The trotro is the standard mode of public transport in Ghana. Picture your average, everyday 12 seater peoplemover with about, say, 27 people inside. Strip out all the upholstery, shower the chassis with an acid bath, throw large rocks at every window and then tie the sliding door onto the van with frayed rope. There you have it. Trotro transport! Not quite travelling in style - but definitely an unforgettable experience.
Of course, you can also take a car to any place you plan to visit. This mode of transport will charge a significant premium as they can only fit about 9 people inside. No, it is a standard 5 seater car - just older and more broken and rusty The tip here is to avoid the front seat. You start out feeling like a hero, turning around and watching your friends cramped up and sitting on each other's laps. Then the driver begins to pick up one and then two extra people and guess what - they are both getting into the front with you. The next thing you know, you are suspended between seats with a gear stick firmly inserted into your rear. Even this is tolerable until the driver needs to change into fourth! <Yelp> Did I mention the road is one giant pothole?
The trotros all seem to screen their employees: must be excitable, short tempered and in a hurry. The money collector guy is the guy who loads luggage, gets on while the van is moving (at rapid pace), tells people to get on "quickly, quickly"
and also is responsible for the handsignals thrust out the window at every passerby and the constant "cry" shouted outside the window. These replace any text sign on the front of the vehicle as I think the high illiteracy rate over here would make them completely redundant.
Many of the shops have picture signs in addition to text. This is OK when you have your local mobile phone shop with pictures of mobiles; your hairdresser with images of nice looking people with fashionable haircuts, etc. This is less enjoyable when you stumble onto the town's lone combined gynaecologist and proctologist health clinic. I found the sign quite, erm, insightful and gruesome.
A few of the volunteers decided to take a trip on the weekend to see some sights of Ghana, particularly around the Volta Region. We decided upon Amedzofe because it was supposed to be beautiful, high in the mountains and most importantly it was said to be cold and mosquito free! What a wild ride. This was a series of trotro trips that I will never forget. The last stretch was a very steep incline in a vehicle that had lost its suspension back years before I was born. The rusty screws poking through the ceiling (from the retro fit, homemade roof racks), the van wall which felt like it would fall off any moment and the ability to see the road through the "virtual" floor made us feel grateful when we finally arrived in one piece. [Not to mention the passing by the numerous toppled trotros and trucks scattered along the highways].
We set off at about 10am and only 9hrs later we had arrived. [This is particularly interesting as the return trip was about 4.5hrs]. It is all quite random as you take a trotro to one location to then connect with another trotro and then another until you reach your final destination. There are no schedules, timetables nor plans. It all operates in Ghana time. You turn up and wait for one to arrive, then you wait for it to fill up with 27 passengers and then you're off. Waiting on the stationary trotro is even hotter than when it is moving as there is no refreshing breeze, just you pressed up against a large, hot, sweaty man with some luggage from the boot precariously resting on your head.
We finally arrived at Amedzofe and for the first time in what felt like years I felt cold. I pulled out a sarong to wrap around my arms and was ecstatic over this new necessity. We were unable to secure our chosen accomodation and ended up staying the night at a Missionary Rest House. We were all a little suprised to meet up with a real, live, excitable, young, American missionary who was also staying that night. I suppose I am showing my ignorance, but I didn't realise that being a Missionary was still something that young people aspired towards. She had just returned from a long day at church and was excited to meet us (I suppose assuming that the 3 of us were also here to convert the villagers). She was mistaken.
It was here in Amedzofe that we found ourselves in a slightly awkward situation. As tourists we needed to register at the local Tourist Welcoming Office but as we had arrived late in the evening this was something we would have to do the next morning. We wandered through the town and eventually made our way to the Office as we were planning to leave. "So are you planning to take the (exorbitantly overpriced) tour of the Amedzofe Waterfalls and the (overpriced) climbing tour up Mount Gemi?"
"Well, then why have you come here?"
"We just wanted to see the village and escape the heat. We live in Sega."
[Rapid chatter between the two guides in Avatime language]. "Ok, if you will not take the tours, you will donate money to our village"
Everywhere we travelled in Ghana, people came quickly to our aid to help us with directions, language, prices, etc. Even to the extent that people would bring out stools for us when we were waiting by the side of the road for a trotro or scream at the driver when they thought we were being overcharged (on my way to the airport "That is not right! That is not right!"
). Everywhere we travelled people were friendly and welcoming. However, there were a few "tourist" sites where attempting to fleece tourists seemed to be the local past time.
Anyhow, we decided that we would walk to the next town, Ferme, so that we could catch a trotro to take us to Tafe Aguife, a Kente cloth weaving village we had read about. Tourist Information instructed us to take the short cut by following a path across a field until we met an old man who would tell us where to go next.
They didn't mention that this old man was the keeper of the Garden Of Deliverance. Hmmm. This was a small garden with numerous wooden signs about Jesus nailed onto trees. His garden also had one of the most incredible views of the valley so we stayed for a look.
He told us to follow the path through the jungle and not deviate until we found the lorry road. Great advice except that he didn't mention how many forked junctions we would be faced with and have to guess which way to go. Nor did he mention that this was going to be about a 2.5 hour walk through thick, humid jungle where we would pass absolutely nobody to reassure us that we were going the correct way and we would not end up dying in the jungle never to be found again.
Anyhow, after an incredibly scorching journey we made it to the bottom of the mountain. Just approaching the base we met up with some people carrying baskets of heavy food on their heads and babies on their backs. They were beginning the climb up the mountain. We stopped complaining.
Eventually we reached Tafe Aguife where we saw Kente cloth being woven all over the village. Astoundingly many of the weavers were extremely young. We were told that children start to weave at 7yrs of age. Based on the children we saw working on the looms this was not an exaggeration, leading me to the realisation that anti-child labour sentiment is an affluent luxury. Child labour over here is a way of life. Almost a reason to have kids.
Our "guide" in Tafe Aguife showed us a piece of laminated paper which had a special tourist package offer neatly typed up in a clear, bold font. "Visit the kente weavers, stay the night in a homestay in the village where dinner and breakfast will be served"
. This sounded good.
Unfortunately, our guide was not too sure what the offer seemed to include and apparently we were the first tourists that had arrived since this sheet had been produced (by whom we were not too sure). There was a great deal of confusion until we worked out that the price was just for accomodation and all meals would be a separate cost. No problem, we were still keen. [In hindsight, they did seem a little confused by our enthusiasm].
One ran ahead to set something up while the other led us extremely slowly through the village. Finally we arrived at a house with a spare room which looked like it had been vacated about 7 seconds ago by a family of 12. There was a dirty mattress on the floor with old sheets covered in blood alongside a bed with a mosquito net covered in sheets that had never been washed. Hmmmm.
We had a last minute change of heart and set off for Tafe Atome, the nearby town (with a famed monkey population) and therefore hopefully a tourist trade and then even more hopefully a bed for the night. It worked. We saw some monkeys in the morning and we were able to sleep somewhere with mosquito nets that night!
After an intensive few days we were ready to head home!
To be continued....