Saturday, 17 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 1

I am travelling with Roine Leringer and Sam Laryea, in advance of the West African Built Environment (WABER) conference.  We decided to come over early and take a vacation trip to explore more of West Africa. Sam and Roine had been discussing and planning this for some time, and I latched on to them, not wanting to miss such an opportunity. Our flight to Accra from Heathrow had been delayed by nearly an hour. Apparently it is common on this route for someone to arrive at the gate after it has closed. Their bags have to be located and removed, and then we lost our scheduled slot and waited for an hour to take off. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed at Accra to be met by Sam's brothers, George and Eben.

After checking in the hotel we went for a drink at the Honeysuckle bar, where the staff wear orange T shirts printed with the name of the bar. Julian Boakye and his friend Sheila joined us. I'd met Julian in Reading when he was doing his MSc in International Development. We had a few beers and a couple of slices of pizza. Got back to the hotel and went to bed about 2am UK time, 1am local time. We were staying at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, a very nice place, not too expensive and just around the corner from the British Council.

Saturday, we had breakfast at 8 am. The room was a like a big lounge bar. Clean tiled floor, enormous covered snooker table with a colourful football on it, two televisions, sound on, tuned to different channels, background music, and several wardrobe-sized, free-standing AC units set to a chilly 20 degrees. One by one I switched each of these things off. We'd had to tick a list of breakfast options the night before so our three trays were placed on a coffee table in front of low leather lounge chairs. Everything was in separate bowls, and each bowl was wrapped in clingfilm. The cooked food (scrambled eggs, baked beans, toast) was stone cold. The coffee was the same undrinkable instant coffee that I recall from last year. So, not the greatest breakfast ever, but it filled us up.

We left about 9am after chatting to Sena, who'd come to say hello. It was great to see her again and to congratulate he on finally getting her PhD after having to wait for a long time for her viva. We'd separated out from our baggage the things that were just for Accra, boxes of books, smart clothes and so on. So we had a bag each to put in the land cruiser and we set of north. The roads around Accra were very congested and progress was very slow for the first couple of hours. Through much of the suburbs, the road was under construction, although little work was happening. We stopped at noon for a snack and a cold drink. Yam chips with chilli ketchup and Sprite.

We learned that Saturday was generally funeral day. This seems to involve a drinking party on Friday evening, burial Saturday morning, more partying all afternoon and into the night, then church service with hangovers on Sunday. One particularly noisy funeral convoy was most likely for a military man. First came a motorcyclist in army fatigues, with siren on constantly. Close behind was a large open truck, with about 20 young men, mostly in black, standing up in the back, a couple of hand-held percussion instruments, shouting and yelling, some stretching their arms out. Next came a single-deck bus with some serious people, and quite a few military types. This was followed by a handful of vans and cars, with their hazard lights on. They drove fast and forced their way through the traffic.  Every so often, because they had pulled into a village to make a noise and drink beer, they would catch up with as again and pass us. Everyone gets out of their way, because they look like the military.

We got to Kumasi about 3 pm, and had a quick tour of the campus of KNUST, then a later lunch with Prof George Intsiful, who we met last year. I had a Palaver (like a spinach stew) with a couple of boiled eggs on top, and rice. Very nice.

Then we hit the road again and drove all evening getting to Tamale about 11 pm. Totally tired, and ready for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we cross the border into Burkina Faso! I wish I had brought my French phrase book...

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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