bus travel

The Wheels of the Bus Go Round and Round – Or Maybe Not

BusI’m the first to admit I’m not the most frequent bus traveler. Okay, for two years or so I caught the bus home from school every day – and hated it. Then there were the handful of longer distance bus trips I took – the trips to and from the Grahamstown School Arts Festival and a trip to visit my father in Cape Town when I was living in Durban. Then there was a trip to Wilderness on the Garden Route to attend a rock music festival, which co-incidentally was the only one of these after I lost my sight. But generally bus travel hasn’t been a regular part of my life by any stretch of the imagination.

So the concept of a long-distance bus journey from Accra to Kumasi in Ghana was out of my usual comfort zone, to say the least. Interestingly, I was intrigued by the concept, rather than anxious.

Overall I found the bus trip a fun experience, largely due to the amazing group I was traveling with. Admittedly none of us were thrilled at the hour long wait while our tickets were acquired, but hey, I thought, maybe that was just part of the experience. And the tedium of the long trip was broken by animated conversations with my traveling companions. After all, I could hardly watch the passing scenery, could I?

The trip back to Accra was a little different. We were all tired after a fantastic conference, and we were a smaller group, the three guys who had accompanied us on the trip up having elected to travel back to Accra by air. So there was little animated conversation on the 5-hour trip back.

Until…

We were in process of pulling back onto the road after an unscheduled pitstop for someone who felt they couldn’t wait until the next bathroom stop when, without warning, we heard an almighty explosion and the bus ground to a halt – we had a blowout!

We spent the next hour standing in the blazing afternoon sun while the bus driver and assistant replace the tyre with the spare. To be fair, the work was done efficiently and professionally once the wheel was cool enough for them to touch. I was also impressed by how many other buses and trucks pulled over to offer the use of tools and assistance… and not one tried to “steal” the passengers. I was also pleasantly surprised by how patiently the passengers waited for the emergency surgery to be completed – only one person demanded to be found alternative transport and he wasn’t one of our party.

Eventually we disembarked (umm, debussed?) and staggered, hot and tired, into our accommodation for our final night’s stay in Accra. Sadly, our delayed arrival left us no time to go and see more of the city, although three of our group did head off in a taxi to go and investigate… only to land up in a 2-hour traffic jam!

All things considered I’d certainly be willing to contemplate a long-distance bus trip in another country if the opportunity presented itself. As for the unexpected hour long delays– both when buying bus tickets and unscheduled emergency refit stops – well, they certainly kept our journey interesting!

The photo shows the bus driver in process of changing the bus wheel. It was taken by one of our group, a wonderful lady named Lieketseng Ned. Used with permission.

First Impressions

Cds IMG 0766It’s Wednesday morning and as I sit here listening to the rain pouring down in Cape Town I find myself reflecting back on the week I spent in Ghana… was it really only a few days ago???

My overall impression of Ghana is that of warmth, the warmth and humidity of the weather, the warmth and friendliness of the Ghanaian people I encountered, and the warmth of the experience of spending a week in the company of people I hadn’t previously met but with whom I shared some unforgettable experiences from which I believe long-lasting friendships will develop.

I’ll share some of the specific experiences that made my time in Ghana so special over the course of the coming weeks but perhaps a few initial impressions won’t be amiss here.

I found the Ghanaian people both welcoming and friendly – without a single exception. Now, I know this just isn’t possible – that there must be Ghanaian’s who aren’t friendly, or are simply having a bad day, but I didn’t meet any of them. From the woman who sold me two beautiful Ghanaian dresses, to the bus driver who had just spent an hour changing a tyre after we had a blowout on the journey back from the conference; from the receptionists at the guest houses to the hawkers touting their wares outside the conference venue.

And wow, are the Ghanaian’s creative and entrepreneurial in the way they market their produce. For most of our 6-hour bus journey the sides of the road were lined by small counters selling everything from under-carpet felt to vegetables, from pottery to peanut butter, from metal gates to (and I’m not kidding) coffins. Basically, I’m pretty sure that if you needed an item, someone would be selling it!

It’s obvious that religion is a cornerstone of Ghanaian society. We were amazed at the number of churches we saw – often several on a single street block. Also, most of the songs we heard on radio, both in the bus and at the guest houses, were religious in nature. I don’t know if there is a causal correlation between the prevalence of religion and what I was told about the reduction in crime and occurrences of HIV and AIDS, but certainly religion forms an integral part of everyday life in Ghana.

I also found it curious that most radio and TV I heard was in English. Then I was told that English is the official language of Ghana, which I found interesting in its own right.

A final observation about Ghana that was curious to me. I would have thought that the climate in Ghana would have made it an ideal place to grow almost any and everything. And yet it seems that much is imported – we saw fruit juice from Spain, milk from South Africa (when you could find milk at all), and the most frequent mobile phone outlet we saw was South African – MTN. I’ll freely admit that I missed some of my dietary staples, like cheese, which I didn’t see in Ghana so was craving by the time I returned home.

Those are a few of my general impressions of Ghana – watch out for more articles on specific aspects of my time in Accra and Kumasi in the next few weeks!

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