From Houston to Sydney 2013

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West Africa


2014

 

My day today in Accra was not part of my original plan.  My intention had been to leave Accra this morning for Dakar in Senegal, but that plan had to be changed as part of the domino effect of consequences when my (first) visa for Liberia arrived with the wrong dates.

Finding myself with a spare day in Accra, and knowing that I will be returning in several weeks to explore the city thoroughly, I had a choice of two options.  I could rest, relax and catch up on sleep after my long flight, or I could explore the city on foot in a leisurely manner.  I chose to do both – explore the city in the morning and have a rest in the afternoon.  And after walking around the sunny streets of Accra in 36 degree heat (Celsius), the afternoon rest proved to be very welcome indeed.

My driver for the eight kilometre drive from the hotel to the city centre was named King David, a wonderfully personable man who told me proudly that he had named his son King Solomon.  The Biblical imagery is everywhere in Ghana, with some very creative business names like the “Rock of Ages Cement Works” and the “Only God Can Do It Beauty Salon”.  Being Sunday morning, the businesses of central Accra were mostly closed and the city was much calmer than usual, except for the multitude of churches that were filled to the brim with immaculately dressed attendees belting out hymns with hypnotic African rhythms.  It was a joy to walk along the streets and hear the exuberant African music resonating from the churches and pulsating through the streets and alleyways.  As you can see by the sign in the photo below, however, Ghanaian services are not short!

King David dropped me off at the south-western end of Jamestown, near the lighthouse that topped the heavily eroded shoreline that marks the southern edge of Accra.  This is one of the few parts of Accra where there is any sense of being near the ocean, and the views of the sea make it immediately apparent that this is an exposed, high energy shoreline where erosion is a constant threat.  This presumably explains why much of the shoreline is considered valueless, as can be seen by the large shanty settlement that lines much of the cliff-top zone.

The section on Accra in ‘The Rough Guide to West Africa’ says that “Accra doesn’t especially lend itself to scenic walks and, by day, there’s not much in the way of things to see.  The main diversion is simply absorbing the energy of an African urban centre”.  The ‘Lonely Planet Guide to West Africa’ paints an even less attractive picture of Jamestown: “slow-moving streams of sewage criss-cross the streets, school-age children play in gutters and unemployment is chronic”.

Despite these less than enticing writings, I thoroughly enjoyed my walk.  I loved the juxtaposition of the old British colonial buildings (in varying states of disrepair) with the bright colours of the people’s dress, the orange soil and the blue skies, vibrant street-side markets, and the relaxed friendliness of the people.  With signs in English everywhere, Accra lived up to its reputation as a very gentle introduction to West Africa.

I finished my walk at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, a monument to Ghana’s first president after independence from Britain.   I didn’t go inside, because the park is on my schedule when I return to Accra at the end of the long overland sector of this itinerary.  In any case, after three hours of hot walking, I was ready for the afternoon rest that I had promised myself.  A quick phone call on a borrowed mobile phone brought King David back again, and I was soon back at my hotel, quite happy with the morning’s explorations.

As an interesting addendum to the day’s travels, King David told me that when Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009, he stayed with his family in the Holiday Inn where I am staying now.  At that time, the hotel had not yet been opened to the public, and the US Government paid for every room in the hotel for a full month.  This extravagance seems to make my using points for a single room appear somewhat stingy by comparison.

Day 2 - Accra, Ghana

Sunday

29 December 2013