Sunday, 17 February 2013

Lagoon


Tudu station
A long journey by tro-tro – the clunky minibuses that serve as Ghana’s bus network – can be viewed in two ways. It can be a window into typical Ghanaian life: the chatter among the passengers; the sights along the way, such as the hawkers that crowd the windows at every stop; or the radio programmes, which could be anything from vibrant highlife music to a phone-in testing Bible knowledge.

Or it can be a complete pain in the arse. Literally; the cushions on most seats lost any sense of padding years ago. Our trip to Keta Lagoon started firmly in the latter camp. Forty-five minutes through Accra’s horrendous traffic to Tudu bus station; an hour waiting for the tro-tro to fill up; then another trip back across the city. Sweaty, cramped and irritable, we passed our flat on the outskirts of Accra nearly three hours after leaving it.

Guinea pigs
Ultimately, the pay-off in these journeys lies in the destination. And Meet Me There ecolodge, near Keta Lagoon in Ghana’s southeast corner, made the stiff backs worthwhile. The lodge’s main attraction is its small saltwater lagoon for swimming, and the menagerie in the grounds: guinea pigs, rock pythons, two dwarf crocodiles and several dogs, including three very playful puppies. The resident goats had given birth that day, and their kid stumbled about while they carried on eating. Bright red fire finches and seedcrackers competed for the seeds in the sand. I even had a crab nip my little toe, something I didn’t think happened outside of Beano cartoons.

A West African dwarf crocodile
The only sad note was the vervet monkey, which is kept chained up in the corner. The future for this creature, and all the other animals, should be release in a nature reserve, which the owners are trying to create nearby. This is, naturally, taking a long time to negotiate with local people and landowners. Hopefully for the monkey’s sake, it won’t take much longer.

*****

After spending most of Saturday lazing by the lagoon and playing with the puppies, Hannah and I decided to explore the local area that afternoon. I had an urge to see the Volta Estuary; it must be something to do with studying geography.

We caught a tro-tro for the (mercifully short) distance to Atetite, a small town by the river. As we stood, wondering which way to head, a man came over and introduced himself as Prospect – many Ghanaians have wonderfully descriptive names like this; maybe it’s where the Spice Girls got the idea. Having just finished his shift as a taxi driver, Prospect offered to show us around.

Atetite beach
The next two hours were probably the best tour we have had in Ghana. Prospect showed us the stunning beach by the estuary, an expanse of bright white sand completely devoid of litter, beach huts, anything except a few fishermen. Just behind the beach was a series of small lagoons, similar to the one at Meet Me There and dotted with wading birds and lined with palm trees. We wandered slowly, soaking up the serenity of this unspoilt corner of Ghana.

It’s perhaps surprising that the beach is so unspoilt, but two factors preserve its underdeveloped nature. The region hard to reach, being several miles off the Keta loop road, which itself lies some distance of the Accra–Togo road.

The other factor is the severe coastal erosion in this part of Ghana. The thin strip of land that separates the vast Keta Lagoon from the sea is being rapidly eaten away and is threatened by sea level rise, despite the efforts to reinforce the land. Maybe that is also deterring investors. But, for now at least, it is one of Ghana’s finest coastal destinations.

Smoking fish
After leaving the beach, Prospect introduced us to the people in his village and the nearby farms. A group of women showed us how they smoke the small fish caught nearby, and children ran out of their huts, smilingly demanding to be photographed. This informal tour was a stark contrast to the organised tour to Nzulezo; there, the daily stream of tourists has understandably made people resentful of people poking around their homes, or indifferent at least. In Atetite, every person we met waved, smiled or stopped to shake hands.

Only on our tro-tro journey back to Meet Me There did we find someone not pleased to see us. A small baby, wrapped tightly to her mother’s back, took one glimpse at my white face and started howling, a petrified look in her eyes. The wailing got louder, much to the amusement of the other passengers. “She doesn’t like you because you are white”, explained an old man, laughing racistly and smelling strongly of palm wine. But given the warmth of our welcome elsewhere, it was hard to feel too offended.

In Atetite

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