Travelling independently using public transport
(together with my wife)
TERM: 26.10. - 27.11. 2011
Ghana is sometimes called the "Africa for Beginners" but make no mistake - the "Africa" in this slogan refers solely to the West Africa; if you have been just to the East or Southern Africa before (disregarding the Arabic North, which is of course another story) and expect to have an easy time in Ghana, you are in for a surprise. Ghana is indeed an island of peace and relative prosperity in its region full of civil wars and poverty but the things are still not at all easy there for a traveller. As anywhere else in the West Africa everything there is impeded with endless, often bureaucratic obstacles making it sometimes difficult to accomplish just anything - this phenomenon is popularly known as "WAWA" ("West Africa Wins Again") syndrome and describes a frustrating impossibility to combine modern methods and local obsolete habits.
On the other hand, many Ghanians are truly friendly and generally willing to help, English is an official language and widely spoken, Ghanian diverse nature still remains preserved in several good national parks, and Ghana offers a rare possibility to encounter traditional animistic beliefs still fully practised. In spite of the obstacles, the country is still manageable for experienced and determined travellers. Yet, Ghana is not a country to go just to have fun - the difficulties are too nerve-wracking to enjoy oneself just per se and one should have a good reason for going there to be able to have a really good time. Still, West Africa does differ from other parts of Africa, being probably the most "African" of them all - so if you want to get a complete picture you have got to visit there too - and Ghana is for sure one of the best manageable countries in the region.
Transport: Public transport in Ghana is relatively efficient with an exception of some long-distance routes. What does not help is the fact that there is no Lonely Planet guidebook dedicated specifically to Ghana (there is just a brief chapter in the West Africa LP guidebook) and the only such guidebook, the Bradt Ghana 2010 guidebook (only "Bradt" further on), is rather inconsistent and incomplete in its informing about transportation options (Note: in fact, the lack of consistency has appeared to be a general feature of this guidebook - this was the first time I was solely relying on any Bradt guidebook and I have found it difficult to get a clear picture about the nature of individual places and sites, needed for making decision about the places to visit; I have no idea if this is general characteristic of all Bradt guidebooks but I am going to rather stick with those old LP guidebooks for my next trips).
1. We flew to Accra and back with the Turkish Airlines and got somewhat mixed feelings about this airline. All four flights were serviced by modern planes and were generally OK; and as we had to put up with an overnight stopover at Istanbul within the incoming flight we also got a free night in a luxury hotel near the city center and free transport there and back. Also the service during the European sectors of our flight (from Prague to Istanbul and back) was quite good with flights on time, leg space above average and a full meal with a choice of two different alternatives (quite a luxury for a 2.5- hr flight). Yet, the situation was rather different for the African sectors of our flight (from Istanbul to Accra and back) where there were indeed individual monitors available at each seat but the flights were somewhat delayed, leg space was barely average, and we got nothing more to eat than one not too alluring sandwich (both ways the same) during the 7-hr flight between Istanbul and Lagos, Nigeria and nothing at all during the remaining hop to/from Accra - the African passengers of this airline could rightly feel quite underprivileged.
2. For transport within Ghana we mainly used the principal local means of public transport called locally the "tro-tro" and consisting in various minivans and minibuses running along the preset routes, leaving any time when full, and stopping anywhere along their way - ordinary minivans are used for medium routes, small buses for some longer routes between principal cities, and air-conditioned luxury minivans for the longer routes along the main coastal highway. In bigger towns the tro-tros depart from a special assembling point, usually oddly called the "lorry station" - in some bigger cities and coastal towns (such as Accra, Kumasi, or Takoradi) there may be several stations serving different sectors of country, while in smaller places and anywhere along the way one can just flag the tro-tros down on the road. They cover the routes taking up to several hours (so do not expect any meal stops), start very early, keep running till late after dark, and are generally quite cheap. Strangely, they have no setout for carrying luggage and so passengers typically try to hold everything on their laps or put it under their seat - the space for larger luggage is under the last row of seats and so very limited and you are almost always requested to pay some fee for it; the fee is paid to a baggage handler, not to a conductor/driver/company, and the usual fee is two Cedi per piece (some guys try to squeeze much more out of you but do not let them - yet, do not expect to get anything back for a 5-Cedi note when paying for two pieces; it is wise to have small change for these occasions) but sometimes you also pay nothing for no apparent reason; anyway, locals seems to be paying the same. But we have also noticed a rather strange behaviour of some locals who has no problem to occupy several seats (by their luggage and themselves) even when the rest of vehicle is full but fortunately do move when asked or pushed - the reason seems to be more their indolence than actual effort to gain an unjust privilege. In spite of what may be sometimes found on the internet, we have not encountered any tro-tros especially crowded or driven in an especially dangerous way - in fact, the number of paying passengers in the vehicle is practically never exceeding the reasonable capacity of seats fitted into the vehicle (of course, not offering too much space, especially because the Ghanians are often real big and/or rather overweight) when its sets off on its way but not always there is enough space left for the conductor who also needs to pile in in this time; of course, another story is that some more passengers have to be sometimes accommodated along the way. Try to get the front seat (for good views and guaranteed space) or at least the seats in the minivan back rows - the otherwise promisingly looking first row behind the driver is the very place where the minivan conductor and any extra passengers are being crammed. When travelling in/from Accra or Kumasi, beware that the roads inside these cities and in their vicinity are jammed all day long (in case of coastal highway near Accra these jams stretch quite far). You will very likely be the only "obroni" (as a white foreigner is generally called by locals; other names are also used in some parts of Ghana) on the board of the tro-tro, but do not expect any concessions just because of that.
3. For some trips we have also used another popular local means of public transport called "shared taxi", which is simply a normal passenger taxi (easily recognizable by contrast painted corners of their bodyshells) running along a preset route, leaving any time when all its seats are taken (at some places that means four passengers on the back seat and two on the passenger front seat, but usually just four projected passengers will do) - the passengers can get off the car anywhere along its way, and their places (or places that have not seemed to be there before) may be taken by new clients. This kind of transport is used usually for rather short routes (e.g. around Aburi) but sometimes also for longer routes not served by tro-tros (e.g. between Kintampo and Techiman) - it looks that the shared taxis simply serve the routes where - for some reason - there is not enough passengers to quickly fill a tro-tro. The shared taxis are somewhat more expensive than tro-tros but the luggage should travel free on them (some clowns try to get some payment for the luggage there too, but it would often made the ride as expensive for two people as if hiring the whole taxi so do not swallow this bait). The shared taxis typically all depart from a common assembling point, sometimes shared with tro-tros - the destination of individual taxis is often written on a plate put on its roof or there are some touts around to show you to the taxi heading to your destination. A shared taxi can be of course sent on its way any time when paying for its still empty seats.
4. The main means of transport along longer distances for ordinary Ghanians are omnipresent orange buses of the Metro Mass Transit company, which is partly owned by the government of Ghana and run as a public service. They travel all around Ghana and their fares are dead cheap indeed, but their chaotic organization makes travelling with them a real ordeal. If travelling with a large luggage expect to pay that 2-Cedi fee; on longer journeys the bus makes a mandatory lunch stop at a designated place with a choice of several restaurants. In all bigger towns the Metro buses typically depart from a special terminal, which is hardly more than a dusty empty yard with any other facilities but few makeshift counters. The buses do have some set schedules but definitely do not run by them - it so seems that individual buses are not assigned to particular routes in advance in any regular way but just any bus, which happens to become available, is put on the line with enough waiting passengers. Thus there is no way to buy a ticket for a "scheduled" bus in advance but you just need to show up at the station well ahead the bus heralded departure and hope there will be a bus going to your destination - when you get to the station you either see various lines of people standing next to some unlabelled counters (then you just need to ask which line is for your destination and join in) or you may find somewhere a few pieces of paper inscribed with the destinations of buses and containing a list of names of people wanting to go there (in such case you just add your name to the list); in any case, after that you are in for a very long waiting with rather uncertain outcome - if lucky you may get a chance to buy a numbered ticket in the counter suddenly opened after all, and after some more waiting you may actually get on bus and leave for your destination. We enjoyed this exercise in Kumasi where we showed up at 5:30 for a bus to Bolgatanga (there were supposed to be at least two buses leaving at 7 and 8, and possibly some more); we found the right line and join in - when seeing people constantly joining the line in front of us I started complaining but was appeased by a very self-assured woman behind us saying that everything would be just fine, the counter would open soon, and the bus would leave soon too ("we do not quarrel for tickets" said that good woman); well, after about two hours of waiting the same very woman became very angry, shouted something about corruption, and organized a separated line for women so they did not have to be pressing in an already somewhat uneasy crowd (actually, women seem to do majority of organizing in Ghana anyway) - at about 10 we gained some kind of vouchers and were eventually allowed to line up in another queue for bus tickets (our woman friend kindly got me a preferential front place in the men's line); the first bus left at 12 with people who never bothered to go through queuing (they somehow got their tickets under-the-counter) and our bus left at 13; none of other fellow passengers seemed to be especially surprised with the episode in spite of their initial optimism that the bus would surely leave before 8. Next time we were trying to get to the Mole NP, where the Metro bus was actually the only transport covering all the route, and so was forced to gave it another try - yet, when there was no bus within sight at the time of its "scheduled" departure we gave up and resorted to organizing a shared taxi with some other waiting obronis - still, the bus did arrive to Mole that day while leaving with a delay of just about three hours (but there were days when this bus just skipped its ride for no apparent reason). After that experience we retired to using only tro-tros - I have never before encountered any nearly so inefficient way of public transport anywhere in the world - this company is actually a typical demonstration of the WAWA phenomenon. I definitely recommend staying away from the Metro buses if you have any other option - it is extremely inconvenient and very ... , well, African.
5. The long distance routes between major cities are also served by several private bus companies - the biggest of them being the STC and VIP. They are using relatively big and newer air-conditioned buses and typically also their own terminals located sometimes next the "lorry stations" used by tro-tros, but sometimes also quite far from them, making it necessary to ask around to find them. These buses are typically much more expensive than tro-tros or Metro Mass buses. It is possible and often recommended to buy the tickets for these buses at least a day before your trip. Incidentally, we have never used services of these buses ourselves.
6. Sometimes, when you cannot find any public transport going to your destination, you may need to use an ordinary taxi. The taxis are quite abundant and easily recognizable by contrast painted corners of their bodyshells. As it is typical in the developing countries, the taxis do not use meters and you need to settle the price for your ride before getting in - the taxi drivers usually quote rather high asking price so try to find out ahead what is the proper price for your route (ask in your hotel) or start haggling with offering half of the original asking price at most. Minimally in Accra there seems to exist some sort of city public transport but it makes no sense to try to understand it for a short stay.
1. We mainly used budget hotels typically with rooms for about USD15 to 20 (so slightly more expensive than to be expected in the developing countries) but it was not always easy to find a reasonable hotel within this price range (there is lots of volunteers from the West working around Ghana but they seems to all prefer some chosen hotels in every city and the prices in these hotels seem to be disproportionally high with no extra services, so it is better to avoid those places if you find other option) - in fact, the selection of available hotels seemes to be quite limited in some places (incl. Accra and Kumasi) and it may be not always easy to find a suitable room. The price also somewhat differs depending on the place, Accra being especially expensive; rarely in some more businesslike places you may be able to negotiate a discount, e.g. for not using the air conditioner, but do not expect to get a discount for stays shorter than a week. For your money you can sometimes get a quite large and/or air-conditioned room with a TV, fridge, and your own bathroom included (locally called "self-contained") sometimes even with hot water available, or otherwise just a small bare cubicle with some bed and fan only and with an access to a shared bathroom ("common") only; breakfast is never provided in these budget hotels. The prices are set strictly according to the number of beds available in the rooms and it is good to know that a Ghanian double room has two well-separated beds (which may or may not be possible to be moved side by side) while a single room typically has one quite wide bed which can be easily used as a double bed (but check the width before accepting the room, sometimes it would be too narrow to sleep two comfortably). Ghana is very hot and humid and so at least a functioning fan is a real necessity, so make sure to check its quality; in the extra hot north you may prefer to indulge yourself with air conditioning. If the bathroom is attached to the room, it normally consists in a toilet bowl and a shower in a single separate room; the shared bathroom may be the same combination but often the toilet and shower are in separated cabins. You are often requested not to put toilet paper into the toilet due to possible plumbing problems and a separate garbage can is usually provided to dispose the paper; surprisingly, we have never seen the usual outfit for using the Asian/African water-cleaning method. A mosquito net is sometimes (but not often) provided but even then it has quite a few holes - we have been using our own net but it was often difficult to attach it somewhere (I have made two additional loops to our net allowing us to make a tent-like structure out of it and hang it down from a low-lying rope attached to some suitable points like picture hooks or door/window hinges); surprisingly, we have actually seen almost no mosquitos anywhere in Ghana (in fact, I have never seen so few mosquitos in any other tropical country before, and that was the case even for the rainforest areas), but on the other hand Ghana is known as a place with a relatively high risk of malaria.
2. When overnighting in national parks we were always camping using our own tent. In the popular Parks of Mole and Kakum there are established campsites provided near the Park office and equipped with sanitary facilities consisting in a shared toilet and some sort of a shower - in these cases expect to be asked to pay not so small fee of about USD5-10 per person per night; in less developed Parks the facilities are scarce and it is necessary to somehow rough it but then there is no fee for the camping.
Food: As anywhere else in Sub-Saharan Africa, food is no Ghanian attraction. Food available in cheap restaurants and street stalls (using all kinds of names as "kitchen", "fast food", "chop bar", or even "enterprise"), and also from pedestrian vendors, almost always contains some meat (typically goat or chicken) and it is not really fresh (it is prepared in the morning and kept at some kind of counter display or a container till it gets eaten by the customers); vegetarian food is very limited (normally we are not vegetarians but when in tropical areas we prefer to resort to vegetarian food to avoid problems). Still, the main part of Ghanian dishes is some starchy food that looks like a ball of dough and is rather taste-less (yet, my wife, who enjoys eating all kinds of mush at home, has found it actually tasting; yet, it proved impossible to explain to the Ghanians that she wants it just plain without a typical meat-based stew or sauce - the only way to avoid to get it submerged into that rather terribly smelling juice was to buy it take-away while maintaining that she has some sauce at home) - this side dish looks as a sort of a dumpling and is based mainly on rice (then known as "omo tuo") or even more often on cassava and/or corn (with many varieties called "banku", "fufu", "kenkey", "gari", etc. according to the way how it is prepared). Other very common fixings are fried yams or plantains and these actually make a very good and filling snack; another such snack is also corn, which is sold either as whole cobs either roasted or boiled, or even in a form of popcorn. Other typical Ghanian dishes are fried rice and so called "jollof rice" (rice fried in palm-oil together with some spices and vegetables making it reddish) - these are typically cooked with some meat but in better restaurants it proved to be possible to get a vegetarian version of them; a rather good vegetarian dish is also the so called "red-red", which is a bean mash served with fried plantains. The street stalls are quite cheap but the food is surprisingly expensive in even the most modest restaurants, esp. when they can produce any kind of menu - actually, such restaurants are very rare anywhere in Ghana besides those attached to better hotels. As for the provisions, the bottled water, soft drinks, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and general bakery are available in many stalls and few food shops (yet, as for drinks we now resorted to using tap water treated with chlorine-based disinfectant and mixed with Tang drink powder and found it very good replacement for buying an overpriced water or soft drinks and producing waste adding to the typical problems of developing countries with no established plastic recycling system). The fruits sold especially in southern parts of Ghana were quite cheap and among the best in the world - esp. the pineapples were just delicious (they sell there a kind with a dark skin, which we have never seen anywhere else in the world, and it was just incredibly good) and coconuts. As for the breakfasts, which are always somewhat a problem in the "exotic" countries we were initially buying a sort of sweet palm-oil-loaded cakes but in the end settled for bread (reasonably tasty in Ghana even if usually slightly sweet) with spread local margarine.
Money: The local currency is called Ghanaian Cedi (only "GC" further on) - it is actually still addressed as the New Ghanaian Cedi as the original Ghanaian Cedi was devalued in 2007 by removing last four zeros from its that time value; beware that some people still tend to use the old counting. We mainly used cash withdrawn from ATMs using a debit card - it was not too difficult to get the cash but beware that nearly all Ghanian banks accept only VISA cards and majority of them has a rather low withdrawal limit; on Sundays they also sometimes run out of cash. The best limit we could find was 400GC offered in ATMs of the Ecobank and GTBank; the ATMs were available in many banks in any bigger town in Ghana. In the end of our stay, when we needed just limited amount of money, we also changed some US dollars in one of many Accra forex bureaus (they seemed to all charge no commission and offered the same exchange rate). Beware that there is just no forex bureau in the Accra airport to change your remaining Cedis when leaving - only by luck I have succeeded to change our remaining USD20-worth Cedis through an unofficial money changer who I found hanging around at the parking lot in front of the Arrivals.
Timing: We carefully timed our trip in between the end of the rain season and arrival of the "harmattan", i.e. a dry trade wind blowing south from the Sahara desert and carrying large amounts of dust which considerably obscures visibility also in northern Ghana and usually comes in the end of November. This timing proved to be ideal as the roads have been already dry (we arrived just about a week after the last rainstorm in the south) but the vegetation has been still green and fresh with the exception of the Sahel extremity in the very north.
National parks visits: Ghana has quite a few protected areas (Parks) protecting what is left of the local diverse nature, which includes all variety of habitats changing from the wet evergreen rainforest on the south to the dry savanna grassland on the north - in fact, a visit of the southern rainforest, which is a part of the vast Guinea-Congolian rainforest originally covering all West Africa, has been the main reason for our trip to Ghana. Yet, do not expect to see much wildlife in Ghanian Parks (the Mole NP is an exception to some extent), and certainly not outside of them. Still, it does not necessarily mean that there are no animals left there but they are for sure very much afraid of humans - it holds especially for southern Ghana, which is still largely covered with forest (though mainly secondary), where the wildlife is still regarded as a natural source of food and the "bushmeat" (meat of the animals hunted down in the wilderness) can be even seen being sold along the highways (esp. the rather large rodents called "grasscutter"); unfortunately, Ghanian passion for hunting does not stop at the limits of the Parks and poaching seems to be a serious problem there - when camping in the Kakum and Ankasa NPs we could hear gunshots from inside the Parks in small night hours. In these areas any wildlife normally escapes long before you can see it and so you can just hear crashing in the underbrush and warning calls of monkeys high in the canopy. Of the existing Parks, we have visited the Mole, Kakum, and Ankasa NPs - the key for this selection was mainly a relatively good accessibility of these Parks, i.e. a possibility to get there more or less just by public transport (Notes: (1) expected problems with public transport was also the reason for our skipping the Volta region, i.e. the area between Lake Volta and the Togo border, which is allegedly rather nice - yet, after the trip we rather regret this decision, because we suspect that the transport would not be probably that bad as it looked from the information given in the Bradt guidebook and we could also save some time without much loss by shortening our stays on the coast and especially in Kumasi area (yet, it was not really possible to make a "perfect" itinerary with that rather erratic information given in the Bradt); (2) originally we had been considering a visit of the rather interesting and less visited Bui NP but its best areas had unfortunately started to be flooded by a newly built dam and so we gave up - the flooding would inevitably destroy the habitat of its most unique flora and fauna). As it is a standard all around Africa, the official regime of these Parks is quite strict and it is compulsory to hire an authorized guide to accompany you on your excursions to the wilderness. Yet, the rangers in Ghanian Parks seem to be rather lazy and keep their trips to the Parks to a bare minimum - this is not too good when using their guiding services but helps when sneaking into the Parks on your own (the Parks are not fenced and you are very unlikely to run into a ranger when taking minimal precautions). The Park fees per person are not too high and luckily valid for whole stay (the fee differs widely in different parks; for foreigners it may be anything from 1GC to 10GC per person); the guiding fees are rather oddly also collected per person (i.e. it does not help to come with a group) but do not seem to be too high being typically 3GC per person per hour - yet, the catch is their charging by hour, which would make a full day hike quite expensive as there is no discount for longer hikes. The guides (actually Park rangers serving as such) are usually not too useful and typically just lead you along some ever-used trail and feed you the names of some trees you see along the way and inescapably also the much-favoured information about their original utilization by natives (the guides in the Mole NP may be an exception to some extent, as there is enough wildlife to track there and they do seem to have enough knowledge to help). It is never easy anywhere to persuade a guide (or any other official in similar position) to alter his usual pattern but it is a real challenge in West Africa with its WAWA practice; yet, your situation is not really hopeless if you have any way or backing for doing things all by yourself - if this is the case, do not hesitate to be resolute and show clearly that you are not going to debate the matter and you may get your way. As mentioned, it is not really a problem to venture inside the Parks on your own but beware that there are effectively no reliable maps of the available trails and roads - the maps printed in the Bradt guidebook are virtually useless as they are either blank or very inaccurate (it is actually also the case for many city plans there, which by their frequent inaccuracy bring an impression of being drawn from memory some half a year after the trip; the LP West Africa 2006 guidebook ("LP" further on) maps, if they exist, are actually better) but you are not likely to do any better with maps available on the internet or even in the Parks themselves - I will try to provide here quite detailed information at least for the parks we have visited. In any case, you need to make sure that you always have a good idea on your position within the particular Park and/or are capable to retrace your steps. Also, the trails/roads in all Parks we have visited have been showing clear signs of apparent neglect (maybe the Mole NP is again an exception here) - rangers tend to use and maintain just the minimum trails needed to collect money for guided walks (Note: neglect of existing resources is quite a general feature in Ghana - it is probably a manifestation of the WAWA effect). All Ghana has a very hot climate all year round, while its northern half is dry and extra hot and its southern part is by contrast very humid. This makes staying outside quite arduous any time except early morning and late evening and it is quite warm even at night. The best way to feel reasonable well when walking around Parks is to soak one's shirt and hair/hat in water and keep them so any time you get a chance to wet them again. Yet, beware that as anywhere in Africa, all stagnant waters are very likely infested with bilharzia, which is a particularly nasty disease caused by parasitic worms and ending with malfunction of the liver and kidneys when untreated; so better avoid such sources of water and definitely do not bath in such places - the worst spots regarding danger of becoming infected are shallow pools/lakes with some reed and not too distant from human settlements).
Safety and pestering: Ghana is generally known as being very friendly and safe - well, this is the truth in general but there are also some issues to be careful of. A violent crime seems to be very rare but there are some exceptions like not so rare cases of mugging at some beaches near Accra (esp. Kokrobite has a reputation for that) and recently also still very rare but appearing highway robberies in central Ghana (on the roads between Techiman, Tamale, and Wa); also a petty crime is not really a problem if taking usual precautions (yet, I do remember a rather strong young Ghanian man standing in a bus aisle near Larabanga with his backpack on - as I was sitting right next he was somewhat bothering me with the backpack and so I asked him to put it down but he politely refused saying that he was afraid of being robbed). The level of pestering in Ghana as regards various services (such as sellers or taximen) is very low and even in tro-tro terminals or taxi stands you are more likely to be compelled to actively ask around about your transport than to be addressed by touts trying to find a passenger - yet, a speciality of Ghana is that when an obroni is visiting some rural areas she/he is quite aggressively asked for so-called "donations" for just being allowed to see around (sometimes they try to explain that it is for getting a support to some kind of community project but quite often they do not bother); this kind of behaviour is especially widespread up north of Ghana (thus, when cruising the area around Bolgatanga using a rented motorbike and wanting to take a picture of even a scenery, we had to be usually very quick and drove away soon after taking a snap, as often all kinds of people of all ages immediately started to converge on us while shouting for a donation, even in places where there were no human settlement in sight), but it is not at all existing only there (we encountered this also at Larabanga or at Abono on the shore of Lake Bosumtwi) - the areas with a stronger influence of Christianity seems to be somewhat less prone to this behaviour (e.g. area around Bongo near Bolgatanga) but the reason may be that these areas see quite a lot of white volunteers, typically organized along some Christian charities, and so people there feel some gratefulness to obronis or at least know that there are better ways how to make the best of them). Still, people are normally quite friendly and often willing to help when asked - English is widely understood anywhere in Ghana (it is an official language there - yet, the Ghanian pronunciation is rather special and sometimes it is not too easy to understand the reply). The begging is not too widespread and beggars seem to be rather shy (please, never give money or anything to these people as these gifts solve nothing and make them to believe that begging is a way how to live instead of finding some sustainable way; now quite flourishing South-Asian countries are an example that there is a self-sustaining way out for even the poorest parts of the world).
General impression: Ghana is not an easy country to travel - the occasional encounters with WAWA phenomenon are rather tiring and one has to expect to experience gradual wear-out; also wearying was a sad atmosphere of general neglect letting everything to slowly decay. At the beginning of our trip we have noticed in the map of Bolgatanga town in our Bradt Ghana guidebook the legend "disused stadium" (denoting the local former stadium which has been for the most part turned to a corn field) and this adjective of "disused" (in its meaning of derelict and neglected) has quickly become our favorite word utilized all the time to describe our feelings about what we saw all around (and in the end about ourselves as well). Yet, it is still an interesting experience and if you want to see West Africa you just need to put up with all its features. Still, the Ghanians are reasonably friendly and the nature in Ghana is interestingly diverse and especially its rainforest is quite nice and in some parts indeed pristine - so, in spite of its difficulties Ghana also has some good features and if you concentrate on them you can still have a good time.
We have spent together about three days at Aburi and its vicinity (within two separate visits) and found it relatively pleasant and interesting - besides the town itself we have also visited the Akonedi Shrine at near town of Larteh and the not so distant Shai Hills Reserve. Aburi is a rather small town located just some 40 km away from Accra on the ridge of the Akwapim Hills reaching to about 450 m a.s.l. - owing to this position it has always been a cool and green retreat for worn-out Accra residents (in fact, we started our trip to Ghana there just with the aim to get little acclimatized to Ghana's heat but found even Aburi still too hot then - yet, after a month spent in Ghana we changed our minds and happily returned there to take advantage of its relatively pleasant climate). Beware, that being rather small, Aburi cannot offer too many services - the shops there are very small and limited in their offer, there are no banks and ATMs, and allegedly just one internet place (and not likely in the small centre as we have never seen it). Aburi itself is not especially interesting but it hosts the well-known Aburi Botanical Garden which was established by the British in 1890 and for some time was even managed in some cooperation with the famous British Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. Nowadays the Garden shows signs of neglect but still exhibits a number of exotic plants and trees from all over the world - after paying the entrance fee of 5GC per person the visitor is free to wonder all around the Garden. However, as we went to Ghana to see the West Africa we have not been especially interested in Indian or American plants - still, some local trees are also growing there and right next the tracts with exotic trees (west of them) there stands a small remaining patch of the deciduous forest which originally covered all the Akwapim Hills; you are told at the Garden gate that you have to hire a guide to take you to this forest (and a sign saying the same is also on its edge), allegedly because you would get lost there, but we have disregarded this exaction and went to explore on our own. The remaining forest stand is rather small and interweaved with a regular rectangular net of paths, now used by locals as shortcuts connecting parts of the town separated by the Garden (so, while this forest is officially still part of the Garden it can be for sure entered via many side entrances allowing to bypass the gate and entrance fee payment) - yet, the paths were likely established long ago to allow exploration of the forest as we noticed some very rusted remnants of explanatory panels of now disused nature trail. The forest is intensely sloping down the hill and while at the top next to the exotic plant Garden one can see some nice examples of tall buttressed forest trees, further down the trees become much smaller and are later replaced by bamboo growth - thus, in spite of being quite small and very close to Accra, this forest stand gives a good idea of the prevailing vegetation types of central Ghana and could be recommended as a good informative site for those with not enough time for visiting some of the established protected areas further inland. Still, level of protection of this forest is rather unsure - it is hopefully not actively logged but we have observed locals being busy with exploitation of a fallen forest giant which they have been manually cutting into boards using an old-fashioned two-handed pit saw. It is for sure a pity that such an easily accessible sight is not at all advertised and quite neglected - WAWA syndrome, I guess. Furthermore, Aburi is also a well-known woodcarving centre and you can find there a long string of shops (located as shown at the Bradt Aburi map - this map is actually rather exceptionally accurate) producing and selling mainly lots of quite nice masks but also other fine souvenirs as statues or drums - the offer here is incomparably better than anywhere else in Ghana.
Visit of the Akonedi Shrine: The Akonedi Shrine, located in Larteh about 10 km from Aburi, is one of Ghana's most important centers of Ghanaian traditional religion. This animist religion is based on belief in constant interaction of the spiritual world and the material world, where the spiritual world involves a Supreme God and multitude of spirits of several kinds, including ancestor spirits called "nsamanfo" and particularly the male and female spirits called "abosom" (also popularly known as "fetishes"; "abosom" is plural while singular is "obosom"), who are considered to be "lesser gods" residing in various natural objects (such as trees, rocks, hills, lakes, etc.) - the mediation between abosom and nsamanfo and the material world lies within shamanic priests (locally known as "fetish priests" or "witch doctors") called "okomfo"; this religion remains quite strong and widespread in Ghana and exists there alongside and in cohabitation with also strong Christian belief. The Akonedi Shrine is deemed a residence of the mighty female obosom named Nana Akonedi and serves as an important place of religious ceremonies and traditional healing, based on herbal medicine and spiritual cures (it has many branches around Ghana and even in the U.S.A. and Canada). During all our travels around the world we were naturally also interested in local traditional animist beliefs and always wanted to get some personal experience in this respect - the proximity of this Shrine to our route was thus an opportunity for us. We were changing shared taxis in Larteh within our first stay in Aburi and made a brief attempt to visit there but we were too tired then to seriously look for it (we were returning at midday from our tiring visit of the Shai Hills RR). Yet, we got another chance later when we became bored at Busua in the end of our trip - when thinking where to go instead we remembered that one of the special features of Ghana was a strong presence of active animist beliefs and decided to make the best of the pleasant atmosphere of Aburi while giving another try to the Akonedi Shrine. At the second attempt everything went smoothly - after our arrival to Larteh we wanted to take first a little walk around before starting to ask about the Shrine but practically right away we found themselves in front of the Shrine (it showed up that within our first attempt we turned back just before actually reaching the Shrine - Nana Akonedi probably had not found us ready yet then). The Shrine was a rather large whitewashed building complex located uphill right on the main Larteh street following the top of the ridge and within a normal build-up area - it was marked by a huge ficus tree wrapped by a white cloth (i.e. identified as sacred) and indicated by a sign "The Akonedi Shrine (Headquarters)" above its entrance doors. We took a picture of the sacred tree and the Shrine entrance and were immediately approached by a man telling us that that was a sacred object not to be photographed without permission - yet, when we announced that we would actually like to visit the Shrine and experience some rituals there we were immediately invited in. At first we were taken to an anteroom of the Shrine where we were joined by a man who was trying to explain to us what kind of rituals we could take part in - yet, very quickly he got to asking some money, first 10GC for a customary bottle of the famous "Henkes’ Schnapps" (note: it is a very strange phenomenon that just this Dutch gin has become by far the most prized liquor for ritual purposes in West Africa - it may be surrogated by cheaper local drinks for some small events but seems to be just irreplaceable for all really important rituals) and then 50GC for entering the Shrine secluded areas and getting in contact with Nana Akonedi obosom. We were somewhat startled and disappointed by such a commercial approach and tried to learn more about the rituals we could experience for this money - in response two more men joined in and explained to us that they would just have a day of prayers and so we would be able to take part in it (by coincidence it was just Tuesday and the Tuesdays and Fridays revealed to be the sacred days for the Akonedi Shrine; it is a taboo for local people to go farming these days and they should dedicate them to Nana Akonedi; while Fridays are such non-farming days for all indigenous farmers of Ghana, the same taboo for Tuesdays holds just for the Akonedi Shrine and the people of Larteh; not surprisingly our first unsuccessful visit to Larteh happened to occur in an ordinary Saturday and so it was obviously not a right time for us to visit); they told us that within the ceremonial we could enter our names into a special book and present our questions and requests to Nana Akonedi; by that we would also become once for all known to Nana Akonedi and could rightly hope in her help through our future life. After some consideration and their promise that no more payments would be requested we decided that the payment could be taken as a reasonable filter to drive off some not-really-serious clients and so we handed over the money and explained our reasons for visiting the Shrine (inquisitiveness combined with some healing needs). Next we were shown inside the secluded area which was a small partly covered yard with a sizable niche on one side with an altar with few fetishes and about a dozen of "adwas" (Ghanaian traditional wooden stools) - soon there started to trickle in some of the Shrine dignitaries, namely the "elders" (some of them were in fact quite young; all there men) and the okomfo dressed in traditional toga-like dress; each of them were taking a seat on their stools (these stools are strictly personal and carved just for their owners; nobody else may sit on somebody’s stool as it contains the personal power of the owner). We were offered the chairs opposite to the fetish niche together with some other people, behaving more or less as spectators. Then we were asked to sign our names into the mentioned book (in fact an ordinary notebook) and then to take off our shoes and come forward before the dignitaries and the "okyeame" (a linguist - one of the men we talked before; the linguist is necessary as a laic cannot talk to the okomfo or elders directly) hopefully explained our intentions to them; he then also asked if we want to know any details about the Akonedi Shrine which we declined. Then we were told to take again our seats and all the gathered dignitaries together said some prayers and the okomfo poured libation (a cup of the Schnapps from the bottle we had bought) into a sacred hole in front of the fetish altar (there was a lid on it and if I understood it correctly this was supposed to be a place where Nana Akonedi lived) - after that the okyeame came to us and each of us got handed a cup with the Schnapps and was told to take a sip and also pour a little on the ground as a libation. And then, to our great surprise, the okyeame told us that everything had been settled for us and we were allowed to take pictures and leave in peace - whole ritual was rather quick (half an hour at the most) and very placid and it was in fact over before we could even realize what was going on (please understand that majority of the explanations given above are based on the information found only ex post through a thorough research that only gave me some idea what we were actually witnessing). We were quite disappointed and I reminded the okyeame that we were promised to be allowed to ask some questions regarding health problems and so he told us to come forward (without shoes) again and ask our questions. I had come prepared and so I could actually propound to Nana Akonedi a really tough problem - throughout my life I managed to gradually gather all kinds of allergies and especially the last additions became too much for the Western medicine that struggle with the allergies anyway (my doctor had no clear idea what to do and was basically just trying various medicines with no explicit results - I am not complaining about him, at least he knows that he does not know; much worse there are the doctors who believe to know and blame their patients for not responding properly to the medication based on their definite theories) and so I asked for a help with these ailments (I can live with them but it would be certainly better to be perfectly healthy); namely I explained that when exposed to heat I would occasionally develop a kind of rash all over body (Ghana was providing enough reasons for this reaction and I was experiencing it there fairly often), and when by contraries exposed to rather low temperature my eyes would usually started to shed tears. The okyeame interpreted (maybe) these problems to the Shrine dignitaries and shortly he conveyed the treatment, namely the sacred bath which would entail a donation (mandatory) of another 5GC - well, this further request for money was rather conclusive and we lost any faith in sincerity of the whole show; nevertheless, I still decided to try the suggested bath and handed over the money. At the corner of the yard opposite to the fetish niche there was growing a thin living tree (allegedly Newbouldia leavis, well-known sacred tree with many curative usages) and next to it, standing on a tripod, was a white calabash (a large traditional container made from the dried rind of the local plant known as "bottle gourd") wrapped in white cloth and containing the holy water - I was asked to take off all my cloth except my slips and put on a white (well, originally) linen robe and approach the calabash. There was a women who was drawing the holy water with a smaller cup and pouring it on my hands folded into a cup - following the instructions of the okyeame, I was supposed to pour the holy water on my feet, then on my face, then drink a sip of it (I have to admit that I gave up on this and just took the water into my mouth and then spit it out - this holy water was smelling just terribly and surely would bring me some nasty problems when swallowed), and in the end pour it on my head and over my body; after that it was over and I could re-dress again and put on my shoes. Before we left we were offered to buy another bottle of Schnapps (for another 10GC of course) that we could use back home when wanting to ask some more favours from Nana Akonedi - we just laughed and left thoroughly disillusioned by very commercial nature of the whole experience. We both rated the ceremonial as a clear scam, at least initially, but it still did seem to have some effects - first of all, we were both pretty shaken by the experience (especially me, and I am not too inclined to get disconcerted easily) and ... you could guess that ... my heat-incurred allergy problems were gone for good (it took about two months to get another mild rush); and when back home in cold Europe I have found out that even the problem with my eyes not tolerating well the cold and windy weather has somewhat improved (now, maybe if I had that extra bottle of the Schnapps to summon some more help ...). Well, in such cases the placebo effect is always to be suspected but, to be honest, when leaving we considered the whole thing to be just a hoax - but it may work subconsciously even then, I guess. On the bases of one random experience it is for sure difficult to form an opinion - after doing some research I know that a full-featured ritual in the Akonedi Shrine should involve some participation of the Shrine priestesses (the most important okomfos in the Akonedi Shrine are traditionally women, especially the chief priest called "okomfohene"), who are traditionally dressed in the robes of the sacred white color (there were nobody in such a robe present at the ritual we were involved in), and if lucky it could also involve the so-called "possession", i.e. the event when an okomfo, and preferably even the okomfohene herself, is possessed by some of the assistant abosom of the Akonedi Shrine or even Nana Akonedi herself and can deliver messages from this obosom, which are the fundamentals of the Ghanaian traditional healing; we have not seen any of these events but they are not supposed to be in any way regular, predictable, or even possible to be summoned. Who knows ... well, I am an agnostic by nature and have no problem with any such phenomena anyway. There was one more rather peculiar thing we experienced after leaving the Shrine - we walked back along the main street down to the town centre and then continued on to the other side and after some time we run upon another whitewashed building again with a sign saying "Akonedi Shrine" - we stopped by and were immediately invited in, this time by some quite friendly women; well, after the previous experience we were in no mood for any more experiments and quickly left but the truth is that the atmosphere in that house was much more pleasant and we did not encounter any pressure or even request for money (but we did not ask for anything too). Anyway, my research revealed that the first Shrine was indeed genuine (as indicated e.g. by the sacred ficus tree) and so this second Shrine may have been just a new branch trying to establish itself - such place may actually be a better place for a novice to become somehow acquainted with the Ghanaian traditional rites. In any case, we have no regrets that we have finally passed through this kind of experience.
Visit of the Shai Hills RR: The Shai Hills Resource Reserve protects a range of rather low but steep rocky hills covered with a dry evergreen forest and a slice of the surrounding short grass savanna dotted with scattered scrubs and evergreen trees (this kind of biotope cannot be seen in any other Ghanian protected area) - the hills are rising so abruptly from the surrounding flat plain that they actually served for a long time as a stronghold for local Shai people who adopted the life of robber barons known from medieval Europe and used to ambush the passing traders (the British had enough in 1892 and drove them out for good, thus effectively creating the future game reserve). The landscape of the Reserve closely reminds the famous East-Africa plains with their kopjes (as known, e.g., from the Serengeti/Masai Mara NPs) but sadly differs by an almost total absence of game animals - looking down from one of the hills is thus rather disconcerting as you are not likely to see a single animal; the reason for that is not only the quite probable poaching but also several quarries located south of the Reserve where dynamite is frequently used. The few remaining animals thus tend to withdraw to the north part of the Reserve while its visitor center is located on the south - during a game walk starting from the visitor center you are thus not likely to see other animals than wide-spread troupes of baboons (also hanging around the Reserve visitor center and looking for handouts from the visitors) and maybe some other monkey species. The Reserve savanna is crisscrossed by few dirt jeep roads (game drives in the Reserve are allowed so if you come with a 4WD car you may drive to its remote parts and possibly see some animals) and the hills can be accessed at few spots along steep paths leading to some outlooks or caves often hosting colonies of bats. As always in Ghana, a guide is compulsory for entering the Reserve - the Reserve entrance fee is 10GC per person and the guiding fee its 3GC per person per hour (it is at least collected only after your visit, so you pay just for the time really spent in the Reserve). It would be certainly possible to visit the Reserve without a guide (there is another unmanned entrance on the Reserve north and the Reserve fence is far from perfection too) but it would be rather risky in such open country where one can be easily spotted by the rangers accompanying the not so rare motorized visitors; any continuous forest is growing solely on the hills which are very craggy and there is no way to walk along their range - still, the guide only role is just to show you which road/path to take and few signposts would easily do the same job. When planning your visit do not rely too much on the map given in Bradt - it probably has the hills names and positions right but the roads shown there are total fiction; also beware that the position of the Reserve south entrance at the Bradt is incorrect - it is actually right opposite of the turn for Doryum from the main Accra-Akosombo road). Of the few available hikes we choose one going to the highest Reserve outlook on top of Hieweyu Hill, which is in about a middle of the Reserve and is reached via a dirt road leading along the range along its east side - the hike allows to appreciate all typical features of the Reserve landscape and the overlook, accessible along a steep but negotiable path, offers wide and nice view of the Reserve flat savanna (near the outlook is also possible to visit a small cave, but there are no bats staying there) - we were in no hurry and took four hours to walk there and back; as expected we have not seen any wildlife except few birds and some rather distant monkeys (yet, there was the usual troop of baboons walking around the visitor center which were rather entertaining and not at all aggressive). It is of course quite hot on those open plains there and so it is advisable to arrive as early as possible - yet, while the Reserve is supposed to be open from 6:00 we had some problems to persuade the ranger at the gate to find a guide for us when arriving at 7:00 (he was suggesting something like that we had to wait for ticket collector arriving much later but we were very resolute and ready to go in alone saying that we would pay on the way back - that helped to get him moving, so no WAWA that time). The landscape of the Reserve was quite nice and we generally considered the visit there worth the effort and expenses - yet, it was crucial that we had no high expectations regarding seeing wildlife; visit of the Reserve can be recommended especially to those who have not had a chance to see the plains of East Africa before.
1. To get to Aburi from Accra at the beginning of our trip, we took a tro-tro from the Accra Odawna station near Kwame Nkrumah Circle (this station we choose for its proximity to our hotel) but we were to find out that things would not be easy in Ghana. After our arrival to this station early in the morning we asked about a tro-tro for Aburi and were put to the last seats at the back of just about leaving minivan, but we were to find just later that this tro-tro went in fact all the way to Koforidua (a rather important hub town north of Accra) and was just passing through Aburi (we paid 10GC for both incl. the luggage and it was also the fare up to Koforidua; the net price without luggage was 3.50GC per person) - yet, we did not know that the tro-tro driver did not know we wanted to get off at Aburi (the tro-tro company clerk we were talking to and buying the ticket from forgot to tell him); thus, sitting in the back of the moving minivan we had no chance to talk to the driver and so unsuspectingly passed by Aburi (not too clearly signposted) and found out as far away as at Mamfe some 20 km behind Aburi (after about 1.5 hr) where we smell a rat and ask a fellow passenger (well, during my travels I was always thinking that this could be a problem in an unknown area but I had to go to Ghana to see it actually happen). Anyway, we got out (no compensation of course) and stopped a passing taxi which took us back for another 5GC - that time we had no idea how far it was and was in mercy of the taxi driver; in fact, we gave him the name of our chosen hotel but he took us to other expensive hotel next the Aburi Garden and tried to get another 5GC for driving us to the hotel some 2 km from there - I got quite upset with this welcome to Ghana, told him about our experience and said we would rather walk which at last made him to take us to the hotel without any extra payment. Well, that was not too promising start of our trip but at least we got a good awakening call telling us right away that we would have to be very careful in Ghana.
2. When going along the same route again at the end of our trip, we were better prepared. We took a tro-tro going directly to Aburi from the Accra Tema station (fare 1.60GC per person, luggage 2GC per person; 2 hr - depends of the momentary level of the Accra everyday traffic jam); also, as we already new the position of our chosen hotel in Aburi we could arrange for being dropped right in front of it.
3. When going back from Aburi to Accra we were told at our hotel (May Lodge) that it would be easy to flag down some of the passing tro-tros on the main road just in front of the hotel. We followed this advice just to find out that it was not too helpful. There were indeed many tro-tros passing there but they were usually full and did not stop - those few that did stop all announced that they are heading just to Madina, a town just north of Accra (in fact nowadays already interconnected with Accra), and when hearing we were going to Accra just drove off. Still, after about half of an hour we were taken by an almost empty tro-tro, conductor of which nodded to our enquiry if going to "Accra" (fare 1.50GC per person, initially no fare for luggage but later when the tro-tro started to fill up the conductor asked for 2GC per person) - yet, sure as hell, this tro-tro also ended at Madina (the guy just cheated us to get money, good he at least did not get the money for the luggage - on top of it, he was not able or willing to give us any advice how to get to Accra centrum from there). At first we thought that there would be no problem to get a taxi to Accra center but it proved to be overly optimistic assumption - all taximen we managed to stop flatly refused to take us there. When asking around about a transport to Accra Tema station, which were close to our chosen hotel in Accra center, we were sent to other corner of the chaotic Madina tro-tro station; there we boarded one of the waiting tro-tros, only to find, when already well on our way (when surprised by the high price asked for the ride - we paid together about 10GC in the end but I was already too upset to remember), that that tro-tro were actually heading to the town of Tema and not to the Accra Tema station (this rather understandable mistake was partly my fault as I not always included the word "Accra" when asking around). In any case, it looked that there were actually no transport from Medina to Accra Tema station at all, which was quite strange. Anyway, we were thus in another trouble, being on a territory completely unknown to us, and so we had to agree to their suggestion of being dropped at some crossroad near Accra Kotoka Airport where we should be able to get a bus - next we found that there was a big crowd waiting for that bus and it was clear that we would never be able to get into that bus with all our luggage; so we ended taking quite expensive taxi in the end. Well, the reason for all that mess were that our hotel at Aburi (May Lodge) was quite far (about 2 km) from the Aburi taxi station, from where the tro-tros heading for Accra Tema station were originating, and we did not want to walk there or spent some 2GC per taxi - we actually tried to prearrange a morning pick up by one of these tro-tros an evening before but it was just too much for the Ghanians (they were willing to do that if we could call them in the morning but not willing to agree on it a day before); of course, after our experience it was clear enough that it would come much cheaper to pay for a taxi ride to the Aburi station (and that is what I would recommend now to anybody trying to travel along this route) than our adventurous way, but it was actually the first time in Ghana (and actually anywhere in the world) that I would be told an outright false information about the destination of the vehicle we were getting into, just to get our money - that was not even WAWA, that was just an awful misbehaviour.
4. One of the reasons for our coming to Aburi was existence of the local Ghana Bike & Hike Tours company which offered all kinds of tours and rental services. They had a rather impressive website (www.ghanabike2.com) but unfortunately did not live up to it. We planned to rent their motorbike for a day and tour the sights around Aburi (esp. the Shai Hills RR) and possibly also to rent their bicycles for a half-day self-guiding trip in the vicinity (motorbike rental 55GC per day, bicycle rental 35GC per day). I had been in an email contact with the owner long before our trip and followed his suggestion to reserve the motorbike just before the trip and got a promise it would be ready for us. Yet, on our arrival to the office at the announced time we found it closed - so we talk to a woman in the house (the office were just a storage with a sort of advice desk in the house floor) who called somebody and told us to come after two hours; at that time we found there a teenager boy who said that the owner would be back in the evening, offered himself as a guide for the tours, and showed us some sketched map with the offered bicycle and hiking tours and the available bicycles - the bicycles looked reasonably well but the available map and information did not looked sufficient for trying a self-guiding trip (we had never been interested in a guided tour) and so we gave up on any tour and just arranged a meeting with the owner in the evening. Well, the owner arrived two hours late just before sunset and took us to his home where he showed us the involved motorbike (looking in a good shape) just to inform us that he cancelled our reservation for it (explaining that he had decided to give precedence to some other guy willing to rent the bike for several days ??!) and offered to rent us another bike allegedly used by himself, which was however in a rather pitiful state - after some testing we decided to gave up on it (in fact, besides of the bad state of the offered bike I should admit that the bikes, being both actually quite big enduro motorcycles meant for some serious off-road driving, would be easily rather too much for somebody like myself, i.e. just a very casual holiday biker).
5. So, to get to the Shai Hills RR we had to take a taxi for 45GC from the Aburi taxi station (the journey was actually quite long and took about 1.5 hr). There would be possible to get there using public transport but we wanted to be there early to avoid heat. Still, we did use the public transport on our way back and it proved to be indeed quite time consuming exercise, as any longer-distance transport in that area seemed to operate along the roads going in south-north direction while the east-west transport was organized just as short tro-tro/shared-taxi side rides to individual towns/villages lying in-between these south-north roads. Thus we had to use five different tro-tros/shared taxis to get back to Aburi while successively changing vehicles at Doryum (the trip there in a tro-tro cost 0.25GC per person), Aiyikuma (shared taxi there for 0.75GC per person), Larteh (taxi - 1GC), and Mamfe (taxi - 1GC) - the last lap to Aburi we covered in another shared taxi for 2GC for both of us; at least we never had to wait too long for the taxis to fill up but the exercise anyway easily took about three hours. At least, the shared taxis in this area have been considered full and fit to go after gathering four adult passengers only. When later travelling to Larteh and back we used the same shared-taxi transport as described before.
Accommodation: May Lodge, rather large double-bed room with a fan and bathroom attached (cold water only) for 25GC per night. The hotel was nicely cool esp. at night being located on the east slope of the ridge just under its top - it was about 2 km from the town center with the taxi/tro-tro station and other key Aburi features.
1. There is a much-recommended "restaurant" in Aburi called the Peter's Pizza (in fact, it is a very small open place offering just one small table; allegedly they have some extra furniture that can be put outside to accommodate more people) and we have no objections to it. The owner (indeed Peter) was a nice guy who had allegedly learned how to cook in Italy - to be honest, his pizza would have not attracted any crowds in Europe (and definitely not in Italy - we have an Italian friend who would probably call it "Ghanian Cake") but it was very much OK for Ghana (small for 8GC, medium 15GC, big 20GC); yet, we very much liked his Chinese-style vegetarian fried rice (5GC). Still, it has been the only reasonable eatery in town and we can recommend it with any hesitation. There were quite a few usual banku/fufu-and-meat eating-places in Aburi (incl. one in the May Lodge) but none of them looked appealing.
2. Otherwise we were buying some vegetarian snacks that were in no shortage in Aburi and quite good - french-fried yam chips (0.20GC per piece), baked plantains (1GC per piece), baked and boiled corn cobs; my adventurous wife also once bought a fufu dumpling and pronounced it good. Besides, there was no problem to buy some fruits there, such as pineapples or coconuts.
3. There was enough shops in Aburi and with some effort it was always possible to buy soda drinks (1.5-l Coca-Cola for 2GC), bread (0.50GC), cakes, and all kind of fruits.
We have spent about three days in Kumasi (including half a day wasted at its Metro bus station) and its vicinity but found it very dull and unattractive - besides the city itself we have also visited the Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary and Lake Bosumtwi and also these sights have not turned to be especially interesting. Kumasi itself is the second biggest city of Ghana but feels just as a big village - it has no recognizable centre and no soul of any kind; on the top of it, its streets are clogged by traffic jams all day long. Still, it naturally offers all kinds of services, such as variety of shops (incl. few supermarkets), banks with ATMs (including the Ecobank, which we used successfully), and internet places (0.50GC per 30 mins) - the streets around Kumasi central area are rather peculiarly twisted and the very loosely sketched Bradt map is no help there, the LP map is clearly better. Kumasi is mainly famous for its Kejetia Market, which is supposed to be one of the largest open markets in West Africa - it is indeed large but we have noticed a very strange phenomenon there, namely an incredible flurry of all shoppers there; while the rest of Kumasi has been as relaxed and slow moving as to be expected in Africa, the things changed dramatically after entering the Kejetia Market narrow passages - people seemed to become possessed by a strange urge to just get somewhere else than they were just at the moment; in fact, nobody was really buying that much (the level of hurrying and pushing there could be perhaps compared just to the post-Christmas sales in the Western world). We normally very much enjoy wandering around markets in the developing countries but the atmosphere in the Kejetia Market was just terrible and we quickly reached the same urge to get out of there quick - strange phenomenon indeed (I do remember somewhat similar feeling during a market day in Solola, Guatemala but this was incomparably more intense). In any case, we would see it as no loss if somebody would skip Kumasi altogether.
Visit of the Owabi WS: The Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary is a patch of a secondary moist semi-deciduous forest surrounding an artificial lake formed by the damming of the Owabi River in 1928 and serving as a bird sanctuary and home to some monkeys and few antelopes. There used to be several trails there including one going around the entire lake but they mostly become disused (again) and thus there is now just a single short trail (about half an hour of slow pace one way) partly even led on top of an old water pipeline - in spite of that, the visitors are still forced to take a guide there (entrance fee 5GC per person; we asked about the trail going around the lake and so we got shown this only remaining trail and then were taken to the dam barrage - still, the clown even had a nerve to ask for a tip, which we of course refused). The Sanctuary entrance gate is about a kilometer along a dirt road from a tiny village of Esase and the only trail is branching right (east) just behind the gate - so if you happen to find the gate unmanned you can easily explore the forest on your own (there is no way you could get lost and without a guide it would be for sure more enjoyable). The trail first passes through a relatively nice forest and then crosses a march on top of the pipeline and ends just behind the march in a small bamboo grove to the right of the trail; in fact, the trail goes on from there as it is clearly used by locals as a shortcut (the only reason why there is still any trail left, I guess) but it is leaving the forest there and entering some plantations; when coming back you may visit a very short and quite overgrown trail branching north of the main trail and leading to a totally overgrown observation point on the lake shore. When continuing straight on along the road beyond the gate you would soon (after about 500 m) arrive to the dam. The forest along the initial part of the main trail is relatively nice and if lucky you may see few birds and/or butterflies and possibly a mona monkey. Owing to its easy accessibility it is not bad to visit there if you would not have a chance to visit any of the rainforest national parks or bigger sanctuaries - otherwise do not bother.
Lake Bosumtwi visit: Lake Bosumtwi, with its diameter of some 8.5 km, is by far the largest Ghanian natural lake - yet, its main attraction for us has been that it is in fact one of the youngest large meteoritic impact craters on the Earth (some 1.07 million years old) and actually also one of a few known source craters for extraordinary impact rocks called tektites and thrown far away but force of the impact (in this case, the tektites has been found some 300 km to the west in the Ivory Coast). The nearly perfectly circular crater rim has a diameter of some 10.5 km and being so young (well, relatively) it is still very well preserved and could be thus appreciated in its complexity in spite of being located in the tropical area and so mostly overgrown with tropical vegetation - the crater is currently almost completely filled with Lake Bosumtwi but the Lake level has been known to fluctuate considerably during the history. The Lake is considered sacred by the local indigenous people, being a residence of the important obosom named Twe (from there also came its name Bosumtwi came); the local taboos forbid touching the lake water with iron and also with anything enclosing the space (like traditional dugout canoes) and so traditional fishermen use just customized wooden planks called “padua” while paddling with plates or their hands only - these taboos for sure helped to save the lake from overfishing but they are not so strictly followed nowadays as we have seen a sheet metal boat there (Note: There is another rather interesting story related to this lake and concerning the Dogons, a small nation living in Mali, who is well known for its myths suggesting their rather incredible knowledge about the universe - e.g. they have seemed to know that Sirius, the brightest star in the northern sky, is actually a binary star, the thing obviously not detectable without a powerful telescope; yet, the Dogon myths clearly suggest that the Dogons had been aware of the meteoritic origin of Lake Bosumtwi, sacred also to them, well before this idea even occurred to modern science).
The lake can be accessed along a paved road leading to a village of Abono on its shore - the lake has no official protection status yet but the locals still try to get some money out of the tourists: already for some time they have been organizing a road block up on the crater rim and collecting there a toll of 2GC from every passing obroni (you even get a makeshift ticket with a stamp "visit to the lake" - all locals pay nothing of course) but they have been now trying to extend this money machine little further with another fee asked to be paid in the village of Abono; in Abono our shared taxi ended in a stop somewhat away from the lake but while walking down to the lakeshore we soon got to a sort of turnaround where we were approached by a group of young strong men hanging around (fishing is too much work, I guess) and asked to pay 4GC per person of a donation to the local community (or whatever) - they had been quite persistent and aggressive and so I asked if the donation was compulsory and got we answer that not really but was presented with a packet of receipts (even inscribed "Official Receipt") where I was supposed to write the donated sum; so I put there 1GC, handed them the coin, and we quickly left before they could recover from the blow - well, I am sure the things will get progressively worse since the locals seemed to believe they finally found the technique which would make them rich. Around the lake there is a string of villages connected with a dirt road and so it is possible to explore around - you can of course hire a guide but it is not mandatory yet and you can for sure do it on your own - there is even a good map of Lake Bosumtwi area provided at this webpage. Our plan was to get to the forest which is still growing on some parts of the rim but it proved to be almost impossible - the map displays some trails leading to the rim and we have explored along one of them shown to connect the village Obo on the lake north with a summit indicated by its height "1550 ft."; we have found the trail (actually starting in the dry bed of a stream) and it got us to the rim but it passed solely through cleared land planted with manioc and bananas - still, it would be probably possible to reach the forest still standing on the rim on both sides but it would be very probably impassable in the local kind of topography; we gave up and content ourselves with a rather good view of the lake down below and large part of the surrounding rim. The lake is supposed to be suitable for swimming (allegedly there is no bilharzia there, which is rather surprising as it has all the attributes of the ideal habitat for the parasites - we have not dared to enter the water) and there is several resorts around the lake trying to capitalize on that. Anyway, Lake Bosumtwi has been a rather peaceful place (aside from those foolish gatherers in Abono, of course) looking nice enough and could be indeed a pleasantly relaxing place but it has been especially hot there (probably due to a high humidity collected in such closed place) and we actually had a problem to really enjoy ourselves there.
1. There was no direct transport all the way from Aburi to Kumasi and we had to switch the vehicle twice. First we took a private taxi to Mamfe (5GC after some haggling; 10 mins) - it seemed to be easier way than to pay together 2GC for a shared taxi as it was leaving from a station 2 km away from our hotel and we would have to either walk there or take a taxi there anyway. At Mamfe we waited for about half an hour and then got into a passing tro-tro to Koforidua (5GC per person; 0.5 hr); there we easily switched to another tro-tro heading for Kumasi Kejetia station (8.50GC per person - 20GC for two incl. luggage; 4 hr).
2. In Kumasi there is not just one but several tro-tro stations servicing different sectors of Ghana. The two main Kumasi stations are the Kejetia and Asafo stations. The Kejetia station is next the Kejetia market and quite big - it is servicing all destinations north of Kumasi, both distant (e.g. Koforidua, Tamale, Techiman, Sunyani) and near (e.g. Esase). The Asafo station is located on the Fuller Rd. south of the former Railway Station building (Note: the railway system of Ghana is an exemplary case of a "disused" resource - nobody seemed to bother with any repairs and the trains simply stopped running one by one; the former Kumasi railyard has became a slum and cattle pasture; just perfect WAWA !) - it is servicing all destinations south of Kumasi, again both distant (e.g. Cape Coast, Accra, Takoradi) and near (e.g. Kuntanase). When just passing through Kumasi, travelling south to north or vice versa and using tro-tro, you had to transfer between these two stations - there likely exists some sort of public transport covering this route but it might be difficult to find. On our way from the Kejetia to Asafo we tried to find a shared taxi but did not succeeded and soon resorted to taking a private taxi - after some haggling we got the price down to 4GC.
3. When going to the Owabi WS we took a tro-tro leaving from the Kumasi Kejetia station at about 6:30 to the village of Esase (0.55GC per person; 0.5 hr), which is just about a kilometer from the Sanctuary entrance. To get back we had to wait for about 0.5 hr and then took the same tro-tro, which went back the other way to avoid loosing too much time in usual Kumasi traffic jam (0.55GC per person) - yet, it got stuck anyway and we left it after an hour long trip still well before the Kejetia station.
4. To get to Lake Bosumtwi we first took with not much waiting a tro-tro from the Kumasi Asafo station to the village of Kuntanase (1.60GC per person; 45 mins) and then a shared taxi to Abono (1GC per person; 15 mins; here a taxi is not considered full before it get loaded with at least five adults - four sitting on the back seat, if "necessary" the front passenger seat takes two as well). Various sources proclaim that there are direct tro-tros going all the way from the Kumasi Asafo station to Abono but we have not seen any. On the way back it was again a shared taxi to Kuntanase (same conditions) but then we happened to find a tro-tro that took us to the Kumasi Kejetia station this time (0.80GC per person; 1 hr incl. a traffic jam), which was closer to our hotel.
Accommodation: Wesley Guest House, small double-bed room with a fan, TV, fridge, and bathroom attached (cold water only) for 30GC per night (the room actually has an air-conditioning but the price we paid were discounted by 5GC for not using it - it was not at all needed, fan was enough). The hotel was OK after all, but we had some problems there - first we had to change the room (the shower head in our first room just fell off the hose and they were not able to fix it) but the water was ever running somewhat erratically there (after opening the tap it flowed just for a short time and then it dried out - to get some more it was necessary to close the tap, wait for some time, and only then open again; this procedure had to be repeated over and over). Yet, there was not too many budget hotels in Kumasi at all - we first tried the local cheapie Hotel Nurom but they had left just a bare double-bed room with a quite distant common bathroom (but for 14GC only) and later also the famous Presbyterian Guesthouse, popular with volunteers, but found it strangely overpriced (if I remember well, they offered us a room without a bathroom for 40GC).
Food: There seemed to be no reasonable budget "restaurants" in Kumasi - of the restaurants we saw around Kumasi centrum we checked the Bradt recommended Vic Baboo’s Café but found it too expensive, and also the restaurant located one floor below our hotel which was even worse in this respect. Thus, we contented to eating various vegetarian snacks sold at the street stalls or by pedestrian vendors, such as yam chips, baked plantains, and rather tasty but fat-loaded cassava balls (sold for 0.10GC a piece). There were of course no shortage of shops in Kumasi selling soda drinks (2-l Coca-Cola for 3.50GC), bread, cakes, and all kinds of fruits (e.g. coconut for 0.60GC, a piece or papaya for 2GC).
We have spent about three days in Bolgatanga and especially in its broad vicinity and found it rather pleasant and interesting (we actually extended our stay by one day beyond our original plans) - yet, crucial for this appreciation was a possibility to hire there a motorbike and explore all around Bolgatanga; not only that it gave us a mobility and ability to cover large area but also helped us to fight off the local enormous dry heat. We used the motorbike to make a loop trip to the Gambaga Scarp and visit the areas of the Tongo Hills, Bongo, and Navrongo. Bolgatanga itself was in fact a large dusty village with a slum-like architecture, rather hot and with no attractions whatsoever, but in spite of that had a pleasant friendly atmosphere of a place where nothing were really a problem - we felt there quite relaxed and happy, which sadly was not at all common in Ghana. Bolgatanga provides all kinds of usual services, including variety of shops, few banks with ATMs, and internet places (0.50GC per 30 mins) - the Bradt town map is reasonably correct (in this time even better than the LP map). Bolgatanga is a principal city of northern Ghana, which is already a part of the Sudanian region of Africa that differs substantially from other parts of Ghana - whole area, including the town of Bolgatanga, has more in common with the countries up north, such as Burkina Faso or Mali, than with the rest of Ghana. Bolgatanga with its pleasant atmosphere is thus definitely worth visiting and represents an essential facet in full picture of Ghana. Still, majority of people in this area still lives outside in the country in villages and family farm compounds formed by distinctive round huts and scattered around in dry savanna woodland characterized by short grass with interspersed some drought-resistant shrubs and solitary trees, such a scenic baobabs and acacias - water is typically available just in manmade reservoirs and majority of land is used as pastures of cattle (mostly zebu) and goats. The land is mostly rather flat but it is occasionally interspersed with low but rather scenic hills and crests dotted with round boulders. This area of Ghana is rather poor and local people are often prone to asking for the "donations" from any obroni they can talk to - such requests are, of course, justifiable when you are visiting a family compound or a local fetish shrine, but they do not hesitate to ask for money also when you are taking pictures of the settlements from some distance or even only the scenery and even if you just happen to get anywhere near to them. Under these circumstances, it would be for sure very difficult to enjoy oneself when visiting this area on foot - as we were travelling on a motorbike we were still able to appreciate the special beauty of the landscape and rural human settlements there; but, when wanting to take a picture we had to be quick and drove away soon after taking a snap, as often all kinds of people of all ages immediately started to converge on us while shouting for a donation, even in places where there were no human settlement in sight - in fact, it was not at all easy to stop for a rest without being molested. Thus we could not really recommend visiting this area using public transport - yet, a local guide would be likely able to shelter you from this general nuisance, at least by limiting the amount of the “donations” to a livable level. Still, there were some areas - probably those with a strong Christian influence (esp. around Bongo), which were very pleasantly free of this behaviour, and it made visiting there exceptionally enjoyable. In any case, the landscape and human settlements in this area are very different from the rest of Ghana and a well organized visit here is so very rewarding and for sure very much worth the effort.
The Gambaga Scarp loop trip: The Gambaga Scarp is a rather strange uninterrupted cliff abruptly rising from the flat savanna plain of northeastern Ghana south of Bolgatanga. It is about hundred meters high and forms a sudden step in the landscape (reminding the cliffs of the East African Rift Valley) and forces the flow of the Red and White Volta rivers to turn westward for some 50 km there before the gap in the Scarp allows them to again continue south to their confluence with the Black Volta river and on to the Gulf of Guinea. The strip of land at the base of the cliff is very wet and overgrown with a thick moist deciduous forest, also the cliff itself with its elevation of some 400 to 450 m a.s.l. is rather moist and cool and overgrown with an open deciduous forest. We have visited the area around the Scarp on a motorbike along a circular road route starting from Bolgatanga and heading south to Walewale, there turning east via Gambaga and Nalerigu to Nakpanduri, there turning north, descending along the cliff and reaching Bawku via Garu, and there finally turning west back to Bolgatanga via Zebilla. The route was nearly 250 km long and took us all day of not too fast driving - about half of it (from Walewale to Bawku) was mostly dirt and rather corrugated and bumpy. Besides the very cliff of the Gambaga Scarp itself (indeed scenic and interesting and offering a good view of the savanna down below - but it would not be a case in time of harmattan), this trip allowed us to appreciate changes of the vegetation and also human settlements in the areas more distant from Bolgatanga (the areas south of the Scarp are more cultivated than those to the north) and also visit some interesting sights - we took a look on a weird modern adobe mosque built at Wulugu (Note: other attractions, not visited by us, include the so called “witch camp” at the Gambaga town (an asylum for people, mostly women, accused of witchcraft in their communities - not so nice product of the animist beliefs) and also the “defense wall” at Nalerigu (not too spectacular remnants of the wall built in the 16th century as a protection against the slave raiders kidnapping local villagers and selling them to the European slave traders). The efforts to collect “donations” has not been too strong along this route - yet, be careful around the town of Bawku and its vicinity, which is the area of rather deep tension due to an old and still unsettled tribal conflict that brought quite a few victims not too long ago. There is an augmented police presence there and all kinds of special regulations applied, which brought us some problems. Still, it was in fact a somewhat interesting experience - we have been stopped at a police roadblock on the edge of the town of Bawku and informed that by the current regulations all men were officially forbidden to drive motorbikes within that town (women were exempted and visibly enjoyed their privilege) and so we could not pass through the town (there had been apparently some shootings there done by men on motorcycles) - it would be quite a problem and so we had to negotiate some solution; thank goodness, we had got lucky there and run into a very atypical Ghanian who was not at all predisposed to the WAWA behavior and helped us to sail through - he was fortunately a commander of the roadblock personnel and understood right away that we should be exempted from this ban but it was quite a show how he handled the situation. Of course, I emphasized that we fully understood the regulation but we, as foreigners, had nothing in common with the local problems and should be provided with some kind of a written safe-conduct and let pass through (my wife refused to drove the bike alone - it later turned out to be about 2 km across the town to the opposite roadblock and I would get quite a walk anyway) but all other policemen started to come with all kinds of ingenious ideas (like that we should load our bike on one of the locally used cargo tricycles and transport it that way through the town) but that our savior quickly agreed and called his superior officer to get his approval (I could overhear his part of the dialogue and was impressed how skillfully he handled the persuading, carefully suggesting our solution and making his superior to believe that he himself came with the idea) and then wrote for us quite an impressive passport - so there are some exceptions from general inclination to WAWA and I have deep sympathy to these poor people condemned to live in so inimical environment; needless to say that nobody took any notice of us and we sailed through the town without any further difficulties (yet, the tension was indeed still felt in the town atmosphere). In any case, the trip was very interesting and rewarding and we can fully recommend it (but ask about the current regulations applied in Bawku).
Visit of the Tongo Hills: The Tongo Hills is a small area of low hills and rocky formations located about 15 km south-east of Bolgatanga. There exists a visitor center for the area in the village Tengzug, where it is possible to organize for a fee some excursions to near hills and also to some near fetish shrines set in the rock caves. The area is relatively heavily advertised for its scenic beauty but we have not been especially taken away by what we have seen - still, Tengzug itself is allegedly located on top of a cliff overlooking the White Volta river valley and could thus possibly offer an interesting view; we were trying to reach an overlook allowing us to have a look but the road unfortunately ended before getting close enough to the cliff edge (we did not try to get there on foot as it would inevitably involve taking a guide, which we always prefer to avoid). The area seemed to be especially inclined to asking for the “donations” - we drove along the road to Tengzug but when finding that the road were terminating there and did not get to an overlook we just turned around and drove back; yet, when we stopped to have a look around about a kilometer away from there we were approached by a man following us on a motorbike who asked for the "donation" (allegedly not more than 10GC per person) and we had the following discussion: I just told him that we had no intention to visit their shrine - he replied that he wanted the payment anyway - I told him that we were just enjoying the scenery and I asked why we should pay - he replied that for the scenery then - I opposed that it was God’s creation and we saw no reason why to pay him for that - he said that he wanted the payment anyway; well, after that we just told him to forget it, started our motorbike and drove away. The area was somewhat similar to that around Bongo and as the atmosphere there was much more pleasant we would recommend going there instead.
Visit of the Bongo area: Bongo is a small town about 15 km north of Bolgatanga and not too distant from the border of Burkina Faso. The area around Bongo is a dry short grass savanna with a special abundance of solitary baobab trees and also scenic low hills dotted with round boulders and rocky outcrops and vegetated with various shrubs and trees. Above all, this area was very pleasantly spared of the local nuisance of demanding “donations” from obronis. After our first short and very pleasant afternoon visit we therefore decided to come back again in the morning and take a walk to the hills. About half a kilometer before the Bongo town the dirt road coming from Bolgatanga was crossing a low chain of hills called the Azudo and there we drove about 200 m to the east along a sandy path to the hills to look around (when locking our motorbike we were approached by two young boys with clear intention to became our guides and as we wanted to enjoy the walk alone we asked them to watch the bike instead - they agreed and indeed fulfilled that task and so also got their well deserved fee); the area was very scenic and we had a very pleasant walk among huge boulders, baobabs, and other trees and shrubs - the hills were forming small amphitheatres, one even with a nice small pond with some water lily flowers in (artificial but well blended with its surroundings - almost kitschy); the area was crisscrossed with footpaths and populated with few small herds of goats. We also climbed one of the less overgrown rocky hills and saw that the hill chain continued on and on both to the east and west; to the north there was a good view on the flat savanna dotted with baobabs. The area was very nice and it would be surely very nice to do whole day hike there if not for the omnipresent heat - we had to leave at about 9:00 when the heat became too much for us. On our way back to Bolgatanga we also decided to make use of the relaxed atmosphere in the area and have a look inside of one of the typical local family compounds, i.e. a circle of round thatched adobe huts interlinked with an adobe wall to a closed unit - we chose one under a large baobab tree and stopped our bike there, few children and one of the men approached us (but not immediately asking for money there) and we told them to let us have a look and of course did get a right to enter and took a little tour inside; the compound was inhabited by a wider family consisting of few man and women and many children - we just briefly and only from the outside looked inside the rather small huts through their very low entryways and shook hands with family men (only men - one clearly in a progressed phase of AIDS) including an elderly man whom they introduced to us as “the owner” (at the time of our entering the compound, this man was actually doing some sort of a short ritual dance in a special hut with family fetishes, accompanied with a loud noise of some rattles - likely some preparation of the family abosom for a visit of alien obronis) - we generally did not enjoy these human safari visits too much and so we made it rather quick and did not really enter any huts but the visit still gave us some glimpse of their very simple family life; before leaving we gave them 10GC and they looked satisfied. In any case, we consider this area the best of all around Bolgatanga and recommend to anybody to visit there if at all possible (it would be also possible to get to Bongo just using a public bus or tro-tro but it would be difficult to avoid being accompanied by a guide regardless of your preferences; still, you may even ask the driver to drop you right in the Azudo hills or any place you like - there would not be any problem to flag down a transport when wanting to go back).
Navrongo visit: Navrongo is a small town about 30 km northwest from Bolgatanga near the border of Burkina Faso that has a principal landmark in its large and important Cathedral of "Our Lady of Seven Sorrows" (it is a principal church of the local catholic diocese and it has its importance even recognized by the Vatican by raising it to the status of a minor basilica in 2006). It is the last remaining Ghana’s cathedral with its walls built entirely of adobe bricks - it has a flat sheet metal roof and is nicely decorated with a combination of local symbols and catholic motifs. It was indeed a very nice and imposing building - we were also lucky to be there in time for at least the end of a requiem mass and the presence of a large crowd of dressed-up Ghanian worshippers certainly created an intense atmosphere (funerals are obviously big thing in Ghana and the Ghanians seem to “enjoy” them a lot); the basilica is definitely worth visiting if you are in the area. We also drove on north to Paga (another small town famous for keeping locally sacred crocodiles, which we did not want to see) and saw there a signpost for the village of Sirigu (it is a village where an organization of local women has been formed to help them to earn some income by selling the local craftwork products of the pottery of local traditional design and coloring); the post was pointing to dirt road heading west and as we knew that there were other access to that sight branching north from the main road near Bolgatanga we used this as a possibility to get another drive through the countryside (we had no intention to visit the village itself) - the trip was interesting as the area was even more dry and Sahel-like flat savanna; again we were driving along quite a few adobe family compound. The people in the area were again quite inclined to asking for “donations”.
1. To get from Kumasi to Bolgatanga we took a Metro Mass bus (12GC per person + 2GC luggage fee per person; 9 hrs). The Metro bus was recommended to us by the Tanga Tours company from Bolgatanga but we had a very bad experience with it (we had to wait more than 7 hrs for our bus - for a detailed description of our experience see the 4th paragraph in the general transport section at the beginning of this report). The bus was somewhat crowded as it had narrower seats (there were three seats in a row on the left side of the bus and two more on the right side - yet, we had no say in choosing the seats). The bus made a half-hour meal stop somewhere between Techiman and Tamale at a small roadside stop with few rather unappealing eateries and food shops and a small fruit market. The road was sealed almost all the way with a short and rather unpleasant exception of the sector just north of Techiman. It would be for sure much better to cover this distance in one of the private bus companies, such as the STC or VIP.
2. Bolgatanga offers a very pleasant possibility to rent a motorbike there and explore the wide area in its vicinity in your own pace while also escaping the day heat. The motorbike rental is offered by the Tanga Tours company (email@example.com; 0249874044) which has its office located at the Bolgatanga’s Black Star Hotel - we rented there a 125-ccm Chinese motorbike for 35GC per day, incl. 5GC-worth of fuel (so, when using the bike for longer trips and buying the fuel yourself you should pay just 30GC per day) and were quite satisfied (of course, the bike was not in a completely perfect state but it was good enough); in addition, the rental could include also helmets but we did not use them as we would have our brains cooked pretty soon under that sun heat there (we were using our safari hats instead and did not have any problem - when stopped on the road block during our Gambaga Scarp trip we were even asked about the helmets by that very reasonable policeman - see above - he understood our reasons for not using the helmets and even asked us to use our hats himself - God bless him). I had been in an email contact with the Tanga Tours local representative named Abdul (rather typically, I got any response from him only after also contacting the Belgian founder of the company who send Abdul an appeal to reply to my requests) and made a reservation for the bike but I doubt it was really necessary (it definitely looked there were not many tourists at all in the area and definitely not many interested in renting a bike) - anyway, when we showed up at the office there was nobody present there (yet, we did arrive much later than expected and promised due to that terrible bus journey mentioned above) but there were some people in the Hotel who called Abdul and he arrived after some time. The rental itself was very simple indeed: no “papers” for the bike, no interests about my driving license, no deposit asked, no ahead payment (no insurance too, of course) - just take the keys and go; actually, we took the bike initially just for a day to test it and got some appointment to talk about our next rental but at the set time we did not find Abdul and had to set another appointment and come again just to tell him that we still had the bike and wanted to keep it for two more days; and this was in fact even the last time we saw Abdul - next day we just stopped by to show him that he still had a bike, but did not find him, and the same happened after our last trip and so we just left the keys and money for rental with a girl in the Hotel restaurant. Well, Abdul was rather nice and just happy irresponsible African and it was a pleasure to deal with him, likely because we came prepared to survive on our own. For example, he was able to give us some information about the area, but forgot (at least, he explained it so) to mention that problem in Bawku described above, and also gave us some xeroxed maps, but these were very inaccurate (but we saw the originals and they were normally looking official road maps) and we were happy to have much better Bradt sketch map and Google map. The traffic on all roads around Bolgatanga was quite limited - not too much on the main sealed road Walewale - Bolgatanga - Navrongo - Paga, and almost nothing on the other roads, which were mostly dirt and often quite dusty and bumpy. This motorbike rental was very important part of our enjoyment of our stay in Bolgatanga and we can recommend it without any hesitation.
3. Still, there is just one centrally located tro-tro/bus station in Bolgatanga and you can find there a public transport to any of the places we had visited on our rented motorbike.
Accommodation: Hotel St. Joseph, air-conditioned (much needed there) double-bed room with a fan, TV (nonfunctional), fridge, and bathroom attached (cold water only) for 25GC per night. The Hotel was OK and quite friendly; beware of possible water outages - we experienced a whole-town interruption for a whole Saturday morning.
1. There is a much-recommended restaurant in Bolgatanga called the "SWAP Fast Food" (so no Swab or Swad, as it is renamed in the Bradt and LP respectively) and it is indeed another Bolgatanga’s highlight. Actually, it was for sure one of the few good restaurants we have encountered in whole Ghana - it looked well, had an English menu (partly even vegetarian) and was offering a good choice of freshly made and quite good but also cheap food; reasonable waiting time of about 30 mins. We tried there red-red with boiled vegetables (6.50GC), omo tuo with groundnut soup and boiled vegetables (6.50GC), fried vegetables (more boiled than fried in fact) with garlic butter, jollof rice (7GC), and vegetarian curry with steamed rice (7GC) and were never disappointed.
2. There was a big market and enough shops and stalls in Bolgatanga to buy soda drinks (1.5-l and 2-l Coca-Cola for 2.50GC and 3GC), bread, and all kind of fruits (pineapple 4-5GC a piece; no coconuts however); the only place to buy cakes was actually a tiny stall in our Hotel St. Joseph (1GC per piece).
We have spent two days in the Mole National Park and found it quite nice and interesting - beside the Park we have also visited the near village of Larabanga with its famous adobe mosque. The park protects a fairly large and undisturbed area of the Guinea savanna ecosystem - the Park landscape is dominated by an open savannah woodland with quite tall grasses (reaching up to 3 m in the rain season) but also includes patches of riverine forest found along its many rivers and streams, hunger-soil grassland areas overgrown with shorter grasses (so called “boval”), and flood plain grassland and swamps. The Park is exceptionally rich with game animals and you are nearly guaranteed to see some bush elephants, quite a few antelopes (esp. kob, waterbuck, hartebeest, and bushbuck), warthogs, and some monkeys - all animals are well accustomed to seeing humans on foot and are quite unafraid to let them come surprisingly close (e.g. elephants do not really mind to see people just some ten meters away from them; this is very exceptional anywhere in Africa - in Kenya, where the animals let you come just right next to them in a car, typically flee as soon as they see man on foot); so it looks that at least near the Park visitor center, where all the game walks are organized, the poaching is not really a problem, which is a very pleasant exception in Ghana. In addition, you will have no problem to see warthogs, baboons, and patas monkeys that are regularly walking around the premises of the only hotel in the Park. The Park has a rather peculiar history as it has been established in the area formerly ill-famed for being especially heavily infested with tsetse flies causing regular outbreaks of deadly sleeping sickness - in the 1920's and 1930's the British tried a rather radical way of resolving the problem by declaring the area a hunting ground, acting on a theory that by killing of all the large game animals, which are necessary for preserving the illness chain, this plague would be eradicated - after some 30 years, when Ghana became independent state, the same area was declared a game reserve in 1957 and in 1971 upgraded into a national park, while also forcibly relocating the people living within its boundaries (anyway, whatever strange it sounds, the original strategy might have even worked as there were no reported cases of sleeping sickness in Ghana for few decades now). Still, in spite of the unquestionable abundance of game animals in the Park, which is probably unmatched anywhere in West Africa, their spectrum does not seem to be fully natural yet - still, there are even some predators supposedly living in the Park, esp. in its rarely visited northern sections, including hyenas, leopards, and allegedly even some lions.
Park visit tips: The Park can be visited both on foot and in a 4WD car, which can be also rented in the Park visitor center - the rental fee is allegedly 50GC per hour for the whole car that can take up to 7 people, so not at all expensive for larger groups. As always in Ghana, a guide is compulsory for entering the Park; the entrance fee is 5GC per person only (paid in the gate when entering the Park) and the guiding fee is 3GC per person per hour (paid in the Park visitor center and collected only after the trip, so you pay just for the time really spent in the Park). The game walks are organized in the close vicinity to the Park visitor center (up to about 2 km) in the area comprising patches of savanna and riverine forest and few waterholes - the walks length and priorities can be to some extent negotiated with the guide (but the visitors are pooled into groups of up to 10 people and so it is not so easy to find a common interest) - the walks are organized both in the morning at 7:00 (our took 2.5 hrs) and evening at 16:00 (our took 2 hrs); we have found both walks very much worth its cost - our guide named Osman (by a coincidence the same for both walks) was quite knowledgeable and also friendly and was able to show us all the usual local animals including an elephant at a very close range (less than 10 m). There is no problem to explore the Park without a guide (but beware that it is almost surely forbidden - naturally, we did not ask) as the Park is not fenced and the Park visitor center and also the only hotel sit on top of a prominent cliff (named Konkori Scarp and being a continuation of the Gambaga Scarp) running north to south - the hotel buildings are thus well visible from a distance and can serve as a landmark. It is easy to descent west down the not so sloppy cliff face (esp. just next the hotel campsite) and enter the area where the official game walks are also organized - when wanting to get back you just need to head east (or southeast) till you get close enough to the Konkori Scarp to find your bearing. There are no established trails in the Park and they are not at all needed as the forest vegetation is rather open and so it is never difficult to walk just anywhere; the grass in the grassland areas is quite dense and walking there is rather tiring but always possible, providing it is not a swampy area. There are some streams in the forested areas (there is one right under the cliff) and they are usually wide enough to make their crossing difficult without wading - yet, when walking along these streams you should be usually able to find a tree fallen across and allowing to climb over. Outside the time of the organized game walks you are very likely to have the Park just for yourself (and it continues in northwest direction for some 100 km) - just beware that there exists a loop road used for game drives, which is circling all around the area where the game walks are done, and so you need to be little careful not to be caught there (yet, the usual game drives are normally also done only in the mornings and evenings) - the road has a dirt surface but it is in a surprisingly good shape; the same holds also for the road branching north from this loop and heading to the Brigbani and Lovi rivers and camps, surely for its southernmost part at least. The Park map published in Bradt is again almost useless for planning of your visit (it is of a quite large scale and shows no details about the area near the Park visitor center) - a reasonably good map can be found at this webpage but beware that at least some of the “hiking trails” shown on this map do not exist in reality. We did undertook such unofficial visit of the Park within the second day of our stay (it was clear that any next organized game walks would be no different from those first two) but we got another surprise, being almost eaten alive by the fiercely biting tsetse flies - it was rather strange because the day before during our game walks we barely noticed just few random flies, while on this following day they were everywhere and very much active (probably some change in the weather pattern, but not noticeable to us anyway); they were biting as crazy even in open dry places far from any water where they were not even supposed to appear - it made it nearly impossible to stop for a moment but it was not much better even when walking and we so our main activity became driving those beasts away; eventually we had to give up on our original plan to spend all day hiking around the Park and escape back up the cliff just short after midday - fortunately, there were at least no flies up there on the Scarp; in any case, beware that insect repellents, incl. those well loaded with DEET does not work on this plague. In spite of this nuisance, we very much enjoyed our stay in the Mole NP and can recommend a visit there to anybody without any hesitation.
Larabanga visit: Larabanga is a village on the main road from Damongo to Sawla about 16 km west of Damongo (and 6 km south of the Mole NP visitor center). It became famous for its whitewashed mud and stick mosque, allegedly the oldest mosque of the Sudanic style in Ghana (due to the damage implied by seasonal rains the mosque requires a thorough renovation each year but it was allegedly built for the first time by Moorish traders in 1421; it is also listed as a World Heritage Site since 2001) - the mosque is a rather small building built entirely from the packed earth reinforced with wooden sticks that poke out to the exterior and features the characteristic use of horizontal timber, pyramidal towers, buttresses, and triangular perforations above entry portals. It is one of the few Ghana mosques built in this style and has long been a pilgrimage site for Ghana’s Muslim population, being popularly referred to as the “Mecca of West Africa” - non-Muslims are not allowed to enter it. The mosque is for sure interesting and nice but Larabanga is unfortunately the place of by far the worst level of pestering we have encountered in all Ghana.
Another attraction of Larabanga is the so-called “Mystic Stone” located right next the main road just some 200 m behind Larabanga in the direction to Sawla (west). According to the legend this Stone is sacred and it is not possible to move it from its present position - when the road through the village was being built, the workers tried to move the Stone to some other place several times but it always came back to its original position over night and so the road until now forms a U-shaped curve around the Stone; in fact, the Stone sits on top of the Konkori Scarp and so, even if it is not at all steep there, making the serpentine there might have had also a less supernatural reason. The Stone is a rounded column topped with a larger flat stone, so together they form a table-like structure about a meter high - it is now surrounded by a stone wall to hide it from unwanted glances from the distance and thus likely to make sure that nobody can see it without paying a “donation”.
We were visiting the village on a motorbike and right when getting close to the mosque we could hear people shouting at us and running to us and some guy was even trying to block our passage along the main road. Seeing that we decided to start our visit with having a look on the Mystic Stone and so we continued driving through the village - nobody was guarding the Stone at that moment (it was around midday and quite hot under the fierce sun on that bare hill) and so we were lucky to get some ten minutes of solitude there (the Stone did not look much but the views from the Scarp down to the flat wooded savanna were quite nice); yet, the Stone was just behind the village and so a guy on a bicycle arrived rather too soon and started talk to us in an angry voice - well, we did not listen to him too much, just told him we wanted to see the mosque and went back to the village. The mosque was somewhat aside the main road from Damongo to Sawla (about 50 m north from the road, some 100 m west off the junction with the side road to Mole NP) and we stopped, parked and locked our bike in a tree shade just next the road (we were told it would be safe there but it soon became a playground for local children and teenagers). The pestering there was indeed almost unbearable - it looked that all young men in the village had nothing more to do but to wander around and keep ready for chasing any obroni who would happen to get there and try to dig out some money out of her/him. When we stopped there they all started to converge on us, all talking in the same time and probably offering their services - we did not listen to them, it was just a very noisy cacophony - it was the worst level of pestering I have had ever encountered anywhere in the world. We tried to identify in that crowd somebody who could have any authority there and soon located a somewhat less anxiously and more intelligently looking guy - he later introduced himself as a son of the local sheikh (i.e. sort of a leader of the village; well, maybe but I had no doubt that it would be claimed by every other of these would-be guides there). So, we told him we wanted to have a look on the mosque but just with him and without all those other people around - he did succeed to chase a great majority of the crowd away but there were always some gapers trying to join in and we had to ask him repeatedly to get rid of them. Anyway, he of course first treated us to a story about collecting money for repairs of the mosque and a local organization setting out a school for children (so they did not have to go to schools which were usually run by some sort of Christian charity, as it seemed to be normal in rural areas of Ghana) and produced a book (another school exercise book) to register our donation - he said minimum was 4GC per person and so we gave him 10GC for us both. Then he took us around the mosque telling us some details about its history and answering our questions - we were also allowed to take pictures. Unfortunately, with all these bystanders around it was quite difficult to enjoy ourselves and we had enough soon - the guy was also asking for suggestions how to make the village more attractive for tourists and thus obtain more money and so I tried to explain to him that they should not push their visitors around but I very much doubted it would help; they just seemed to believe they are entitled to participate on the world’s wealth without offering any contribution (sounds familiar, right ?). The Larabanga mosque is for sure very interesting and somewhat cute but the atmosphere there makes it quite difficult to enjoy your visit - it is still probably worth the fight but come prepared and do not let this rabble to disconcert you.
1. There was naturally no direct transport from Bolgatanga to the Mole NP and we had to change in Tamale. The first part was easy and with not much waiting we took a tro-tro from Bolgatanga to Tamale (3GC per person + 5GC per luggage (not hawing smaller change); 2.5 hrs). The only public transport covering all the remaining distance from Tamale to the Mole NP visitor center is a Metro Mass bus officially leaving at 14:00 (but known to be always late and sometimes even not going at all) and taking 4 hrs - the bus stays at Mole and go back to Tamale early next morning. After some asking around we located the Metro Mass bus terminal (a bare yard with almost no chairs to sit on and absolutely no shade) and after more asking found a piece of paper with the list of prospective Mole passengers and added our names there (the paper was inscribed with some completely unfamiliar name, for sure not Mole) - then we waited and watched how incredibly long time was needed for any bus to leave to its destination (while they got filled by long time waiting passengers within 10 mins it took them at least another 2 hrs to leave, happily spent by checking and re-checking the tickets and counting and recounting the passengers); when at 13:30 nobody knew when and if at all the bus for Mole would leave (we still did not have the tickets but just had our names on the waiting list), we gave up and allied with a party of three other obronis and rented a private taxi to get us to Mole “safely” - we paid together 200GC for a very dusty and bumpy 3-hr ride (when entering the Park we also had to pay the entrance fees of 3GC for a car and 4GC for the Ghanian driver; it was four of us on the back seat of a normal passenger car; the ride actually started with the driver ripping off the hose carrying gasoline from the low-sitting car tank to its engine and our forced participation in a makeshift repair - the guy was later asking for extra money for the lost fuel but we just told him: “sorry, deal is a deal”). The Metro bus did arrive successfully that day at about 19:00 but we had no regrets anyway as we at least gained some extra daylight time needed to built our tent and find out about the next morning game walk (still, the bus indeed did not arrive the next day, which made us wondering - yet, the relevant night before our planned departure the bus fortunately arrived, even if as late as 22:00).
2. The Bradt guidebook and quite a few internet sources maintain that there exists a much more convenient direct shuttle service from Tamale to Mole NP operated by the M&J Travel and Tours company. I have tried to contact them by an e-mail and after some effort got through (firstname.lastname@example.org - once again I got any response only through contacting the principal manager in Accra of this rather large all-Ghana travel agency who provided me with the information given here and sent an appeal to their Tamale branch to reply to my requests; after that I got a reply from Tamale office that they were busy but would get back to me the next day but sure as hell they never did in spite of my reminders - well, this was not WAWA but just sheer stupid laziness) and received their assurance that they indeed offered that service every day at 7:00 and 14:00 for 20GC per person (and also back from Mole to Tamale at 10:00 and 13:00) - it looked much better than what I knew then about the Metro buses and so I made reservation for us for our trip to Mole; they gave me location of their office at the Tamale’s Center for National Culture. After prolongation of our stay in Bolgatanga we happened to be passing through Tamale on Sunday and so I was not surprised to find the office safely locked (still, they had not mentioned any closures) and so I asked a girl in near restaurant to call for me the number they gave me in their mail - yet, the woman who picked up the phone just told me she would have to call some other guy and she would call back - after some waiting I gave up and we resorted to the Metro bus, as described above. I was not sure what to make up of this experience but I had some doubts if this shuttle service existed at all - I believe it was at best the occasional service operated just within the tours organized by this nationwide company, at best allowing extra passengers to fill empty seats in their tour vehicles. In any case, we had not seen any vehicles of this company during our stay in the Mole NP; their promised everyday service did not run for sure. Still, when trying to locate their office I at least got a chance to have a little look around Tamale, which was a relatively large and important Ghana city - yet, I found it even less appealing and more uninteresting and ugly than Kumasi; all place was rather disorganized and unfriendly, the main street/road was very crowded and hectic and rest of the city was full of dirty shacks - the living quarters we were passing on our way from the tro-tro station to the Metro bus station was very closely reminding a real slum. Tamale itself is not at all worth visiting as far as I am concerned.
3. To get to Larabanga from the Mole visitor center, we had rented there a motorbike for few hours - it was in fact just a private motorbike of some Park employee who simply used the opportunity to make some extra money while working in the Park; we paid 20GC per about 2 hrs (when renting it the guy said that we could have it for just any time but when we were returning it he was suggesting we had it somewhat too long and asked how long it was and where we went - I just replied that we used it just for a one-hour trip to Larabanga and made it clear that there would be no additional payments); when passing the Park gate we talked to the ranger stationed there and made sure they would not ask another payment of Park entrance fees. The bike was at reasonable shape and nearly the same kind as the one we rented in Bolgatanga - it gave us very welcome mobility and was definitely a very good way to get to Larabanga; in fact, we used the bike to also make a side trip to neighboring village of Mognori and to the near Mole River. It should be also possible to rent bicycles in the Mole visitor center but we lost interest when securing the motorbike - it was little too hot there for such exercise.
1. We slept in our own tent at the official campsite operated as a part of the only Park hotel named Mole Motel (rather odd name for an upscale hotel at the end of a dirt road with hardly any traffic - the hotel was equipped as a rather luxury lodge and charging correspondingly high fees - 54GC per night for their cheapest double-bed room); at the campsite we paid 10GC per person per night (so quite expensive too) and got nothing more than a space in the shadow of the only acacia tree there and an access to a quite nice shared toilet and cold shower (and also an access to the rather distant hotel swimming pool). Still, we quite enjoyed our stay in the campsite and could recommend it to anybody (by the way, the hotel was also offering rental of tents and other equipment) - the campsite was rather pleasantly set some 100 m apart from the hotel buildings just across the road from the Park visitor center (in fact, the campsite was originally operated by the Park and only recently taken over by the Mole Motel) and right on the edge of the Konkori Scarp cliff - at the very edge of the cliff there was a nice overlook of the Park vegetation down below also fitted with a table and some benches where we were enjoying our breakfasts and dinners. It also helped that we were as usually the only campers and so we had the place just for ourselves, to say nothing about the baboons and warthogs occasionally passing through. In addition, the toilet and shower unit had a common anteroom with its door made of the metal netting lockable with a padlock - this arrangement allowed us to lock our baggage in there overnight using our own padlock and thus secure enough of space inside our tent (there were actually two toilet and shower units in the campsite - one meant for women and other for men - but as we were the only guests, just one was unlocked for us). For a fee it is also possible to spend a night inside the Park (10GC per person per night) either in a not too distant tree hide or at some remote campsites deeper within (with extra payment for transport).
2. There is actually one more possible accommodation near the Park at the village of Mognori on the Park border, accessible via a 15-km dirt road branching northeast from the road connecting Larabanga with the Park visitor center and headquarters just south the Park entrance gate. We have been passing through this village on a side motorbike trip (undertaken when coming back from out trip to Larabanga) and found it there rather unappealing. The villagers set up an eco-tourism program there and tried to attract tourist by offering all kinds of cultural programs aimed to see the traditional rural life - they were also organizing a so-called river safari, i.e. a canoe trip along the Mole River into the Park allowing observation of the wildlife along the river. We had been considering to join this trip but gave up as we found the Mole River there to be just a quite small and shallow stream not looking much interesting.
1. We mostly relied on our own food brought with us all the way from Bolgatanga but once we also tried a possibility to order a lunch in the so-called staff canteen, i.e. the place where the Park rangers and other employees were getting their lunches. A lady working there was using the occasion of quite a few people gathering every morning in front of the Park visitor center for a briefing by the chief ranger before the morning walk and was passing around a quite reasonably looking English menu with few items on it. We decided to give it a try, ordered something for 5GC a piece, and even agreed to advanced payment for it - I actually do not remember what exactly we ordered but the whole thing turned to be a scam anyway. When we turned out at the given time at the indicated spot behind the Park office (in fact just a wooden shack with a table and few benches) there was nothing prepared and when asking we got the only prepared meal of local typical yam chips and a piece of meat in an awfully looking spicy sauce. If not yet completely resigned and ready to put with the worst of Ghana cuisine, better stay away from this place. On the other hand, we saw few motorbikes parked just next this “canteen” and it brought us an idea to rent one of them, which then provided us with an easy way to visit Larabanga.
2. There was of course a rather plush restaurant at the Mole Motel with an impressive English menu offering meals for 10GC and more - we have never tried it. Not surprisingly, no provisions were sold in the hotel with usual exception of all kinds of much overpriced drinks. Also the Park visitor center was offering a small shop with few more still rather overpriced items like soda drinks, chocolates, and some biscuits; it had also a small shop with some fixed-price souvenirs, such as some not especially nice wood-carved masks (yet not too expensive for 15GC a piece).
We have spent just a day and half in Techiman and its vicinity and found it not especially interesting and attractive but at least showing some sort of an atmosphere - besides the city itself we have also visited the near Tano Sacred Grove. As it is typical for Ghanian cities we have not seen any sights to remember in Techiman but it at least looked somehow better organized and well-arranged, even if it was again featuring a slum-like architecture of an outgrown village, so typical for Ghanian interior. It also offered all kinds of basic services, such as variety of shops, banks with ATMs (including the GTBand, which we used successfully), and internet places - the Bradt map was depicting this simple city correctly. Right next the main road there was also a large and rather interesting market with no that frenzy we have seen in Kumasi and so a good place to wander and soak in an African atmosphere. So we can even recommend Techiman as a relatively pleasant place to experience better and friendlier features of Ghana.
Tano Sacred Grove visit: The Tano Sacred Grove is a very small patch of a primary dry semi-deciduous forest enclosing a cluster of striking sandstone rock formations. The rocks served as a natural fortress for local indigenous people and a hideout for their kings during the time of slave rides and tribal wars. The Grove is considered sacred as it contains the source of the Tano River - this source is believed to be a residence of the important obosom named Taakora (the highest deity of the Akans, the predominant nation in Ghana) and only the okomfos (traditional priests) are allowed to go to the river banks in the Grove; the local taboos have also always forbidden any polluting of the Tano river source but also any dwelling, farming, or hunting in the Grove - these taboos are the reason that the Grove preserves a pristine forest but it is unfortunately way too small to represent any sustainable habitat making possible to preserve also some wildlife; thus, besides some birds the Grove holds only a large colony of the fruit-eating bats. The Grove is totally surrounded by farmland, which is actually covering all the wide area and just dotted with few such sacred groves (other known sacred groves in the area are the Buoyem Sacred Grove and the grove holding the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary). The Grove can be visited along a loop trail circling around the rocks and climbing over their top forming a small grassy plateau and offering nice views of the Grove canopy and surrounding farmland (the loop takes about 2 hrs of slow walking; climbs are not especially strenuous or difficult). It is of course not allowed to enter the Grove without a guide who is assigned to you by the local community at Tanoboase - our guide was rather good (by far the best we encountered in all Ghana) and provided us with a good narration about the local history in a good English; the fee was 9GC per person, additional donation was appreciated. There would be no problem to visit the Grove without a guide but it might be difficult to escape an attention in the Tanoboase village - the signposted trail for the Grove is about a kilometer along the dirt side road for Kranka branching east at the village of Tanoboase, which is located about 15 km north of Techiman on the main road to Tamale; the trail is easy to follow as it is very clearly visible in the forest and not too difficult to follow even over the rocks. The Grove is a rather peaceful and pleasant place with quite nice rock formations and we can recommend a visit there if you happen to be in the area.
1. There was no direct transport all the way from Mole NP to Techiman and we had to switch the vehicle three times. First we took that Metro Mass bus for Tamale departing from the road in front of the Mole NP visitor center awfully early morning at about 5:00 and got off at the Damongo junction, i.e. the crossing of the side road for Damongo and Sawla with the main road connecting Tamale and Kumasi (3.50GC per person + 2GC per luggage; 3 hrs - the bus made 0.5-hr stops at Larabanga and Damongo, spent mainly by rechecking the tickets and “organizing” the passengers). The Damongo junction was not much more than few stalls by the road and we spent there about half an hour before we could board a rather crowded passing tro-tro heading to Kintampo (10GC for two incl. luggage; 2 hrs - there were no direct transport all the way to Techiman from there, the long-distance tro-tros/buses were not stopping there). There were no tro-tros going from Kintampo to Techiman and we had to take a shared taxi - it did not take too long time to fill and took us all the way to the main Techiman's lorry station next to its central market (8GC for two incl. luggage; 1 hr).
2. To get to Tanoboase and back we used shared taxis (1GC per person; 10 mins; waiting time short), which were operating from the northern Techiman's station.
Accommodation: Agyeiwaa Hotel, air-conditioned double-bed room (but designated as a single) with a fan, TV (somewhat interestingly the only English speaking program available was the Iranian Press TV - we did not encounter it anywhere else in Ghana at all), fridge, and bathroom attached (hot water) for 37GC per night; included in the price was also a single breakfast in the hotel restaurant (but it was served too late for us to wait for it, at 7:00). The hotel was an exemplary case of the WAWA phenomenon where we had to wait few hours for them to clean the room, to say nothing about our vain pursuit to get a discount or other compensation for the unusable breakfast (see also the food section). The hotel was little upscale for our liking (at least it was pretending so) but it was in fact the only hotel in the city center - other hotels listed at the Bradt guidebook were rather too far from the tro-tro station.
1. We could not found any other restaurant in the city besides the one in our hotel. It looked quite nice and was showing off an impressive English menu but it turned out to be just for effect and the place represented a real WAWA showroom. At first we tried to order something from the menu but found out that virtually none of the listed meals were actually available. Then we tried to order a jollof rice without any meat but that turned to be too much for the waitress - in the end she had to call the restaurant chef (we were the only clients there anyway) who fortunately appeared to be rather intelligent and was capable to understand the concept of a vegetarian meal - the result was actually rather tasty and very cheap (3GC per portion). Still, we had much more fun in this hotel with our foolish effort to get a discount or other compensation for the breakfast we did not want to wait for - I should note here that all the personnel in the hotel were in some kind of training and it proved to be impossible to talk to anybody of higher standing there. Anyway, it started with the two receptionists flatly refusing to give us any discount for not using the breakfast (this is a usual way which normally works in reasonable parts of the world) and when asked about the manager told us he would come later - so we told them to discuss the mater with the manager and left to see around not really expecting any solution; yet, on our return after several hours they said they did not talk to the manager but suggested that we could just get our "breakfast" as a snack at the hotel restaurant in the evening - it looked surprisingly simple and we naturally accepted the offer; yet, when we tried to explain this idea to the waitress in the restaurant she just seemed completely unable to understand what we were talking about (while her English was otherwise quite OK) and so it was clear that the guys at the reception just made up some wild fantasy - soon we understood that there would be no chance to get any result and told her to forget it (of course, the discussed breakfast was not worth much money and we pursued the matter mainly as interesting cultural experience); still, the story has an surprising end as this waitress came back to us after about an hour and asked us to sign for some sort of a voucher that we were supposed to get to be able to obtain the breakfast - sheer WAWA.
2. Otherwise we resorted to eating various vegetarian snacks sold at the street stalls, such as fried yam chips and baked corn cobs and plantains. There were of course no shortage of shops in Techiman selling soda drinks (1.5-l Coca-Cola for 3GC), bread, cakes, and all kinds of fruits; there we bought the biggest and sweetest pineapple we had ever eaten anywhere in the world for just 2GC.
Park visit tips: The Park can be visited only on foot and you are again required to hire a guide to accompany you into the Park. Usual and by far the easiest way to explore the Park is to organize your visit through the Park visitor center located at the Park southwest corner near the small town of Abrafo some 30 km north of Cape Coast - options available there include hikes in the forest, a walk along the local trademark Canopy Walkway, and an overnight stay in the tree hide. The Park entrance fee is only 1GC per person (paid in the Park gate when entering) and the guiding fee is hefty 15GC per person per a 1-hr hike within the official Park opening hours from 7:00 to 16:00, while for guiding off these official hours you have to pay another 10GC per person (but you do not get a receipt for this fee !!?); the hikes need to be paid in advance and also prearranged with your assigned guide at the visitor center. The hikes are undertaken near the Park visitor center, around and partly even under the Canopy Walkway (the awful noise coming from it during the daylight fortunately does not penetrate too far but even so we strongly dissuade from taking a day hike within the Park opening hours) and also include a visit of the fore-mentioned tree hide - there is not many trails available and when taking more that one hike you would very likely see again the same places. The famous Kakum Canopy Walkway is about 330 m long and allegedly the only in Africa - it has a rather unusual setting as it is just venturing in an angular shape horizontally off the steep forested slope to the treetops of neighbouring trees growing lower down the slope - it is reaching a height of some 27 m above the ground at its apex and is thus offering a brief but convenient access (no usual tree climbing of any kind is necessary) to the forest canopy, which is in fact the place where majority of animal life of tropical forests is actually happening; the Walkway is a part of a well beaten partly looped path (about 0.5 km one way) and costs hefty 30GC per person - no guide is required for it but everything is very organized (you get a tag at the gate just behind the visitor center and march along with a very noisy and rather numerous crowd that determines your pace and the time spent anywhere along the path or the Walkway - no chance to get lost even if you want to). In general, all the official activities offered at the Kakum visitor center are taking place in a very limited area just north of the visitor center, which makes it very difficult to enjoy oneself especially within the Park opening hours. Other available official way of visiting the Park is offered at the village of Mesomagor located near the Park southeast corner (www.mesomagor.org), where it is possible to organize a guided hike to a 2-hr distant tree hide (yet, 2/3 of the hike is needed just to get to the Park border) and spend a night there - the Park area near Mesomagor is allegedly much less disturbed and for sure much less visited than the area around the visitor center, but the village is rather remote and difficult to reach by public transport, the infrastructure there is minimal and options regarding accommodation and food limited and thus expensive (we gave up on this option after discussing it by an e-mail). Fortunately, there is at least no problem to explore the area near the Park visitor center, incl. all the above mentioned attractions, unofficially without a guide and so also free of charge. However, not only that the Bradt map of the Park is again totally useless for planning your visit (it is of a quite large scale and shows no details at all) but even on the internet I have found neither a somewhat detailed Park map nor at least its somehow informative description - I will again try to provide here some details at least about the area around the visitor center explored by us. To begin with, the area near the visitor center is usually deserted outside the official Park opening hours (7 -16) - the exceptions are the guided morning day hikes agreed the day before (almost all day hikes are understandably done before the official Park opening), less common guided evening birdwatching hikes on the Walkway, and even more rare "guided" stays of some visitors in the tree hide (also beware that sometimes the Park closing can be somehow postponed - it so happened during our Saturday stay there that a strong rainstorm came and interrupted a continuous string of school-children excursions on the Walkway and it made the rangers to postpone the closing time till about 17, probably to give all the children a chance to make it over the Walkway). Anyway, as we were staying for two nights at the Park campsite, this gave as a possibility to enjoy the Walkway twice with no noisy crowds and for no cost. In addition, when staying in the Park campsite you are guaranteed to enjoy a sample of forest night sounds, especially the typical African night calls of the so called "bush babies", i.e. small nocturnal primates officially named "galagos". Besides, even during the day there is no problem to enter the Park via an unofficial entrance path not far from the Park gate - the path is branching east off the main road just about 100 m on north beyond the Park entrance turn-off, passes along several huge bamboo clusters, climbs up about 20 m, and there reaches one of the Park trails where the day hikes are organized; there is several trails running in parallel gradually always higher and closer to the top of the crest where there is located the Walkway (easily recognizable when getting closer by a constant noise); to the right (south) the trails head to the visitor center, to the left (north) they continue deeper to the Park. We planned to venture further north along these trails (as we did not get too far before within our guided hike) but were caught by a strong rainstorm and had to find shelter in the mentioned tree hide (it was quite strong tropical storm and even somewhat dangerous as there were all sorts of branches falling down from the trees - some off them rather big) - the storm lasted just about an hour but it got rather cold in the forest after it and everything became rather wet and so we gave up on our exploration and stayed near the visitor center where the paths were well-trodden and we could stay dry. The cold weather gave us a chance to examine at least some of the local wildlife, namely two snakes of the same kind seen on two different places - they were pale green and about half a meter long and both were lying on the ground and visibly rather numb, moving only very slowly and reluctantly; we considered them to be some sort of a python but a later internet search has shown that they were actually fairly venomous vipers, namely females of the Western Bush Viper (Atheris chlorechis - these were long considered harmless as there were no reports of fatal bites but it was probably more because these snakes were rather non-aggressive than because their venom would not have been strong enough; few recent quite nasty problems of people keeping such creatures at home proved that assumption wrong); they were supposed to be nocturnal and strongly arboreal, living about 1-2 m above the ground, but these two had been likely shook down by the storm and slowed down by the cold (anyway, finding two of them just next to the trails probably means that they are fairly common there, so watch out). In any case, in spite of the known fact that the Kakum forest is not really pristine it has been still nice enough for our uneducated eyes and we have found our stay there quite enjoyable, especially the part spent on our own.
Transport: There was no direct transport from Techiman to the Kakum NP and we had to change few times. The first part was easy - with not much waiting we took a tro-tro from Techiman to Kumasi, namely to a place near the Kumasi Kejetia station (4GC per person + 4GC per luggage; 2 hrs). As we were heading south to Cape Coast we first had to take a private taxi to transfer us to the corresponding Kumasi Asafo station (4GC - for more information about this see the Kumasi section). At the Asafo station there were even several tro-tros to choose from for getting us to Cape Coast and we were lucky to find among them a nearly full air-conditioned minibus - it left soon after some 20 mins (8.50GC per person + 5GC per luggage; 4 hrs). Cape Coast was another town with several tro-tro stations serving different directions - we had to ask about the station for tro-tros to Kakum NP but in fact got the necessary information easily and quickly - it was fortunately just about 100 m distant and so we simply walked there (this was also our only chance to get a quick look on at least a periphery of this fairly large coastal city - it looked quite buoyant and definitely much more urban than those interior cities we had seen before, looking as just somewhat outgrown villages). There, it was again not too difficult to find a tro-tro passing by the Kakum NP visitor center and we left after another half an hour of waiting (2.50GC per person + 5GC per luggage - likely we paid all the way to some rather distant final destination of this tro-tro; 45 mins); the tro-tro dropped us at the junction with the Park entrance road and we just walked about 100 m to the Park gate and then another 300 m to the Park visitor center.
1. We slept in our own tent at the official Park Afaranto Campsite about 200 m east from the Park visitor centre. The Campsite was accessible along a narrow steep path and was nicely located within the forest - for a rather high fee of 15GC per person per night we could built our tent on a set elevated timber floor under a shelter (quite useful as there was occasionally raining there) and an access to a shared earth-closet and cold (very !!) shower; we stayed two nights there but as we had to pay for our first night in advance right after our arrival we did not volunteer the information about our staying for another night and so saved 30GC - the next morning we left early before the Park's opening hours (it would be also possible to rent an equipment for overnighting at the Park visitor center and we actually had a company of such campers at the campsite for our first night there - it was a somewhat high-style travelling couple of birdwatchers with their two hired attendants, a guide and a driver of their rented car; they got set their bedding under another shelter fitted with low side walls, where they had mattresses with blankets under a mosquito netting - probably not too warm and cozy place at that stormy night). Anyway, the campsite was quite nice and far enough from the road to provide the campers with a nice jungle experience.
2. When talking to the rangers in the visitor center you will be for sure informed about a possibility to stay overnight at the tree hide where you could enjoy a night in the jungle in a company of a Park ranger. This hide seemed to replace the so-called Rainforest Hilltop Campsite mentioned in the Bradt guide and some internet sources, where it used to be allegedly possible to spent night in the fixed tents, because during our wanderings near the Walkway we saw a signpost with this name but when following it we arrived to the discussed hide (there was indeed one tent just next to the hide but looked rather neglected and probably meant only for the rangers). Anyway, the night at the hide should allegedly cost 30GC per person including a dinner cooked by the ranger/guide - the hide was fitted with some mattresses and tent-like mosquito nets (and populated with rather abundant ants). In any case, we felt that we were much better sleeping alone at the Afaranto Campsite at least somewhat aside.
3. Another possibility to spend a night in the Park is the fore-mentioned possibility of overnighting at the tree hide built for visitors near the village of Mesomagor. This is possible as a guided trip involving also a hike to the hide and back (2 hrs one way) for a fee of 25GC per person). Yet, beware that the hide is located quite high on a tree and accessible only along a quite long plain step ladder - definitely nothing for people having problem with vertiginousness.
1. Right next the Park visitor center there was also a restaurant named the Rainforest Cafe and it turned out to be one of the few good restaurants we have encountered in all Ghana. It was somewhat simple but looked good, had an English menu with a small but reasonable choice of relatively fresh and quite good and reasonably priced food, waiting time was about 30 mins. We tried there red-red (5GC), fufu (simple for 4GC; we ordered it without a "soup" but they brought it submerged to some awfully smelling meat-based stew - on request they poured that juice off and later when asked even discounted the price by 2GC), plate of yam chips (3GC), and vegetable fried rice (5GC; surprisingly it was even not difficult to explain to them the concept of vegetarian food). Everything was quite tasty and portions generous - we can very much recommend this restaurant. Within the restaurant there was also a vender selling a usual assortment of soda drinks and sweets.
2. There were no real shops near the Park visitor center (with the exception of a small shop selling some fixed-price souvenirs, such as rather overpriced and not especially nice wood-carved masks) but it was possible to buy some fruits there, esp. bananas sold by women hawkers hanging around the Park gate (and approaching all obroni passer-bys with a greetings "Hello banana"). There were also few stalls just next the main road opposite to the Park entrance road where various fruits were sold - we bought there a fresh cocoa pod (fruit) for 2GC per piece, which proved to be actually edible just fresh while having a somewhat bitter but interesting taste, being even quite filling and also having a somewhat stimulative effects.
We have spent nearly four days in the Ankasa National Park and found it very nice and pleasantly undisturbed (except for two disused roads and a rather wide forest corridor cut along a power line running in the east-west direction and brutally bisecting the Park into two parts). The park protects a large chunk of the only Ghanian wet evergreen rainforest - this forest type is characterized by large trees with vertically compressed canopies, which are rarely exceeding 40 m in height, i.e. they are typically much lower than the moist semi-deciduous forest growing in, e.g., the Kakum NP. Yet, this feature made this rainforest much less attractive for logging and thus helped to preserve majority of this Park in a nearly pristine status with primary forest boasting with the highest diversity in Ghana as regards both flora and fauna. The Park is inhabited by some large game animals incl. forest elephants, some antelopes, some monkeys, and even West African chimpanzee but you better do not expect to see these animals there - they are all very shy and difficult to see due to the problem of poaching within the Park and you may at best just hope to hear their crashing through the underbrush while escaping (antelopes) or their rather distant warning calls (monkeys), and to see their droppings showing their presence during the night (elephants).
Park visit tips: The Park can be visited on foot and to a limited extent also in a 4WD car (there is an old dirt road passing through the Park, slightly disused but still usable for getting deeper inside). The Park is rather rarely visited and its visitor facilities are either not yet too developed or more often rather neglected (various visitor facilities - such as camps, restaurant next the visitor center, observation hides - were built by a German mining company few years ago (allegedly in 2002) but many of these facilities were ... very disused) - the visitor center is on the south border of the Park about 6 km north along a signposted side dirt road branching from the main road connecting towns of Axim and Elubo (there are also some unclear remarks at some internet information sources about another visitor center located on the other road heading to the Park from the town of Elubo located west of it - some of the existing Park maps even put the Park HQs on this road but we had some doubts about validity of this claim as we saw that road inside the Park and it was totally overgrown and clearly disused for quite a long time). As always in Ghana, a guide is officially mandatory for any trips deeper into the Park (the entrance fee is 6GC per person and the guiding fee is 3GC per person per hour, all paid together in the Park visitor center at the end of your stay) - yet, the situation there is not really that strict and some concessions may be negotiated; it is for sure no problem to explore on your own around the visitor center. Unfortunately, the information available about the Park forest trails is very erratic and existing sources even often contradict to one another; no map is provided in the Bradt guidebook and I could not find any detailed map even on the internet - at the Park visitor center there were two maps available ... sadly very different from one another: one was outside the center on a board (yet, this map turned out to be a total fiction and I recommend to disregard it totally - unfortunately, the Park description given in the Bradt seems to be heavily based on this map and it is thus also grossly misleading), and the other and much better was a computer printout map (sketched into a hydrological map) that was tacked to the visitor center counter (it was not nearly complete but at least was not showing nonexistent trails or wrong routing of the Park road). The best information about the Park seems to be provided on this page but even this page is not at all sufficient as a basis for well-founded planning of your visit - I will try to provide here as many details as possible at least about the parts we have visited. We were very lucky in this Park as we run there into a very friendly and reasonable chief ranger who, when we tentatively asked about a possibility to do self-guided hiking in the Park, conceded that it might be perhaps possible if he would always know where in the Park we were - this promising answer we took as a vague permission to move around freely on condition that we would not get lost. Still, at the beginning of our stay we could reasonably count only on few facts that seemed to be common elements of the information given in all the available sources (and later proved to be correct): there was a road running northward into nearly the Park centre where it was joined by another road heading west to the town of Elubo, near beyond this junction there was a camp called Nkwanta where it should be possible to set a base, and near beyond this camp there was a power line running in the east-west direction across the Park. On the basis of this knowledge we arranged for spending two nights at the Nkwanta Camp which would have also given us a possibility to explore around there for nearly two days - at that time the chief ranger assigned us a guide who would accompany us to the Camp and would provide guiding services along surrounding trails (while kindly setting out that the fees for the guide would be charged just for the hikes in the forest and not for accompanying us to the Camp and staying there with us); we settled for leaving next day at 6:00 (to avoid walking with our camping equipment in a day heat), stay at the Camp for two nights, and then leave back again at 6:00. Yet, things turned out even better - that typical laziness of the Ghanian guides worked out positively for us at that time and being backed up with that encouraging talk with the chief ranger we were able to overcome the WAWA for once: safely after dark at 19:00 our assigned guide appeared at our camp near the visitor center and declared that the Nkwanta Camp had been ruined by a recent rain and we would not be able to go there - well, I smelled a rat immediately, as it was in total contradiction with our previous discussion with the chief ranger, and so I said we would go to see the chief ranger and talk it over - our would-be guide then said cheerfully that the chief ranger had already left home and we could not talk to him - so I told the clown angrily (it helps in such cases to talk very authoritatively or even angrily, or at least to pretend so) that there would be no changes in the deal then and we would go as agreed before while in case of any problems in the Camp we would simply set our tent somewhere in the forest - after that he gave up on that try and said OK but immediately followed with another shot saying that 6:00 was too early and we should not leave sooner than 8:00 - well, I had enough of that nit wit and told him we did not need him anyway and we would just go at 6:00 no matter if he was ready, and then simply told him to get lost; to our joy he took the message and did not show up next morning and so we could go on our own (he was in a rather awkward situation anyway as, needless to say, there was nothing wrong with the Camp and he would have problem to explain that; actually, he did catch up on us on a bicycle later on when we were walking to the Nkwanta Camp but was probably just checking, perhaps on request of the chief ranger - we just ignored him and thus managed to retain our freedom). The Nkwanta Camp was supposed to be 8 km from the visitor center and it was probably correct as it took us 2 hrs in a slow pace to get there - the Camp was just next (east) of the northwardly road just about half a kilometer north from the junction with Elubo road; it was a large forest clearing with few huts accessible along a just 50-m long dirt road. We spent our time at the Camp exploring further along the road and in the surrounding forest while using few existing forest trail - yet, it proved to be strangely difficult to spot a trailhead of a forest trail when walking along the road - if one just happened to look the other way, after two steps a trailhead became invisible. The road continued north beyond the Camp for about half a kilometer where it reached the power line corridor and there it turned east and continued zigzagging along this corridor for at least five more kilometers, which was as far as we went - the road of course represented an objectionable disturbance of forest habitat but in turn offered a rather rare possibility to get a somewhat detached view of the rainforest stratification and, due to a rather hilly terrain there, also sights of the forest canopy (and it was for sure good for taking pictures); the road was used for birdwatching "expeditions" consisting in morning arrivals of the 4WD cars allowing interested persons to get their gear into the heart of the forest and look for the birds - fortunately, the road was blocked by a fallen tree about two kilometers beyond the Nkwanta Camp and it was interesting how close after this obstacle there was a clear change in behaviour of animals, as only there we could see many fairly fresh droppings of the forest elephants and hear the warning calls of the monkey troops (clearly the Ankasa animals did not have good experience with humans); on this road we also met group of three rangers who were rather surprised to see us there without a guide but decided that it was OK if we were just on the road (those guys was then staying for about a day in the Camp, thus spoiling our solitude; we even had to ask them to switch off their pocket radio, which they kept on day and night - this is actually rather typical for African people who seem to have no feeling whatsoever for the nature and always prefer to detach themselves from it; I remember porters on Mt. Kilimanjaro always walking with their radios on and the guides in Madagascar who would not quit talking whenever at least two of them got together). As for the forest trails, we first of all checked out the famous Bamboo Cathedral, which was indeed a quite nice stand of huge bamboo clusters forming a canopy above a pleasant Japanese-garden-like space with a small forest river (it was just about 50 m along a downhill trail starting right at an eastern corner of the Nkwanta Camp clearing; the place under the bamboo offshoots was actually where the original Nkwanta Camp was located and it was for sure much nicer place than its current unimaginative position). Then we set out on exploring the trails originating from this famous place - the trailhead was just behind it, continuing up along a totally disused (again) staircase blocked by fallen bamboo stems (do not get discouraged by a necessity to sidestep these obstacles - good trails do continue just behind this mess). Just up from the river valley there was a trail fork - the trail to the left was heading generally northeast and after about 2 hrs joined the fore-entioned road about 4 km past the Camp, while the trail to the right was heading east at first and then was slowly turning south and then back west and after about 2 hrs, while also crossing a rather big river that had to be waded, ended at the so called Exploration Camp which was another camp located also next the access road just north off the junction with the Elubo road; there was also a short loop trail with few explanatory boards passing around the forest southeast from the Exploration Camp. On our last evening there we discovered another trail branching west from the access road just short way south from the Nkwanta Camp (we unfortunately missed it before and so did not explore it); also the other road heading for Elubo might have been interesting, as it was totally overgrown and not used by cars (we did not tried it either). On our way back we checked out another trail shown on the printout map - it was a loop trail branching east off the access road about half way between the Nkwanta Camp and the visitor center, with its trailheads some 100 m apart (the southern trailhead was identified by a very rusty panel advertising an observation hide (it was indeed there just about a hundred meters from the road but totally disused); at the easternmost point of this loop there was a short side path to the "big tree" that gave the trail its name, allegedly one of the tallest trees in the Ankasa forest (indeed a very big specimen of baku tree, Tieghemella heckelii - generally known to reach up to 55 m in height); actually, not long before reaching the trailheads we met the chief ranger who was probably checking on us being nervous if we were all right - he went back with us but wnet ahead just before the trail start and so we could safely diverge around this loop but soon after getting back to the road we met him again (he was probably curious what happened to us) and admitted to him that we visited the tree; he just smiled somewhat approvingly, so we got final assurance that self-guiding hikes had not been totally off at that nice Park. The two afternoons spent at the visitor center we also used to hike those few trails available there - of them the most interesting led east and later southeast along the Ankasa River flowing just by the visitor center, which we followed for about two hours; there was also another trail branching west off the road just north of the visitor center and soon forking in two directions - the left trail headed north in parallel with the road (we walked it for about 1 hr) and the right trail headed west and formed a 1-hr loop exiting right next the access road bridge over the Ankasa River. All the trails were nice and did give a very good chance to appreciate the rainforest - they were in a reasonably good shape, not much used but also not overgrown; some parts of the trails were rather swampy and sometimes it was necessary to cross some streams, occasionally even wading. The trails were well visible and easy to follow in a daylight but we always made sure to turn back soon enough to get back to road at daylight (it would be next to impossible to follow the trails after dark even with a flashlight); still, the very simple lay-out of the roads cutting through the forest would make a safe way out even in case of loosing the way - the forest underbrush was not too dense (nothing like in those silly rainforest movies) and it would be always possible to get out simply following a compass direction. The weather in the Park corresponded to its rainforest nature - it was very humid and there were frequent showers, esp. in the afternoon - yet, normally it was more pleasant than not and only bigger storms would be unpleasant (we experienced such only at night when safely in our tent even sheltered by roofs). In any case, we had a very good time, also due to the generosity of the chief ranger who made it possible for us to enjoy the forest on our own. The Ankasa NP was for sure a highlight of our Ghana trip and we very much recommend to all nature lovers to make the best of its rarely pristine environment.
Transport: There was, of course, again no direct transport from the Kakum NP to the Ankasa NP and we had to change few times. First we went to the road passing by the Kakum NP visitor center where we after short time boarded a tro-tro heading for Cape Coast (3GC for both of us incl. luggage; 30 mins); we told the driver and conductor that we would like to continue to Takoradi and they actually stopped for us a passing tro-tro heading for Takoradi, thus saving us an ordeal of looking for the proper station. The ride to Takoradi was then fairly easy and took about 1 hr - we again told the tro-tro crew that we would like to continue to Axim and Elubo and they dropped us just about 500 m from the corresponding station and so we were able to walk there fairly easily. We have quickly located another tro-tro heading for the town of Aiyanasi (4GC per person + 5GC per luggage while not hawing smaller change; 2 hrs) - the driver of this tro-tro was strangely frenzied talking and even driving rather aggressively and we - happy to survive his riding - quickly refused his offer to drive us to the Ankasa visitor center for a fee. We knew we would need to take a private taxi to the Ankasa visitor center from there - yet, the whole town was rather strange, full of aggressive taxi drivers quoting very high prices (this was the only place in Ghana we have encountered such behaviour - maybe an indication of the situation in the very near Ivory Coast); anyway, we got an offer of ridiculous 80GC for the trip, which brought a comment of a bystanding woman that it should be rather half of it and so we took another offer of 40GC, which as we were told later was twice as much as it should be - yet we had no idea how far it was and the 6-km side road to the Park was anyway so bad that the guy almost ruined his car anyway; the ride took about half an hour. Notes: At Takoradi it would be also possible to go first to Axim and switch tro-tros there, but as that town was somewhat aside of the Takoradi-Elubo road it did not look convenient. As for switching to a taxi for the Ankasa NP, we choose Aiyanasi as a place to do it on a general advice given in all internet sources I have found but when going to the Park we passed two more villages with several waiting taxis and the third (probably called Sowodadzem), where we were not sure we saw any - so, when coming on a tro-tro heading on to Elubo, you can save some money travelling somewhat beyond Aiyanasi.
Accommodation: We slept in our own tent at this Park.
1. There is no campsite near the visitor center (no matter what Bradt and other rather unrestrained sources may suggest) and we were just told to set out tent somewhere at the staff camp located at the small forest clearing just about 10-mins walk northwest along an uphill trail. The place looked quite miserably with two shack bunkhouses but on its western side there was luckily a large shelter, actually just a covered concrete basement slab walled round by a low wall, where we could safely built our tent and keep it thus dry during regular night rainstorms. We had no problems while leaving our stuff in the closed tent during the day and outside the tent overnight. There were no sanitation available there - the toilet was the neigbouring forest and the bathroom was the Ankasa River flowing about 50 m downhill from the clearing (there was a suitable stream pool there to take a bath in otherwise quite fast flowing river; water was not too cold, of course). There was water available in the camp in a large tank - it was not really meant to be drunk but our water purification agent was able to make it drinkable. We paid nothing for this camping if I remember well.
2. The Nkwanta Camp was basically again a staff camp and so it looked actually rather similar to the place near the visitor center and its main features were again the same two shack staff bunkhouses. Fortunately, it also included some somewhat disused facilities for tourists, namely two very simple chalets (yet one was safely locked, and the other was opened but contained just two dank bunks and looked very uncozy indeed (and was later even seized by a ranger - we had no intention to sleep in there anyway) and somewhat aside two separated sanitary booths containing separated water closet and shower (one shower room had a clogged drainage but the other shower and both closets were surprisingly still usable) - the water to these facilities run from the elevated tank which was continuously filled from near river by a solar-powered pump. The chalets had rather wide sheltered verandahs and we set our tent on the one belonging to the locked chalet - the roof was just about wide enough to keep our tent reasonably dry during the night rainstorms but proved to be insufficient for shielding it from the blazing sun for majority of the day; there were no trees or anything to use as a shield and so we had to put up with having our things baked inside the closed tent - we spent our days walking in the forest anyway. The Camp was allegedly originally located in the near, nicely sheltered bamboo stand called the Bamboo Cathedral but was unfortunately relocated to become accessible by cars - it was no improvement as far as we were concerned. Again, I do not remember if we paid anything but I doubt it.
3. Only during our trips along the forest trails we found another camp called the Exploration Camp and located about half a kilometer south from the Nkwanta Camp just next (east) the main road coming from the visitor center just north off its junction with the Elubo road. We knew that there should possibly be this Camp somewhere there but unfortunately missed it when passing by on our way to the Nkwanta Camp - there was some sort of a very neglected wooden board just before this Camp but the sign on it was just saying Ankasa (perhaps it was just a leftover of originally much bigger board) and there was no trail at this spot; the unmarked and inconspicuous trail to this Camp was branching east just about 50 m further north and it was even possible to catch a glimpse of a sanitary booth there, but it was just at the very short particular stretch of the road and we just happened to look in another direction. Anyway, this was much bigger and nicer camp, all hidden in the forest without any clearing - it contained about five or so locked chalets, looking just the same as those in the Nkwanta Camp (likely built all at the same time by the same German mining company mentioned before), a rather large shelter (covered concrete basement slab) with few tables and chairs around, probably serving as a space for dining or discussions, which would make a very good place to built a tent, and few sanitary booths containing separated water closet and shower (we checked one and it looked all right with water running). This place would be definitely much better place to camp and we regretted missing it on our way in (yet, question was what would our friendly chief ranger did if told by those three rangers, who spent our first night with us in the Nkwanta Camp, that we were not there - probably he would come looking for us and things could get complicated). Anyway, in case you also get a chance to undertake an unguided or even guided expedition to the Park interior I recommend you to try to negotiate overnighting in this Exploration Camp (if not occupied of course) instead of the Nkwanta Camp, as you would have a shade there during days and would be in no danger to have to listen to constant babbling of passing rangers or their radios.
4. Just before the access road reached the Ankasa Park gate (and the following visitor center), we saw a row of several cottages on a small hill just east of the road - it was the only local hotel called the Frenchman's Place. We did not checked it but for those interested it at least looked still in business. Around it there was a small village known as Old Ankasa.
Food: We came prepared and brought all our food with us. There used to be a restaurant built just next the visitor center by that German mining company, which tried to upgrade the Park few years ago, but it was an exemplary case of WAWA phenomenon, being totally neglected and undone - there was just a rusty shelter left standing. We asked about it and was told that the restaurant was run by a lady who happened to pass away and nobody took the work over. It might be possible to get some provisions at the Old Ankasa village but we had not asked or tried.
We have spent three days and half at the beach village of Busua and been rather frustrated by its not especially nice atmosphere and rather unfriendly and unimpressive sea - originally we planed to stay for five of six days but we cut our stay short after running out of reasons for staying on; beside Busua itself and its adjoining sea we have also visited the neighbouring settlements of Butre, with its estuary, and Dixcove, with its historical fortress of the Fort Metal Cross. Busua is a relatively large fishing village lying on the shore of the Gulf of Guinea, a part of the immense Atlantic Ocean. It has a relatively developed tourist infrastructure, consisting in few stalls, several hotels, some restaurants - often quite overpriced, and even an internet place (for 3GC per 30 mins that opens just when you manage to locate the owner), which makes it relatively popular place for relaxation on the beach, while its distance from Accra keeps it still relatively quiet - for once, the Bradt map of the village is quite correct with an exception of the connection to the road to Dixcove; good information about Busua and other coastal places can be found on this site. The village itself is a dusty mess of clay and wooden huts with no other appeal but a wide and relatively clean beach.
Busua sea tips: The Ghanian coast is relatively straight and mainly flat and lined with sandy beaches, only occasionally interrupted with rocky outcrops or coastal lagoons. The beaches look very nice on pictures with their golden fine sand and some palm trees - yet, in reality these beaches are often rather dirty and constantly attacked by overly strong surf, which makes them somewhat popular with surfers but not at all good for swimming (despite of what you may find written on some internet pages trying to attract tourists) - not only that the waves are rather big but they also often generate rather strong rip currents making swimming quite dangerous even for good swimmers; the currents are also constantly changing with tides and winds. Thus, it is not so easy to find a safe space to enjoy the sea on Ghanian coast but there are some exception where the beach is somehow sheltered by the coastal topography - the Busua beach is known to be one of the best such places owing to a small Abokwa Island lying just few hundred meters from the shore and sheltering it somewhat from the direct surf.
1. Swimming: The fact, that Busua beach is considered safe, does not mean that it is a place for a relaxed swimming - the sea there is still quite choppy all the time and the waves diverted by the sheltering island are very irregular in their frequency, height, and direction; in fact, necessity to be constantly on guard makes swimming there not too pleasant and the place is more suitable for some playing in breaking waves. The breakers we had seen typically had the wave height of about half a meter but they were sometimes higher and rarely reaching even to about a meter and half in height - I had some fun jumping over or through them but none of the few people lounging on the beach there (and my wife as well) ever ventured behind the surf zone of turbulent water. The sea conditions were visibly dependent on the tides - there were two tide cycles there with the difference up to a meter and half at full/new moon; with a low tide there even appeared some back currents quite hard to fight, so watch out - yet, occasionally by contrast the sea became almost flat for some time. Seawater temperature in November was rather pleasant and it was no problem to stay in water for quite some time. On weekdays the beach was very quiet but it became much busier on weekend but even that has not been too bad - there was almost no pestering and it was no problem to relax there (I had seen some accounts of other tourist complaining about much annoyance in Busua but it was not the case in time of our visit). It was not bad there for few days but for us, as rather active people, just laying/sitting on a beach with occasional ventures to the sea to relief from the heat quickly became boring.
2. Snorkelling: Forget it - sandy beach and strong surf means zero visibility (sadly, I still saw few websites falsely recommending Ghanian beaches as a place to explore the underwater marine life).
3. Diving: Sorry, no diving center in Busua - the nearest and the only diving center in Ghana is supposed to be at the village of Miemia.
Abokwa Island stay: Abokwa island is a very small desolate rocky island lying right in front of the Busua beach about 700 m from the mainland (it is of an oblong shape, measuring just some 10 by 50 m and lying in parallel to the mainland); it is mostly bushed but also featuring a small grassfield and exactly two palm trees. We have spent alone on this island majority of a day and had quite a good time exploring the sea life and observing the sea. While the seaward (east) coast of this island is constantly attacked by a thundering surf, its west coast is well sheltered and so just being splashed by mild waves, making it possible to enter the sea rather easily and have a look under its surface. Several internet sources (incl. the LP West Africa) mentioned a possibility to snorkel there and see some tropical fish but this information proved to be highly exaggerated - esp. active in this respect was the local Black Star Surf Shop (a small Busua tourist center offering surfing lessons), which had been advertising on its website an opportunity to do some snorkeling in there and even offering an equipment rental (yet, when we just asked about a good snorkelling spots around Busua the guy there was just able to produce a miserably looking snorkel but no mask and admitted he had no idea about any snorkelling around there - we had our own equipment and have actually never asked about the rental). In reality, the conditions for snorkelling were rather poor there - the visibility was about half a meter at the best and we have only seen two kinds of tropical fish (one small and one bigger and flat, both predominantly black - that was all we could see) and a lot of sea urchins there; we had been there in the right dry season and there was no recent storm to explain it and so I doubt that the conditions could ever become better. On the other hand, I have seen other sources maintaining that there were no corals along the West Africa coast and it proved to be untrue too (… or did not ?) - we have found there two different species of the so-called “sea mats” (of the family Zoanthidae), which are close relatives of the true stony corals (Scleractinia), actually closer ones than the soft corals (Alcyonacea). The Sea Mats (Zoanthids) are stinging colonial polyps, in fact a sort of colonial “sea anemones” (Actiniaria - another close relative) embedded in a common tissue that is strengthened with incorporated sand - the species we have observed seemed to be the “sea mat zoanthid” (Palythoa tuberculosa) and “green sea mat” (Zoanthus sociatus). Due to the poor visibility in water we have seen them clearly just during low tide when we could also observe their unique capability to survive above water and even in full sun (the individual polyps normally have a thick short body column topped by a wide oral disk edged with tentacles in two rows but when the colony is out of water, the tentacles and oral disks are tucked into the body column, leaving only small puckered holes on the surface of the common tissue) - we have seen them flourishing not only in the open sea but even in the tidal pools. The tidal pools were however rather scarce there and in those few present we could observe just some kind of a sea slug and few tiny fish - of course, all the splashed rocks were covered with crabs and barnacles. We spent our time on the island exploring the shallow waters on the sheltered side and observing the formidable waves crashing into the rocky coast on the seaward side of the island - there was also always enough of shade under the bushes to escape from the burning sun. The trip on the island was definitely a highlight of our stay at Busua and can be recommended - on condition that you manage to find a reasonably priced transport to the island and back (in this respect, we were very exceptionally lucky - see more in the transport section further below).
Visit of the River Butre estuary: Butre is a rather small but atmospheric fishing village lying just some five kilometers northeast of Busua. It is located in a shallow bay with the estuary of the Butre River and closely ringed by a forest - right above the village on a prominent hill there are still well visible the jungle overgrown ruins of the 17th-century Dutch trading post Fort Batenstein. East of the village there is a long beach with golden sands but the waters there can be quite dangerous with strong waves and occasional rip currents. The main reason for our coming there was the estuary, which forms there a narrow lagoon lined with mangrove and abounding with maritime wildlife species such as kingfishers, mudskippers, crabs, and even crocodiles. The local resort named the Hideout Lodge organizes short river safaris in a traditional dugout canoe propelled by a local villager (10GC per person); we took this cruise and found it of a good value - within a 1-hr cruise we have seen all the mentioned animals and it provided us with another experience offering a much welcome break from the beach stereotype. It was easy to walk to Butre from Busua - the trail starts almost at right angle to the shoreline at the north end of the Busua beach not far beyond the Busua Inn Resort property (but still far away from the very end of the beach) and heads northeast up the hill through the forest; at the top pass one will get a nice view down on the Butre village and the Fort remnants on the opposite hill.
Visit of the Fort Metal Cross at Dixcove: Dixcove is a small fishing town lying just about a kilometer southwest of Busua. It is located in a well sheltered cove forming a good natural harbour capable to accept even small ships - incorporated in the town on a small hilly promontory enclosing the cove there is a newly renovated 17th-century British trading post named the Fort Metal Cross. The town had a substantially different feel in comparison with the small settlements of Busua and Butre, being very busy and hectic with its harbor full of fishing boats. Though, we were especially interested in the local Fort offering us a possibility to have a look on another special feature of Ghana, its famous trading forts built by various European nations (the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Swedish, Germans, French, and Danes) within the 16th to 18th centuries - of more than 50 trading forts built along all the West African coast, over 30 were located in today´s Ghana (then known as the Gold Coast). It was all started by the Portuguese, who built their first trade post Fort Elmina as early as 1482, while the last such trade post was Fort Augustaborg built by the rather late coming Danes as late as 1787. The aim of these forts had never been protection against native Africans, who typically leased the land to the Europeans to promote the trade, but against pirates and especially against the other European competitors; as a result, the forts rather often changed their holders - e.g. the Portuguese gradually lost all their forts to the very agile Dutch, who in turn gradually exchanged, lost, or sold all their forts to the British; all the forts in some way or other became British property before 1874, when the British made the area their crown colony named the Gold Coast Colony - yet, the forts had been mostly abandoned till then anyway. The trade organized around these forts originally consisted in exchange of the local commodities like gold and ivory for European merchandise - yet, the main “commodity” traded through these forts soon changed to human slaves. The slavery was present in Africa (and everywhere else in certain periods of history) long before arrival of the Europeans and the European slave trade in Africa actually began by the Portuguese buying slaves from Africans in today´s Nigeria and selling them to other Africans in today´s Ghana as labor force for local gold mines - yet, with establishment of new European colonies in the Americas in the 16th century there arose a great demand for slave labour there and that started the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade. The slaves were virtually hunted for by African slave traders in West African interior, marched to the coast, and sold to the European traders there; they then kept the slaves imprisoned in their trading forts and then embarked them on European merchant ships, which shipped them to the Americas. The peak of this slave trade was reached in the 18th century when about 6 million Africans was shipped this way - of the involved powers, the British was the most active, being responsible for almost 2.5 million. The end of this nastiness came at the turn of the 18th century but the reasons were all out of Africa, being both moral and economical - the important factors were the French Revolution (1789 - triggering series of slave revolts in French colonies in America), the American Revolution (1776 - causing decline in profitability of all British colonies in America), and the abolition movement, vocal especially in Britain and led by Christian religious movements, such as the Quakers or Evangelicals. The first country to ban the slave trade was Denmark in 1792, followed by Britain in 1807 (the USA also outlawed the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the same year but not its internal slave trade, which remained purely legal until the 1860's) - Britain then put a pressure on other nations to also end this trade and gradually signed the treaties in this sense with Portugal (1810), Sweden (1813), France (1814), and the Netherlands (1814); the European slave trade ban was then affirmed at the joint Council of Vienna in 1815 (the last country to ban the trans-Atlantic slave trade was Brazil in 1831). This of course put all the trading forts out of the slave business for good and also started their rapid declination - yet, at least some Africans themselves (the slave traders and local kings and chiefs doing business with them) had not been at all happy about the development and continued to sell the slaves to now illegal traders. The British navy, which then pretty much controlled the world's seas, then moved to enforce the ban and declared that slaving was equal to piracy and punishable by death - the freelance slave ships were chased and seized and the slaves deliberated (the last slave ship recorded to run through the blockade managed to unload its "cargo" in Mobile, Alabama, USA in 1859). All the same, the slavery has never been completely eradicated in Africa and it still appears in all areas where the local governments have lost a sufficient power to enforce the law, as in parts of Chad, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Somalia, or Sudan.
The Fort Metal Cross, which we have visited at Dixcove, was the only British possession in a local Dutch-controlled territory for nearly two centuries - its construction started in 1692 when the British made a deal with a chief of the small local tribe (his name Dekyi was the root of the original name Dixcove, which was originally given to the Fort and only later passed to the town), which was surrounded by the more numerous Ahanta people allied to the Dutch; as such this British Fort was several times (in 1696, 1712, 1750, and 1781) a target of the Dutch-provoked sieges by the Ahantas but always held out. This Fort was always primarily a service station for repairs of ships (making use of the near stands of suitable timber - the same was actually also the case of the Fort Batenstein at Butre) and supply for construction of all British forts (timber and also near source of lime) but one of its hollow bastions was since 1775 occasionally also used as a temporary slave prison before they could be shipped to the principal British fort of the Cape Coast Castle. In 1867 after all that, the Fort Dixcove was handed over to the Dutch within the mutual Dutch-British agreement aimed to rationalisation of their possession management and renamed to the Fort Metal Cross - yet, the Dutch soon found their West Africa colony rather too costly and sold it all to the British in 1872. When Ghana became independent in 1957, all the forts were nationalized and came under administration of the newly established Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, which in 2002 granted a 25-year lease over the Fort Metal Cross to an English undertaker under an agreement that he would renovate the Fort (which is the UNESCO's World Heritage Site) and build an upscale resort within and around it. The Fort was indeed nicely restored in 2003 but the resort construction - fortunately as far as we were concerned - had not got too far yet.
The Fort Metal Cross, as we found it, was a good looking whitewashed building, which was dominating above the town and the platform around it was offering nice views of the city with its harbour and of the surrounding sea. Unfortunately, the Fort was not open yet during our visit there, as we arrived early to avoid the heat (it supposed to be open from 9:00 till 16:30) - we thus found its gate closed but as there was no fence around it we could at least tour around the area of future resort (it looked even less complete than some of its older descriptions I had seen); the views were nice but the beach was rocky and the sea rather rough, so the future looked just as another sea resort made just for sunbathing on the beach and swimming in the pool. Within our tour we also found that the back doors of the Fort were actually opened and so we also had a quick look at the Fort internal court - we did not explore too deep as the Fort was supposed to also serve as a private home of its leaseholder and we obviously did not want to disturb. In any case, considering its colourful history, the Fort Metal Cross looked surprisingly small to us - this observation is not meant to downgrade the Fort but more to appreciate how tough it must have been to endure a several-month siege there. The Fort is definitely worth visiting if you happen to be in the area, especially if you had no chance to visit any of the bigger and more famous Ghanian forts. It was very easy to walk to Dixcove from Busua as the both settlements were connected by a dirt road which was just a continuation of the main Busua "street" running in parallel to the seashore - just head southwest along this street/road, cross the rusty metallic bridge, and pass over a small hill; the road then passes just under the Fort, which can be reached turning left (southeast) at the seaside along the sea bank and up the stairs.
1. There was, of course, again no direct transport from the Ankasa NP to Busua and we had to switch few times. We asked the Ankasa chief ranger to arrange a morning private taxi to take us to the main road, which he did with his usual efficiency - still, the taxi chartered on 6:00 arrived about half an hour late; on advice of the ranger we took the taxi to the place he called "the police roadblock" (probably the village of Sowodadzem), which was not too far left (southeast) from the junction along the Elubo-Axim road (15GC; 15 mins). There we soon boarded a passing tro-tro heading for Takoradi, which dropped us at Agona, a small town with large market (10GC for both of us incl. luggage; 1 hr). After a short waiting we then took a shared taxi to Busua from the Agona taxi stand (2GC for both of us incl. luggage; 15 mins; only 4 passengers required). Notes: In case that the first tro-tro passing through Sowodadzem is heading just to Axim you can go there too and switch there to another tro-tro going to Takoradi or just Agona itself. At Agona it is also possible to find few tro-tros a day going from to Busua, which can be flagged down on the main road passing by the Agona taxi stand and used instead of the shared taxi - yet the price is not normally any lower and the shared taxis seem to be much more convenient. We actually did a short shopping trip from Busua to Agona and back and both times we again used the shared taxi for the same price and without any problems.
2. There was, of course, no public transport between Busua village and Abokwa island and so we had to find a way how to hire a private boat to run us there and back. First we went to the small Busua fishing boat landing place and tried to look as looking for something but nobody became interested (normally, such behaviour would attract attention of locals, who would offer their services, but it was obviously not the case in Ghana). On our next try we went to the part of the Busua village adjacent to the landing place and presented the same behaviour and it soon brought an attention of a young woman who asked if we wanted something (that was actually rather symptomatic for Ghana, where majority of businesses seemed to be run by women). After we told her she took us to the landing place and to a guy sitting there by a small dugout canoe (much smaller than other boats there used for fishing) and mediated the negotiation. We asked for being taken to the island in the morning, left there for a day, and collected and taken back to Busua in the evening and the guy (who, we had to admit here, looked somewhat drunk) annunciated he would do that for 6GC (he was in fact using the old Ghana-Cedi counting and this price was an interpretation of the woman) - we were very pleasantly surprised by the cheapness and took we offer without any handling. The deal was we would leave at 9:00 and would be collected at 15:00; well, in reality there was of course nobody there at that set morning time and we had to wait and also ask the woman who helped to organize the transport - after some time she managed to find two guys who brought the outboard motor and we left at 10:00 (the passage took about 15 mins and its only somewhat difficult part was passing through the breakers). The way back was even more complicated as the guys not surprisingly again forgotten about us - after some grace period my wife tried to wave her T-shirt while I was getting ready to swim to the coast and make them to come for her and our stuff - after some time they did come and run us back at 16:30 (it actually looked they my wife managed to get attention of the crew of a fishing boat leaving for a usual night fishing, as the boat briefly stopped and only then sailed on, while the other boat left from the landing place soon after that - I would guess that the guys from the leaving boat probably called the others by a mobile phone to get us). After our arrival back we paid them the remaining money (before the sailing they asked for some ahead payment to have money for fuel but we of course gave them just some 2GC to keep better chance that they would come back for us) and just then the things got somewhat nasty - it turned out that the price given to us was not their usual asking price which should have been actually 60GC (we had no idea who made a mistake - the drunk guy or the woman; it might have also been a premeditated scam to trick more money out of us - it looked like that at the beginning but on the second thought we later believed it probably was not). Anyway, we of course refused to pay the required money and simply left - the new price was quite high (we would not go for it - at the beginning we were prepared to pay something up to 20GC) and also it always governed that "the deal was a deal". Still, they made two more attempts to get the additional money, first coming to our hotel and then harassing us on the beach, but we simply refused to discuss it with them and told them to bring the police to settle the matter - anyway, this incident did not certainly make our stay in Busua any more pleasant. A rather general Ghanian recklessness probably worked favourable for us that time but it did not make us happy at all - still, we did not believe it would be a good thing to just pay their new price as it was much too high and it could indeed was a scam; they might have got no profit out of the deal but certainly did not suffer any loss too - it just probably cut short their all-day siesta for them anyway. In any case, it has proved it not being so usual for some tourists trying to get a trip to the island and so anyone planning to do that (and we very much recommend it) needs to be prepared for a rather difficult logistic problems.
Accommodation: Dadson’s Lodge, rather nice and large double-bed room (incl. an anteroom) with a fan and bathroom attached (cold water only) for 20GC per night (the price discounted by 5GC for giving up on breakfast); especially useful was the room lay-out over all span of the building as it made possible to ventilate the room by opening the two opposite windows/doors and get a much needed cool during rather frequent power outages at Busua shutting down the fan. Before the Dadson’s Lodge we also checked the Sabina Guest House, which we found cheaper but offering very dark and not well ventilated rooms.
Food: There were not many restaurants at Busua besides those attached to the individual hotels, which were all rather expensive (as the one attached to our hotel Dadson’s Lodge) - many of the independent restaurants shown on the Bradt Busua map were out of business for good (incl. the rather recommended Peter’s Place).
1. Our favourite eating place was somewhat oddly a small street stall with few tables and chairs called the Florence’s Sandwiches located at the north corner of the main Busua junction and taxi stand. It was offering rather tasty snacks, namely quite filling vegetarian sandwiches (more precisely a vegetarian omelette put between two slices of bread and together fried; 1GC per piece) and banana and chocolate pancakes (2GC and 3GC per piece, respectively).
2. Another eating place we were frequenting was another street stall with just one table and few chairs called the Daniel’s Pancakes (located as shown on the Bradt map), where we could get full meals like fried fish (tuna or barracuda) with rice for 6GC per meal (it was necessary to order it at least few hours in advance) and fried rice for 4GC per meal - the food was OK but nothing special; we had never tried Daniel trade-mark pancakes (4GC per piece).
3. There was enough shops at Busua but it was not always easy to find bread (quickly sold out on Sunday), bigger bottles of Coca-Cola, or a good variety of fruits (e.g. just one shop with occasional supply of rather small and over-ripe pineapples; no coconuts were sold on the streets but sold on the beach during weekend). Actually, to get these supplies we had to take a quick trip to the market at Agona.
We have spent together about three days and half in Accra and found it not at all attractive - it was just a large city with all the infrastructure to be expected in the capital but no atmosphere what so ever; its main streets were rather jammed with cars all day long during weekdays. We spent our time there mostly wandering around its streets on foot - besides the Adabraka quarter, where we were staying, we also walked around the quarters of Asylum Down, West Ridge, Ussher Town, and Osu. Of these, Adabraka, Asylum Down, and West Ridge were all not especially interesting residential areas with minimum of distinctive sights, such as the city Cathedral (fairly modern and rather nice) or main Mokola Market (with that usual Ghanian hurried feel); Usher Town was featuring a rather outstanding colonial building of the main Post Office, an inaccessible Ussher Fort (under restoration), and slum-looking settlements on the awfully filthy seashore (the shore there was formed by a rather high sloping cliff of crumbly rocks, all full of waste and dirt and bathed by an incredibly mucky sea); Osu was a rather anomalously urbanized upscale commercial centre of Accra with fancy shops and restaurants, populated with well-off Ghanians. We have also visited the National Museum near the Cathedral Square but found it very poorly arranged and not really worth visiting (7GC per person). Of course, Accra was providing all kinds of basic services, such as variety of shops, banks with ATMs, and internet places; neither the maps published in the Bradt guidebook nor those in the LP were reasonably complete - the locations of at least some Accra hotels were given only at the Bradt map (even if typically somewhat shifted in comparison with their actual positions) while the layout of streets was more correct in the LP. In case you would like to buy some typical Ghana souvenirs, there is a special market selling such things like traditional kente cloths and wooden mask, even if for somewhat higher prices - the place is rather immoderately called the "Centre for National Culture" and is located south of the Tema station as shown on the Bradt map. In general, while Accra would be not worth visiting just per se, it is not that bad for spending there few days within an inevitable passage through it on the way in and out of Ghana.
1. As always, there was no direct transport from Busua to Accra but we managed with one switch only. To get to Accra from Busua we first needed to get to Agona. Yet, that morning the shared taxis were organized by some trickster who was trying to get some extra Cedis out of us, saying that we had to pay 1GC for each of our big backpacks - it was obviously an impudent request as it would rise the total price to 4GC (i.e. the normal price for a private taxi on that route, with no necessity to squash with two extra people) and so we tried to avoid bowing to this scam. Fortunately, in that time there was just preparing to leave a tro-tro also heading to Agona and we could take it instead of the shared taxi (2GC for both of us incl. luggage; 30 mins due to looking for extra passengers). At Agona we were ready to change vehicles but were told by the crew of the tro-tro we arrived there that they were actually continuing on to Takoradi - after some waiting this tro-tro left (half empty but taking extra passengers along the way) and indeed got us to Takoradi (4GC for both of us incl. luggage; 1 hr). Takoradi was another town with several lorry stations serving different directions and we had to again ask where to go to find a transport to Accra - it was fortunately just about half a kilometer and so we simply walked there (this was actually our second chance to have a quick look on Takoradi, another important coastal city - it did not look especially busy with its relatively wide streets and generally orderly urban setting). Anyway, at the Takoradi station for Accra we easily found an express air-conditioned tro-tro generally recommended for this long ride - being somewhat more expensive than big buses it took nearly an hour to fill but then proved to be a good quick way to get to Accra (9GC per person + 2GC per luggage; 4 hrs with a very short sanitary stop only; terminated at the Accra Kaneshie station; the chosen minivan proved to be a good choice in comparison with also possible big buses, because the road became jammed due to several collisions even before we reached Winneba, a town still over 50 km far from Accra - the smaller minivan was clearly much more suitable for by-passing the car wrecks blocking the road).
2. Accra International Airport is situated about 10 km northeast of the city centre. On our arrival we wanted to avoid any hassle after the long flight and opted for the airport pickup offered by our chosen hotel - in fact, we were just picked up by an airport taxi driver who at least knew where to take us without any explaining (25GC; 30 mins). In the end of our trip we used taxi found for us by the staff of our hotel - it was naturally much cheaper (about 10GC if I remember it correctly).
3. The streets of Accra are typically rather jammed with cars all day long during weekdays and it is generally much better to walk, if your destination is not too far. If you have to take taxi, be prepared that your driver will not know location of any budget hotel and of course will not be able to read maps (very typical in developing countries) - they typically try to ask the drivers of other cars but there is no guarantee that the advice obtained will be correct. Your best chance to get at least near to your destination is to have your own map and navigate the driver yourself. Also try to always ask ahead how much your route should cost as he drivers are asking quite high prices. Also, when we were going along quite short distance from the Hotel Crystal to the Odawna station early in the morning, we had difficulties to find a taxi (we asked in our hotel to call it for us but they have not been too helpful) and paid 8GC for a 30-min ride. Another problem we encountered in Madina, a suburb center north of the Accra city center - all taximen there just refused to take us to the center - we had no idea what was the reason but the message was clear: try to avoid taxis in Accra if at all possible or try to get help in your hotel.
4. Accra has again several tro-tro stations servicing different sectors of Ghana - the two main stations are the Tema station (near the city center next to the Makola Market; servicing destinations to the east and north of Accra) and the Kaneshie station (northwest of the city center; servicing destinations to the west and northwest of Accra) - but there are also other like Odawna station near the Nkrumah Circle from where there are leaving, e.g., direct tro-tros to Koforidua via Aburi. When you need to transfer between Tema and Kaneshie station, there is a special tro-tro running along this route (0.45GC per person + 2GC for luggage; 15 mins).
Accommodation: It proved to be quite difficult to find a reasonably priced and equipped room near Accra center - problem does not rest that much in a lack of available hotels or in their not so good shape but mainly in a real bad status of Accra infrastructure causing frequent power outages (especially during daylight) and erratic supply of water. So, especially when looking for a room for longer stay it is really useful to consider if you can reasonably survive in the chosen room even in case of a power outage - look for an access to a shaded and ventilated outdoor terrace or for a possibility to keep the room cool through an air draught achieved by opening two windows/doors on the opposite sides of the room. As for the supply of water for taking a shower, not only that sometimes there is no water at all for few hours, but even when the water is available it is often actually running just for a couple minutes at a time and then runs dry and you need to close a tap and wait few minutes before you can get another such flash - this effects gets worse in times when more people can be expected to need water, like in the evening. Another nuisance requested in some hotels was collecting some sort of a tax added to the room rate (2.5 to 3 %) - sure, it would not be so bad by itself but those clowns always set a perfectly rounded sum per night and then applied the tax surcharge, thus arriving to an absurd number, which they then adhered to unmercifully, flatly refusing any rounding off the sums (crazy indeed).
1. Hotel St. George, large double-bed room with a fan, TV, fridge, and large attached bathroom (cold water only) for 35.75GC per night (incl. 2.5% tax) - the hotel was in a quiet location and the staff was rather friendly, e.g. letting us to use the cool terrace when a power outage shut the fan down (it was quite needed at it was quite hot in Accra during the day. Yet, we ended in this hotel only after a quite long and tiring tour of several other hotels. Originally, we arrived to the Hotel Avenida, which looked OK in the Bradt description but was in fact a prison-like set of very gloomy concrete cells (rates per night for double-bed rooms: 30GC with fan, 35GC with AC). Then we found a Hotel Date where we first considered a rather nice bright double-bed room with a fan and bathroom attached (25GC) but found the electricity was not running there (allegedly temporarily due to an unpaid electricity bill), and so we settled for much smaller and less nice room of the same kind and for the same price - yet, during the afternoon and after we thoroughly unpacked our luggage, those few random ants wandering around changed to a full-blown ant raid and we had to run - till then all other tolerable rooms there were taken and we had to look for another hotel. In the end we were glad to find a very small double-bed room with a fan and common but at least very near bathroom (25.75GC per night incl. 3% tax) in the near Hotel Crown Prince - the price was clearly quite excessive but we had not much choice then and the room was at least airy and cool; yet, next day we moved to the Hotel St. George.
2. For the night after our late arrival we choose the widely recommended Hotel Crystal, rather un-cozy double-bed room with a fan, TV, fridge, and attached bathroom (cold water only) for USD25 per night (but we opted for payment in equivalent GC) - I booked the hotel well ahead via the internet. The reason for choosing this hotel was rather crazy requirements set for issuing us visas for entering Ghana - it is not that rare that the visa form has an entry asking about some contact people in the destination country but for tourist visits this entry is normally left empty (as it obviously does no apply); yet, Ghana was the first country I have ever been to, where the embassy (the one in Czechia) stubbornly insisted on filling this entry and they even asked that we have to have a confirmed hotel reservation for our first night in Ghana and enter there as the contact people those connected to this hotel. As the Hotel Crystal had an e-mail address (email@example.com) I contacted it, made a reservation there, and asked for the requested confirmation letter - they sent me a very officially looking letter right away, so it was all obviously a usual Ghanian practice (real nonsense). In any case, the letter clearly provided what was required as we got our visas with no further problems - so in case you are asked for the same credentials, I can recommend the Hotel Crystal for this service.
Food: There were not too many restaurants at Accra but we did find some.
1. Our favourite eating place in Accra was a small restaurant called Comfort Zone, which had an English menu and was offering cheap and very good food and reasonable portions - the chef was a lady who was capable to provide explanations regarding the nature of individual meals and even to do alterations to the menu. The restaurant was located at the second floor (with a terrace around offering a good view on the Accra roofs) of the building just opposite the Adabraka Central Mosque (between the Farrar Ave. and Tackie Tawiah Av.) - they had fans but no AC. This was clearly the best restaurant we have found in all Ghana and we can recommend it without any hesitation - we tried (twice) their very tasty vegetable fried rice (4GC per portion) and red-red (3GC) with plain rice (1GC).
2. Another rather good restaurant, we could recommend, was a quite large place called the Champion Dishes located at the Kojo Thompson Rd. just south the Castle Rd. On the ground floor there was a fast food place selling ready-made food but on the second floor there was an air-conditioned restaurant offering not so cheap but quite good food and very generous portions - we tried their vegetable fried rice (8GC) and fish with vegetables and fried rice (9GC).
3. Otherwise we were buying some vegetarian snacks, esp. rather tasty fried plantain chips sold by many pedestrian vendors (0.5GC per small sack) and various fruits (pineapple - 2GC a piece; papaya - 1GC; coconut - 0.60GC). There was of course enough shops to buy basic provisions, such as soda drinks (1.5-l Coca-Cola for 3GC) or bread.
4. Yet, to find any better assortment of food you need to head to few supermarkets existing in the Osu upmarket quarter. We can recommend the Koala Supermarket just south the Danquah Circle, where we bought some souvenir food to take home (like cassava flour) - the place was full of very resident-looking obronis with full shopping carts and so it was probably one of the best supermarkets available.
When preparing for my trips I always gather from the internet information about each place to be visited and before I go I put it unsorted into a single document that I print out and use it during the trip. I still have these documents prepared for this trip and I can send them to you. If anybody is interested please see the information on my Introductory Page.