This is the first in a series of posts attempting to digest and report on our travels over the Christmas holidays. Please stay tuned for more in days to come.
We went on our first road trip in West Africa over the Christmas holidays. On Monday, 19 December, we left our home in Greater Accra, traveled well over 2,000km, and returned home again on Sunday, 1 January. Along the way, we made overnight stops in Kumasi, Tamale, and Gbintiri, with the far point of our trip being Dapaong, Togo, where we spent a week with our friends and fellow missionaries there.
There is so much to tell and so many pictures to share that it would not be fair or practical to share everything all at once, so this first post will just talk about the experience of the road trip and things we saw along the way.
To understand the experience of road-tripping in Ghana, one must understand the roads first of all.
These are nice pictures of the roads. Most of the kilometers we put on were on fairly good roads. However, in Ghana people seem to like to put obstructions into the roadways in the small towns and villages, which force you to slow down. Most of the time these are what they call here “speed tables” – large humps in the road about six inches high with a flat top a few feet wide. Often the speed tables are bounded by potholes before or behind, so you have to be careful as you go over them. In other places, they will put in a series of small speed bumps close together, like an overgrown rumble strip. All this means that you can’t just fly along the highway at 70mph like one does in the USA. Some stretches allow you to get up to 100kph/62mph, but that doesn’t last long.
The second thing to learn about road trips here is that when you find a nice, clean toilet facility, you use it! And then you tell your friends, mark it on your map, and drop a pin on Google Maps. No, really – a clean toilet is really that big of a deal. Unlike the US or Western Europe, there is no assurance that there will be a big shiny modern rest area or a nice gas station or McDonald’s every few miles. In fact, in some parts of the country, you can go 100km without seeing any sort of public facility. And restaurants are even fewer and farther between.
These photos are from a very nice rest stop that totally surprised us. We were a few hours out on our first day, and were just thinking about lunch, when all of a sudden we see this huge sign for “Linda Dor Highway Rest Stop”. When we came into the little town and saw the place, it looked nice and decent, so we decided to give it a try. They have an “executive restaurant”, a quick-dining area, takeaway counters and a little convenience store. They also have some of the nicest public toilets we have found thus far in Ghana. Later we found out that Linda Dor is one of the three stops the buses make between Accra and Tamale, which explains the hustle and bustle of people, and the existence of this oasis in the middle of Eastern Region.
However, once we left there, our pit stops were a mix of petrol-station toilets, which were actually decent, save one, and “nature visits” along the roadside. We were advised on part of our trip to visit nature just outside of, but within sight of a town. That way, one avoids gawkers, but the proximity to a town deters highway robbers.
Of course, no post about road-tripping in Ghana would be complete without talking about the sights on the roads.
You can see all sorts of curious conveyances as you drive throughout Ghana. From taxis with bathtubs to vehicles imported from the USA with their license plates, to three-wheeled motorcycle-trucks – nothing is impossible. The most disturbing thing on the road, though, is the charcoal trucks. They take an open-sided semi-trailer and stack it up with sacks of lump charcoal until the sides are half again as wide as the cab and the whole thing is several storeys tall. Then, sometimes, they perch people and/or animals on top, and they take off down the highway. We only saw one such get-up that had lost its load, but it is frightening to pass them nevertheless.
There is lots more that could be said, but you will have to ask us about that directly if you want to know. We will leave you with this final photo, which encapsulates the Ghana travel experience as we saw it.