Monday, Jan. 12
Back in the States

Now that I’m home with a fast WiFi connection, I’m uploading hundreds of photos and videos I took during my trip. Thought you might want to see a few of my favorites that didn’t make it onto the blog already. Turn on your sound!

A video of the sandstorm my travel companions and I hit in Timbuktu:

Here, my Cameroonian village family celebrates after I delivered more than $1,000, contributed by readers of this blog, to pay school fees. Those moving lights are glow-in-the-dark bracelets worn by people who are dancing. The sounds? Singing and cheering.

This Malagasy man showed me the process of creating silk, which later is used to weave scarves, from silkworms’ coocons. Here, he hangs the coocons out to dry.

Drying coocons is part of the silk-production process.

Drying coocons is part of the silk-production process.

Kumasi’s open-air market is, I believe, the biggest one in West Africa. I walked around it for hours just watching the scene and the people.


Monday, Sept. 8
Accra, Ghana

Post offices. Sure, they’re useful for mailing stuff home. But they’re also a great way to experience a part of daily life in any given city.

The amount of red tape one has to go through to mail something, the way a post office works (or doesn’t), I figure is somewhat reflective of the country’s ability to function.

So I try out post offices in every country I visit. I visited Timbuktu’s tiny office, where my friends and I were the only customers.

The cost to mail a postcard has varied drastically across West Africa, from as much as 850 CFA, about US$2, in Burkina, to just 40 pesewa, or US$.40 in Ghana.

But the real fun is in sending packages — or parcels, as they call them here in Ghana.

Mailing my sleeping bag home from Dakar, Senegal, was easy. (When I’m freezing in the mountains of Cameron I’ll probably wish I still had it with me, but it was simply taking up too much room in my bag.) It cost me an arm and a leg though, around US$50, nearly twice my daily budget.

The postal system in Mali was more interesting. Seedy, really.


Wednesday, Sept. 3
Dixcove, Ghana

Now I understand why Ghana has been dubbed, “Africa for beginners.”

Everything here is easier, nicer, cleaner, cheaper and less frustrating than it was in Senegal, Mali and Burkina. The bargaining system isn’t nearly as cut-throat. Fewer trash piles take over streets. Air-conditioned buses — and name tags for luggage! and rest stops! — are available for long-distance travel. Most toilets are western-style instead of the squat variety.

Trees hundreds of years old tower over the landscape, meters and meters taller than any I saw in other West African countries. There, the timber would have been cut down ages ago.

Ghanaians, many of whom speak English, are friendly and happy. Kids yell “Abrouni” — that’s the word for “white person” here — when I pass, not because they’re about to beg for cash, just so I’ll wave hello and smile.

Far more foreign non-governmental organizations work here, and signs about their projects dot the roadsides. Hoards of university students from America and England are preparing now to return home after spending their summers here volunteering.

Perhaps because of that, the tourism industry in Ghana, though still lackluster, is far more developed than in the other countries I’ve visited. They’ve got at least a dozen eco-tourism centers, including formal systems for charging people to experience them.

Kakum National Park, for example, offers a series of rope bridges high above the forest. My legs shook as I walked across:

Canopy walk at Kakum National Park.

Canopy walk at Kakum National Park.


Saturday, August 30
Cape Coast, Ghana

I’m suffering from a bit of traveler’s fatigue.

I’m lacking motivation, not looking forward to discovering each new town like I was during the first two months of this trip. I’m sick of putting on the same worn clothes each morning, sick of brushing my teeth with bottled water in dirty bathrooms, sick of eating greasy food and drinking soda.

The negative vibes are partly due to the constant headaches that pain me here. In the States, I get migraines once or twice a month and can usually fend them off with medication. But because I get them when I’m tired, and I often don’t sleep well here, either because of noise or simply because I’m in a strange place, I find myself popping headache pills far more often. Africa — with its screaming babies, music blasting in the streets and people who shout rather than using normal voices — is not a good place to have headaches.

Perhaps my sour mood is due to my lack of running, the exercise that keeps me sane at home. It’s possible to jog here in rural areas, but my knee has given me so much trouble lately that I’ve had to forego running altogether. (I could cry now just thinking about how much I miss running! And my gym. And feeling in shape!)

Or maybe the 10-week travel mark, which I’m about to hit, is one of those hard spots, kind of like when marathoners hit “the wall” around 20 miles. Any experienced long-term wanderers out there want to weigh in?


Tuesday, August 26
Kumasi, Ghana

We walked slowly and quietly in the bush, following a Ghanaian guide who carried a large gun.

When he stopped, paused and gestured to his left, I didn’t have to look hard. A pack of elephants!

We moved closer to watch the largest one use his wrinkled trunk to pull branches and leaves off a tree and stuff them into his mouth.

An elephant eats his lunch of leaves in Mole National Park.

An elephant eats his lunch of leaves in Mole National Park.

Those few moments made my stop at Mole National Park worthwhile. I really couldn’t have cared less about going on safari in Africa, since people and cultures interest me far more than animals. But being that close to such a large creature, one I had learned about as a child but never seen in person, was pretty cool.

I visited Mole largely out of convenience. For tourists who fly into Ghana’s capital, Accra, down south, the park is out of the way. But since I arrived in Ghana via Burkina, from the northwest, I had to pass the park on my way to see the rest of the country.

An elephant footprint!

An elephant footprint!

The day before, I had stopped at another animal attraction, a hippo sanctuary. But I left after seeing the information office. Turns out it’s impossible to see hippos during the rainy season, and we’re smack in the middle of that season right now.

Aside from the elephants, Mole National Park was a disappointment. The animals themselves — we also saw warthogs and several animals that looked like deer — were interesting. But I also expected greatness from the information center, motel and restaurant because it’s touted as the country’s greatest safari. Instead, the facility was poorly managed and under-maintained, sold overpriced and unimpressive food, and the staff was less than friendly. I paid hotel prices, but couldn’t shower because the running water wasn’t working. (This is normal for African villages and even cities, but a tourist resort should be better equipped.) With such a remote, beautiful location, that place had a lot of potential it failed to fill.


Saturday, August 23
Hamile, Ghana

The town of Hamale sits, literally, on the border between Burkina Faso and Ghana. One half of the town is in Burkina, the other half, spelled Hamile, is in Ghana. (Click here to see where Hamile is on a map.)

At any of the other border crossings I’ve made so far, such division of a town wouldn’t have mattered. But this “frontier,” as they call it, is different.

On the Burkina side, residents speak French and use the regional CFA as currency. The Ghana side speaks English and buys with currency that’s used only in Ghana, the cedi.

Yet people on both sides of the border speak the same local language, which I believe is called Walea. It’s a perfect example of how colonizers years ago divided countries without regard to the locals.

Walking the Burkina road to Ghana.

Walking the Burkina road to Ghana.

Both Burkinabes and Ghanians cross the border freely, some taking advantage of the strong purchasing power of the CFA on the Ghana side, since the cedi is weak.

I happened to arrive on market day, so I joined women from Burkina who carried goods on their heads across the border. Photos usually are forbidden at border crossings for security reasons, but I managed to get this shot:

Crossing the border from Burkina into Ghana.

Crossing the border from Burkina into Ghana.

After officials stamped my passport twice, once on the Burkina side and again on the Ghana side, I enlisted the help of a guy who called himself a “tourism volunteer” to change some money. The CFA I had used in Senegal, Mali and Burkina would be useless to me in Ghana.