Thursday, September 23, 2010

Evelyn & Edmund

Before I commence allow me to lay out the characters:

Evelyn: Our first guide, she chauffeured us from the ship gate to the Takoradi bus station. She is allusive, yet wears a lime green shirt and white wedges.
David: Kwame's son. He is an economics major at the University of Accra.
Edmund: Kwame's driver and our chauffeur for the trip. He gets ecstatic discussing the three wise monkeys. Edmund overly enjoys off-roading in his free time.
Kwame: CEO of the future Senchi Waterfront Resort. Our generous host for the week.

Ali, Lindsay, & I met Evelyn at the Takoradi port gate on Wednesday, after walking directly past her as we left the gangway. She drove us to the bus station where she handed us three tickets. After repeatedly disappearing a gentleman grabbed our luggage and we boarded the bus. Before we know it, Evelyn is on the bus and we assume she is coming with us. After ten minutes on the bus she runs to the back of the bus and hands us 10 Cedi's (Ghanaian Currency) along with Kwame's phone number on a piece of paper and has the bus driver stop where she leaves us all on our own 'out there.' After 5 hours we arrived in Accra after the painfully slow traffic and poorly kept roads, all the while listening to 90s pop (Celine & Mariah amongst others). I ventured off the bus (as the sole white male) and was immediately greeted by David. After retreiving our luggage we walked to the car with David and another mysterious gentlemen (later to be known but not until the final day as Edmund the driver). We placed our luggage in their large toyota truck, one side splashed with paint, and begin the second leg of our journey to Akosombo. After another 2 hours we reached our destination: The Volta Hotel. However, along the way, due to traffic Edmund decided to use the dirt path complete with random cinder blocks to get ahead. This is where we met Kwame and enjoyed some form of chicken-tuna-egg sandwich that the chef, Raymond, prepared for us. After an exhausting day of travel we retreated to our guest rooms, with balconies that overlook the lake, for a nights' sleep where all of the lights do not turn off.

We awoke the following morning to enjoy breakfast. The toaster did not toast but there was warm instant coffee and warm milk and delicious pineapple. Edmund & David greeted us at the hotel and drove us to the hydroelectric plant located at the Volta Lake Dam. We met the general manager and the head engineer who gave us a tour complete with hardhats. The dam produces 60% of Ghana's energy, as well as exports to Cote D'Ivore. Next we drove to the banana plantation where we discovered that Kwame's brother, Alex, owns four banana plantations. We were amused by the banana monorail that circles the plantation collecting harvested bananas to be washed, boxed, & shipped. Before departing, Alex generously gave us an entire box of bananas. Next we paid the same toll twice to drive over the highly raved about bridge which compared to the rest of Ghana's infrastructure is fascinating but nothing that surprised us.

Afterwards, we met up with Kwame as his resort-in-process. The Senchi waterfront resort will be completed in April and will have 100 rooms. There will be meeting space, a pool, full-service restaurant, and wait for it...a private island with spa located in the lake, only accessible via boat. The restaurant will be floating on the lake overlooking the spa. Currently there are 400 workers who literally pour the concrete to make cinder blocks which are used for the hotel. Kwame also has two other projects in the works, located in the rainforest and the second one further north. We enjoyed lunch at the resort where the lovely chef of the former hotel prepared us traditional Ghanaian food complete with plantains and peanut soup with chicken. (As Ali & I write we are going to the washed through the dam and put through the turbines. There is a hurricane brewing).

After lunch, Kwame drove us to the library which was constructed by Peace Corps workers. Here we met the village chiefs, we all sat on plastic chairs, who greeted us warmly with many handshakes. Here we learned that hand shaking occurs frequently and they joke that it is because God did not want them to have hair on their palms. We also learned that Ghanaian school children are forever cheerful as they roam about the school grounds in their uniforms and constantly wave to welcome us.

Edmund drove us to the Cedi Bead Making Area which caused us to drive down a long dirt road to find Ghanaians firing glass to make beaded bracelets and necklaces. Here we encountered a lime green tour bus which made us question how is got there since the road was extremely bumpy. Sidebar: there are livestock everywhere. Goat, Goats, and more Goats crowd the dirt roads and roam freely throughout the country.

After a few more random stops...the lake, the port, and a school, we returned to the hotel were we showered and ate dinner at the hotel's restaurant with Kwame. Following dinner we enjoyed drinks. Tomorrow we must get up before sunrise but do not fret because Edmund will be here to drive us the 2 hours to the Accra bus station where we will board a tro-tro (mini bus) to Cape Coast Castle which is where slaves were held before being transported to the new world. Finally, before we leave, we are going to complete the canopy walk through the rain forest which is the highest canopy walk in the world.

Personal Reflection: People are genuinely sweet & welcoming and it smells much better than Morocco. We will never look at a banana the same again, however, we are still on the quest for chocolate. Throughout the country there are signs advertising concrete 'blocks for sale.' We are convinced that Kwame owns the town, Evelyn controls the bus system, and Edmund is lucky he has not been in a car accident.

P.S.- Kwame also owns Ghana's the organic, fair-trade pineapple production. His home is nicer than most American homes, yet their parrot cannot talk, but they do have a gatekeeper.

The Banana Plantation

On top of the hydroelectric dam which makes 60% of Ghana's energy

At Kwame's hotel: to be finished in April 2011

Cape Coast Castle: where slave departed for the West.

After completing the longest & highest canopy walk in the world.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Out there, 5 Ramen & 1 Camel will not get you to Rabat.

Morocco is a completely different world. They do not utilize any form of sanitation in form of soap nor keeping trash off their streets or beaches. Also they do not abide by street signs or use intersections and you have to haggle for everything from souvenirs to taxi fare, there are no fixed prices in Morocco. The MV Explorer is docked at one of the largest artificial harbors in the world and is in between the Morocco Naval Port and an active Phosphorus plant which has caused the crew to wear masks and the ships' decks are covered in dust so we remain inside our protective shell with running water and electricity. Upon arrival I entered the Medina which is the fort that was used as protection many centuries ago and now encases a vast market filled with knock-off Louis, Gucci, Prada, and even Polo is exotic enough to warrant the production of fakes. I also visited the Mosque Hussan II which is the second largest Mosque in the world, which is only exceeded by Mecca. The Mosque Hussan II is literally built on the Atlantic Ocean and is 600,000 SQ FT and can accommodate 2,000 cars under its massive structure. We were not allowed inside the mosque due to the end of Ramadan which had its final night on our first day in Casablanca. Since the Mosque is built on the Atlantic there is a wall where children and teenage boys jump off into the rough waves and then swim to shore. Although the police try to prevent this, they have little authority amongst the Moroccans and this seem prevalent throughout the rest of the country.

The 2nd day I went on the city orientation where I again visited the Mosque which cost $800 Million and yet the majority of Morocco's population lives on less than one dollar per day. We also visited the King's Palace, of which I have seen three throughout the major cities in Morocco. Casablanca hosts a large jewish quarter and a large private beach with four pools for the wealthy while those less fortunate crowd the trash covered beach. I spend my nights on the ship because the city does not have a welcoming night life and for the second and third day most of the shops were closed due to the end of Ramadan and the Id celebration which is a large feast that follows the conclusion of the holiday. Ramadan increases crime significantly in the city because of its impact on the economy. All of the businesses have limited hours, therefore employees work less and earn less and have trouble affording food during Ramadan, not to mention the poverty level is as high as 33%. Fortunately that night, Lindsay & I stumbled upon the Times Square of Casablanca and drank at the Sky 28 Lounge of the five-star Kenzi Tower Hotel which is on the 28th floor and has panoramic views of the city.

The following morning I took a 2.5 hour train ride to El Jadida which is further down the coast and hosts an abandoned Portuguese Fortress and Cistrine under the Medina. We rode first class on the train which guarantees you a seat and due to the currency conversion is only $10 round trip whereas passengers are crammed into coach and many try to sneak into first class but are escorted to the back by security. Speaking of Security they are everywhere: Shopping Malls, Hotels, Ports, Grocery Stores. No one is trusted and crime is high. The largest mall in Africa is reportedly located in Casablanca: however, when I visited the area I found a four story shopping center with at most 50 stores...way to go Africa.

Today I went to Marrakech which hosts yet another opulent palace and the largest traditional market in the world and yes it is massive and similar to the market in Casablanca is filled with knock-offs and several other tourist items that are marketed as traditional Moroccan icons. I also went to a Pharmacy which appeared as more of a black market where we entered a private room and the doctor, along with two assistants allowed us to test creams, remedies, and spices. They even had medicine for weight loss and Viagra without a prescription. The market hosts Henna Ladies which grab your arm, give you a tattoo and demand Durham (Moroccan currency). There are also monkey dancers and snake charmers that fill the quad preceding the Market. The food here is delicious and everything is communal style. Couscous with beef and grilled vegetables consist of a traditional meal. I also visited the Jardin Majorelle which is filled with gorgeous fountains, cacti & overarching trees that provide shade. Yves Saint Laurent found inspiration here and created a trust before he passed away in 2008 to ensure the upkeep and preservation of the Jardin which hosts plants from five different continents and embodies Jacques Majorelle who was 'one of the most important plant collectors of all time.'

Tomorrow we leave for 7 days at sea before reaching Ghana which is the port that I am most looking forward to experience.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


After spending five days touring the Andalucia region of Spain, I am sad to leave Espana. On the second day here I took a train with Lindsay to Sevilla and met up with Ali, Ariel, & Lee. We stayed at the Sevilla Inn Backpackers which is a conveniently placed Hostel, located one block from the Cathedral. The gothic church is the third largest in the world and is the burial ground for Christopher Columbus. Beside the Cathedral is the Alcazar which is the oldest living residence of royalty but is open to the public for tours. We spent over an hour touring the expansive gardens which include an intricate hedge maze. Later that evening, Lindsay & I saw our first bull fight at the Arena. However, seeing six bulls die is quite depressing. After viewing the 2 hour long bull fight we saw an underground Flamenco dance while enjoying Sangria. The night life is vibrant all over the south of Spain with families staying out late into the evening and students partying until 6am. I survived my first hostel visit and the staff was extremely friendly.
My third day in Spain consisted of visiting the landmarks in Cordoba. After taking a 2.5 hour bus ride to Cordoba, we walked to the historical section where we toured the Mezquita. Largely influenced by Islamic architecture, the double arches are held by 856 columns made of marble, onyx, jasper, and granite. Later that evening we took a 3.5 hour bus ride and returned home where I greatly appreciated sleeping in my own air conditioned room as opposed to the room at the hostel which held 8 guests.
Yesterday, Ali, Lindsay, & I toured Cadiz and went shopping. Afterward we went to the beach and walked out on the pier to St. Sebastian's Fort. While in Spain, I tried Sangria made with Champagne, Manchego Cheese, Sherry, Brandy, Olives, Croquettas, Paella, Churros, and Cafe con Leche: all of which were local to the Andalucia Province.
I leave at 6:00pm this evening and will arrive in Casablanca tomorrow afternoon where I will be spending my next 6 days of this incredible voyage. Although Spain is six hours ahead of EST, Morocco is only four which means I will be able to enjoy a full nights sleep tonight!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Crossing the Atlantic

After 9 days of shipboard life I have finally reached Spain! US Airways lost my luggage on my flight from Philly to Halifax. Fortunately, it arrived the next morning before I boarded the MV Explorer which is fabulous! I am on the 4th floor with a great view. They clean our room daily and the waiters are wonderful. Perry always remembers Lindsay, Ali & Me and greats us at each meal. The food is a little repetitive but there is also a bar, coffee lounge, and snack lounge. My typical day consists of eating, laying out, going to class, and playing cards with friends. Everyone is really nice and just excited to be on this voyage. My roommate, Tom, and I get along really well and fortunately we are both well organized since the rooms are small. The first 8 days of the voyage consisted of no sign of life, except the Azore Islands which took an hour to pass, as we were encompassed by the Atlantic. The hardest part, aside from not seeing land has been the daily time change and we are now 6 hours ahead of EST.

My classes are going really well. I am taking, Anthropology of Tourism, World Art & History, Psychology, & Global Studies. All of the classes relate to the countries of port we are visiting and it is incredible to see the historical landmarks that I learn about in class. The rigor is nowhere near Cornell and just consists of reading.

As of 8:30 am this morning we were in Cadiz, Spain! I watched the sunrise before ending my past 9 days of AA and went wine tasting. Southern Spain has the largest Sherry production in the world and we toured the oldest single family owned Vineyard in a nearby town. Following the tasting and tour we went to a farm with 350 horses and after touring the area. We watched an hour long horse show which was incredible. Now Lindsay & I are eating lunch outside the Cathedral, which is chiming 4:15pm, located in centre-city and plan to tour Cadiz the remainder of the day. We are going to Seville tomorrow by train and then Cordoba the following day. I leave Cadiz on September 8th and will be in Casablanca, Morocco from September 9th-14th. There are no classes while in port so the next 11 days are going to be amazing. Thank you for following my blog and I will continue to update as excitement ensues.