We spent a couple of days on different beaches along the Atlantic coast, including Assinie, Jacqueville & Grand Bassam. The sea is ferocious, to the extent that one night I woke a dozen times thinking the car was being broken into as the crashes were just so loud. The days were spent lying on the beach, drinking far too much and relaxing after our epic drive from the north of Ivory Coast. One day, the entire village came out to help bring in the fishing nets, and lying on the beach watching women with babies on their backs and old ladies pull in the nets for hours was just too difficult for James. I managed it fine, especially when he was out there in the midday sun for well over an hour to bring in the impressive catch. I helped too - I brought him his hat as I watched him change from ivory white to lobster pink in under an hour.
Our main aim in Ivory Coast was to get a Ghanaian visa, and the lady at the embassy was spectacularly unhelpful. We managed to get a transit visa for 48 hours, which was a problem as we were very keen to see a bit of Ghana and speak English for a week or two before the next onslaught of Francophone countries. Also, we were planning to pick up our Angolan visas in Ghana, the only place that gives them. After picking up our transit visas, we headed straight for the border. Little did we know what we had in store. This was our most painful border yet. Firstly, it was busy – very busy. Massive trucks lined the route and we headed straight to immigration where we promptly got shouted out repeatedly by a variety of policeman. They seemed to want us to do everything at once, but refused to tell us where to go. They screamed for our passports and car documents and then walked in different directions. After an ominous glance at each other we split up, each following one of our precious documents. I got us stamped out of country with a lady that not only refused to look at me, but had never ever had a chance to see James. James got us registered and we rejoined to head to customs. One stamp and we were out of this hellhole. But the Chief is on lunch. No one else is capable of doing this very simple stamp. This screams of corruption and we try every office but no one will do it. They explain he is eating and he will come back. When? When did he leave? I don’t know. He’s the Chief. We wait two hours and again split up to ensure one of us is in his office and the other is following him, as he waddles, down the corridor to make sure we are first. Maybe we are getting more African. He throws everyone else out, except for a second hand shoe salesman, and looks at our carnet as if he’s never seen one before. We explain the concept and he stamps it. He doesn’t know the date and I explain it’s the 23rd February – my Mum’s birthday. “Oh! We must celebrate” He brings out sweets from his drawer and passes them round as he tells us about his mother. We toast her birthday over some cherry drop travel sweets. The shoe sales man asks for a sweet, but is rejected because it isn’t his mother’s birthday. Bizarre.
Great. On to Ghana. We are greeted with smiles at the Ghana border and the information that our car, a right hand drive, is illegal and there is no way they will allow it in. In fact, we will need an escort, which we will need to pay for, to get to the customs headquarters in Accra. This is news to us. This can only go well with a 48hr visa for a country. We get through our Ebola check (why?) and head to immigration. We chance our arm and say we want to extend as we would love to spend time here. The Head of immigration, a really lovely man, grants us our 30 day visas there and then, explaining we MUST see Ghana. We then explain the problems with the car, and he offers to hold the passports and as long as the car gets in, he will grant our visa. In the Customs Office, we hide from the original customs officer, and the man we find stamps us in after a cursory glance at the car. Maybe he doesn’t realize its right hand drive or maybe the carnet is sufficient. Whatever the answer, we run back, get our visas and get the hell out of there. Every police check from there on out, and there have been many, up to ten a day, has started with, “This car is illegal,” and a long winded explanation. Our method of dealing with this is at every police check point is the passenger pretends to drive and the driver holds the steering wheel at the bottom. I don’t know if this is working but we only got stopped twice yesterday so maybe we’ve cracked it. Ghana is called “Africa for Beginners”. I’m not sure we’re beginners anymore and this is bloody hard work!
After passing the border, we drove for a further 3 hours and I chose a campsite, which sounded nice, called “The Hideaway.” We now have a rule, we don’t go to anywhere that is called the hideaway or something similar. After getting our visa at the embassy in Abidjan, crossing the border and driving for another 3 hours, we off roaded for a further hour to get to “The Hideaway.” Which would have been fine, apart from the apocalyptic storm which hit just before we headed down the dirt track. But it was beautiful and incredibly peaceful when we eventually got there in time to make a chicken satay and drink a couple of their cold Club beer.
We drove up north and stayed overnight on the edge of a lake, and for the first time there were other tourists. We spend the evening chatting to a lovely German family and headed up to Mole the next day. This is Ghana’s gem – a national park up near the border of Burkina and it is fabulous. We camp at their slightly rundown campsite and head out first thing on a safari. We take Stanley and put one of the guides with a shotgun in the car, and within minutes are rewarded with a herd of elephants crossing the road in front of us. Stanley is from Surrey and has never seen an elephant and it suddenly strikes us we’ve driven so far from England we can now run into a herd of wild elephants. Also, much more importantly, we see our first Impala. She is sneaking around our campsite and mostly evades our cameras but it’s a real mood lifter.
We were expecting Ghana to be quite different from its Francophone, and significantly poorer neighbours, and in some ways it’s delivered. The villages have wells and sanitation, most of the population seem to speak English, and there’s significantly more in the markets. On the other hand, the second you get off the main road, the roads disintegrate, every mile you pass a lady with a bundle of firewood on her head and you can spend three days trying to upload your blog post (!). However, this is up north. Tomorrow we head south for Accra and a few days in the capital for a treat and a visa, and I suspect it will be very developed. Maybe we'll even get to go to the cinema!