Saturday, June 03, 2006

Part II: How to get to Accra

(Sorry for the delay in this posting. If you haven't read the first installment yet, make sure to scroll down and read it first!)


Kete Krachi is a city half-submerged – literally – by history. In the 1960s part of it was inundated after the building of the Akosombo Dam, leading to the creation of one of the world’s largest artificial lakes: the Volta. Some Kete Krachi residents who were unfortunate to be living in the low-lying parts of the city had to relocate, and began building what is now called the New City, which is now the northern part of Kete Krachi. But many of the residents simply left, and the city’s population dropped. It’s an eerie sight to see a grassy area abruptly end at the water’s edge, with no beach transition – it smacks of human intervention in the natural world, and is a permanent reminder of what once was. This sight is further compounded by the graveyard of half-submerged trees that project from the water, grey, withered and gnarled.

But our goal was to take advantage of Lake Volta, to float south down it, so Robin and I began wandering along the shoreline, searching for signs of a boat that could transport us. We were directed to a nearby home, and told to ask for The Captain – who was not difficult to find. He was a large and boisterous man, and announced that his motorboat would be leaving at 4am sharp the next morning, carrying passengers and cargo to a city called “Abo Toase.” I had to write this out phonetically in my guidebook, because the name wasn’t already in my guidebook. Indeed, the book was useless at this stage, which is liberating in a sense. And really, in macro travel (i.e., travel between cities), all you need is a vague direction and a healthy amount of time. We knew that Abo Toase was southward, and we knew it was on the appropriate side of the lake. This is all we needed to know. We told The Captain we’d be there.

So we found ourselves, at 4am the next morning, standing on the shoreline, scanning for a ship that would carry us away from Kete Krachi. Straining out eyes against the darkness, we finally spotted a wooden vessel, maybe 20 metres long and three metres wide at its centre, into which cattle were being loaded.

Their method of cattle loading was interesting (at best) and inhumane (by my standards, more accurately). The cows were led to the side of the boat, where poles were braced against the ship, and used to leverage the cows up and over the side, where they were unceremoniously dumped to the bottom. This happened six times, and was followed by the dumping of several sheep and goats. Finally, the humans began piling in: roughly 40 of us at this early hour.
The boat began its slow trek to the south, and promptly stopped 10 minutes in at another port to load more passengers, livestock, and agricultural goods. I experienced a flashback to the first tro-tro ride of our trip – stopping and going was the theme. Indeed, this would be the trend for the duration of the boat trip – following the coast, and stopping every so often at makeshift “boat stops.” The proximity of the coast was reassuring – a quick swim away – given that the boat was becoming more and more loaded down with people and animals and inanimate objects; and with every cow, the water level appeared to be rising just a bit, as the sun’s rays pressed down with increasing strength from above.

It became apparent that our destination, Abo Toase, was having a market day. The people boarding the boat were transporting their goods to market. It was a fascinating sight to see people taking advantage of what seemed to me like a strange and overloaded mode of transportation -- something that I would use only out of interest -- in order to conduct their daily lives. But as I sat wedged between a basket of yams and a bag of rice, feeling the hot breath of 10 cows on the back of my neck, and desperately covering any exposed skin from the sky’s UV light, I realized that such experiences are an integral part of travel: they drive home the point that while the normal aspects of life here may sometimes seem quite unusual (and conversely, your way of life could seem quite bizarre to others), we’re all still trying to accomplish roughly the same goals in life. In this case, these people were making their livelihoods by moving the goods they’d worked so hard to produce to a place where they would be saleable. Definitely not a foreign concept to most people in the world – it’s just the little details that differ, the mechanics of the process.

The boat continued its slow and steady voyage. It was guided around the graveyard of trees by a first mate who stood at the front of the boat and, through a complex series of hand gestures, directed the captain (at the stern) who controlled the boat by its outboard motor. This system worked well enough (we stayed afloat), although a few scrapes were incurred.

Eleven hours later, heated by the sun’s rays and by our passengers’ body heat (tro-tro levels of human super-compression had developed), we finally approached the final shoreline. The sun above was slowly becoming obscured by black clouds rolling in from the south, and in the distance the sky was painted with murky dark brushstrokes. This was the backdrop for the remaining trees that were desperately forcing themselves out of the water, beyond which were rolling hills of green forest. In the forest, small bush fires emitted plumes of smoke like signals guiding us to our next destination.

Just as we pulled into port, the dark clouds reached us, and the sky began to fall; water from above meeting water from below as we desperately scrambled from the boat. This scramble involved walking precariously along the edge of the boat and jumping as close to shore as possible, trying illogically to avoid the water under our feet as we grudgingly accepted the sky’s water. It really didn’t matter. We were soaked, and had arrived to our new and previously unknown destination freshly baptized and ready to start our travels anew.

To be continued!

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2 comments:

Big Ear Creations said...

Hey there... I'm from Brantford and my wife and I live in Accra for 7 months a few years back! Just gotta love Ghana. We travelled to Mole Park in the Northern Region, and as we were 1 tro tro away in a small village... we waited all day and eventually saw the occupants of the van walking down the dirt road. Someone had tried to pile a cow into the tro tro and it broke down. The following day, we hired the school "bus" driver to take us in! I love Ghana

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