Wednesday 2 July 2014

The long delay in Ghana, with a little of Togo and Benin.

Well, it's been a long time since I posted my last journal - mainly due to that fact that I haven't really moved anywhere for the past three months or so. I spent a long time in Ghana; A very long time. I entered on 22/02/14 and left on 18/06/14. This really wasn't expected - I was only meant to be there for three weeks!

So where I left off on my last one, I had just had a new engine put in. I really expected this to be the end of my woes. In the first 6 months I went through one and a half engines (not including this new one) had two new pistons put in along with cylinder re-bores, and two repaired valves also. This was intermittent with ten seizures in total, around seven spark plugs and an engine that was guzzling oil like a lost man in a desert who happened upon an oasis. This made the first 6 months pretty painful. With this new engine I really thought all my troubles would be over for a while and I was looking forward, even assuring myself that there would be some carefree travelling in front of me. I realise now that this attitude was a big mistake. You never know what's around the corner when doing something like this, and to lull yourself into a false sense of security is a dangerous thing to do.

I had my new engine bolted on in Kumasi. I had split up with Stergio the week before and was looking forward to some solo riding with my new engine. The engine didn't disappoint, it gave me 130 miles off a full tank of fuel - which on my bike is only three and a half litres! I made my way to the coast, to a renowned overlander campsite called Big Milly's situated in a little coastal village called Kokrobite. I stayed there for a while, talking to other people about my travels, making new friends, and decided that to run my engine in a little kinder I would go for the weekend to Cape Coast on an unloaded bike and see some tourist attractions for once - those being the slave castles from the old British and Belgian colonial rule times.

 I rode to Cape Coast, just tootling along nicely with my new engine and really enjoying having four gears. It felt great. The sun was up, beautiful landscapes, a sense of freedom without an assurity of an impending doom. Great. I arrived at Cape Coast, checked into a hostel for the first time which was full of Westerners. Everybody I spoke to raved about my trip... and it felt good! I felt like I was properly on the road again. The future felt bright. My plan was to ride back to Kokrobite after I saw the slave castles (harrowing things) get my Togo and Benin visa, meet up with Stergio and Steven and cross Nigeria together and then venture into the Congo's. I was excited.

Cape Coast.

Pigs and Pirogues; standard.

Good old Queen Victoria giving Ghana her eternal gaze.

I bastard stupidly forgot to take my camera to Elmina castle, so here are some pictures I dragged out of the Internet.

One of the slave chambers where they underfed them to minimise the chance of escape before they were shipped out.

The room of no return. This is where slaves who were 'misbehaving' were locked into. As the skull indicates... they never came out alive. It's a small room. Sometimes twenty people were shoved in there and then left until they died. You can only imagine the horrors that went on in there before everyone eventually lay down and escaped their torture.

Kokrobite runs along the same shore as Cape Coast, and the whole place does have its attractions. Unfortunately this has attracted quite a sinister side. I know of three people personally who got robbed at knife point there. There's a lot of Rastafari living along the coast. It didn't leave a good impression with me. Beneath the laid back music and wafts of marijuana smoke there was a definite sense of animosity. It is because of the amount of tourists... it's a big temptation to earn some money when you live in a struggling country. To jab a knife into a 70 year old man's kidney to rob his camera is never excusable though. The man was okay by the way. Nevertheless, I wasn't too impressed with my stay at Big Milly's and was looking forward to meeting up with my friends again.

 I had just two visas to get in Accra, my Togolese one and my one for Benin. I'd commute into Accra central from Kokrobite to visit these embassies. The commute would take over an hour each way... and seriously, the amount of bafflingly stupid driving I would encounter along the road was just unbelievable. By the end of it I hated every Ghanaian behind a wheel.
 The Togolese visa was acquired without a hitch... as one would expect! Now for the fabled Benin embassy... Supposedly you're meant to be able to get it within a day, so I arrived at 11 am, returned at 1 pm as they said, and was then presented with these words...

 "Why didn't you hand in your passport with everything else?"

I did.

After a huge debate we came to the agreement that we would wait a few days as someone may have picked it up by mistake and we would give them time to get in touch if they had. They also said that they would reimburse me for the visas I had in there. I had my hard to get Nigerian one in my passport. MY passport, which had all my other visas in that I could look at later in life and reminisce. A few days went by... we heard from no one. I went to my embassy to see where I stood legally. Hopeless in that matter apparently as I would be taking a country to court on my own. I asked to get a new passport from Her Majesty's Passport Office in the British High Commission... but no. Since October 2013 the British Government had changed the law meaning that unless you're a resident of the country in question then you have to go back to Britain to get a new passport... but they can issue you with an emergency one, with only five pages in. A five page passport is completely useless for me as I have visas to acquire for countries with more than five countries in between. And each visa takes up a page anyway. And at £100 a pop for these passports I just couldn't make it through my journey like this. I had to get a new passport... and all I got from my embassy was that I needed to go home and sort it out.

I was fuming. I went back to the embassy enraged, yet trying to keep calm. I told them what I have to do to get a new passport and how much it's going to cost me and asked for the money that they said they would give me earlier; for my emergency passport, Nigerian visa and Togolese visa. This is where the argument started... not on my part, I never raised my voice. The consulate however... It pisses me off and disgusts me simultaneously just thinking about it. Instantly he threw into a rage; slamming his fists on the table, throwing his papers at the wall, raising his arms up to his god and screaming. It was ridiculous. I only raised my finger. The rage that was inside meant that I wasn't intimidated by his behaviour whatsoever. I'm not sure if this is what he was trying to do. My incline is that he's not used to being in the wrong and to have someone speak to him like he owes them something. I was in there for a good hour, just ignoring his rages; repeatedly asking if I can talk without being interrupted by shouts... this never happened. This man was just intolerable to have any sort of amicable disagreement with. It was quite pathetic really. In the end I stood my ground and got the money back for my emergency passport and Nigerian visa. They said that when I come back with the receipt for the Togolese one then they would give me the money back for that also.
 I was deflated though. From what my embassy said, I had to go home. I completely loathed the idea of having to fly home to get a new passport to sort it out. I'm not sure if it would even be possible for me to complete the journey if I did that as I try to live as cheaply as possible, and to fork out around a £1000 to sort this out when I went in to get a £10 visa... This was just out of the question. I'd had it though. Problem after problem after problem. I just thought ' Fuck this place, fuck this continent, fuck this country, fuck these people, fuck this trip. Fuck it all!' I'd pretty much made up my mind of what I was going to do... salvage as much freedom as I could, turn around and ride home. I was done with this.

Then I met Will. Stergio and Steven had been staying with him in Accra. They'd had to go on due to their visas, but they put me in touch with him and he was happy to take me in while I mulled everything over. It was easier to think about everything and a nice, calm, quiet air conditioned house with my own space rather than laying on the floor of my tent in the tropical heat on my own, sweating my bollocks off whilst Reggie music played all night.
 Will's an American diplomat who works with passports and he was amazing to talk to about the problem I was in. I'm not sure that if I hadn't have met him that I would be here now in Togo, writing this with a new passport in my possession. He said I could get around the bureaucratic hassles of it, and get the passport here without me having to go home. And he was more than happy to let me stay whilst it was all getting sorted out. So I changed my mind. I'd stay, try to get the passport here without leaving... if that failed then I would go home, but I was at least going to try. I got in touch with my family, we pulled some strings together, sorted out the forms, and in just under three months' time I had my new passport with me in Ghana. There were some delays, a lot of stress with me not being there to sort things out on my own... and then there was the 30,000 backlog at the passport office to contend with. But I have it now, it's with me. I have no idea what the British High Commission was on about when they told me you can't post a passport... if you go to DHL's website a passport is the 4th item down the list of the things they DO post.

 Technically I should have been in England to sort out my passport... so the High commission and Her Majesty's Passport Office in Ghana say. On that note I would like to express my extreme dissatisfaction with my government on this matter. Changing the law making a British national who does not have a personal address in whatever foreign country they are in to only be issued with a 5 page emergency passport and have to return back to England to get the real deal does not help anyone in my situation. Granted, there aren't a lot of overlanders, but we do exists! This method also makes every British national who has lost or had their passport stolen abroad buy this emergency passport at the not very modest cost of £100 and then go through the rigmarole of buying the official passport as well. Also. the British High Commission here in Accra have been utterly useless in this whole situation. I have no faith in my government if I ever need help off them abroad again. The high commission here serves for Ghana, Togo and Benin. I could have become a resident of Togo to sort out my passport from here, but oh no! You don't live in Ghana! You need to go home...! What the fuck do British people do if they live in Togo or Benin? Every other European I've met on the road can get another passport sorted at any of their diplomatic missions easily... But not us Brits. I loathed the huge picture of the Queen smiling down at the seats of where her citizens who need help sit and wait.

 Since I was then left in the predicament of being in a foreign country with no visa in my temporary passport and with a bike that I kept having to have its permit increased I went back to my high commission to ask for an official letter (very useful things in Africa) to show these different governmental departments why I was in this predicament.

'Why didn't you make a copy of the letter from the embassy of Benin?'

'Because it never touched my hands... it went straight to you!'

'Oh.. well... we don't have it to give it to you now... but we can write this and you can go to immigration with it...'

This. THIS is what they gave me.

On a brighter note on my embassy... they do own their own theatre in Accra, with their own bar and restaurant for all those hard working Brits in the embassy. So if you ever find yourself royally fucked abroad, the embassy can't help you out practically... but you can get smashed and watch a play to forget your woes. Great stuff! It's almost as ridiculous as that photo of David Cameron eating a pasty that he bought from that non-existent pasty shop in Leeds train station. 

 The bar has definitely been raised with what I would do to keep my passport now though. Not like I had much choice in the matter before...

So three months of staying in a nice, air conditioned house. It was a holiday away from Africa in itself. I had my own room. My privacy. There was Will there who was great to talk to. He's one of the most positive, generous and enigmatic people I've met in my life, and during that difficult time that was a breath of fresh air, and an invaluable thing to have with me. Positivity is very important.

I was pretty angry leading up to the time when I stayed at Will's. Things had been getting to me a bit too much and I hadn't been looking after myself properly, either by acquiring taboo pharmaceuticals and not eating properly. I was quite underweight when I arrived in his house. It was easy to relax there though. To sleep in an air conditioned room with a cool breeze blowing on me all night was so luxurious compared to what I'd got used to over the previous months. I had access to an oven too, began to fill myself up and generally relax, take deep breaths and enjoy none of the stresses of the outside world. I had the nagging paranoia that things might have gone completely tits up with my passport, but that was out of my control. I had things to do on my bike too... but there was no rush, I could do it in my own time. He also had a phenomenal DVD collection and a pool too! Which was amazing. So most of my time there was spent relaxing, fixing things, feeding myself up, writing, painting a little, talking with my loved ones back home, swimming and... Getting rid of the negativity that had been building up inside me over the past months.

Will and his kind, generous face.

The pool! I loved this thing.

Nice cosy bed, satin sheets, cool breeze throughout the night in peace and quiet. Beats laying on the tent floor with the inevitable mosquitos that get inside, ants that eat through the floor at night and the constant noise of outside. I really enjoy one of those things, half of one and despise the other... but a break was very welcome.

Watching films, wrapped up in a blanket in that alien world of air conditioning.

FOOD! Good food. I'd make good use of Will's kitchen but often he would take me out for meals in restaurants that I wouldn't be able to go to on my own accord.

Aside from taking me out for dinner often he also took me on 'holiday' in Ghana to see some of the wonders of what the country had to offer. I wouldn't have known about them if it wasn't for him. We went to the far West, right on the border of the Ivory Coast with the aim of seeing a community of people who live in a village on a lake with houses perched on wooden stilts. We drove there in an American embassy 4x4 too which had a red diplomatic registration plate, meaning that all the police checkpoints couldn't stop us. This was a welcome change!

A weekend away from the urban chaos of Accra spent in a little village on the far West coast of Ghana, next to the Ivory Coast.

Being driven in a car is a luxury... just sitting back, enjoying the sights and not worrying about dying. Great! 

We were aiming to get to a village which is built on stilts in a lake somewhere in the jungle. We found a guy who would row us there in a pirogue. We paid him with Jack Daniels. 

The water on the shore was as hot as bath water.

Everywhere around us was alive with the chirps of millions of insects.

A little boy in his back yard.

Entering the lake. 30 meters deep in the middle and also holds a large population of crocodiles.

Approaching the stilt village.

Giving the stand in chief of the village an offering of whiskey. I'm not sure that's standard behaviour  for an American diplomat... Unencouragingly though, before we'd even finished introducing ourselves the chief just blurted out "Please I want some beer..." Pfft. 

A beautiful place. I love this photo.

Life is just ordinary for the people who live here, yet completely fascinating to me. It's one of my favourite places I've been to in Africa so far.

The village boys challenged me to their local game which is meant to show if you 'have a strong heart.' The challenge consisted of jumping into the lake, going underwater and filling up and emptying a bottle without taking a breath of air. If you fill it and empty it twice without coming up for air it means you have a strong heart. I managed it three times!

Walking through the village with no pants on after I'd been in the water attracted more attention than usual.

We found a crocodile the next day.

This one was calm and they're surprisingly soft and spongy. 

This one really didn't like me standing behind it.

 We went back to the jungle later and found some rope bridges to climb in the tree canopy.

 You still come across swarms of insects that far up... 40 meters!

A long way down.

Ghana is a beautiful country.

These were some of the best moments I've had in Africa so far. Fantastic invigorating sights. It was good respite from the ever grinding headache of sorting my passport out. I can't thank Will enough.

So as the months passed and passed I settled into my comfortable life in Will's house. I got to know the ladies selling local foods and fruit outside of his embassy (I got proposed to six times!), made friends with his friends and got used to cohabiting with someone. It was a home away from home. I think three months in that comfort was a bit too long though. But it was hard not to be seduced by it! I began to unacclimatise to the outside world that I was used to. At first I thought his house was freezing and outside was normal. This quickly reversed. I lost my tan and got back that familiar Northern European paleness. And being away from the stresses too... that had an effect that I didn't like. I began to get worried about heading out on the road again and fear started to build up inside me. Nothing will compare to when I left my girlfriend in Leeds on that grey September morning... but at least then I had Europe as a nice comfortable buffer zone before I reached Africa. This time round I practically had Nigeria on the doorstep... and my friends had gone. I started to become worried as the time went on.  

It was total joy when my passport finally arrived in the parcel sent from home. This tiny little booklet; it's such a precious thing for me. I then had the task of reclaiming all my visas. I had been warned that it was near impossible to get the Nigerian visa in Accra, I know of five other European travellers who had been denied their visa in Accra... but thankfully I had kept the receipt of the one I got in Ouagadougou. I went to the embassy armed with as much paperwork as I could; police reports, insurances, import permits, my website details, the receipt and a personal letter to the consulate explaining who I am, what I'm trying to do and emphasising that it was all Benin's fault why I was here in this embassy wanting a visa - Will told me it's good to put the blame on other African countries... gives the other one a sense of superiority I guess. Nevertheless I got the visa the next day. Great success! Togo, easy as always. In fact the Togolese consulate had heard of my troubles with the Benin embassy and gave me a discount, "To relieve the pain a little." He was a very nice man.

So three months to the day of when the Benin embassy allowed my passport to be stolen when it was in their care, I went back in to get the visa and get the money back for the Togolese one... Sure enough, straight away I became baffled by the consulates behaviour. Instantly slamming his chubby fists on the table, screaming and shouting his fat face off. It was just appaulling. Three months previous the words that came out of his mouth were "When you come back with the Togolese receipt, then we can give you the money for it." It seems he changed his mind in the three months in between. 
 During our first argument when I was made to argue with him to get my money back for the emergency passport etc, I still wasn't sure what I was going to do and at that time my plan was to put some visas into the emergency one and maybe try to get to Cameroon. To try and cut the argument short the consulate was blurting out things like "Time is money, go go!" Time is money ay... Three months I had been delayed because of him, and he showed no remorse whatsoever. Again I stood my ground, demanding my money back that he said he would give me. He was having none of it though. I tried to retort his words of 'time is money' and make him empathise with me that I had been stuck here for three months... but I couldn't get a word in; just idiotic shouts and shouts and shouts with fat finger slams. 
 What sealed the deal in his mind for him not to give me my money back was that someone else who was getting a visa that day forgot and left their passport in the hotel where you get photocopies from for the visa. The consulate took this as divine intervention as this sort of thing 'apparently' only happens when I'm in the embassy, and so they took it as a sign. Alain Guedegbe, the consulate and Mohammed, the clerk, then started chanting "God is great, God is great..." I just shook my head. The word 'COINCIDENCE' exists for a reason.

 When I first entered the embassy, Mohammed said he would sort out the visa 'straight away' as I was on a very tight time schedule and needed to get to the Nigerian embassy later that afternoon to minimise the chance of overstaying my already forged extended import permit. You can make the Benin visa in ten minutes if you wish... But I think because I'd made such a fuss to get my money back - which I was perfectly in my right to do, they kept me in there for three hours. My passport was handed round and round and whilst I waited I asked Mohammed if the consulate was religious,

"Yes he is."

"And religious people lie?"

"No they don't."

"Well... he's a liar, because he told me he would give me my money back and he isn't. What's his God going to think of that?"

Mohammed didn't know what to say.

Time went on and in the end the high commissioner, Daniel Alima (I really hope these guys Google themselves) another fat twat dressed in a bright yellow patterned robe, which at first I thought looked quite nice, came down the stairs and said,

 "We are not obliged to give you this visa..."

He now had the appearance of a giant inverted mass of vomit and shit. 

After having my passport stolen because of them... being stuck in Accra for quarter of a year because of them... having to constantly extend my permits by none understanding or caring officials because of them, having my whole trip jeopardised because of them, having to buy a new passport and have it shipped over because of them, being lied to and paying double for some visas because of them... they then turn round and denied me the visa...

I caught I quick glance at my visa page. Everything was there apart from a few stamps and a signature... I already had a completed Benin visa in my emergency passport 'I can do those' I thought.

"Right, give me my money back for the (Benin) visa then. I'm not coming back here again, this place a complete and utter shambles!"

"I'm sorry sir, but this receipt is not refundable."

I weighed everything up. I can finish the visa myself, It's not worth anymore of my time arguing with these cunts for the £40 Togolese visa, and I couldn't stand to be in that embassy with those idiotic people anymore. 

I stood up, shook Muhammad's hand, he's a good man and he really tried to help me the best he could. The Consulate and High Commissioner however... they were both stood there. I pointed to each of them in turn, called them both fat, stupid bastards and told them both to "Fuck off!" And then walked out.

This was the first time I'd said anything like that to anyone.... and I meant every word, and every word was true... and they deserved to hear it.

Here is the problem of Africa; the elite. It's the people with money or who are from a background of high society that get into the important jobs. It's not because of how intelligent they are, it's not because they can do the job well and it's not because they are even competent or good people... it's because they know people who give them the job or they buy it. My friends who I made in Kumasi were really intelligent people and most of them had degrees, but almost none of them could get a good job because they couldn't afford to get one. They said to get a decent job it would cost you around the equivalent of £1000. This is such an unobtainable figure for most Ghanaians to get. And why should they have to pay!? A job interview should be all it takes... They're intelligent enough, they can work well... but instead it's people from wealthy and elite backgrounds who get jobs in high places, no matter on how good they are at their job. It's sad and destructive. As you can see with both the consulate and high commissioner of the Benin embassy, these people acted like children when confronted with a problem that was their fault. They've had a life of constantly being entitled, and for them to be in the wrong produced this child like behaviour. They didn't know what to do. No one who represents a sovereign state should scream and shout and bang their fists on the table over a disagreement... Especially when it's their fault! It's pathetic behaviour. 
 Both of those people are some of the worst people I have met in Africa so far, and they are the perfect insight into why Africa has its problem as being the most failed continent on Earth. It has stupid people in power who bought themselves into their positions, whilst the intelligent, decent people from poorer backgrounds who, despite being perfectly qualified, can't get into a job to make a change for the better. Instead it's ruled by baby minded children, such as the fools in the Benin embassy.

Corruption is the plague of Africa.

Well, I’m sat here in Benin now, finishing this journal… so I got through the border with no issues. Looks like my painting skills have come in handy! That signature too, I just moulded the five other authoritative signatures I have on various bit of paper together, they usually have circling swirls in them. As usual the border guards were pretty feckless so there was no problem.
Fuck you Benin embassy of Accra. Fuck you.
The people of Benin on the other hand, have been great so far. It’s fantastic to be traversing countries again too… and not breaking down! Togo was the only country since Morocco where I haven’t broken down. Granted, you can walk across Togo in a day if you really go for it (I went the long way round though) but still… I’m loving this engine. Onwards and upwards!  


  1. Hi Liam I am glad to hear that you are on the road again, I hope your luck holds out and you enjoy the journey a bit more from now on. Johnse.

  2. Cheers mate. This new engine seems to be doing fine. I've got nearly 4000 miles out of it so far. I'm keeping a good eye on it. I'm planning on putting a new one in when I get to Peru to match up with my girlfriends bike when she meets me there... so as long as it gets me to Peru I'll be happy. I changed the oil as you said... first 200 miles, then 500, then around 850-900 since. Going to check the valve clearances seeing as I'm in a nice and calm place here.