Africa

March 2012: Togo, Burkina Faso, and Ghana

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First, a big thank you to Joy, for being my first visitor to come see me in Chad!  It was great to have Joy visit us for a week and show her around town, and totally cool that on her last day, we took a boat ride on the Chari River and saw a HUGE herd of elephants drinking at the river!

With Chris in the US visiting family, and Joy back to Sudan for work, I took off for Togo and parts unknown.  As soon as I landed I could see the ocean and smell the salt- and feel the humidity!  The first two nights I stayed at Le Galion, unfortunately in a non a/c room- big mistake.  West Africa sure is sweaty!

I tried to visit the Lome museum but it was closed, and after visiting the big marche, there wasn’t much else to do in town (except enjoy being out of Chad).  So I hopped on a bus and went north to Kara, the gateway city to the Tamberma Valley.  I met up with three Belgian volunteers and we hired a car and driver for the day to take us to see the traditional villages out in the hinterland.  Very interesting architecture, but it made me sad to see the way the people live in the village- they seemed really malnourished and out of step with the world- and not in a good way.  The next day, the four of us had the same taxi driver take us to the Burkina Faso border (a seriously bad road).  After paying a whopping $190 for my visa, I entered Burkina and the four of us got a bus to Ougadougou.  We arrived late at night and they invited me to stay with them at a friend’s house that night.  We slept under the stars in what was to become a surprisingly chilly night!

The next day I dropped off my passport at the Ghana embassy for a visa, and took off for Bobo-Diolasso.  I liked it better than Ouga- a bit quieter, more manageable.  But both cities have this quality of a dusty, dirty, run-down city.  I guess nothing on the edge of the Sahara desert stays pretty looking for long.  I loved my little guest house, Villa Bobo, and sampled some great cuisine, especially a totally delicious local yogurt with honey.  Mmmm.  Had it three times.

Back to Ouga to pick up my passport and visa, and I stopped at the village of Sabou along the way to see my volunteer friends.  We visited the sacred crocodile lake (animists in the village believe the crocodiles are the reincarnated souls of the chief’s ancestors) and we actually paid a visit to the chief himself, as one of the volunteers was new to the project and the chief likes to meet anyone new to the area.  That night we slept outside again, as the volunteers’ house has no electricity.  Living rough in Africa!

I stayed in Ouga for two days after that, recovering from some unfortunate stomach distress, at a beautiful little garden pensione called Jardin de Kouloubra.  A great place to recover.  Finally I was feeling ready to take the 8 hour bus down to Tamele, Ghana, where I spent the night at  a Catholic guest house, then another bus to Kumasi (hello, humidity; I remember you!).  There I visited the Asante palace and museum and learned a lot about the Asante culture.  From there it was an easy bus ride to Cape Coast, where I finished up my trip with some visits to the beach, a slave castle, and a few good restaurants.  The history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was pretty interesting and very moving to see the actual places.

From Cape Coast, I skipped right over Accra and took my flight back to Chad.  Although I’m really glad that I went, because I had really wanted to visit West Africa before we leave the continent, I found the whole trip a lot harder than I had anticipated.  The infrastructure, the (lack of) hospitality industry, the huge amounts of trash everywhere- all of it is just not ideal for easy tourism- definitely not for the faint at heart.  The fact that Togo and Burkina both speak French, and even in Ghana, most people spoke a native language more than they really spoke English, made getting around and getting things done just that much harder.  In the end, I felt like West Africa didn’t have the amazing animals like Kenya and Tanzania did, the fascinating culture like Ethiopia did, the stunning scenery like Rwanda and Uganda, or the general together-ness like Namibia and South Africa.  West Africa has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to have tourism be a big draw for their economies.

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