A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Akosombo to Yeji Ferry

We took a taxi to the marina and confirmed our reservation for one of the only two passenger cabins on the boat, that was made with little more than a phone call and a first name. A lot of deals are made like this, on faith, and its amazing that people stick to their word as much as they do. I wouldn’t trust anyone in the States to save me anything with my first name, except for an eventual misunderstanding and ensuing headache. Although most Ghanaians practice Christianity, there is a surprisingly large Muslim community towards the North which led unexpectedly to “Ramadan Strikes Back“. It was Sunday, we had many hours to kill, and nothing local was open.

With nowhere else to go, we took a broken-down shared taxi back to Akosombo, that made the 5 minute journey nearly an hour due to the engine stalling a dozen times. I was surprised and relieved when we actually arrived to spend the afternoon on the patio of the nicest hotel in the area, Volta Hotel, overlooking the famous dam that created the lake. The view thankfully distracted us from the slow crawl of the internet, too slow to post anything. The food was expensive but delivered great culinary satisfaction in the form of juicy hamburgers, fat sausages, and mounds of grilled peppers .

Back to the dock, we sweated out a couple hours wait before the “line” started forming for the boat. A line is relative thing in Ghana. If you can get in front of the next person (or there is a mere half inch of room available), you push yourself in, and don’t look back. I think it’s a bit rude, but like when I was a little girl waiting patiently for the slide and the bigger kids pushed me aside until my mom showed me to stand my ground, you only have to bully me once and I’ll elbow my way through with the best of em. Our backpacks were an effective tool to deflect would-be usurpers off balance as we battled through the line and once in front we were punished with a baggage fee on top of the 40 cedi ($29) fare for a cabin. On every form of transportation in Ghana, bags are charged extra fare, no exceptions.

The Yapei Queen was not what we envisioned at all for our journey up the Volta, and was actually an actively working and worse-for-the-wear cargo ship. I realized, this is what people mean when they say things like “traveling off the beaten track“. We rushed onboard with the crowd, the hull still bobbing in the water, past forklifts bearing down on us and high towers of wooden crates stacked precariously about. The whole ship seemed sinister and dangerous. Climbing rusty stairs so steep you are forced to use the disgusting disease-streaked hand rails. We made our way through cramped dining halls that would soon become makeshift dormitories and up onto the staff deck at the back of the ship, eager to see our “first-class” cabin.

Now whatever images of luxury that conjures up in your mind when you say adjectives like first-class has no direct bearing on reality in a cargo ship in the middle of nowhere in Africa. The only thing first-class about the room was that it had a door which proved to be a huge liability when we found out that the AC was broken, and we wished we were sleeping on the deck instead. In fact, we would have but all the space was already staked out by straw mats under strewn soundly sleeping bodies.
I scratched my head and asked, only half jokingly because I was slightly pissed, if we got a free beer for the inconvenience, and was told with a smile that the only thing I’ll get for free around here is ventilation if I opened the porthole window. I had to be thankful for the sarcastic wit, at least.

We watched a movie that night in our sweatbox with the door wide open and when we turned on the lights the spot on the ceiling opposite the laptop monitor had a mob of swarming insects that made me yelp, twitch, and shake all over. We would go to sleep and wake up in the same state: sweaty - itchy - physically unhappy with at least 12 more hours to go.

In the wheel house we were shown the key to the “washroom” though I never ventured to use it once because one of the only amenities we had was a working wash basin. You can put two and two together, but I’ll freely admit it, I peed in the sink three times. Sue me. I was not going to use the toilet ill maintained by a dozen sailors, all of whom male, which only meant one thing - it was disgustingly rank

We were told there would be plenty of food on board, and there was, but it was all traditional fare, cooked on the back of the ship in giant iron pots. The head chef was a women that looked like she stepped off the aunt jemima bottle, with a gap in her two front teeth that I only saw through a sneer as we tried to convey our food orders. We had crispy chicken and rice both days with an omelette sandwich and coffee in between, all of which was very good and very cheap. I couldn’t imagine what it was like working a ship kitchen for 18 hours in row. After our last meal, I went around and tipped her 1 cedi, and she gave me a broad, surprised and grateful smile.

The vast surroundings of blue water and green tree-line felt like the Pacific Northwest, and the lake was beautiful but it was a very sad thing to see all of the locals on board polluting it without a second thought. There must be a billion water sachet baggies sunk underneath. In fact, all over the country, people litter unconsciously, while Ron and I carry stuff around in vain looking for a trash can. Even if something goes in the trash there is little infrastructure to deal with it.

We were so glad to get off the boat, but not so much that we were landing in Yeji, a village so small it didn’t even have a guest room listed in our guide book. The captain pointed us towards a car from the Ahini Lodge, supposedly the best rooms in town, that he said, I kid you not, actually has running water and electricity. I can’t bear to think what the others were like, sharing a haystack with a goat family probably.

We were more than happy to escape the melee of the disembarkment and headed to our very passable room (which could have been anything after the first-class hellhole, even a haystack with a goat family) for the short night. An hour after getting in bed, I awoke startled to what I surely thought was artillery overhead but was only the rain pounding loudly on the sheet metal roof. Ah, I love the rain. And maybe tomorrow will be cooler…


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