We slide down the track into Dixcove. A strong aroma of dead fish and raw sewage hangs in the air to meet us. Watched by an ever-hopeful vulture we slate our thirst in a dingy bar. Wherever we look there are photo opportunities to grace any travel magazines. The old shanty buildings of mud and wood look as weary as the few pathetic palm trees left standing. Like sentries, they cast their cooling shadows in the noonday sun. We purchase a fish called Skip Jack for dinner back in the car park.
To the annoyance of Florence, the white walls of Metal Cross and its cannons beacon me. Two hours later we emerge after one of the most enthusiastic guided tours by the fort’s caretaker. The piece the resistance is the Blackhole into which new bewildered arrivals were lowered blindfolded to crawl through to their holding cells. “You can stay in the fort if you wish says or guide.” There are two rooms for rent. The very thought sent a shiver down the girl’s backs. We rather face crossing the turd minefield and dine on SkipJack.
We awake to Ghana national Hash day sponsored by Ashanti Gold mines. The runners are hopeful gold miners. Eight hundred cides gets you in the run with the all-important Hash tee-shirt. Running in the noonday sun is only for mad dog and English men. God only knows why I am on the start line. Fortuitously I team up some like-minded we hitching a lift back to Gloria arriving well ahead of the main contenders we are rewarded with cold beers.
That night the Hash turns into a late night of dancing to a steel band that plays the same number over and over for hours and hours non-stop.
It’s headaches all around in the morning. We spend our fourth day in the surf venturing into Busua for the evening meal. Over the meal, we run into an Aussie pufter. He turns out to be a left overlander named Harry who caught typhoid from the drinking the local water some years ago and never recovered enough to leave.
(Top TIP: Beaches, car parks, airports, ferry crossings, and the like are places not to leave your tent, vehicle unattended. Hire a watchman.) On Harry invitation, we agree to visit Takoradi in the morning up the coast towards Accra for a spot of shopping.
We arrive late morning dropping Harry off with a warning if he is not back to the Jeep by two pm its shank’s mare for him back to Busua. The coastal town is nothing to write home about. A large market constitutes the town heat beat. Set in the middle of a roundabout full of frustrated Ghana cops that spend the day sending the traffic in whatever direction they fancy.
Loaded with American football-shaped Pineapples that you would die for, McVitties, Digestives, Soups, Cheese, Guinness, Sweets, Sprit, Cooking oil, Scallions, Cabbage, Carrots, Tomato sauce just to mention a few of the essentials we arrive back sans Harry.
Over a delicious dinner with Pineapple juice drooling down our chins the decision is taken to move on. One more day is Busua to look after some domestic shores and car perseverance is agreed.
By eleven in the morning, I am covered in oil, and another tee-shirt has bit the dust.
The girl’s stay put in the afternoon I venturing up the beach to a village named Butrue. Here I bump into Nana Edjuba Thea the village chief. No problem with a cup of tea on this occasion. Butrue cuddle’s up to a golden sandy beach that runs as far as the eye can see and like Dixcove has a fort that overlooks it. A small river flows between large healthy palm trees into the surf. The village is set like a jewel on the end of a small peninsula that is covered, in lush tropical vegetation. Nana Edjuba informs me if I could buy the Peninsula that he would accept a knocking down fee of one bottle of the locally distilled gin and 50,000 cides.
Back at Busua it is rumoured that a disillusioned geologist in his search for gold bought a similar peninsula for 4000 US $. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Arriving back the good news is that Jerry wins hands down with an alleged few hundred thousand voted in the kitty just in case they were needed. We leave for Accra. Our route along the coast passes Sekondi, Cape Coast, Saltpond and Winneba. Each place has its slave forts. Fort Good Hope, fort Patience, fort Orange, and Fort Grossfriedrichsburg to name but a few.
Surprisingly fort Grossfriedrichsburg has not yet attracted a Mac Donald franchise. The day is hot and unbending. Williwaw suffering a blowout, with the welded exhausts cracking once more. We arrive on the outskirts of Accra as darkness descends with a very hot engine. Large cities are difficult enough in daylight to find ones way around combined with a very tired, hungry, and sticky short-tempered passengers it is a nightmare.
Our contact Sam is waiting for our arrival at a restaurant named the Country Kitchen. (Top TIP: If possible you should make up a list of contacts before leaving they can be more than useful when in need.) On completing the country verbal mile of around and around finding him several hours late. I park Williwaw on a corner but decide to move her across the road. In the dark, I reverse her into a storm drain. Down she goes with a loud thud on to her back axle. It is the last straw. There is no hope of getting her out. Sam comes to the rescue. Across the road is a gym. He returns in a few minutes with four iron-pumping blokes. With two lifts I am back on the road.
After a drink and something to eat, we set off in hot pursuit of Sam. We are booked into a small hotel a friend of Sam’s.
Accra has no visible landmarks nor does it seem to have any rhyme or reason to its layout or traffic. We seem to drive forever before arriving at a small modern building. The bed is more than welcome.
Sam offices turn out not to be too far from the hotel. He is a well to do Accra newspaper and journal businessman how loves his status and Mercedes more than his family. He knows everybody worth knowing in the city. It is just what we need as Accra is one of our main visa stops.
Most countries Embassies and consulates are represented in the city if you can find them. Also English being the first language of Ghana is a big bonus when it comes to looking for a visa. The first jobs on hand are to extend our Ghana visa and to get Williwaws strut bars straightened and strengthened. With Sam’s help, a garage is found. After much discussion two starting handles are welded to the back strut to give them added muscle and the exhaust get the once over.
Getting the additional time on our Ghana visas turns out to be easier said than done. The contact list comes to the rescue. There shining in big letters is the Foreign Minister name. Sam is impressed so am I.
A phone call has his driver Oliver on his way with the forms with an invitation to visit Sam’s house that evening which we are sure was not on his list of hospitality duties.
There is not much to see in Accra. A downtown trip with a wander around a huge parade grounds named Independence Square or Black star square as it is referred to by the locals has us wishing for the coast. Although Accra is built on the coast it is to be five long days before we are to see water again.
Oliver brings the right forms on day three and on day four manages to bring back our passports with a three-month extension. Sam has had his fill and we have more than our fill of the Triumphal Arch overlooking the square bashing parade grounds, the post office, and Jamestown the small lively commercial centre of Accra.
On the other hand, I have happened on an invitation to Rawlings re-election party in the football stadium. This is an opportunity not to be missed. You only live twice I tell the girls who are not too keen to attend. What a night they missed. It was not my introduction to the flamboyant audacious Mr Rawlings that stole the night but Angēlique Kidjo who gave non-stop performance.
Out of the wacky tobacco cloud, a spotlight finds me. What followed begs to be believed.
While Rawlings bodyguards are battering a passage for him through the throng to the stage he stops right in front of me. My chance handshake meeting with coup de main is unlike the Ghana handshake, which usually ends with a click of the thumbs. I receive a firm western handshake from a man who looks more like a cowboy than a Nana dressed in traditional Kente cloth. God only knows if only Sam had got the picture I might be offered a job.
Fleeing Accra we check out of Faraware to Coco Beach camping recommended by the Bible. Will we ever learn? The name itself should have warned us but there is not much choice near Accra. If the extension of our Visa is anything to go by we are going to be around for quite a while waiting on visas for Benin, Togo, and Nigeria. Coco beach one saving grace according to the Bible is that it is popular with overland trucks. This is good news as from here onwards is difficult solo travel so we are hopeful of running into some like-minded travellers. We pull into a plot of shade less land the campsite, Pitch No 61
Run by a deranged Accra woman of dubious reputation Coco Beach resort is a rundown joint serviced by one toilet and shower. Lambasted on all sides by disco music at night it is a dump of dumps. It is to turn out that we shall not forget our stay in a rush. The Bible this time has got it right when it said it was a good place to run into some over Landers.
Parked near the rubbish dump standing on new tyres is a twenty-year-old series three petrol Landrover. Over near the fence are two Trucks with a swarm of small tents pitched out in front of them. Parked near us is a young couple named Josh and Annmarie with a small terrier named Curt. They are also travelling down to Cape Town in Landrover similar to ours bar their tenting arrangement that comes off the roof to covers the bonnet.
The piece the resistance is a Mercedes Mobil home decked out to the nines > owned by a Dutch family who according to Josh hit the headlines of the Dutch Newspapers on their departure expostulating their bravery in taking on such a trip. A few others on foot made up all the happy campers for Christmas.
Over the run-up to Christmas, the topic of conversation is the War in Zaire, the war in Chad, the war in Cameroon, the war in Congo, the war in the Central Africa Republic. There seems to be no way that one can tack around or cross these countries never mind the horror stories coming out of Nigeria.
The brave Dutch family are resigned to throwing in the towel. They had made a fundamental mistake with the Mercedes it is too wide to handle any off-road tracks not to mention its axle clearance.
The twenty-year-old Land Rover turns out to be suffering from an electrical meltdown. It’s proud owned penguin style walking Bob is an English electrician travelling with his rather plumb girlfriend an irresistible target for all short- tempered camp mosquitoes. Unfortunately, while he is up to his oxers replacing the congealed mess of wiring her rather large bikinied rear arse is begging for a bout of malaria.
Josh and Annemarie terrier Curt having being brought up on a diet of black and white photos spends his days demented by any passing dark-skinned humanoids. Josh spends a good part of his time calling him from the foot of various trees.
We also have another new arrival the three young musketeers who are agreed come hell or high water to hack their way through the Congo in their new TDI Landrover.
All in all, we are a mixed bunch waiting to go our separate. For the moment we are tied together awaiting visas, the passing of Christmas, or the confidence to take on the unknown.
For us, it is out with the contact list. Sam has done his bit is there anyone else how could help. How about the chairman of Barclay’s bank he might be useful.
Under a sun hot enough to examine everyone’s deepest emotions the days lumber bye. The surf is our only relief. The beach is long and disinterested with a nasty undertow. I am to experience it first hand one early morning.
Luckily for one young man, I had taken to wearing fins when swimming. On the second day of our stay at Coco Beach resort, a lanky Australian presented me with the worst kind of dilemma. Will I or will I not. A billion to one chance had me swimming just beyond the breaking surf when I hear that dreaded cry HELP! From years of yachting, a drowning man has the grip of despair. Well appreciated by me.
On my second circle of the disappearing hand fortuitously for him, I overcome my fear of leaving my daughter and beloved for another world with or without a visa.
Too exhausted to ask if he was still alive one hour later I leave the fool to roast in the midday sun on the beach. Fanny and Flo are shocked on my return; my hard-earned suntan has all but disappeared being replaced by the shade of an opened coconut. That evening a red lobster backside appeared to thank me. All I can think of is that I hope the stupid blighter will have to stand for the rest of his African overland experience.
God is good, however. That evening up the coast in a posh suburb of Accra I am rewarded with the discovery of Ryan’s Irish pub. It had just opened. I have no trouble in downing a few ball of malt with a chaser to get rid of those images of the six-mile deep. However, Ryan’s is to have a sting in its tail, which arrived on Christmas Eve.
After failing to recognise Fanny on the street she having a change of hairstyle for the Christmas Festivities I am left to my find my own way home with Williwaw. The girls returned to base with Jose and Annmarie, so Williwaw and I have no trouble in finding Ryan’s.
The X-Pat – American brigade in Ryan’s are also on their way home. All encounters in the pub whether they are Accra Nanas, gold panniers, bull shiters, lost accountants, or just plain ordinary blokes have a story to tell.
Several hours later in no condition to walk in the early hours of the morning I rolled out into the night more than three sheets to the wind. Oblivious to the following blue lights there seemed to be a new slackness in Williwaws steering.
I am waltzing my merry way back to Coco Beach. Suddenly surrounded by a swarm of assorted police I am helping from the driver seat with the assistance of a very painful cold gun barrel up the nose.
The Blarney Stone is in for an extreme test. Thank god for Irish.
(Top TIP: You never really learn to swear until you learn not to drive with drink aboard. Passport, Passport! )
” Nil thigem me” “English, you are English”. I am brought around to the back of Williwaw. Pointing the gun at GB > “English”. “Nil.” > Pointing at the IRL. “Irish”. My nose is in the process of swelling when it is decided that I should follow them back to the station. I am told to drive Williwaw.
The rain starts a thunderous drumming on the tin roofs, and my head starts throbbing as I try to avoid the braking lights in front of me. The convoy arrives at a large flat grey building. I am put sitting in front of a large desk. An hour of Passport demands with two trips to the back of Williwaw. GB? IRL? Still preserving with on speak the English, Irish only.
A large book lies open on the desk. “Where are you staying?” “Nil thigem me” “You’re in big trouble.” “You will have to appear in court.” NIL THIGEM ME!
Dismissed from the large desk morning light is creeping in over the windowsill. A large man appears in army camouflage uniform. Pointing at me the man behind the desk calls him over. What a sight I must be. A bright swollen nose with a look of total bafflement “You served with the Irish in the United Nations.” “Can you ask him for his Passport?” He walks in my direction. Good morning I am Mr—- “Nil thigem me.” He turns to address the man behind the table. “ The Irish are all like this over Christmas the best thing to do is to let him go.” I can believe my ears when I hear that I am a lucky man. “You can go.” Jesus that was too close for comfort. Whoops spoke too soon. “You escort him back to where he is staying” orders the man behind the desk.
I arrive back at Coco Beach with the blue flashing lights to awake the whole campsite. A wave from the driver window sees my escort wave back in true Christmas spirit. To the alarm of Fanny and Florence on all fours, I crawl into the tent and crash out. They have the sense to let sleeping dogs lie.
Christmas day starts with a large dose of humble pie. Curt has a red bow. I have a red nose. The rewiring is completed and Cass the girlfriend has taken to wearing long trousers after a bout of malaria. The newspaper Dutch have turned into parasites. The Musketeers have decided on a route through the Congo. By the time I surface the over Lander’s Christmas party is about to start or more to the point it has already started.
Feeling like Rudolph the red nose reindeer I wander over to the bar for the hair of the dog that bit me. “Happy Christmas.” “Many happy returns.” Ah! “You do speak English.” Fuck I’m nobbled. “What would your children like for Xmas?” “A dash for Christmas cheer would not go astray”. “Thanks be to Jesus for that.” The dark vapour shape behind last night’s desk smiles as if to say I always get my man.
Christmas night starts in earnest with a visit to the 7th Son of Jesus Church. It is packed to the gunnels. The altar is adorned with a five-piece Band, a backing group of halleluiah woman who could be heard on the other side of the galaxy. With a roving microphone, we are all asked to introduce ourselves to the faithful. After an hour of praising God no high in high-octane, it is not difficult to see why Ghana’s shops and business are named in such a way that you are not sure what you are entering for. Such as Fanny reappeared from the hairdresser called THE Divine Beauty Salon that she now wants to change too – God help You Salon or O! Well If I must look like these don’t laugh. In Ghana every lorry, taxi is bejewelled with signs on how to get to heaven. Be Merciful. Who cares God knows why. There is only one way up. We dance and boogie until the early hours of the morning.
The New Year is not long in coming with the serious business of finding a way forward. Josh and I decided to pay a visit to the port to see if there is any possibility of securing a passage by ship to Walvis Bay in Namibia.
( To be Continued)