Coffins and Crocodiles, a Journey Through Ghana (1 of 6)

Ghana is not your usual African destination – far away from the tourist hubs of Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, Ghana sees only a very small percentage of tourists to the continent. Which is a pity, because Ghana is probably one of the friendliest and most laid back nations around.

Ghana coast
Ghana has much to offer – beautiful scenery, a gorgeous coast, nature reserves and interesting, relaxed people. These, coupled with low crime and a cheap, excellent local beer, make Ghana an ideal place to explore. But be forewarned – Ghana is not for the timid, if riding in cramped minibuses, being the centre of attention and battling constant dust or humidity is not your style, perhaps you would be better off somewhere else.

I came to Ghana with my mother and a friend. My mother has a good friend who had grown up in Ghana and always waxed eloquent about his homeland and its people. He promised us a wonderful time – “Ghanaians are the friendliest people on earth” he said. “Everyone will make sure you have a great time.” He was right.

It was January when we arrived, the beginning of the dry season, and one of the more pleasant times of the year to travel in the region. The weather is hot, hovering around 30 Celsius everyday, all day. January is low season, when the few tourists who make it here are even fewer. This turns out to be a good thing, making room reservations unnecessary, and visiting tourist sites a crowd-free experience.

Jumbled, ramshackle, lively Accra
We started our trip in Accra – Jumbled, ramshackle, lively Accra is Ghana’s capital. Like many African cities, it’s not the plethora of sites (or lack of them) that makes this city, but rather it’s ‘feel’ – and Accra has a very pleasant, relaxed ‘feel’ to it. It’s a great city to just walk around in, taking in the atmosphere. We walked a lot; hopping over sewer trenches, dodging erratic traffic, breathing in the dusty air, waving our hands and saying ‘hello’ over and over to all the friendly smiles that greeted us.

There’s a lot to see at the side of the road in Accra – at one junction we saw giant wooden carved fruits; bananas, grapes, almost the size of a compact car sitting at the side of the road. Behind the fruits lay a red wooden Mercedes, complete with tinted windows, and a huge, rainbow coloured fish. What were they? I asked some men loitering around, some sort of street side art collection? They shook their heads and laughed. “They are coffins, made to order”. Looking at the coffins, we started to appreciate the Ghanians’ sense of humour – fun is paramount here, even in death.

Impressive balance
We ordered some omelettes, bread and tea for 1000 Cedis (20 cents) from a street vendor. We sat at a little table by her stand and ate our meal. The tea was strong and sugary, the bread puffy and sweet and the omelette delicious. We munched our meal in silence and watched the people on the street. People came by selling hardware kits, knife sets, lemon drops. All the goods were in big metal bowls balanced on top of their heads. We wondered how they carried them without the bowls toppling over – years of standing tall and erect I guess. Children came by with smaller bowls on their heads, practising their technique.

We walked around some more, looking at the furniture for sale at the side of the road. Sofas, beds, mattresses, drawers, you could furnish your whole house here. We inspected the rattan furniture closely. Three seaters, loveseats and armchairs – all nicely made, with strong frames and colourful cushions. Rattan furniture is a Ghanaian speciality, the wood native to the area, and can be found in nearly every Ghanaian home. A sofa vendor tried to sell us some of his products, imploring us to try out his comfortable creations. We laughed, how were we to carry them home? “You take it on the airplane with you.” he said in all seriousness.

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