Oh, the places you’ll go

Updates updates updates! I realized the past three or so blogs have been themed rather than the sporadic updates so I guess I have a lot to catch you all up on. I’ll try and make it quick but I can’t make any promises! Ready? Here we go.

The past couple of weeks have included everything from markets to historical landmarks, and beaches to canopy bridges. Throw in a quick visit from the family and you’ve got yourself a pretty exciting month. Let’s start with our second CIEE trip. The program took us into the Ashanti Region in central Ghana to visit the large city of Kumasi. The CIEE bus is considerably nicer than any tro tro in the whole of Ghana but even that could not make up for the insane road construction that took up a good chunk of the route up to Kumasi. I have to say, there is nothing quite like getting woken up to flying halfway out of your seat and banging your head on the window. It really is quite effective.  While in Kumasi we visited a Kente Village. Kente is a traditional cloth native to Ghana that is produced with looms that spread the length of a room and can take days, weeks and even months to make. The patterns are very intricate and each one has a different meaning. We also visited an Adinkra village. Adinkra symbols are also native to Ghana and they too have different meanings. This village makes ink from tree bark and then prints these symbols on cloth to sell as clothing or decoration. Along with the traditional symbols, the village also has prints of historical figures such as Jesus and President Obama. We also visited the palace of the Ashanti King. It was interesting to hear that there were still traditional kings in Ghana and that their role was more than just that of a figurehead. The palace offered a lot of history and insight into the lives of the Ashanti kings.

Adinkra and Obama.
Adinkra and Obama.

My personal favorite part of the trip, aside from the air-conditioned hotel and amazing food, was the Kumasi market. This market is the largest in West Africa and seen as how there are huge markets in almost every city I have been to thus far in Ghana alone, this is saying something. We were given two hours to venture the market and for some of us that just was not enough time. We soon got lost among beads, second hand clothes, handmade soaps, and more fabric than you could possibly imagine. You really had to be on your game though because one wrong turn could land you in the middle of the fish aisle, and let’s be honest, that is a place that no one wants to be in. After bargaining our way through many a souvenir and yard of this and that fabiric we weaved our way out of the maze of vendors and headed back down the bumpiest road in history.

Preparing to tackle the largest market in West Africa.
Preparing to tackle the largest market in West Africa.

A few weekends later, my family came to visit me! Crazy, I know. As a family, we rarely go on vacations. This much is clear from the fact that Ghana was my first time out of the country. So my mom, dad, and brother, Matt, flying halfway across the world to visit me was huge deal. I had been planning for weeks the places that I wanted to take them and the things I wanted them to experience. The tricky part about much of Ghana however, is that transportation is cheap and easy if you’re willing to forego any semblance of comfort or customer service. That’s all well and good for the typical poor college student with mostly low expectations. However, not so ideal for the one extravagant vacation my family has taken in years. But to my surprise, they weren’t fazed by the packed tro tros or constant bargaining for taxi fares. After taking them for a brief tour of Accra and a sample of the some of the markets, we headed back to Busua for yet another beach getaway. Turned out, they loved it just as much as I did the first time. Unfortunately as we were leaving Busua, my mom fell victim to food poisoning or some other gastrointestinal mishap that is quite common in the first few days of being in a new country (especially one like Ghana). She was quite the trooper and she pulled through after a few doses of Pepto Bismal and a couple days of resting. Having my family visit me in Ghana seemed like an out of body experience almost. While we never left Ghana and did many of the things that I would normally do or have done already, the entire time they were here, I felt like I was home. I don’t know if it was the snacks they brought from home (I almost cried when my mom gave me a cheese stick), living in an air-conditioned hotel, or indulging in a hot shower but by the time they left I felt like I was making the transition to Ghana all over again. This is not to take away from their visit in any way, just proof, I guess, of how different everything at home really is and how much I missed my family.

The next couple of weekends included a beach estuary on the coast and climbing the tallest mountain in Ghana. The beach estuary, located in Ada Foah, consisted of a strip of beach with a river mouth on one side and the ocean on the other. We stayed at the Maranatha, which consisted of about 20 huts and a simple bar and kitchen. Our particular hut had three beds with mosquito nets and a single light bulb that didn’t work. The floors were sand, the roof was straw and the walls were bamboo. We were essentially sleeping outside. But it turned out to be pretty cozy and actually nicer than some of the other places I’ve stayed so I can’t complain. We spent the weekend lounging on the beach and switching off between the freezing cold ocean water and the warmer river mouth.

The huts of Ada Foah.
The huts of Ada Foah.

The next weekend, however, made up for our lack of physical activity the weekend before. We headed back to the Volta region to a small village called Liate Wote located just past Wli where we had been about two months before to see the water falls. We spent the night in a guest house owned and operated by a 12 year old kid named Julius. It was nothing glamorous by any means but it only cost about $1.50 a person for the night. Sounds good to me! The next morning we were up bright an early (the roosters once again of course) and headed out to climb Mt. Afadjato. We were informed by Julius, who was also our guide for the hike, that it only takes an hour to get to the summit. Seen as how this was the tallest point in Ghana and every other climb we had done in the past had taken at least three hours, you could say I was a bit apprehensive. Turned out, that we did make it up in just under an hour and it was most likely due to the fact that the entire hike was straight vertical. It was essentially like walking up extremely steep steps for an hour. It probably wasn’t my favorite hike but the summit view was worth the work. The funny part was that once we reached the top, we found that we were surrounded by an entire mountain range that was higher than where we were. Confused, we turned again to Julius, who said casually as ever, “Togo”.  So we had made it to the tallest point in Ghana, just not the tallest in Togo.

Celebrating at the summit with Togo in the background.
Celebrating at the summit with Togo in the background.

One last thing before I let you go! Our final CIEE trip took place the next weekend. We travelled back down the coast to Cape Coast. This city is home to two historic slave castles: Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle. We were split into two groups and I chose to visit Elmina Castle. It was located right on the beach and was used as a holding ground for slaves before they were put into the boats and shipped off to the Americas. The tour took us through the dungeons and living quarters of the slaves as well as the offices and rooms reserved for the colonial officers. It was an extremely emotional and intense experience. Walking through the halls, you could still smell the stench of death and the filth that the slaves were forced to live in. Our guide took us to a small corridor with a door that lead to the ocean. This was called the “Door of No Return” and was the passageway to the ships. It was amazing to walk through a place that I had only learned about in lectures or readings.  It was extremely hard to imagine the horrors that went on both in the castle itself and after the slaves left. We had the chance to debrief the day over dinner and it was very insightful to hear others reactions to the castles. The next day, we visited Kakum National Park where we hiked through the dense forest and walked across canopy bridges suspended about 40-50 meters above the ground. We stopped for lunch on the way back at a restaurant that sat above a crocodile pond. It was a little eerie watching the crocs as we ate our lunch but, lucky for us, they seemed completely unbothered and uninterested by the mass amount of oburonis above them.

Elmina Slave Castle
Elmina Slave Castle

Another brief but still somehow amazingly long recap for y’all. As it happens, we’re getting down to the wire here. There’s just over two weeks left! It is really crazy to think that I’ll be back home in less than 20 days. But I am positive that there is still an adventure or two to be had and shared so we aren’t quite finished yet. I’m also starting to get the feeling that these last few entries are going to sound vaguely (or maybe quite blatantly) like the first few entries. The only difference being that I am about to leave my new home in Ghana for what now seems like a foreign country. Stick with me for this last bit, it might get weird.

P.S. I am happy to announce that I officially have a new passport and visa. That only took 16 weeks. Let this be a lesson to anyone travelling abroad in the future. Getting a new passport in another country is not easy, not quick and definitely not fun. Mepaakyew (please), do not make my mistake. Take good care of your passports people!