Sunday, June 1, 2008

Benin, Togo & Ghana Trip

As I mentioned in my post on May 29, we chose to drive to Ghana from Lagos, which turned about to be about a 16 hour day! The group of folks traveling to Ghana consisted of Sharon and Jonathan, driven by Kazeem, and Doug and me, driven by Niyi. Bob had a last minute business trip and he could not go. I was very bummed as I wanted to share these experiences with him! We departed Lagos at about 6:30AM and our drive to the Benin border took about 2 hours and was uneventful. The border crossing was slow to happen, primarily because it was our first time getting the car across the border. First we had to take care of paperwork in Nigeria and then in Benin and we had a more difficult time, getting hassled for money, in Benin. In Nigeria, Niyi had to pay a small amount as he had a virgin passport but I am sure that money went into someone's pocket. In Benin it was a hassle as we had a few "helpers" who were complicating the process of purchasing our laissez-passer (translation "let pass"), the documentation for the car. My cook, Daniel, was with us and he spoke French, which I thought would help a lot, but it did not help much. After 2 hours at the border we made our way only having to pay what we think was the official amount of money. Part of our delays occur because we refuse to pay bribes. If we don't get a receipt/stamp for our money, then we were not going to pay anything. There was a Nigerian Field Society trip that was going to Benin and it took them 3 hours to get all 20+ folks across the border, with no vehicles.

Once in Benin, we went to Daniel's home in Porto Novo, the capital of Benin, where I met his mother (95 years old), his wife and two of their four children (David, 19, and Samuel, 17). We did not stay long as we had a long day of driving ahead of us.

Picture of Daniel and me in his village.
On our drive out through Cotonou, the largest city in Benin, the traffic was bad due to some road construction. While waiting in the traffic, we saw many of the same sights that we see in Lagos - street hawkers, overloaded cars, people carrying items for sale on their head and food neatly displayed for sale. There were also lots of okadas but in Benin, they are driven by women too!
At the Benin - Togo border, the process was much smoother (1 hour), with just one complication. The police on the Benin border who registered the vehicles (wrote down the license plate number) asked us for money because it was our first time crossing the border but he refused to provide any sort of receipt. I asked how he knew it was our first time crossing the border and he said he just knew. I told him we paid my money when we entered Benin and I refused to pay but was not comfortable crossing the border until he registered the car, which he finally did with no compensation.

The road through Togo was right along the coast with nice views.

At the Togo-Ghana border the border process was smooth but time consuming (1.5 hours). The car registration process was computerized but we had to go from building to building to get everything taken care of. Once on the road in Ghana, it was about 6PM, the roads were not so great as we made our way to our destination just west of the capital Accra. We arrived at Big Milly's Backyard in Kokrobite at about 10:30PM. We had hoped to arrive sooner to have time to take in more of the coastal scenery and local activities (in particular a drumming lesson). The place was nice, located right on Ghana's Gold Coast, but definitely had a hippy dippy sort of feel about it. We ate breakfast around 8AM and were headed on our way to our next destination, near Busua / Dixcove. If we go back, we will make sure it is when the giant leatherback sea turtles are nesting on the beach.


Picture below: One of the huts that can be rented with tents set up nearby to accomodate a group of overlanders travelling across Africa in a large truck.
Picture below: Big Milly's is situated right on the beach and this is the view along the coast with many large fishing boats.On the drive to Green Turtle Lodge (GTL), we stopped in Abandze to see Fort Amsterdam (occupied 1665-1868), one of the many forts on Ghana's coast, which overlooks a very active fishing village. This fort was restored but it was not white washed like many of the forts are. The forts were originally built by Europeans to protect their goods for export (they changed hands often, typically between the Dutch and British) but they were later (17th Century) used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We were shown the rooms, or dungeons, the slaves were held in until they were taken out of the "Door of No Return" to board a ship destined for Europe, North or South America.


Picture below: Standing on the coastal side of Fort Amsterdam with the "Door of No Return" behind me.
Picture below: Fishing Village just below the fort
Upon arrival at Green Turtle Lodge (GTL) we found that their beach chalets were full so we had to camp, which we were prepared to do (S&J camped at Big Milly's too). GTL has a great working relationship with the people in the nearby village of Akwidaa.
Picture below: Camp, right on the beach
Upon arrival we walked to the village where we were taken to see an old fort that was approximately 350 years old (based on stories told by their forefathers) and not maintained at all. The remaining walls were overgrown by tree roots and vines. As the sun was setting we were taken to see where they smoked their fish and the samples we were given tasted very good. As usual the small children are really attracted to the visitors, especially Sharon and I, and the rest of the evening consisted of a nice dinner (swordfish or chicken) and a few drinks.
Picture below: Walking from the fort back to the village
Saturday started with a swim (not all), breakfast and then a canoe trip through the mangroves of the Ezile River where we saw a couple of African Pied Hornbill perched on the top of the mangroves. The canoe trip was driven by kids from the local village but arranged through GRT. The canoes seemed very unstable at times and Kazeem in particular was very uncomfortable when then canoe he was on came close to taking on water (yelling "What is the meaning of this?", which we all got a chuckle out of).
Playing in the water - Niyi (driver, Jonathan, and me)
One of the boys from Akwidaa that took us on the canoe trip.
Jonathan, Sharon, Kazeem and Niyi in the canoe.
After a little R&R on the beach, we went to see Fort Metal Cross (built in 1692), which overlooks the fishing harbor of Dixcove. Jonathan decided to hike to the fort but found that a route along the beach did not exist and he had to make his way through the overgrown bushes. The first thing we see upon entering Fort Metal Cross was a skinny Putty-nosed Guenon monkey on a leash. Jonathan told the man it was illegal to keep monkeys and he had to let it go. The man said "OK" but odds are he did not. ; ( We had to pay a small fee upon leaving as the local kids had washed the car even though we asked them not too! We drove back to GTL where we ate dinner and had a few drinks while waiting for the bonfire and music to start.

Village of Dixcove and its fishing harbor just below For Metal Cross.
A young girl with a small child on her back. They were walking around the fort.
On Sunday after breakfast we packed up camp and headed to Accra, where our flight departed from at 7PM. We had hoped to make it to Princestown to see Fort Gross-Fredrichsburg but were told the drive would take more time than we had. One the way back we stopped to buy some lunch food (bread, avocados) and palm oil (for the drivers, who said it was cheaper than in Lagos) and then stopped in Apam to see Fort Patience (1697-1868). This renovated castle has simple rooms that you can stay in if you can sleep knowing the extent of torture that the slaves underwent within the walls of the fort. After the tour we stopped and had lunch at a shut down hotel on the beach (Jonathan and Doug hopped the fence and found someone working on the property who let us in for a small fee) We walked the beach in search of shells but found very few. We arrived at the airport in just enough time to check in and board the plane for a smooth flight back to Lagos.

Fort Patience
Picture from Fort Patience which overlooks the fishing village of Apam.
All in all, it was a great trip. We traveled ~700km (rough estimate) through 4 countries, learned a bit about the history of Ghana and had a bit of down time on the beach. Luckily the language barrier (French) in Benin and Togo did not cause any problems and having exchanged Naira for CFAs in Lagos required us to do one less thing at two border crossings (one more opportunity to get taken advantage of).

On Monday our drivers departed Ghana for the trip back to Lagos. They had some difficulty at the Ghana - Togo border and were held up for 4 hours. They found that Nigerians driving nice SUV's (Toyota Prado) are often thought to be either thieves with stolen cars or drivers for white folks with lots of money. They made their way through Togo to Benin, where they were supposed to pick up Daniel, but due to poor communication they never picked him up and came to Lagos without him. Boy was I mad!!! I am sure that will never happen again! Anyway... the issue has been resolved and everyone is on talking terms again.

9 comments:

rabiel said...

I love to read how much you guys are traveling and enjoying Nigeria and all the surrounding countries. You do such a great job making it real and appealing. You, obviously, are not afraid to try new things including new sports and adventures that will make good stories when you are back in the States.
Keep up the great job.

oluwatobiolobayo said...

Lisa,
You guys are having funnnnn. You are really enjoying Nigeria, do you wanna go back? LOL. But i promise you will have more fun if you go down to Kogi State, and my Town to be specific....Hahahaha.

Have a lovely weeekend.

Rabiya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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