Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back to Work

Vacation is over, Monday was my first day back at work and I have five weeks of work left and about six of Togo - not that I'm counting. Actually I'm really trying not to count, because then I have to think about paperwork and other things I'd rather ignore.

The parking lot at the Burkina-Niger border, where Amanda and I slept on Night One of vacation. See those guys sitting on a rock by the telephone pole? That's about where we put down our mat.

Male giraffes fighting in Koure, outside Niamey. Love that head-butt move.

Our trip was... well, until we arrived at Green Turtle, our last stop, it wasn't very relaxing. We were in a bus almost every day after leaving Niamey, and the one day we didn't have to catch a bus, I was sick and stayed in bed. This was the day we spend in Mole (pronounced Molay) National Park in northern Ghana. We spent the night before in the Peace Corps sub-office in Tamale, and when we left for the bus station to go to Mole, I realized I felt rotten. The ticket vendors told us to arrive at 1:30 for a 3 o'clock departure. We left around 4:30 and spent those three pre-departure hours waiting at the bus station, which doubled as a market. The ride to Mole included two hours on a paved road and then three special hours bumping along on a dirt road, with the latter part of the ride through the dark, African night. This while running a fever and having to pee. I advise travelers to Ghana to take the less frequent, more expensive STC busses when possible. MMT, the bus line we took to Mole and then Kumasi, is basically just a big bush taxi.

Peter and Amanda P. waiting in the Tamale bus station... hour three.

So I didn't go on a guided walking tour the next morning, but I saw elephants, wart hogs and water buck anyway. The lodge in Mole sits on a plateau that overlooks the park, and I saw two elephants at the watering hole. The water buck came out at dusk. The wart hogs like to hang around the lodge, and one elephant wandered up to say hi around lunch time. The roundtrip bus ride to the park was not worth my time in bed there, but the day off got me back in shape for more bus riding. If you're healthy and have more than a day (or a private vehicle), I would recommend Mole. Breakfast is included with the price of the room. That's always exciting, unless the breakfast is no good (my eggs, toast and tea were delicious, especially since I'd eaten next to nothing the day before).

After Mole, we trekked south to Kumasi, home of the largest market in West Africa. Half of our group wanted to spend a full day there, but Amanda and I woke up at 2:20 the next morning to catch the 4 a.m. bus to Takoradi so we could spend more time on the beach. This bus, an STC, was nicer than Greyhounds I've ridden in the States and was so air conditioned I had to thaw out when we arrived in Takoradi. From Takordi, we took tro-tros (Ghanaian bush taxis) to Green Turtle, where we properly relaxed by doing nothing for four days. The ocean was rougher than any other time I've been there, and after my first swim, I decided not to venture out beyond the breakers again (mainly because once I got out there, the only way to get back in was to let the waves do the work, and they treated me like a rag doll). From then on, "swimming" meant standing in the water, getting knocked over by the waves and then getting back up.

A mid-morning walk on the beach with Peter, Amanda P. and Amanda H.

The intrepid bus riders after dinner at Green Turtle.

From Green Turtle, I went to Accra to meet my friend John. Every time I visit Ghana's capital, I'm amazed by how it surpasses Togo. There's a mall! With a movie theater! And a food court! They have fast food establishments and internet businesses - not cafés, Busy Internet on Ring Road is too big to be a mere café - with internet that loads web pages before you age a year. There's also bumper-to-bumper traffic, pot-holed roads and shanty town poverty - it just comes with middle-class entertainment.

We got back to Togo on Thursday, and it's been raining almost non-stop since. That's good for temperatures and farmers but bad for tourism and malaria (and eventually it's bad for the farmers). When I say tourism, I mean it's difficult to show your visitor around town when the roads are full of lakes and mud. And when I say malaria, I mean more rain equals more mosquitoes equals more malaria. I leave you with this Togo Travel Tip: when visiting sub-Saharan Africa, always bring your malaria prophylaxis, especially if you don't plan on staying in air-conditioning all the time (even then). Yovos.

PS - I've been instructed to update more regularly, which I will try to do in my last howevermany weeks. If all the updates start annoying you, send me an email and I'll un-enroll (or whatever) you from the auto-update list. Also, there will be more photos.