Updated On: October 25, 2006
Location: Accra, Ghana - View Route
Distance Since Last Update:
2,815 miles
Total Distance: 16,842 miles
Current Weather: Warm, Sunny
Local Fare: Tender chunk of rat
Recent Activities: Exploring slave forts, tracking forest elephants, lazing on picturesque beaches, rainforest bushwacking, and oh yes, getting "arrested"

 
  Tamale - August 27, 2006
(Sheri Writes): On tap today... another border crossing. Always a dreaded affair, we’d been told that the Ghanaian officials could be painfully slow (I believe Jeff, Gone Wandering summed it up best when he said that he had to wake up the customs official to hand him his carnet and after the official took it he went back to sleep). Armed with this information we set out early with fingers crossed that all would go smoothly. On the Burkina side we sailed through. On the Ghanaian side, we experienced similar efficiency and cruised (OK, cruised might be too strong a word) through Ghana’s comparatively modern passport and customs facilities in relatively short order. Always, a wonderful day when that’s all there is to say about a border crossing.

We departed the border opting not to exchange money until we got to Tamale. This decision made the drive to Tamale a bit more interesting. First we were stopped at a police checkpoint where the officer went on a tangent about how it’s the weekend and he’s out in the middle of nowhere trying to protect the people and needs some “small money” for something to drink. I offered him some of my water which clearly wasn’t what he had in mind. We pulled the old “We just crossed the border into your wonderful country and have no money” routine which didn’t settle particularly well. He changed tactics saying that we are brothers and that we should be friends and as friends we should help each other out. He went on to say that he was supposed to search my car and make me hand over all of my documents but by giving him something small we could be friends and in exchange for us helping him he’d help us by letting us leave. The beauty of not having any money is that you can quite convincingly say that you have no money – which we said. And so the conversation turned into a merry-go-round in which he kept repeating “Are you going to give me something small or not?” and we replied over and over that “We have nothing small to give, really!” Finally, the ride came to an end with the officer giving up, turning his attention to the next vehicle in line.

Not long after, we hit our next snag in the road, a toll booth. Something you don’t see often in Africa, we clearly weren’t banking on this one. When we pulled up to the booth we did what any good overlander would do... we begged for forgiveness! Believe it or not, it worked and the attendant waived us through. Of course one toll booth wouldn’t be enough, so not long after we hit another one. Same story, same result. I love this country.

By the time we reached Tamale we were exhausted from all the begging and promptly checked ourselves into the Catholic Guest house before hitting an ATM (another benefit of Ghana as there are lots of them) and a good Indian restaurant where we stuffed enough chicken marsala, chicken korma, and ice cream down our gullets to leave us motionless for the next few hours.

 
 
     
 
 

Mole, National Park - August 28, 2006
(Jim Writes): Up early, we hit the streets of Tamale for a quick run. Along the way we picked up about half a dozen children who thought it would be fun to run with the “brunies” (Ghanaian name for white man). Afterwards, eager to get on the road to Mole National Park, we showered, packed, and hit the road, stopping on the way out of town to pickup some extra cash at the ATM. When we arrived at Barklay’s it was a madhouse. I’ve never seen anything like it. The ATM line stretched the entire length of the building and inside it was just as bad. We decided to divide and conquer. Sheri waited in the line inside while I waited outside. 1 ½ hours later we somehow both ended up at the teller/ATM at the same time. The good news... we finally had our money. The bad news... there was so much of it that the teller had to stuff it into a large grocery bag for Sheri to carry it and outside at the ATM I was stuffing wads of cedis furiously into every cargo pocket available on my high utility North Face trekking pants. Seems Ghana has a bit of an inflation problem when 10,000 Cedis equals $1 US.

Flush with cash, we setout for Mole NP. A long bumpy ride later, we arrived at the park gate around 3pm where we were met by a friendly park ranger. After paying the various park fees, we inquired about getting a map of the park. The ranger said there are no printed maps but that we could find one posted along the main road once inside. We also spent some time reading the parks rules and regulations posted on a large board at the gate. It included all the usual information found in parks like Krugar - drive slowly, watch out for animals, etc. We then inquired about directions to the Mole Motel, the only lodging inside the park. The ranger gave us directions and wished us a pleasant stay.

Inside the park we stopped off at Mole Motel to inquire about getting a room and about setting up a walking safari (highly recommended by others we’ve met during our journey). The hotel desk clerk said that all we needed to do was show up at the park headquarters at 7am and a guide would be arranged. There’s nothing special about the rooms at Mole Motel however the view from the lodge’s high vantage point overlooking a large watering hole is spectacular. Below we could see a variety of general game animals as well as several bull elephants playing in the water.

With a few hours to burn before dinner we decided to spend a little time exploring the surrounding area in our truck. Just off the main road we found a sign for a 5 mile loop through the park which we followed. With raindrops from a recent shower still glistening on all of the lush green leaves and grass, it was a beautiful drive and along the way we saw a variety of wildlife including warthogs, baboons, impala, water bucks, elephants, and vervet monkeys. Shortly before returning to the lodge we stopped off at the ranger village where we spent a long time viewing several large bull elephants grazing just beside the ranger’s quarters and photographed a large troop of olive baboons playing along the surrounding rooftops. It was an excellent start to our visit at Mole.

Back at the lodge we decided to grab a couple of beers and enjoy the beautiful sunset overlooking the watering hole. On the way to the terrace I was stopped by four men, three in street clothes and one in a ranger’s uniform. The man in the uniform immediately told me that there was a big problem and that I was in serious trouble. Having heard similar accusations one to many times from corrupt police, Sheri and I were immediately taken aback. The ensuing conversation was most unfortunate. I won’t go into all of the details. The abridged version is this: the park ranger and his three unofficial looking friends (apparently also park rangers) quite adamantly claimed that we had knowingly and intentionally broken strict park rules by driving into the park without a guide. They went on to say that there were serious legal consequences for such intentional wrongdoing and threatened to take us to jail if we did not pay them 50,000 cedis. Stinks of a bribe to me. Without going into details, let’s just say that we didn’t take well to these accusations and we were probably more upset by their claims because we’d been looking forward to visiting Mole and viewed it as a “holiday” from the bribery seen far to often on African roads. In any case, our counter was simple and honest, if delivered with a little agitation: we’re tourists who were excited to be visiting Mole NP. We were unaware of such a rule as it’s not posted anywhere and nobody, including the park ranger at the gate, informed us that driving alone was not permitted. This didn’t seem to resonate with the ranger who said that it was impossible for us not to know (despite the fact that the only place they could show us a posting was on a small board behind a door in the Motel’s registration office) and that we’d clearly done this intentionally. In chorus they seemed to all chime in, preaching about how these rules are setup for our safety (no argument there) and going on increasingly irrelevant tangents about how, for example, some city bus was now stuck in the lodge’s parking lot and that demonstrates why we shouldn’t be doing such things (seemed to me to demonstrate that perhaps we shouldn’t be going on safari in a city bus). The simple issue at hand was whether or not we knowingly broke their rules, which we didn’t. Had we known, we wouldn’t have gone. The more we tried to stick to this point and logically explain our position, the more the ranger countered with points that had absolutely nothing to do with what we were being accused of (Let’s just say it didn’t give me much confidence should I ever end up in a third world jail and find the need to defend myself). Anyway, I could go on, and on, and on. Instead, I’ll leave you with these points...

We tried to bring closure to a very painful, very heated discussion by simply saying that we did not know that such a rule existed and that perhaps, if they’re so concerned about public safety, they might want to add this rule to the list of rules posted at the entry gate. Moreover, perhaps they might want to instruct their rangers at the gate to also point this out when visitors are doling out their entry fees. One of the plain- clothed rangers responded by saying: “Information doesn’t just come to you. You have to seek it out.” He then handed me my Lonely Planet West Africa Guide and pointed to a page in the front of the general Ghana information section under “Tourist Offices” that reads “There are no official tourist offices outside Ghana but the Ghana Tourist Board website (www.africaonline.com.gh/tourism) has some useful information.” Hmm...

They also informed me that they had seen us twice during our drive and could tell us exactly where we were at certain times. So I simply asked, If you’re so concerned about our safety then why did you not stop us when you saw us rather than wait until we got back?” Hmm...

Also, I asked, but never received an explanation, why if we intentionally were breaking such a rule would we drive into the middle of the ranger village and sit in our truck (in plain view of the entire village, which was teaming with people) watching, and photographing wildlife. After all, we were there for at least 30 minutes. Hmm...

Finally, sick of dealing with a very ugly situation, we paid them their 50,000 cedis. When I handed it to the ranger in the uniform, he began to laugh. I told him that this was a most unfortunate situation as we’d been looking forward to our visit to Mole and planned to stay 3 days but now planned to leave first thing in the morning (we’d have left immediately had it not already been dark). Our experience ruined over something that we didn’t intentionally do wrong. His reply... “I don’t care. We will make our 15,000 visitor quota whether you are happy or not.”

And there you have it. A good experience gone rotten.

 
 
 
 

Techiman - August 29, 2006
(Jim Writes): Our premature departure from Mole gave us some unexpected free time and we decided to re-tool a bit. Originally, our plan had been to leave Mole and head east back through Tamale and then south along a rough track to Ho, gateway to the Volta Region. Having not quenched our thirst for wildlife however, we hatched a new plan which would take us west to Bole and then south along the border of Ivory Coast hitting Bui NP, followed by Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary and finally Bia NP. We woke up with a sour taste still lingering in our mouths from the previous night and set out early for Bui NP. Overshadowed by Mole, Bui’s a lesser known NP located along the border of Ivory Coast that offers the potential to see lions, buffalo, elephants and other African favorites. Now let me clarify, by lesser known, I mean to say that no one really seems to know where or what Bui is. And by potential to see lions, buffalo, etc., I mean to say that at some point in history researchers have documented their existence in the park however that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to see any of them. Nevertheless, we setout on a snipe hunt of sorts, bouncing aimlessly along suspension breaking dirt tracks for miles on end. Along the way we asked for directions at countless villages, police checkpoints, and customs stations. Always we received the same response ....”Bui?? You mean Bua?” “No”, we’d reply, “We mean Bui. Bui NP. How do we get to Bui?” With a long pause and a puzzled look they’d reply “Uhh, I don’t know.” And so we continued along, loosing hope with each bone jarring mile.

Along the way we found ourselves low on fuel. With no other options available we were forced to fill up using drums. Not exactly like pulling into an Exxon we pulled off the side of the road and up to a man standing beside a handful of 55 gallon oil drums. From one of the drums (which I made sure was fairly full first so as not to get the sludge on the bottom), he began siphoning diesel into a 5 gallon bucket. He then started dipping a 1 litre bucket into the larger bucket and transfered the desired amount of fuel into a second 5 gallon bucket. Once full he poured the fuel into a funnel attached to our filler neck and when the bucket was empty he started all over again until he’d topped us off. Easy enough. Now let’s just hope the truck keeps running.

Back on the road, we continued our wild goose chase. We bounced from village to village seemingly never getting any closer to Bui. Along the way we helped two AK-47 wielding police officers meet up with their buddies and chatted with the locals as we passed an endless sea of villages. Eventually, we seemed to be onto something. A group of villagers actually knew what and where Bui was. Better yet, they gave us detailed directions. We followed the directions down a narrow track through beautiful rainforest towards the Ivory Coast border. It was getting late now but we were making progress. We could smell Bui just ahead. And then, we reached the proverbial and literal end of the road. The bridge was out and, as a group of friendly road workers explained, the only way to Bui was to go all the way back the way we came and around the other side. A long haul to say the least. With it too late to attempt the detour, we weighed our options and decided that our snipe hunt was, well, just that, a snipe hunt and we decided to bail on the plan and head for Techiman, which is only a short drive from nearby Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary.

 
 
     
 
  Boabeng-Fiema Mky Sanctuary - Aug 30, 2006
(Sheri Writes): We departed early for the Monkey Sanctuary, a short 32 miles away. The Sanctuary is an example of community-based conversation in which the villagers of the Boabeng and Fiema villages protect the black-and-white colobus and Mona monkeys. Not knowing what to expect when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty and tranquil setting of our surroundings. There is one guesthouse in the area, conveniently located beside the Sanctuary, which allows camping on the lawn. After getting settled we inquired about the guided walk, eager to see the Mona monkeys in particular, a species that is new to us.

As it was only noon and the best time to see wildlife is in the early morning or afternoon, we ate lunch, washed clothes, and relaxed until it was time to meet our guide, Sedou. When 4:00 rolled around we drove into the village where we met Sedou under a large tree on the edge of the forest. As we stepped into the forest, Sedou started “calling” the monkeys and very slowly, one by one, they started to appear. The monkeys are habituated to humans and will roam the village in search of food. Soon they were right beside us, content to eat the fruit and tiny insects from the surrounding trees. We found the Mona monkeys to be adorable, with large patches of fur on the cheeks and a small beard. Unfortunately the colobus monkeys don’t get nearly as close, but rather live high in the treetops, only allowing you to catch a small glimpse of them. On our walk through the forest, Sedou showed us a sacred monkey burial site. As the monkeys are highly regarded, they each have names and when they die, are buried in a special grave, complete with headstone. Even more impressive is the grave of a 120 year old man—a very long time for anyone to live, much less an African villager who has little access to good health care.

After an enjoyable 2 hour walk, Jim and I stayed around a bit longer to take photographs and then returned to the guesthouse to make dinner. A wonderful end to a relaxing day in Ghana.

 
 
 
  Kumasi - August 31, 2006
(Sheri Writes): We started the day with a rather enjoyable run through the forest – one of the more interesting runs on our trip to-date. Since it was a trail run, we were happy to have a change of pace—not to mention the opportunity to see monkeys along the way.

Before heading to Kumasi we went back to photograph the Mona monkeys in early morning light. They were everywhere—in the trees, on rooftops, inside houses—trying to find food. This made Jim’s job a bit easier! Content with our photos, we wondered around the village capturing some photos of village life. As Jim was photographing a particularly interesting house, we were stopped by a 50-something villager who was curious about what we were doing. Jim explained that he thought it had a very interesting look, to which he replied that it is his father’s house. We were soon invited inside to meet his father, a very kind and very young looking man who’d recently celebrated his 100th birthday. The man was unable to speak English however his son translated what turned out to be a very pleasant conversation in which we learned that he was one of 17 children and had been in the same house for almost 100 years. A man who’s seen a lot in his 100 years, it was evident that he was very proud of his house, village, and the surrounding monkey sanctuary.

When we finally got on the road to Kumasi we found the roads in horrible condition. Construction was underway to repair the damaged road and we found ourselves hopelessly bogged in traffic. With all of the delays, we inadvertently broke our golden rule and found ourselves trying to navigate our way to the Presbyterian Guest House in the dark. In typical African fashion, the road was littered with goats, chickens, pedestrians, and some of the worst taxi and tro-tro drivers. Trying to maneuver the truck through this chaos in the daytime is a nightmare. Trying to maneuver the truck through this chaos at nighttime is, well, hell. As we’re driving through this madness, I’m doing my absolute best to navigate while Jim dodges the many forms of life winding in and out of the streets. We comment that at least we don’t have to go through the Kejetia market. In the same breath I find that my limited maps of Kumasi (limited to the tiny map in the Lonely Planet book) weren’t adequate for the job, and sure enough, we found ourselves dead in the middle of the market. It was a claustrophobic madhouse with roads clogged by men, beasts, machines, and every manor of cart. The worst place you could be at night in a new city in a truck. Knowing we were off-track, we re-oriented ourselves and basically followed our nose. Our first order of business was to get the hell out of the market, which amazingly we did without killing anything. Then in the absence of any visible street signs, we queued off of train tracks and other landmarks. It worked and we eventually made it to the Presbyterian Guest House. Jim did an excellent job driving through the madness, confidently navigating Betty through tiny, crowded streets.

Happy to have made it unscathed, our thoughts quickly shifted to satiating our hunger. Lucky for us, the Guest House has a small restaurant. Famished, I decided to try fufu (basically plantains that have been beaten into submission) a popular local dish highly recommended by our Ghanaian server. Against his better judgement, Jim opted for the fish and chips. Jim’s fish arrived first. He should have known better. It was a bone riddled, deep fried, meatless, chunk of the least desirable fish parts. The fufu came out next. In retrospect, I should have gone to bed hungry because what turned up made even Jim’s iron clad stomach churn. It was a spongy mass of dough-like substance bathed in a vile-tasting brown fish broth. And, to make matters worse, the server was so confident that this prized Ghanaian dish was a gourmet delight that she commanded me to return the very large and very full bowl to her, completely empty. “ I want to see you eat all of this. It’s very good.” Good I thought? Are you kidding me? I knew that I needed to get rid of this stuff somehow. After all, I didn’t want to offend her. The question was what should I do with it. First I tried the obvious… I dug my spoon into the thick globulous mass and tried to eat it. Bad Idea. It took me all of the strength that I could muster just to gulp down 5 spoons full. Next I turned to my ringer, Jim, who was just finishing off his bone-riddled minnow. One bite and he’s been cursing me ever since. It will take years just to undo the damage I’ve done to our relationship. With my options dwindling I considered dumping it in the toilet. No way, I’m sure it would clog the cities entire sewer system. I could bury it, but then again, some poor dog might come along and dig it up. Now I’ve got a dead dog on my conscience? No way. After some further thought, I did what anyone would do in my situation, I tossed the money on the table when the server was in the kitchen and I ran. Just as I disappeared out of site I could hear her calling after me “But you didn’t eat any.” I’m just glad we made it out alive.

 
 
     
 
  Bia Nat'l Park, Camp 12 - September 1, 2006
(Sheri Writes): Jim and I had a nice surprise this morning. As we turned on the water in the shower we found that they had HOT water!! A hot shower, a luxury that we very rarely get, which we took full advantage of. After the shower, we debated about whether or not to make a second go at the restaurant for breakfast. Not too pleased with dinner last night, this was a serious consideration. Last night we noticed french toast on the menu, to which our mouths immediately began watering. In the end we decided to tempt fate again, as our stomachs were growling with hunger from last night. Once in the restaurant the server completely ignored us. Clearly she was offended last night after I barely touched the fufu. But how could she be mad? Doesn’t she understand? Fufu’s an acquired taste, kind of like fois gras, thousand year old eggs, and cat urine. After waiting forever, we decided to leave well enough alone and left.

(Jim Writes): Our agenda today was to drive to Bia National Park, located on the border of the Ivory Coast. Bia protects the only old-growth rainforest in Ghana and is home to forest elephants and chimpanzees among other wildlife. The drive to Bia was a rather long 183 miles, primarily on wet muddy roads. The scenery as we neared the park turned into lush, dense, tropical rainforest with massive mahogany and other hardwood trees towering high above the dense rainforest vegetation. Sadly we saw many of these beautiful trees being hauled away on the backs of large logging trucks. The first time we’ve seen, first hand, such deforestation during our travels in Africa. Judging by the number of trucks we passed, it’s hard to imagine any trees being left for future generations.

After a long day on rough roads, we finally arrived at the park headquarters. There we met with the head ranger and discussed our desire to view some of Bia’s resident forest elephants and, if possible, some chimpanzees. He indicated that the chimps aren’t habituated to humans and therefore would be hard to see. However, there was a good chance that we could successfully track elephants. With that, he gave us direction to Camp 12, located just beside the Ivory Coast border post. When we arrived at Camp 12, we were greeted by Frederick, the resident park ranger. Frederick, a rather small and enthusiastic fellow, excitedly rushed out to our truck and said “are you Mr. James?” A bit confused I replied that I was. He went on to say that it was wonderful to meet me as he’d been expecting us for some time. As it turns out, Frederick had mistaken us for a researcher that was expected any day. Once we cleared up the confusion, we met with Frederick and discussed our goals. We told him that we were here to track forest elephants and explore the rainforest. As we poured over a large map tacked to the wall in the ranger station, Frederick explained that we should explore the area around Camp 12 first and then head to Camp 7, a 1 ½ hour drive away, since the probability was high that we would see them there. He went on to say that he was supposed to be going on leave but that he was an excellent tracker, the best ranger in the park, and as such, he would delay his vacation to guide us over the next three days. It seemed like a reasonable plan, however there were a few logistical problems. For starters, Frederick would need a ride to and from Camp 7 and he asked us to take him and then pay for the tro-tro to carry him back. Then there was the matter of food. Since he wasn’t at his normal post he would need money to buy food. Then there was the standard guide fee mandated by the park, and the camping fee to pitch our tent at Camp 7. I’ve put together less complicated deals with Fortune 500 companies.

With the deal struck and our guide secured, Sheri and I retired to our tent to cook dinner and enjoy Bia’s evening rainforest symphony. The only guests at the camp, it was wonderfully peaceful. A wonderful end to the day.

 
     
  Bia Nat'l Park, Camp 7 - September 2, 2006
(Jim Writes): This morning we woke early, eager to start tracking forest elephants, the African elephants pint sized relative. At 7am we met Frederick, who was carrying a well used machete when he arrived at our truck. The plan was to take a quick 4 km walk into the rainforest around Camp 12 before heading to Camp 7. It would be a nice introduction to Bia, however Frederick said that it was unlikely we’d see the elephants as they’d moved east towards 7. Nevertheless, we were excited to get into the rainforest to see monkeys and other wildlife.

2 ½ long, steamy, hot hours and countless miles later we were still bush whacking our way through the forest with no end in sight. We were soaked in sweat, covered in bugs and generally filthy. We’d bush whacked through seemingly impenetrable growth, climbed down slippery ravines and over giant fallen logs. We’d forged small rivers. All while lugging two huge cameras, lenses, and a tripod. And our reward… Frederick led us to a rock in the middle of the forest. Not just any rock mind you. Rather a rock where water bucks have been known to come and drink. Now, let me put this in perspective for you. In case you’re not familiar with a water buck, it’s like a deer. A “nice to have” if you happen across one while on a game drive. If you ran over one on the highway, you’d feel bad, kind of like if you ran over bambi. It wouldn’t be the same, however, as running over say, a lion. Now, how ‘bout a plain Jane, run of the mill, nondescript gray rock? That’s something, don’t ya think?

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the other highlight of our little jaunt through the rainforest… we were attacked by African soldier ants. I guess in a strange way, it’s been a goal of mine since I was a kid (or at least it’s been a goal of mine to see them). I’ve seen National Geographic documentaries where they overran entire African villages. I’ve read books on them. I’ve always considered them an exotic part of wild Africa, right alongside killer bees and the dung beetle. To be attacked by them was really something special. We were bush whacking through the forest (you know, dripping sweat, climbing over trees, forging rivers, all that stuff) when I heard a weird noise. It sounded like crackling coming from all around us. Before I could figure out what it was, Frederick yelled “Run! Ants!” As I started to run I looked down and there were ants everywhere. As I was running I could already feel them biting me. By the time we reached Frederick we were all jumping around and grabbing at our legs. We pulled down our pants and literally had to pull some of the savage little beasts off as they were grabbing onto our skin with their sharp little pinchers. It was painful to say the least and now I can truly say that I know what it’s like to have ants in my pants.

Afterwards, Frederick explained the level of respect that the locals have for African soldier ants. He told us the story of how his uncle had too much to drink one night and passed out on the side of the road. He was found the next morning dead, completely covered in soldier ants. Now, in fairness, I should also point out that Frederick told us the reason you don’t see snakes in the forest is because the elephants hunt and eat them. Hmm… It seemed a bit strange at the time, however I’ve since met a man near Dixcove who thinks the reason you don’t see chimpanzees is because they are all homosexuals that run around having sex with the villagers, spreading aids. As a result they’ve all been killed off.

Back at Camp 12 we took a break from bush whacking to have breakfast and prepare for the trip to Camp 7. When we were ready to go, Frederick climbed in the truck and perched himself on the small Tuffy Box located between the two front seats. Fortunately, he’s a little fellow and fit perfectly into the tiny space between the seats and the gear shifter. A long rough and tumble ride later we arrived at a small village a few kilometers from Camp 7. From there we continued down a badly eroded track for a short time before Frederick instructed us to stop in front of a handful of mud and thatch huts. As curious villagers came out to greet us, Frederick told us that we’d reached the end of the road. To get to Camp 7 we’d have to leave the truck and hike through a nearby cocoa plantation. This little tidbit of information came as a bit of a surprise since Frederick had already informed us that we could camp in our truck at Camp 7 and we’d even negotiated the price as part of the huge “guide” deal we’d brokered with him. We reminded him of this fact and he replied, after a long pause in which he seemed to be deep in thought, “It’s no problem, you can camp here on the road for the same price.” So now, we have to pay the National Park mandated camping fee for camping at Camp 7, only we’re not camping at Camp 7. We’re actually bush camping in a nearby village, outside the park, with all of the associated hassles? What??? Anyway, we decided to let it go for the moment as Frederick was now trying to introduce us to Isaace and Kofi, also park rangers who are apparently based at Camp 7. After meeting Isaace and Kofi and going through all of the usual greetings and formalities with the local villagers, we left Betty behind and hiked off into the cocoa plantation.

A short time later we arrived at Camp 7, a small nondescript assembly of mud and thatched huts located just on the edge of the rainforest. Once settled, Frederick informed us that he had talked to the other rangers and learned that the elephants were no longer in the area. Apparently, after ransacking several of the local farmers’ cocoa harvests, the elephants had moved on to greener pastures and hadn’t been seen in over 2 weeks. Frederick continued, saying that to have a chance of successfully tracking the elephants, we’d need to drive another hour plus down a bad track to Camp 8. Moreover, we’d need to hire on Isaac and Kofi as trackers.

But, wait a minute. I thought Frederick was “The best ranger in Bia”, a trained expert on forest elephants, and a highly skilled tracker?? That seemed to be the line when we hired him as our guide and negotiated the great “guide” deal. As it turns out, Frederick is indeed a self-proclaimed expert on forest elephants (remember, he’s already passed on useful information about the elephants hunting and eating habits – snakes as you’ll recall. That alone was news to me as I thought elephants were herbivores:). It’s just that Frederick, failed to disclose the small fact that he doesn’t know anything about the rainforest around Camp 7 or Camp 8. In retrospect, I think the great “guide” deal bought us a guide only capable of guiding us to other guides. In any case, we told Frederick that we’d already hired him as our expert guide and didn’t plan to spend more money for what seemed to be turning into another snipe hunt. He replied that the national park service wouldn’t require us to pay for their services however it “would be a good thing” as they would actually be doing all the tracking. And oh yes, I almost forgot. Should we decide to agree to all this, there were of course all the same logistical challenges including how to get our growing expedition to Camp 8. I’m almost certain Shackleton had less to contend with as he tried to sort out getting his stranded crew to South Georgia Island.

In any case, we were in it deep now and, after great deliberation, decided to move forward with our sinking expedition. With the decision made, Frederick reviewed the plan. Later that afternoon we’d mount one foray into the rainforest at Camp 7 to track the elephants. If that failed, we’d return to Camp 7 to sleep for the night. The next morning we’d meet at 4am and with Frederick perched on our Tuffy Box and Isaace and Kofi perched on our roof, we’d head for Camp 8. At Camp 8 we’d bush whack our way to a small pond hidden deep in the rainforest where the elephants are known to come and drink. And with that, we retired to our truck to have some lunch.

At 4pm we hiked back through the cocoa plantation to meet up with our growing team of trackers. When we arrived at Camp 7 we found Frederick and the others armed like soldiers going into battle. Clad in olive green ranger uniforms and knee high rubber boots, our ranger team was now armed with large machetes and a high powered rifle. I on the other hand, had scaled down a bit, ditching a camera body, lens, and tripod. Suited up and ready for bear, we all marched off into the rainforest in search of elephants. Inside the rainforest it was stifling and we quickly began to have flashbacks of our trek earlier in the day. As Isaace lead the way whacking away with his machete, we followed close behind trying to protect our camera gear. At first there was nothing. Then the team stopped. They’d found elephant tracks! Now we were on to something. As we continued, they stopped again. This time inspecting a massive pile of elephant dung. We continued on. More tracks. More dung. We stopped again. This time inspecting the remnants of fruit which the elephants had devoured. As we ventured deeper into the forest the signs increased. Broken tree limbs. More tracks, dung, and eaten fruit. The signs were now everywhere. It was exciting. Our senses now acute as we scanned the forest. And then, the rangers stopped and huddled around one another whispering. Several minutes passed before Frederick turned to us and said “The elephants have gone. We’ll try Camp 8.” Ugh!

Back at the truck we tried to settle into our evening routine. This proved difficult as we seemed to be the only show in town and everyone – men, women, and children, tons of children, came out to visit. In a show of warm Ghanaian hospitality, the villagers invited us to camp amongst them and insisted that we relocate our truck to a tiny clearing between two huts. Wedging Betty into such a tight space had disaster written all over it and I could just picture driving into one of the mud walls and toppling the entire house. But they insisted, going to great lengths to clear a small path from the road to the clearing. Maneuvering Betty into position was tedious work. Just as I was backing in, the roof rack caught the thatched roof of one of the huts and I cringed just waiting for the whole thing to rip off. Somehow it didn’t and we managed to get into position and pitch our tent without causing a riot. The balance of the evening was spent visiting with the village – taking photos of everyone and showing them their pictures, chatting about Ghana, and trying to convince a local woman that, while her little boy was lovely, we really couldn’t take him with us. There just isn’t enough room.

 
 
 
  Kumasi - September 3, 2006
(Jim Writes): Our alarm went off. It was 3:30am. Still pitch black, as it normally is at that ungodly hour, we quietly went about getting ready to depart for Camp 8. Promptly at 4am Frederick and crew appeared out of the darkness, clad in the same olive green attire and rubber boots from the previous day. With everyone assembled, I did what I’d been dreading since we’d been invited to sleep in the middle of this peaceful little ensemble of huts. I fired up Betty’s massive diesel engine, breaking the night silence with a loud rattle and roar and then fired up the Hella 4000 spots, flooding the entire area with enough light to convince the inhabitants that their beds had been relocated to a Premier League football pitch during a night game. I felt terrible. I know we must have woken everyone within a mile of us. And that was just the beginning as we had to carefully work Betty back and forth, foot by tenuous foot, trying to get her back to the main road without leveling houses, destroying crops, running over fufu pounders, or killing the resident rooster that was now clucking noisily around the truck. I’m sure we’re still being cursed!

The drive to Camp 8 turned out to be longer than expected and we didn’t arrive until 5:30am. Knowing from past experience that our team was a bit inept at calculating distances, I asked Frederick again how far he thought it was to the elephant pond. He responded that it was 6 kms round trip. With the sun just coming up we set out for the rainforest, hiking about 45 minutes through cocoa plantations before we reached a seemingly invisible passageway into the forest. A few whacks of the machete and we were in. For another 45 minutes we hiked and bush whacked our way through beautiful, lush green virgin rainforest. Like our previous forays it was hard work and we were drenched in sweat within minutes of setting out. Along the way, we stopped to examine tracks, and dung, and remnants of fruit. This time however there was a difference. It was fresh. The tracks and particularly the dung looked like they’d just been left. We continued through the forest, now following a path carved by the very elephants we were tracking. 45 minutes later we were within 100 meters of the elephant pond. You could just make it out through the dense vegetation. As we closed in, the clearing began to open up to us. With the early morning light just breaking through the canopy, the pond seemed like it was part of an enchanted forest, something out of a Tolkien tale. As we scanned the pond we saw an amazing sight. Just on the other side you could see, well, elephant tracks, and broken trees, and fruit remnants, and piles of dung. It was like an elephant playground. An elephant playground void of elephants. Ugh! It was obvious they’d been here. It was obvious in fact that they’d been her very recently. But, we were too late. Another dead end. I’ve learned through experience that, outside of the big reserves in Southern and East Africa you’re guaranteed nothing. Jaguars in Central America? Tigers in Nepal? Manta Rays in Cape Verde? All are present however they’re incredibly elusive. It’s their elusiveness that adds to the adventure. And our adventure will have to continue into Gabon, where we’ll no doubt try again.

And so we hiked out of Bia for the last time. By my estimate, our little rainforest trek ended up being about three times as long as the 6 kms quoted by Frederick. All the better I guess as it was great to get some exercise and we saw an amazing, captivating place that’s sadly being deforested at an alarming rate. Just take the road to Bia and you’ll see for yourself.

After dropping Isaace and Kofi off at Camp 7, we carried Frederick to Wiawso where we paid for his tro-tro back to Camp 12. Then it was out of the rainforest and back to Kumasi, our stopover for the night.

 
 
     
 
  Accra - September 4-6. 2006
(Jim Writes): With Accra only 170 miles from Kumasi, we spent the morning at the internet cafe before hitting the road. This turned out to be a major mistake as the highway connecting the two cities is undergoing major road work and was a clogged mess which turned our estimated 3 ½ hour drive into an 8 plus hour nightmare. Just outside Accra we found ourselves dead stopped in traffic for hours and when we asked a traffic cop what causing the delay, he replied “There is no problem. You just have to take some time.” By the time we reached Accra it was well after dark which we knew would add to the challenge. As we entered the city, the congestion waned briefly and we found ourselves on a slick new highway. It was so impressive that Sheri commented that she didn’t even feel like she was in Africa. But, the truth is that we were most definitely still in Africa and before long the fancy new highway abruptly ended and we found ourselves on a pothole-riddled dirt road choked by tro-tros and kamikaze taxis. It was pitch black and there were no street signs, landmarks, or indications of a detour.

Suddenly our temporary bliss was transformed to our version of hell as bad seemed to quickly go to worse. We hadn’t a clue. Not the slightest clue where we were. Tro-tros and taxis were fighting one another in what appeared to be total anarchy and before long, the road seemed to run out all together leaving us, and droves of other vehicles, in a sort of mixing bowl. The only thing I could make out were roadside vendors dimly lit by oil lamps. It was such shit and when we thought it couldn’t get any worse it got much, much worse. People started pouring into the streets signaling for everyone to turn around. The road had ended! We found ourselves smack in the middle of a complete free-for-all. Tro-tros, taxis and other vehicles were all turning around with no semblance of organization. We did our best to manage the situation. Forget finding Big Milly’s (our destination) we just wanted out of the madness. No such luck. We were stuck, dead stopped in total gridlock.

As we were sitting motionless, trying to keep our calm, we felt a jolt and heard the crunch of metal against metal. Ugh!! A crazed taxi driver, unhappy with his place on earth, decided to force his way through, hitting us in the process. Ugh!!! All the tro-tro drivers were yelling and screaming to let us know that we’d been hit. Too mentally and physically fried to care, we just ignored it. We knew the driver had no money to pay for any damage and frankly we weren’t up to dealing with it. It was hell on earth and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Eventually we began to make some headway. A couple of educated guesses queuing off of our GPS’s compass and a line of more orderly looking traffic that appeared to be looping towards a major road and we somehow, miraculously, found ourselves back on track and heading east out of Accra and towards Big Milly’s. A quick stop for directions and we were finally home.

It was such a relief to be out of Accra and inside the protective walls of the campsite. Starving and in need of a beer we made a B-line for the restaurant. No luck. It was already closed. The bar was open and we decompressed over a couple of beers before turning in. Totally spent!

The next couple of days were spent NOT driving and NOT bush whacking through dense rainforest. Rather, we relaxed. We ate great food. We did laundry. We washed mounds of mud off of Betty. And oh yes, we checked for damage on her rear end. It was only minor. All the crunching of metal that we heard must have been the dilapidated taxi coming apart at the seams. One can only hope:)

 
     
  Wli - September 7-9, 2006
(Sheri Writes): Having had our fill of Big Milly’s, we setout for Wli Falls, situated in the Volta Region just on the boarder of Togo. Considered to be the most impressive falls in West Africa, Wli consists of two sets of falls, Upper and Lower, that cascade 40 meters down from a horseshoe cliff. Situated in lush green forest, the area is also home to half a million fruit bats. We had heard great things about the area and thought we’d give it a go. 6 hours later we arrived at the highly recommended Waterfall Lodge, owned by a friendly German couple who’d discovered the area 3 years ago during an overland trip from Germany to Cape Town. Shortly after arriving we met Chris, a friendly German expat living in Benin who visits the falls regularly. In the course of conversation he invited us to go on a 6 hour hike with his group of 8 friends to the Upper Falls. We gladly accepted his kind offer and agreed to meet at 8:00 the following morning.

The next morning we got up early and before setting out for the hike, Jim spent a good hour taking macro photographs of an exotic looking grasshopper (God bless the poor little grasshopper). After breakfast we met up with Chris and crew and headed for the park headquarters where we met up with our guide, a hardy 40-something Ghanaian armed with a machete. The hike was very challenging and strenuous, taking us along a little-used path that ascended steeply up the side of an adjacent mountain and across a ridgeline to the top of the falls. It was tough going and required hours of bush-whacking, scrambling up slippery, wet rocks, and navigating through head high grass. At the top we enjoyed fabulous views of Wli to the west and Togo’s lush green countryside to the east. On our way down we visited the Upper Falls, a powerful force of water that soaked us to the bone…very refreshing after our hot, sticky climb. The descent proved ten times more challenging than the climb up, as we had to negotiate extremely steep, slick muddy paths dotted with even slipperier rocks. Dirty, hungry, and tired, I was relieved to be on flat ground again once we reached the Lower Falls. Again, we let the water from the falls give us a good soak to clean off some of the dirt and grime and then headed back to the lodge to shower and fill up on cheese and egg sandwiches. The hike, while difficult, was very much worth the effort as it gave us the opportunity to fully appreciate the beautiful surroundings.

That evening we joined our new German friends for a hardy dinner under the stars. It was delightful – a great opportunity to get to know some friendly, interesting folks with whom we hope to catch up again in Benin.

The next day we decided to veg. a bit and just soak up the wonderful atmosphere around the lodge. When we weren’t lazing about watching the falls we were playing with the family pet – a beautiful genet rescued after its mother was killed by a hunter. A wonderfully relaxing day!.

 
 
 
  Big Milly's/Brenu Beach - Sep 10-12, 2006
(Jim Writes): As Chris and friends headed back east to Benin, we headed southwest for Cape Coast. Along the way we managed to get ourselves into another fender bender. It’s that reverse karma thing again! This time we were in Hohoe driving along a narrow dirt road. A taxi was heading towards us and there wasn’t enough room for both of us so the taxi pulled to the side so that I could pass. There wasn’t enough room and again we heard the now all to common sound of metal crunching. Ugh!! Not again! We got out to inspect the damage. On Betty there was a streak of yellow paint on the fender flare. The taxi, clearly held together with duck tape, was another story. Our minor brush had bashed in the rear quarter panel and pulled the rear bumper half off. The driver approached and said “What you going to do?” What you going to do about this?”

Sidebar: How do these things happen?? A taxi driver hits me and I let the driver go. Somehow this leads to me hitting a taxi and now I’ve got to sort out how to pay for his bashed quarter panel and bumper which is dangling behind the car.

Anyway, as one would expect, a large group of bystanders began to collect around us and quickly one man emerged as the taxi driver’s negotiator. He said “You need to pay the man for the damage you did to his car.” I feigned ignorance, saying “ But look at my car. There just wasn’t enough room for the two vehicles.” Unfortunately, logic prevailed and the driver said “But I stopped so you could pass.” A bit surprised that in a world seemingly void of traffic rules, he’d come up with this argument, I conceded the point. I said to the negotiator, I understand but I’m not sure what to do about his car. The negotiator replied “The problem is that it’s not his taxi and he needs something small to fix the damage.” “How much is something small?” I asked. “200,000 cedis ($20)”, he said. We knew 200,000 cedis would go a long way in Ghana but also felt bad since it was our fault, so we didn’t spend much time going back and forth. I said “Let me see if I have any money.” While Sheri was digging around for some cash we got our first real glimpse of why Ghana is such a special place. Instead of the situation being confrontational, or worse violent, the bystanders started asking us questions about our travels. Taxi driver included, they were all very friendly and seemed more concerned that we were having a great time in Ghana. We talked football (World Cup of course) which had everyone cheering for Ghana. It was incredible. When Sheri returned with 180,000 cedis the driver was happy and I apologized for the inconvenience. We left with everyone waiving and still cheering for Ghana. A bad experience turned very good!

(Sheri Writes): The next few days were spent working our way down the coast. After a quick overnight at Big Milly’s we headed for Brenu Beach Resort, where we heard we can get cheap lobster. Cheap and lobster in the same sentence are what I like to hear! Brenu Beach Resort turned out to be a little lackluster, with generally unfriendly staff (bar tenders serving beer in curlers and pulling last calls at 7pm) and a somewhat sterile atmosphere. A shame because it is situated on a nice palm-lined beach and reeks of potential. Unfortunately the cheap lobster was equally as lackluster…maybe cheap and lobster shouldn’t be in the same sentence. The two days that we spent at Brenu were relaxing as we lazed in hammocks catching up on some reading. Just not paradise!

 
 
 
  Dixcove - September 13-October 15, 2006
This morning we setoff to stay with James and Angela Brown, two overlanders from Texas who left the U.K. in October 2005 bound for Africa and beyond. They made it as far as Ghana before falling head over heels in love with Africa, buying a sliver of beachfront paradise, and settling down to build a boutique lodge. Our last scheduled stop in Ghana, the plan was to visit them for a couple of days, hear their story, pickup a care package arriving from the U.S. and then make a run for the Togo border. That was the plan. What actually happened was something very different. Here’s the highline...

We left Brenu and made a visit to St. George’s Castle, a former slaving fort and Unesco World Heritage site. Touring St. George’s dungeons, punishment rooms, and holding cells and hearing of the inhumanities that took place was a sobering experience that provided some insight into West Africa’s tragic history of slavery. From Elmina we continued to James and Angela’s place, a secluded beachfront hideaway called Safari Beach Lodge located 10kms west of the fishing village of Dixcove. When we arrived we were in a hurry, our minds already half-focused on our upcoming race through Nigeria and the horrible roads in Central Africa. I remember meeting Angela and telling her we’d probably be there for 2-3 days. That was September 13. Four wonderfully relaxing, overly indulgent weeks later we were glued to the place. Drawing up our own blueprints and scouting out land. So powerful was the magnetic pull that we just couldn’t get free. We tried. We tried several times. We got as far as packing the truck and saying our good-byes only to be sucked right back in.

So what happened? Life slowed down a lot. Waiting on our care package to arrive, we had time to relax, to indulge, and to take the place in. And in the process we fell in love. We fell in love with the warm people. We fell in love with the exotic locale. We fell in love with the food. And we fell in love with the dream, a very African dream that was already burning inside us.

We arrived not knowing exactly what to expect. After all, we’d never met James and Angela and had only communicated a few brief times through email. What we found was a couple who are passionate about each other, about life, and about chasing their dreams. They’d met in the wine industry (James is an award winning sommelier). They’d traveled, owned a spa in Mexico, and lived in Colorado (always a plus). Most of all they were just plain passionate and believe, as we do, that you should suck the marrow out of life. We realized this during dinner with them our first evening at Safari Beach. Nothing special. Just your typical everyday candlelit beachfront dinner. James prepared a wonderfully perfect pan seared chicken over mashed potatoes paired with a fantastic red wine. What we quickly learned was that this dinner symbolized everything that they are. Two people who savor every moment. Every meal. Every glass of wine. Every day. And so we learned that we have much in common. Through our common interests a friendship emerged and through this friendship we discovered the many treasures that make the area around Dixcove so magical.

They introduced us to fascinating people. A British couple who, after traveling the world, had landed just down the beach where they started The Green Turtle Inn, a popular backpacker hangout. A Swedish couple who, on their own overland journey across Africa, had fallen in love with Ghana as James and Angela had and are now building a lodge at Cape Three Points. An eccentric Brit, worth writing a book on, who lives in the old slaving fort just up the road in Dixcove. And the list goes on. We drank with these folks, ate with them, and played poker with them. All part of a vibrant and growing expat community that now call Ghana home.

And then there’s the locals. Villagers from places like Bebe and Aquadae. Lovely, warm, and friendly people who still live a very traditional African life. They are primarily farmers and fishermen who’ve largely never been past Dixcove and who ask questions like “Jim, can you see the moon in Europe?” We fell in love with these people as much as anything. They charmed us and stole our hearts. Always happy and never without a smile on their faces, they demonstrated boundless hospitality. They’d talk to us for hours on end. Teach us their language and their customs (I’ve almost got their handshake down). They’d offer to show us around their villages and even try and convince us to settle there permanently.

The locale ain’t too shabby either. Safari Beach is situated on one of the finest beaches in Ghana – palm-lined beaches backed by miles and miles of lush rainforest. During our stay we found tranquil lagoons, hidden coves and the perfect site to build a hilltop retreat overlooking the ocean. Each day seems to end with a perfect sunset which, even James and Angela’s dog, Chloe heads down to the beach to watch. And dotting the picturesque landscape are perfect little African villages where time seems to have stood still.

Perhaps more than anything else however, our time was spent indulging. James is a wonderful chef who takes food very seriously. Crepes for breakfast, shrimp fritatas for lunch, and dinners.... we spent most of the day just reminiscing about past dinners and dreaming of what was on tap that night. Lobster. Red Snapper. Grouper. Quail and Ostrich just to name a few. Each and every night was a glutinous affair. Wonderful wine was always present and often we’d top off the evening with an aged scotch, and the occasional Coheba. It was world class dining by any standard and a striking contrast to the rice and sauce that’s defined our diet for the past few months. We’ll never be the same again.

And of course there’s the dream. Seeing their courage was inspiring. They’ve clearly taken the bull by the horns and are living their dreams. Dreams that are so similar in many ways to our own. Being around James and Angela, you can’t help but dream big. After all, they had me drawing up blueprints and scouting out beachfront property (a little hilltop retreat overlooking the ocean wouldn’t be so bad. Would it?) Had we found our Ghana? Perhaps. It’s too soon to tell. There’s so much of the world begging to be explored!

The balance of our time was spent playing. James and Angela introduced us to secluded beaches, a more cosmopolitan Accra (which has the only good sushi we’ve found in Africa), and Texas Holdem. A study in fine African art, James also put us through African art 101. We joined them for their grand opening, a memorable evening in which they invited close friends to their place for a fantastic dinner party.

On our weekend jaunt to Accra, we had the opportunity to try grass cutter (picture a forest rat the size of a small capybara). It’s a Ghanaian delicacy sold throughout the country, typically by a man waiving it by it’s tail on the side of the road. I can’t say for certain if we got a good or bad cut of beef as Ghanaian’s eat some pretty weird stuff and I’m not sure how they view what appeared to me to be an elbow. It came submerged in a spicy hot soup that gave Sheri’s fufu broth a run for its money and was accompanied by fries. In any case, once I got the meat separated form the cartilage and excavated from the soup, it was tender, flavorful, and I believe, with proper preparation and enough beer, would make a lovely addition to James’ dinner menu.

In addition to Accra, we made regular runs to nearby towns including Agona, Busua, and Takoradi. Generally these were pretty lackluster affairs – market runs mainly. One such run to Takoradi did provide a bit of excitement. We were headed for an internet café and shortly before reaching the center of town hit a minor snag. We made a U-turn in an intersection without any of the usual signage indicating No U-Turn. Halfway through the turn I noticed a small hand painted sign stuck on the side of the road (perpendicular to the road). It was about waist high and read “ No U Turn.” Ugh! We knew immediately we’d just fallen into a trap. Sure enough, no sooner had it hit us than a police officer jumps up from his hiding spot under a shady tree and races out to intercept us. “You’re arrested! You’re arrested! Let me in the car. We’re going to the police station!”, he said. He seemed angry and before I could even say hello, he was already opening the back door and trying to climb in the car.

Before I continue, let me provide you with some background... A few days prior, Angela had shared a story with us. It seems they have been arrested too. They’d made the mistake of towing their broken down Land Rover to a mechanic. A serious offense! Fortunately for them, they’d learned a thing or two during the past year and knew just what to do to get out of the mess. As Angela explained, Ghanaians are by and large very friendly, easy going folk. They love to make friends and don’t do the “intimidation thing” very well. Without going into the details, the gist of her advice is this... when the bribery card is played simply kill them with kindness, make a friend if you can, and if necessary beg for forgiveness. In other words, friendship will set you free.

Armed with fresh resolve and a bag of new tricks, we greeted the officer with an overly friendly, seemingly naive, “Hello, officer!” that would have made Ned Flanders proud. He was not having it. He played tough and seemed to really have it out for the white man. “You white people think you can do anything. You can’t just come here and make illegal U-Turns. You could get yourself killed! That’s why they put me at that intersection. To protect the people! Let’s go! We’re going to the police station! You are in trouble. You will have your car impounded for two days until your trial and you will have to pay 2.5 million cedis ($250)!” In an “awe shucks” sort of way, we told him we were very sorry and that we certainly didn’t mean to break the law. We then asked him for directions to the station. As we SLOOOWWWWLY drove towards the station, buying as much time as possible, our conversation continued. He was still ranting and raving about how “You just can’t do this sort of thing in Ghana!”, while we were doing our best to lay the groundwork for a lasting friendship. We told him that we were tourists and that we just arrived in Ghana. We told him how much we loved his country. We told him how much we loved the people. We told him how impressed we were with their football team (all true btw). We also told him that we certainly didn’t want to get ourselves killed.

When we arrived at the police station, we asked him where we should park. “The impound lot is over there.”, he said, pointing to a fenced off parking lot to the right of the building. I drove towards the lot. When I arrived at the entrance he quickly said, “If they impound your car you will have to see the judge and you will have to pay 2.5 million cedis. I know the impound officer. I can talk to him and arrange for you to only pay 600,000 cedis ($60) and you will not have to go to jail.” Wow, that’s a lot of money I said. I just don’t have that type of money.” He then said, “Hurry, we must get out of here. If they see you here they will arrest you and impound your car.” I found this pretty humorous as the officer was sitting in our back seat behind black limo glass and there was no way anyone outside would even know he was with us. OK, I said, where would you like to go?” Go! Go!” he said. And off we drove, now driving aimlessly around Takoradi.

At this point we knew we’d just called his bluff and had two options: 1.) Go back to the police station and force his hand – probably ending the game. 2.) See if, indeed, friendship would set us free. We went with option 2 (keeping option 1 for later should we need it). Around and around we went, working our angle as we drove along. He continued to rant and rave. You must pay 600,000 to me or go to jail and pay 2.5 million cedis. With unwavering friendliness, Sheri replied that we didn’t have that type of money and would have to go to jail and plead our case in court, BUT, she continued, we wouldn’t be able to stay overnight or leave our car because we had to get back to Dixcove. She went on to say that maybe while we were driving around we could go back to the intersection so he could show us the “No U-Turn” sign. He replied by saying “You are wasting my time! Now you have to pay me 800,000 cedis!” We asked politely to see the sign again,. After all, we’d certainly like to know how they indicate No U-Turn in Ghana. “You think I am trying to rip you off! I am a good Christian! I would not do that!” Sheri replied, “And we are good Christians too and God would not be happy with us if we made an illegal U-Turn.”

By this point, we’d been driving around for a good solid hour and were getting tired. Friendlier than ever I told him that he would be considered a very good man in the United States because he clearly understood our situation and was trying to give us alternatives (we were now laying it on so thick I was starting to make myself sick). Finally, little by little, Angela’s miracle potion started to take effect. He began to calm down. The conversation shifted to other subjects – most importantly America and football. We were on a first name basis. It was working. We could now taste victory. Sheri went in for the kill... when the moment was right she said “Daniel, we came to Ghana to make new friends. But if you arrest us, how can we be friends?” Dear God, I couldn’t believe it. It was as if Angela had cast the spell herself. The very words were so powerful that it elicited a response neither of us could have predicted. Daniel said “ I want to be your friend. We were meant to meet. God has brought us together!” He was now very excited. He continued, “When are you going back to America? I want to go with you!” I replied we’d probably be back in the US in a couple of years and he said “Money doesn’t matter anymore. We’re now friends! Let’s go! I want you to come meet my family!” Wow! This stuff really does work. It’s like some sort of voodoo magic!

So off we went to meet his family. On the way he instructed me to turn onto a one-way street. We were going the wrong way. I said, “But Daniel, this is a one-way street. I don’t want you to arrest me again.” It’s OK” he said. “Go!” There were tro-tros coming at us one after another and Daniel was hanging out the window yelling at them to get out of the way. He then said to me “Look. See those people. They are staring at you. Do you know why? Because you were born different. You were born rich.” I couldn’t help but think, no, they’re staring at us because we’re going the wrong way down a one-way street! As we were getting out of the car to go inside, Daniel taps Sheri on the shoulder and points at her pocket telling her to take care of her cash (a huge wade of it was falling out of her pocket). Oh the irony!

The next hour was spent in his apartment visiting with his wife and children. Truth be told, we had a very nice time. We watched Nigerian soaps on TV (the worst form of television) and played with the kids. Sitting in his tiny one room apartment, so small that there was only room for one double bed, sofa and TV (no kitchen or bathroom), I couldn’t help but feel a little bad. I don’t agree with bribery however, after spending time with him I definitely have an understanding of what motivates it. Police officers make so little. I believe he said about 600,000 cedis ($60)/ month.

In the end, I think he tried to play us and we tried to play him back. I’d call it a draw. We made it back to Dixcove. Not jail. Not bribe. He made a friend and I’m sure is packing his bags to come with us to America. We all ended up having a nice, if a bit bizarre, time together.

And so that pretty much sums up our time at Safari Beach. It was wonderful. Relaxing. Almost impossible to leave. James and Angela were the most gracious of hosts and we were very fortunate to have spent time with them. Alas, all good things must come to and end. Nigeria and the muddy roads of Central Africa are calling our names.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
  Winneba - October 16, 2006
(Jim Writes): Up shortly after sunrise, we set about packing our things and preparing to hit the road. When we were ready to depart we loaded up the truck, said our goodbye’s to James, Angela, and the Safari Beach staff and setoff. No grand farewell. Just a few quick hugs and a promise to come again one day. On the way down Safari Beach’s long palm lined drive, we glanced back one last time, acutely aware that we were staring at paradise through our rear view mirror. Ahead of us lay a more challenging path. Soon we’d be running the long gauntlet through Nigeria, battling the muddy roads of Cameroon and Gabon, skirting Ninja rebels in Congo, dodging mortar rounds in Kinshasa and navigating mine fields in Angola. It all seemed a bit much for two road weary travelers groggy from a month of overindulgence and warm Ghanaian hospitality.

Back on the road our plan was simple. With our truck’s brown card insurance scheduled to expire on October 31 we only had two weeks to make it to Cameroon. That meant we’d have about 3 days in Accra to get our Nigeria visas and take care of a few truck repairs, followed by a week to explore Togo and Benin and 5 days to get through Nigeria. A lot to pack into 16 days.

The drive to Accra was quieter than usual as we struggled to make the mental transition back to life on the African road. Along the way we stopped off in Takoradi to run a few errands and check with the post office one last time to see if our care package had arrived. At the post office we begged the unenthusiastic clerk to check the Green Turtle’s box, which of course turned up no package. Optimistic, we thought it might be at the main post office down by the harbor. There we found an equally unenthusiastic clerk seated inside a steel cage which was piled high with dozens of other undelivered packages, none of which turned out to be ours. Ugh!

On the way out of town we stopped off at the Silver Pot for lunch. At this point we’d been there several times and knew exactly what we wanted. Two orders of red red (red beans and rice with fried plantains) and two Cokes. A couple of minutes later the waitress came back and said she was out of Coke. Ugh! “OK,” I said, “Do you have Sprite (I don’t even like Sprite very much but it’s usually a better bet than some local brew served in an old plastic Coke bottle)?” “Yes,” she replied. “OK, We’ll have two.” “Sorry.” she said. “We only have 1.” UGH! “Well then, we’ll have a Sprite and a Fanta.” A short time later returned with one Sprite and one Fanta.

As we were sipping our drinks, Julia and Mike, the Swedish overlanders who are building a backpacker lodge at Cape Three Points, stopped by to say hello. They were in town for the day to meet with a customs clearing agent about having their Defender 90 imported and were waiting for the agent to call them back about some papers that needed to be signed. Since they had a bit of time to burn we invited them to join us for lunch. Shortly after they sat down the waitress returned to take their order. Mike said, “we’ll have two orders of red red, one Coke and one Sprite.” And a few minutes later the waitress returned with one icy cold Coke and one icy cold Sprite. Ah yes, during our lazy sabbatical at Safari Beach I’d almost forgotten that we are indeed still in Africa!

After lunch we bid farewell to the Swedes and hit the road. It was now early afternoon and we knew our chances of making it to Accra before dark were slim to none. Instead, of pushing it, we decided to stop off at Winneba, an hour outside Accra and spent the night at Lagoon Lodge – a nice relaxing spot to help us ease back into life on the road.

We arrived at the tidy oasis which is Lagoon Lodge around 6pm and after getting settled spent the rest of the evening channel surfing between the myriad Nigerian soaps (all are the same and end with some poor soul being vaporized) and Oprah. Listen, you can’t give us crap for watching this stuff. You try to go without a TV for three years and see what you’ll resort to watching.

 
     
  Accra - October 17, 2006
(Jim Writes): If someone wrote a book on how best to get a visa at the Nigerian embassy it would be called “Bureaucracy Gone Wild, 312 Tedious Steps to Getting a Nigerian Tourist Visa.” We arrived at the Nigerian Embassy shortly before 11am expecting the worst. Other than the car on blocks in the courtyard, the place seemed tidy enough. Inside, we found a friendly-ish receptionist seated inside a small glass reception both. On the other side of the booth was a waiting area with black pleather couches, a coffee table and a television blaring a Nigerian soap. We approached the receptionist and explained that we were interested in applying for a tourist visa. After giving us that same “why on earth would you want to visit Nigeria” look that we’d received from everyone else we’d told about our travel plans, she explained the application process to us. As she walked us through the application process, we let out a huge sigh of relief. Basically, all we needed to do was make photocopies of a handful of documents including our Ghanaian visas and passports. Once we had the photocopies, she instructed us to return to the embassy to fill out a three-page highly detailed application packed with difficult to answer highly irrelevant questions. Next she instructed us to submit the completed applications along with our passports, 2 passport photos, photocopies of our Ghanaian visas and other required documents and one crisp $100 bill per application. She went on to say that if we did it all by 2pm we’d get an answer by the following Wednesday (which fortunately for us happened to be the next day). It seemed a bit tedious, but manageable, and in all fairness the receptionist seemed polite, organized and somewhat efficient.

So off we went in search of a photocopier. Fortunately, we found one nearby and a short time later we returned with a stack of photocopies, which we presented to the receptionist for her review. She seemed satisfied and handed us an application. Now, it’s important to note that I said “an” application. A bit of a problem since we needed two applications, not one. Fortunately, she had just the solution to our problem. As she pointed out, all we had to do was go and make a photocopy.

So off we went for more photocopies and to fill out applications. One hour later, we returned with completed applications, countless photocopies passports, passport photos, and $200, which we submitted to the receptionist. She glanced at the application quickly and then said, “Have you met with the gentleman over there yet?” pointing to a tiny office just around the corner. We replied that we hadn’t and she instructed us to take back our applications and go see him.

Inside the tiny office we found a well-dressed man with black suit pants, a crisp purple dress shirt, and a purple power tie. We introduced ourselves and explained that we were applying for tourist visas, to which he gave us a stare and, without saying a word, signaled for us to hand over our applications. As he began to pour over our paperwork he asked if we had all of the necessary documents. No sooner had I smiled and confidently said “yes” did he reply, shaking his head “No. No. This is not good. You are missing several very important items.” And he continued to shake his head as he studied each page. “Where is the documentation that proves how you got here from England?” We showed him the stamps in our passports and our vehicle’s carnet, walking him through page by page, country by country. “What about Morocco?” he said. I replied that Morocco doesn’t require a carnet for entry and therefore there is no stamp. “I will need proof that you went there.” Sheri and I gave each other one of those quick glances that says “how on earth is this relevant?” and then produced our passports again, and thumbed through the pages until we found the Morocco stamps and pointed them out to him. He studied them briefly and said, “but this does not prove that your vehicle was in Morocco.” I will need a copy of the document you received from the Moroccan customs office. And I will need copies of every page in your carnet.” What?? We weren’t even sure they’d given us a document in Morocco. Moreover, it could take forever to make copies of all the pages in our carnet. He continued, “And where are your vaccination certificates? And your vehicle insurance papers? And your driving permits? And I know there are other documents. What other documents am I forgetting?” Staring at us as if he honestly expected us to help him out. It was now obvious that he was trying to make the process as painful as possible and was literally thinking up new documents on the fly. We both looked at him with that same grimacing smile dawned by Kevin Bacon in Animal House. Only instead of saying “Thank you sir, may I please have another!” what actually came out was “No problem. We have all of the documents that you need and will gladly make copies of all of them and include them with our applications.”

With that, he handed back our applications and we set off again to organize our documents and try to dig up something that resembled a Moroccan customs receipt. Fortunately, we managed to get everything together and with an hour left to go, Sheri unearthed a green Moroccan douane receipt and we raced back around the corner to the print shop for more copies. Only problem was, the print shop owner had disappeared leaving the door open but nobody behind to run the copier. And so we waited. And waited. And waited. Until finally, with the deadline rapidly approaching we managed to locate a woman at the restaurant next door who said she could help. Without the luxury of enough time for formal introductions, she walked right into the print shop, hopped behind the counter, fired up the copier and started making copies. To speed up the process we pieced together a makeshift assembly line where I organized the documents, Sheri prepped them for printing, and the mystery restaurant lady worked the machine. I still don’t know who she was or if she actually had anything do with the print shop (for all we know she saw an opportunity to make a couple of bucks and decided to take the wheel). What we do know is that she sure could work that tired old one page copier and we managed to get everything copied and assembled with a few minutes to spare.

So it was back to see the well dressed pain-in-the-ass in the tiny office. When we arrived we put on our best smiles, turned over our now gargantuan applications, and watched as he scanned though everything one last time, stopping only once to carefully study the two crisp $100 bills that were attached inside. The irony I think, is that Nigeria is one of the least desirable countries on earth and you’d think the government would be offering money just to lure tourists across their border. Instead, they seem to do everything possible to discourage visitors. In any case, the applications had been submitted. Now all we had to do was wait and hope they were approved.

In the meantime, we set-off to get organized so that we could make the most of the next couple of days. First we stopped by to schedule an appointment with Opel, a bush mechanic recommended by James, to change a couple of warn suspension bushes and take care of a few other preventative maintenance items. No luck. He wasn’t around and we were told to try back tomorrow.

Next it was off to the University of Ghana’s college bookstore which Lonely Planet says “is the best bookstore in the country”. Hmm… Having now visited the “best bookstore” I can say that “best” is clearly a relevant term which speaks more to Ghana’s clear need for decent bookstores than to the quality of the “the best bookstore in the country”. And I use the word quality bookstore loosely to describe any establishment that sells at least one book, periodical, greeting card, pamphlet, flyer, brochure, essay, bookmark or other medium conveying a written message that at some point in history has also been found at some other bookstore on earth.

From the University of Ghana we spent the balance of the day at the internet café catching up on some much overdue web updates before retiring to the Korkpalm hotel for the night.

 
     
  Accra - October 18, 2006
(Jim Writes): Another admin day in Accra. First stop, the Nigerian embassy to see if our visa applications were approved. We arrived ahead of schedule only to be told that our visas weren’t ready yet. So we did what we’ve learned to do so well in Africa. We found a shady spot outside and waited until they turned up. An hour or so later, the well-dressed pain-in-the-ass from the previous day returned carrying a large stack of applications. Among the stack were our approved applications, which the he handed over without as much as looking at us. We grabbed the visas, thanked him for his boundless hospitality and quickly headed for the gate. As we drove away, we reflected on the past 24 hours. We’d energetically jumped through a seemingly endless number of pointless bureaucratic hurdles, clearly intended to make our lives miserable, we’d kissed so much ass that our lips were chapped, and parted with $200. All in exchange for a permit granting us entry into one of Africa’s least desirable and most dangerous countries. And the strange thing was that we were excited about being approved. I guess it was because receiving our Nigeria visas put us one step closer to getting past Nigeria. A country that stood squarely between us and Central Africa.

After leaving the embassy we grabbed lunch and then headed back to Opel’s to try and arrange a time to get our truck worked on. Fortunately, this time he was there and told us to come back first thing on Thursday. Progress. Now all we had to do was swing by Toyota to grab a pinion seal and a couple of filters.

Getting anywhere in Accra can be a nightmare and getting to Toyota can be particularly painful as you have to take on the traffic clogged pandemonium that is the ring road. To make matters worse we hit the ring road around 4pm (kind of the African equivalent to rush hour back in Washington, D.C.). Not long after we joined the throng of vehicles we noticed smoke coming from under the hood. A few seconds later, we could smell something burning inside the cabin. A wave of panic hit both of us at the same moment and I quickly bounced the truck over a curb, off the road, and onto a median. By the time we’d stopped, smoke was billowing out from the cargo area. We jumped out and ran to the back. While I raced to unlatch the wheel carrier and open the tailgate, Sheri ran around to the rear passenger door and grabbed the fire extinguisher. When I popped the tailgate, smoke came pouring out and we immediately realized that it was coming from the compartment that houses our split charge battery system. Inside the compartment, the smoke was so thick you could hardly see the battery and sparks were flying everywhere. It was an electrical fire and I quickly grabbed the negative lead and pulled it off. The sparks stopped!

By now, all of the commotion had drawn a crowd and as the smoke began to clear, the extent of the damage emerged. The top of the battery compartment was melted. The only thing left from our split charge system was a jumble of charred wires. Our refrigerator was dead. Our water purifier was dead. Our inverter was dead. Our extra 12V outlets were dead. In short, our electrical system was cooked and we were lucky the truck hadn’t gone up in smoke with it.

By the time we reached Toyota, the full extent of our loss was beginning to set in. Every convenience we’d installed was now gone, at least until South Africa. All that was left was the standard 12V cigarette lighter that comes with the truck and a portable 150W inverter we’d purchased in Portugal. A bit frazzled, we decided to head for Osu to grab some dinner and decompress! Frankie’s hit the spot. Some cold beer, good pizza, ice cream, and a little Premier League soccer and we were well on our way to recovery.

 
     
  Accra - October 19, 2006
(Jim Writes): Woke up this morning and it was raining. As soon as I looked out the window I turned to Sheri and said, “I’ll bet you $50 Opel won’t work today.” She looked back at me, let out a soft sigh and declined my offer. That’s because she knew the same thing I did…

1.) Opel’s workshop, like most bush mechanics in Africa, is an open-air affair… nothing more than a patch of dirt on the side of the road. And by patch of dirt on the side of the road, I literally mean a patch of trash littered dirt on the side of the road. There’s no shelter, no fancy lube bay, no hydraulic lift, no waiting room, and no fancy tools or equipment. Just a handful of old Land Rovers in varying degrees of disrepair, a few chickens milling about, a makeshift bench under a straggly old tree and a small terribly deficient sack of old tools, the most popular of which is a hammer. The only heavy piece of equipment on hand is a makeshift engine hoist which has been fashioned out of two steel pipes which are stuck in the ground like fence posts and connected at the top by a third pipe (with a chain slung over the top like a pully).

2.) During our two month stay in Ghana, we seemed to notice that many of the locals (at least around Dixcove) don’t care much for working when it rains (note that I said they don’t care much for working WHEN it rains rather than IN the rain). In other words, this observation wasn’t limited to those working outdoors.

So, when you consider that Opel’s place is outside and he’s Ghanaian and it was raining, it was almost guaranteed that he’d cancel – even if it stopped raining before our scheduled appointment. That’s just sort of the way it works.

Nevertheless, we set out for Opel’s in hopes that we were wrong. We weren’t. When we arrived, the place was a ghost town. No Opel. No other mechanics. Just an old man seated in the drizzle under the shop’s one straggly tree. When we asked the old man if Opel was around, he said “It’s raining today. Opel’s not here. Come back tomorrow.” And with that we turned around and left. After all, Ghana is still Africa. And there’s no point in fighting Africa.

 
     
 

Accra - October 20, 2006
(Jim Writes): Up early, we were in a hurry to get to Opel’s by 8am. Now a day behind schedule, our goal, if only a pipe dream, was to get the truck fixed and still make it across the Togo border. We arrived at Opel’s just before 8am. Right on time. No Opel. I asked the old man, still seated under the same tree, if he knew where Opel was. The old man replied “He is coming.” An hour later Opel was still MIA. I asked the old man again and again he said “He is coming.” When?” I said. The old man replied, “He will be here soon. He’s on his way.” Unfortunately, soon ended up being 10:30 and we were now seriously pressed for time.

Not a great start to the day but not a surprise either. At least he’d arrived and anyway, the list of repairs was short. Nothing more than simple preventative maintenance items I’d identified on a routine check but couldn’t be bothered to do myself. Here’s a summary…

1.) Replace front prop-shaft pinion seal (old one was starting to leak a little but was OK)
2.) Replace bushes on rear stabilizer bar (minor dry rot on outside edge of one of the bushes)
3.) Replace front break pads
4.) Replace fuel filter (forgot to change with recent oil change)

A few minutes later Opel started working on the truck, aided by a handful of his boys. Under Opel’s loose supervision, one boy started replacing the front brakes while another popped the hood to remove the fuel filter and two others slid underneath to replace the stabilizer bushes and pinion seal. I followed behind, nervously watching over them in an attempt to ensure they were pulling out the fuel filter, not the engine. Fortunately, they were and a short time later, the front pads and fuel filter had been renewed. Two down, two to go.

All seemed to be going well until Sheri and I noticed that the number of mechanics working on the pinion seal had swollen from one to three and the number of mechanics attempting to remove the stabilizer bar had doubled from one to two. I tried to remind myself that these were semi-competent young boys (some of them nearly men) who possibly had at least part of the know-how and equipment to get the job done. Then one of them grabbed a hammer and started banging, which was more than a bit concerning since the last time I checked, our truck wasn’t constructed using nails. I began to get that sick feeling in my stomach which comes from too many past experiences working with African bush mechanics. Sheri had the same feeling and we found ourselves struggling to sort out what was going on.

Our struggle continued until just before 3pm when Opel emerged from underneath the truck and announced that the pinion seal had been replaced. That would have been excellent news had he stopped there. Unfortunately, he went on to say that there was a problem with our stabilizer bar. As it turned out, the problem was that his boys had broken off three bolts during their attempt to remove it (for those of you wondering how this is possible, just use a hammer and chisel rather than a wrench the next time you need to loosen a bolt).

Now we were faced with the more difficult task of extracting the three sheered off bolts. As you can probably imagine, we were more than a bit annoyed (Sheri was livid). Partly because this could have been avoided had they used the proper tools (like say a wrench) and partly because this could have been avoided had I just done the work myself. In any case, there are lots of ways to go about extracting broken bolts. With the proper tools, it’s easy enough to drill a small hole in the center of the broken off bolt and then tap and remove it. Alternatively, it’s also possible to drill the bolt out entirely and then re-thread the hole. Or, in the absence of drills and taps, there’s the African way, which basically entails welding the broken off head back onto the body (still lodged in the hole) and then screwing it out. I’d seen this done once before in The Gambia and, while it wasn’t pretty, it worked. So it came as no surprise when we asked Opel how he planned to fix the problem and he suggested a trip to the welder. Hesitantly, I agreed and said to Opel “OK. As long as you think this is the best way to remove the broken off pieces and you install new bolts so that it’s as good as new, then I’m fine with it.” He replied saying “It’s no problem. We do it all the time and we will remove the old broken bolts and install new ones.”

So I climbed into the truck, accompanied by two of Opel’s boys and headed down the road to the welder. Pulling up in front of the welder’s shop did nothing to instill confidence. Similar to Opel’s place, it was a simple open-sided wooden shack on the side of the road. The real horror however came when I saw his welding equipment. A device that likely predated Thomas Edison, it consisted of a jumble of worn wires including a positive and negative lead hooked up to a car battery. Forget about whether it appeared capable of welding, it didn’t even look safe enough to step within 3 meters of it.

As we unfastened Betty’s battery leads, I felt compelled to pray. And understand, I’m not a religious person, yet this seemed like a good time to find God and I was quietly sending out SOS signals in hopes that this wasn’t going to end as badly as I envisioned it in my head. I also appealed to the welder and Opel’s boys, reiterating that they were only to remove the old bolts so that we could replace them with new ones back at Opel’s. “Yes. No problem. New bolts.” One of Opel’s boys said in broken English as the welder proceeded to weld the negative lead to Betty’s bumper. As the welder and one of Opel’s boys slid under the truck, I got down on my hands and knees, partly to keep an eye on them and partly to beg for some form of divine intervention. As the welder slipped on a cheap imitation pair of Ray Ban sunglasses (actually quite rare, as most African welders don’t bother to cover their eyes at all) and the sparks began to fly, I watched for signs of a problem. Everything seemed to be going to plan. Well, that is until I noticed one of them pulling the stabilizer bar under the truck. At some point along the way, I’d lost interest and stopped watching over them. And at some point, the welder had lost interest and had decided it would be simpler to permanently weld four new bolts to the bottom of the truck.

It wasn’t pretty! The bolts that had been welded on weren’t even lined up correctly and the bottom of the truck looked like it had caught fire. There were burn marks everywhere and our truck reminded me of a tro-tro [VIEW VIDEO] I’d seen a couple of weeks earlier which had just had it’s chassis welded back together. I was furious! “What are you doing? You were supposed to remove the broken bolts! New bolts! Remember? I grabbed the stabilizer, opened the tailgate and stuffed it in our cargo area. Eager to leave, I went to the front of the truck and began reattaching the battery leads. The welder and Opel’s boys came running after me. “Don’t attach those.” one of Opel’s boys said. “We’re not finished yet.” “Oh you’re finished!” I said. I can’t believe you!! My truck isn’t a f&*king tro-tro! I was so mad I could hardly reconnect the battery leads. I jumped in the truck and drove off, leaving them behind.

When I arrived back at Opel’s place, Sheri read my face and instantly knew something was wrong. Still furious, I searched for Opel. He’d already left. Sensing I was upset, the old man under the tree called Opel and asked for him to come back. As I waited on Opel, I gave Sheri a quick recap of what had happened. Before I even finished, she was furious too and we were both pacing back and forth. When Opel arrived, he asked what was going on. As I explained what happened, Opel’s boys arrived with the welder in tow. Opel turned to them and demanded an explanation. Who knows what was said, as the conversation was in Twi, however after discussing it with them, Opel turned to me and said that his boys had told him that I’d asked for them to weld the bolts to the bottom of the truck. Let’s just say that this didn’t elicit a favorable reaction from me. I assured him that that wasn’t the case and started walking to the truck. “Don’t leave.” He said. “I can easily fix this. We will remove the bolts that have been welded on. We can also remove the broken bolts. The problem is that the holes are now stripped. What we can do though is weld nuts over the holes so that there’s something to hold the new bolts and then it will be fixed.” Well, I may not be a crack mechanic but I know better than to fix a bush mechanic’s fix to a bush mechanic’s mistake with another a bush mechanic fix. And so we left, with the stabilizer bar still stuffed in the back of the truck.

It was Friday afternoon and as we drove down the road we discussed our options. There only appeared to be one clear solution. Fortunately we were in Accra and there was a Toyota dealership. With a little luck maybe we could make it there before they closed for the weekend and maybe, just maybe they could help de-tro-tro Betty. We pulled into Toyota just as they were closing and managed to get a service rep. to come and have a look. He stared at the underside of the truck for a few moments and then looked at me with a grimace. He then grabbed a mechanic from the body shop and explained the situation. The mechanic stared at the underside of the truck for a few moments and then looked at me and said “You took this to somebody on the side of the road didn’t you? I’ll work you in immediately.” Unfortunately, immediately happened to be the following Tuesday because it was Friday afternoon and Monday happened to be the end of Ramadan (a public holiday in Ghana). Togo would have to wait. We were stuck in Accra for at least 4 more days.

As we left Toyota we were awash with emotions. We were frustrated by what had happened, relieved that there was a Toyota dealership nearby and upset because this was going to seriously diminish the already short time we had to cross Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. It was the end of a long week in which we’d departed paradise, navigated through the Nigerian embassy’s maze of bureaucracy, nearly lost the truck in a fire, and tro-tro’d our truck. We were in serious need of a pick-me-up and we knew exactly where to find it…Monsoon! It was time for a return visit to gorge on sushi. And gorge we did. We ate enough sushi and drank enough beer to overcome the worst of circumstances. It was exactly what we needed.


 
     
 

Accra - October 21-23, 2006
(Jim Writes): With time to burn we decided to make the most of our delay. In a way, our misfortune was a blessing in disguise because our website still needed a lot of updating and we knew that once we crossed the border into Togo we’d be covering so much ground that we’d have little time to update it again before Namibia. That said, we headed for the internet café, where we setup camp for the next three days. It felt a little bit like cramming for finals and we only left our computers long enough to grab some hummus from a restaurant around the corner. Then it was back to work until we were so tired and famished that we’d head for Osu to grab dinner at Ryan’s Irish Pub, Frankie’s, or Pizza Inn. Just some of Accra’s many expat restaurants.

 
     
 

Accra - October 24, 2006
(Jim Writes): At last, Tuesday finally arrived! Up early, we headed for Toyota so that they could undo the mess Opel’s crew had made of Betty the previous Friday. We arrived at 8am and were met by a team of mechanics clad in what looked like Formula 1 pit crew uniforms. They directed us into their massive service facility. As soon as we entered the gate, it was as if we’d crossed from the third to first world. There were shiny tools, hydraulic lifts, and all the other modern equipment you’d find in the US or Europe. Inside, one of the technicians slid under the truck for a closer look. When he finally emerged he shook his head in disbelief. Fortunately, he also said that he could undo everything. It would just take a few hours.

So off they went with Betty and off we went to the fancy air-conditioned waiting room (OK, in truth it wasn’t fancy, but it was air-conditioned!). Six hours later, they called us into the service area to have a look. The truck was still on a lift and we were able to walk underneath and study everything closely. Miraculously, they’d managed to remove all of the welding and old bolts and burn marks. They’d re-tapped the holes, installed new bolts and replaced the stabilizer with all of the new bushes. It was as good as new.

Feeling pretty good about Toyota, we asked if they could also fix the ground wire on our battery terminal that caught fire the previous week. They said it could be taken care of quickly however, unfortunately, it was too late in the day and would have to be done first thing tomorrow morning. We reminded them that we really had to be in Togo ASAP and they agreed to come in early and take care of it before Toyota opened for the day. That way we could get the wire replaced and still head for the border.

After agreeing to come back at 7:30am tomorrow, we headed back to the internet café for another marathon, working until they kicked us out to close. The good news… we’re almost completely up to date.

 
     
 

Accra - October 25, 2006
(Jim Writes): One lesson we’ve learned in Africa is that 1st world businesses that operate in Africa are, well, operating in Africa! This lesson was reinforced today when we showed up at Toyota for our 7:30 appointment and nobody was there. Instead, we sat outside and waited until normal business hours when the mechanic finally arrived to replace our charred ground wire. Ugh! It was further reinforced as I watched the electrical technician perform the work. First, he decided to replace the large gauge ground wire with a wire about half as thick. Second, instead of replacing the entire wire, he simply cut out the charred section and spliced in the new wire using electrical tape. This whole process took about 5 times as long as it should have. This was largely due to the fact that the electrical specialist, aided by two mechanics, couldn’t figure out how to remove the battery terminals. Watching the three of them try to sort this out was like watching twiddle dee and twiddle dumb. I wanted to do it myself so badly that it was killing me, but I decided to just watch and time how long it took to sort it out. It took just over 10 minutes for them to sort out one terminal. Meanwhile, I made the mistake of asking if they could grease Betty’s nipples. A guy showed up with a grease gun and just stood there completely clueless. I had to show him each nipple that needed greasing and then he couldn’t figure out how to get the grease into the nipples on the prop-shafts because the openings were clogged with mud. Instead of trying to unclog them, he kept pumping the grease, which kept spilling out all over the floor. Finally, he said “This doesn’t need to be greased. It’s already full.” All I could do was roll my eyes and start unclogging them myself. It was maddening.

Eventually, we got everything more or less sorted. Unfortunately, it was now too late to leave for Togo. Instead, we decided to talk with some of the local insurance companies about extending our insurance. Six unsuccessful attempts later and we gave up. At each company we received the same response. They could issue insurance for Ghana however none were able to offer the brown card insurance we needed for Togo, Benin, and Nigeria. Having run into insurance problems twice before (once in Mauritania and once in Senegal), we really didn’t want to open ourselves up to potential hassles in Nigeria so we decided to race across Togo, Benin, and Nigeria before our current insurance expires.

The balance of our day was spent running errands, going to the internet, and generally getting ready to depart for Togo the following day. The end of a wonderful two-month stay in Ghana!