Akwaaba from the Black Star of Africa
Can you imagine me hanging off a molue heading to Lagos Island the day after the elections in Nigeria? No matter how daring and adventurous I’d like to think I am, even I know that, as an ‘oyinbo’ there are certain things I would not dare do in Nigeria. Riding an okada on a quiet side street at 10mph just for the experience is fine, riding an okada in the crazy Lagos traffic not so much. Jogging down Lekki-Ikoyi bridge on a Saturday morning is awesome of course, as any fitness fanatic or young twenty-something on the market for a significant other will tell you, walking from point A to point B – even if they may be a mile apart – don’t even think of it. A few years back, a friend’s very British partner wanted to walk from Four Points Sheraton to Palms; after a few minutes of debate with the hotel security who advise firmly against the idea, he was almost manhandled into a cab for his own safety. The examples are endless of course – which is the beauty and the curse of expat life in Lagos.
Accra, as I discovered this week, is a whole different story. We landed in a bright and airy (by which I mean all the lights are on and air conditioning in full working order) Kotaka International Airport on the eve of the elections. Queues were orderly, airport officials efficient and polite. When the hubby discovered, despite being Nigerian, he had to have a yellow fever card with him, there was no nudge-nudge, wink-wink business of letting him off the hook for a small sum. The lady behind the health check desk dragged her foot for a while but eventually let him go through with a firm chiding.
Despite a long queue (Then again is it any wonder seeing Accra proved a treat even at first sight?), everything moved like clockwork from passport control to luggage collection. Outside there was no one asking if we needed sim cards, credit, cabs, currency? We were allowed to go on our merry way without any hassle.
Staying at Kempinski Gold Coast City Accra, we were prepared for a luxury stay, but I always find the real life outside the gilded cage of 5-star hotels the true essence of a country, so as soon as we had the chance to tear ourselves from the lush infinity pool, the Levantine Cedar Garden restaurant, and the grand interior of the hotel, we went exploring.
The first surprise was when we found out that the election day was going to be any other day with the added bonus of less traffic. Here was the hotly contested presidential election and mostly people were going about their business. The day after the elections, with results impending, the atmosphere in Accra is one of anticipation. Labadi Beach is quieter than usual, markets are not bustling and bursting at the seams with heaving crowds, and roads are emptier than the usual; yet people are cautious, but not overly vigilant. We may be at the threshold of a new era in Ghana and it seems like a blessing that our visit coincided with this juncture in the history of a peaceful land.
In the whirlwind that has been the last three days, I have been to both the high-end, must-visit venues of Accra and more low-key places around the city. Never once have I been hassled, called ‘oyinbo’, been asked for part with my cash or anything of value I may be carrying with me.
Off the street, Accra is head and shoulders above Lagos too in terms of hospitality and customer service. Of course good service is expected at the high-end such as the Kempinski or the Coco Lounge, one of a handful of sophisticated dining options from Yolo Experiences, who are due to launch the Carbon night club next week, but even at the most basic venues, a friendly greeting is never amiss. At Labadi Beach, where as a tourist, you are approached by guys who want to sell you bracelets or make you pay a few Cedis to pose with a horse or a quad bike, the banter is friendly rather than forceful.
On the streets of Osu or the Mokola, you feel at ease walking around and chatting to shopkeepers. Here being an ‘oyinbo’ is not seen as a lifetime sentence of being a ‘mugu’; of course the prices do go up once the sellers clock a foreigner but it is all gently negotiated, and even after you may have touched, tested or even tried on a few items, if you can’t settle on the price, you simply walk away without getting abused. While some of the cabs seem like barely functioning death traps, not a single cab driver we encounter tries to cheat us or take us on a merry-go-round of the scenic route.
After three days, Hubby and I reach the conclusion Ghanaians are laidback and peaceful – which may possibly be a better alternative to the madness one experiences daily in Lagos. While, in the long run, I reckon I would miss the hustle spirit of Lagos and the dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest attitude of its inhabitants, I also know that when it comes to tourism, Ghana makes for a friendly terrain. No wonder at the airport, on the streets, at the beach we saw numerous backpackers.
I am told there is more to discover beyond Accra – Kakum National Park, The Ghana Paragliding Festival in Nkawkaw, Mole National Park and much more to fit into a four-day getaway. I’d be mad not to come back.
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