After a long and wet summer full of kids and camps and mud, three fellow PCVs and I hit the road for our last vacation: Ghana! It certainly didn’t feel like vacation at the beginning though, because in order to get there we had to first survive a 20-hour bus ride. On West African roads. And following typical West African tradition, the bus left two hours late, which meant an extra two hours of sitting on a cramped bus, waiting. But that was only the beginning.
We had left our hotel in Ouagadougou before 7 am that morning, so by midday we started to get pretty hungry. Thankfully we had a few snacks along, but nothing substantial, assuming the bus would have to stop around mealtimes since West Africans aren’t really the pack-a-lunch type of people. We were wrong. We did stop at the border around noon, only to be hustled back onto the bus immediately once we were handed back our passports. At around five we passed through our first big city, and we nearly drooled on the window panes watching all the street food go by. We tried asking the driver when we were going to stop. His response: silence. For reasons we couldn’t quite figure out, he wouldn’t respond to any of our questions, in any language. So, we just sat tight and tried not to think about our empty bellies.
Finally around 8 p.m., after the sun had gone to bed, we pulled over at a bustling rest stop and rushed off the bus into the dark to find food. And boy we were in luck! Fried chicken galore. This was our first introduction to Ghana’s street food – thick legs of fried chicken and spicy fried rice for just over a buck. Deee-licious.
The glitches in our plan didn’t stop there, but our moods at least were significantly lifted by the greasy road-side cuisine. The bus’s air conditioning broke not long after that, so we sweated along with the 60-some other travelers in the cramped, over-packed bus, all of us sharing the same stale, fried food-soaked air. Just as the four of us started drifting to sleep near midnight, we awoke to our bus driver frantically shouting at us “GET OFF THE BUUUUS!!!!” (Now he talks to us!) We later figured it was just a semi-routine switch to a smaller bus after half the passengers disembarked at their destination. But at the time, we were exceedingly groggy and confused.
Once we hauled our luggage and rapidly growing kankles to the awaiting mini-bus, we settled in and tried to sleep, only to find ourselves literally flying off the seat cushions every minute and a half. Since it was pitch black outside I don’t know if it was construction or just a miserable road, but we certainly did not get much sleep in that last 6-hour leg of the trip. We finally arrived, relieved, in the capital city of Accra at around 6 a.m. and promptly hailed a cab to take us to our hotel. Which, we soon found out, had lost our reservations and was completely full. Oh wait, but before that, our cab broke down on the side of the road and then wouldn’t let us get in anther cab until we paid him the full amount. Then we found out we didn’t have hotel reservations and couldn’t afford any other hotel in the area with our modest Peace Corps stipends. So there we were at six in the morning, dirty and tired and carrying all of our luggage, walking around the streets of Accra looking for a place to at least get a cup of coffee. Eventually, despite the disheartening (yet not surprising) lack of Starbucks, we did.
The hotel we ended up at wasn’t much more welcoming, as their water had been turned off and they didn’t have any kind of back-up system (like, say, buckets for bucket-bathing). So no showers for us smelly travelers. Not until late afternoon, that is, when we finally managed a cold bucket bath.
Needless to say, we were ready for a treat that night. And for more treats for the following 11 nights of vacation! And treat ourselves we did. That night we picked the fanciest pizza place in town, Mama Mia’s, and we each ate our own gigantic pizza. Here we are in front of the restaurant, finally ready to enjoy our vacation!
From there, I’m happy to say, our trip only got better and better. We ended up leaving Accra early for some smaller towns along the coast because of our rapidly shrinking wallets, but in the 48 hours we were there we managed to find the best, most American (and most expensive) places to eat. Including Accra’s one and only American fast food chain: KFC! (Exciting to us, probably not so exciting to those of you reading this from the U.S.)
We spent most of the rest of our time in Ghana hanging out in smaller towns on the coast, enjoying the beach, the cooler temperatures, the fried chicken, and the absolute lack of schedule. It was fantastic. Here are just a few photos from our coastal retreat:
As sad as I was to leave the land of fried chicken and beautiful beaches and English, I really started to miss my village. These past few weeks I’ve begun to really feel the clock ticking, to use that well-worn cliché. And while it’s not a clock I want to slow down, I do want to take advantage of every passing minute. Even if it means hobbling through “puddles” like these on my way to and from anywhere:
Above all else, I want more moments with my kids – pumping water and hunting for mangoes and just goofing around. Here’s one of them, anxiously waiting to play UNO with me by my doorstep.
Words cannot express just how much I will miss them.