The Long Ride Home

Our hotel… More little huts!

Another travel day! This one was actually longer than the one on Friday because we had to go from the lake to Kumasi before we could start moving in the direction of home. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Yesterday, we all took guesses on how long trip home would take, so I kept track of all of the times of the different parts of the trip. Most of the others insisted that it would take 8 hours (excluding a couple who abstained), but I put my money on 10 hours. Yes, technically it should take closer to 8, but when it comes to traveling here, how often do things actually work out the way you think they should? Answer: never.
Here’s how the day went:

Once people started getting off the first tro, I was loving life. Plenty of space to stretch out! Plus I had a window seat.

6:30AM – My alarm went off, I grumbled my way out of bed, and we got ready/packed our stuff.

7:15AM – We all met at the reception desk and started the walk back to town. This time wasn’t as miserable because it was so early and the sun wasn’t too hot yet.

7:30AM – We arrived in town and tracked down a guy who knew a guy who drives a taxi. He called his friend to come get us. We bought crackers to eat for breakfast (nutritious, I know).

On the way out of Kumasi

8:00AM – The taxi arrived, we fought with the driver over the price and lost, and we started making our way back to Kumasi in a taxi driven by a maniac.

9:20AM – The taxi dropped us off in Kumasi, near Central Market. We asked around until someone pointed us in the direction of the tro we needed, and luckily it filled up soon after we got on (though not so soon that we didn’t have time to buy and eat some Fan Ice).

9:50AM – Our tro left Kumasi. Hooray! It was probably the most intense tro I’ve ever been on. It actually had a functional TV playing some weird movie that all of the guys got really into .

Mountains!

12:15PM – We found out that the mate (the guy who collects the money on the tro) lied to us, and the tro we were on wasn’t actually going to Kpong. We pulled over and he stuck us in another tro that he said was going there.

2:40PM – We found out that the first mate and the second mate both lied to us, and this tro was only going to Kofridua (about 45 minutes from Kpong). They stuck us in another tro.

4:10PM – Tro #3 finally arrived in Kpong. We got off and transferred to one that would take us the rest of the way to Frankadua.

4:18PM – Tro #4 left Kpong.

5:10PM – We arrived in Frankadua, almost exactly 10 hours after leaving the lake.

It’s amazing how exhausting traveling can be, even though all you’re doing is sitting for hours on end. I’m completely wiped, so I should probably get to bed. The only issue with sleep is that our fan broke this weekend, and it hasn’t been fixed. We currently have some wires hanging out of the ceiling where our fan should be. It’s going to be a hot night…

Lake Bosomtwe

 

The pedestrian bridge

The market is even better when it’s in full swing! We went back this morning, and it was seriously so cool. Around the market, everyone is just walking in the street and making the drivers angry, and shops fill every available piece of sidewalk. There’s a pedestrian bridge that would be plenty wide to accommodate the people walking across except that people are selling things on both sides of the steps and on the bridge, and you’re left with maybe a 3-4’ wide path through the middle. I was constantly afraid that I was going to crash into people and knock whatever they were carrying off their heads.

The sidewalks on the way to the market.

Inside the market is the same except minus the cars and plus very narrow passageways. There isn’t even space for two people to walk past each other, which is inconvenient when you don’t know where you’re going and are trying to keep a group together and don’t have space to move out of everyone else’s way. We survived it though. Besides just looking at the general chaos around us, we did some shopping and all of us bought fabrics. This is one of my favorite things (I have a lot of favorite things)… When people are wearing clothes made from printed fabrics, they’re often custom made by a tailor. So instead of going clothes shopping for your fancy clothes, you go to the market, pick one of the million fabrics they have, and take your fabric to a tailor to order clothes that fit you exactly and look how you want them to look. To give you a sense of how much it costs, I got a pair of shorts made. The fabric cost 15 cedis and it cost another 15 for the tailor (which would probably be less if I was local or went to a different tailor). The conversion rate is about 4:1, so the shorts (that fit me perfectly) cost me about $8. Not bad!

Inside the market passageways.

Anyway, after we finished shopping, we wandered around again until it was time to head back to the hotel to check out and attempt to locate a tro to the lake. We got directions to the correct station from the reception desk and set off on a quest to find it.

All I can say is, thank goodness for google maps and functional internet. Once we got close, we asked the nearest guy if he knew where we could get a tro to the lake, he went and talked to a nearby tro driver, and he came back and told us to get in because the driver agreed to take us there. I think it was another one of those situations where the tro wasn’t planning to go so far, but since there were five of us, he said yeah sure.

All I can say is, thank goodness for google maps and functional internet. Once we got close, we asked the nearest guy if he knew where we could get a tro to the lake, he went and talked to a nearby tro driver, and he came back and told us to get in because the driver agreed to take us there. I think it was another one of those situations where the tro wasn’t planning to go so far, but since there were five of us, he said yeah sure.

 

Here’s the lake’s location in relation to Kumasi. Look at how round it is since it’s a crater lake!

The street.

Lake Bosomtwe is a crater lake located southeast of Kumasi. The lake has a diameter of about 5 miles (and it’s pretty round since it’s a crater) and a maximum depth of 260 ft. It’s a weird lake because it’s fed by rainfall and doesn’t have any outlets, so the water level keeps rising. It has flooded and forced villages to move multiple times because of that. We arrived at the lake around probably 3PM, and after a half hour trek in the hot sun to our hotel, we were ready to swim. After getting settled, we headed to the lakeside (I would say “beach”, but really I don’t think it could be called that), and James, Nick, and Anna went for a swim while Yara and I sat and talked. Apparently the water was warm, so I didn’t feel much like I was missing out. I was just happy to be sitting and enjoying the view because the lake is absolutely beautiful. Maybe I’ll go in tomorrow.

 

I’m telling you, we should really start carrying things on our heads.

Once it started getting dark, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and card games. We made friends with a couple more Germans, Josie and Peter, who are volunteers in Cape Coast (I say “more Germans” because Anna and Yara are from Germany as well). The plans for tomorrow are still up in the air, but the seven of us are probably going to try to do something together. It should be fun! And hopefully also relaxing.

In the tro on the way to the lake… Anna, James, Nick, me, and Yara.

Kumasi

Out of all the trips we’ve taken thus far, the trek to Kumasi today was the longest. Kumasi is one of the largest cities in Ghana and is the only real city that we’ve been to besides Accra. It also has a massive open-air market that’s the supposedly the biggest in west Africa, with over 45,000 stores. The traffic in the city is ridiculous, and in the main areas of the city, it’s incredibly hectic. It also didn’t seem to be terribly touristy. It is a tourist destination, but it wasn’t overrun with foreign tourists like so many of the other places we’ve visited on weekends. Obviously that’s helped by the fact that it’s a huge city, but still. Besides at our hotel, I haven’t seen a single other white person.

The bumpiest dirt road in the universe.

Our trip started with a 5AM wake up and 5:30AM departure from the house. We were trying to make it to Kpong to catch at 6:30AM tro to Kumasi, but by the time we got there, the 6:30 tro only had three seats left and we were five (James, Nick, Anna, Yara, and me). They put us on the next tro out, and we ended up having to wait two hours until it filled up before we could leave. These are the things that you can’t really anticipate, and it’s too bad because we could have eaten breakfast at home and had a much more relaxed morning had we known. Instead, we sat for two hours on a tro going nowhere and ate some nutritious donut balls for breakfast.

Here’s Kumasi. We had to go south first, to Kpong, and then took an endless and very bumpy road northwest to Kumasi.

The view off one side of the pedestrian bridge.

We FINALLY left the station at 8:30AM. That was exciting, but the drive to Kumasi is not short. We arrived at about 2:30PM after 8 hours on the tro (2 not moving and 6 in transit). The roads for the first 2-3 hours were HORRIBLE. We were weaving through a bunch of small villages, and the road was dirt and beyond bumpy. So much for sleeping on the ride! I slept a little, but every time we hit a bump, my head smashed into something and I woke up. Not the most restful sleep I’ve ever had, that’s for sure.
As you might imagine, by the time we got off the tro, we were starving. We walked to the hotel, dropped off our stuff, changed clothes (because after 8 hours on a non-air conditioned tro, a clothing change is essential), and went to eat. I got a cheeseburger, and it was awesome. I think I probably could have eaten 10 cheeseburgers at that point, though.

Random market shot. This is in the outer area that isn’t as congested as the main market area.

Even though it was getting late, we decided to walk around the city a bit and go to the central market (called “Central Market” or “Kejetia Market”). People were starting to shut down their shops, but there was still enough activity to get a good sense of what it would be like in full swing. Once you get into the depths of the market, it’s like a labyrinth. There are rows and rows and rows of shops that all seem to be selling the same things. I honestly don’t understand 1. how any of the shops stay in business with so much identical competition nearby and 2. how anyone finds anything. I think there is some sort of large-scale organization of the market, but even so, it’s nothing beyond clothing and fabrics over here, pottery over there, food over there, etc.
I’m glad that we got a chance to scope things out when the market wasn’t as crazy as I’m sure it gets during the day. We’re planning to go back in the morning before we leave the city and head to Lake Bosomtwe, a crater lake to the east of the city, for the rest of the weekend.

Food Donation to Pink

It was back to the farm this morning! The only person who came with me today was Anna, and I give her credit for sticking with it. She was rewarded with a fun morning of… hoeing! My old friend, how I’ve missed you. We hoed around some eggplants, and at one point she said, “I wish we were planting corn.” Ha! She now understands my opinion about the four days of sowing last week. It wasn’t actually that horrible because there weren’t too many weeds to cut through, and the field we were working on was small enough to finish in one day.

This is the school at the Pink program orphanage.

We had a fun day ahead after breakfast! Yesterday, some of the other volunteers went to the farm and picked eggplants from the field we planted corn over to be taken to one of the other orphanages supported by our organization (the Pink program). We had a whole crew with us for this trip – Anna, Yara, Clarina, Evans, Joe, Jamie, and me. We took a tro to the town where the orphanage is, Dodowa, and from there, everyone except for Evans and me packed into a taxi with the food for the last part of the trip. He and I walked about 20-25 minutes to get there, which wasn’t too bad except that it was really hot, the sun was out, and there was NO shade.

Front row – Jamie, Clarina, Anna Back row – Yara, me, and the second-in-command at the orphanage

After making the donation, we ate lunch with the two Pink volunteers before heading back to Frankadua. Evans went back to Accra, Joe had already left, and Jamie was transferring to Pink, so our group was down to Anna, Yara, Clarina, and me. We took a tro to Kpong and then had to switch to another one for the rest of the trip. The second tro sat in the station for probably 45 minutes until it filled up, which once upon a time might have bothered me, but now I’m the queen of patience. It didn’t hurt that a bofrot lady AND a fan ice guy came by around the same time, so I double fisted a donut and some ice cream and was perfectly content to wait.

After we got back, we all practiced carrying things on our head! I’m determined to figure it out.

When we finally got back, James said that he went to the clinic again, and he does have malaria. It’s a mild case – they rank it out of 4 pluses with 4 being the worst, and he only had 1 plus. Still though, it’s miserable. He’s taking the anti-malaria meds that you’re supposed to take, but they don’t actually guarantee that you won’t get malaria. If you get it, it’s just usually a milder case than it could have been. Some people don’t take them because they “don’t really work”, but my opinion is that it’s not worth taking the chance, and anything is better than nothing. Hopefully he starts getting better soon because it’s definitely not fun.

Back to Village Life

​We stuck around in Accra for an extra day because Avy and I both had things that we needed to get done, and we needed wifi do to them. The internet situation in Frankadua is, as you might imagine, somewhat of a nightmare. I have data on my phone, but it’s the slowest speed at best and completely not working at worst. The cell network was down all last week, and I guess the cell phone company’s first priority isn’t fixing coverage issues in the middle-of-nowhere Ghana.

Some of the side of the road chaos on the way out of Accra.

Avy has an interview next week for Teach for America that she wanted to prepare for, and I had a million emails to respond to and some blog work to do. I was happy to be able to respond to emails from a computer rather than having to type them out on my phone or, what I do when I have long ones to send, type them in word on my computer, transfer them to my phone, copy them into emails, and send from there.
We left the hotel around 3:30, took a cab to the Tudu tro station, and got a tro from there to Frankadua. I got to sit in the front seat, but it was actually kind of terrible because I was sitting in the front middle on a high seat that left my head about 2 inches from the ceiling and a head rest digging into the middle of my back (what kind of tiny person did they think was going to be sitting on that seat when they designed the tro?). Our driver was a bit of a maniac and was getting angry that there was so much traffic. He kept attempting to cut around the traffic and took some “shortcuts” that I’m convinced actually slowed us down. On one, we almost got stuck in some mud just to try to get around like 10 cars.

So many people and so much stuff everywhere.

Think about the things that people do on the highway at home when you’re in traffic that really make drivers angry… and now multiply those things by about 1000. There are basically no rules when it comes to driving here. At one point, we were on a one lane exit ramp, and people had formed two lanes of traffic. Another time, we drove next to the road in the equivalent of a strip mall parking lot so that we didn’t have to sit in the slow-moving line of cars next to us. Driving on the shoulder of a road to get around traffic is so normal that the shoulder is basically just another lane with its own traffic.
Anyway, we eventually made it home about 4 ½ hours later. We had really good timing because the other volunteers told us that the power had been out for an entire day and was just turned back on. Apparently there was some issue at the pole near our house, and all of the light bulbs exploded in our house and the houses around us. People’s TVs got fried, and anyone who had something plugged in had their transformers totally destroyed. Eek. That just reinforces my idea that the electrical situation in this country is absolutely terrifying. But now all is well, and I’m glad I missed it!

Besides that, James is sick, and I’m pretty confident that he has malaria. He went to the clinic today, but the guy who does the malaria tests was out, so they couldn’t do a real test for him. He thinks he just has some stomach thing, but I don’t believe it. We’ll see tomorrow when he goes back.

Goodbye Amber, Hello Monkeys

Isabel, Amber, me, Nico, and James

Well, there was no putting it off anymore… Amber left today. You know what though? The mind is a powerful thing, and I’m convincing myself that she’s still here. It’s easier to do than usual because we didn’t actually see her leave.

Here’s the location of Tafi Atome. It’s not quite as far as the waterfalls we went to (Wli), but it’s still quite a hike considering the roads to get there.

Nico, happier than ever

Nico’s final wish was to see some animals before he leaves on Tuesday, so James, Nico, Isabel, and I decided to get out of the house and do a day trip to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. It’s only about two and a half hours away, but you have to take two different tros and then motorbikes for the rest of the way. We left around 10, and Amber walked us out to the street to catch a tro. It was weird that we were the ones leaving her and knowing that when we get back later, she’ll be gone.

James, acting like he doesn’t think this is awesome

We got a tro pretty quickly, and when we started getting close to the first transfer point, the mate (the guy who collects the money) told us that they were willing to take us all the way to the sanctuary, wait for us to go through, and then drive us all the way back to Frankadua. Sounds like a good deal, except when we asked him how much, he said, “we’ll negotiate in Kpeve” (the first transfer point). We got there, dropped some people off, and kept going without a negotiation. Then we started really pestering him until he finally gave us a number: 100 cedis for the rest of the round trip. We quickly did the math and realized that, according to the fare estimates we had, we would save 7 cedis each, and there would be no transfers to worry about. We came back and agreed on 100, he tried to up it to 150, and we shook our heads and said 100 until he conceded. Score one for the yevus! Oh, that’s another thing I don’t think I’ve talked about. In Ewe, “yevu” means white person/foreigner, so when we’re walking anywhere, everyone yells it to get our attention. The kids will just keep repeating “yevu, yevu, yevu, yevu” until you acknowledge them.

Isabel, looking like she was born with a monkey on her arm

Anyway, we made it to the monkey sanctuary after asking about 15 people for directions and getting stuck behind a funeral procession. We got assigned a guide at the welcome center and he walked with us to buy some bananas for the monkeys and explained how the monkey sanctuary came into existence. In the town, there used to be only traditional religions, and they worshipped the monkeys. After Christianity entered the town, the Christians tried to attack the traditional religions by attacking the monkeys and the forest. Eventually, some external groups found out about what was happening and started working to protect the forest. Now, there’s no hunting or cutting or taking wood in the forest. Dogs also aren’t allowed in the town because they don’t get along with the monkeys. The money that they make from tourists goes to conserving the forest, various community building projects (library, computer center, day care, etc), scholarships for further education for exceptional students in the town, and a few other places. It’s a pretty cool setup!

Me, smiling despite the banana goop all over my hand

Now, if you know me, you know that I HATE bananas. That’s not just when it comes to eating them… I don’t like to touch them or smell them or look at them. Monkeys, on the other hand, love bananas, and that’s how you lure them out of the trees. You can even get them to jump up on your arm! But, of course, you have to be holding a banana. I fought through my internal struggle, decided I could sanitize the heck out of my hand afterwards, and went for it. So worth it! The monkeys jumped right out of the trees onto your arm! We got to walk through the forest a little too. The whole thing was pretty awesome. We were only there for 45 minutes or so, but I still think it was worth it.

Afterwards, the driver brought the tro around to pick us up, and he drove us home! Best agreement ever. The house felt a little emptier when we got back and Amber was gone. I’m feeling pretty drained, but I think we’re going to try to watch a movie before bed. I anticipate falling asleep.

Back to Frankadua

​Is it weird that I really don’t mind how long it takes to get from place to place here? I know that some people like the weekends away but hate the traveling that it takes to make it happen. I, on the other hand, almost like the time in the tros just as much as the time at the destinations. I think it has to do with being able to feel like I have some time alone, even though I’m still surrounded by people. That’s why I’m all about the back seat, window spot. You can look out the window, put some headphones in, and block out everything else. It’s good for me to have a break sometimes.

Tro #1 with a fancy ceiling

Anyway, today was another long travel day. We planned to leave Kokrobite at 2PM, but as is the tendency with large groups, we left way later… we weren’t on the road until 4. So what did everyone do with all of that time during the day? Well, some people went to the beach and enjoyed our last few hours of vacation. What did I do? I slept. I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, contemplated doing something, and instead sat on my bed and passed out for a few more hours. This seems to be my new habit… I don’t sleep as much as I should each night and force myself to function throughout the day anyway. Eventually it all catches up to me, I hibernate for a day, and I’m back in action. Sounds healthy, right? Okay, I’ll work on it…

Tro #2 with the back open.. It made us feel very secure.

When we finally left at 4, I was in need of some “alone” time in the tro because from 2PM – 4PM I got progressively more and more annoyed that we weren’t leaving. Luckily, there was plenty of tro time in my future, and we went back on our fun journey from Kokrobite to somewhere in Accra to Atimpoku and finally to Frankadua.

Tro #2

We ate dinner on the road. This is actually one of my favorite things, and it’s something I’m going to sorely miss when I leave. I don’t know if I’ve talked about this before, but when tros go through a town, a toll, traffic, etc (anything that slows you down), there are always a bunch of people selling things on their heads. A lot of it is food, but Amber and Nico even bought headphones off some guy on our way. We’re all currently obsessed with bofrot which is basically a big donut ball. VERY healthy. You can also buy Fan Ice (the ice cream in a tube we got on our first day) off of people’s heads, and we’re obsessed with that too.

Bofrot from the outside

Like I was saying, when the tro tros slow, people swarm the car trying to sell you the stuff on their heads. If you want something in particular, you just say it and someone will go find the person who has what you want. So we asked a woman selling laundry washing powder for bofrot, and within 20 seconds the bofrot lady was at our window, bagging warm donut balls for us. Yum. And fantastically efficient. I think my laziness level will be at an all-time high when I get home. Going into a store is way too inconvenient.

Bofrot on the inside

We didn’t get back until 7:30ish, and I am exhausted (you know, from all of the hard work I did today). Time for bed! The weekend is over and it’s back to the farm tomorrow morning. Hello, 5AM. I’ve missed you (NOT).

Sunset from the tro window