Day 1: Tro-tro to Big Milly's
Trip Start Mar 31, 2006
15Trip End Apr 15, 2006
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The aim of today is to escape the city before I even discover it and set up camp in Big Milly's Backyard, Kokrobite - a well-established backpacker haven west of Accra. A quick reccy post-breakfast identifies that Ghanaians drink Guinness, it's blisteringly hot at 9am, and the local transport system operates out of a station a short hike from the hotel. I saddle up and head out towards the enigma that is a Ghanaian tro-tro park.
At first sight Kaneshi 'motor-park' looks like the twisted off-spring of a motor assembly plant and a wrecking yard. Row upon row of tightly packed, brightly coloured transit vans are in varying states of disrepair, occupancy and supplication to God. There appears to be no officialdom involved; the station is essentially a large area of barren ground where all the tro-tros gather, weeping diesel into the parched earth, while the drivers, mechanics and ticket-boys shout incoherently for potential passengers; there are no signs, no numbers, no timetables; only religious sun-visors.
The tro-tro is very much the vehicle of the common man, and in taking the step into tro-tro land you break that first barrier between tourist and local and move ever so partially into their world. In making that transition, the casualty is communication. English is replaced with Ga, the local tribal language.
And so I find myself searching through a maze of 'God is Great' and 'Christ the Saviour' rust buckets, with young bucks yelling 'kasua!' and 'ba-ria!' at me. After a couple of minutes thinking there must be some order to this chaos if only I can find it, I realise that actually there isn't and decide to engage with the shouty boys.
I quickly get into a routine of yelling 'Kokrobite' then being pointed off in a certain direction. This happens about four times, without any pattern or logic to the directions emerging, although the integrity and belief of the directing tro-tro boys doesn't seem in doubt. Eventually I receive a series of affirmative nods and it appears that I've made contact with my particular heavenly chariot. I squeeze in with about 15 others (four rows of four benches in a transit with no windows or much of anything else) and head off west to the promised land.
Once inside the tro-tro, the chaos of the motor-park is replaced with quiet dignity and a well ordered system. We might all be squashed in like sardines, with the ticket-boy hanging off the side of the van, but there's no complaining. Everyone dutifully passes along their fare, shares out and checks that the correct change is coming back from the ticket-boy, and shuffles aside for anyone getting off.
We travel for half an hour along a partially complete dual carriageway before my first mystery is solved; I am deposited at the 'ba-ria'. It's a Police checkpoint or 'barrier'. From here I need to take a second tro-tro or share-taxi to Kokrobite. Same routine again and I'm drawing in to Big Milly's (aka Wendy's Place) 15 minutes later; total fare about 40p.
Big Milly's is situated by the grey Atlantic Ocean, on a long and lonely stretch of pale sand. The 'resort' has a big round beach bar, palm trees and native style beach huts; all the box-ticking features of your text-book haven; all except the 12 foot, broken-glass-topped perimeter wall, the unspoken guard duties of the resort's bad-boys-turned-good porters, and the big friendly mural advising people not to take anything onto the beach.
But for all the subliminal danger signs, it does have an air of calypso charm (wrong continent?) and after the hot confines of a tro-tro, the beach bar and the sea breeze naturally leads one to a first taste of African Guinness - on the tab of course; this place functions on tally marks and a good memory.
After my head-poundingly strong taste of the black stuff and a quick bucket-shower I get the sun cream on and check out the beach. To be honest, it's not really up there with the glamour of Asian, Indian, Mediterranean or Caribbean beaches, but its UV factor is through the roof and it's just about feasible to run to the sea without incinerating the soles of your feet, so it does the job.
I have the SLR with me and the local kids mucking around in the surf, and the village women selling bananas bring some life to the starkness of what is otherwise a fairly bleached scene.
Later, and it being Saturday, there's a traditional music evening laid on as entertainment. Besides my fellow backpackers, I share this musical feast with German, English and Spanish voluntary workers on r'n'r from the local orphanages, Peace Corps dudes from the US, the local Rastafarian boys and their 'obruni' drummer-boy apprentices, beer-sozzled expats escaping the city heat for the weekend and one boozed-up, washed-out hooker trying to dance with anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact.
I take a pew by the bar and sample my first big Star, the local premium lager - not too shabby. It just so happens I sit down next to Jesus. I think technically his name is Justin, but as far as the Ghanaians are concerned, and I'm with them on this, he is the absolute physical incarnation of the Son of God - in beach shorts. His resemblance to the stereotypical image is so striking, I learn later, that upon entering the more off-the-beaten-track villages he is often the subject of veneration and impromptu feasting. For a shy Canadian hippy, this tends to freak him out somewhat. However, as he has barely two beans to rub together, it probably has its advantages. We start talking, if only to avoid being a 'lone westerner' target for the seriously wilting lady of the night, and agree to split a beer.
It turns out he's a sculptor-cum-artist based in San Francisco, and like many a backpacker, has travelled halfway around the world to escape a lost love - some hot musical diva by the sound of it. He's now 9-months into a 6-month trip and despite running seriously low on cash, he's been seduced by the pounding of the African drums and is taking lessons every morning at dawn.
After a brief bonding chat on the respective joys of engineering, life as the Messiah, and the etiquette of romancing foreign women, I call it a night at a reasonable hour, in anticipation of mission 'Rendezvous Accra' tomorrow morning.