green Turtle.

Tammy had heard of an ecolodge called the "Green Turtle", and she phoned to make reservations for us. It's several hours away, and we've been told that the last part of the trip is on an absolutely awful road. So we arrange a ride for the entire distance with a taxi driver who works out of the Oasis and who says he knows the road, and then we go off to hunt for a real breakfast (real coffee? jam?) and a place to exchange currency. (Almost no one accepts credit cards in Ghana.)

We tried to have breakfast at a Western hippie-type restaurant we had spotted the day before, but it didn't open until 8 a.m. So we walked to what we called the "sewer place", a little restaurant across from the Castle museum and adjacent to an open sewer. It did smell pretty bad, but the breakfast was good. Our first "filtered" coffee of the trip: French press style. The scrambled eggs were good, soft and squishy instead of flat and leathery. And there was jam!

While we were walking along the street that morning, I noted how people were living. Where do the people in the little shop-stands live? Well, I think some live right behind the stands. Little children were being bathed in basins right on the sidewalk, and children were eating breakfast from bowls there next to the street. Often there was some sort of structure behind which they could have some privacy.
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29 October 2011

Canopy Tour.

We took another crazy bus ("tro-tro") ride, but luckily our destination was not very far (less than 20 miles). The tro-tro dropped us off a short walk from Kakum National Park, where they have a "Canopy Walk". It was absolutely amazing. Here's a couple links: Wikipedia and a Ghana tourism site.

Our tour guide talked about the jungle and some of the issues of maintaining the ecosystem. We were told to be quiet in respect for the animals, and we were told not to shake the trees, as poisonous snakes might drop out. Then we walked uphill quite a ways to a platform. Stretching out from the platform was a wood plank walkway suspended by ropes. The walkway dipped and rose to the next platform. The guide told us to take off and enjoy ourselves, and we did! From the gently rocking walkway, we looked down a long, long way to the top of the jungle canopy. (It's about 130 feet at the highest point.) We heard a lot of birds, and a couple women in front of us were lucky enough to glimpse some monkeys. We spent a long time up there on the walkways, sometimes hiding from rain bursts on the platforms from which the walkways were suspended.

During one such rain burst, we talked for awhile to a local couple. The woman was a pharmacist, university-schooled in the UK, and seemed so smart and sure of herself. There is hope for some people in Ghana, hope to get out of the poverty and hand-to-mouth lifestyle that a lot of the population experiences. Public education in Ghana is highly touted, and we saw lots of young girls dressed in school uniforms on the streets of Cape Coast.
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28 October 2011

Photos of the Oasis Hotel and Cape Coast.

This post is a photo shoot. Briefly, so far this blog has summarized our up to the first Wednesday of our trip, having arrived on a Monday. We spent two nights at the Oasis Hotel, so we had an entire day in Cape Coast to kick back and enjoy. The hotel was right on the beach and we all had paperbacks to read, or we just dozed on the lounge chairs. Tammy was training for the AIM marathon the upcoming Sunday, so she got up early to run 7 miles before breakfast (while it's still a little cool).

We found that breakfast at the hotel was the same flat eggs and oiled bread (no jam) as before, so the search for a good breakfast and real coffee is still on. I found a few souvenirs at a stand near the Castle, beaded necklaces and bracelets and a multicolored purse. We enjoy a mid-day meal at the Castle Restaurant, notably, chicken curry for me. In the evening, we found our hut-room dark and hotter than the outdoors, and it's hard to find enough to do all evening inside without TV or good light, so the outdoor Oasis bar was the answer for a couple hours of conversation and cool drinks, especially with the sound of the surf to enjoy. Basically, we settle in and start enjoying ourselves! So, I'll share some pictures. And the next post will be about the Canopy Walk that we took on this same Wednesday.

And remember, click on a photo to see a larger version!

John outside the entrance to the Oasis.

The bar and restaurant area of the Oasis.

From the Oasis entrance, the opposite direction, up towards the town of Cape Coast.

View of Victoria Park, just outside the Oasis entrance.

Our hut at the Oasis. It was so cute, both inside and out! It had a toilet and a shower.

I have lots more pictures for this day - click on "more" to see them all!

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25 October 2011

Cape Coast and the slave museum.

After the harrowing bus ride, we arrived at Cape Coast and all of us really needed a beer. Especially John and I. We grabbed our bags and walked down the crowded streets of Cape Coast towards the ocean to search for Star beers.

The streets of Cape Coast are similar to Accra. Cars mix with traffic with bikes with motorcycles with people selling stuff, goods stacked on their heads, or selling from stalls. Like Accra, Cape Coast has open sewers, but it smells a little better than Accra, or else we are getting used to it. It's a tiny bit cooler here, though still stifling hot. We walked down towards the Slave Castle, which is a huge white building that used to be where slaves were kept before being shipped overseas. Next to the Slave Castle was the Castle Beach Restaurant. We sat at a table in the dark restaurant and gratefully downed huge, cold Star beers.

Castle Beach Restaurant

view from restaurant
View from inside the restaurant, note fishing boat and outline of a Star beer on the table.

fishing boat
Fishing boat, seen from restaurant.

near restaurant
Tammy walking towards the restaurant.

view of ocean
View of ocean from near the restaurant.

acrobat guy
A guy doing acrobats on the beach, as seen from inside the restaurant.

We asked about a hotel, and was told that there was a "white man hotel" just down the way, called the Oasis. We walked about a block and found the Oasis right on the ocean, with cute little huts. An oasis it was! The area around the huts was kept landscaped and clean. There was a bar there too, and a restaurant. We liked the bar.

Be sure to click on "more", because we had more experiences that day.
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24 October 2011

Onward to Cape Coast.

John woke us both up at 5:30 a.m. "Let's go!" he said. Crazy man, typical for the first day of a vacation. In Africa, it gets light about 5:30 a.m. and gets dark about 6:00 p.m. Most people in west Africa get up early to get stuff done before it gets hot, and then take a nap after lunch. Also, as I mentioned before, homes and small stands are not lit up with electric lights like in the US, so people need to take advantage of natural lighting.

It was too early for breakfast at the New Haven Hotel, so we started walking down the street to look for food. What I thought was just another little sales stand was instead a restaurant, according to our guide, Tammy. The cook/waitress/owner wiped off a bench behind her and she cooked us eggs on bread and put Nescafe (instant coffee) and sweet canned milk into hot water. (Real, brewed coffee was a rarity in west Africa.) The eggs are cooked flat, like a pressed omelet, and are sort of tough rather than fluffy. There were a few veggies in them. The egg yolks are really light in Africa, so the cooked eggs look white rather than yellow. The bread was thick sliced white bread, fried/toasted in the same weird stinky oil I noted the night before. Okay, it filled us up, but it wasn't terribly appetizing.

street breakfast
The street restaurant was just a working table and a bench under a sun shade, open air, on the sidewalk.

We decided to leave Accra and go to the Cape Coast, where we would be by the ocean and could visit the place where slaves were held before being shipped to the New World. It's about 100 miles away.
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23 October 2011

Our first oasis: the New Haven Hotel.

We stayed at the New Haven Hotel that first night in Africa. Enclosed by a wall, it was a white man's oasis, a place to rest before venturing back out into the local culture. And it's where we had our first Star beer. Star beer, the best! It comes in huge bottles and was our drink of choice. "A pork chop in a bottle." This refers to the fact that we felt safer drinking beer than water or even eating food. It's actually a Guinness product, and only brewed and sold in Ghana. That's a pity.

Star beer
I stole this photo. In west Africa, they usually gave us a coaster or the equivalent to cover our beer glasses, because of all the flies.

The New Haven had two double beds and a noisy air conditioner, a toilet and a shower that had a huge bucket in it and even hot water (although we didn't discover that until our second showers). Not a strong spray head on the shower - this we found to be true throughout the trip.

John and Patty
John and Patty

New Haven Hotel
New Haven Hotel

Although we stayed in "white man's hotels", we never felt threatened by the people of Ghana or Togo. They just sort of ignored us, but were in general friendly and helpful if they could be. The taxi drivers and shop owners were a wealth of information, helping us find places and things.
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22 October 2011

First impressions of Africa: Walking the streets of Accra.

We had taken a taxi to the market, and decided to walk back to our hotel.
walking streets
That's Tammy walking in front of me! Note the people walking next to the traffic. Also note the woman with the child on her back. This is the customary way all young children are carried in Africa. When coming towards you, often all you see of the child are these cute little bare feet.

walking streets
Street view. The guys wearing the orange shirts in the truck were playing loud music and dancing around. I don't know why, but Tammy's said that it is common.

As in my blog entry on "taxis", the photos do not do justice to the experience of the walk back to the hotel. It's hot. And very humid. As soon as you start walking, you perspire and/or the wet air condenses on you. The streets are dirty, so dust mingles with your sweat. There are a lot of people and cars, noisy cars beeping and unmuffled, squeezing into pedestrian traffic at times. There are open sewers and it stinks like you would expect a sewer to. Black plastic bags are strewn everywhere, along with vegetable peels and all sorts of trash. Trash cans are non-existent. The buildings are not done with craftmanship, and many are unfinished, or roughly finished. Streets are not marked and we got lost. Asking directions is nearly impossible, as they only go by locally known landmarks.
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21 October 2011

First impressions of Africa: The market area of Accra.

The market is in the middle of Accra. We got there just as it was closing for the day, at around 6 p.m., when it gets dark. Street lights in Ghana are dim and often interior lights are non-existent, so when it gets dark, it's time to close up shop. Later in the trip we found that there are nicer areas in Accra, with large, boxy, landscaped homes behind walls, and supermarkets, but our first impression was of the chaos of this particular part of Accra.
Accra market
Looking down on a parking area adjacent to part of the market. The market continued inside the building right in front. Note the barely finished buildings in the back on the right.

Accra market
Just to the right of the last photo. Note the trash laying on the ground, and the overly-loaded vehicles.

The market was in and around a two or three story building. People set up booths haphazardly under awnings or next to cars or in the building. It's all dirty and jumbled together, and it's mostly for the locals. Almost any sort of item is for sale - if you can locate it - from fabric to clothing to food. I didn't see anything I wanted to buy, there were no interesting touristy African or handcrafted items, except maybe some gorgeous fabrics.

Accra is pronounced ack-CRAW, not ACK-ra or a-car, just for your information. It is the capital and largest city of Ghana, with a population of probably 2 million. Here's the Wikipedia entry.

Next post: walking the streets of Accra.

20 October 2011

First impressions of Africa: Taxis.

In September we traveled to Ghana and Togo, Africa, to visit our daughter Tammy. She is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo.

You walk off the plane at the Accra, Ghana airport and the first thing that hits you is "It's hot and humid!" It was like walking from an air conditioned room into a sauna with all your clothes on. Before we even got on the shuttle that took us to the terminal, I peeled off my sweatshirt and began sweating. That sweating continued for the next two weeks.

We found Tammy easily at the airport. I'm not going to try to tell you how good it was to see her again after a year's absence, because it's indescribable. Enough said.

Tammy negotiated a taxi for us and we were dropped into the streets of Ghana.
Note: click on a photo to enlarge it.

Shot from the back seat of a taxi; that's Tammy in the passenger seat. Note the man carrying a large load of construction materials, someone with a container of fruit, a woman with a large pan on her head.

Photos and words cannot describe the experience. You need too the odors and the noises to complete the picture. And the feeling of terror of that first taxi ride.
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