I just finished reading Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck's memoir of his 1960 circumnavigation of the United States in his truck with his poodle Charley by his side. Steinbeck had a great deal to say about travel in general in this book, and one paragraph in particular seems relevant to our drive from Coconut Grove Resort in Elmina to Axim.
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. . . . [A] journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.
Every day of our Ghana journey was full of surprises. Every day was dripping with its own personality, temperament, individuality, and uniqueness (and perspiration). A good example was our 160-mile round-trip drive from our lodgings in Elmina to Fort St. Anthony in Axim. That distance in the United States might take one-and-a-half hours one way and contain a few things of interest, but in Ghana every trip takes much longer than expected, which is just fine because there is something new and fun to see around every bend in the road. For example:
As in Kenya and Tanzania, there is a thriving microfarming industry in Ghana. We would drive past six or seven stands like this at a time, all selling the very same thing. Someone needs to teach these farmers about diversification.
It wasn't until I cropped this picture that I noticed that man sitting in the grass and the decrepit condition of the wagon. Is that sugar cane they are gathering? I'm not sure.
One of the many unplanned events we had along the way was a "friendly" encounter with the Ghana Highway Patrol. Although Russ was driving carefully and was being regularly passed by other cars on the road, a pretty aggressive and humorless policewoman pulled him over and told him that her radar had clocked him going 60 km in a 50 km zone. It was pretty clear right away that one does not argue with the police in Ghana. I was very impressed with the way Russ handled things. He was very polite and friendly, treating the officer with exaggerated respect.
"I am a missionary serving in Accra with my wife," he said. "We are here on a special outing and won't be able to return to this area again to appear in court. I could, however, pay my fine right now if that would be convenient. How much would it be?"
"What would you suggest?" the stern policewoman replied, suddenly interested in his inability to return.
"How about 100 cedis [about $30 US]?" Russ replied. [According to this source, minimum wage in Ghana is 6 cedis per day.]
After a short pause, the officer held out her hand, received the bill, and walked away. I'm sure that money will never make it to the general traffic fund.
I can't remember if Russ suggested that amount because he didn't have anything smaller, but whatever the reason, we did stop at a bank in the next large town of Secondi-Takoradi (twin cities like Minneapolis-St. Paul, but the similarity ends there) to change some bills into smaller denominations.
By chance, the bank was near this war memorial:
I didn't know anything about West Africa's involvement in either World War I or II, but Ghana, known then as the Gold Coast, was definitely involved in both. They lost 16,200 troops in World War I. I haven't been able to find casualty figures for World War II, but during those years, Takoradi was an important British airbase for staging aircraft bound for Egypt, and an African air force squadron was also based in Takoradi. It makes sense that there would be a war memorial there.
Isn't this a wonderfully expressive statue? I'm so glad we stumbled on it:
About 41% of the people of Ghana are Christian, and all along the way we saw many humble Christian churches. This yellow one is The Church of Pentecost:
Every now and then we would see a shockingly familiar-looking church:
"Wow, that's an interesting place to have an auto showroom," I thought to myself as we passed by this glass-front building. However, then I noticed the sign on the eave that read "Parker's Casket," and I looked a little closer. Now that's something you don't see every day when you are meandering through rural neighborhoods in the States:
Now I come to one of the biggest shocks of our trip to Ghana: the chocolate.
Cocoa cultivation began in Ghana in 1895. Between 1911 and 1976, Ghana was the world's leading producer of cocoa. Due to various economic and environmental issues, prices plummeted in the late 1970s, and many Ghanaian farmers stopped growing cocoa. In recent years cocoa growing has picked up again, but where it used to account for 66% of the country's foreign exchange, it now accounts for only 35-40%. However, even at the lower rate, it is still the country's main cash crop, and according to Wikipedia, Ghana is second only to the Ivory Coast in cocoa production. Growing cocoa is very hard work in return for very low pay. A recent article on nbcnews.com has a lot more information for anyone who is interested.
|Japanese versions of Ghana chocolate bars|
Every time we stopped somewhere that had food for sale, I looked for chocolate. Gas stations in the United States aren't a source of gourmet chocolate, but they are a source for some chocolate. However, European gas stations typically have a pretty decent selection of chocolate, and I expected the same in Ghana. Finally, we hit a convenience store attached to a gas station, and there was one lonely box of chocolate bars next to the cash register. Yippee! (FYI, Since coming home, I have learned that Kingsbite by Golden Tree of Ghana is a premium chocolate brand.)
We spent several hours in Axim (see next post) and then headed back to our lodgings at Coconut Grove Resort the same way we'd come. Lucky for us, there wasn't much traffic. We did see one tro-tro (a small bus crammed with passengers) that had slid down a short embankment, its disgorged riders standing in the mud with their hands on their hips looking at the vehicle and discussing their options, and later we saw a delivery truck that had slid off the road, a large hauler hooked up to it and pulling it back into a more appropriate location:
It was one of those days when I couldn't have been happier to be a passenger and not the driver.
By the time we got back to Coconut Grove, the clouds were gone, the sun was out, and the mud on the car had transformed into a coating of dry dirt that leapt from the chassis onto our clothing any time we walked within about two feet of it: