We left la Part du Chef right after breakfast bound for the capital city of Lome. Out of curiosity we turned at a unction with a sign referring to a “Cascade Themale ” (thermal waterfall) but had to stop in response to a whistle and waves from a road side shed where we were asked to part with 5500 CFA ($10.) to visit the mountain. We agreed to do so on assurance that the Casade Thermales was operational, although the assurance did not include guarantee of a refund it is was not. The payment was a rather bureaucratic process, we had to fill out several forms and the person manning the wicket was not literate. As we drove up yet another steep switchback road the sun broke and we were treated to a great view of the valley below.
There was another sign to mark the turn into the falls so we were discocerted to find the road suddenly end at what appeared to be nothing at all. A number of people surrounded the Defender and gave assurances that we had indeed arrived at the cascade. No fewer than four “guides” then led us through a village to a well maintained trail to the falls, at which point we learned that, in Togo at least, thermal means healthy, not hot. It was very pretty tho’, and the guides articulate and pleasant.
They told us how they had developed this as a community project and we got into a discussion of how they did nto get any share of the revenue collected at the junction. They welcomed our suggestions for how to make the pleasant site moreso (ie. a sign at the end of the road to say one ahd arrived, a place to change into bathing suits, and fewer “guides”) We took one of them back down with us to the guichet and reinforced our point that is was the “cascades thermales” that had inspired us to make the turn and pay the money and he seemed quite content with that, there was no pressure to pay more. Indeed he seemed quite appreciative that we had helped empower him to take up their cause with the “official” at the shed. No doubt the story continues, but we left feeling we had perhaps made a modest contribution to the project by helping them assert themselves.
We had heard about a restaurant that specialized in exotic meats in a village located about 25 km south of Kpalime in the small town of Agou at the foot of a mountain of the same name and decided it was a not-to-miss site. We had no information about places to park and camp in Agou but our timing got us there early enough in the afternoon so we went by just to confirm it would be open and place an order so we just asked them if they knew somewhere we might b e able to park and set up camp. After some discussion the lovely women that welcomed us went to speak to the Chef, who came out and said we would be welcome to set up in his garden.
To set up we had to move some rocks and stacked lumber and backing the Defender through a narrow gate into a lane that ran through the middle of an extended family living space. It worked, and the large extended family that called this ‘garden’ home were more than a little entertained by the rooftop tent which just fit under the mango tree. Everyone took turns climbing up the ladder and peeking into the tent.
We also enjoyed a tour of the property, which is a small livestock operation, with pens for pigs, goats, lambs, chickens and of course guinea fowl. The chickens are everywhere, fed in the morning by the youngest son. The agouti (bush rate) are caught in the wild and kept in cages awaiting slaughter when needed for a plate.
We opted for the Agouti and the Pintade, which translate roughly as bush rat and guinea fowl. The agouti is the same creature as what is known in Ghana as grass cutter, which we never liked, but this was good. Guinee fowl is a dry meat, but this one was meatier than most. We also enjoyed corn meal dumpling cooked in the corn meal jus.
There was no running water, but there was a toilet that flushed. At night they put a big barrel of (very) hot water in the shower stall in the bathroom for washing. We were awoken early by all the animals and served a breakfast of guinea fowl eggs, bread and Nescafe.
We enjoyed learning about Le Chef, as in the name of the restaurant…”La Part du Chef”. We had of course assumed it was all about the person who did the cooking, but that was not the case at all. Rather, Mr. Late did not cook, but was a minor Ewe “Chief”, or Chef en francais. He had earned his living as a primary school teacher until he retired in 1995 and set up the restaurant to supplement his pension. It was a popular place among people from Lome who would come up from the capitol on the weekend. He was also planning to set up a campground (campement) among the trees bordering his property, but he had not yet set up the services and security arrangements, hence our spot in the garden.
It was a lovely evening, which we enjoyed very much.
We hired a guide out of the Geyser Motel where we camped last night. After breakfast Jean-Baptiste (gee-bay) took us down a couple of gorgeous hiking trails. The first was a 3 hour circle through crops including coffee, cocoa, yam and cassava, past some charming villages. We are so glad to be out of smoky Accra and breathe fresh air. The second trail was into a waterfall on Mount Klouto, the highest peak in the region, where we were able to get wet and cool off.
Tuesday is market day in Kpalime so we went back into town in the afternoon and had the mud washed off the Land Rover while we wandered about through the shops. As it turns out we were in the petit marche, the main market is at the other end of town entirely, but it was still fun. There seem to be a relatively high proportion of muslim merchants, we bought a CD of contemporary Togolese music (hip-life we think, but don’t really know) and an umbrella.
Late afternoon we headed back for Mt. Klouto where we had discovered the government-run Campement de Klouto at the very end of a steep and winding road where we had taken our hike to the waterfall. It is the site of an old German hospital. Togo was ceded to France as part of the terms of the 1919 Versailles Treaty following WWI. Prior to that the Germans had been here for about 50 years and have left many traces. It might have been a great hospital but as a hotel it does not have much to offer . The staff were very friendly and seemed quite accustomed to welcoming campers and overlanders. They showed us where to park and gave us a key to a very austere room as access to a washroom. Indeed austerity is the defining feature of this particular establishment. The reception, the restaurant and any room we saw were sparsely furnished with bare walls.
The Campement is also where the trail to the summit starts and after breakfast we took the 45 minutes hike up. It is as much a road as a trail and we could have driven up, but wanted to keep up our hiking habit. From there we drove into Kpalime, had an internet stop and carried on further north to the a Benedictine Monastery located north of Adete, far up in the Danyi Plateau, a mountain chain that runs along the Ghana-Togo border. We could have entered Togo near here, but that would have meant going through parts of Ghana that we were already very familiar with so we decided to come into Togo further south.
Yesterday we drove from Ada in eastern Ghana up through the Volta Region to cross into Togo at a place called Shia. Imagine the most isolated, backwater border crossing, down the roughest, most unused road, managed by a host of people who are so starved for human companionship they will not stamp your passport until you have engaged them in conversation for a good 10 minutes, and you will have gained some insight into our day today.
The first (of several) policeman at the Togolese crossing was the most interesting. He had been a participant in Canada World Youth twenty years ago and spent a couple of months in Trois Rivieres. He was convinced that Quebecois were not as nice as people from other Canadian provinces, an impression I tried very hard to disabuse him of. Despite the numerous stops required to traverse the border (two on the Ghanaian exit and four on the Togo entrance) the only unpleasant part was at Ghana Immigration. Certainly the most overstaffed border post I have ever seen. There were five people (women) behind the counter and two men, not in uniform but clearly in charge, standing in front of the counter that gave the impression they were travellers. After having the women go through our passport the two men subjected us to what can only be called interrogation, grilling us about the last time we entered Ghana, how long we had been in Ghana, where we were going, At the end the person in charge said it would not be possible for us to cross there, rather we would have to go to the next post, which was the main Aflao crossing now two hours drive away. This was clearly an effort for a bribe but he did not know that I don’t pay bribes. We just held our ground, we had made small talk with the other staff and I think they could see he was being unreasonable and after a time he after a time he instructed one of the women to stamp our passports. I am sure this will not be the last time we have to play this game but so far I can still say I have never paid a bribe.
As officious as this individual was, to his credit he at least cited a reason to prevent our crossing that was somewhat plausible – the condition of the road. He said the road was very bad and would need a “very strong car” to make it. Because we had a 4×4 it was a bit easier to dismantle the immigration official arguments. There was no road at all, only a mud track that wound through streams and tall grass, clearly they were not encouraging people to cross there.
A very long and rainy 9 km after the border, most of which had to be done in 2nd gear because of the abominable condition of the road, we arrive into the back entrance of Kpalime (the K is silent, the e is not) in the heart of Togo’s hilly coffee/cocoa country and a centre for those seeking to escape the heat along the coast. By the time we got there it was after five so we decided to find a place there for the night. We went to the Geyser (pronounced, we learn, geezer in French) a quiet place within the town boundary and equipped with a pool. It had stopped raining and for CFA 5,000 (CAD 10) they let us set up the rooftop tent in the garden and we had beer and salty but good Pork Dijonais for supper in their restaurant. The main evening event was the large flying termites that emerged while we were having dinner. Apparently this happens for a couple of days when there has been a lot of rain. There were thousands of them, so many the hotel staff went around and turned all the lights off. They carpeted the ground as we walked back to the Landy to climb up into our tent.
Like many Ghanain place names, there are a few “Ada”s. all of which are in the vicintiy of the mouth of the Vota River. Kasseh Ada, Big Ada etc. Ada Foah is a town at the mouth of the Volta River where the river is widest. That is where the Accra Sailing Club is located on the river so the small dinghy and Hobie Cat boats jot about among the islands in the estuary and never have to deal with the actual oceon. We have been members for 3 years decided to make this the first night destination.
It only takes about an hour and thirty minutes to drive here from Accra, down one of the best, straightest, fastest roads in the country. It took us longer this time because of the torrential downpour that we encountered and which caused flash flooding along much of the route. Did not have the presence of mind to take photos of the cars crawling through vast puddles at 20 km/hr. In our larger vehicle we did not feel too vulnerable although we did discover that despite all the new door seals all round our Defender does leak a bit. By the time we arrived at the Club about 4:00PM the sun had come out, indeed it does not appear to have rained here at all today.
We had the place all to ourselves on a Sunday night, we barbecued a steak and eggplant in the petrol barrel barbecue where we have cooked so many Sunday lunches. Unfortunately we can’t take our boat out because we are waiting for a part from Hartley Chandlery in England which is distinguishing itselve for its slow delivery and lack of service. But our minds are not really on sailing anyway, we want to get moving on to Togo.
The two weeks since we got our shipment from South Africa have been rather intense. I have been on vacation for the past week and we are now finally ready to head off on our West Africa Wander, having spent most waking hours doing something related to expedition prep. We in a much greater state of preparedness than we were a week ago.
Since we received the South Africa shipment two weeks ago we have installed the storage drawer system, fastened the Eezi-Awn Rooftop tent to the carrier, which involved some modifications to the carrier itself, purchased a propane tank and fastened it and the water carriers to the outside of the vehicle, had a second (deep cell) battery purchased in South Africa installed, together with an isolaor purchased in Egypt last October so the starter battery is protected, together with the fridge and charge accessories for toys (cameras, phones). We have put in an inverter (borrowed at short notice from Chris D. – thank you) to run a laptop from the Landy. and put in the rear drawers to stow the kitchen and cooking gear and various other stuff. We have designed a system on the roof to carry a 3`x 3.5 foot table which itself was adapted from a card table we had in the house. We have had the engine cleaned and replaced a gasket that was causing some loss of coolant, and we have had the oil and all filters changed. With help from Ruby at the High Commission we got the Landy re-registered with diplomatic plates, and made all the arrangements for multi-country insurance. Mercy helped us get visas for Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali. We even had a party to show off the `finished`product to work colleagues. We bought new tires. A major endeavour of the past week has been packing. We need to carry all the kitchen gear to cook and eat, we need to plan what to take, from tools to toiletries.
Tomorrow we are heading east towards Togo. One of the things we have not spent much time doing is route planning. The broad outlines of the route are pretty set but there is nothing like an itinerary. After the first night, which we may spend in Ada Foah an hour and a half down the road on the Volta River at our sailing club, we have no idea where we are going to stay.
We had purchased a National Luna 52 litre “Weekender” fridge the first time we visited South Africa, which has now been gracing the storage room in our house for over a year. We had bought a Sony radio/CD/Ipod player from a duty-free importer a few months ago, and on our recent trip to South Africa obtained a couple more electrical toys, like an external light for remote campsite use at night. To run these things we decided to install an dual batter system and had bought deep cell battery in South Africa, all of these things arrived with our recent shipment. Time to get to work.
Through Francis I was able to make contact with a competent auto electrician at the local Tata/Land Rover dealership who was familiar with dual battery systems. No co-incidence that the foreman in the shop is Francis’ brother King. King and Emmanuel came by one Saturday to look at what I wanted done. There are lots of electrical projects, including the solar panel and the AC plug in, but the priority is getting the second battery running so I got them to focus on that. They established that the second battery was not going to fit into the main battery box located under the driver’s seat, and it was too high to fit into the box under the passenger seat. They left me with fundamental non-electrical challenge: Where was I going to put the second battery? They suggested that either box could be enlarged, but they were not in that business.
I did some web research and found a couple of Landy forums with discussions of second battery locations. These included getting both batteries into the main box under the driver’s seat, but batteries come in different sizes and it was clear the deep cell we bought in South Africa for our second battery was larger than most. There was also a good site with pictures of a battery box expansion and so I took my problem and these pictures to Paani my welder that has done just about every imaginable project for Defenders. In one afternoon he had expanded the box under the passenger seat to take the deep cell battery using galvanized aluminum and and made a hole in the side to run the cables.
First problem solved. Emmanuel came back last weekend with a list of the pieces he would need and a quote on the labour. After some negotiation with King, who was making him available, we agreed on a price. We also had to negotiate a day, and there was one false start because they were not ready to do it when they said they could, which meant I had to do some quick re-shuffling of projects with the welder (for the final awning work) and with Agoma the carpet person (to do the carpet for the new plywood floor in the cargo bay above the drawer system). They finally got around to it and the fridge is now plugged in and operational. There was problem with the “accessory plugs”, the two dash mounted cigarette lighter mounts that we need to power computers, phones, cameras etc. They only worked when the car was turned off, but they agreed to come by and fixed the problem quickly.
With the receipt of our shipment from South Africa last week there is suddenly a lot to do. Among the things we have is an ammo box drawer system from Frontrunner Outfitters designed to fit between the wheel wells of a Defender.
We had long planned to install this, but dithered about what material to use for the “floor” that it allows one to create across/between the wheel wells. We decided this week to go back to the lumber yard at Newtown for some 1/2″ plywood that we had at first thought was too expensive at GHC 110 ($65). The largest gap is only two feet and there is little weight that will go on this so 1/2″ thick is plenty. It may be we were looking at 5/8″ before, or maybe we just negotiated better this time, but we got a 4×8 sheet for the “real” price of $40. I took a sheet and a half so we have enough to put short but usable sides in between the wheel well and the window that we can bolt things to, like the fire extinguisher. I took all these pieces to Agoma, the fellow who had carpeted the front front and redid the ceiling and had him cover the plywood in the same carpet as the rest of the vehicle. It looks very finished, this really seems to impress the Ghanaians who see the vehicle. We also had enough plywood to create a raised floor behind the front passenger seat to hold the refrigerator.
The Front Runner drawer system gets bolted to the floor below and the floor above, which in turn is bolted to the wheel wells, so it is all very solid. There is abolutely no rattle. The Frontrunner design ensures the sliders sit solid and I added more soundproofing onto the wheel wells before putting in the upper “floor” across and along the top of the wheel wells. This is a somewhat improbable feature of my design – the cardboard I used to raise the `floor` between the wheel wells above the Front Runner drawer storage system. The cardboard actually comes from a pallet` that was used by the freight forwarder to load our our shipment of overland gear from South Africa. If the 2″ thick cardboard that the shipping pallet was constructed from was strong enough for that then they should be able to handle supporting our upper floor, and they add virtually nother to our running weight. With these as a cushion between the plywood upper floor bolted to the top of the wheel wells it is quiet – at least for a Land Rover.
In anticipation of hot sun and abundant rain Laura and I have decided some sort of awning to offer protection from sun and rain would be really nice. The Landy we rented in South Africa (see separate January 2011 post “Testing the Idea in South Africa”) did not have one and when it rained we were limited to sitting and eating in the small area covered by the fold-out roof-top tent that came a few feet off the side of the roof, if the tent was open. Better to have something that runs the length of the side, perhaps in combination with the tent.
Like all our outfitting needs, the challenge in Ghana is where do we get it from? There is no shortage of manufactured RV/4×4 awnings in the market, but not in the market in Ghana. We knew we were taking a shopping trip to South Africa to buy outfitting gear (see separate March 2012 post “A Shopping Spree Like no Other” www.overlandrover-westafrica.net/?m=201203) and there are a great number of manufactured options available, including a couple from Eezi-Awn, the South African manufacturer that makes the rooftop tent that we are buying. The problem with these is that outfitters tend to be bulky and heavy, do we really want another 20 kilos hanging off one side of the roof? We also need to make choices to keep shipping, and purchase, costs down. The manufactured awnings are all rather expensive, seem to start about CAD 500 and go up from there.
I have a better idea. Instead of going for one of the manufactured awnings I have designed one to fit our roof rack and am getting Paani the welder, who has now done more work on the Landy than any other single person with the possible exception of Opere the mechanic, to put it together. It was Paani who rebuilt the doors and the original body work and a number of things around the body.
My awning design is based on the existing roof rack, which is built of metal 1″ square. The carrier rests on 12 of these 1″ square vertical “posts” that sit in the gutter that runs long the side of the roof above the windows. I encouraged Paani to use the same 1″ square metal to design and build two flat right-angle triangles 6″ high x 5′ long. The catalogue of Lee Valley Tools in Ottawa Canada was the source for quality stainless steel 1″ piano hinge used to fasten these two triangles to two of the upright posts in the roof rack, 6′ apart. The triangles swing out from the carrier to right angles with the Landy and are held apart with a 6′ long bar, also created by Paani, mounted on the ends to form a square. A piece of canvas fitted with grommets then stretches over nipples on the top of the frame to make a tight, sloping 5’x6′ awning. To collapse it, the canvas comes off and goes in a bag and the triangle supports fold in flat against the roof rack. The end bar slips into long space beside the drawers on the cargo bay floor and the bag with the canvas gets thrown anywhere in the back. That is the basic design, there are a couple of subtle refinements that make it work. There is a 1″ thick piece added to one of the uprights so that the triangles fastened to it can hinge so it folds flat over the other triangle to close. A piece of velcro wraps around the triangles to keeps them tight against the side of the roof rack. If I may say so myself, it is a brilliant design, unfortunately there is not enough market to make it worth going into production.
The final cost turned out to be less than CAD 350, including Paani’s great work ($200), material for metal triangles and fittings($70), the canvas and tailor ($60), the grommets ($10) even the hinges ($10). This compares very well to the cost of any of the manufactured options. The small Eezi-Awn option lists on-line at $700, which of course does include the shipping to get it to Ghana. Another important point of comparison is the weight. The advertised weight of the small Eezi-Awn awning is 30 lbs (14 kgs), all the pieces of ours add up to 19 lbs (9kg). And best of all, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it works very well. Using the grommets it fits snugly over the frame and there is no perceptible sag. It takes longer to set up and take down than a retractable awning but it is still pretty easy, and there are no moving parts to fail.
There were 4′ of the Lee Valley piano hinges left from the 6′ piece I bought, I left this with Paani so he can build, and sell, a couple more in response to the interest expressed by other Landy owners who have seen ours when they are visiting the shop.
After more than two months the outfitting hardware we had shipped from South Africa in March finally arrived in Accra in June. There were two risks that could have prevented us from getting out on the road for our planned mid-June departure. One was getting ownership and registration transferred legally; the other was getting the outfitting gear in time to install it. Both happened the same week, and both took much longer than they should have. The shipment is here only two weeks before our planned departure.
The glass is half full and it is possible to see this dream coming true. We now have a good set of Defender overland gear: a rooftop tent, a cargo bay storage system, jerry cans with mounting brackets, running and working lights, a solar power system, a deep cell accessory battery, a security box and various other miscellaneous items. The problem is the timing. We have one week to install all this stuff, and that is not going to be easy.