Accra & God's Country, Ghana, December 1 - 5, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Where I stayed
Salvation Army Hostel

Flag of Ghana  ,
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Accra is a polluted, chaotic, and congested city of around two million people that serves as the country's capital and main city.  Accra is clearly where the country's rather limited wealth is concentrated.  On our way into town at dusk on Friday evening, I hopped into to the co-driver's seat (as I often did during the three weeks we were down to one driver) to navigate us through the monumental traffic jams to our hotel.  I guess I must have had the role of "honorary co-driver" during the absence of a second driver since Dave also assigned me to be his roommate in the hotel in Accra. 
The Niagara Plus Hotel, our "joining hotel" so-called because Accra was one of two meeting points on the trip from Dover to Douala where passengers could join or leave the tour, was not far from the airport in the relatively upscale Osu neighborhood, an area full of nice shops, restaurants, and businesses that cater to expats and rich Ghanaians.  The neighborhood was a pleasant change after what seemed like weeks in the bush, and I quickly headed out with Richard, Wesley, David and Gretchen for dinner at a fancy Indian restaurant
Our farewell event was the following night at Ryan's Irish Pub, seemingly a major ex-pat hangout in Osu not far from our hotel.  To celebrate the 7th anniversary of its opening, that Saturday night there was live music on an outdoor stage and free keg beer until it ran out. keg beer in little plastic cups....that's just like a college fraternity party, and indeed that was the atmosphere with plenty of young Caucasian Peace Corps type in attendance.  Free alcohol is a dangerous thing for me, though, since I don't face the pain of paying pulling my wallet out to pay for it that usually keeps me under control when I'm out.  I apparently danced the night away with Charlotte.  Or at least that is what I was told at a later date. 
While the group backtracked to Kumasi, Kakum National Park, and the beach for four days, I remained behind in Accra to get extra pages in my nearly full passport at the American Embassy.  Although extra passport pages were my primary motivation for staying behind on my own, I also thought a few days away from the truck would be a welcome respite from truck life.  James, a new driver/trainee to replace Ben who left in Mali, joined in Accra and also stayed behind to get visas for Togo and Benin for everyone, so the truck would be returning to Accra for him anyway.  Shortly after the truck left, James and I quickly departed from the overpriced hotel for the cheaper $6/night digs at the nearby Salvation Army Hostel
The American Embassy in Accra is a massive and imposing building in glass, concrete, and granite, perhaps the most impressive modern edifice I saw in all of West Africa and a perfect example of what you might call a "Projection of Power".  Like most newer American embassies it's located on the outskirts of town in a large fenced compound surrounded by guards and security barriers.  It was all smooth sailing for me at the embassy, and I had my passport back with 26 fresh new pages within less than an hour after I entered.  The consular services section was crowded mostly with Ghanaians dressed to the hilt applying for U.S. visas.  Like the handful of other Americans at the citizen services window, I stood out at least as much for my casual clothing as for my pale skin. 
I immediately rushed with my passport by taxi to the Togolese Embassy where I encountered a very frazzled James facing his first big challenge with higher than anticipated fees, the need to exchange dollars into CFAs for the visas, and a bribe-seeking official who suggested visa stamps might take a while without expediting fees.  Once he got all the passports in for processing we wandered over to the Beninese Embassy to scope out the situation there since that would be the next stop on James's visa trail in Accra.  The remainder of my day was relaxing and productive since I managed to get to an Internet cafe and to a photo shop where I could get my digital pictures put onto CDs.  I the evening James and I went out to Ryan's for dinner and beers to celebrate his first successful day as a trip leader/trainee. 
The following day James and I tried to do a bit of touring around Accra after he dropped all the passports off at the Beninese Embassy for visas and pled for their speedy processing.  From Osu we walked a short distance to the beach.  No tropical paradise here, though, most of it looked like a dump that was used (literally) as a toilet.  We continued on through the center of federal Ghana, past Osu Castle (once a trading for and now presidential residence), Independence Square, the National Stadium, Judiaciary and Parliament Buildings, a number of government ministries and the concrete Nkrumah Monument honoring Ghana's first post-independence leader.  Unfortunately, pictures weren't permitted in this entire government quarter, and I got told off by a policeman for taking one before I noticed all the signs with a slash through a picture of a camera.  At least he didn't arrest me or demand I pay a "fine" on the spot. 
Accra's National Culture Center was also in that area.  It was a crowded jumble of shops where traders outnumbered potential buyers that day by a margin of at least one hundred to one, with pushy merchants pulling you every which way into shops all selling the same tourist tack.  Here, as elsewhere in Accra, I found I was continually addressed as "Hey Soldier!" which became plural whenever I was with similarly-sized and short-haired James.  "Hmmmm," I thought, "I'm not sure if it's a good thing to be mistaken for a soldier when traveling in this part of the world", especially since I'm neither armed nor dangerous. 
I went to a nearby pizza joint with James to take advantage of an advertised two-for-one deal on our last night in Accra.  I have to say I enjoyed hanging out with just one other person for several days and getting to know him somewhat, a pleasant change from the sometimes tiring high-energy group environment.  This is consistent with Warren's First Rule of Social Order, formulated many years ago which states that "the quality of the conversation in inversely related to square of the number of participants."  Conversations usually deteriorate greatly with the presence of a third person and become virtually worthless when four or more people are involved. 
I guess I also tend to feel somewhat of a kinship with many of the drivers I've met on the Dragoman trips I've taken, partly because I did a year-long stint as a trip leader with an adventure travel company (albeit tours of a different nature), but also because they've made similar decisions to not pursue or to leave traditional career paths to pursue the higher calling of worldly exploration.  On my overland trips I've usually also found the drivers to be among the best read and most broadly knowledgeable people on the truck, with good senses of humor, appreciation of irony, and perspective of their place in the world.  Dave "The Hat", Ben, and James on this trip were no exceptions and took their jobs seriously but also knew how to have fun and to see the world as a funny place. 
One notable cultural feature about Ghana that I haven't mentioned previously in this blog is the degree of religious fervor and its very public nature.  While the other countries we had passed through were overwhelmingly Muslim and, as former French colonies, the Christian churches were predominantly Catholic, Ghana is heavily Christian.  And from the looks of many of the religious placards that adorn homes, shops, and vehicle windshields, they are Christians of the fire and brimstone evangelical sort.  The religious nature of the signs may have been more noticeable in Ghana because they are in English, but throughout the country the sheer number of businesses with religious names that sold entirely unrelated items was quite entertaining.  Here are a few I jotted down as we passed on the truck, but these are only a handful among hundreds: 
Jesus is Lord Stationary
Amazing Jesus Fertilizers and Agro Chemicals
Trust in The Lord Auto Parts
Faith in Redeemer Chop House
Amazing Grace Mobile Telcom Service
Faith of Our Fathers Furniture
Heavenly Blessings Printing Supplies
God is With You Tire and Rubber
The Lord's Ice House
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