Aja and I had a good chat over breakfast about the future of Cote D’Ivoire. She says that she’s as optimistic as she can be about the elections in November – it’s as if the whole country is holding its breath until then.
As for the ‘What The Hell Is Wrong With Africa’ question, her take on the matter is that most people who want to leave (which is like pretty much everyone) have no realistic concept of what Europe is like and so it can – and does – take on an air of a fantasyland in which you can pluck money from the trees and the streets are paved with gold. The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Of course, the reality is very different.
Aja was lucky enough to visit London a number of times when she was younger so she could see for herself it was no Big Whoop. She was quite blunt about the subject – why on Earth would I want to leave my home, my family and my friends and work every hour that God sends to live in a cold flat in a cold city when I can work fewer hours and have a much higher standard of living by staying in Cote D’Ivoire?
All we have to do now is explain that to the rest of Africa.
After wishing Aja all the best and thanking her profusely for her hospitality, I got a taxi over to the eastern Gare to get transport to the border, which was provided in the form of a minibus. We reached the frontier with Ghana in heap good time and my border crossing was remarkably smooth.
Once on the Ghana side of things, I managed to squeeze onto another bus for the capital – Accra.
At last. I arrived about 7pm and headed over to the Novotel hotel where Rocco the Cameraman was lurking in room 605. It was like arriving on another planet. I’m not one for Proper Hotels at the best of times, and so far on The Odyssey, when I use the term ‘hotel’, it is in the loosest possible meaning of the word. It’s usually a euphemism for ‘guest house’, ‘B&B’. ‘youth hostel’, ‘backpackers’ or ‘cockroach infested hovel’.
But at least all the places that I’ve stayed in so far had a bit of personality. You’ve got to have a bit of The Bad and The Ugly to really appreciate The Good, but these homogenised chain hotels really break my heart. It’s the lack of humanity – I experience a similar kind of melancholy in airports, supermarkets and shopping malls. A place where nobody gives a damn about you, who you are or what you do. They just don’t want you to complain. Or sue.
After leaving Mandy in Australia in June 2002, I headed over to New Zealand. I arrived in the Backpackers in Christchurch at around 7pm, blue as hell and in the mood for going straight to bed and having a little cry. By 8pm, I was with ten new-found mates in an Irish Bar, watching that Ireland v Italy game. By 10pm, the bartender was dispensing free drinks and I was dancing on the bar and hugging strangers.
Has this sort of thing ever happened to anyone turning up on their own in a chain hotel? Of course not, Hilton would have a pink fit at the very idea of a bunch of guests getting together and going out on the lash, I mean, really – could you imagine! But that is not the only time that has happened – every backpackers I stay in will generally result in a mini-adventure, usually involving beer, dancing and a good time had by all.
But I wasn’t paying, so tonight I will not complain. Or sue.
Rocco the cameraman reminds me of Scott Jones (which is proper odd as Matt the Producer reminds me of Stuart Lanceley). He is classic Aussie stock and his level of humour is just as low as mine (and Matt the Producer’s), which means that we should get on just dandy. I could think of nothing worse than being lumbered with a sourpuss who didn’t think Michael Jackson dying was the funniest thing that’s happened for ages. Oh don’t look at me like that, I’m not the one who put wine in Coke cans, gave it to small children, called it ‘Jesus Juice’ and then…well, you know.
After a quick shower (two in a row, my word – I might actually be, you know, clean if I keep this up), Rocco and I met up with Tanko, the legend to end all legends. He had brought with him, my other passport (thanks Dad!), a replacement sleeping bag (thanks Mum!) and an emergency GPS thing (thanks Alex!).
Tanko and his brother then took us out for a bite to eat. I asked for classic Ghanan fare, and that’s what we got – a ton of meat for ‘starters’ and what I can only describe as SPECIAL CHILLI FROM THE NEW PARKGATE for mains. I don’t care that Special Chilli means nothing to most of the people reading this… THOSE IN THE KNOW will know EXACTLY what I’m on about. Just goes to show you that great minds (in this case, those of Ghana and China) think alike. The great thing is that I was pining for Special Chilli the other day – I didn’t get to grab some while I was in Liverpool. By the time that I had finished it, I was fuller than Gilbert Grape’s mum’s left welly.
Tanko Hamza – you utter legend! I retired, sleepy, full and happy. I slept in my Novotel bed, not caring one sot that they had probably folded the end of the toilet paper into a little triangle and placed a strip of paper over the toilet seat to let us know it had been ‘Sanitised For Your Convenience’.
I had a chance to charge up my batteries and check my e-mails for the first time in godknowshowlong. There was no way of progressing past Benin before the embassies opened tomorrow morning, so I was in no particular rush to get there.
I decided to check out the market and get my beard trimmed. You know at the end of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when Belle kisses him and he turns into the prince? Yeah! Then Tanko’s nephew took us out for a quick jaunt around Accra. We headed to the Memorial Park only to find out it was €75 to film in there, so we went to the castle instead – only to discover that filming is banned outright. If in doubt, always find something to eat.
We went to the Ghanan version of McDonalds and stuffed our faces with hamburgers and chips. Yum. I had an ulterior motive though – I needed a good toilet. Remember me bragging recently that I had made it this far though West Africa eating all kinds of fly-covered junk from the side of the road without getting ill? Well, after two nights of really decent grub, I guess the irony was too much for my guts to handle. No explosive follow through’s or anything, just enough blurgh for me to be a little concerned. Rocco gave me a couple of his ‘poo tabs’ (yes he wrote that on the box in biro) and that bunged me up a treat for the next three days, so no biggie. You just wait until I get gastroenteritis…
Anyway, my spidey-sense told me it was time to leave, so we headed back to the hotel to pick up our bags. There, I met a girl carrying a Manfrotto tripod bag, which could only mean that she was a film-maker. She wasn’t. But her sister was, so I was half-right. Had a good chat with them, made me feel proper amateur with my little A1 camera. But I was glad to have Rocco around. Everyone else that I’ve met is a little less than convinced when I say I’m making a television show. The Cape Verde police didn’t believe it so much, they kept me in jail for 6 days.
After a while, Tanko arrived to say his farewells. He had just come straight from a wedding (don’t worry – it wasn’t his and yes I made that joke) and was dressed in traditional Islamic attire. We had a chat about the road ahead – turns out he has a friend in Kuwait who may be able to smuggle my ginger ass into IRAQ! How cool would THAT be? Hearty handshakes and thanks all around, then it was a quick stroll over to the minibus area and before too long, we were on our way to Togo. To go to Togo is to go to a go to Togo a go go. So there.
It’s a short trip to the border and once on the other side (visa issued there and then, THANK YOU TOGO!), we found a shared taxi that was going all the way to Cotonou, the capital of Benin, in all but the name. While we waited for the taxi to fill, I met a guy who told me the hilarious story that German Togoland (as it was then) was only leased to the French and now that the lease is up, he is desperate for the Germans to come and reclaim the country so that they have somebody sensible in charge for a change. So if any Germans are reading this and are still aching for a bit of liberstradum, I’ve found a place where you’ll be welcomed with open arms. So not like Poland then.
Tell you what though, he’s given me a REALLY brilliant idea for the next Indiana Jones movie. Oh come on, after that last effort, they look like they need all the help they can get!
True to their word (usually taxis that say they go over borders drop you at the border and then run away giggling) we got into Benin and all the way to Cotonou, arriving before ridiculous o’clock at night, which was a bonus. If I hadn’t been quite, quite knackered, I would have bought a bottle of bubbly – Benin is country number 100!!!
Halfway back to Mandy.