Archive for March, 2010

There are a handful of Ghanaian tour companies which have websites, from which I chose Jolinaiko Eco Tours.

I had a good experience with Jolinako Eco Tours and can recommend them without hesitation.

I’ve also heard good things about the Easy Track tour company from posters on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Ghana branch.  Easy Track also does home stays and a host of business services.  One thing that Easy Track offers that I haven’t seen any other Ghanaian tour company advertise is the ability to pay with a credit card or by PayPal, a huge convenience.

The cost for the car and driver was very reasonable.  Prices change, so check the tour company’s website.  (Don’t forget to budget a tip for your driver, as it’s not included in the price of the tour.  See Tipping in Ghana.)  Also, because I had the company of a Ghanaian driver all day long, I could ask any kind of cultural questions I wanted.  It was like having a personal cultural ambassador for the duration of the trip, a huge advantage if you travel alone like I do.



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Final Thoughts

My last few days in Ghana were spent at my friends’ home in Accra just relaxing and enjoying their company.  I made sure to get some cooking tips from Veronica. She showed me how to make peanut sauce.

To commemorate my visit, Sammy hired a photographer to come over on my final day to take pictures.

I knew I was going to have a good time on this trip, but it was much more fun than I expected. Hiring a driver to take me to off-the-beaten-path places was great and worth every penny.

Photographing people who do local crafts was so rewarding.  My enthusiasm for Ghana and her people has only grown since this visit.

Ghana is a wonderful place to visit.  I hope you enjoy your Ghana travels as much as I did mine.

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Tipping in Ghana

Usually one or two cedis is all that’s expected.  Taxi drivers in Ghana normally don’t get tipped at all, but I tipped a few times when they were honest and didn’t try to overcharge me. I also tipped one who was a very safe driver.

Please do tip the guides at Elmina and Cape Coast Castles.  A one or two cedi tip isn’t going to make a huge financial impact on you the tourist.  Most of the guides at the castles are unpaid interns and live in poverty with many brothers and sisters, so tips really help them.

Five cedis is considered a lot of money in Ghana at this time. I only encountered one instance where five cedis was the maximum recommended tip, and that was for the canoeist who paddled us to the Nzulezu stilt village and back.

I didn’t give money to people who just asked for a handout, with one exception.  In the larger cities, you may encounter handicapped people at stoplights who beg for change.  They really don’t even ask for money, they just come to the car window and simply look at you.  On the way to the airport, that happened. There was a man in a wheelchair, a man without legs on a board with wheels on it and a third man on crutches with a deformed leg. Without hesitation, I gave them each a cedi or two and all the coins I had left.  They were extremely grateful.   It was the best thing to do with an amount of money that was too small to exchange once I was at the airport.

I tipped the guys at hotels who carried my bags a cedi or two, if I had small change.  I tipped people one cedi in certain instances when I wanted to take photos and they were especially nice and cooperative.

Oddly, food servers at restaurants usually don’t get tipped. But I tipped them anyway. My Ghanaian friends said 50 pesewas (half a cedi) was enough and that I should give it directly to the server and not leave it on the table.

If you hire a car and driver like I did, budget a generous tip for the driver into your travel expenses.  Your driver doesn’t just drive you, he assists you in countless ways in order for you to have a terrific vacation.  If you need to buy something, he’ll know where it can be found.  He’ll intervene on your behalf if it’s a transaction involving bargaining so you won’t get ripped off. He’s a fountain of advice and information. And last but far from least, he’ll carry your bags.  Several travel sources on the internet suggest a tip of $10 a day for a tour guide.  I came up with something around 10% of the touring fee, which was just barely over $10 a day, converted it to cedis and rounded it off.  My tour was for ten days, and I gave Stanley, my driver, 150 cedis as a tip.  He was pleased.

Above all, remember that Ghana is a poor country, and most of her citizens live in extreme poverty.  Be generous. By Ghanaian standards, being generous isn’t expensive.

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Toilet Talk

Traveling in less developed countries causes some people concern over toilet facilities.   In most of the tourist places you’re likely to visit, and in all of the hotels that are of any decent quality, you’ll find acceptable or very nice toilet facilities. The only places where you’re apt to find latrines would be in villages, where most tourists don’t spend a lot of time. Unless you do a home stay in an eco village, it’s not too likely you’ll have to use a latrine.

One thing to keep in mind:  because Ghanaian plumbing and water pressure doesn’t compare to that of the more developed world, toilet paper dropped into the toilet is likely to clog up the works. You’ll usually see a small waste basket next to the toilet. That’s for paper disposal.

I was fully expecting to run into some very rustic latrines and to have to go out in the bush a few times in some of the less populated areas. However, I didn’t encounter any latrines in this visit, even in some places where I expected them. Also, because it’s so hot, you’ll sweat more and pee less.  So don’t stress out over toilet facilities.

I did have to “visit the bush,” as they say, a couple of times when a mild case of traveler’s diarrhea overcame me suddenly.  We were literally in the  middle of nowhere, and there was no other option.  It’s really no big deal.  If it happens, remember that millions of people in the less developed world have no choice but to “go” al fresco every single day, and count your blessings.  And always bring toilet paper with you, in case you have to visit the bush in a hurry.

Gayle Pescud wrote an excellent article about traveling in Ghana on public transportation with irritable bowel syndrome.   For the average tourist  traveling in Ghana, toilet facilities shouldn’t present any problems.

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Yesu Kaime

I’m nowhere near qualified to be a food critic. I can’t tolerate hot peppers or even too hot temperatures.  I don’t like anything sour or anything that tastes even mildly bitter, which includes coffee, walnuts and dark chocolate.  I hate the taste, texture and even the smell of seafood or fish of any kind.  But I’m going to tell you about Ghanaian cuisine, or at least as much of it as I know about.

With its roots in extreme poverty, most dishes are prepared by boiling or deep frying.  A very limited amount of vegetables grow in this climate, and most farmers can’t afford fertilizer or pesticide to assist them.  There are no vegetable side dishes or salads served in village homes or chop bars.  You can find salads sometimes in restaurants, but don’t expect much.

Stews will often be tomato based, but there is also okra stew.  Add slimy texture to the list of things on my food avoidance list. My clear preference is the peanut sauce, a West African specialty.

Cayenne pepper is the main flavoring used in Ghanaian dishes and is frequently overused to the point that it caused me pain when eating.  Not much salt is used, and few spices or herbs grow here. That means they are imported and thus too expensive for most people. It also means there isn’t a lot of variety in the flavors that various dishes have.

Many Ghanaian dishes are a large wad of starch served with a thin soup which has a little meat or fish in it.  The starchy portion is either rice or a ball of dough made from corn, yam, manioc or cassava. If the rice is shaped into balls after it’s cooked, it’s called omo tuo.

The dough is sometimes fermented. Fermented corn dough results in banku or kenkey.  My nose won’t allow kenkey to get very close to my mouth.  (The same goes for a lot of those fancy French cheeses.)  There’s also unfermented corn dough. In Togo, it’s called pate. I don’t know what it’s called in Ghana.  Because of the type of corn that’s used (field corn, rather than sweet corn, which doesn’t grow here) and because there are no herbs, spices or even salt that I know of which is added to it, I found it not very appealing.

Nonfermented yam dough is fufu. Sometimes it’s mixed with cassava. But there are no spices added to it, not even salt, making it virtually tasteless. The flavor comes from the stew it’s served with.  Even with its lack of flavor, I’d choose fufu over pate any time.  I also prefer pure yam fufu to fufu that’s a mixture of yam and cassava or yam and manioc.

If you find you don’t really like any of these dishes, you can get grilled chicken with rice pretty much everywhere.  There are restaurants in the cities which cater to the tastes of expats, and there you’ll find more variety, as well as in hotel restaurants.

On this trip, I got to try redred, which my friend Veronica made for me. Redred is a tomato based stew made with black eyed peas served with fried plaintains. Veronica doesn’t use much cayenne in her dishes, so I was really able to enjoy it.

My favorite Ghanaian snack is a deep fried ball of bread dough called bofroot. A small amount of sugar is added to the dough, so it’s only slightly sweet.  The best ones are on the light side, although you’ll find some that are really heavy, which I refer to as gut bombs.  Bofroot are frequently sold by people who walk around with the little boxes with glass windows on their heads.  They are either 25 or 50 pesewas each, but I don’t remember exactly. All I remember is that they were cheap and good!

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Baby on Her Back

Babies in West Africa go everywhere in a length of cloth wrapped around mama’s midsection and tucked in. The cloths are never tied, just wrapped and tucked.  If it starts to come loose, mama will feel it.  She will bend over so the baby doesn’t fall, rewrap, retuck and go.

No stroller, no fancy equipment, just a piece of cloth is all that’s needed and off they go. You also won’t see any West African mothers carrying diaper bags.  That one I can’t explain to you.

What I always marvelled at is how unintrusive the babies are.

You don’t hear them screaming or kicking up a ruckus very often. In the U.S., crying and fussing children are not so unusual in public.

Considering what they lack in nutrition and health care here, it’s even more remarkable.

I pondered whether it was at least partly due to the fact that, strapped on their mama’s back, they’re exposed to a lot of direct sun.

That tends to make one hot and sleepy.

And if you’re sleepy, you’re going to be nice and quiet.

Ho hum, just another day of mom working and me tagging along.

I’m not much interested in babies, but even I think those little feet are pretty cute.

One day she’ll have a baby of her own.  Until then, the bear will do.

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By His Grace

West Africans are very spiritual.  I’ve posted photos of religious quotes on the backs of taxis.  Ghanaian commerce also shows a strong Christian theme.

The names given to businesses frequently have a religious aspect to them, even though the business name itself is otherwise vague about what it sells or does.

Some shop owners believe that by having a religious name, they will avoid the evil eye and be more successful.

An article in AllAfricaNews quoted a woman as saying she prefers to shop at a business with a religious name.

Another collection of shop signs with religious names is posted on Eat My Words.

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