Lots of updates from Kristin & Megan

ADVENTURES IN GHANA: We traveled to Ghana in July of 2008 through the University of California Education Abroad Program and registered as students at the University of Ghana, Legon for the Fall 2008 semester. Since the University system in Ghana is not completely up to par, we spent most of our time traveling the capital city, Accra, and various villages from every navigational direction within Ghana. Throughout our five months in Ghana we received death threats, offers to instate us as Queenmothers of villages, dozens upon dozens of marriage proposals, and many calabashes teeming with palm wine.

However, throughout our travels our one constant was the Bradt guide: our beacon of hope that we would be able to make it out of the bush and into safety. Now that our trip is finished and we are safely back in the arms of America, we thought that we would complete a commentary to the people who made many of our adventures and mishaps possible. Below you will find i) our indication of logistical errors and outdated facts within the Bradt guide, ii) our personal input on villages, cities, and lodges within Ghana to expand on the advice already given in the guide, and iii) a few stories of our personal experiences in Ghana that we think might be useful for future readers of the Bradt guide to consider when traveling in Ghana.  

ERRORS WITHIN THE GUIDE

First, we would like to point out that the introductory map has an error: Busua is indicated as being to the east of Takoradi; however, Busua is to the west of Takoradi.

 

Second, under the headline “Media and Communications” in the section “Traveling in Ghana” several phone companies are listed, but MTN is not. MTN is a major – if not the most – prominent cell phone provider in Ghana. Ghanaians proudly sport their bright yellow jerseys with the headline “MTN” and below it “024” (the prefix of all MTN phone numbers) in bright blue-green lettering. People take pride in their cell phone providers, although they all are pretty unreliable.

 

Thirdly, on the map titled “Greater Accra” there is a new mall currently not listed by the Tetteh Quarshie Circle. The mall is called the Accra Mall. It has a Game (similar to a Target with a variety of different goods) and a Shoprite (your regular grocery store). The stores in the mall tend to be overpriced and expensive. A reasonable food court sits in the center of the mall area. Additionally, a new movie theatre has opened recently. The movie theatre is completely westernized, comparable to an American movie theatre, and even includes the American price of movies. When getting to the mall by tro tro, you have to tell the mate “Shoprite” if you want to be dropped off at the Accra Mall. If you say “Accra Mall” the mate will not understand what you are saying. Coming to the mall may be shocking to someone who has been spending most of their time in Ghana under the hot sun, without air conditioning, and in the markets. The mall is very modern and stepping into the mall is not dissimilar from stepping back into America – tiled floors, clean bathrooms, and all. When approaching and leaving the mall, you will be accosted by Chadian refugee children. The children are incredibly cute with their perfect skin and radiant eyes, yet incredibly annoying when they persistently grab onto your shirt, arms, legs, and whatever other limbs are available to beg for change.

 

Fourthly, the US Embassy listing is incorrect. It is listed that the US Embassy is in Osu; however, the US Embassy is in East Cantonments (near the W.E.B. Du Bois center).

 

Fifthly, under the section “Accra Nightlife” we believe that the club Aphrodesiac should be listed. It is a very popular place for Ghanaians and foreigners both to hang out, especially on Thursday nights when ladies get free entrance.

 

Sixthly, the entrance price for the National Museum under the section “What to See” is more than $1. The price is $5 for non-Ghanaians, $3 for students. Additionally, the restaurant is more costly than $4; in fact, it is quite pricey. In the same section, it is listed that there is the Accra Zoo. The zoo is finished. It has moved to Kumasi. In its place is the new palace.

 

GUIDE INPUT – TRAVELING IN GHANA TOWARDS CAPE COAST In Fete there is a wonderful little bed and breakfast that is owned by a man and his wife. It is called Emily’s Place. The cost is $40 for a double bed or two twin beds and the price includes breakfast. The rooms are attached to a house with a cozy kitchen and living room. In the backyard there is a lively garden and stairs that lead to a second-level porch that overlooks the inland of Fete. Separately, traveling to Winneba left us unimpressed and disgusted by the dirty beaches. There is trash everywhere and black bags constantly wash up on shore. We initially planned on staying for two nights but when we saw how horrible the beach was we hauled ass out of there immediately.

 

SEKONDI-TAKORADI AND THE WEST COAST In Butre, we stayed at the Hideout Lodge. The staff was both unfriendly and slow. The water was out the entire time we were there and the staff continued to be unaccommodating. I would only recommend staying here as a last resort – and even then you might want to think twice. Further down the beach are two or three much cleaner lodges to stay at, at the same reasonable price. The outlay is that you will have to carry your luggage fifty yards further down a sandy beach. The benefit is that the beach gets cleaner as you travel further down and you will actually be able to relax and enjoy your time in Butre.

 

THE EAST COAST In Ada, we stayed at the Maranatha Estuary Beach Club for two nights. On one side of the camp is a lake beach; on the other side is the ocean. It is a beautiful place to relax. The staff is slow but not unfriendly. The village surrounding is also accommodating and friendly to visitors although many children will run up to you shouting “Two tou-sand!” wanting twenty pesewas. The food at the beach club can be pricey, so I would recommend bringing some of your own food for the budgeting traveler. Also, I would recommend placing an order for all three meals in the beginning of the day: each meal can take two to three hours to prepare. There is no running water or electricity, and the bathrooms are wooden boxes with a hole in the ground. The price for the huts was extremely reasonably: $10 for a hut with a double bed. However, the huts smell like shit, rotting faeces, stale urine, or a combination of all three. The smell does not become incredibly noticeable until you’ve been lying on the sunken-in mattress for a little while. I would still recommend staying here, but I would also recommend taking your own sheet to put over the sheets provided for you as extra protection from the smelly mattress.

 

EAST OF LAKE VOLTA In Biakpa, we stayed at the Mountain Paradise Lodge. The lodge is gorgeous with an absolutely flawless view of the mountains. It comes with clean sheets, friendly service, a knowledgeable owner, and tire swings in the front yard. The food is good at a reasonable price and the cook will ask you to order in advance. Many hiking trails surround the lodge which you can go on independently or with a guide. The lodge offers a guide to take visitors to some surrounding waterfalls. We wanted to go to the waterfalls and asked if a guide was available. Our request was answered with the response, “The guide is traveling.” However, the next day we found out that the guide had actually died. We don’t know if “traveling” is a popular euphemism in Ghana that we don’t know about, but in that instance “traveling” meant that the guide was taken by the undercurrent of the river when trying to fetch a baseball cap from the water and he drowned. Also, biting ants march throughout the hills. I suggest you wear tennis shoes and long pants when hiking to avoid these little monsters. Around Hohoe, we stayed at the Waterfall Lodge. The lodge was at full capacity when we arrived and so we took up the option to camp out on the front yard. The lodge was efficiently run and a pleasure to stay at. The food was also very good. Wli Falls were possibly one of our favorite scenes that we saw in Ghana. The lower falls are just a quick and easy walk from the visitor center. However, the upper falls can be quite challenging. If you plan to hike to the upper falls, do not combine the adventure with drinking a bottle of palm wine and rainy weather. The combination is not good.

 

KUMASI The National Cultural Center was a very pleasing experience. The people are extremely friendly, not too pushy, and give good deals.

 

TAMALE AND MOLE NATIONAL PARK Teenage and twenty year-olds hang around where the STC buses arrive late at night. They grab foreigners and lead them to the Al Hassan Hotel, claiming that all they want to do is help Americans. They continue to say that all seats on the Metro Mass the next morning are sold out, but their relative is the manager and they can pull some strings to get you a seat — all out of the goodness of their heart, of course, they would never ask for money. They bought us a seat, but in the end they do ask for money. We paid $1, but he asked for more and we ended up giving $4 before he would leave. Other people who we have spoken to said that they paid up to $10. Every person who had taken the morning bus from Tamale to Mole said that they had had the same experience.

 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE Corruption in the American Embassy: A Story of Small Small in a Big Big Country Upon learning that the US Embassy offered a research library complete with free Internet and free laser printing, we thought that we should take the opportunity to utilize the resources available to us. The first two times we visited the library we had absolutely no problems. The third time we went the Ghanaian guards made a hassle about letting us in. The fourth time was hell. The Ghanaian guards told us that the man who had to escort us had just left. When we ask when the man would return we were told, “He will come soon. Sit and wait.” After waiting twenty minutes we got tired of waiting and asked for someone else to be called to let us in. Any Embassy worker can let you in. The guards were extremely unfriendly and unaccommodating and continued to speak to each other in Twi (malicious things about us, your demanding Americans, no doubt). We were given the run-around for the next hour. Finally, we asked to be able to speak to someone who works inside the Embassy. They called someone inside and we were given the phone to speak to an American employee. We explained our situation: we wanted to use our library, we need an escort, we’ve been waiting an hour and a half, and we haven’t been getting any straight answers. Shortly, the man told us, “Just pay the guards small small, they’ll let you in.” The employee of the US Embassy wanted us to bribe the Ghanaian guards to be allowed to use the free library at the United States Embassy. The Bradt guide says that Ghanaians do not accept bribes, but this experience makes me think otherwise. Luckily, as we angrily and tearfully trudged away from the Embassy we met a Drug Enforcement Agent from Alabama who worked in the Embassy and he was able to go inside and find someone to escort us in. He was appalled that we had been asked to bribe the guards. Turns out, there had been a man in the library the entire time who would have been available to escort us into the library. It was a bitch of a situation. It is very normal and accepted policy to give someone a “dash” in order to get a good table at a restaurant, be escorted somewhere, etc. There are signs scattered across the highways that warn that to bribe a Ghanaian police officer is a crime. We have been fortunate that no situation arose where we were forced to submit bribes; however, we have heard stories of people who had to give bribes to get past highway checkpoints and various security set-ups.

 

Eye Contact: To Look or Not to Look As a foreigner (obruni) in Ghana, standing out is unavoidable and everyone will look at you. People often say “hello” as a command rather than a greeting. It can become quite testing on one’s nerves to be yelled “obruni” at all day and to be asked for twice the price of something because of the assumption that all foreigners are rich. If you do not want to stop and chat, avoiding eye contact is the way to go. People will still yell “obruni” at you and say “hello,” but avoiding eye contact with people can drastically reduce your chance of being hit on, proposed to, taken in for an hour-long conversation, or even be given the seductive up-and-down look. Walking down the street at a fast pace with sunglasses, earphones, and a hat while looking down sullenly at the road will not discourage someone from attempting to shout “obruni” at you or trying to get you to make eye contact with them. Separately, people love to read any text that lies on your shirt. Be warned, a shirt that says “Obama” or “MTN” will be read over and over again by each enthusiastic Ghanaian.

 

The Volta Region: Or the Heaven of Ghana, If You Will We all agree that Volta Region is the favorite of all places to travel in Ghana. The area is green and beautiful. The Ewe seem to be the most genuine of people we have met in Ghana and are always willing to lend a helping hand at no cost. The Volta Region is also one of the most eco-friendly regions in Ghana, offering many environmentally aware and friendly activities for the tourist to do. It is easily accessible from Accra with many tro tros leaving from Madina hourly. People who choose to volunteer in this region will certainly have a rewarding experience and fall in love with the area and culture.

 

Battle of the Sexes: Bargaining Men always try to get as much out of you as they can; women are much more willing to bargain in a non-aggressive manner. As a bonus, you will not get a marriage proposal from a woman seller. Our experience has taught us to always choose the female seller over the male: the man will always tell you that you are not being fair to him while the woman will be grateful for the sale made and appreciate your business. If you want to get on their good side, the women will really be impressed if you are a repeat customer.

 

Trading: An Alternative Trading is widely accepted if you have extra stuff you want to get rid of. They accept anything from used clothes and shoes to anti-diarrhea pills and hair straighteners. The sellers get really excited that you have things to trade with them and they will be anxious to see what you have brought. Often they will ask you to give a sum of cash on top of the traded goods, but the price will be reduced. Rastas, Rastas. Accost Us, Accost Us. Rastas are all over the country and are usually young men in love with Bob Marley. The rasta culture in Ghana is humongous. The rastas who hang out at the La Badi beach in Accra are well-known to be visa-seekers, seeking out women, young and old, pretty and unfortunate, to wed and gain a visa to a first-world country. They are incredibly persistent in approaching women: they will continue to hit on someone even after having met the husband, seen the wedding band, and been told numerous times to back off. On the plus side, if you want some cheap pot or a quick husband, you’ll adore these talkative, ganja-loving, beard-wearing, lone-dancing rasta men.

 

Hitting People: How Kristin Keeps Her Sanity AKA I am an American woman, which basically makes me a man Kristin stepping into the keys to tell you about one of my favorite Ghana activities: hitting frisky men. Before coming to Ghana I highlighted in my Bradt guide that it is OK to smack away a hand that grabs at you. Most “obrunis” here don’t know this and so they seem surprised that when a hand wraps around my right wrist I smack it with my left hand like a reflex and add a “fuck you” in there for emphasis. However, I have learned to at least look at the person first (and only smack away the men). I once was waiting for a tro tro at 37 station when I felt a hand reach from behind and in-between my legs. In this instance I did not look and ended up smacking a small boy who had been caught in the crowd. So do look, but most of the time smack away. People have no business touching you, especially with such force. Saying You Are Married/Have a Boyfriend The best advice I can give a female traveler in Ghana is to lie: always say you are married. In the beginning I was honest to everyone I met and said I was single. BIG, BIG, BIG mistake. You then have three options: figure out a way not to take their number and quick, take their number and never call, or give them your number and expect 30 calls a day starting at 5 AM. Listen ladies, either buy a wedding ring (1 cedi at any market) or say that you have a boyfriend. Most men will then leave you alone, though some may demand hearing the story of you and your lover. Some will still persist, and you actually have to become forceful, be straightforward, and use the tone you would use to punish a four-year old to get the point across. If nothing else works, alert the crowd: the crowd has huge power in Ghana and they will get the man away from you. Just make things easy for yourself: travel with a male friend or buy a band. Bra: The “Come to Me” Command One of our first weeks in Ghana we found ourselves on an expedition to the STC station in Circle to buy tickets in advance for traveling. We happened to pass a Ghanaian police officer stationed in a kiosk who extended his arm to us at a ninety-degree angle and, with palm faced down, extended his fingers in and out commanding, “Bra, bra, bra.” Confused and afraid of this unusual gesture we continued to walk past. The officer then called our attention and began to lecture us saying, “I was calling you. If an American police office called you, you would come. Why did you not come to me?” We explained to the man that we did not know what his gesture had meant, so we didn’t know how to react. We began to feel guilty for ignoring the police officer when he finally got to the point of calling us over and asked us if we had boyfriends and if he could have our number. The moral of the story is that police officers are not resistant from hitting on you, just like all other Ghanaian men. What we learned from the experience and continued to practice for the next four months is that “bra” is the correct way to call someone over to you (although if you are being called you do not always have to respond). To call a taxi, tro tro, or person, extending your right arm with palm facing down and drawing your fingers in and out of the fist position will do the trick.

Kristin Bietsch & Megan Graves

One thought on “Lots of updates from Kristin & Megan

  1. Kristina says:

    Hi, we are trying to get in touch with anyone from Marantha Beach Lodge but have had no response as yet (I’ve tried all the e-mails I could find on the website) We’re hoping to stay there for a few nights from the 19th Feb and were hoping to get some kind of confirmation before we arrive..Does anyone have any suggestions for the best way to get in touch/book with them? We will try ringing on arrival in Ghana also. Thanks very much.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s