Here is some general information we worked out or picked up as we travelled around Ghana. We used the Bradt Ghana guidebook (3rd edition, 2004) and I recommend it, it’s worth noting that prices for most things have approximately doubled since the guidebook was published.
- Taxis are all clearly marked (by orange wings) in Ghana. While this theoretically applies in Nigeria most taxis in (for example) Abuja are unmarked.
- There seems to be some enforcement of car roadworthiness checks in Ghana, you don’t see the kind of old wrecks on the road that you do in Nigeria. Maybe the vehicle inspectors are less easily bribed in Ghana?
- Electricity. In Ghana you get a schedule telling you when there are going to be outages (due to insufficient supply), in Nigeria NEPA/PHCN like to keep it a surprise (probably even to themselves). The Ghanaians complain about how the suffer due to poor electricity supply anyway, I struggled not to laugh at them.
- Ghana still has an agricultural sector, the economy hasn’t been completely dominated by one product.
- Newspapers in Ghana actually contain some news, rather than stories the journalists have been bribed to insert.
- Ghanaians aren’t as keen on greetings, in fact often asking “how is your family?” or “how was the night?” will result in blank faces or funny looks.
- Ghana smells. The drains at the side of the road seem to commonly be used as sewers, in Nigeria they’re normally just storm drains. This gives the country a special aroma.
- The roads in Ghana are mostly in reasonable condition. I often travel on the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Nigeria’s best road (because the generals used to use it to travel between the capital and their homes in Kaduna). A typical major road in Ghana is at least as good. Even dirt roads to villages in Ghana showed some signs of maintenance.
- There’s a greater variety of food in Ghana. Even in smaller towns you can often get some “continental” or even Chinese food. Ghanaians seem to be more adventurous when it comes to food.
- You get singled out for begging in Ghana. In Nigeria the beggars go round everyone, in Ghana they immediately target the rich “obruni” tourists. In fact in Nigeria you don’t feel as singled-out just for being white.
Of course this is based on the parts of Ghana I saw, it’s possible that things are different in the north. In general I’d say that things work better in Ghana but I found the people slightly less friendly.
We finally got back from Ghana on Sunday and then travelled up from Lagos to Abuja on Monday. The bus trip, using the Ekene Dili Chukwu bus, took a bit longer than expected due to a flat tyre as we left Lagos and then the spare going flat around Ibadan. We had to wait at Ibadan for two and a half hours until the first Abuja-Lagos bus passed by and left us their spare.
Around this time I saw an amusing story in the news, the Nigerian aviation minister condemning airlines for being rude to Nigerians. Obviously customer service (good or not) is a government issue but making sure that aircraft don’t keep falling out of the sky is not. I suspect he’s using this to distract attention from something else, such as his enormous incompetence, he’s not very specific about how the airlines are being rude.
I’d suggest that the airlines could do with being much stricter (although polite). On flights to Nigeria you see people staggering on board with ridiculous cabin baggage, several bags that are each larger than is allowed and certainly more than 10 kg.
We hadn’t realised that the second would be a public holiday in Accra, for Eid al-Adha. This meant that lots of places, including the restaurant at the guesthouse, were closed. We ended up having meat pies at a bar on the ring road.
After an afternoon of resting we heading down to Osu to find an Ethiopian restaurant mentioned in the guidebook. The directions to find it weren’t much use but a helpful woman pointed the way to it, unfortunately it’s no longer open.
We went into the Koala supermarket, famous among Ghana VSOs in the same way that Park’n'Shop is in Nigeria. The prices are mostly quite good compared with supermarkets in Nigeria. We wandered along “Oxford Street” and ended up eating at the Tip-Top Chinese restaurant. The food was good (although my octopus was very spicy) and the prices are OK.
We turned up at the airport in Accra on Thursday, ready for our flight back to Nigeria. After having a look in duty-free and spending my last 10000 cedis on a can of coke we settled down in the departure gate lounge.
After a while there was an announcement that the flight from Lagos was delayed due to weather and that a new arrival time would be announced (which really meant that it hadn’t taken off yet). There was no mention of the effect that it would have on our flight, which would be using the same aircraft.
Eventually a Virgin Nigeria staff member appeared and I just managed to overhear her telling some other people that our flight was cancelled. She then retreated rapidly without telling us about it.
After lots of milling around (and shouting on the part of some stroppy Nigeria passengers) we got our tickets back and were told that we could have a refund or that we might be able to get a seat on the Friday evening flight. I left my number and then had to persuade security to let me into the baggage reclaim area so that I could change some money for a taxi back into town.
Yesterday we rebooked onto the Sunday morning flight, we’re hoping that the Harmattan reduces enough so that flights in and out of Lagos can resume. I got a call from Virgin Nigeria saying something about some seats on a flight at 9 o’clock but the line was very bad and we’d already rebooked.
So now we’re settled down at Sarah’s house hoping that our flight tomorrow morning won’t be cancelled.
We tried calling VSO to let them now that our travel plans had changed but nobody answered the landline and the 24 hour emergency line wasn’t working. In the end Dave had to call the personal mobile number of one of the staff and we’re still not sure if they’re actually going to let our employers know we’ll be late back.
Our taxi driver (I think he’s called Ado) failed to appear at 8am as we’d agreed, once it got to 8.20 I phoned him and was told he was coming (a common West African phrase which doesn’t actually imply an intention to arrive soon). He eventually appeared at 8.45 and seemed puzzled that I was annoyed.
Once we were in the taxi the driver was still standing about chatting to the eco-village staff, so I shouted across to remind him that we were waiting.
We got the whinging about the bad road on the way back as well. I timed the journey and it was about 40 minutes, so he probably hadn’t even left Asikuma until after 8am.
When we arrived at Asikuma I half-jokingly suggested that we reduce the fare from the agreed ¢80,000 to ¢70,000 because of his lateness. He immediately became stroppy, so I dug in, explaining that he had wasted our time so we’d reduce his money.
Up horribly early and then to Asafo station to take a bus to Accra. Lots of different “luxury” bus operators, so we chose one that had air conditioning and was already quite full. We bought tickets for ¢55,000 (£3) each and settled down for the journey.
We broke down on the outskirts of Kumasi but (unusually) the company had a spare bus and sent it to collect us. The new bus had condensation from the a/c dripping on the unfortunates in window seat but was better than nothing. We departed again at about 7am and arrived in Accra around 11.30.
After a cross-city taxi transfer we got to Tudu station and took a tro-tro going to Ho, asking the driver to drop us at Asikuma junction, ¢30,000. Once we got further north we could see that the Harmattan was fairly severe, with very poor visibility around Lake Volta.
At Asikuma junction we bargained with the taxi drivers but couldn’t get below ¢90,000 (£5, a day and a quarter’s VSO allowance) for a taxi to Xofa, they’re obviously too used to rich tourists. The driver whinged about the bad road all the way, although in Nigerian terms it was fairly average.
We arrived at Xofa Eco-Village (glowing article and criticism) and were immediately whisked to a covered area by the lake by the manager, Victus. The accommodation is in several little round houses, mostly in pairs and dotted around the site. They’re nice but constructed with more enthusiasm than skill, mosquito netting is mostly decorative as there are huge gaps left without nets.
We walked back to the station after dinner and boarded the train. The guard showed us to our cabins. We were at the front end of the carriage, with my cabin right next to the guard’s. He assured us that there was water and electricity. However until the engine arrived there would be no fan and the lights would be dim. I was glad to see that the sleeper carriage was at the back of the train, nice and far from the engine.