Monday, August 6, 2007

Road Trip - Destination: Atimpoku

Saturday was a scheduled "lights off" and as is our wont, when confronted with a hazy hot day stuck in our little house doing nothing but sweating, we decided to take a road trip. One of our favorite destinations is Atimpoku, about an hour's drive from our house in Tema. In a fit of tag team insanity (Sly suggesting, me agreeing), we invited an additional two kids to accompany us - Mike's buddy Mawuli and his brother Selasi. Four boys, one girl, one husband and me, thank God for my MP3 player.

Atimpoku is a small village which lies along the Volta River, just upstream (or downstream? I don't know, I always did poorly on the river questions on exams... guess I should have paid better attention in geography class) from the Adomi Bridge, which was built in 1954 and still as beautiful now as it was then. If you're interested, it costs 8 cents for our van to travel over it, free if you're walking.

We went to a riverfront resort called Akosombo Continental Hotel, and it's a nice place just to hang for the day. It's got a beautiful pool, friendly staff, all kinds of boats for hire, and a mini zoo with assorted wildlife: a couple of crocodiles, a dozen monkeys, lots of Grey parrots and other indigenous birds, some (wild?) turkeys, two cute little deer-like animals, and (major shocker!) two fairly large snakes, which is quite unusual here in the ophidiophobia capital of the world. The vast majority of Ghanaians apparently have a morbid fear of all snakes, big or small, venomous or not, dead or alive. Don't believe me? Ask one.

And the view from the riverside path doesn't put a strain on the eyes either.

The kids enjoyed the pool, even though the weather wasn't really cooperative with more clouds than sun. Nothing stops a kid, not clouds or rain or adults yelling (dozens of times, it seems) "Stop Running!" So, for the first two hours, all went well. Then, the hunger pangs began. Now, I like this place, but the fact is their food is mediocre at best, and for the dubious honor of eating it, you get to pay obroni prices. This would wind up being an expensive lunch, that no one would eat. But, within sight is our salvation. It's only a trudge up one hill and down another and we're there.

Aylos Bay is a smallish place, that builds itself up pretty big as offering lodging, food and drink, campgrounds, canoing and river swimming (our kids are desperate to swing the rope out over the river). We did stay there once, when we found ourselves shut out of all the "good" hotels. But for $25 a night, we got a single room, no A/C but at least a working ceiling fan. The shower area of the bathroom had no raised lip to separate the shower from the toilet, so when you showered, the water that didn't run down the drain, ran out the bathroom door and into the bedroom. Talk about soggy. We had to ask for extra towels to create a threshold, and while it didn't work perfectly, it kept the wading pool to the immediate area in front of the toilet bowl, so not terribly terrible.

The grounds at Aylos are lovely and wild; verdant would be the word that most aptly describes. And of course, my own little flower cannot help but to improve the scenery.

They've got some traditional masks and musical instruments hanging, and some of the most interesting wall carvings and statues that you'll see in Ghana. This is one of them.

Credit for the picture has to go to my friend Leann and it was "borrowed" from her blog (see the link for the Best Blog in Ghana to the right) .

But, as usual, I digress. The food and beer at Aylos Bay is pretty decent and cheap, so that is where we headed for lunch. The fare is the standard "continental" style food, meaning chicken and chips or rice, but since that's what the kids wanted (and isn't that what they ALWAYS want), that's what they got. I have become addicted to their battered shrimps, which are plucked fresh from the river (more on this later), and served with a spicy sauce. I keep suggesting they try adding beer to their batter. Jeez, I'd even sacrifice some of my own, but what do I know. So what that beer battered shrimp on the menu in an American restaurant would cost about $8 for a lousy half dozen or so shrimp. But, as I said, what do I know?

One of my pet peeves, and I find this in almost all the restaurants in Ghana, is that they bring out each entree as it is done, rather than all at once. Local foods like light soup and fufu come out fast, and any food that has chips with it comes out last. What that means is that Sly always eats first, kids always eat last. And these particular kids
are hungry ("Mom, I'm Staaarrrving!"). Now I've been known to have the occasional mean streak, and I don't usually tend to feel guilty about a lot of things, but I really really feel bad when my food comes first and there are starving children in Africa. ;-) This particular day, it was worse than usual, poor Selasi didn't get his food until the rest of us were nearly finished with our meals. He kept appealing to the waitress with big brown sorrowful eyes, but no dice. Apparently, the cook had to go kill a chicken (sarcasm notwithstanding, this is more probable here in Ghana than elsewhere in the world). Whatever. It finally was served to the poor kid, hot and juicy, and Selasi ate every last morsel.

On our trudge back to the swimming pool next door (and you don't know how
tempted I am to jump over the wall separating these two places), we stop and plucked a couple of berries from a shrub. I have no idea what you call it, so don't ask. But no, they're not poison.

Louisa, the owner of Aylos Bay introduced us to it about a year ago, giving each of us a single berry, just to taste, as we were leaving. It tasted alright, kinda sweet, only a tiny bit of meat to it with a pit in the center, but otherwise nothing special (or so we thought). The day was still early (remember, this is a while back), so we decided to go to another local restaurant, which we see all the time from the road (or from the river when we're on the boat) and which has intrigued me to no end. It just looks very "neat."

Abadi Idyll turns out to be a small, cute, well maintained lodge owned by a German man and his Ghanaian wife. We decide to sit at a table on a dock near the water's edge. As usual, we ordered a Star Beer. It was bubbly and cold, but, as we both agreed, it tasted really weird, too sweet, maybe it spoiled. I don't know. So we called the waitress over to bring another Star. Again. Yucch! It was like some evil Snapple worker sabotaging the Anheuser-Busch plant. "Yoo-hoo, Miss? Can you bring a different beer, a Guilder perhaps? Both of these Stars taste strange." Of course she could, but we could see the panic in her eyes (as in, are we gonna
pay for these?). Not to worry, we assured her, we'd pay for all of them. So she carries our Guilder to us. For crying out loud. It's a conspiracy! Light bulb goes off. Duh. It must be those weird berries we ate. Sure enough, they did something weird to our taste buds. Everything we ate or drank for the next hour was soooo "different." The kids thought it was great, of course. Plain old sachet water tasted like the nectar of the gods! Kids.

Okay, back to the now. After lunch at Aylos, we went back to the hotel and spent another hour or so. While the kids played and splashed, Sly arranged with Kwame, the pool boy, to retrieve our shrimps. All 5-1/2 kilos of them, that's about 11 lbs worth. The last time we were at the hotel, during another day time lights off, we learned that some of the workers arrange for fresh shrimps for their customers. "How much," you wonder? How's about $2.50 a pound. Take a look at this big boy. Nice, huh?

With the car packed up, kids, wet swimsuits, goggles, towels, toys and shrimp, we head on out. One of the "things we do" when we leave this area, is stop in the village proper and get takeout (or take away, as they say here) for dinner, always assuming we'll (meaning, I'll) be too tired to even think about cooking, much less washing dishes.

The way you buy your take away is this: pull your car over on the side of the road, and wait. Within nano-seconds, a few dozen young girls "come a runnin." Each and every one of them carrying a huge plastic bowl or glass fish tank style box of food on their heads, and they run in flip flops, of all things, not even Nikes. The first one to cross the finish line doesn't get a medal, but she (hopefully) makes a sale.

We tend to attract a fair amount of attention when we pull over. Most of the hawkers assume that the driver, is well, the driver (rather than my husband) and they ignore him completely and head straight for the obroni in the passenger seat. When you are the one "trapped" in a car, what comes immediately to mind is: Shark Feeding Frenzy. Only we are the bait! I'm quick though, and my window is closed even before the first food-laden hand can be thrust through. Sly gets out of the van, and the swarm now senses that he's the intermediary, so they leave us alone.

What the girls sell is an assortment of local foodstuffs: Tiny fried fish sold in a skinny plastic bag, called onemanthousand, and yes, you have to write it like that. Cause that's how they look, a thousand little itty bitty fish crammed into a tiny bag. About the size of a fingernail cutting from your pinky. But they're crunchy and delicious - head, tails and everything in between get eaten by the handful, kind of like popcorn.

There's also two kinds of fermented corn dough -- abolo is a bit of sweet corn dough that is wrapped and flattened in a folded banana leaf then baked, and the other pure starch is white kenkey which is a similar dough wrapped in a corn husk and steamed. Another offering is shrimp that is salted and smoked and sold unshelled, skewered on a stick. Not nice, but since I've got my own fresh shrimp, who cares.

On the way home, it finally starts to rain in earnest, we expected it since it's been threatening all day. But the kids don't even notice, they're pooped and sleeping in the back but I'm stoked. I'm already thinking about
my dinner. Let the kids have there onemanthousand or abolo or kenkey. For me, it's shrimp shrimp and more shrimp. Yummy.


  1. Barbara Lynn,

    Once again, I totally enjoyed reading your blog. You really do have a way with words! Africa sure makes New Jersey seem like quite a boring place, but we do have DUNKIN DONUTS!

  2. A real blow by blow account of a family outing in an environment all too familiar to me. The story of the sellers descending upon you - while ignoring Sly reminds me of a story I heard from an African American peace corps volunteer in Ghana. She went to the Kumasi market with a few 'obruni' volunteers. She didn't buy anything, but her fellow volunteers did. After wrapping the stuff the middle-aged seller looked at her said, "Now carry them carefully for them." She was not amused.
    One question about the toll bridge. Suppose your car stalls - a very common occurrence in Ghana - and you happen to push the car across the bridge, do you still have to pay the 10 cents?

    Kwasi Appiah

  3. Hi,
    I read your blog often and I find it great!!I wanted to ask you something:we want to take our kids to a swimming pool in Accra,which one do you suggest?Thank you!

  4. Andy,

    Thanks for the compliments!

    If your kids aren't too young, then the pool at La Palm is really nice, with a kiddie pool and a pool side bar for the adults. The reason I say not too young is they have a smallish water park -- it's nice, but looks really really slippery, and you know how little kids can be. If you've got water shoes, then go for it at least they'd have good traction in the water park.

    Other nice pools are the one at Dutchotel in Nshonaa, it's got a nice waterfall in it.

    Labadi Beach Hotel pool is also nice, no kiddy pool but it starts out shallow and gets deeper; not tiled but rocky rather. More sedate.

    Have fun!


  5. Good morning Barb!

    Thanks for the quick reply!Our boys are 7.5 and 5 years!Do you think it will be ok if we go to La palm royal?
    Please can you give me direction to the Dutchhotel,I have never heard about it before?
    What about the prices?

    Thanks a lot!

  6. Andy,

    It should be okay at La Palm. If they were younger you'd have trouble controlling their speed and they wouldn't understand about the slipperiness. Most of the water park looked okay... my issue with it was the ladder rungs to an upper slide, but to be truthful, it was under construction at the time, so it may be better now. Perhaps you or your wife might want to take a peek before you let the kids look, that way you can say no with less guilt, if need be.

    Dutchotel is easy to get to, continue on the Beach Road from La Palm towards Teshie, Nungua, etc. After you pass Teshie, you should see the signboard on the right side of the road at a main junction. The hotel is on the ocean front section of a U-shaped road, so if you miss the first sign board, you'll surely see the second one as you get closer to Nungua.

    If I recall, the pool prices at La Palm were kind of expensive, maybe 100,000 for adults and 50,000 for kids, so you may want to call them and double check. Dutchotel prices were more like 45,000 for adults and 20,000 for kids.

    Google Dutchotel Ghana and you can get to their website.


  7. Thanks very much.We'll go to check to all the places you've mentioned.
    We called to the La palm royal and they said it costs 8GHC for adults and 5GHC for kids.

    Great day!

  8. That bit about the berries and the 'spoilt' beer had me in stitches! When we were kids, we used to eat oranges right after popping some of those berries. Talk about a sweet treat.

  9. I recently read an article in the New York Times about an American who charges people to come to his parties. He gives them what appears to be this berry. He then feeds them a plethora of different dishes, delighting them in this trick on their senses.

  10. Sarah, I've read about that, too. I think you can actually order the berries for about $1 each and have them overnighted to you. We're in the process of growing one of these plants, but it will likely be a few years before we see any berries from it. It's amazing how it affects your taste buds, and I'm told that, years ago, the "old timers" used it in place of sugar with their tea, etc.