Friday, June 27, 2008

Anamabo Beach Resort, Canopy Walk and a lots of Tro-Tros!

Friday morning I got up quite early and took a taxi to the bus station. The funny thing is that the taxi to the station cost me more than the bus ticket to Cape Coast! Oh and I had to pay for my luggage. I guess the airline trend or charging for luggage is catching on quicker than they anticipated… It was an uneventful trip, and I was able to read like half of the Freakonomics book. It is a quick read, but very entertaining and insightful. I highly recommend it. Instead of one long continuous story it takes on various topics and talks about them for one chapter. I like that style.

Instead of going all the way to Cape Coast I got off at Anamabo. There was a beach resort there called the “Anamabo Beach Resort” that Mary Kay had recommended to me as a nice place to stay. I had emailed them the night before, but hadn’t received a response before I left. However, this is Africa I figured they would have a room for me anyway…and if not, I would cross that bridge when I came to it. Thankfully I never got to it ;) The bus dropped me off at the main town junction which turned out to be a 20 minute walk from the resort. Man and it was hot outside! However, the consolation prize for my toils was being welcomed to a beautiful resort :) Well worth the effort to get there… The resort is right, right on the beach and for $27 a night I got my own little hut. They had electricity and while they did have rooms with A/C none were available and with the sea breeze at all hours of the day, I didn’t need it anyway. I was pretty stoked at this point to say the least.

Alright, have I got settled in I headed right back out to Cape Coast. I flagged down a tro-tro and 0.55pesos and 20 minutes later I was in the town of Cape Coast. When we arrived, I was bombarded by taxi drivers wanting to take me to the canopy walk. However, as you can imagine a private taxi was just a little out of my price range. To top things off, I still needed to find an ATM because there would be no canopy walk otherwise. Thankfully, I found the Barclay’s Bank that was shown in the Lonely Planet Guide Book. Can I just tell you that I love Barclays. No matter where I am I have always been able to get money out at a Barclays. I was somewhat worried to make a withdrawal since I hadn’t seen any email confirmation that the transfer had gone through. However, I didn’t have time to go to an internet café and I figured if the transfer wasn’t completed yet I would just get an error message. Thankfully, it had gone through and I was now in possession of a fresh supply cash.

After remedying my lack of money issues, I found a tro-tro headed in the direction of Kakum National Park, where the canopy walk was located. I would like to make you think I was able navigate the mayhem of Cape Coast on my own, but the only way I found the right tro-tro was with the help of a little boy to whom I did not mind paying a nice tip. On the way to the tro-tro station, I stopped and bought my mom a sweet bag. She wanted one like the one I had, all multi-colored and African looking, but with a nice zipper and pockets, ect. Anyway, the one I found was like the ideal bag. I am not even kidding. It was a little pricey, but I had to figure she was worth it ;)

Leaving Cape Coast the sky was clear and blue. However, as we drove further and further from the coast and into the rainforest, the skies turn darker. The rain started slow and rapidly escalated into a downpour! I always wondered what happened to the passengers in those old broken down tro-tros when it wasn’t bright and sunny outside. Well folks, you guessed it, you get wet. Water was coming in from the roof and seeping in cracks in the sides! They did at least make an effort to move the men in the very back who were literally getting all the rain dumped on them. I guarded by bags and just had to laugh a little on the inside. It was such an Africa moment. Besides I was on my way to a rainforest. Duh! It would be unusual for it NOT to rain…

The whole time we are driving I am hoping and praying it stops before we pull up to the Kakum National Forest. It slowed down, but it did not stop so I jumped out of the tro-tro and ran into the nearest hut. I was greated by a nice group of people who motioned me to cross the little ditch on these rickety looking logs or risk being knee deep in water… Only the children spoke English. The adults spoke their native language. I bought some roasted corn from the lady whose hut I gathered I was standing under. The corn was not of the variety you find at the state fair. No, it is much coarser and really tastes kind of like popcorn, just not popped yet. It wasn’t bad, and since I picked each kernel off the cob it kept me occupied for quite a while as the rain stopped. I bought a nice girl a sachet of water and myself some pineapple cookies. The young girl offered to be my escort into the park. Since I was by myself and thought I would appreciate the company, I said sure.
I paid for our admission and we walked to the main area. It was still a bit drizzly outside so we had to wait. In the mean time, we sat down at the Kakum Rainforest Café. I know we have Rainforest Cafes in the US, but this was for real a Rainforest Café which made me really happy! I bought a doughnut and drinkable yogurt for myself and the young girl. I wasn’t psyched about the idea of a donut, but it turned out to be amazing! Really doughy and good, not sugared or glazed, but more like an elephant ear or funnel cake taste.

Anyway, the rain stopped and I bought my ticket to go get a bird’s eye view of the rainforest. I also found out you can do overnight camping trips into the park. That sounds awesome. Next time, my friend, I’m doing that! While I was anxious to get going, afraid that the rain would start up again, I had to wait for a school group of like 150 kids to go before me. That reminds me… on the way up to the entrance, we passed a school group getting ready to leave. The kids were piling into the buses. No big deal except the bus was packed like a sardine can. There were like 3 kids hanging out every window, kids packed solid in the aisles and like another 20 still waiting to board the bus. It was quite a sight. It was such a sight, in fact, I felt uncomfortable taking a picture. So, you will have to imagine it. However, I don’t think even your wildest scenarios will come close to what I actually saw. It really made my mad they were endangering those kids like that, but then again is there an alternative here? The answer is no, and that makes it even harder to stomach.

When it was finally my turn, I struck out on the trail to the canopy walk with the real Kakum guide and my friend. The canopy walk was amazing. It was essentially wooden planks supported by aluminum ladders laid horizontally with netting on either side up to about your armpits and a steel cable suspension system. There were seven separate canopy bridges and at the most extreme you are suspended about 40m above the ground. You are truly walking in the rainforest canopy.

I had the pleasant company of one Englishman and two Ghanaians during this excursion. The walk was over all too quickly. When we finished we headed back to the entrance. The young girl helped me get a tro-tro and gave me her address. I was totally won over. She told she wanted to be a nurse, that her favorite subject in school was agriculture, that she liked her teacher, that she was 16 years old and had one brother. I tell you this as a preface to what I am about to tell you next.

It is hard to retell this portion of my adventure as it still makes me sad. As I mentioned I really liked this girl and when she offered to hold my bag for me, since it would have been awkward to have with me on the walk, I happily agreed. This was not a good choice. I will remind you I just went to the ATM. You can probably see where this is going… I believe I processed the thought, “That’s not smart to leave your money with that girl…” but for some reason I still did. Maybe I was subconsciously giving her permission to take my money. Who knows? All I know is that later that evening I found I was about 135 Cedis or about $135 dollars short of what I took out of the ATM. If she did take it, I can only hope it was to help pay for nursing school next year. But I am not convinced she took it and it is very odd that she only took 135 and left me the other 180. When I was retelling my Mom this story she suggested that maybe the canopy workers had gone through it and she protested but could not stop them. Maybe I am just being naïve again. Thankfully, I think I can adsorb the loss with only minor inconvenience. However, I have to say it really feels awful to have money taken like that. To be traveling alone, to have something like that happen, and not be able to talk to anyone about it is really hard. You can bet I was praying that night. In fact, I am not mad at the girl and that even bothers me. More than anything I feel sad when I think about it. I can’t change it now, so there is no use in being angry, but my heart just breaks that thievery was the method chosen. Frankly, if she had asked me for 135 Cedis flat out, I may have given them to her, but to steal is a whole different ball game if you ask me. Alright, enough of that sad news… While my loss was substantial, as I said it could have been worse, and I was determined not to let the incident define my mini vacation.

Following the Kakum National park visit I took a tro-tro back to Cape Coast. The guide book had jokingly mentioned that some of the tro-tro drivers think they are really Formula One Racers… Well, coming back from Kakum, I think I found the one they were talking. It was definitely a bit scary we were going so fast. However, we got back okay and in record time! I was planning to head back to my resort, but since it took half the time to get back than I had planned I was able to pay a visit to the slave castle. It was pricey to get in, and they charged me extra for my camera. But it was worth it and the price included a guided tour… Coincidentally, while I was there I ran into the Peace Corps Volunteer I met at the conference. W had talked about meeting up in Cape Coast, but she was dependent on her Dad’s schedule which wasn’t predictable in the least. The fact we were both in the same place at the same time was definitely providential. She stayed for only part of the tour though, because they had to get back to Accra that night.

As far as the slave castle goes it was eerie, but not overwhelming so. I actually the architecture of the place was amazing! And the scene of fishing boats on the shore was quite breathtaking. I guess it just the whole history of slave trafficking that taints the aura of the place. We went through the “door of no return”, which is to say the door where they used as they led the slaves from the dungeons to the boats waiting on the shore to take them to the ships crossing the Atlantic. I tried to imagine the castle hundreds of years ago. I strained to hear the slave chants, the cracking sound of the whips, but with the tour group it was hard to get to a place to mentally process things. As funny and insensitive as it may sound my travels to Cape Coast made me draw an interesting parallel between the crammed slave ships and the crammed modes of transportation. I am not saying they are the same thing, but the more I think about it the more I realize the current way of traveling, crammed like sardines, is totally disrespectful, dangerous and should not be tolerated even if it is “voluntary”, which it is, but then again isn’t because there are few alternatives. In any case, I took a lots of photos of the Cape Coast castle which was quite a sight to behold. As a last side note, there was this guy in the tour group, who was clearly American and here with a group of clearly US college students, whose eyes were a crazy shade of blue. They looks really weird. Turns out he and the group it seemed like he was leading were staying at the same place I was! Oh the irony of life…and, some lady on the tour asked me where “my” group was from. I actually took a bit of offense to that. Um, no lady, I am not with that group of students. Please, I am the lone mysterious traveler. How could she have missed that?!

Stop, backup, rewind. So when I went to the ATM, I got my big wad of cash and folded it into my small wallet. Clearly that was not going to work. Most of it ended up loose in my bag. When I was leaving Kakum I checked my bag and saw there was still a bunch of money left. I didn’t count it right when I got it of the ATM for safety’s sake given the ATM was not enclosed and I was in the middle of the town. I also did not think it prudent to count my cash while in the tro-tro, even though I was worried that some of it was taken. All through the tour, the sinking feeling of the inevitable grew and grew and finally when the tour was over I went to a private corner of the castle and counted my money. My head was swimming when I only counted 180 Cedis. I had taken out 340 Cedis… where had the rest gone? I knew to well where the rest had gone, only I didn’t want to believe it. I was stunned but not altogether surprised by my discovery. I just wanted to sit and wallow; however, it was getting dark and I had to get back to the resort. But what about my money situation? I had taken out enough to get me through this trip and now I was 135 Cedis short! After rapidly mentally assessing my options, I decided to stop at the ATM before I left Cape Coast and I took out 70 more. I planned to go over finances that night and figure out whether I would pay for my accommodations with my credit card or cash. I was leery of using my credit card because I had heard a few stories of people having problems later, but didn’t want to pay the ATM fees again. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place!

I started on my way back to the bus station, i.e. open area crammed with all sorts of vehicles, people and goods. It was still a good distance away and guy at the castle was pretty un-encouraging about my finding a tro-tro on its way Accra, which is the direction I needed to go, at this point in the evening. After having just lost all that money, the thought of paying for a private taxi was killing me. Like an answer to a prayer a tro-tro comes ripping down the street the promoter, not the driver, but the other guys who deals with the money and tries to get people to get in, was yelling Accra! Accra! Accra! So I waved him down and got. I was starting to feel a bit like this trip was turning south very quickly as we continue through town and I was the only passenger. The door is hanging wide open though as the promoter is yelling, so I figure I am still in a good position. Then two more young African ladies get in who are headed to the same town I am and my comfort level stabilizes again…but not for long. Sunset went quickly and it was getting very dark very fast and the tro-tro kept stopping and I wasn’t sure I would recognize the exact place to have the guy stop! I didn’t want to take it to the main junction. Remember the 20 minute walk earlier in the day, yes hard to believe all this adventure happened in one day.

Anyway, I was looking really hard, and I had told the driver to stop at the road leading to the Anamabo Beach Resort. Well, I saw we were coming up on it and weren’t slowing down. So I start saying stop, stop, stop, and banging my hand with my nice ring on it on the metal bar in front of me to make enough racket that they pulled over. Luckily, it was only about a 20 meter over shot. Unluckily, it was still a good 400m down a dirt road to the entrance of the resort. I had brought my head lamp with me out because I half thought I might get back after dark, even though I was aiming not to. I’m not a boy scout, but I do always try my best to be prepared! I strapped on my headlamp and not kidding you ran all the way to the entrance. I was not about to me ambushed in the dark. When I get to the resort it was really dark and I was like “NO!” what is going on… then I realize the power is out. Oye! Again thank you headlamp…

I went to my room and laid in my bed reading my bible trying to process all that had just happened in the course of 7 hours. It was, to say the least, overwhelming. But there is amazing comfort in knowing that even though you feel alone, the God of the Universe is right there next to you. He knows what you are feeling and is there, and as illustrated by the footprints in the sand poem, is carrying you when you don’t even know it. After spending some time recovering I assessed my financial situation for this trip and in general. I laid out money for all the expenses I would have over the next few days and figured out exactly how much I had been taken for… I figured I might have been able to make it paying cash for my hotel, but it would be too tight and I worked through the overall finances of leaving Africa and having enough money for the summer and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and stress of penny pinching in this sort of travel situation. After all that I decided I needed to clear my head so I worked out in my room with one of my workout DVDs which was a great idea. Following a much needed shower, I happily went over to the resort restaurant and ordered an amazing chicken burger with fried rice for dinner. Very good.

At dinner I sat listening to the ocean, reading my book and enjoying life. This was not my own accomplishment, but a testament to the power of faith that lets you live each moment in joy that is not dependent of circumstance but on the knowledge that you are in this world, but not of this world and that there is more waiting for you on the other side. This is what allows me to weather the storms of life. I am sure there will be a tempest far greater than losing $135 dollars, but it I am prepared because I have built my faith on the rock of ages. That night I fell sound asleep hearing the waves crashing on the beach not 40m from my little hut ;) Okay, so I borrowed Susan's video camera for the trip so I am going to high tech here and see if I can't include some sweet footage I took of the beach resort. That way you can actually see and hear the ocean off the coast of Africa. I'm not going to lie. It was pretty amazing.

Saturday I had decided to play things by ear, but I had to wake up by at least 9:15 to partake of the free standard breakfast provided by the resort. Being in Africa, and given the overall disappointment of hotel breakfasts in general, I didn’t have high expectations. However, boy did they prove me wrong! The breakfast was great; toast, cereal, fruit and juice. After breakfast I went back to my room and wrote up the last blog post you read as well as the May Africa Update. While I was working it rained a little outside. That was pretty cool actually. I went to the beach and read my book for a little bit. When I became too restless, I changed into swim suit and put on my running gear over it. I went running along the beach. I was a great beach for running. The shore was very flat and the sand was packed in really hard. I did not run too long though, the beach got pretty deserted and frankly I didn’t want to find myself in a dangerous situation so I turned around. I was surprised by large amounts garbage that had washed up on shore. It was pretty gross in places! To cool off from my run, I went to a quick swim. Swimming like that is way more fun with someone else, so I stayed in just long enough to feel I earned the right to say I went swimming off the Gold Coast of Africa!

I left the resort to go to Elmina about 1pm. Elmina was a small town just past Cape Coast that has it’s own slave castle. I went out the main road, but had trouble getting a tro-tro to stop for me. One taxi stopped for me I told him I wanted to go to Elmina and he said 4 Cedis. I thought that was way too low but figured, Cool! Must be my lucky day. Then we start going and found out he misunderstood my destination. Great. So I was like peace dude! But when I go to get out, and the door won’t open. This is not uncommon as the vehicles they drive seem to be held together with chewing gum and feel like they will fall apart with you still in them. However, the door not opening was not cool and there was another guy in the taxi who was trying to help me open the door. Which was nice and all, but I was really like “NO, I JUST WANT TO GET OUT!” I was definitely starting to panic a little. I was telling the guy to get out on his side and let me out. Not that I felt I was in danger, but I really just wanted to get out. The driver kept telling me to pull at the window and jab the door with my elbow while he was holding the handle and I was getting ticked, like this is clearly not working and I want to get out! Finally, the latch popped and I was out. I was clearly frustrated and said “Good bye” in a way that insinuated good riddens. Anyway, that whole scene probably lasted 30 seconds, but it felt like an eternity and was quite the little scare…

Finally after the taxi fiasco, a local came up and helped me flag down a taxi. When I got back from my trip I tracked him down I gave him a small tip. The first tro-tro brought me to Cape Coast and then I followed a very nice lady to find a shared taxi to Elmina. In total getting to Elmina turned out to be a much longer trip than I had expected. It took over an hour to get there! When I finally did arrive, I ate at the Bridge House. It is a hotel and restaurant associated with the Coconut Grove Beach Resort frequented by the rich and famous. I had contemplated staying at the Bridge House for my vacation, but boy was I glad I didn’t stay there!
There was a terrible fish smell outside so bad I had to move tables inside. I ordered the coconut chicken, their specialty and supposedly my splurge meal, but it turned out to be not very good! In general I was not impressed with Elmina. The guide book writers seemed to like it more than Cape Coast, but I do not agree. It was dirty, unfriendly and just yuck. Maybe the real Coconut Grove Resort is worth it, but I didn’t make it that far…After lunch I decided I did not want to pay to go into a second slave castle. So instead I took pictures of its façade and then climbed up a hill to a smaller castle. It was a very nice view, but contrary to the guidebook it was definitely not open to visitors. In fact as I was walking up the steep road to get there a nice gentleman warned me not to walk around to the back of the castle because someone would take my camera... A slightly disquieting welcome for sure!

I didn’t stay in Elmina very long. In fact, upon my descent from the treacherous castle I immediately found a tro-tro back to Cape Coast. From Cape Coast I found a tro-tro headed to Accra, thankfully this time it was still afternoon and I got them to stop in the right place. It helped I was sitting up front. It was the first time I rode shotgun and honestly I prefer the other seat because you can’t see the crazy driving that is going on quite as well. When I got off the tro-tro, instead of going right back to the resort, I took the fork in the dirt road to the left and went up a very steep hill to the Ocean View Lodge. It was awesome! I ordered some pineapple juice, read the new book I just started “The Tipping Point”, and enjoyed the view which was truly spectacular. I can’t imagine it being a private home and living there. It would have been awesome! It was cool and all, but I prefer the beach access to the view when it comes to actually booking accommodations. It was a nice place to a little break or have a meal as a change of pace. A funny side note is that the waiter there was shamelessly hitting me. FYI, when I travel like this I “have a boyfriend” or “I’m married”… Whatever they ask, the answer is such that I am not available… Oh and randomly enough, this one time a guy asked me my name and instead of saying Sara, I was like “My name is Kate.” Just like that. It even surprised me how definitive and nice it sounded. I realized I could essentially create my own alter ego… no one knows me, I can be who I want! That is a bizarre feeling. So after that I was “Kate” to any curious Ghanaian guy.

I left the Ocean View Lodge in time to get back to the beach resort before nightfall. I read on the beach until it was dark and then had a relaxing dinner at the restaurant. Again, a very good meal. I ordered the kid sized pasta because I wasn’t too hungry and it turned out to be the perfect size. After dinner I sat at my table to a long time working out what presents I still needed to buy and generally enjoyed the down time.

Sunday morning I got up feeling just so-so. My throat was starting not to feel so great. Basically it hurt every time I tried to swallow which made it hard to sleep. I had the awesome breakfast take two…this time with the added bonus of an omelet. I changed into my swimsuit and sat out in the sun, tanned a little and read. After I had my fill of reading and sleeping on the beach I drew a picture of the shore scene. It was not my best work, but I am getting better at doing landscapes. It is harder than you would imagine… When I felt like I had finished my picture I went back, got a small plastic bag from my room and a beach towel from the reception. P.S. the resort lends out really nice Beach towels. This place was seriously choice. Anyway, I went seashell hunting. When I found 5 I liked I went back and took a quick dip in the ocean one last time before heading back to the rush of life in Accra. I showered, changed, and packed and was out of my room my 12:00. It was great! I did pay with my credit card, but I paid with my debit bank card. I don’t have much money that account and wouldn’t mind closing it so if it gets messed up, so there you go!

I ventured out to the main rode to get a tro-tro back to Accra. Considering it was Sunday about noon, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the traffic was sparse. To make matters worse, I couldn’t seen to get the ones that passed me to stop. It was hot outside and I was starting to feel a bit defeated. At this point some local guys walked past and asked me where I was going. When I told them Accra they responded by showing me the hand motion that means Accra. Apparently, I had been signaling something else! Sure enough, as soon as I use the new right arm point to the sky up and down a van stopped for me :) It is amazing. They have a whole language in how you wave your hands indicating destinations. This tro-tro business is more serious than I thought. The ride I got was actually pretty nice. It was a nicer Ford van. Still packed with people, but at least it wasn’t rusting. Back in Accra I got dropped off at the main traffic circle and had to take a taxi back to the guesthouse.

I was happy to be back at the guesthouse. My throat got infinitely worse on the ride back and I developed a pretty strong headache. To top things off, the guesthouse manager made a mistake and there was no room for me. Thankfully, they didn’t just say tough luck. Instead, they let me stay in daughter’s room! It was really nice of them and they wouldn’t let me pay them. When I got there I was surprised to find Ming. Ming is another student working with Susan. She was supposed to head up to Tamale Saturday, but the airline lost her luggage so she stayed in Accra to get it back. Ming was staying the families guest room, hence why I was in the daughter’s room. The family we stayed with was really nice. They even shared their lunch with us! Ming and I got to know each other a little and just chilled out for the evening. Since I was not feeling good I walked over to see if the pharmacy had anything to help me. I bought some menthol throat drops and some Vitamin C chews to boost my immune system. I had to go to the bathroom like a million times that day. At the time, I was in denial and wouldn’t have said I was sick. But now that I think about it, I was in pretty bad shape. Ming and I made a sad dinner of toast and ramen noodles, but it was spiced with good conversation.

I talked to my mom that night and was able to post on my blog and send out the May update. These are both good things… I took a quick shower before I hit the hay. I also tried a throat drop before I went to bed. Not a good idea. It actually made things worse! Anyway, it didn’t really matter because I had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the airport for a 6:00am flight to Tamale. I was afraid of being out and about looking for a taxi at that time of the morning. Thankfully, African women get up really early and so I was not the only person out. I did okay waiting for plane, not falling asleep I mean. The flight to Tamale was interesting. It was a propeller plane which made me feel like I was in Africa in the 1950s really adventuring into the great unknown. I really just wanted to sleep on plane. I got on the plane and there is a guy sitting my seat so I have to tell hime to move over as kindly as possible on 4 hours of sleep after traveling from place to place on a daily basis…. Then guy sitting next to me, whom I had to ask to move, kept trying to hold a conversation with me. That was strike two. He was nice and all, but when my eyes are closed and my head is clearly resting against the window, do you really think that is body language for “Sure, go ahead ask me another question…” And he had some kickin breathe, strike three buddy.

I was finally able to sleep and it was a short flight. It started to pour rain like 20 minutes after we touched down. Just enough time to make it difficult to get a taxi. I ended up paying way more than I should of for a taxi. That really ticks me off. Not just a little more, but three times normal. I didn’t know any better, and I was not in a position to argue considering my alternative was to get out of the taxi and stand in the pouring rain. In addition to charging me an arm and a leg, he didn’t know where he was going. When we did finally the GILLBT guesthouse no one was there. The girls told me they would likely be staying there, but they weren’t and Susan had just come and picked up the other visitors. No one at the guesthouse knew where the Pure Home Water (PHW) house was located. I went looking through all my stuff for the cell numbers I wrote down. But I couldn’t find them! It started pouring rain again and I was at a loss sitting in this guesthouse reception area.

Honestly, I just wanted to be back in Ougadougou. I was not feeling well, I was lost, it was pouring rain outside, and I had paid 3 times what I should have for a taxi. I was feeling pretty low at this point. The workers at this center must have picked up on my desperation because they went out of their way to track down the location of PHW house and they called a taxi for me. This time I paid a reasonable price. We got to the general location of the PHW, i.e we were on the right road, but I didn’t know which house it was. The driver started to get an attitude with me, but I stayed in control as much as I was ready to lose all poise I had left. Do I detect a pattern between myself MIT and taxis? These factors do not make a positive equation. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a bunch of filters piled up to the roof. I had found it! I was never happier to see Vanessa and Kate. Even so, I didn’t have much time to revel in my victory of getting un-lost. I put my stuff in the room where I would stay (since Ming wasn’t there yet I would sleep in the bed meant for her), and headed out with the girls to the village where they would be working. I had had very little to eat and my throat still hurt really bad. It was hot, and the meeting was long. The saving grace was it was actually really interesting, and I took a bunch of great pictures! The exciting newness of being at a village meeting triumphed over my physical exhaustion. Interestingly at the village meeting all the men sat on benches on the left side of us and all the women and child stood on the right. The woman liked the design of one safe water storage container, but the men liked a different one! It is such weird dynamics. I thank my lucky stars I was born into America with an amazing family and wonderful opportunities.

We got back about 1:00pm. Thankfully we went out and found some lunch. It was okay, but not great chicken and rice. After lunch I checked out transport situation for the next day. Turns out there is no direct bus to Ouagadougou. In fact I would have to take 4 different transports. I would have a long day ahead of me on Tuesday. I also stopped off at the market on the way home and bought some fabric for Rosie and myself. I laid down when I got back, but it was not for long. I got up and helped the girls experiment with using alum as a flocculent. That was really cool. Basically you swirl this ball of what looks like salt around in very turbid water. Once the ball dissolves about halfway you take it out and let the water sit. The particles clump together and fall to the bottom. It is incredible when you see a side by side before and after picture. Here's a collage of pictures from the day...

When we were done playing with the alum, I went in a took a nap before dinner. Dinner was nice. It was all the MIT students, Susan and the visitors from the Path Project. The sauce was pretty spicy, but it was food and I was hungry. Before going to bed, I showed Derek pictures from Burkina and other trips. It was nice to show someone who was genuinely interested in seeing my pictures. I was ready for bed and reading for a while waiting for Susan to get back. I was able to catch her before we went to bed and arranged a time when I would be able to talk to her in the morning the next day. That was the last thing I needed to do. If I could talk to her in the morning then I could head out a little before lunch time and hopefully back it back to Ouagadougou at a reasonable hour.

Tuesday morning I suffered through another wimpy breakfast of bread and jam. I was not eating very well these last few days. Following breakfast I was finally able to commandeer Susan’s attention. I went over my experiment results with her and talked to her more about the work in Ouagadougou and at 2iE. This exchange was really one of the key things I was hoping to accomplish by coming to Ghana. Staying to talk with Susan after breakfast was worth the price I would pay later. What is that price you ask? How about an 11 hour journey back to Ouagadougou.

I left the PHW house at about 11:00am. Shaq one of the NGO employees was making a delivery and so he offered to drop me off at the station. He also helped me change some of my money back into CFA. The first leg of my trip was taking a tro-tro to Bolgalatanga. This was a tough 2.5h ride, I was able to read a little but I was sitting by the window on the side facing the sun and I am pretty sure my left are is now a few shades more tan then right side. From Bolgalatanga I took a taxi to Paga, the Ghana border town. Paga wasn’t far but I waited 30 minutes for the taxi to fill up. In the end, I bought the remaining ticket just so we could get going! They were trying to be nice by letting me sit upfront, but sitting up front but me in the sun again. Get this, I made them stop and moved myself to the back…

When we got to Paga I crossed border on foot. That is how they do it! It was pretty hardcore, I’m not going to lie. They have customs houses where you walk in and fill out the cards and have your passport stamped. I had all the papers I needed, but the other guy who came in the taxi who was also going to Ouagadougou didn’t have his papers, so apparently he snuck across and met up with the transport a little past the border. Talk about Sketchy with a capital “S”. From the border I took another taxi to the border town of Po. It was 5pm by the time we got to Po. The driver took us to the nice bus station, but it was sold out! I should have tried to buy someone’s ticket from them, but I don’t know how that would have gone over… Instead got seat in a taxi bus. I was just happy to be over the border and to Burkina. The taxi bus didn’t leave Po until 6 pm. The guy said it would be 2 to 2.5 hours to Ouagadougou. Here I am thinking oh, okay I’ll be home around 9:00pm. Side note, I bought my ticket and loaded my big bag in the vehicle. I had to pay extra to get it stored inside and not on top. I don’t do “bags on top”. Anyway, I was waiting with the rest of the people and then the packed van pulls out. I have all my valuables, minus Susan’s camera, on me. I figured it was coming back, but after a while I finally asked the buy sitting next to me what the deal was. It sounded like he said boeuf. I was thinking, “Hum… maybe I heard him wrong and he meant to say gas.”
Nope he meant boeuf (French for bulls or cows). They had gone and loaded two cows on top of the van! It was unreal.

As we were boarding I did not want to get in the back so I waited a couple of minutes before getting in. It was pretty funny because the guy next to me was also waiting, but he wasn’t in such a great spot and cow slobber got all over him. I didn’t want to sit in back because it just doesn’t appeal to me, but boy was I glad I stuck my guns. We start to go and less then 5 minutes into the trip the guy behind me slams the window shuts. I can’t figure out what is going on and then I turn around and see a clear liquid running down the window. That clear liquid… you guessed it. Cow pee. Gross and that is why I pay extra to have my bags kept inside and not on top. The sun went down pretty soon after we got underway and it turned out to be a long, dark ride. When we finally got the Peage defining the city limits I was thinking “Yes! Home free!” Then, the taxi bus pulls over and everybody gets out. At this point it has been 3 hours… People go pee and walk around and I surmise that it must be the “rest stop”. Wrong. First, the they take the moto off the top. Then they tie the cows and unload them. How? They literally yanked they off the roof and let them fall to the ground with only a spare rubber tire placed under them to break their fall. It was really outrageous and totally Africa. Talk about a stupid way to treat your investment. Oye!

At this point I figure things are about as crazy as they will ever get. But no, they get crazier. We start going again and as we passing the detour, really quite close the end fo the trip the guys in the backseat start making a ruckus. This time it wasn’t the cows, we had dumped those already. Instead I look out my window and see that there is a guy being chased by another guy who looks like he has a club. Hahaha, guess what. It was not a club. It was a machete! The driver of our car slowed down, and in my head I was thinking “Please, please, please just keep driving. Don’t stop. Don’t stop.” We were almost out of sight of the incident when I saw the guy being chased fall and the other guy still swinging the machete. I had to turn away. I don’t know what happened, but to say it was a bit disquieting would be an understatement.

Leanna was busy and couldn’t come get me from the taxi bus depot. It was a bit far from 2iE, but after my day of traveling I didn’t want to fuss and paid a pretty penny for a private taxi. I just wanted to be back. As I walked down the lane to my house I sent Susan a text. She came over and I was able to vent some my crazy ride home stories and share a little bit about this almost indescribable and never reproducible trip to Ghana. Oh I forgot to mention this earlier, but Ghana has a strong Christian influence and like everything else that they take the extreme they take their expressions of faith to the max… specifically in how they name their businesses. I saw, for example, God is My Strength Printing, Jehovah is King Enterprises, Emmanuel Food, Clap for Jesus. You get the picture. The other weird thing about Ghana is that when you go somewhere people greet you by saying “You are welcome” to which I am at a loss to reply by saying other than, “Thank you…?” Clearly they want to let you know you can come in and they are happy you are they, but instead of just saying, “Welcome” they add the “You are” part which totally changes things in my book of colloquial English. Anyway, it was normal for Ghana, but it seemed a bit turned around if you ask me.

In general, while amazing, my trip to Ghana was really challenging. Nothing seemed to come easy. The money stuff was partially my fault, and I should have made sure I had all the information I needed before I left… but I didn’t, and I paid for it dearly in fits of frustration and unnecessary worry. But I learned several valuable lessons. Always make sure you have money in an account that you can access, have the address of the places you are staying, don’t lose important phone numbers, and never sit by the window when there is a cow strapped to the roof of your vehicle.

You live, you learn.