Sunday, 31 May 2009

Aburi Botanic Gardens

Sunday morning, and we accept the invitation of Nada, one of Sammie's many pals, who offered to drive us to Aburi Botanic Gardens. She is the project manager of the refurbishment works in the hotel where we are staying. Why don't hotels tell you at the time of booking that they are busy refurbishing, banging, hollering, sealing off parts of the hotel for weeks on end? This is a big project, so they knew about it when we booked. Anyway, Nada likes to chat, and is one of Ghana's resident Lebanese population. She took us through miles of short-cuts through several districts of Ghana, and we were entertained with scenes of folks going about their business, buying and selling things at every possible opportunity. There were no beggars, just people selling things, and they did not pester, quickly turning to the next person if you made clear you were not interested. Road junctions were fascinating, because every time the heavy traffic slowed to a halt, dozens of traders, often with their merchandise on their heads, walked between the lines of stationary traffic selling things to the vehicle occupants. Chilled water and plantain chips seemed to be the most popular commodities, but we could have bought mirrors, exercise machines, sweets of all kinds, bread, eggs, yams, tampons, pies, furniture, anything. Apart from the furniture which stayed on the sidewalk, the rest of it was on people's heads. And the urban landscape tended to be low-rise, a never ending sprawl of huts that had been made into shops, often with religious names, like the "God is able provisions store" and the "Blessing hair cut" and so on. Although the road was tarmac, it was dreadfully potholed, sometimes with huge trenches and holes that had to be driven around. The edges of the road had no kerbs, so were breaking up, and the side roads tended to be red earth, rather than tarmac. Everywhere was buzzing with life, and there was a real friendly feel to the place, with no sense of threat or danger. A huge proportion of the buildings were unfinished, although occupied. It seems that people just run out of funds mid-way through a project, and have to suspend building operations until they can get enough money together to complete. If they don't live in the half-complete building themselves, then squatters move in immediately work stops.

When we got to Aburi, the notices at the gate were very entertaining. One warned that there was to be no passing through the gardens. It took us a while to figure that one out. Another announced a complex price list. Different prices for Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians, and for various types of children. 50 GHP was half a Cedi, and there are about two Cedis to a pound. Adult Ghanains, 1 Cedi, Foreigners, 3 Cedis. Little Ghanaian kids were charged 0.2 Cedis. They even wanted to charge anyone who wanted to take videos, up to 100 Cedis if the video-maker was commercial. Some hope! Nada had to argue and show her identity card to get the Ghanaian price, but then she gave them the difference back again as a tip "because that is how we do things here".

The gardens were clearly well past their best. Nada told us that there used to be clear labels showing which tree was which, and what all the different species were. The place was clearly past its former glory, and they even had a crashed helicopter. It smelled bad, probably urine, and had been stripped of everything that could be moved. It was hard to tell how long it had been here. Was it an exhibit, or had no one got the resources to tidy up? It was hard to tell. In a corner, near a house, one little solitary girl was gently swinging on a makeshift swing.

A little further on, we came across a tree that had a fence around it. Roine asked Sam why that particular tree might be fenced in, and two little kids appeared out of nowhere, carrying a small bag that contained fresh nutmeg. That was what the fence was for, they said, to prevent them from picking the nutmegs. They were beautiful, a black hard shell covered in a delicate tracery of a red wax-like substance. The kids wanted a lot of money for half a dozen nutmegs, and they knew the value of them so Sammie could not negotiate them down. After chatting to them for a few moments, we went on our way. It was insufferably hot and humid. After walking around the gardens and taking in the sights, we jumped back into Nada's truck and headed for a restaurant where we had a nice lunch with plenty of cold beer. They didn't really cater for vegetarians, but they were able to make a meal from an egg sandwich, some fries and some salad. At least it was all freshly cooked and nicely prepared. That evening, we went to another hotel on the beach, Labardi Beach Hotel, which was rather swish and had a brilliant buffet, and very effective air-con. Sam's brother turned up with his mum, who wanted to meet us before we went to her school tomorrow, and it was really nice to meet her at last. She only stayed an hour, though, as she had to get back home. After the meal, we wanted to go to the beach, because we could hear music. The gate from the hotel to the beach was manned, and since we were not residents, we were not really allowed through, although Sam charmed the guard and eventually he agreed we could go through. The music was not live, but recorded, and was coming from a beach bar. But it was all over. So we sat down anyway and watched the waves roll in, in the dark, while drinking more cold beer. That was Sunday.

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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