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

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Road to Tamale

The nice owner of the lodge, drove us to the ferry we would take from Yeji to Makonga. Another nightmare water vessel somehow declared fit for live passengers. Miraculously, we squeezed into two shaded seats along a long wooden bench, with the help of an elderly woman directing others to make room for us. God bless the grandparents of the world, they have helped us more than once to get a seat, a fair deal, and a free direction to our next destination. Only, in this instance I had to place my backpack in a puddle of rusty water for several hours, a small consolation for not having to stand.

The ferry departed at 9am for a one hour journey that would soon become a maritime saga due to the storms the night before. Several hundred feet from the Makonga port we would be surrounded by floating grass islands, which might as well have been icebergs, impeding our arrival indefinitely. We had to endure the ship captains inane ideas of pulling the islands out of the way, only to disturb nearby islands to float back in the wake. And on top of this, one of the engines went out so he couldn’t turn properly, overshooting the approach again and again and again and then again and yet again and (maybe we’ll make it this time…nope) again and again and again. This went on for hours, to the point that I was about to shove him out of the way and take over. Nevermind I have never captained a boat, at this rate we were waiting for a monkey to type out the Illiad.

Finally in a daring maneuver he plowed forward only to be stuck 6 feet from land, locked in impenetrable grass that had to be freed by the hands of a dozen voluntary men waist deep in water for half an hour. It was now after 2pm and we missed our connecting bus to Tamale, and don’t you know that Makonga has no guest rooms. Can I get a refund? No.

By a stroke of sheer luck, we had struck up conversation with a Baptist missionary named Immanuel that was heading far north to Bolgatonga and more relevant to our predicament, had a Honda 4X4 in tow. He graciously offered us a ride all the way to Tamale. He said that he owed a lot to Americans who pay his salary and bought him the truck, so he could spread the good word. I would like to spend a silent moment here to thank each and every one of my generous American brothers and sisters that inspired this man to save us from sleeping in the bush. The ride, however, was anything but smooth. There was no blissful dozing off you so often get on car trips, lulled to sleep by the incessant hum of the vehicle. It was cramped, loud, bumpy but thankfully a nudge shy of vomit inducing.

The roads in Ghana are terrible, and that’s being complimentary. Drivers, by definition, must be crazy. They swerve across the road to avoid the plague of potholes like they are dodging land mines in a video game. Flinging coins out the window to children who painstakingly fill the holes with dirt, until they are worn away by too many cars or washed away by the rain, and then the process starts all over again. Making exceedingly polite little taps on their horn to people, animals (most likely lingering goats), and other vehicles as if to gently say “be careful, please watch out” that is the complete opposite of the loud roar of the horn from people back home saying “get the hell outta my way!”

This reminds me of another endearing Ghanaian trait for getting your attention, they don’t say ‘hey! hey you!” they make a small hissing sound “tsss tsss“, which is subtle yet grandly more civilized. You can hiss at a water sachet seller 100 paces away and she’ll make eye contact and come running, its fabulous.

The drive lasted a little under 5 hours, when we reached Tamale and insisted on filling the gas tank for 20 cedi ($15) for the lift. Immanuel dropped us off at TICCS or the Tamale Institute for Cross Cultural Studies where we got a basic room with a ceiling fan for 19 cedi ($13) a night. At which point, we stayed within half a mile of the hotel for the next four days. We read and rested, organized our packs and had the maid wash every piece of clothing we owned for 6 cedi ($4), sadly the first time our clothes had a real washing in over 3 months.

Leaving the haven of our hotel only to go to the internet café to catch up on the blog and eat nearly every meal at Swad’s Fast Food, a fantastic outdoor café run by an Indian ex-pat. After dinner escaping the worst of the downpour under a thatched umbrella with lightning criss-crossing in pulse machine patterns across the sky. More than once blessing the rains, like the Toto song, as a welcome, if temporary, relief from the heat.

Goat herds, like people, roamed the streets in all different emotional states and configurations: goat families, goat couples, heartbroken goat men and goat women, happy goats, lucky goats, happy-go-lucky goats, lost goats, confused goats, forlorn goats...

We visited the market which was nearly desolate on a Sunday, and missed the opportunity to see the famous fetish section selling leopard and other exotic skins. But the meat market was open, wafting horrid smells and visions of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

There’s not much else to report about Tamale, except the feel of it was immediately better and more manageable than Accra, and it is a noteworthy major city in Africa for the many bicyclists, so many that they widened the streets with large, luxurious bike lines.


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