Connect the dots

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oui, Ouaga

I am so happy to be in the French speaking part of West Africa. Not that things weren't good in Ghana. But our arrival into Ouagadougou welcomed us with what we found was missing in Ghana- a love of culture/art and fantastic food! Maybe it's also because we're here during FESPACO (the Pan-African Film Festival). The city is full of ambiance.

At the Institut Francais, we caught a free Nigerian film about a young girl with a physical disability and its misconceptions. Marc and I are attempting a night out to catch some films and hiring Amie, a Burkinabe and teacher in a nursery school, to watch Alex this evening.

At our tranquil hotel, Le Karite Bleu and considering running away with the Peul.

Dinner at the lovely Espace Gondwana - overflowing with West African art.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sirigu Women's Organization for Pottery and Art

The northern village of Sirigu, near the border of Burkina Faso, was one of our last stops in Ghana. This women's cooperative keeps alive the unique house painting and architecture of this village as well as weaving and pottery arts.

Weary at first, but friends by the end.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I am 3

Alex celebrated her 3rd birthday at Mole National Park. With early morning bus wake-ups, the dry heat (upwards of 100deg F), and frigid room air conditioning, she was feeling a little under the weather. But a homemade birthday cake with a recycled aluminum moose made up for it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Holy Mole

Ghana's answer to a cheap safari? Mole National Park, of course!

I was fortunate to meet up with some of its inhabitants during an early morning hike.

Up close and personal with the elephants

Lone monkey eating breakfast

Warthogs everywhere

Mischievous baboons waiting for humans not paying attention to their breakfast

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wechiau, Worth It

Sometimes, the means is much more gratifying than the end. Our attempt (and eventual success) in getting to the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary proved that process trumped product.

A 3:30AM wake up to be at the public bus by 4 was only the beginning. Jostled and shaken by the piste to first get to the town of Wa, we disembarked the bus groggy after a 6 hour bus ride ready for a few Advils and a good nap. We were able to get some relief that evening, knowing we would need our energy for the trek to this remote sanctuary on the Black Volta river and we didn’t want to spend close to $100 in a private taxi for an 60 km trip to see some hippos. Our only other option was shared local transport.

After a good breakfast, we arrived at the tro-tro station at 8:15AM. Waiting for the tro-tro to fill up can take as quickly as 5 minutes or in our case, about 1 ½ hours. And in Africa, that’s not too bad. I thought that in order to expedite this departure, I would buy Alex a spot so I sprung for another 2 cedi (or $1.20) seat.

And in usual fashion, more people than seats piled into the vehicle, leaving the driver’s assistant with a seat on top of the ballooning van.

We arrive at the vistor’s center only to wait again (2 hours) for a driver for the tro-tro to the river, for the paddles for the canoe, for the life jackets, and finally for the canoe rower to finish 2pm prayer.

And did we finally see some hippos? Yes, a few hundred meters away were some mamas and babies, cooling off.

Again, Alex was a magnet for the children in the village who could not get enough of her.

And the quick and dusty trip back- an 1 ½ hour wait for a Ghanaian convertible, aka a flatbed cement delivery truck.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Asante Arts

If the market wasn't big enough, the rest of Kumasi just seems like overflow of the main market. Streets are crowded with people selling everything from fried plantains to housewares. And the traffic is worse than any rush hour I've ever been in - and it's all day! We decided to head out of city to the surrounding craft villages.

We made our way east about 20 km to the small village of Besease, just past Ejisu to see a typical Asante shrine house. Sadly, there are only about 10 left in existence. During the wars with Britain, they were destroyed and never built again. Fortunately, they are now protected as World Heritage sites.

These homes are simply done with interior walls adorned with Adinkra symbols made out of cane and plaster and sharply pitched thatched roofs. A caretaker of the house was eager to show us photos of previous visitors and posed for our camera. Fetishes such as sheep/goat's vertebrae hung from the walls and live turtles in the courtyard provided extra authenticity.

We passed Bonwire, the home of Kente cloth and proceeded to Ntonso, a village known for Adinkra cloth. The cloth is stamped with various symbols representing proverbs. We were able to participate in making some Adinkra of our own.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Commercialism of holidays are alive and well in Ghana. Melting chocolates, red plush bears, and silk roses, all wrapped up in plastic.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Market Maze

We snaked our way through the biggest market in West Africa - Kejetia or the Central Market as it's known in Kumasi. And on Sunday, it seemed like some of the merchants decided to sleep in.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kakum National Park

Our luck spotting animals ran out when we arrived at Kakum National Park. Alex was determined to spot a monkey and even whispered throughout her walk so as not to scare them off. Here are some pics of our canopy walk:

After the park, we visited a palm nut oil operation on the road. Palm oil is a staple of Ghanaian dishes. A hot and dirty process.

Palm nuts

Palm nut oil being pressed

For lunch, we asked our driver to take us to a place where the locals ate. We ended up in a giant tourist trap called the Hans Cottage Botel (boat/hotel, get it?), proud of its tame crocodiles.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ahh Akwidaa

We had nothing to do but relax for 5 days without internet or mobile phone connection. The stretch of beach in the western region of Ghana is pristine, with nothing but small fishing villages dotting it’s shores. The 8km dusty and pothole filled road from Dix Cove to Akwidaa was absolutely worth it!

The one drawback (but not entirely) was the sad story of our beautiful hotel, Safari Beach Lodge. The quick version: an American couple, one a chef, opened up this well designed “eco-luxury resort”. It apparently was a hit until it was sold over a year ago to a Dutch guy living in Nigeria. The guy is hardly ever there, leaving the staff to run the place the best they know how. But with no real manager, it looks like the place is just a shadow of its former self.

Case in point – we arrive after 7 hours of transport, with a reservation, only to wait one hour to be shown our room, given the wrong room, Marc helped the guy move Alex’s extra twin bed , and asked to pay for our full stay in advance –all from a man with an affect that barely registered a heartbeat. Not the start we wanted for the wind down portion of this trip.

Marc and I even pondered the thought of staying for a few months and offering to help out. It’s really that beautiful and thoughtfully designed. Thankfully, the kitchen staff retained the skills of the chef, so the food was a definite winner.

By contrast, it’s more casual next door neighbor, The Green Turtle Lodge had no vacancy. It’s run by a super friendly and smiley English guy, Tom with his family. Alex was so happy to see kids her age.

Despite the bad the start, we had a National Geographic moment one night when the receptionist who appeared to loathe us woke us up for a rare experience.

We were witness to a leatherback turtle laying her eggs along the beach, burying them and returning to sea.

Who says there's no school on vacation? We played some bones.

Akwidaa kids

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hot and spicy

I knew what I was in for when I spotted the scotch bell peppers floating around in the slimy okra stew. Ghana is exactly that dish. Accra was steamy from the start. And our little Effia, as little girls born on Fridays are called (Kofi – yes, just like the former UN leader – if you are a boy) was a good sport about putting up with the heat from both the dish and the streets. Well, not really, but a nice tall neon orange Fanta made her forget about being hungry and being hot.

We also thought it might be a good idea to head up to the National Museum to cool off and wishfully thought that Alex would sleep. Wrong again. She decided to put on a big show for our taxi driver who probably wished that the traffic on Barnes Road had moved just a little bit faster. And the cool museum? Not exactly the temperature inside, but they did have some great information on the various meanings of Kente cloth and the slave routes including a vigorously scratched out photo of a former slave owner’s grave.

Day two in Accra had us running to and from the Burkina Faso embassy for US dollars and Alex’s US passport. Apparently there is some agreement between the US and Burkina Faso to allow US citizens to have multiple entries into the country good for 5 years. We walked straight to the Paloma Hotel for lunch and took a scenic cab tour near the streets of the bustling Makola market on our way back to our hotel.

Tomorrow, we are off to Akwidaa for palm trees, white sand and some relaxation!