Thursday, 20 February 2014

Live Music And Incredible Trekking: Northern Ghana To The West Of Burkina Faso

We spent our first couple of nights in Burkina camping by a disused crazy golf course in the grounds of a hotel that extends a warm welcome to overlanders! The pool and steak were most welcome after our drive up through Ghana.

Friday night saw us enjoying Ouaga's great live music scene; first we saw the Burkinabe guitar duo Acoustique 366 perform for a couple of hours. We then moved on to have dinner whilst watching a Griot music festival, which included some entertaining fire eating. Griots are the traditional musicians, historians, and poets of the region; it's a hereditary caste.

Acoustique 366 Perform In Ouagadougou (Martin)
Performers At A Griot Music Festival In Ouagadougou (Martin)

From the capital we drove west to Bobo Dioulasso and enjoyed an evening of watching balafon players and drummers playing whilst we made fools of ourselves on the dance floor. Sunday 6th February was Bob Marley's anniversary, 69 years since his birth. Our host in Bobo, Monsieur Solo, was holding a reggae concert in his after a morning exploring town, we spent a relaxed afternoon enjoying the music!

Our Host In Bobo, Solo, Performs Reggae With His Band On Bob Marley's Anniversary
Solo Sings In A Mixture Of French, English
And Local Languages
Two Drunk Men On Stage -
Fortunately A Brief Interruption!

Performing On 6th February, Bob Marley's 69th Anniversary
Leaving the cities behind we headed to the rural south-west of Burkina for a change of pace. We drove through sugar cane plantations to spend the afternoon cooling off at Karfiguela Waterfalls. Sunset saw us at the Domes de Fadebougou, limestone pillars that rise from the flat agricultural area around to form part of a lengthy escarpment.

Driving Through A Sugar Cane Plantation (Andy)
Andre At Karfiguela Falls

Andy Takes The Plunge, With Martin and Kim Behind
The Domes De Fadebougou Shortly Before Sunset
Kim, Martin and Nicky Take A Rest After The Climb

Curtis On The Domes De Fadebougou
The Domes In All Their Glory 
Pipelines Feeding The Sugar Cane Plantation Below

The next morning we drove to Tengrela Lake to see the hippos, Stopping en route to see an enormous sacred Baobab tree. It's hollow inside and so large the whole group could fit inside. The tree's guardian was a real character; he explained the history of the tree, the sacrifices that are made to it, and his role as guardian which has been handed down through generations. We then saw a balafon performance; a balafon is a wooden percussion instrument, similar to a xylophone.

Inside The Sacred Hollow Baobab Tree!

Hippoes At Tengrela Lake (Simon)

Andy With The Tree Guardian!

It's A Pretty Big Tree!

The Guardian Of The Tree!
Lisa and Andre Hug The Beast!
This Man Gave A Great Performance On The Balafon!

Next we headed to Senoufo country, where we camped with a community tourism initiative. The management returns the profits from tourism into local education and health care, which we hope makes a positive contribution in an area where the life expectancy is 47 and the literacy rate around 27%. The local attraction here is the Sindou Peaks, a spectacular group of limestone peaks which were used as a refuge during times of tribal conflict.

Al Among The Sindou Peaks
Curtis And Andre

Paul Heading Out To The Peaks
Most of the group visited a troglodyte settlement high on a close by peak the next day, which was used from approximately the 15th century until the 1980's. It was a refuge for up to 300 people during times of tribal conflict on the plains below. There were many granaries, enabling enough food to be stored to feed the inhabitants for a year at a time. It's position gave a great vantage over the surrounding area. It had no water source beyond run off over the rocks during the rains; water often had to be carried up from below, and we saw a horn that would be blown to warn those collecting water or farming below of incoming attackers.

These Buildings Are Granaries; The Living Space Is Inside
Up To 300 People Lived Here During Tribal Conflict 
Granaries With A Cave Dwelling Behind
Inside One Of The Living Rooms

Food Storage Capacity For Upto A Year At A Time

Paul And Others Climbing Down From The Cliff

On our return that evening the village put on a musical performance for us; mainly balafon and drums under one of the few lights in the village. There can't have been many in the village who didn't join us to dance; first the children had their turn, before the adults cleared space for them to take over. There was a clear hierarchy as to who could dance at what time. Most of us took the stage at one point or another, but I don't think we were among the best dancers at the party!

Paul Frightens The Children With His Dancing!
Dancing To Balafon And Drumming (Andy)

We went on a variety of different trips the next morning, some to a lake for swimming and some to nearby caves. In a village of blacksmiths, we saw rings being made from old reed bar, scythes being made from scrap sheet steel, axe heads being forged and sharpened, and handles being fitted to tools by driving the heated steel head into the wood.

Child In The Blacksmiths Village
Shaping An Axe Handle 

Heating The Scythe, Prior To Mounting It In The Handle
Working The Metal To Shape After Heat Treating
Forging The Metal
Preparing The Metal For The Handle

That night we bought a goat for dinner and decided to call him Derek. Fortunately Derek, the Kiwi farmer with us, was unconcerned by this. A fantastic barbeque followed; cook group 4 redeemed themselves!

Grilling The Goat: Kim Adds Potatoes To The Fire.
Nev And Gary Carve Up The Meat For Dinner

We are now in Cote d'Ivoire, heading south from Korhogo to see the excellent stilt dancers in action and the sights of Yamoussoukro, before we head to Guinea. The next update will likely be from Monrovia, Liberia in a couple of weeks time.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Return Trips Have Begun: Accra To Freetown Overland All The Way!

It's been a while since we said goodbye to our last group so here's the latest!

With Al and Nev recharged from a couple of weeks of down time and Aminah serviced and cleaned up, we started our Accra to Freetown trip 2 weeks ago. We've had a great time so far as we've travelled north through Ghana to Burkina Faso. Plenty of time for the group to get to know each other as we journey towards Freetown and onto Dakar.

Our Accra To Freetown Group, With Nev And Al At Either Ends Of The Table
A big welcome to our current group who joined Al, Nev, and Aminah in Accra: John, Curtis, Kim, Juliette, Laura, Jane, Paul, Derek, Kelly,  Jackie, Julie, Andrew, Lisa, Nicky, Gary, Claire, Martin, Simon and Andrew.

We spent a few days in Accra obtaining visas for countries later on in the trip. This gave people a chance to see the legendary coffin makers, visit the beaches around Accra, take a tour of Jamestown, and explore Accra’s various arts and crafts markets.

Accra Coffin Maker Showing Off His Work (Martin)
Juliette Checks Out A Coffin For Size (Martin)
Putting The Finishing Touches To A Coffin (Simon)
With visas in hand we headed west along the beautiful Atlantic coastline. En route we stopped to visit some more of the famous coffin makers, and also to witness pirogues (large dug-out canoes) being made from huge logs of tropical hardwood. It looked like seriously hard work under the hot sun; we were offered a go with the huge chainsaw, but most of us declined!

Making A Fishing Boat - Don't Mess With A Guy With A Chainsaw! (Simon)
Hard At Work Making A Fishing Boat (Simon)

We headed into Cape Coast to visit what was once the official residence of the British governor during colonial times: Cape Coast Castle. The castle is a sad reminder of the brutality of the Atlantic slave trade, one can't even begin to comprehend the suffering that went on there. 

Cape Coast Castle (Simon)
Atlantic Views From The Castle (Simon)
Pirogue Makers Hard At Work (Martin)

From the castle we drove to our first camp spot of the trip. A beautiful site right on the beach with a breeze to cool us and palm trees to shade under. It broke us in a little too gently for the adventure ahead; several of us could have happily have spent much longer here!

Nightfall Along The Coast (Simon)
Waking Up On The Beach! (Paul)
Not A Bad Way To Start The Trip! (Simon)
Further along the coast we visited Elmina Castle. It is said to be the oldest European building in sub-saharan Africa and has changed hands between numerous countries over the centuries, including the Portugese, Danish, Dutch and British. The castle is set against a stunning backdrop yet has such an awful history. One can't even begin to imagine the suffering experienced behind these walls by those captured as slaves.

The fish market in Elmina was bustling with activity as always; boats being unloaded, fish being smoked or salted, and every imaginable sea creature being traded. We bought 25 red snappers for dinner, which we grilled over a barbeque on the beach for dinner later that evening.

Elmina Harbour (Martin)
Elmina Fishing Port (Simon)

Aminah At Elmina!
From the coast we drove north to Kakum National Park, Ghana’s largest remaining area of tropical rainforest. The group took a tour along a series of walkways suspended above the rainforest canopy, offering great views of the ecosystem around us, and a couple of hairy moments for some! It was a humid day resulting in the heavens opening up and cooling us off with some dramatic thunder storms, an infrequent but much appreciated interruption to the dry season!

Kelly And Derek Follow The Group Across The Walkways (Martin)
Martin, Andy, And Others Cross The Walkways At Kakum National Park (Paul)
Next stop was the Ashante stronghold of Kumasi. Ghana's second city is home to Kejetia Market, reputed to be the largest open air market in West Africa. It never fails to impress with it’s size, activity, and availability of any product imaginable. Some of us found the fetish area of the market, with many peculiarities on offer. Some of the group shopped in the cultural centre for locally made arts and crafts. We camped with our friends at the Presbyterian Guesthouse amongst the spacious grassy grounds. One of the security guards at the guesthouse is always particularly pleased to see us, ever keen to introduce himself to those he hasn’t met before with the line “My name is the SHIP!” He never seems to grow tired of this introduction! There’s no shortage of colourful and engaging characters in this part of the world!

Kejeita Market, Kumasi (Martin)
Metal Work For Sale In Kumasi (Martin)

We broke our journey towards the north of Ghana at a waterfalls near Kintampo. Everybody had a great time enjoying a cool and refreshing dip. Always very welcome in this heat! We had the place to ourselves bar a few cattle herders, women fetching water from the stream, and some very friendly children.

Fuller Falls And A Chance To Escape The Humidity In The Afternoon
Camp Spot Near The Waterfalls (Paul)
Group In The Falls (Martin)

That night a bush fire started close to our camp. Though a natural phenomenon, some are started by farmers, so to clear the long dry grass to encourage fresh green growth for cattle. Fortunately the fires are so regular that dead wood has little time to accumulate, and they usually burn out quite quickly. The evening will long be remembered for the meatballs we feasted on, and by some for the realisation that hot, dry days can make the nights feel refreshingly cool!

Village Girls Collecting Water Near Our Bush Camp (Simon)
Meatballs For Dinner (Paul)
Jane And Julie Receive Guests (Martin)

Bush Fires Break Out Close To Our Camp (Martin)
Our next stop was Mole National Park, a beautiful spot with a bumpy dusty road leading into the park! It's a great place to relax and enjoy some wildlife viewing for a couple of nights. Mole is known for its elephants so the group went on a walking safari to try and find them.

Driving Into Mole National Park
The Road Into Mole National Park

Warthog In The Camp (Simon)
Baboon Taxi Service At Mole (Simon)

Unfortunately the elephants were frightened by a gunshot, probably fired by a local village to scare them away from the crops, so we only managed a quick glimpse of some fast disappearing elephant bottoms! The warthogs, antelopes, baboons and monkeys were much easier to see. There is said to be other large game living in the park, including buffalo, lions, leopard and hyenas, but they are wary of humans so live much deeper in the park and are very hard to see. We spent much of our time guarding our camp against baboon attacks, relaxing around the pool, and enjoying the views of the sunset over a cold beer.

Sunset From Our Campsite In Mole National Park (Martin)
The Magnificent Larambanga Mosque Close To Mole National Park (Simon)
Next we drove to the far north of Ghana. As chance would have it we met a good friend of OWA called Abraham, and we were invited to camp for a night with his brother, Kimo, in a government accommodation complex. Abraham works as a cookery teacher, and Kimo as a presenter and DJ on a national radio station. We enjoyed a great evening with our new friends, and also spent time visiting a local arts and craft market.

Al Meeting With Abraham (Martin)
The Evolution Of Man In Woodwork (Martin)

On our last morning in Ghana we visited the sacred crocodiles not far from Paga. Locals believe the crocs are related to their ancestors so therefore the people will not harm them. The guide also told the group the crocodiles won't eat people, or so we were told! They were very placid until the chickens were fed to them....that certainly brought them to life!

Croc Waiting For A Feed In The North Of Ghana (Simon)
Crocs Warming Themselves In The Morning Sun (Simon)
We also visited the chiefs compound. He explained to us how his mother had 22 children, and talked us through his various wives. He was keen to find another to add to his collection; and seemed open to any offers, but none in the group were willing!
Chiefs Compound In Northern Ghana
Chiefs Compound In Northern Ghana
Later that day we crossed the border to Burkina Faso, and found the Burkinabe officials as friendly and helpful as ever. We had a late lunch once into Burkina with the opportunity to buy good baguettes again rather than Ghanaian sweet bread!

We're now in Ouagadougou and we've all been enjoying some brilliant live music. In a couple of days we'll be heading to Banfora and Senoufou country to enjoy trekking amongst the spectacular landscapes. Stay tuned for more updates soon!

Paul Prepares For Battle In Northern Ghana!