Some pagne clothing and coconuts on the side of the road helped remind me that I was still in West Africa as I drove to Ghana, a world that seemed so different from Togo. Living in Togo, my view of West Africa has been fairly narrow and in my mind I cannot help but imagine the entire region being very similar to Togo. It is true that I had the opportunity to travel to Senegal, but being ushered around for a conference didn’t let me fully appreciate how different from Togo it was. Last week though, I took a short vacation to Ghana and I was blown away by how developed the country was compared to the West African stereotype I had formed in my mind.
Right across the border you notice the difference. Not being crammed into a van meant for twelve--holding eighteen, and no stomach churning swerving to avoid pot holes. The roads were in perfect condition. Now, Ghana has installed these pesky speed bumps outside all there towns that serve to slow down traffic and when you sit over the wheel in a van, bounce you around so you can’t nap on the trip in, but speed bumps aside it was impressive to see such nicely paved roads throughout Ghana, when not even our capital city has more than a handful of paved roads. Travel in Togo can be tiring and dangerous as road conditions keep vehicles moving slowly and swerving around, sometimes even off the road itself, to avoid large holes, but in Ghana the roads were a vacation in themselves.
It is true that I spent my time on the southern coast in the capital of Accra and a tourist spot of Cape Coast, so I saw the most developed areas of Ghana, so my view is a bit biased, but I have heard that even in other areas of the country, while more similar to Togo, still have much better infrastructure including good roads. Because of the bias of my view of Ghana I don’t want to generalize too much, but after being in Togo for over a year, Ghana is basically America or maybe somewhere in Europe.
Travellers who go to Ghana first may say that Ghana is poorly developed and not nearly on par with an American city, but coming from Togo, Ghana is a whole different world. Roads are well paved, there is not garbage in the street, sewer systems and street drainage exist, there are nice restaurants, a mall, and a movie theatre—all things that do not exist in Togo (or do to a very very limited extent).
Traveling to Ghana was very much a vacation. We primarily travelled to Ghana to participate in the marathon, but in Accra we ate sushi, went to a movie, drank smoothies, went shopping, and I managed to wear nice clothing without getting covered in dirt and sand. As you may remember from my previous complaining about the weather, climate really impacts my happiness, well, Accra to the rescue! While being positioned on the coast as is Lomé, it was less humid than where I live inland and I could wear jeans and a sweater at night. Cape Coast was similar and the breeze off the ocean was heavenly. For seemingly similarly positioned cities it is amazing how different the weather. It made me very happy and comfortable.
Our time in Accra was full of good food and relaxing, but also a run of 26.2 miles. OK, I didn’t run, I carried water, but Peace Corps represented itself well with one of our volunteers taking second place in the women’s full marathon and another volunteer taking 10th in the women’s half marathon. We also had another volunteer run a great half-marathon and a past volunteer finish a full. I was impressed at how after running so much they got right back up and we explored Accra, shopped and eating another great meal.
After Accra a friend and I ventured further west to Cape Coast to play on the beach and visit one of the forts used during the slave trade. The castle was very interesting and thinking about the people who passed through its dungeons is haunting. The horrors that occurred at the castle have been preserved in a museum and through reconstruction of the fort, providing a reminder of the atrocities that people are capable of, that we should never forget them and together we must never let them occur again.
Beyond the fort, Cape Coast was a nice tourist town with a lot of tasty street food. We explored the streets eating shrimp, squid, lobster, sausage (in Togo “sausage” in synonymous with hotdog, no real sausage included) and much more. We really over ate, but it was so good! Cold beverages were plentiful, and the local ice cream on the street (Fan Milk) has a strawberry flavor not available in Togo. There were a number of nice shops and we bought some beautiful batik pagne (hand printed fabric). I will soon have a much expanded wardrobe, no more wearing the same outfit over and over.
It wasn’t just food and shopping either. We took naps by the beach and played in the ocean (though the surf can be pretty rough). It was a wonderful little vacation. While, we couldn’t stay at some of the ritzier beach resorts, our hotel by the beach was still a nice spot and I could make a habit of taking those naps in the ocean breeze. But alas, it’s back to home, back to Togo.