My Stage is the World

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive

All Night Long

on September 4, 2014

After showering and sitting about for a few hours, our taxi arrived about 11pm to take us to the VIP bus station – naturally it was as cramped as ever! It was made even scarier by the fact that I was wearing my glasses so couldn’t see as well as normal.

Luckily it wasn’t too far and we arrived at the bus station in good time for the midnight bus. A tiny hole in the wall served as the ticket sales point but as there were only three tickets left for the midnight bus, we had to wait for the next one and couldn’t even buy tickets until the midnight one had left! When it did we managed to jump the sudden queue that appeared and secured five tickets to Kumasi.

The coach was much nicer than we were expecting, with air conditioning, seatbelts and large reclining seats. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this would be a pleasant journey.
VIP bus
It wasn’t.
The lights were turned off so we could sleep but the man behind me and Frenchie was chatting on his phone in what seemed like a job interview… At 12.30am? The bus driver beeped his horn at every possible obstacle, hazard and vehicle and – I swear – just as I was about to drop off. The car lights outside were also ridiculously bright so even with headphones and sunglasses (an attractive look) on it was impossible to sleep – and the headrest was far from comfortable! Still at least my eyes were closed.

Aca Awkward

We got to Kumasi in record time, arriving at 4.20am. Hardly ideal. We stood awkwardly in the rain (oh yes), unsure of what to do. In London we’d have probably gone to McDonalds on the Strand, but in Kumasi on what was effectively a Sunday night, there was nothing!

A taxi driver agreed to take us to a local hotel – the Serenya – so we could sit in the bar but when we arrived it was dark and closed. Unperturbed the taxi man woke up the staff who grudgingly let us in.

Inside it was dark and the two men had clearly been sleeping on the floor with nothing more than a sheet of cardboard between them. They refused to let the five of us have a single room (56 cedis), probably because it was immoral (and they were full), offering us instead a triple for 93. I was so tired I would’ve happily agreed but after we paused, he said we could sit in the restaurant until breakfast!

Awkwardly we entered the bar, waking up a third man who was asleep across three chairs. He put on the lights, turned on the music (the same song played on a loop countless times) and brought us some cokes (I stuck to water – it was far too early). We nibbled on our trusty digestives and played Would You Rather:

  • Eat poo that tasted like chocolate or chocolate that tasted like poo?
  • Be reincarnated as a poor person or a plant?
  • Have arms for legs, or legs for arms?
  • Ride naked on a saddleless unicycle or kiss a goat?
  • We were eventually turfed out so the tables could be laid for breakfast so we ordered coffee and sat waiting in reception. The coffee never arrived, so we left to find the tourist office… and some coffee, as we were all getting a bit grumpy.

    Kumasi Culture

    Walking up the hill, we were amazed at how busy the city was at 6.30am. Hundreds of street vendors sat at the roadside selling everything from remote controls and posters to plantain and wellies (with the original owner’s name still visible inside – I guess we found out where shoes from the shoe banks end up).

    In contrast, the Kumasi Cultural Centre was quiet and almost empty. At the gate we were met by a man who offered us the use of his washroom if we came to see his gallery. Typical Ghana.

    However the paintings were absolutely fantastic – almost everyone bought something. I only like the huge ones and it wasn’t really practical! Plus I already had a painting from Jamestown. He also showed us a craft shop and I saw a few things I liked but decided to wait until i’d seen the market.
    Art gallery
    Starving, we found a café and sat there talking to Bobby (a banker) while we waited (nibbling on cola bottles and digestives) for it to open so we could eat. When the waiter finally arrived our shouts of “Coffee please” could not have sounded more desperate!

    The vague non-breakfast menu listed pan cakes as an option so I enquired “What’s in the pancakes?” He replied with no hint of sarcasm, “Milk and flour.” “Err. Right.” I said, “Can I have a lemon and some sugar with it please?” He raised his eyebrows but said nothing. When they arrived they weren’t exactly pancakes but more cakes cooked in a pan. They were edible though and actually quite nice.

    Satisfied with our 9am brunch(?) we headed to the Prempeh II Museum which I was keen to see, hoping that it wouldn’t bore the others to tears! Luckily it was a fascinating place with artefacts and pictures from the Ashanti culture, including a drum that sounded like a roaring lion to scare off enemies.
    Prempeh II museum
    Our guide was very informative and we learned that in Ashanti culture the royal blood is passed down through the female line and that it is the Queen Mother who suggests the next Ashanti king. The king’s bare feet must never touch the ground or he will automatically cease to be king. Women are not allowed to cook for the king as a wife might try to add aphrodisiacs to the food to enhance her position!

    After learning our Ashanti name – mine is Afia, which means ‘born on a Friday’ (I’m also loving and giving) – we bought some handmade postcards and headed to the palace museum.

    Out of the Cultural Centre the city was heaving – it was much busier than Accra – but en route we made friends with some small children who grabbed our hands and walked with us up the hill.
    Manhyia Palace
    Manhyia Palace Museum had a lot more information on the Ashanti, specifically their second king who had lived in the palace. The British had destroyed the original Ashanti Palace in central Kumasi but gifted this one to them in 1925. Ever proud, the Ashantis refused, instead paying for it in full; it was used by the Ashanti kings until 1995 when it became a museum.

    We saw all sorts of artefacts, including a fridge that was 64 years old and still worked, plus lots of lifesize models and paintings of the Ashanti kings. In the gift shop the others bought knives, statues and drums while I bought a book on the Ashanti history! Tourists much?

    An Attack on the Senses

    Already laden with goods, we set off back down the hill to the market – possibly one of the scariest places in the whole of Ghana!

    Fascinating though it was, the overwhelming colours, sights, sounds and smells, not to mention the vast numbers of people pushing and shoving, made it quite terrifying!

    There were stalls selling every possible kind of vegetable and fruit, row upon row of pungent spices that mingled with the smell of petrol, lanes of singing cloth sellers with sewing machines, live hens in cages with ducks roaming freely underfoot…

    Endless piles of shoes of all types were heaped together on tables, rugs and shelves. Down one lane we witnessed a woman with three trays of cans on her head – about 72 in total and in another men were making pots and pans, banging and crashing with tin and brass flying everywhere!

    Wherever we looked there was something to see, but as it was predominantly a wholesale market we didn’t really buy anything and most of us were quite relieved when we finally managed to escape to the hustle and bustle of the streets.

    Homeward Bound

    Back in the relative tranquility of the Cultural Centre we sat on the shady terrace of the Jazz Café and had a drink. The waitress was another one who loved her job but we eventually managed to order chicken and fried rice (all they had) and browsed the stalls and craft shops while we waited. We also saw Bobby again who had finished work and came over to have a chat with us.

    More souvenirs purchased and full from lunch(?) it was almost time to head back to Accra. Unsure where the bus station was we walked to the tourist office and bumped into the man who ran it.

    He offered to take us there so we walked back down the hill and battled the street vendors and trotros on the edge of the market. Then all seven of us squeezed into a taxi that dropped us at the VIP bus station. He bought our tickets and saw us onto the bus, asking us to let him know when we were safely back home.

    This bus was surprisingly even nicer; the seats went further back and it was (badly) decorated. Comfy at last we listened as a man read the Bible to us (the ‘in-flight’ entertainment?) and another tried to sell us inhalers, before settling down to doze, after being up for 36 hours!

    The journey was less bumpy and the driver less enthusiastic with his horn, but it took much longer, meaning we didn’t arrive back in Accra until 23.45 – a full 24 hours after we tarted our journey the previous day!

    After arguing with a taxi driver who demanded 70 cedis to Kokrobite (we’d paid 30 on the way), we finally agreed on 50, getting home just before 1am. Of course there was no power, but David put the emergency generator on and I managed to wash my feet before it cut out once more!

    Despite having had no sleep for almost 42 hours I was surprisingly awake, but headed up to bed anyway as JK, Frenchie and I were supposedly flying up to Tamale the next day.

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