journal

Ghana: Volta to Black Volta

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After a winding 10km ride on the backs of a couple Sanili motorcycles (carrying our huge backpacks no less!) through the mountains and valleys west of Kouma Konda, we arrived at the tiny borderpost leading to Ghana. 

Unfortunately, it was a Sunday morning. Which means there were no other cars or buses on which we could hitch a ride the remaining 30km into the Ghanian Volta. Eventually we were able to negotiate  expensive passage in the car of an offduty customs officer, and arrived at Biakpa Mountain Paradise, perched high in the Avatime mountains. We camped on the edge of a bluff overlooking the lush jungle and enjoyed what the owner Tony rightly described as one of the best kitchens in Ghana. Peanut soup with mutton and wokple, chicken and okra with banku, fresh squeezed soursop and papaya - amazing. 

We spent the next two days hiking the paths, waterfalls and towns around the Paradise, including a visit to Amedzofe (he highest town in Ghana), Mt Gemi, Eto Falls and Kulugu Falls. We also visited the Ewe weavers of Tafi Abuife and were amazed by the vibrant patterns and skilled hands of Kente cloth.

From Biakpa we headed to Hohoe, one of the transport hubs of the Volta region, thinking - foolishly as it turned out - that it would be no problem to catch a bus that would take us the 600km northwest to Tamale in the North. What looked simple on the map turned out not to be... the public transport linking these cities consists of a series of rundown minibuses, or "trotros," which will only bring you one or two towns along the unpaved and potholed road, after which you must change again to another trotro. The condition of the road means that the trotros average a speed of 40km per hour, and in each town you must wait until the trotro is completely full (15 people for 10 seats). The trotros are also liable to break down, and we had to get out and push the Kpasa-Damanko trotro twice after it died going up gentle slopes. We ultimately had to walk the last 500m to the station.

At 6pm, after 9 hours to travel 221km, we boarded our fourth trotro at Bimbilla, and it looked like we might just be able to make Tamale by midnight. Then, in the tiny hamlet of Makaylii about halfway to Yendi, the bus abruptly stopped and the driver told us the transmission had failed. He promptly jumped on a bus back to Bimbila and told us he would be back soon with another trotro to take us the rest of the way to Yendi.

So we waited. And waited. After an hour we asked the chargeur what was going on - he said the driver had called him and was going to come back soon with tools to fix the transmission instead of a new trotro.

We continued to wait. A couple other buses passed us on their way to Yendi, but not our driver. Finally after another hour, the chargeur told us the driver was not coming back until the next day and we should find somewhere to sleep.

Makaylii doesnt see any visitors so there was no food or accomodation at all. Given that it was now 10pm, most of the village had now also gone to bed. We were able to rustle up some eggs and bread, however, and we and the other passengers took turns sleeping by the side of the road and keeping watch for another bus. Those of us watching chewed kola nuts and lit a small fire. A few pickup trucks passed after 1am, but none stopped when we tried to flag them down - can't say i blame them with bandits about.

The buses started passing again at 3am, but all were rammed to the gills with passengers, both inside and on the roof. Finally at about 430, one bus took pity on us and let us squeeze in among the already dangerously overcroweded aisles for the 2 hour ride to Yendi. At Yendi, we jumped on our sixth trotro, and pulled into Tamale later that morning.

We spent the next full day sleeping at our couchsurfing host's home in a thatched hut village on the outskirts of Tamale, and hanging out with their dogs and young children. The next day brought us to Tamale's mosques, markets and tannery district, where we drank sobolobo (sweet hibiscus tea) and ate Indomie from street vendors (basically ramen noodles stirfried with veggies and eggs). 

After a delicious meal of fufu and light soup with tilapia prepared by our hosts, we left early the next morning to catch a 6 hour Metro Mass bus to Wa in the Upper West Region, near the shores of the Black Volta.  To our great surprise, the bus was airconditioned, only allowed one passenger per seat, and left just 30 mins after its scheduled departure time. Things were looking up!

We arrived in Wa in the early afternoon and set out for the Kunateh Lodge. In an effort to escape the heat we forewent the paved roads in favor of the shaded footpaths that wind past concrete and mud houses, squares where congregations of muslim men sit playing cards under baobab trees, and women cooking and washing amid laughing children. We were also on the hunt for good kenke (fermented corn pate served with a fish or meat, peppers, tomatoes, and onions) and were not disappointed. In a courtyard just a few blocks from the Kunateh, three mamas were serving up some of the best Ghanian kitchen we have tasted... the kenke was so good that we ate two of our three meals in Wa there.

In exchange for seven kola nuts (one for each of the Wa kingmakers) we were granted a visit to the Wa Naa's palace. Unfortunately our visit coincided with Fuseini Seidu Pelpuo IV's afternoon rest, his son Gaddafi introduced us to the Queen Mother, two of his wives, and several of his many children. From the palace we took a bajaj to the ancient mosque of Nakore, built in the West Sudanese mud-and-stick style in 1305 or 1516, depending on whom you ask. We loved its psychedelic turquiose paint job, and the intimate austerity of the mosque and the pride that it inspires in its caretakers reminded us of the rock hewn monasteries we visited in Ethiopia.

After a final meal of kenke that we were privileged to share with Idriss, volunteer imam and teacher of fashion design and technology at the nearby Elias Technical Institute, we bid farewell to Ghana and boarded another Metro Mass bus to the small town of Hamile on the Burkina border.