Sunday, 24 January 2010

Gulders and Guns and Roses

[Radio silence for the past couple of days -- apologies. I'm now safely landed in Porto Novo, Benin after a few days of fun and travel.]

Last time I wrote I had just completed the bumpy journey back to Accra. From there, five of us traveled West to the Ghanaian tourist destinations of Kokrobitey and Cape Coast. We had a few adventures in both places.

Kokrobitey is a small little fishing community cum tourist trap just outside of Accra, but it feels like it's further because of the brutal traffic getting there. Like us, most tourists bypass the fishy-smelling Kokrobitey village entirely and head to Big Milly's Backyard, a backpacker hangout famous for its beach parties, quasi-Rastafarian hangers-on and spicy food.

Surprisingly, but thankfully, the area was almost devoid of quasi-Rastas, and the five of us spent most of the night sitting in comfortable beach furniture, eating Milly's incredible spicy chicken, and drinking Star beers. Note that it was Stars we were drinking -- it's relevant to later in the post.

The girls went to bed at a responsible hour, but Joe and I stayed at the bar well into the night, mostly out of morbid curiosity about the other bizarre types who show up at Big Milly's late at night. There were a few.

First, Alex, a massive German guy (as in 6'4" tall) who sat perched on the wooden bar stools in the most bizarre positions: first he had his legs twisted up under him yoga-style; later he had them splayed out sideways at a strange angle; later again they were in some new conformation. I would have taken pictures to post here if it wasn't rude. But despite this restless-leg syndrome, he was a very nice, polite guy who basically served as a foil to the stranger bar patrons.

Like Sam, a Brit with an amusing conversational style. In fact, his conversation was so unwittingly hilarious that it bears repeating some of it here. We were talking about art when Sam announced that he was from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Al (that's me): "The home of Shakespeare. Pretty awesome."

Sam: "Shakespeare's rubbish. No good."

Alex the German, confused: "Why does your shirt say Macbeth on it if you don't like Shakespeare?"

Sam: "What, no, see, this isn't Shakespeare, right. This is a Guns N' Roses album, that's why. They're my favorite band"

Alex: "Oh."

Joe, perhaps sensing something funny coming: "What's your favorite GN'R album then?"

Sam: "Greatest Hits, definitely."

Me: "What are your top three favorite songs, period?"

Sam: "Paradise City, November Rain, Sweet Child of Mine."

Others: silence, polite nodding.

Power to the guy if his favorite songs really happen to correspond with GN'R's top three singles, but hadn't he ever heard of the convention of naming non-singles when asked about their favorite tunes? (Or, in the case of hipsters, selecting the most obscure songs they can think of by the artist under discussion). But really, picking those three songs is really like saying that your favorite Led Zeppelin song is Stairway. You just can't do that, right?

But the night's Bizarreness Award certainly went to a foul-mouthed and diminutive Aussie who lived nearby. He showed up pretty late in the night and sat there chain smoking and presenting us with his fairly offensive perspective on women and relationships while he nursed quite a few Gulders. This was the sort of person whose chat would make you want to cover the ears of women and children if any were around. The guy was so over-the-top that Joe and I found him to be a constant source of amusement for days later.

In the end, however, the Aussie had the last laugh. When I got up the next morning, I found that my tab was bigger than any two other people's combined... and our bills contained a number of unexplained Gulders that none of us could remember drinking! Late the night before, the power in the bar died for a full ten minutes. Our guess is that the guy used the nightly power outage to doctor everyone's tabs and have himself a few Gulders on us. But we'll never know.

The next day, we traveled by Tro-Tro to Cape Coast, originally famous as the capital of colonial Ghana, but more recently famous as the site of Barack and Michelle Obama's first visit to Africa. Not too much to report there, apart from the Cape Coast Castle itself, a UNESCO World Heritage site that probably counts as the most famous slaving facility in the world. The Castle served as the administrative capital for multiple European powers -- English, Swedish and Portuguese -- that controlled the Gold Coast at various times. Underneath the charming and spacious administrative and military buildings, however, was the dark belly of the slave pits. The dungeons were able to accommodate over a thousand slaves at one time, often for months while they waited for the slave ships to arrive. Even today, it's easy to imagine the horrible conditions that people lived (and died) in below the castle: hundreds of people in rooms with almost no ventilation and no latrines, with very infrequent rations of food and water. Very moving just to be there and see the facilities where the slaves once stayed.

After the castle, we also did a little swimming, but I decided it was a bad idea after I had a taste of the local conditions. As in many parts of West Africa, the combination of undertow and crashing surf can be a pretty deadly combination. A few minutes of floundering in the surf was enough to tire me out for a while.

That was the coast. The five of us headed to a nice hotel on the water in Accra for what was most people's last night. I needed to save my energy for my big push the next morning to Benin. More on that soon.

In closing, my funny Africa moment of the day. This internet cafe I'm writing in appears to be very focused on cleanliness; for the past hour, one person has been occupied in dusting the computers and desks with a cloth at twenty-minute intervals. The problem is that he's so vigorous in his dusting that the computer tables keep shaking and throwing off my typing. Hilarious, though.

1 comment:

  1. Funny, the Bill Bryson book I'm reading, Neither Here Nor There, describes an encounter with two diminuitive, foul-mouthed Australians on a train. Maybe it's the same guy(s)?