Archive for the 'boat' Category

What’s next?

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

The boat just didn’t pan out. Turns out all the boats traveling up and down the coasts of the States don’t usually make a turn out to West Africa. And the people here don’t know what sailboats are. To top it all, I met the cousin of the harbourmaster of the major port town in Ghana (Tema), and he assured me we could work something out, and then he disappeared. My boat has left without me.

So, I’ve got a plane ticket from Accra to Johannesburg, South Africa leaving on April 2, 2007 at 23h00. Johannesburg, for those of you who don’t know, has the distinction of being the most dangerous city in the world. Stopping at a red-light in Johannesburg is equivalent to asking a thief to steal your car. Stories abound about people fixing cars at intersections waiting for a victim to pull up. It is for this reason that I plan to be in Johannesburg for about 4 hours – I’ll zip from the airport straight to the train station, and take a comfortable sleeper train across the country to Cape Town. It’ll be a nice overnight ride, and I’ll be able to see a bit of the country. In Cape Town, I’ll begin investigations for taking a boat back to the States, and then I’ll take a sleeper bus up to Windhoek, Namibia. From there, it’ll be a 6 hour combi ride North to see my old friends, family, co-workers, and students.

15 days in Busua Beach

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

My idea was to spend some time on the beach, doing nothing more than enjoying the beach and doing some programming. I arrived and checked-in to Elizabeth’s Homestay, a place I had been to about 1 month before, and was given a warm welcome back.

Elizabeth’s is set up like a compound – there is a central courtyard around which many rooms for family members (most of which are full), and in the one building that has two levels, there are some extra rooms for guests to stay in. Downstairs, there is a small chemical shop (Ghanaian English for “pharmacy”). It is situated in the middle of a small village called Busua, and its about 200 yards from the beach.

As a guest at Elizabeth’s, you’re automatically a member of the family – a feature which worked out very well when I fell sick with malaria/food poisoning (see the post entitled “This is what we have.”), and which you can’t get at a guesthouse or hotel. The operation side of things is smooth. You wake up, walk out onto the 2nd floor veranda, order your pancakes and fresh fruit or omelette sandwich. You’re on your own for lunch, but for dinner they’ll prepare any kind of local dish, or even foreign dishes according to your specs (provided the ingredients are available). Fresh lobsters can be obtained at a relatively expensive price of US$6/pound (you wouldn’t come to Ghana just to eat lobster, would you?), and Elizabeth or her family members will boil it up for you.

Busua Beach is on the brink of becoming a tourist town, but it doesn’t have many tourists. Many hotels are there, and you can stay in any amount of luxury (or lack thereof) you want – prices go from US$4 for a room with a bed to US$80 for a room with everything you could possibly ask for). You can rent surf boards (a project recently set up by a returned Peace Corps volunteer from Bolivia) and kayaks, lie on the beach and soak up the rays, or swim out the 45 minutes (my pace) to the island (be careful of the sea urchins!). If the beach can’t hold your attention for more than a couple days, you can also spend your time interacting with the locals. There’s a junior seconary school (grades 7 – 10) you could get involved with (maybe after school activities?), seemingly regular football matches in the “park” or on the beach, and few local artists and artisans producing paintings, carvings, and postcards. Or, you can walk 20 minutes over the hill to Dixcove and check out one of Ghana’s slave castles (sadly currently being converted into a hotel).

Busua is also home to a few Westerners who’ve become disenchanted with the routine of daily life in their home countries, and it’s even got a Peace Corps volunteer, and they help make you feel a little more at home, make excellent conversation, and help provide a Western understanding of events and situations that you might have seen. For example, one night at around 3:00 am I woke up to people singing church songs. I asked Elizabeth in the morning, and she said they were praying. I asked one of the westerners, and he said that Elizabeth told him that some people pray at night because everyone else is asleep, which makes it easier for God to hear them. (No room for time zones in this explanation though…)

As the beach never could keep me entertained for too long, I swam in the mornings, got breakfast, and got to work doing some programming. A lovely French couple who own the Busua Inn let me work on their terrace which overlooked the beach. That was wonderful, until I got malaria/food-poisoning.

The next 6 days were spent being sick, a miserable time in paradise described in the post “This is what we have.” The Busua Inn people provided me with medicine and advice, Elizabeth had been a nurse for 20 years, the chemical shop was right downstairs, and my homestay family provided food three times a day at the hospital when I finally went, so I was well taken care of.

After recovery, I got back into the swing of things. I took more control of my eating, of my daily schedule (it seems routine is good for me), and continued doing computer work. I found an internet café in Anaji (just outside the large town Takoradi) that let me use my own laptop on their internet, so I spent three days there doing computer work. (If anyone’s arrived on this page by searching for this sort of thing like I tried, the name is Nalex internet café, and the mobile number of one of the employees, Jordan, is +233 24 332 9841, or if you’re already in Ghana, 024 332 9841).

I also met a South African, Allen, who told me a couple shocking things about his home country:
1. The whites in South Africa currently pay between 53 and 58% income tax. This functions as affirmative action for apartheid.
2. Since he and his wife have lived outside South Africa for around 10 years, their resident status has been revoked. This effectively means they can visit their home country, but not stay forever. If they want to renew their resident status, they’ve got to pay income tax on 40 hours per week at the minimum wage for all the years they haven’t been in-country. This amounts to around US$20,000.00 – not some small fee.
3. Taking a boat from Ghana to South Africa is indeed a pipe dream, and that’s the last time I needed to hear it.

I returned to Accra to with plans to visit a Peace Corps Namibia friend in Lomé, Togo, and to fly to South Africa on a promotional fare from South African Airways (US$471, Accra to Jo’burg!)

Finding a boat from Ghana to Namibia, part 1

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I’ve got this great idea to travel from Ghana to Namibia by boat. Any kind of boat. I expect it’s cheaper than traveling by air, and far safer than traveling overland. (Consider the countries D. R. C. and Sudan forming a land barrier between Northern and Southern Africa, and choose one to pass though…) So I went to Ghana’s major port town today, Tema, to see if I could get information on how to go about this.

My first place of call was a shipping company that a friend had recommended I check out. I talked with a gentleman about what I wanted to do, and he told me that his company didn’t ship anything in that direction, and also that he thought this sort of thing wasn’t allowed any longer. I persisted to get any information out of him, and he referred me to a few other shipping companies down the road.

After trying some other shipping companies, I finally found one that shipped goods directly from Ghana to South Africa. They received me well, but informed me that passengers were not allowed on their cargo vessels at all. I thought that if only I could talk to a ship’s captain that I could strike up a deal or something, but they weren’t ready to provide such information. They did seem to enjoy the adventurousness of boat travel though, so they referred me directly to the shipping company Maersk Line, which owns and operates its own cargo ships.

At Maersk Line, I talked with a gentleman and started to tell him that I wanted to travel south, and he immediately tried to shut me up and get me out the door. I quickly explained that planes were expensive, and that going overland would be putting myself in danger, and he warmed right up. Still, he had no idea of the possibility of such an adventure, but he referred me to the operations office of the company. Since it was around 5, I went home with a lead for next time.

I’m starting to realize that there are no sailing ships here, and the only boats are huge barges that store those large metal rectangular containers. In fact, a couple of enquires of “Where are the sail boats?” have been met with “What is a sailboat?” If this is really the case, I might need to look into other options…