14 January 2015

Accra, Ghana

We had an early leave from Elmina and headed back inland to find Kakum National Park.  The reason for going there is the canopy walkway which most of the group did.  I had done a canopy walk before and this one you can't do with out a guide so I was less interested.  Instead i did a spot of shopping and relaxed in the cafe watching lizards.

We then had a couple of hours for lunch and exploration in Cape Coast giving people the chance to either go around another castle or wander through town.  From Cape Coast we headed to Kokrobite, a beach area about an hours drive from Accra and the final destination for me on the big yellow truck.  I treated myself to a bed for the night and we all had dinner and a few drinks before I set myself the mammoth task of cramming all the stuff I'd bought into my backpack.

The following day I caught a lift with the truck into the city as the rest of the group where going to apply for Benin visas.  As it was the last night of my trip before heading home I had booked a night in the Novotel for a bit of luxury.  It was lovely being able to lounge around after a bit of Accra sight seeing.

There wasn't much to see in Accra in the central area where I was staying.  I walked to the memorial park which was shut and also Independence Square.  This square was where independence was declared in 1957 so I was expecting a big statue or fountain.  Instead I found what looked like an abandoned stadium.  It was a huge space so I can only presume that the area is used for concerts etc.  I also went around the National Museum.  I love museums but this is the first of the trip as all the others have been in French. Although very dated It was a great way to fill a couple of hours before my flight.

I had a great, comfy flight home on Turkish airways and was even greeted by sunshine in Manchester, even if it was a chilly 2 degrees!

This whole trip has been fantastic.  West Africa doesn't have a massive amount to do in terms of attractions but It was nice to see local life and especially how it changed through the countries visited. My favourite country was Mauritania, despite only visiting the 2 cities it was like nowhere I'd ever been and people where so friendly.

Who knows where the next trip will take me but one thing I will definitely be doing before hand is making sure I make more effort in learning the local language!

13 January 2015

Elmina, Ghana

On the way to the coast we tried to find Kakum National Park.  It wasn't the best sign posted so we gave up and headed to Elmina to spend 2 nights on the coast before Accra.  I had visions of Ghana having lots of sun and blue sky.  In reality we have hardly seen the sun which has been hiding behind a thick haze which is pollution from all the fires burning inland.  Steve says its common in the dry season not too have blue sky and he wasn't expecting to see it until Cameroon!

We visited St Georges castle in Elmina getting a great guided tour around it.  The coast is full of castles but St George is one of the main ones.  It was built in 1482 by the Portuguese as a trading centre for ivory and gold.  The Dutch took over in 1637 and then the British in 1872.  Over time the ivory and gold trade was replaced with slaves.  The storage areas for goods were converted into slave dungeons and the upper floors of the castle the living quarters of the governors.  The church was also converted into a slave market. The tour was very interesting to hear about the slave trade and also about the many uses of the castle which most recently was a police training school before it became a museum.

Our last day in Elmina was spent doing a full truck clean and a bit of lounging around before heading to Accra the next day.

12 January 2015

Kumasi, Ghana.

We bush camped the night before getting to Kumasi, with the aim of getting to the city in the morning and therefore only needing to spend one night there.  The attraction in Kumasi is the market which is said to be one of the largest in Africa.

This was our first taste of a Ghanaian city.  Compared to everywhere else we have been this is by far the most civilised place with a lot more businesses and homes being a reasonably built brick structure rather than a shack. It was busy, and very humid making walking around the market which was absolutely crammed with people a challenge and at times not the most pleasant of experiences.  It was very fast paced and the locals obviously new exactly where they were going as they navigated through the endless amount of stalls which sprawl both sides of the railway and on the track itself!  There was no stopping space at all so buying anything was hard work but at least we can understand what people are saying now we are in an English speaking country.  One of the big problems with this market though is the fact the Ghanaians aren't the skinniest Africans we have seen and the route through the stalls isn't big enough for 2 average sized Ghanaian ladies to pass each other which leads to lots of pushing and shoving and squeezing whilst you wonder whether the stuff on the head of the person next to you is going to fall on your head!

One of the things that we noticed as we travelled through the country was the large number of churches. They are everywhere and range from huge, elaborate buildings to tiny shacks.  One thing they do have in common is that you could probably listen to the service a mile off as the noise coming from them is like an amplified commentary from horse racing.  They really do love God as pretty much every business as a religious based name like "Gods with you beauty salon".  I wish I had started taking photos of the signs as some where pretty clever.

A brief but good stop in Kumasi as we left to head towards the coast.

8 January 2015

Mole National Park, Ghana.

After a noisy night at the border we were quickly stamped into Ghana and were on our way by 7.30am.  I slept very well but everyone else didn't.  The music was played from about 10pm and was still playing when we left at a volume that made it like sleeping in a night club all night. We later found out that the music had started as a way of celebrating the life of someone who had just died.  The music starts when the death is announced. Bit odd really.

We had a day and a bit drive north to Mole National Park where we would spend the rest of the day, night and the following morning.  Compared to going on safari in east Africa there us nothing really to see in Mole in terms of big animals with elephants being the main attraction.  However a 2 hour safari is a fraction of the price of the safaris in the east. 

We all went on a safari starting at 11am which apparently is the best chance to see elephants.  All 9 if us clambered onto benches attached to the top of an empty jeep.  Who knows how all our weight was held!  After an hour driving we did see some elephants as they crossed the track in front of us and then we saw some having a bath as the watering hole. 

Most of the group wanted to spend the evening in a tree hide next to a water hole.  I wasn't particularly bothered as I knew I wouldn't seen any animals when I was asleep anyway.  We went with the majority vote and all put in a extra few dollars each so that we could take the truck out and spend the night there instead of the public campsite.  I was planning on sleeping in the tent anyway and Sawa in the truck, but it was a good job as the park had double booked the tree hide so we would never have all fitted there after all.  Elephants were seen in the evening amongst the surrounding trees and one was seen outside the truck overnight, not by me though.  The whole night's experience seemed a bit pointless as the guides weren't quiet until about midnight therefore scaring wildlife off. 

The national park was a great stop. The highlight for me though was definitely the baboons that walked into the truck.  The 1st time, I wasn't in the truck but saw the huge baboon walk in, have a rummage through the stuff on the seats and then hop out the window.  I think Saskia, Paisley and Kate got the fright of their lives as they were in the truck.  Later another baboon came and had its head in my locker under the seat. I quickly closed the seat down on its arm whilst screaming and quick thinking Dave came to my rescue by whacking the baboon in the face with a broom.  Don't think it liked that!

Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.

Abidjan is the biggest city in Côte d'Ivoire and is the first city that we have visited that actually looks like a proper city, with skyscrapers and bill boards.  We were staying in the yard of a beach front hotel about 20 km from the city as there are no camp grounds in the country.  I was thinking is would be a bit like Dakar where we just had access to a toilet but the hotel also had a shower and swimming pool that we could use which is great news after 3 nights bush camping.

We had a day to explore the city so we all headed in on a public minibus and then took a taxi across the bridge of the river to the cathedral.  The cathedral was a bizarre design as it looked like one of the supports to a suspension bridge. The city was quiet as it was a Saturday morning and not a lot was open but it was nice to just to  wander without many people in the streets especially as it was so humid.  We all met up and took another bus to Grand Bassam for the afternoon.

Grand Bassam is another 20 odd km in the opposite direction from our camp.  It's a beach resort popular with the locals and is the old colonial capital.  During a yellow fever outbreak in colonial times a lot of people moved to Abidjan and permanently resettled there.  We got off the bus early so we could visit the craft markets and thought that the main centre of the town would be near.  Unfortunately it was miles away so we had a long and sweaty walk down the main road before we found town.  We walked to the French quarter which is an island and stopped for a lovely and much needed meat and chip lunch despite the fact it was 4pm.  The beach was packed with young locals all in the sea or playing football on the sand.  The one thing that we noticed was that no one was sunbathing , everyone enjoying the sea.  All in all a great and busy day out.

Cote d'Ivoire has been a great place to visit.  There weren't many attractions but the people were again very friendly and we got no hassle from any one.  It was also amazing to see how much the climate, vegetation and even fashion changed from previous countries.  We had a very long, dusty and definitely the most bumpiest days drive to the border where we got stamped out very easily just in time to hit the Ghanaian side as they were locking the gates so it was another border camp for us!

Again no photos of Abidjan just yet as they are stuck on my camera card.

Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire. January 2015

We had a bush camp on the way to the border to Cote d'Ivoire and then one of the other side of the border 80km away from the capital city, Yamoussoukro.  The country is very scenic with dense vegetation, awful roads and a lot more humidity than Mali.

Yamoussoukro is a bit of an odd capital as it is not the largest city in the country and there isn't much there..  We didn't stay in the city but we stopped on the way west to Abidjan to visit the cathedral.  President Boigny who was the first president wanted the cathedral built in his home city and employed an Italian architect who based the cathedral's design on St Peter's in the Vatican City.  The cathedral which is 158m tall took 3 years to build finishing in 1989.  We got a tour around with a guide who was excellent.  Inside was huge and can seat 7000 people and have another 11,000 standing.  Outside you can fit 150,000 but I'm not sure they have ever had this many people there.  The whole cathedral was pretty spectacular and it was definitely a highlight of the trip so far and again there were no tourists at all.

Heading to Abidjan from Yamoussoukro we ditched the pot holes for smooth, fast highway and also gave a lift to a French family after their car had broken down.

I will post photos of the cathedral at a later date as I cannot get them off my camera card.

Bamako, Mali

Bamako, the capital of Mali feels like one very big market located on the Niger river.  We stayed across the river from the city centre at a great campsite with hot water showers and WiFi and we had 3 pet rabbits wandering around.

The main centre of Bamako is mental and I found our visit there a bit frustrating.  The grande mosque is in a centre square with some fetish markets which are the main tourist attraction.  Stalls are set up with animal skins, petrified hyaena heads, stacks of bones and other animal related left over's all to be used for alternative medicine.  There was a lot of hassle in this area by touts due to the complete lack of tourists and the nearby craft market.  We wanted a general look around the area including the local markets and it was hard to shake them off until you end up at the craft markets.  They didn't seem to understand that we were interested in looking at other stuff and that buying souvenirs wasn't the priority of the visit.  One even saw us looking at the mosque and said that it wasn't the market, it was an area of prayer.  I thought the massive minerets sort of gave it away myself!

Having lost our local company after giving us no chance to even look at stuff, Tyson and I wandered through the local markets past stacks of fabrics, shoes and even animals.  We ended up in the more residential area of town where lots of weddings were happening.  People just seem to put up a tent in the street and have a massive party.  We probably saw at least 20 parties which were very colourful and attended mainly by women.  The music was interesting as it was often a couple of ladies singing/shouting over some dodgy music or drumming.  One of the drums was made from a ball sitting in a bucket of water.  The highlight of the day was seeing a huge sheep getting a wash.  A teenage boy was sat on this sheep's back with a scrubbing brush and a bar of soap!

How long we would stay in Bamako would depend on the rest of the group's success in getting a Nigerian visa.  We spent 3 nights in camp before leaving as they weren't successful as the ambassador wasn't home.  It was nice to have some lazy time but I was glad to leave.  Next stop Cote d'Ivoire.

27 December 2014

Manatali, Mali. December 2014

Merry Christmas from Manatali in pretty hot Mali.  We are all loving Mali so far.  The border crossing was relatively easy and we had a few hours drive before bush camping on the first night.  The next day we had a very scenic drive to Manatali where we would spend Christmas, providing the campsite was OK.  The scenery has gone from flat scrubby land to mountains, rivers, baobab trees and mud hut villages. 

Our Christmas camp was right on the edge of Lake Manatali created by the huge dam nearby.  It was great as the water was very clean so we were able to do lots of swimming and clothes washing. We went into town to pick up the Christmas supplies (meat, beer and veggies), and had a very adventurous walk home trying to find the river track.  Problem was that there were many tracks but none leading where we wanted to go.  Eventually we found our way back in time for lunch and a swim!

Most of the group decided on Christmas morning to go for an early morning walk up a nearby hill.  I passed on the idea favouring a sleep in.  We had a pancake breakfast and then a present giving time.  We had all bought a secret Santa present to the value of 5 Euros for someone after names were picked out of a hat in Fes.  I received a bracelet, a wicker pot and some lolly pops off Paisley which was lovely. 

Dave, having previously worked as a chef did a great job of cooking a roast dinner on the fire.  Despite our limited choice in the market we had beef, sweet potatoes, aubergine, cheesy cabbage and Yorkshire pudding.  Much to my delight the cheese that was bought in Spain and was not allowed to be opened, made an appearance and so did a Christmas pudding which other than Steve and myself nobody likes!  A great lazy Christmas in the sun.

Boxing day had a late start as we headed towards Bamako, bush camping enroute.

The Gambia, December 2014

We had a very easy stamp out of Senegal and an easy entry into The Gambia, well for the UK and Canadian passport holders who can enter for free and do not need a visa.  In our research we also found that the Australians could enter for free and it would just be Sawa and his Japanese nationality who would need a visa at the border.  The immigration officer couldn't seem to understand that the passports were Australian and not Austrian and claimed that visas needed to be bought.  Very unfortunate for the Australians as the internet clearly states that they don't need a visa.

From the border we took a taxi journey to the ferry to then cross the river to the capital Banjul.  The ferry was a great experience as we watched vehicles, goods, sheep and masses of people squish on not the biggest of boats.  I was chatting to man who worked for the port security and he was travelling anyway to Banjul so he gave us a lot of help getting our on-going transport to the coast. We could have done it without his help but it was worth paying a couple of dollars extra for a bit less faff.  It took us a good 4 or 5 hours to get from the border to being in a hotel.  We ended up right on the beachfront in an area called Bakau. 

We spent 3 nights in the hotel on the beach.  It was nice to spend time sleeping in a bed and not really doing a lot.  I spent one day looking around the markets and lounging on the beach and the following day Lucy and I went on a 4 hour walk to Biljilo Forest monkey park.  We didn't see a lot of wildlife after we left the main gate area but it was nice to have walk in peace without anyone trying to sell you something!

Our last night was spent in Georgetown (Janjanbure).  It was a bit of an adventure to get there though as it was a public holiday aimed at cleaning up the country.  As a result there was only one bus running that day and we had to walk an hour to the bus stop as taxis weren't running either.  The express bus was due to take 3 hours but it left 45 minutes late and we had arrived 45 minutes early to get seats.  Good job we did. The seats were narrow and there was no leg room but at least we had a seat.  The bus was jam packed the whole journey.  It was great for people watching though and at one point I had chickens in my face and hanging against my legs, thankfully still alive!  We arrived 6 hours later in the pitch black as the town was suffering from power cuts.  We found somewhere to stay and had the longest wait for food yet- 2 hours!

Georgetown is a great place for viewing wildlife on boat trips as it is an island.  The boat trips were very expensive though and we only had a few hours in the morning spare so no one went on one.  Everyone in Georgetown was so friendly, saying good morning and not wanting anything from us.  Whilst walking on a dirt track away from the main street a family with 7 kids came running up to me and Lucy very politely shaking our hands and asking our names.  An old man also invited us to look around his garden which was right on the end of the river.  It would have been nice to spend a bit longer in Georgetown but we needed to get to the border to meet the truck. 

The border wasn't that far but it wasn't a main border post and people didn't really seem to know where it was.  We took 3 bus taxis to get there (massively overloaded minibuses which only leave when full), the last taxi saying that it wasn't leaving until 6 more people came.  Who knows where those people were going to go or when they would turn up so we just paid for the 6 tickets so that we could leave.

The border didn't even have a sign post and we couldn't get our passports stamped as there was'nt an immigration office, just customs.  We were very thankful to see the big yellow truck waiting for us though!

Dakar, Senegal

We had a casual days drive to Dakar through lots of little villages, on nice smooth roads and some bumpy, dusty dirt tracks.  We stopped at Lake Rose which was pretty salty, similar to the Dead Sea.  The lake gets its name from the pink colour it is supposed to have but actually it's more of a brown colour.  We bush camped in an abandoned housing estate which was pretty houseless with only 2 or 3 which weren't complete.  This meant that we could be within an hours drive of Dakar the next day.

Dakar was far more civilised than I expected.  It was a busy city and we received a lot of hassal especially around the market areas.  As a result we didn't really get a look at anything.  Due to Ebola in neighbouring countries I think that a lot of tourists have been scared off as we didn't see any walking around all day.  We had a great drive along the coast out if the city centre and we stopped at a huge statue on a hill which apparently is bigger than the Statue of Liberty.  It was said to cost 30 million US Dollars to build and wasn't the most attractive.  We were due to be staying in a restaurant garden in Dakar but when we arrived they didn't want us to stay.  After an hour or so and some local help we ended in a carpark area outside another restaurant.  No campsite in Dakar.

The following day we packed up and Steve dropped us in the city for the day.  Not fancying any more city centre hassel me, Lucy and Saskia got the ferry to Goree island for the day.  The islands ownership has been passed between many countries and in the past it had been used as a holding point for slaves.  It was lovely to walk around as there were no cars and the island is full of reasonably well kept colourfully painted buildings. 

Our next stop is The Gambia.  This is a passenger led detour that we all decided would be worth while doing.  The Gambia is not on the Oasis itinerary due to time constraints and the fact that the truck would have a lot of difficulty crossing the river due to the small ferries.  As we are not going through Sierra Leone or Guinea we had a few spare days so we waved good bye to Steve at the border and set off on a 4 day holiday from a holiday!