Our journey began in the sweltering heat of the Tamale tro-tro yard, crammed into rows of five people in a minibus (the rows were designed to seat four), and vehemently fighting off the vehicle’s first mate, who was trying to stuff an additional sixth person in to each row. We sat, motionless, for almost an hour, until our bodies were drained of sweat and even our solid body parts began the slow process of evaporation (or sublimation, for you thermodynamic dorks). At one point, the tro-tro driver faced a near bloody coup after asking us passengers to switch vehicles – for the second time. But I’ve learned not to ask too many questions while travelling through Ghana, and that your energies are best directed towards three things:
1) Ignoring the heat
2) Trying to locate small pockets of personal space that might exist somewhere between your compressed skin and that of your fellow passengers
3) Forgetting about number two, and instead concentrating on the warm communal feeling that develops when you and your fellow passengers have anti-personal space
So this I did, and eventually we passengers persevered. Amid cries of “We are not bread, why are you baking us?!” our tro-tro finally started up, and pulled out of the yard. It then promptly pulled into the nearby petrol station, which was an anti-climatic anti-surprise – another part of the Ghanaian travel dance. After fuelling, we were off for real.
This tro-tro stopped in the city of Salaga, formerly a central West African hub for the slave trade in the 19th century. The slave market is now the tro-tro station, and instead of slaves being shipped by Ashanti traders to the south, you now have tourists, itinerant Fulani people, and travelling Ghanaians passing through.
After heading through Salaga we found ourselves careening down a rapidly darkening road towards Kete Krachi, a city on a peninsula in the northern part of Lake Volta. We’d heard a rumour of cargo ships departing from Kete Krachi, ships which follow the lake to its southernmost point at the Akosombo Dam. From there we’d catch a vehicle to Accra, and be able to claim that we’d made it to the capital city via a combination of tro-tro, car and cargo ship.
Our tro-tro driver had obviously driven this route before: he navigated the potholes as though he were playing a video game that he’d already beaten many times. However, upon arriving, at nightfall, in a city with a name sounding akin to the noise a sheep makes (“Boorah!” – we don’t actually know the name as it’s not on our map), we were told the driver would not be continuing on to Kete Krachi, to the fabled land of cargo ships. We were staying in Boorah, in a city that, as far as we could tell, consisted of a single darkened intersection and one kiosk that was selling coca-cola and uncertainty. We were told that there is no guest house, no hotel, in Boorah. We were told, in essence, that there is no hope in Boorah, and that we really shouldn’t have ended up there on an ill-defined mission filled with fanciful dreams of cargo ships and large artificial lakes. It’s at times like this that hopelessness can take over: this must be quelled by the Zen-like belief that, in travel, patience is paramount, and that following the streams of destiny will always lead you to a destination which has been your terminus all along (whether or not you knew it). So long as you believe that the journey is the destination, you can maintain a peaceful state of mind. All the same, I didn’t want to sleep on the streets of Boorah, and knew that my Buddhist travel mantras would give way to despair if I was forced to camp out in a deserted city whose name I could only approximate by channelling the noise of my most detested animal.
Luckily, while talking to the few lone survivors in this seeming wasteland, it came out that we might be able to stay at the local health clinic, which was only a few minutes’ walk away. It was there that we were greeted warmly by a community health nurse, who had no problem finding us beds to sleep in. My Buddhist travel philosophies had been challenged and, like a fine debater, had conquered and come out not just intact but strengthened. I sometimes worry where this laissez-faire attitude could lead me, but then I remember that I’m not allowed to worry, and so I keep moving.
The next morning I was greeted by the sounds of goats (goats are good – they’re spry and intelligent), and the vibrant feeling of a market day. Market days are always a sight to behold, with hundreds (or thousands) of people from surrounding communities converging on a city to sell their produce and other goods. We stepped out of the clinic to see the true city revealed to us in the light of day. We had been wrong – Boorah is not a ghost town. Our night-time assumptions had led us astray (we were truly in the dark), had prevented us from seeing that our little intersection was simply the outskirts of a city that was most certainly full of life, and on this beautiful early morning we were seeing real evidence of the city’s character. Women and men walked in to town, or came in on tro-tros, and began setting up stalls in the market area. Animals were led in on ropes, and carts of yams rolled in. Bushels of groundnuts appeared, and bags of spices were transported in on hundreds of heads. I was reminded again that Ghana is not a land of the hopeless, despite characterizations of Africa from back home.
But we didn’t have much time to stay and explore. We were off that morning, with the same driver as the night before (who had decided the time was now right to complete the voyage), to Kete Krachi.