Sunday, November 06, 2005

Going to Find Africa...Part Two: There's No Place Like Home

All day we have been driving through Ghanaian countryside, through villages that don't see too many foreigners, and getting a reception that would make anyone feel like they landed in the middle of a meeting of their fan club. The familiar calls of "Obroni!" are joined with enthusiastic hand waving and 100 watt smiles. We feel like we are the Snowflake Queen and her Court in the annual parade as we all wave back and smile in return. We have never been so popular in our lives and enjoy every happy shout while Duke giggles and mimics "Obroni!" in a high voice.

Now it's three in the afternoon. We have had lunch and some cold Ghanaian beer ('cause Duke's driving) and we are headed home to Accra. We have to get back before dark. We look at the map- we can take the large, paved road that we took north, which will actually be about 120 miles and cover terrain we have already seen. Or we can take a different, unpaved road that leads directly from Ho to the Coast and then joins the motorway and heads across the bottom of Ghana straight to Accra- about 80 miles. Hmmm. We live on an unpaved road. We drive unpaved roads all the time, all over Accra. Unpaved roads don't scare us, and we like roads that go direct from where we are to where we want to be. So we all vote for the new unpaved route out of Ho, headed directly to the coast.

Off we go...the road's okay, but not great, and we can't do more than about 60 kph. No problem. We got Duke and water and peanuts in a jar. Duke stops every ten or twenty kilometers to ask directions and make sure we are on the right road - there are some people, but no signposts. The road gets a little more rutted, the traffic (such as it was) gets thinner, time marches on.
Then we are on a one lane dirt track through ten foot high grasses. No people, no nothin. This is the view out the windshield...

We catch up to a car that slows to make a turn onto a grass track leading west. We honk them and they wait for us to catch up so Duke can ask if we are headed for the coast. Their reply?

"Ooooohhhhh..,you are lost!" Amid much friendly laughter from their backseat.

Immediately everyone in their car starts talking at once, telling us where the turn was back about 15 kilometers that would have headed us for the coast. Right now we are headed for Togo, the next country to the East. Whoops!

So we turn around and head back to the missed turnoff, and proceed down a different dirt road. We see few people and even less traffic- just the occasional tro-tro full of people and what Duke says must be contraband or they wouldn't be on this road. We don't enquire about the nature of the contraband- we are too busy watching the sun out our windows as it sinks slowly toward the ground...
We had originally planned to stop at an Ostrich farm on the coast once we got there, but as the road stretches before us and the daylight starts to fade we would gladly settle for stopping at home in one piece, as soon as possible please.

Duke isn't any more anxious than we are to be caught on the roads outside the city after dark and he is doing a bang up job of streaking down this dirt road dodging potholes and livestock, going just as fast as he can without breaking an axle or bottoming out too hard or too often. The road just keeps going and going and going...I keep sniffing the air out the window as we go hoping to catch any scent of ocean or tidal flats or dead fish or anything nautical at all, but all I can smell is grass and dust.

There is so much beautiful scenery as we go- small stone covered mountains, lush vegetation- even a giant lizard (about three feet nose to tail) that ran across the road in front of us at one point. As the sun starts to crash into the grass and trees, we finally come out on the paved road that runs along the ocean to Accra. Unfortunately, we are still an hour from the city, and we have maybe ten minutes of daylight left. Duke puts the pedal to the metal, and we all hope for the best.
As the light fades, we all notice that the oncoming traffic does not have its headlights on. When they are close enough that we couldn't possibly avoid them in an accident, they all flash their headlights to let us know they are there. Confusion reigns. We have read about rural drivers in Ghana leaving their headlights off "to save electricity", but had classed it with other stories too stupid to believe. So we barrel on down the road, with our headlights on, watching helplessly as car after car (and tro tro after tro tro) passes us flashing their lights, but refusing to leave them on.

Then we are treated to the sight of a very recent head on crash between a car and tro tro that left both vehicles smashed and abandoned at the side of the road- just in case we didn't believe the stories we had heard of the terrors of night time driving in rural Ghana. Eeek.

Finally we get on the motorway, which is still thirty minutes or so from Accra, and it's long since pitch black dark (and streetlights outside the city on any road are only an Obroni dream) but at least it is a four lane divided highway, and I start to breathe a little bit.

Ted says, "Not so fast. The stories of goofy driving on the motorway at night are almost as common as everywhere else." And to punctuate his caution, we are all given minor strokes by the sight of a huge tractor dead ahead- no lights, no reflectors, no nothing, driving down the motorway in the dark, going about 20 mph. Gaaaah!

Well, you know how it ends. Here we are safe at home, no permanent damage, remembering our day exploring Ghana.

The next day I was out with Duke running errands and he said, "I hope you were happy with my driving..." and I assured him that we couldn't have done it without him (very true) and that his combination of speed and caution were exactly what was needed. He told me when he got home he wasn't even tired and was ready to do more driving! I told him politely he was nuts.

Meanwhile, we can't wait to do it again.