Border Bribery and Bullies
Upon entering the immigration area, I saw a large sign above the doorway leading to the processing area that said,
It is illegal to offer bribes to immigration officials.
It is illegal for immigration officials to accept bribes.
As I hadn't seen signs like this at any other borders, I wondered why there was one there. It wasn't long until the answer to that question became painfully obvious. Right underneath that sign, officers were taking bribes from everyone passing through. Each bribe was 2000CFA (€3), which is not a large amount, until you consider that hundreds of people pass through the border each day.
The Nigerian I was with suggested that when asked for my passport, I should place 2000CfA on top of it when handing it to an officer and the officer would ignore the fact that I didn't have a visa and just let me in. The problem with was that I just couldn't do it. So I handed them my passport and they said I had to pay for a visa on arrival, which is of course, exactly what I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting is that they would double the price.
I negotiated hard to get the price down and the Nigerian even suggested to them that they just take 2000CFA from me, but as they now had a chance to get a lot more money than that, they declined. So once again I was put in a position where I had to line someone's pocket to get through a border, which is definitely the most frustrating thing about travelling through West Africa!
Another downside to doing things the right way and not stuping low enough to feed the corruption is that you get ignored. The simple process of getting a visa and entering the country, which should've taken 10 minutes at the most, considering I was the only foreign national at the border, became an hour and a half ordeal. You see, the officers saw fit to stop processing my entry whenever anyone with a bribe approached the window. There was a steady stream of people coming through who were prioritised over me.
Kez = 4; African Border Corruption = 2
Getting to Cape Coast
By the time I finally got out of the border area, I still had a 2 hour journey ahead of me. A weird young boy approached me as I was exiting and said he would help me find a bus to Cape Coast. He tried to hold my hand, at which point I told him that I didn't need his help and could find the bus myself. He wouldn't accept that and followed me to the station, then started asking me for money.
Eventually, the bus company people stepped in, as they could see and hear that I clearly wanted the guy to leave me alone. Due to the long processing time at the border, I'd missed the direct buses to Cape Coast, so I had to pay the full fare of 60 Cedis (€10), to get to Accra, even though I was only going to Cape Coast, which was several hundred kilometres before Accra. Yes, it was very overpriced, but it was also airconditioned and roomy, which was nice.
The roads in Ghana seemed to be very smooth and well maintained. The buildings also seemed to be vastly different to what I'd seen in the rural areas of other countries. I even saw some rubbish bins at random intervals, which are not really present in other West African countries. So it seems that despite the corruption, Ghana has managed to keep its development level above that of other countries in the area.
Not far along the road, we encountered an immigration checkpoint, where the officer, apparently named Innocent, declared himself my new best friend, gave me his number and told me to call him should I need anything while in Ghana. He was actually quite hilarious and definitely improved my mood after the border debacle.
Something I found rather strange on the way to Cape Coast, was the random placement of huge shipping ropes across the road at odd intervals. I presume they were there to slow cars down, but they seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, not near any towns or areas where people could be endangered by speeding cars. They were very effective though.
Once I finally arrived in Cape Coast, I had a wonderful chat about the day's adventures with my lovely host Eric. That was just what I needed before I went to bed to sleep it off.
First order of the day, after freshening up, was to get some food. That was apparently more easily said than done, considering the ingredients used and style of cooking that is popular in the area. We did eventually find somewhere that had the right kind of food and was willing to cook it in a healthier way. It was a bit of a mission, but the end result was delicious! With full bellies, we headed to the city to have a look around.
For the first time in Africa, I got to see some castles. Obviously, they were left over relics from a time before Ghana was an independent country. The Cape Coast Castle is actually a coastal fort that was used as prison, back when slavery was a thing. A walk around the outside brings you to a small inlet between rock formations where the waves break near the base of the castle. It's also an amazing place to sit and take in the awesomeness of nature.
Cape coast has a very friendly vibe to it. With less than 200,000 people living there, it's a pretty small city, by African standards. Some of the hallmarks of other African cities, like noise and traffic congestion, are pretty much not existent there, making it a lovely place for a leisurely walk. It also seems that nowhere in the city is more than a 10 minute walk from the coast. I guess that's why it has 'Coast' right there in the name!
Before I left the city, I was unlucky enough to see a man walking around with no pants on. He seemed to be known as the local crazy dude, as no one really even batted an eyelid when they saw him wandering around half naked. I saw many other interesting things on my walk around, but none topped what I saw written on some random guys shirt - All professionals can boast, but the teacher taught them all. That's right folks, you'd all be lost without your teachers!
After a great few days in Cape Coast, I paid the 10 Cedis (€1.8) fee then hopped in a van in the evening for the 2 hour journey to the capital, Accra.
I arrived at my host's house, in a community about 20km out of the city, just after 8pm and was ready for a shower. Until I discovered that the shower was outdoors with an open-air roof and therefore had no light. Instead, I chatted with the family until bedtime.
Once morning came, I was ready to try this outdoor bucket shower thing, because what other choice did I really have? I must say that it was kind of interesting being able to look up at the sky while showering, but on the flip side, you have the chance of getting sunburnt whilst showering. Also, because of the sun, you do dry a lot more quickly than you would in a normal shower.
Now feeling fresh and clean, sort of, I was ready to explore the city. It only took an hour or so to get there in 3 different cars, because the traffic was at a standstill almost the entire way. After sitting down for so long, I was glad to be able to walk around and stretch for a bit. I made my way to the waterside area and it wasn't long before someone stopped me for a chat. His name was Richard and I pretty much know his entire life story now.
When I walked towards a restaurant not long after, a guy called Cesar greeted me and said he was very happy to see me. He advised me that the restaurant was vegetarian, which was exactly the opposite of what I was looking for, so he kindly offered to show me a place at the art centre just down the road, with WiFi!
Once we got there, the WiFi wasn't working, so he took me to his stall on the other side of the art centre, where I meet his older brother who was very insistent about Guineans being criminals. The older brother then went off to find a small Ghanaian flag for me while I chatted to Cesar for a bit.
After the brother came back with the flag, Cesar took me for a walk to a shopping centre up the road where I could find WiFi. On the way there, we walked past some important sites, including Independence Square, (or Black Star Square), which looks like a big open-air semi stadium near the water and the Black Star Gate or Presidential Avenue, positioned on the roundabout adjacent to the Square. Cesar gave me a bit of a history lesson about the square and what it's used for.
Once we made it to the shopping centre, Cesar left me, presumably to go back to the work he'd been ignoring for the 3 hours he'd been helping me. While in the supermarket, I bumped into a lady from the US that I had met earlier that week at the Ghanaian Embassy in Côte d'Ivoire. It seems she'd also opted for getting the visa at the border, as she didn't want to wait for the visa to be processed.
We chatted for a little while and relayed our border experiences to each other. As bad as mine had been, it seems hers had been slightly worse and included getting kicked out of a car for not having a visa. Oh dear. It turns out we're both teachers on our summer holiday who'd decided to make the trip to Africa. I guess it really is a small world after all.
Upon leaving the shopping centre, I was offered a Chinese massage, to which I responded, "I live in China". That caused the man offering to giggle then walk away. I then decided that I wasn't keen to sit in hot transport with the horrific traffic congestion taking place all around me, so I decided to take a long walk back to the community I was staying in. On the way, I found a sign to Deeper Life.
Many people stopped me along the way, to say hi and ask me where I was going, but when I had walked about 80% of the way, a guy started walking with me, because he felt that I shouldn't be walking alone. After the obligatory small talk, he said, "What Would you say if I said you were attractive?" and I replied with, "You'd be about the 152nd guy in Africa to say that!". He really wasn't expecting that response, but it didn't stop him from trying to suggest other things.
In the end, he gave up on the idea of anything else happening and just wanted to make sure that I got back to where I was staying safely. This involved him walking several kilometres in the opposite direction to which he had originally been going.
The Road to Hohoe and the Waterfalls of Wli
My host, who was supposed to help me get to the bus station, had disappeared without saying anything. Luckily his friend was available, so he took me to the station to get a car to Madina where I could get a bus to Hohoe. The small town of Wli is not far from there and that's where the waterfalls are at. The bus driver seemed to deliberately find the crappiest road to get to Madina, so it took over an hour. As it was only 5km away, I literally could've walked there faster. Once at the station, I found the bus to Hohoe for 30 Cedis (€5). The 200km trip took just under 4 hours, because as had happened in previous countries, the road got horrible within 100 kilometres of the border.
Once in Hohoe, I was able to find a shared taxi to Wli, home of the waterfalls, at the same station where the bus had dropped me off, for only 10 Cedis (€1.8). The driver was very nice and when I told him I needed to change some money before I'd be able to pay him, he said I could just get in and he'd stop at a bank for me. Changing money at a bank should be easy, right? Apparently not in Ghana!
Firstly, they took a photocopy of my passport then made me wait for 15 minutes, because.. Africa. By this time, other people in the taxi were coming into the bank to ask what the hell was going on because obviously, we all wanted to get going. Once they finally served me, they wouldn't accept my home address and said that I had to have an address in Ghana, which of course makes total sense when I'm on the way out and I don't live there, sheesh. The driver said I could just use his address, but the bank people wouldn't accept that. They said it had to be my address and didn't seem to understand the concept of a traveller not having an address in the country. Clearly, it was a lost cause, so we got back in the car and left.
The road to Wli was absolutely horrific, because all the terrible roads in Africa seem to be near borders! At least it was only a 30 minute drive and once we got there, the driver's friend George met us to help with the currency problem. He took me to the hotel near the waterfall, which was run by a lovely German couple. George had suggested that they might help me to change some of my Euro to the local currency, so I could pay the taxi man. After I told them about what happened at the bank, they commiserated with me about how things are done in Ghana, then happily changed my money. I found out that they had lived in Ghana, running their hotel for over 20 years. The area was absolutely lovely, so I could see why they wouldn't want to leave!
As we were walking to the park entry for the waterfall, George told me that while I was inside, he would organise a motorbike to take me through to Adeta on the Togo side of the border, where I could get a car to Lome. This meant I could enjoy the waterfall without having to worry about my next move. Fabulous!
The staff at the park entrance were super cruisy and pleasant. They let me leave my bag with them so I could enjoy the hike unencumbered, then they even offered me a free guide. I think that was probably more so that I wouldn't wander off into an area that I hadn't paid to see, because they'd told me it was too late in the day to go into one of the areas.
My guide was a young boy named Ric. I found out on the walk that he was not a real guide, but just a high school kid trying to make extra money during the holidays by pressuring people into giving him tips. He did tell me that the local name for the falls was Agamasta, which means allow me to flow. The waterfall was lovely and even had a rainbow accompanying it! What was strange is that the super powerful waterfall was cascading into a small calm lake.
When I got back to the entrance, George was there waiting for me and true to his word, had organised a motorbike to take me through to Togo. Before heading to the border, he took me to his friend's guesthouse, so I could get some WiFi and let my host in Lome know that I was on the way. George had been a massive help and had asked for nothing in return. What an awesome guy.
At the border, the officers were very friendly, but they took a weirdly long amount of time filling out my departure card for me and looking through my passport. Perhaps they were marvelling at the amount of pages that were full with stamps and visas, or perhaps they were just bored and wanted to keep me there as long as they could, so they had someone to talk to. Either way, they kept me there for over 30 minutes and I was the only person crossing in that whole time. When they saw who my motorbike taxi man was, they advised me that he was a 'good man' and not to worry. I wasn't worried anyways, but it was a lovely sentiment.
In a few words – corruption and rainbows
Language - English and local language
Currency - Ghana Cedi (GHS)
WiFi availability - 📶📶📶
WiFi was fairly easy to find but didn't always work to expectations. Or at all.
Transport - 🚗🚗🚗
The spaciousness of the transport in Côte d'Ivoire seemed to continue into Ghana. Vehicles were still crowded, but at least everyone had their own seat.
🚐 Minivans seemed to be the most widely available mode of transport for both intercity and inner city transport. The going price was around 30 Cedis (€5) for about 200km if the road was bad, or 10 Cedis (€1.8) for 150km if the road was good. It was around 3-5 Cedis (€0.5-0.9) for inner city routes.
🚘 Squeezier shared taxis were available for shorter trips at around 10 Cedis (€1.8) for a 30-40 minute drive.
🏍 Motorbikes were used near the border area, because apparently the border roads were not suitable for cars. It seems they start with a very high price but can be negotiated down a lot. They generally only take CFA for payment.
Roads - 🛣🛣🛣
The roads were surprisingly smooth throughout most of the country, until getting close to the border area.
Scenery - 🌳⛰🌳🏞🌳
With rainforest covered mountains and waterfalls accompanied by rainbows, Ghana definitely takes the prize for most amazing scenery in West Africa.
Prices, - 💰💰
Most things in Ghana are fairly reasonably priced, making it a great place for budget travellers.
Checkpoints - 🛑
I only encountered one checkpoint in Ghana, where the officer seemed more interested in a chat than a document check.
Border efficiency - 🛃🛃
There was absolutely no sense of urgency at Ghanaian borders unless you were willing to hand over the bribe they were subtly (not subtly) asking for.
Corruption level - ⚠⚠⚠
Corruption is most definitely present, but seems to be concentrated in border areas, so the rest of the country is quite pleasant.
Overall - 👍👍👍