A Ride Like No Other

October 23, 2012
It’s early morning. All three of us got up at our ‘official’ time for working out. None of us actually did. I have chosen instead to write about last weekend. It was a trip that has already gone to the timeline of my personal history as something I will always remember. It has joined the ranks of that time in Santorini when I roamed its winding roads on an ATV on my own; that dive we had in Pangasinan when my ears almost split and I felt the aftermath of a big wave after a fisherman dropped a dynamite while we were at work; that revolution in Venezuela which I unknowingly flew into and in which I pretended to be part of the Press (to get better pictures), and in which I inevitably got tear-gassed along with the rest of the crowd; that time in the border of France and Switzerland when I boarded a packed train without a ticket (I absolutely needed to get on that particular train) and got away without paying it as I turned away from the ticket officer just as the train stopped definitively; or that day in Amsterdam when I boarded a tram without money in my pocket to pay for the fare (I was hoping not to get noticed) and the kindness of the conductor (who noticed me) and let me go with a wink. Ah, the glory of unplanned traveling. There are plenty of moments such as these that crowd my mind now, but — here is what happened just this past weekend and why it deserves a place in the stalwarts of my travel timeline:
Location: Ada Foah
Starring: Laura (an old star in my stories), Ludo (a Swiss French guy, also a volunteer and now our pal) and me. There were also goats. And children. A lot of them.
I think the first challenge was to figure out how to properly say Ada Foah. Without saying it right, we ran the risk of taking the wrong tro-tro and ending up at the wrong place. After several tries and coaching from locals, we finally managed to say it without butchering it too much. The stress is on the 2nd syllable. You have to say the 2ndsyllable with a downward note (a ‘re’ instead of a ‘mi’ if you’d like to think of musical tones). The ‘da’ sounds like ‘duh.’ ‘Foah’ is said as ‘fo’ not ‘fow’ or ‘foo.’
See, this was important to figure out because apparently there are 3 Adas. Big Ada, Ada-Kasseh and Ada Foah. Travel time by tro-tro is approximated to take between 1.5-2.5 hours from Accra, depending on traffic. To our pleasant surprise, our trip fell well within this range. What took a tremendous amount of our time was the trip from Kasoa to Accra (an unbelievable 3 hours!). From Kasoa we took a tro-tro to Kaneshie Market. From there took a taxi to the Tudu station where we found another tro-tro that was headed to Ada Foah. The fare from Tudu station to Ada Foah was only 5 cedis ($2.50).
Putting up our feet after a cramped 2 hour drive to Ada
We found our guesthouse (Ezime Guesthouse) without difficulty. It was conveniently located in the corner of a busy junction, and was a 10-minute walk to the beach and 20-minute walk to the river. Having seen photos of the place in their website, I was quite excited to see it for myself. We have been jipped once in Kumasi when we thought the Sports Hotel was as nice as it looked like in their website. Ezime, however, lived up to expectations. It was elegantly simple and thoughtfully casual. It had 5 rooms, with each room accommodating 2 people although they make room for a 3rd person by bringing in a mattress (which didn’t come with a fee; we were told to only give a tip for the caretaker). Being the money-scrimpers that we were, we were in agreement to take just one room (60 cedis per room/night, inclusive of breakfast). The balcony at the back had very comfortable seats and was also tastefully decorated. Having meals there was a challenge, as we had to share it with flies; although I noticed that they were less conspicuous during breakfast. At lunch they were just pests. I am not sure if the reason we ate so quickly at lunch was because of the pesky flies or because we were chasing the sun before it decided to set. Either way, by the time we finished our barracuda spaghetti we were all clutching our stomachs. It really is never good to eat too fast too soon, but after waiting for 2 solid hours for lunch we couldn’t help it.  Back home when something we order at a restaurant takes too long to arrive, we joke about how the cooks might still have had to catch fish from the sea or pluck the vegetables from the earth. It was almost true—our lady cook did have to buy vegetables and the barracuda from the market. Who knows if they also made the pasta from scratch?

The Common Room
It was a quiet 10-minute walk from the guesthouse to Ada Beach. Three black goats greeted us on the way, all of us walking on orange soil. Just before we enter the mouth of Ada Beach, I see this almost abandoned-looking white and blue-washed church on our right. It is eerily beautiful, as all structures that are near to the sea always are. Like a witness with old eyes it stood proudly. Its bell, which seemed to be as old as the building itself was housed in a tower with a rusty roof that seemed to be trying to be present but was almost absent. On the front lawn is a sizable patch of cacti. In the glow of the early afternoon sun, the thorns looked almost friendly I wanted to touch them. I was starting to get enamored when Ludo called out to me loudly from the beach, reminding me to ‘take pictures tomorrow!!’ He had a mission that commenced from then on — to find a good bar and join a party, you know just like in Kokrobite.

At Ludo’s command I walked with anticipation towards the beach to join him and Laura. It was one of the most breathtaking sights I have ever had. It reminded me of the beach I and my family went to in Chincoteague, Virginia the summer before my sister left for the Philippines. White, powdery sand that tickled every nerve on my feet. Giant waves that swelled and shattered again and again, creating an almost heavenly haze above and beyond, cooling the air around us. With my eyes closed, the blare of the city, the dust of the traffic and the long wait at lunch were all of a sudden behind me. The sea does this, doesn’t it? It quiets everything down, almost as if your being at that precise moment is all that matters, and that defined moment is all you really have.

We walked almost to the end the end of Ada Beach to look for Cocoloco Beach (where we thought there was going to be a bar).  Asking for directions from different strangers who didn’t know much English was fruitless, and after dawning on us that we would not find Ludo’s utopia that afternoon, we decided to head back. 
One of Ludo’s many attempts to get directions to Cocoloco 
As we settled on a spot some kids started to inch their way towards us. At first they were shy, hesitant. They were observers of the obronis, giggling and nudging each other. It took them only minutes to warm up and approach us. The gate opener was when I went up to them and requested to have a photo with them. Then they were all over us— stroking our hair, climbing over us, sitting on our laps, hugging us, borrowing our sunglasses and posing as models. And the best of all? Dusting the sand off our back, off our legs and arms, shaking off the sand from our towels and folding them neatly. I felt like a movie star. My favorite was Gloria, a girl who looked like she was probably 2 years old.  She warmed up last and when she finally did, oh joy—she was the most stunning child. Big, bright eyes, each corner of her face so perfectly chiseled on a canvas of chocolate-colored skin. Sitting up very straight on my lap she looked like a princess-in-the-making.
First they were far away and shy

The gate breaker

Me and my favorite girl, Gloria


Closer and closer!

Our models

Dusting off sand 

See what I mean?
By 7pm we were again ready to eat. The only question was where. After 3 weeks here I knew that this was not going to be a simple matter to settle. Eating at the guesthouse was not something we initially considered after the two hour wait we had at lunch. So we thought of eating at Manet Paradise Resort that was reported to have an excellent restaurant. But, as our luck would have it the resort was being renovated. Plan B was then Cocoloco Beach Resort, but to get there we would need to ride a motorbike, which seemed to be Ada’s local version of a tro-tro. I laughed at the idea of riding a motorbike at night with a man I didn’t know from Adam. So that was immediately scrapped off the list. Next in mind was Brightest Spot, a popular restaurant and bar that was around 10-minute walk from our guesthouse. Seeing that the road leading to it was dark and after encountering a very strange local (he insisted that Laura said she and I were both Europeans, and got angry when Laura denied ever saying it; this was the local who said we shouldn’t be afraid of him because he was the UN’s ambassador of goodwill), we decided to head back to the guesthouse and re-consider our options. We then re-thought of eating at our guesthouse to save us the hassle of searching for a restaurant in dark alleys and riding motorbikes. But again this idea was killed when N, one of the caretakers of the guesthouse, said that unfortunately he couldn’t take orders anymore because the cook has left for the night and would not be coming back until the following morning. So really, that left us with two options: going to bed hungry or walking to Brightest Spot. N made it easier when he volunteered to walk us there. I gladly took his offer. I always try not to be proud and accept help when it’s offered.  
The Brightest Spot’s strongest point for me was serving food in under 30 minutes. In GMT (Ghanaian Maybe Time), this timing was phenomenal. As we sat down I asked the waiter for the menu. He smiled, bowed to us lightly and said, ‘Yes. We have a menu.’ I said if I could have it. Smiling and again bowing, he said, ‘Ah, but I am the menu.’ We have chicken and chips. Chicken with rice. Fish and chips. Fish and rice.’ Four items. Knowing now what they mean by ‘fish and chips,’ I opted for the fish (tilapia) and rice. N, whom we invited to join us for dinner, at the start was so shy around us that he would not eat the chicken with his hands. As he warmed up he was already using his two hands and finishing up the chicken until only clean bones were left. N was 18 years old. He was still in Senior High School. After school he works at the guesthouse. He was planning to take up accounting. He was the only boy in a family of 5. His father passed away when he was young. I said, ‘when you grow older you will be the father of the family.’  I think he liked the idea because he smiled and laughed. I was starting to like him, until he took the 1 cedi out of the 2 cedis we were going to give the waiter as a tip. We were standing up when he noticed that there were 2 cedis on the table.  ‘You left this,’ he reminded me as he pointed to the bills.’ I said it was for the waiter (who we thought was excellent, as he was able to recall our orders without scribing them, give our orders on time and was very amiable).  ‘Ah, then I will get one,’ was what N said as he casually pocketed 1 cedi.  Incroyable.
Ludo and I, seeing that the night was still young decided to head over to the bar just opposite our guesthouse. I don’t know how we did it, with his limited English and my more limited French, but we drank and talked until we were the only ones left in the bar. It was quite an interesting crowd, composed mostly of young men. There were some women but they were very few. One guy walked in dressed as a woman and started dancing like a girl. If it were not for his baritone voice and muscular build I would have taken him for a girl the way that he moved his hips as he danced. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t tipsy that night.
Coming from our Kasoa home base where there are only the most basic of necessities, our air-conditioned room with soft mattresses was a bright promise. We all expected to have a good, restful night. Mine for the most part was, except that it was 22 degrees (Celsius) inside and our flimsy blanket was not properly suited for it. I kept waking up to cover more body surface area. However, compared to Ludo I had an outstanding night. Poor guy, mosquitoes feasted on him all night. At 3 am he woke me up and asked if he could have some insect repellent. I got up, took out my 100% DEET spray (the one that I suspect is not good for your skin if it ruins your nail polish, your watch and your wrist pad) and with two squinting eyes sprayed some on his back that already had innumerable wheals (I am exaggerating; he only had maybe 10?).  Later on I heard him repeatedly slapping the wall and clapping his hands. Feeling his misery I suggested that he move his mattress on the floor next to my side of the bed where I thought there were no mosquitoes. For some time he was quiet and I could sleep too. Then later on I sensed him moving. I asked him what it was this time. He was too cold. Apparently it was not only I who was feeling the chill. Putain, I heard him mutter several times.
But as they say, each morning has new mercies. And the following morning indeed we were blessed with good things to remember forever. I didn’t realize it then (as we often grumble at unexpected twists of events) but looking back now, when the heavens opened its belly to rain down on us it was its way of washing us of the night’s miseries. Had I known then, I would not have covered myself so greedily and instead I would have lifted up my head and stuck out my tongue to taste the delicious wash-down.
To be honest though, it was initially a bit discouraging to see the dark clouds as we walked out of the guesthouse. It was only our hardiness that made us take the first step out of the gate, instead of retreating back into the oyster of our house. When we felt the first, the second and the third and especially the fourth credible raindrops, we quickly ran for cover under the tree. Ludo and Laura were both seated. I preferred to stay standing. As I was looking down I saw that Ludo’s fly was halfway open. ‘Are we friends?’ I asked. Confused he replied, ‘Yes of course.’ (Meanwhile Laura was wondering where this was leading to.)  ‘Ok so don’t be embarrassed when I tell you that your fly is open.’  He looked down, laughed and said ‘ah but I really pulled that down because it was so hot!’
WHO DOES THAT?! So hilarious this Ludo. I cannot even imagine how pulling your fly down halfway would air-ify you. I would take out my whole shorts if I needed to. Oh, but not him. Eventually he zipped it up. Peer pressure.
E, our guide and owner of Not Now boating company – so named because 15 years ago when they started their business they could not think of a name yet; hence: Not Now— picked us up at the tree and walked with us to the river where his boats were located. By the time we reached the boats the heavens close up its belly and the rain stopped. There was a faint rumor of sunlight whispering in the distant sky. By mid-day this rumor transformed itself into big news and we were sweltering under its heat.
E and their boat, also called Not Now

A hint of sunshine just in time
We were brought around the fishing villages, the estuary (where Ada Beach meets the Volta River) and Crocodile Island. We settled ourselves for 2 hours in the beach camps, where a patch of small huts is lined up along the shore that sits between the river and the sea. It is a form of accommodation in Ada that one can opt to have, for only 20 cedis a night. But given the lack of electricity and running water only a few actually stay (mostly it is young backpackers who stay). Their doors are painted with national flags. Realizing that I most probably would not find my flag painted on any door, I posed beside a hut that bore the Japan flag. I might as well, right?


The huts in the beach camp

I and Ludo swam for a bit in the river, as the sea on the other side had waves that were too strong for swimming. Laura chose to chill on a hammock. I debated on this but I love water too much to resist its call especially once it glistens silver under the blue sky. Ah, the cool water was a joy. It was hot and cold making love and reaching a climax.
Our lunch was not without some drama. Again. I ordered ampese with tilapia (I think this meant stew cooked in red palm oil). Laura ordered tuna salad, thinking it was the most simple and fool-proof food to order. Ludo ordered chicken with Jollof rice, I think. My order was correct (and was delicious). Ludo’s didn’t come with a chicken. Laura’s never came. ‘Oh,’ the server said, ‘we don’t have tuna salad what would you like to have?’ Furious and hungry (never a good combination), Laura ended up ordering a piece of chicken, resigned to her fate. When the bill came, it seemed like she was going to vomit out all her food when she saw that her chicken, after all the hassle and bustle, cost 8 freakin’ cedis. I think the person who enjoyed her chicken the most was the girl who sat down with us and watched us eat. She devoured everything.

Ampese with tilapia, plantains and egg
As we had to hurry back to the guesthouse if we wanted to stand a good chance at getting a tro-tro, we agreed to ride a motorbike. Ah, the best decision ever. Getting up and propping my legs in between the seat was a challenge as I was wearing a dress. But once that was taken care of, everything fell into place and as we rode through the village I managed to let go of one hand and reach for my camera and take infectively happy photos of myself (or more accurately, my shadow), Laura and Ludo (or more accurately, his back). These are kinds of photos that imprint memories in your mind forever.

Waiting for an Accra-bound tro-tro in Ada Foah was our training in patience. Ada Foah is not frequented by tro-tros as much as the other cities we have been to. I think we waited for a good one hour in the junction before we found the one. As we were waiting, a man with two good-sized goats came. The goats were tied with a rope. The man at first held the rope with his hand, then when he had to make use of his hands to eat and drink, he tied the rope to his foot using a loop. The ingenuity of men. Ludo and I conjured a make-believe story about how we would ride with the goats for 2 hours to Accra. We both snickered at the thought that we assumed was incredulous.
A thing is only incredulous until it turns real. As I stepped into the tro-tro and climbed onto the back end, I froze in what could only be described as unguarded alarm as I had this vision:
Oh yea– a goat under my seat
You have to understand: I don’t eat meat not because I love four-legged animals. As an example, I can admire a beautiful dog from afar but I would be the first one to run for cover once it approaches me. Upon seeing the goat’s legs under the seat I was going to sit on, I grabbed Ludo’s arm and told him to go ahead and take my seat. I said in panic, ‘there’s a goat under the seat!!’ He looked at me in puzzlement as he nonchalantly scooted to the seat. When he himself realized that there was a goat under him, he looked at me in panic too and said—look!look! I said, ‘that’s what I was telling you, and that’s why I wanted you take the seat!’ Then he laughed and said, ‘ah but I didn’t understand you! What is goat?’ I double-checked behind us and true enough, the goat owner was putting the second goat under my seat this time. At any rate, he thanked me for my thoughtfulness. Our goat ride, once an incredulous make-believe story, was now a true, living reality. We could not stop giggling as two living things would episodically kick and make sounds under our very seats. 
We made it home after only 3 hours of travel, which I thought was impressive. I was psyched to travel for 6 hours, but thanks to the high school boy who led us to the right tro-tro in the right station, we got to Kasoa comfortably in time for dinner. We rode the biggest tro-tro I have ever seen. The green light was almost psychedelic and hypnotizing.
There are days and trips that pass you by—those that do not leave an imprint on your mind nor create memories. And then there are those days and trips that, by virtue of unforeseen chains of events that are both side-splitting and heart-tugging, impress on your core forever.
This was one such trip.


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