Sunday, 11 August 2013

White Wedding, Blue Giants and Green Turtle.

My new Ghanaian tailor made shorts. 
August 3rd – One Wedding and a Funeral

The night’s sleep had been fitful at best. I had headed to bed early the previous night as I hadn’t been feeling well in the week and an early night seemed like a good remedy. There was however, a funeral going on in town. Funeral’s in Ghana aren’t like the solem, black British affairs we are used to. Somber and short. Ghanaian funerals are the biggest parties in town. A riot of colour and sound lasting 3 days.  The phrase “It’s like a funeral in here” would be seen as the highest praise possible for any party here. The music was loud and sleep was near impossible. Finally at 7am the music died and  silence finally descended on Busua. I turned over breathing a sigh of relief. Finally I would get some rest. I was awoken 15 minutes later. The church was starting the celebrations for the day’s wedding. Drums, organ and choir were all in celebratory fervor. The wedding wasn’t starting until 11. I gave up on “sleep” and went for a run along the beach.

I returned, showered and then ate breakfast (omelet and toast with local peanut butter) while talking to Joyce about the festivities. The wedding had been the talk of the town for over a week, both Joyce and Ebenezer had invited me along to share in the celebrations. Apparently there are no invitations to a Ghanaian Wedding, everyone just sort of turns up. I ironed my only long sleeved shirt, got ready and sat waiting for Joyce to get ready so we could go over together. The streets were filled with colour. Women in multicoloured dresses filed both in and out of the church; chatting, dancing, singing. Many wore headdresses made of cloth, some conservative, some elaborate and some were teased in to arrangements that violated several laws of physics. The singing and praising had been going on for hours yet I was still unsure of whether the wedding had “started” yet. The official start time was 11am. At 11:30 a blaring of horns constant and so loud it would have fitted in at a funeral, announced the arrival of the bridal party. Theree 4x4s adorned in different degrees of white and red ribbon crawled in to the turning circle, usually only used by the town’s taxis, in front of St Peters Methodist Church just opposite to Sabina’s.  I had been playing with Vanessa and Roland outside as I waited for Joyce. Lifting them up and spinning them around much to their delight. Even they were excited today. I lifted up Vanessa so she had a better view and held Roland’s hand so he didn’t lunge in to the path of one of the 4x4s as he was urging to do. A crowd had assembled around the front of the church, some from the congregation, some from the surrounding shops and some from the streets and huts around. The bride emerged all in traditional white, fully veiled, before the procession moved like a rolling maul towards the packed church entrance taking over 15minutes to finally disappear inside. Joyce finally arrived dressed in a turquoise dress adorned with coloured buttons and intricate embroidery and we made a push to get in to the entrance of the already packed church.

St. Peters is a small church but in the surrounding low-rise buildings it dominates the view. It stands alone facing down one of Busua’s three concrete street the view of it’s white washed walls, wooden roof (complete with the obligatory church) dominates helped by balcony surrounding it raising the structure up. Inside the church was a riot of colour. Red and white cloth decorated the church walls while flowers of red and white marked the aisle with local green plants poking out. Everyone was dressed to the nines (or possibly tens or some cases elevens). The women were dressed in a full rainbow of colours (sometimes all on the same dress) and the men were adorned in everything from tuxedos, loud shirts and ties or traditional clothing, a colourful off the shoulder toga, precariously balanced and held by the wearer in a way that looked like at any moment it could fall from the wearer and reveal if a true Ghanaian was closely related to a true Scotsman in a kilt. Thankfully we never had to find out. At the front the bride and groom sat with the best man and maid of honor who was furiously fanning the bride in attempt to battle against the relenting heat. They were surrounded by a mob of people with video camera’s, camera phones, camera’s that the paparazzi would have been proud of.  We somehow found a seat at the back. Joyce sat. I stood in the corner. Vanessa ran around us excited by the cacophony of music and wild dancing. Eventually the more ornate of the 2 vicars in attendance sitting at the back on gold thrones more ornate than any sovereign’s stood and the band on the balcony started playing a traditional hymn. We dutifully sang along reading from a small golf scorecard shaped sheet stapled together at the top which acted as the order of service. Joyce laughed at my singing. Seems I am no less tone deaf here than at home.

The service was long and mostly in Twi with smatterings of English. There was cheering and a furious waving of flannels throughout the vows. The church was hot. After the formalities the church again erupted in to a riot of song and dance. The whole congregation danced, waved ad moved around the church as if it was 3am at a nightclub before the music stopped and a game of musical chairs ensued. The ornate vicar waited. When everyone had squeezed themselves back in to the pews he started to deliver a long sermon in Twi on the differences between men and women, partially translated for me by Joyce. Men are strong and like their women to be beautiful, falling in love with their eyes, he needs to look after his wife. The women needs to keep herself beautiful and be frugal. There was one part that seemed to be talking about the man beating the women but I thought it best not to ask for a translation. Just in case. The vicar then went on to describe the sexual differences between the two to whoops and much laughter from the congregation. As the hymns started again decided to leave. 2 hours in the hot and sweaty church was enough for me. Outside amongst the milling masses on the balcony I saw Ebenezer dressed in full traditional outfit of the northern region of Ghana; a full black and grey poncho with matching harem style pants completed with his obligatory sunglasses. We chatted for a while on the packed balcony before I went off to the beach saying I would join them at the reception at the beach resort later.

The waves were good and the beach was deserted on account of everyone being at the wedding. Bjorn, Henrich and I surfed for hours picking off wave after wave with ease (my new tailpad seems to have helped). Bjorn and Henrick stopped and had a German coffee morning half way through the session leaving me free to take my pick of the 4fters rolling through. After a hilarious and exhausting 3 and a half hours we got out and I went to grab some Red Red (fried plantain with a tomato based sauce and chicken) from Florence’s and headed back to the beach where I sat chatting with Bjorn before heading back in for one more session with Fabrizio and Liability Thomas joining us as well to catch some more fun waves. Henrick and I swapped boards for a bit. I caught some waves on his 6’ 8” while he floundered on Bettsy before he asked to swap back. I was relieved to have my board back. It’s strange seeing someone else on your board. Like watching another man dancing seductively with your girlfriend. Or maybe I’m just too attached.

Tired but happy we headed in for some sundowners (Henricks nightly rictual) of Gin and Tonic which we shared with Peter the surf shop owner before Henrich, Thomas and I headed over for dinner at Sabina’s and a couple of beers (Chicken, Yam Sauce and Chips for me). After dinner we headed back to the beach for a couple of Saturday night beers but the beach was pretty quiet as everyone was tired after the day’s wedding, which finished mid-afternoon. Evidently weddings are not as big a party as funerals. We decided to head over to Fabrizio’s hotel, Africa Rainbow a beautiful and luxurios place on the edge of town. Just down the road from the church. We played pool and drank late in to the night. We even managed to get a Guinness (Ghana being one of 4 countries in the world that brew the black stuff) which tasted entirely different to the Guinness at home. Lighter. More malty. I collapsed, tired and a bit drunk in to bed at 11:30, reveling in the silence that surrounded me. Falling in to a deep and blissful sleep.  

August 8th – Big Thursday
I think that's the definition of a waterlogged pitch. 
The swell today was epic. Not that I knew it at first. I awoke after another fitful night’s sleep and headed straight for the 8:30. Eben and I had planned to head to Takoradi to sort out a new Ghanaian bank account for the NGO and see a man in Agona about plastic collection although we had forgotten that today was a public holiday. Thankfully we realised just before jumping in the taxi and called off our trip. Today is Eid. The feast that marks the end of Ramadan. In Ghana they give equal emphasis to both Christian and Muslim holidays as a way of keeping harmony between the two main factions of the country. It’s a good idea and seems to work. As a trip to Takoradi was out of the question we called Julia and decided that we should try and make the plastic sacks for the school which we would use as plastic collection sacks to help tidy up the town a bit more. We went to Elizabeth’s, another one of Eben’s host families, who had a sewing machine we could use. Eben cut up the bags and while I wrested with the sewing machine that Elizabeth bought back in 1967 and took great pride in the fact that it had never broken in that time. I hoped I wouldn’t be the one to break her 46 year duck. Under Elizabth’s instruction I began to sew. Sewing has never been my strong point. At school we had to make a pillow case for our textiles class. Mine came out distinctly more triangular that the perfect square we were attempting to make. Over the next 2 hours I managed to sew 2 strips of 5 bags (each of which had to be sewed together as well) in a fairly messy manner.
Learning from Elizabeth.
Eben.. I think he's had enough of cutting up bags.
Elizabeth’s was a relaxing place to be.  We sat on the balcony on the west side of town overlooking the corrugated iron houses that spread out towards the forest that covered the point beyond. Greenery dominated the view. The dirt and activity of the village below completely removed from sight and mind. Finally we gave up. Progress was slow and messy so we decided to pay one of the local tailors 15 ceedi to make the bags for us. We took the bags to Frank who laughed at our pitiful effort and said he would do it for us in a day or so. I went to the beach for lunch (avocado sandwich and chips) and looked out at the huge waves that were pummeling the beach. The beach was unrecognisable from the previous day. A combination of big swell and high tide had dropped the level of the beach down over 4ft. The rock and wire caged groynes that had previously been hidden by the sand were fully exposed. The bamboo shack outside the surf shop had been completely washed away. The waves pummeled the shops bars and restaurants along the shore. I sat and read for a while with Thomas before deciding to head down and see Bjorn at his surf shop. Sprinting between the patches of high ground that remained standing in the onslaught to make to his surf shop. We chatted and had tea together, an island of comical British calm amongst the carnage.
Success! Sort of...
“Who cares if the beach is washing away” Bjorn remarked “ An Englishman must have his tea.”

“Well it is 4pm after all” I responded “Everything stops for tea. Then we can see what the natives are up to.” I took a sip of my tea. Pinky erect.
What remained of Busua Beach.
Simon showed up. An Australian who quite frankly rips it up in the waves. He was amped. Looking out at the 8-10ft+ wave faces that were rolling in to the bay before exploding in to the shallower water. Bjorn and I were unconvinced but watched as he paddled out with ease timing his paddle out exactly timing his charge with a quiet point in the waves. We had seen Bebe, the best local surfer here struggle with the giant waves paddling against the white water for at least 20 minutes ride a couple of monsters before quickly giving up and heading in. The 8-10ft waves were made all the more difficult by the steep and extremely fast nature of break here as the waves jack up quickly before smashing almost at close out pace in to the shallow water below. We watched Simon pick off an overhead left and ride it with exceptional speed and ease… bloody Australians. Bjorn and I exchanged a look.

“Let’s go.”
Bjorn agonising over whether to head out or not. 
He nodded back at me. I went and grabbed my board and met Bjorn back at the shop and we stood at the top of the waves that now hovered at least 2ft above the sand and water below. We stood there for a while immovable the blood pumping hard. Adrenaline building. Waiting for the set to pass. One of the other local surfers detatched himself from the crowd watching the waves on the beach and came over seeing we were about to head in.

“You going out?”
“Ye” I couldn’t really speak my mouth was dry and my eyes were fixed on the ocean. Waiting for a gap.
“Too big for me.” He laughed. “Are you not scared?”

Of course I am. The waves are 8-10ft+ and heavy. Really heavy. The rips were strong and many of the waves that came through were close outs that would slam you to the bottom where you would “hug the sand band” as Bjorn put it. If you picked the wrong wave you were in for one hell of a beating. But I didn’t have time to answer.

“Go! Go! Go!” Bjorn commanded and like a front line heading in to battle we charged as fast as we could in to the brine and paddled as fast as our arms could possibly go. Hearts in our mouths. Praying a rogue 10fter didn’t decide to pop up and land on our heads. We made it. Panting but laughing we assumed our position in the relative safety of the line-up recovering.

“Now all we have to do is catch one” I yell over to Bjorn. He laughed nervously. Simon was still out catching the occasional bomb and Bjorn took off on a couple of nice ones, returning to the line up smiling. Stoked. I paddled in to a few but pulled out at the last minute some for good reason, some mistakenly. The drop was going to be steep. Near vertical. A right came along and I paddled hard. It looked like there would be a way out of this one. I made the steep drop and pulled hard in to a backside bottom turn. I couldn’t see the face. I was pulling hard in to the face. Legs straining to hold the tight trajectory needed to get speed and escape the thick plummeting lip. Unknown to me with my back to the wave it had doubled up with another wave overtaking it causing the lip to fall prematurely. I didn’t even see the lip before all 10ft of it smashed me clean off my board with a force Jonah Lomu would have been proud of. Smashing me in to the bottom and rolling me for what seemed like ages in towards the beach. Finally it released me and I made a break for the surface gulping in air gratefully before ducking under again and again to avoid successive walls of white water that pushed me closer and closer to the beach. I tried in vain to paddle back out but had to give up and walk the 200m the current had taken us down the beach to the take off point. I was determined to get one and paddled out again. But a strong rip now dominated the take off. I paddled unsuccessfully for another few waves before I got caught in side by a 10fter landing on my head. Back to the bottom again. I look another 3 10fters on the head before giving up. Exhauster I caught some white water in to the beach. Back at the shop Bjorn was flying high from his success. I was angry. Dissapointed. Frustrated. I was good enough to ride these. My waves selection had let me down. I was gutted. Bjorn took me for a beer.
Simon riding a comparative tiddler. He got some huge waves that day.
Sitting there with a beer I began to feel a little proud. Only 4 of us had paddled out that day and I caught one and rode it however briefly even if I did get annihilated. We chatted with Tim a Tanzanian (with British parents), a Spaniard and a Chilean. Apparently they went to Black Mamba (the local point break) this morning in the thick mist that obscured even the headland when an old fisherman had begged them not to go out as with the rocks, huge waves, big currents and little to no visibility he was sure they wouldn’t return. Thankfully they took his advice. I walked back to Sabina’s for dinner thinking “At least I went out this evening. At least I gave it a shot and so nearly came in covered in glory. I sat down to dinner. Lobster and plantain chips. It tasted delicious. I deserved it. After all, it’s not every day you get to dance in the ring with 10ft waves.   

August 9th and 10th – Green Turtles and Endless Waves
The morning meeting was short and sweet today. Eben said we should leave Takoradi until Monday. Today was just about Green Turtle. I spent the morning relaxing and trying to shake off last night’s hangover with an early lunch of chocolate pancakes. It seemed to do the trick. We met up and got a shared taxi to Agona before heading over to the Tro Tro station with an English girl studying at Sheffield. I spent some time reminiscing about the place asking about venues and places I used to frequent in that typical nostalgic British way before jumping in a Tro Tro with Eben to take us back the way we came and beyond to Green Turtle. The ride was cramped and the road was rough. Tro Tros are always cramped. They are Mini Van style vehicles with seats shoved in to every available space. I was sitting on one of three seats with 4 other adults and three kids. At least they are cheap. 1.5 ceedi to be precise. My legs went numb as they always do cramped in to seats with no where to move. Green Turtle is only 12km from Busua but it took us over an hour and a half to get there on the bumpy dirt track. We were dropped at the entrance to the drive and we walked up to the resort. A small collection of wooden huts that spilled on to the beach. We went to the bar and were shown to the dorm where we would be staying. A collection of single beds draped in mosquito nets over 2 floors with no electricity. We chose a couple of beds upstairs and went to have a coffee on one of the benches that looked out over the ocean. The beach was exactly what you expect from a tropical beach. Palm and coconut trees spilt down on to the deserted sandy beach. No one was visible along its considerable length. A small town was visible in the distance clinging to a sandy spit that jutted out towards a rocky headland. We sat chatting for a while before we headed down the beach towards the town of Akwidaa.
On the way to Akwiida
Eben's lunch.
The bridge crossing the river that devides the town.
I had been to the town before briefly to pick up snacks on the way home with Peter the other day after a surf trip to Cap 3 points. The most southerly point in Ghana. A full 3,089 miles from London. The town clings to the bay where the rocky headland creates a natural harbour for the many fishing boats that provides the main source of employment in the town. The town is split in two by the river that runs through it and drains out in to the Atlantic which is spanned by an incredible wooden bridge. We walked about the town. Eben bumping in to many people he knew (it was his mother’s home town) including one of Yow’s classmates who we play football with until I manage to split my new shorts. Luckily every town in Ghana is equipped with a tailor and the short are soon fixed at no cost despite my attempts to offer his something for his work. Eben decides to grab some lunch which he is particularly excited about as it is a food that he can’t get in Busua. Balls of white starch made from Casava with fried fish that resemble white bait to accompany. We sit in the shade, sheltering from the fierce heat which has returned after the cool of winter while he eats with joy. We head back to Green Turtle and Eben heads for a nap. I sit with a beer and read my book watching the waves crashing on to the shore where in a few short months thousands of turtles would come ashore to nest. I order dinner (expensive bangers and mash) and wake Eben. We sit in the darkness eating and chatting with 2 Germans who were staying at Sabina’s the previous night. Eben brings out some lime gin which we drink. We are joined by Max an American and chat while the Gin flows a little too easily late in to the night before collapsing in to bed.
Mending the nets.
On the perfect beach on the way back to Green Turtle.
The next morning I wake at 9 and stumbled dazed in to the bright Ghanaian sunlight. I find Eben and order breakfast (a half English) and sit in silence while I read and he plays with his phone. He heads off for a walk and I sit there eating, reading and regretting getting a bit too drunk and talking crap the night before. We pay our bill and say our goodbyes and head to Akwidaa to get a Tro Tro back to Dixcove. The journey is shorter on the return as we don’t have to go via Agona. I get home sweaty from the walk from Dixcove in the strong heat, shower and head to the beach. I speak to Bjorn who is supervising a lesson from the water’s edge. He is suffering as well today but by all accounts the waves yesterday were immense, aren’t they always with surfers. The day you turn up the waves were “Sick yesterday” and the day you leave “The waves next week are going to be epic” – some things never change. His lesson finishes and we agree to meet in the waves. The waves are clean and building in size with the rising tide from 3 to 4 to 5 to 6ft throughout the 3-4 hours we surf. The big waves and the leveling of the beach has done wonders for the sandbanks creating longer peeling waves, though just as steep and fast. Bjorn and a couple of other join us as we pick of long wave after long wave smiling and joking in the water. As the swell builds so does the crowd with a the line-up reaching the peak about 5 (a full 12 people). The sun was out. The sea was a deep blue and the waves were clean perfection. Heavan. Finally with the light fading I came in. exhausted, muscles aching, but happy. Completely surfed out. I head for dinner and sit with Joyce chatting while eating my Chicken, rice and spicy beans. I went back to the beach for a beer and a chat but tiredness quickly overtook me and I headed for bed at 9. Completely spent. Completely stoked.

A relaxing beer at Green Turtle.

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