Various updates

 

A miscellany of comments, criticisms and updates from a reader who clearly doesn’t much like Ghana (or my guidebook) and has asked to remain anonymous:

 

My biggest concern is that you repeatedly mention how “friendly” and “hassle-free” the country is compared to other African countries. “As travel destinations go, Ghana is difficult to flaw” is a pretty strong statement and hugely misleading in my opinion. I traveled all over Ghana, as well as in the neighboring Burkina, Benin and Togo and I found the constant catcalls, hassling and forcing to buy or donate money in Ghana extremely tiring, and a far cry from the promised hassle-free atmosphere. In fact I found the neighboring countries to be much more hassle-free and easier to travel in, even though my French is limited. In fact I consider Ghanaians to be quite rude at times and nowhere else was I called a racist simply because I refused to buy something or didn’t agree to a certain price. I constantly felt like being seen only for my money, not as a human, or a ticket to Europe or a sex object. I have lived in various countries, including developing countries such as India and Ecuador, but never before have I experienced this kind of behavior to this extent. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time in Ghana and I did meet some wonderful people who didn’t expect anything in return. But these were a small minority. I think readers should be made more aware of the hassling, the “walking ATM” -phenomenon and that there indeed are many tourist traps. In fact I think it should be stressed that no-one can be trusted, not even the hotel people, and to be vigilant at all times in regards to money in particular. Also, something you touched upon, that the tourism personnel really know nothing and locals are clueless in regards to time and distance are strong facts which again should be perhaps emphasized more. Overall, I feel you are misleading in your praise of a country which actually isn’t that great. And I am not alone in my opinions; the majority of the other foreigners I spoke to about the subject, and who had been in Ghana for a longer time, agreed with me.

 

Your prediction that it would be difficult for the locals to adjust to the new currency was bang on, and two years on, only the young generation seems to have adopted the new way of speaking. Therefore I think it might be an idea to mention this in the next edition and also ways to get around it, i.e. 3 000 = 30 pwa etc or alternatively always take away four zeros. This is because I have a feeling this will be an ongoing problem.

 

You mentioned how Ghanaians’ English was very good. However, I found this not to be the case, and the women’s English in particular (possibly due to lack of education). Even in bigger towns such as Tamale, the level of English was surprisingly bad in my opinion. 

 

My multiple entry visa to Ghana from the UK cost me 50 pounds, not 30-40.

 

Out of personal experience, I wouldn’t recommend Egypt Air, since they lost my luggage and I had hell with them afterwards trying to get some kind of compensation. Afterwards I have heard other similar stories with the same airlines.

 

It might be worth mentioning for vegetarians that at least in bigger towns (Accra, Kumasi, Tamale), soya meat kebabs are being sold on the streets. And they are delicious. Talking of food; I was surprised at your praisal of Ghanaian food. I have traveled in various countries in varius continents and usually am pretty open to all sorts of foods. But I have to say that some local foods (Kenkey, TZ and sometimes the pungent smelling fish) are some of the grossest things I’ve ever faced. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy a variety of other foods, but e.g. compared to the gastronomical delights of the neighboring countries Benin, Togo  and Burkina, I wouldn’t precisely call Ghana a culinary paradise. And this is an opinion shared not only by me, but many travelers I came across.

 

In the “What to take” – section you mentioned that sanitary pads are hard to get by, yet at the Women travelers section it was stated that “sanitary pads are available in most towns of any size.”  This to me is a bit of a contradiction. In my experience, the latter is correct.

 

In the Health section the word prophylactics is mentioned many times. I had never heard the word before and would have appreciated either a definition or a different word used instead since it is not an everyday word. Also, you mentioned that rabies vaccination is relatively painless. In my experience it was the most painful vaccine of all! Instead, the others were painless to me.

 

Every other guidebook I have read on developing countries always advices against giving to beggars and street kids. Therefore I was very surprised that you seemed to encourage it. In my opinion it only creates more problems, since a) only God knows how the children will use the money or whatever they are given and b) it certainly won’t make the begging and “give me money/pen/water/whatever you have” situation any better.

 

Bywel -bar in Accra is spelled Bywel, not Byewell as on page 127.

 

During my visit to Kakum I didn’t see one single mammal and only a few birds and butterflies so I think it would be good not to create too many hopes for the visitors, or alternatively state the ideal times to visit to possibly see some animals.  Also, I’m not sure if the Solo Forest Monkey Sanctuary is worth mentioning in the book, if, like in your experience, there were no monkeys at that specific time. Seeing the animals tends to be the key reason to visit these places. Granted in Kakum there is the canopy walkway but it would still have been nice to see something else.

 

There are three buses to daily from Accra to Tamale (at 7am, 8am and 9am); not two at 9am as stated.

 

The biggest phone networks seem to be, at the moment, Zein, Onetouch and MTN (which is bought over by Vodafone).

 

The banking hours in general seem to be until 4-5pm, not 2pm.

 

I’m not sure why you recommended taking a cheap plastic bowl if eating with fingers feels difficult – wouldn’t a fork or a spoon be a better option?

 

In Kumasi the entrance fee to the Arned Forces Museum was 5 cedis and the Manhyia Palace 7cedis so the prices have really gone up in the past years it seems.

 

In Tamale Barclays is the only bank that deals with Travelers Cheques, Standard Chartered doesn’t. However, Barclays seems to have issues with exchanging foreign currency unless you have a bank account there. Having said that, a few times when I smiled nicely I did get service, but I wouldn’t count on that. I wouldn’t recommend the palace of Gulpke Na, since it is little more than a series of dilapidating huts with piles of rubbish scattered everywhere, a malnourished horse with its hoofs tied together in one of the huts munching on hay and a group of village elders sitting in the shade. So much for the palace.

 

Another contradiction or rather a baffling comment was about the Cultural Arts Centre in Tamale. First on p. 352 it says: “Near to the palace is the Centre for National Culture, mentioned prominently in every piece of travel literature about Tamale that I’ve come across, but I have no idea why.” However, later on p.375 it is mentioned to have been “recommened as far better than most in the country” [for curios]. Doesn’t that answer your question?  I personally think it’s ok, definitely better than some other places I’ve been to. Obviously not comparable to Kumasi or Accra but still ok. However, in my opinion the mention of Forsmuel Internet Cafe in every travel book baffles me since I thought both of the Forsmuels (now there’s two) are one of the worst in town. Much better is e.g. Jarazamax Cafe next to the smaller Forsmuel. There’s really nothing to see in Tamale though and in my opinion it’s not a very pleasant town, so I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go there unless for a specific reason or en route to somewhere else.

 

The classes at the Tamale Youth Home Centre are a bit suspect. The drumming classes are ok as an introduction but for anything deeper I wouldn’t recommend them. The dance classes shouldn’t even get a mention in the book. The VRA swimming pool doesn’t serve food, only a small variety of drinks.

 

It should be worth mentioning that the Kalpohin Cultural Exchange Program takes the visitor only to two villages, so you will see some of the mentioned activities but not all. I.e. I would have loved to see how groundnut paste is made but saw pottery, cotton spinning and shea butter making instead, which was all very interesting but I was under the impression that the tour covers everything. So I would mention that, so that future visitors could perhaps choose where to go, if they have any preferences.

 

I was lucky to have relatively good experiences in Cape Coast and Larabanga in terms of hassling. However, the renowned Salia Brothers Guesthouse was a big disappointment. In fact, I am surprised of all the hype. Yes it was great sleeping under the stars but the fact remains that the place is little more than a shithole (excuse my language) and I think this should be mentioned in the guide (maybe not in those exact words). In addition, my question about meals was met with blank stares and there was no form of shuttle service or any other kind of service to Mole (bikes, rides etc). I was lucky enough to meet a guy who knew someone with a motorbike, but without this guy I would have been utterly helpless. Also, I doubt I would ever have gotten my change back for the payment for my stay if I hadn’t specifically asked for it. The Salia Brothers weren’t present at the time and instead the place was run by someone else, which might explain the level of service. But in any case this doesn’t take away from the fact that it was a huge letdown.

 

The safari walk in Mole is at 7am, not 6am. I was eaten alive by flies which, as opposed to the guidebook, weren’t painful at all to me; in fact I didn’t even feel them until it was too late so I would definitely emphasize putting on loads of insect spray and long-sleeved shirts while in the park. The Mognori “Eco-Village” as it is called these days seems to have developed in the past years. They do indeed offer (a completly overpriced though although I managed to get the price down) canoe ride in the Mognori River.. Also, I spoke to a few locals who seem to have a strong position in the society, about the ongoing problem of tourists and the hassling, and they said it’s an issue that is being dealth with and resolutions are being sought so that’s a good sign.

 

The road to Mole was indeed quite uncomfy to say the least, but I still think the road from Tamale to Wa takes the biscuit

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6 thoughts on “Various updates

  1. philipbriggs says:

    There is some really useful info here, but I also think that several points misrepresent the book.

    I am not aware of any passage that encourages giving money to children. The section on page 80 discourages giving out money/gifts etc to people who hit on you because you’re a foreigner. And I am personally strongly opposed to it. That said, I don’t see any harm in giving a coin or two to a genuine beggar i.e. somebody who sits on the side of the road begging ‘for a living’ rather than a chancer who hits on tourists. Locals also give money to genuine beggars. The two things are completely different.

    Re the food, I don’t suggest that Ghana is a culinary paradise. The only positive thing I say is that the food is refreshingly spicy compared to bland local offerings in east and southern Africa (which is definitely the case). Otherwise I simply describe the local staples (using words like ‘slimy’, ‘gelatinous’, ‘petroleum
    like taste’) and conclude that ‘Most travellers find Ghanaian staple to be an acquired taste, and its probably fair to say that… you’re unlikely to miss them when you return home’. More diplomatic than ‘gross’, but do I really need to be that unsubtle for people to get the point?

    I don’t think I ever state that the English spoken in Ghana is ‘very good’. I say it is widely spoken, which it is, and that it is ‘spoken to standard matched in few other Anglophone African countries’. In any case, the main point, in the context of a language section in a guidebook, is that is it pretty easy to get around Ghana speaking English.

    I describe the canopy walk at Kakum as a ‘novelty’ and ‘gimmicky’, reproduce three negative reader quotes (‘a regular tourist mill’, ‘not worth visiting’ and ‘more of a tourist gimmick than an interesting sight’), describe the way it dominates thinking at Kakum as ‘mildly irritating’, say that ‘none of the mammals are likely to be seen by day visitors’ and also make it claer that guides there are reluctant to do other walks. I really don’t feel that this unduly raises expectations…

    As for Solo Forest, my understanding is that monkeys are seem there regularly in the early morning or late afternoon, as explained in the book, so why exclude it because we happened to visit at a bad time of day?

    As for which internet cafe in Tamale is better than the other, how is this baffling – maybe the one we mention has gone downhill, maybe the better one didn’t exist when this edition was researched or maybe it has improved in the interim, maybe the persom who wrote this were there on a bad day. General tip: if the server is slow at one internet cafe, there are plenty more, so go try another one…

  2. villagerainbows says:

    Some folks should just not travel – and this individual is one of them. Of course, he might not have been any happier – he does strike me as a person who does not enjoy life very much. Those of us who consider ourselves blessed to live here in Ghana have watched what happens when people who take themselves too seriously come in contact with the realities of life. No – this is not a safe place to be if that is your approach to life. It is almost a guarantee for an unhappy traveller!
    Having said that, imagine what this individual could accomplish if he were to put his writing and observational talents to finding all the good things there are to find in this country (and in the Bradt Travel Guide as well!!!) Best wishes,
    Nana

  3. Elana says:

    Not that it’s such a big deal, but if he’s going to be nitpicky then he should get his facts straight. The phone companies now are MTN, Tigo, Zain (which he spelled wrong) and Vodafone (which bought out OneTouch and Ghana telcom). Rumor has it Glo is on the way?

    …Just saying

  4. Ilka says:

    I fully agree with villagerainbows: This person should just stay at home and never leave his/her house. What a negative, sad soul.

    For what it’s worth, I’m living in working in Tamale for the next 5 months and think it’s wonderful.

  5. jillkats says:

    This entry actually made me laugh out loud! I am based in Ghana for a couple of months doing fieldwork for my PhD and have not yet travelled around (just Accra and Kumasi) so came on the website to pick up some tips. Being a naturally impatient, perfectionist Westerner, I recognise frustrations that, at home, would immediately lead me to criticise and complain, but which, here, I try (with varying degrees of success, depending on how tired, hot, etc. I am) to let go. The only way to cope with a completely different approach to time, efficiency, prices, information, etc. is just to accept it – no point fighting a whole country!

    That said, I think, rather than castigating the writer above for pointing out some of the inconveniences and disappointments travellers to Ghana face and trotting out blind “Ghana is such a great place” generalisms, it is more helpful – for other travellers and for Ghana – to acknowledge some of the more avoidable and unnecessary problems that exist for tourism and in this way put some pressure on for improvement. For example, every young person at the hotel I’m staying in seems to have a diploma hospitality management. You can safely say I’d never have guessed unless I’d chatted with them. I can’t be the only one who wonders what on earth they teach them there? Perhaps somebody reading this in hospitality/tourism management might feel inspired to come and help them revamp their syllabus!

    There is one other important point for me, which I think has been slightly overlooked here as it is in all guidebooks. No man can ever fully understand how very, very different/more difficult it is to travel as a single woman than a man. Hassle, catcalling etc. could often have or threaten an edge of harassment and danger that a man might never feel or worry about. Single women trying to be safe have to think much more carefully about the motives of somebody wanting to talk or be “friends”; they cannot simply walk into any bar or restaurant alone; they cannot walk around alone in the dark. Rather than face all these obstacles and decisions, I will eat either in my hotel or the nearest place to it (given the comments about Ghanaian cuisine, I doubt I’m missing much!). I have never yet felt at all unsafe in Ghana (I do get very tired of people, especially kids, shouting “obruni” – the interest is slightly puzzling to me when they see white people on TV all the time) but I would never criticise somebody who found all the attention too much. It IS hard to cope with, on top of all the usual alertness you need while travelling.

    I’m looking forward to seeing a bit more of Ghana, but to be honest, I tend towards keeping my expectations low in order not to be disappointed… Now please don’t rush to I’m a very positive and well-travelled person and I have found many, many things I like about Ghana and made one very good friend – but I’m also realistic!

    • philipbriggs says:

      Thanks for that useful feedback Jill.

      To be honest, my main issue with the original comments is not that they are negative about Ghana – like you I think some of the points raised are fair – but that it so regularly misrepresent the contents of the book, arguing with things that I never wrote in the first place, which makes it feel a bit unbalanced!

      Re women travellers, it is very difficult to strike the right balance, and I’ll definitely take your comments on board for the next edition. That said, general feedback from women readers over five editions has been that they experienced very few problems. What’s more, the last two editions were updated by women, Katherine Rushton and Kim Wildman, who (to the best of my knowledge) did most of the travel on their own…

      Thanks again!!!

      Philip

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