Lucky Days in Ghana

The Cape Coast Castle

The Cape Coast Castle

Just getting into Ghana seemed like a victory enough, but then I lucked out even more. A taxi driver, waiting to fill his 5 shared seats, gave up as soon as I entered, and then I had my own private car to deliver me the 3 hours to Accra. He smoked a joint in the car, accurately timed between police check points, and I had to play stupid and sweet to 3 more demands for hand-outs on the way. He delivered me to the front door of my couchsurf host, who turned out to be a slightly depressed Israeli guy, or atleast a very unhappy and negative guy, so 2 nights later, I snuck away to the beach with a bunch of Lebanese friends I had made. I also bonded well with his other Israeli friends, and everyone took care of me like a visiting relative that needed to be fed and escorted around 24/7.

The best friend I made was Asaad, who managed one of the ex-pat bars I had been to a couple times (its called Firefly, you should go there!). It kind of felt like everyone there was Israeli or Lebanese, but if I didn’t say anything, I fit in quite nicely. When Asaad spotted me and realized I was fresh fish, he asked me where I was from and what I’d done or seen in Ghana. I hadn’t seen more than the Israeli guys house and the embassy of Cote D’Ivoire, so he asked what I was doing tomorrow at 3.

riding on the beach

riding on the beach

“Nothing.”

“Come to the beach with us?”

“Ok.”

Then, 1 and a half hours later, at 2:45am, he asked me if I was ready. He meant 3 am, and we drove to Kokrobite through the night to arrive at sunrise. We sat on the beach, as the stars disappeared and the sky lightened, and the largest, brightest comet I’ve ever seen streaked the sky in neon blue and a flash of orange. Then the sun rose, and started to cook us at 8 am, so we eventually retreated into the beach house to nap a few hours. The rest of the day was spent grilling lobsters and riding horses on the beach, and I felt like I had found yet another African paradise.

the Accra Polo Club

the Accra Polo Club

I stumbled on another dream day in Accra, when I got permission to ride some polo ponies at the Accra Polo Club; I rode a feisty little gelding in circles at sunrise, trying to figure out the 4 reins in my hand, and finally felt like the horse under me had enough power to gallop without heaving under my weight (i.e. every beach horse I’ve ridden in West Africa).

Later I went further west to Cape Coast, staying with friends of Asaad’s, and visited the many castles and forts spread out along the coast, including the haunting St. George’s Castle in Elmina. Each fort ironically markets itself as “the biggest slave castle,” “the largest underground dungeon,” or “the largest number of slaves sold,” but they all give the same, spooky, hair-raising chill down your spine when you visit. The smell of the slave chambers is still poignant, even after hundreds of years and being cleaned and ventilated, but the smell of blood, sweat and tears stubbornly sticks to the walls. It made me noxious, but it was hard to miss a visit to these white, fortressed castles, sitting so gloriously on the sea.

St. George´s Castle, Elmina

St. George´s Castle, Elmina

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Togo to Ghana (very sneakily)

I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to Ghana. All the Ghanaian embassies I had talked to so far (in Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo) had refused me since I wasn’t a resident of any of their countries, but no one seemed to consider the fact that there is no Ghanaian embassy in my resident country. They hadn’t even heard of Iceland, so I tried to convince them it was part of Togo, but that didn’t work. Then I told them that the closest embassies to Reykjavik, in London or Copenhagen, had refused me for the same reason, so somebody had to eventually issue the visa, or else the conclusion would be that no Icelanders could visit Ghana.

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my guide in the butterly hills of Togo

After being rejected in Lomé, I went to the butterfly forests of Kpalimé, 150 km north. I was there to go chasing waterfalls and lots of colourful butterflies, but the dry season kind of killed the waterfall chase. I hired a guy to take me around the winding hills and forests one day, and I think he had more fun than I did.

After frolicking around Togo, I tried to casually cross at the local border of Ho, just 25 mins away from Kpalimé. It took me a couple motorcycle rides, along winding dirt roads that seemed to lead to nowhere, but eventually i reached the exit post of Togo. I convinced the officers there not to stamp me out of the country, since I wasnt sure if I´d get into Ghana, 2 km away past some no-mans land. I reached the smiley, english speaking Ghanaian border post, only to make 4 new friends that couldnt help me at all. They said they didnt issue visas and couldnt let me in, since I´d definitely not get back out of Ghana  without alot of hassle.

the Kpalimé falls, just trickling drops

the Kpalimé falls, just trickling drops

So I took the windy dirt road back to Kpalimé, and another hot stuffy bus 150km south to Lomé, and went straight to the border crossing there. I reached just 30 mins before it closed, and had to again convince the Togolese side not to stamp me out. I walked the few meters into Ghana, and the first officer I met immediately started flirting with me. It was a good start, atleast I thought so, so I stuck to him until he took me to his boss. Then that guy, holed up in an office with another powerful official, started letting on that they “could issue me a visa, but what incentive could I give?” They circled me with indirect questions, begging for a fat bribe, and finally said the visa would cost $150, or 120 Euros, and anything extra would help facilitate the process. I played stupid and sweet, thanking them for being so helpful, and that that exact price was just perfect. Half an hour later, they reluctantly gave me back my passport, still hinting at some sort of cash-value thank-you, but I already knew I had paid 5 times more the cost of a tourist visa, and I only got a hand-scribbled stamp valid for 1 week.