With a heavy heart we left the elephants of Mole and headed off after a morning walking safari. It was a long drive to Accra but we wanted to get there to apply for our Angolan visa. It takes at least five days for an Angolan visa and they only accept applications on a Monday so we were very keen to get there. So we drove, and we drove. Normally a stickler for no air con, even I broke in 45 degree heat but we were making good ground. After 3 hours, James looked down at the temperature gauge whilst driving and noticed it was through the roof so we pulled off and did the obligitary “look blankly under the bonnet.” No obvious problems came to light after we’d checked a few bits and bobs and after half an hour, Stanley seemed to have cooled down. After calling my Dad back in England and checking we weren’t doing anything that would harm him, a call every parent likes to get , we decided we should carry on. On two conditions – no air con and speeds under 100 km/h. We cautiously continued, and despite a few moments where he got a bit hotter he stayed safely out of the red for the rest of the journey. Of course, with no air con, we were well into our red zone. It took several more hours than we planned and despite our best efforts, we drove into Accra at 9pm, completely exhausted.
We had planned to spend a night or two in a popular overlanding spot called Big Milly’s Backyard – run by an englishwoman who discovered the area when backpacking. What we had failed to realise is Saturday night at Milly’s is reggae night. We pulled up, and this place was clearly the place to be for the night, although maybe not for two overlanders who had been driving for 12 hours, after getting up at 6 to see elephants. To get through the gate, you needed a wristband – always the sign of a good place to sleep, but when we explained we were overlanders they bent over backwards to help us. One problem was that the camping area was at the back, and to get there you had to drive through the dance floor. They cleared it for us, and if nothing else we made one hell of an entrance. With a Malian band taking the stage, there was only one thought on our mind – if you can’t beat them, join them. Somehow, the night finished at 5 am when we crawled into our tent, not what we would have thought at 6 that morning.
We spent a couple of days with the lovely Milly and met lots of volunteers, tourists and even the odd ex-overlander. It made a lovely change from the empty campsites we’ve been staying in for 2 months. We applied for our Angolan visa and set in for the long wait – but my God, did we land on our feet. One of James friends, Sonja was working in Accra and gave us the exceptionally generous offer of staying with them whilst we waited. Not only did we get a room with air-con, it also gave us a chance to get Stanley serviced and checked for the reason for his overheating. After 6 hours at the Toyota dealership, James returned to tell me the reason he had overheated was it was hot… The servicemen seemed to think if we were mad enough to take him to Northern Ghana, where it’s proper hot, we could hardly be surprised if he gets a bit toasty. Our hosts also introduced us to possibly the best place in the world – Accra mall. We were like kids in a candy store. They had a burger king, a spectacular supermarket and even a cinema. We went every day – sometimes even twice, eating in the food hall and shopping in the stores for things we haven’t been able to get since Europe and won’t see again til South Africa – you know, the essentials - ice cream and a volleyball.
Armed with our visas, we tootled up to the Volta region, a mountainous, lush area to the east of Ghana, bordered by the second biggest artificial lake in the world. We spent a night up in the mountains and then headed on to Wli waterfall, Ghanas tallest. On route, we managed to drive through what seemed to be a continuous party. Each town was covered in black and red ribbons, and people seemed to have come for miles around, booking out all the hotels to stay in the region. We enquired as to what would cause such a big party, and found out to our cost later that day. This seemed to be a funeral, which spanned for over 100km. Somehow, whilst James was navigating – yes I still hold it against him, we managed to take a wrong turn and end up down a dirt track, only to drive directly into the cemetery this exceptionally popular man was about to populate. I drove past, with most of myself hidden beneath the dashboard, except for my bright red face and drove, exceptionally fast, away.
Wli was beautiful, and it took some getting to. We spent three hours hiking to the top of it, and by the time we made it were greeted by some other hikers, who I hope understood our poor manners as we undressed whilst running towards the water, shouting hello before diving in. John, our guide, after having hiked the same distance in flip flops and a white ironed shirt and black trousers in 40 degrees, declined our offer to swim with us because the water was too cold. We wallowed for a while, before starting the descent and the short hike to the much easier to access lower falls. These were colonized with bats and the entire wall of the waterfall was moving and squarking and we repeated the above exercise.
We crossed over to Togo on Ghana’s Independence Day, with the imminent threat of my Dad arriving in 2 days and us being 2 countries away. We passed through a charming border crossing, where we had to wait for the customs official to stop serving in his shop across the road before stamping us out. We spent two nights in Lome, on multiple visa runs and were due to head off early to get to Benin to meet my Dad when an apocalyptic storm hit. Yes, I might have been gossiping with another overlander before I realised James was battling to bring down the tent in gale force winds whilst protecting our omelettes from sand, and trying to boil some water. But I returned just in time to eat the omelette and drink the tea from the safety of the car whilst we watched coconut after coconut fall perilously close to people braving the storm to steal palm fronds.
We set up camp at a Yugoslavian-run hotel on the Route des Peches. James has a lovely habit of when speaking French to accidentally saying Serbian words, to eventually stare at me whilst saying the word before I say I think that’s Serbian – it’s certainly not French or English. I hugely enjoyed watching the opposite, as he started to speak Serbian to end up accidentally talking in French. She was certainly exceptionally bemused at speaking Serbian in Benin.
Dad arrived, bringing me a rescue parcel and a solar panel. The next morning I had the joy of opening my rescue parcel from my Mum, and Dad had the joy of standing in the heat, setting up my solar panel whilst I used his bathroom. Who wouldn’t have children? We pottered along the beautiful, if lethal coast line and even got in a quick game of volleyball in the salt pool at the hotel. After allowing him a whole half an hour to acclimatise we started our trip north with a view to spending a few days at the Parc National de Pendjari. It’s a hell of a distance, approximately 600km, but is reported to be the best national park in West Africa, so we broke up the journey with a stop in Abomey. They are said to have historical palaces and after viewing them I’m not entirely sure where this description has come from. We drove around looking at mud huts for several hours, thanking our lucky stars the museum had already closed for that day. On the plus side, the guest house had a mini golf course which is a first for us, and there was a charming restaurant down the road which did local food under a sky full of fruit bats.
The next day we drove the last 400km, pulling up after a couple of hours to eat a quick cheese sandwich. We found a quiet turning off the road but after ten minutes were joined by four policemen with guns who told us to move on and eat our sandwiches elsewhere. We could be attacked by bandits! How likely it is that bandits lie in wait of white people eating a cheese sandwich I’m not sure but they were quite persuasive with their guns so we popped off. Welcome to Africa, Dad!
We had a couple of ideas of places to stay in the national park but none were particularly concrete. We pulled up at the first but were still 40km from the entrance and decided, as it was still light, we should try and get a bit closer. Normally, wherever we go, we can always camp so its not so much of an issue but now, with our latest visitor there was the added pressure that wherever we end up has to have a serviceable room. However, we heard tell of a place right on the edge of the park with nice rooms. We drove the 40km of piste to get there, following our GPS coordinates and things were looking bleak. It was leading us into exceptional poor villages, which seemed very unlikely to have accommodation, but we persevered. We ended up 400m from the place, and still no sign of a guesthouse. We asked in the village, “Chez Numi?” and were directed down a smaller dirt track. After 300m we arrived at what looked like an abandoned garage. About to give up and drive back up the piste we tried the even smaller track over a bridge to find a German man wandering around what looked like pure forest. He had the look of Robinson Crusoe, with a large beard and clothes covered in oil. He then proceeded to show is round his guest house – with its pool constantly filled with running mountain spring water, his bungalows with possible the best bathrooms I have ever seen in Africa and his own potable water filtered directly from the mountain. We explained we had found it very difficult to find him even with GPS coordinates and maybe a sign of two might have helped. He explained he used to have signs, but they fell down and someone had used them as firewood. He had asked for a new one but they hadn’t got round to it. After 35 years in Africa, he had certainly become African.
We spent a couple of days in and about the park and I had the privilege of showing my Dad his first elephant, hippo and most importantly, impala. On our last night, we camped within the park and were set for another inevitable night on our own when a group of nuns arrived. To say this was a surprise is an understatement. We never really got to the bottom of why they were there but they did certainly provide entertainment for the evening, even accepting a beer or two when offered.
They next day we left, with a quick stop at a waterfall on the way out. We were shown to the waterfall by the obligatory 4 guides whilst another 6 or 7 people organized a coffee for us, advertised their merchandize and offered to dive off the waterfall. Whilst we were away at the waterfall someone even washed our car. I think they don’t get tourists very often… but with the knowledge of 23kg of luggage going back to the UK I used the opportunity to finally buy some souvenirs of our trip. Swimming in the pool beneath the waterfall was very refreshing and we left in a clean car, with a boot full of merchandize and the promise of Wifi in the next town – apparently 3 days off the grid was too much for my Dad. I think we may have become habituated.
Whilst in the national park we came across the sad news of the attacks in Cote D’Ivoire. We had been 400m from the hotels just two weeks before and it seems extremely sad. Not only for the people attacked and their families but also for all these countries we have had the privilege of visiting. All along we have been hearing how the attacks in Bamako and Ouagadougou have had a devastating affect on the tourist industries of tens of countries, often thousands of miles away from the initial targets. In the last year, the very park we were in had had a reduction in numbers by a third, and the owner of Chez Numi reports in days gone by having 4 overlanding cars at any one time. I suppose the only positive is that we have been lucky enough to do this now, as I seriously doubt it will be possible for much longer.