A tourist’s amazing road trip experience through West Africa
By Renn Offor
Travelling by air sure is the fastest way to move from one place to another. As great as that is, it has a great deal of limitations for a curious tourist who hankers to explore, experience and relate with the people, cultures and other abundance of attractions that lurk deep in West Africa.
The experience, initiated by Afrotourism and in partnership with my company ATQNews.com, satisfied my curiosity and became an eye opener to see through West Africa in a single stretch of movement, starting from Nigeria through Benin Republic, Togo and into Ghana. West Africa is truly amazing.
AfroTourism, through this initiative last Christmas, organized a road trip to Ghana with the intention to enable tourists travel by road, have fun and celebrate the Christmas in Accra the capital City of Ghana. The road trip took us through the countries mentioned already but with a specific attention to explore four cities in Ghana with all their tourist attractions namely Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Cape Coast.
It turned out one of the exciting fun travel experiences I’ve engaged in, giving me the great opportunity to meet and interact with young, energetic, social media savvy and fun-loving people throughout the journey. Linda Ikeji was on the trip, ably represented by Tito Abumere; Jide Awobona of Jenifa’s Diary who plays Sam, was with us; Nonso Arubayi, a Tv host and presenter; Black Satino a blogger and radio and tv personality as well; Wemimo aka Winqy, also a radio presenter and talent promoter, and the tallest model in Africa, Mubarack, with 47Vibes, Syn, Queen, Fehintolu, Mike among several others.
The journey set out with four batches of both tourists and media crew aboard air-tight air-conditioned sprinter buses and coaches from ABC Transport terminals in Ajah and FESTAC respectively.
Confusion was triggered when at the point of checking in the transport officials informed us that any traveller who possesses West Africa Travel Certificate issued by the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) would have to pay an extra N2,000 to ensure that that immigration officers at the Togo border look the other way and allow us pass through. We were surprised to hear that.
The explanation was that since Boko Haram is operating in Nigeria, the Togolese immigration officers are suspect of Nigerians with ECOWAS Travel Passports issued in Nigeria. We were informed that failure to comply would result in being delayed or arrest with detention at the border. This became scary as no is allowed to take picture or video at the borders; so once detained as a victim, only God can save you or determine ones fate.
Why is it that ECOWAS member countries are not respecting the decisions of the region’s body which all the countries in the region are signed on to?
We nonetheless started the journey in high spirits, songs, clapping and singing, sharing, eating and drinking, dances; it was fun all the way that we hardly ever realized we spent so long hours on the road! One important thing as the journey progressed from one West African city to another and from country to country is the uniqueness of one from them; but interestingly, too, there are so many similarities.
At each country’s border, the passengers alighted and spent between 30 minutes to an hour to cross the borders on foot. The interesting aspects of this was that it afforded travellers and tourists the benefits of interacting with the locals of that country, do money exchange for the country’s currency and buy some fascinating crafts and foods, and walking few meters hinterland to take pictures with the locals and some fascinating structures. But it is strictly prohibited to take pictures at the border crossings.
The common food across the region is fried or roasted plantain and fried turkey or chicken which goes with spicy, hot sauce. When we got to Ghana, and being that we spent days there catching fun and traversing the country, we were able to explore more delicious food options, visited their markets. Some of our crew bought the popular Kente cloth material, even as we made several great friends and had fabulously memorable good time.
The temperature, topography and vegetation of the region also have great similarity: temperate and sunny throughout the region for the Christmas period as the same goes for the structure of their buildings. From low shrubs to extensive marshlands split between waters from the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred meters away by the major highways.
Another aspect of interest is the energy and vibrancy that you feel from one city to the other through the region. The vibrancy, energy, activity and the noise that engulfed you while in Lagos seems to progressively melt away as you advance away from the city to other cities on the West Coast of Africa.
In Lagos the streets are very busy with as much human beings as you have vehicles, in an environment where you have stretches of houses closely built to one another while the citizens are in an unrelenting hustles to make daily ends meet. But as one continues to move away, enter Benin republic, and you observe a more relaxed, less noisy people and who seem to have more regard for traffic rules.
In Benin Republic, specifically, you would be surprised to see stretches of motorcycles as a means of transport rather than buses. Motorcycles as a means of transportation is so recognized in that country, so much that their government have dedicated motorcycle transport lanes on their highways. Cotonou, though has a different feel.
Apart from the immigration challenges with the Togo’s immigration, the country opens to tourists with impressively built cities with good and well maintained roads.
We arrived the Ghanaian border city of Aflao, and it turned the only border through the journey where individual traveller had to personally empty and the immigration officers carefully inspected your baggage. It took another four hours before we finally landed Accra.
With Mr. Sam Adeleke already on ground and waiting, our luggage were promptly distributed into waiting cabs as we drove straight to Pink Hostel, an cute but impressive budget lodging with provision for dormitory sleeping bed arrangements best suited for our purpose – a low budget expedition to catch all the fun that Ghana has to offer this Christmas season.
From the Pink Hostel we toured hours of round the cities sightseeing of Ghana, formerly called Gold Coast. Markets, inner city sightseeing, eating in town restaurants, sleeping in lodges in the inner city of Cape Coast, historic gardens and national parks, exploring local areas and interacting with locals… It was all fun throughout. A journey one anticipates to undertake again and again.
All kudos to Afrotourism for this life time, unforgettable experience of fun!