November 14, 2009

Ghana Highlights Part 2: Accra to Eastern Region and the Volta





This post inspired and underpinned the 20 page section, Part 3: Accra to the Eastern and Volta Regions, of our guide Insider's Guide to Ghana. However, we rewrote, re-organised, updated and expanded the information in our full guide, as per its index:

PART 3: ACCRA TO EASTERN &
VOLTA REGIONS: 205
Introduction: 205
Major Highlights: 205
ACCRA TO KOFORIDUA: 206
- Koforidua Bead Market: 206
- Toilets—Koforidua: 206
- Stay in Koforidua: 208
- Ananse Village: 208
- To & From Koforidua—How to: 209
VIA KROBO TO ATIMPOKU: 210
- Cedi Beads: 210
- Agomanya Bead Market: 210
AKOSOMBO & ATIMPOKU: 211
- Stay in Atimpoku: 211
- Aylo’s Bay: 211
- To & From Atimpoku—How to: 212
HO & KPOTOE WEAVERS: 213
- Kpotoe Weaving Village: 213
- Toilets—Ho: 214
- Stay in Ho: 214
- To & From Ho—How to: 216
BIAKPA & MOUNTAIN PARADISE: 216
- To & From Mountain Paradise: 217
WLI & WATERFALLS: 218
- Stay in Wli: 218
- Waterfall Lodge: 218
- Waterview Heights: 219
- To & From Wli & Ho—How to: 219
ACROSS LAKE VOLTA TO KUMASI: 220
- Kpando Pottery Fesi Shed: 220
- Kpando to Agordeke Ferry: 221

Here is our original post:


As I said in Part 1: Accra to Cape Coast and the Western Region, every region has something to offer travelers in Ghana: culture, history, arts, crafts, drumming, dancing, beaches, monkeys and elephants—you can sample it all over, from the jungles and beaches of the south, mountains of the east, to the Savannah plains of the north.

In this part, we’ll cover the highlights from Accra to the Eastern Region and on to the Volta Region. Click here for all the Ghana Highlights on one page.

NOTE: There is a (somewhat oddly situated) immigration check point located between Ho/Hohoe and Akosombo (I remember the exact location). Currently there is no legal requirement to produce your passport so you do not have to if you're asked to produce it here. Be nice about it if you choose not to; there's no reason to be rude, especially with officials. If you do produce it, as long as you are legal there is no reason for anyone to withhold it from you. I never had trouble here, but some travelers have started arguments with officials, thereby holding up their vehicle and all the vehicles behind them. Be civil and all shall be well.

Indeed, the mountains and valleys, waterfalls, fresh air (which cools to a goose-bump chill at night and is so cold that you actually want to sit around a campfire at night), few tourists, clean villages, weaving and bead-making traditions, and excellent cuisine make this one of Ghana’s most rewarding areas through which to journey. It’s, hands-down, my favourite. I know, I’m not being very patriotic to my former or present homes (Cape, Kumasi or Bolga), but the Volta is gorgeous, especially between May—December. It’s hot and dusty (like most of Ghana) during Jan-April: dry and Harmattan season. This quick google search returned a selection of photos from the Volta Region.

A note on language. The major language groups in this region are Krobo in the eastern part of the Eastern Region, bordering with the Volta. And in the Volta, from the coast to the northern Volta, it’s Ewe (pronounced both Ay-way or Eh-veh, depending on the speaker—also spoken in Togo and Benin). In this region, the ‘K’ that precedes many place names, such as ‘Kpando’, is silent, but the ‘p’ following is ‘aspirated’, similar to the first p when you pronounce ‘pop’. So Kpando (the port town from which you’ll cross Lake Volta if you want to take the road less traveled to get to Kumasi) is pronounced, phonetically: 'Pahndoh'.

Highlights we’ll cover. You can pick and choose your route by joining the dots.
• Koforidua Bead Market
• Cedi Bead Factory
• Agomanya Market
• Atimpoku, Aylo's Bay, and the river at Akosombo Bridge
• Ho and Kpoetoe (Pehtweh) weaving village
Mountain Paradise Lodge and Biakpa
• Wli and the waterfall

There are several ways to cover this region. Many travel directly from Accra up to Hohoe on a tro (from Tudu station—near the Novotel Hotel), and then to Wli Waterfalls, and work their way south from there. Others work their way north, stopping and staying overnight at points along the way. Tudu, incidentally, is just as hectic as Kaneshie.

In this guide, we’ll work north, stopping at the highlights.

Important: If you do not want to take the bead-making tour through the Eastern Region, you can go straight to Atimpoku (the town on the Accra side of Akosombo Bridge) on a tro along the smooth Tema Highway from 37 station. Scroll straight down this post to Akosombo Bridge/Atimpoku to skip the bead making journey.

Accra to Atimpoku and Akosombo Bridge via Koforidua: Bead-making.
Intro: If you do want to sample bead-making, then the main points are Accra-Koforidua-Cedi Bead Factory-Agomanya Market—Atimpoku. You can pick and choose whichever stops suit you.


Beads on display at Koforidua Bead Market. Photo courtesy of Picasa attribution licence by Danielgr.

Koforidua: Ghana’s largest bead market is held every Thursday morning until about mid-afternoon in the main town square—everyone knows it, so just ask around once you’re in town. You can purchase old trading beads (anywhere between 2-10 Cedis, depending on its size), chevrons, painted beads, recycled glass bottle beads, shell beads, coconut husk beads, brass molded beads, and pretty much every type of bead made in Ghana and West Africa. You can bargain a little—about 10-20% off the quoted price. There are usually quite a few tourists here for the market day. You can get a tro from 37 tro station to Koforidua, which is the capital of the Eastern Region at, say, 6 a.m. and arrive there by 9 or 10.

From Koforidua heading to Atimpoku town/Akosombo Bridge: If you don’t want to stop at the Cedi Bead factory, you can go straight to Atimpoku by heading first to Kpong on a tro (east) from K’dua’s main tro station. From Kpong, Atimpoku is a ten minute share taxi or tro ride north.

And, if you don’t want to stop at Atimpoku, you can go straight to Ho from Koforidua. If you’re not interested in Ho and weaving, you can go straight to Mt Paradise (more below). If you’re not interested in Mt Paradise, you can go straight to Hohoe and on to Wli and the waterfalls. You get the picture.

Choosing trotro and bus routes is like playing join the dots. All the dots of each town and village are connected, you simply decide if you want to stop, or bypass, and catch the tro from main town to main town, accordingly.


Sign post for Cedi Beads. Courtesy of flickr attribution licence by kalyan

Cedi Beads: A quick note on the word ‘Cedi’. It’s derived from the Twi word for cowrie shell, or 'cediee'. These shells were used as currency in Ghana in times past, and Nkrumah adopted it as the name of the currency post independence.

Cedi Bead Factory’s specialty is recycled glass bottle beads made from melting recycled bottles. You can stop in and watch bead makers at work (reminding me somewhat of mosaic workshops in Italy). They sell beads at good prices and since there is no entry fee, it’s good form to purchase something from the shop. The prices are much better here, obviously, than almost anywhere else.

Cedi Bead Factory is located off a junction on the main road from Koforidua to Kpong, between the towns of Somanya and Odumase Krobo. Pass through Somanya town, then after 5-10 minutes you hit the junction on the right to Cedi Beads; from the junction walk 20 mins or catch taxi to the factory; return same way and catch any tro to Kpong which will pass through Krobo then hit Kpong in about 15 minutes.

Alternatively, if you’re coming the other way, head to Somanya from Kpong but hop off at the Cedi Bead junction after passing through Krobo. The junction will be 5-10 mins on the left past Krobo. After the factory, back on the main road, you can get tros going to Koforidua, Accra or back to Kpong.

Agomanya Market: Another treasure for beads is the Agomanya Market which operates on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This is also off the main road between Krobo and Kpong. It’s on the left heading from Kpong towards Krobo and right heading from Krobo to Kpong. The junction is a few minutes between the two towns.

Global Mamas has a bead-making arm in Krobo and you can read the women's stories and see some of their beaded products here.

If you wish to bypass the Koforidua market and go straight to the Atimpoku/Akosombo area and still visit a bead market, you could tro from Accra to Kpong, and change for a taxi for the fifteen minutes to the Agomanya market for half a day, and then go back to Kpong, and then travel another ten minutes to Atimpoku and continue the journey up through the Volta. Or, if you’re really into beads you could go Kpong, Agomanya Market, Cedi beads and then back to Kpong.

OK. So now you’re at Kpong. Bead tour finished or bypassed. Kpong to Atimpoku, the village on the Accra side of Akosombo bridge, is about 10 minutes ride north. When the bridge looms on your right, and you see the river, get ready to jump down at Atimpoku, if that’s where you want to stop. If you wish to go straight to Ho or Hohoe, you’ll cross the bridge and keep heading north.


View from pontoon of chalets sitting on water at Aylo's Bay. Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by jofleet.

Akosombo Bridge/Atimpoku: There is a guest lodge called Aylo’s Bay, operated by friendly Ghanaians, that is well worth one, if not two, night’s stop. A row of fancy, self-contained chalets sit on the river with their own verandah that leads down a ramp to a pontoon upon which sits a floating, shaded summer hut with table and chairs. Yes, you can have dinner floating on the Volta River as boats and canoes pass by. I dove from the pontoon and swam in the river. While it looks as if there is a strong current, it’s just surface deep; you hardly feel any pull in the water. There are less expensive rooms behind the three chalets but, if you have the budget, it’s worth splurging on the river-front chalets. Weedy islands float in the river and you can paddle around for about 5 Cedis in a hired canoe for an hour or so. You can read more about Akosombo Dam here.


View onto river and pontoon from chalet. Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by jofleet

If it were easy to get from Bolga, where I live, to the Volta, I’d be here all the time. (But the road from Bolga via Yendi and Bimbilla to the northern Volta is, sadly, almost unpassable.)

As I wrote earlier, you can go straight from Accra (37 Station) to Atimpoku in about an hour, bypassing the bead-making area. Simple. You jump off the tro before it crosses Akosombo Bridge. To get to Aylo’s Bay, don’t turn right and cross the bridge, just keep walking straight ahead along the highway. The river will be on your right. Aylo’s Bay is about a ten minute walk. The driveway to the lodge is well signposted and just happens to be past the (resortish-looking but bland) Akosombo Continental Hotel. Step right down the driveway into Aylo’s and find the reception in the bar/restaurant. Hang out. Relax. Dream of setting up your own Aylo’s. Everyone does.


Akosombo Bridge as viewed from Aylo's Bay. Photo courtesy of flickr attribution licence by acameronhuff

From Atimpoku it’s relatively easy to join a tro heading either to Ho, if you’re interested in weaving, or north to Hohoe, because passengers would drop at Atimpoku and you can take their place. If you do have trouble, it’s easy to backtrack to Kpong for 10 mins, then join a station car heading to those two destinations.

I should mention here that I didn’t include Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary as a highlight because I’ve not heard one positive review from the many, many volunteers and travelers I've spoken to who visited. I never visited myself because, well, the consensus was never good. Baobang Fiena, north of Kumasi is, apparently, the place to go (and ties in nicely with a highlight for the next section).


A young man weaving a length of cloth--in Kpotoe it's mostly a man's job

Ho and Kpotoe Weavers: Ho is home to one of Ghana’s best volunteer organisations, VEG Ghana. I like Ho as a base from which to visit Kpotoe (‘Peh-tweh’) weaving village, which is a thirty minute’s tro ride through rolling plains, framed by low-lying mountains, from Ho’s central tro station. Making your way through the village where weavers work outside their mostly mud huts, and ten foot long threads held by stones peak from behind walls, is a joy. When you turn the corner, you’ll find a weaver on the other end of the threads diligently creating lengths of cloth. You can buy directly from the weavers for a fraction of the price you’ll pay elsewhere. A few entrepreneurial types have set up shop too. I bought a beautiful, multi-coloured throw of different pieces of cloth for about 40 Cedis. There is a weaving centre, but they charge a fee and it’s underwhelming.

(If you decide to head back to the coast, you could return to Accra from Ho via Aflao, the town on the border with Togo, by the ocean, an easy tro journey. Tros leave regularly from Ho’s central station. You can travel from Aflao back to Accra in about eight hours. From Aflao you tro through Keta, the home of Eli the amazing cook I wrote about in Ghana’s secret food spots. Keta, ocean on one side, lagoon on the other, will certainly be underwater in the not too distant future. This is the one part of the coast I haven’t traveled, but those I know who have highly recommend taking this journey.)

Otherwise, Ho to Mountain Paradise Lodge or Atimpoku to Mountain Paradise Lodge. I loved this lodge, a former government rest house, which sits on a promontory among mountains near the Togo border. It has the feel of a family weekender with just the bare essentials. Perfect. There is no electricity, and water is stored in tanks, and that’s how I like it. Tony, the owner, is Ghanaian. There are guided walks throughout the valley to the Kulugu Waterfalls. My friend and I decided to go it alone, got terribly lost all up and down the mountains, and never did find any falls. We had a ball anyway, but I have heard it is well worth taking a guide and finding the falls. Cocoa is grown around here and you’ll find rotting pods and leaves along the trails.


Photo by raysto at flickr under attribution licence. Road through Biakpa village, just 20 minutes downhill from Mountain Paradise Lodge.

The village of Biakpa is quite possibly the most tranquil spot in Ghana. Turn left out of the lodge’s driveway, keep walking downhill along the (unusually white) dirt road and you’ll end up in Biakpa in about 20 minutes. Plantain and banana trees shade the main dirt road. Take a stroll in the late afternoon. Virtually no tourists pass here so it’s hassle free and quiet.

But I digress--and I urge you to too. The easiest way to get to Mountain Paradise is by hopping off at Fume on the main road between Ho and Hohoe. It’s the same main road as if you’re traveling from Accra or from Atimpoku to Hohoe. Just tell the driver you’ll stop at Fume junction. They all know it. At Fume’s little junction you can brave the heart-pumping, 2 hour walk up bend after bend to the lodge. Or you could hire a taxi, and there are plenty waiting for you, for about 8 Cedis. Um, from personal experience, having walked up because the guide book said it took 45 minutes, I’d taxi up and walk down in future. The walk down takes an hour.

Wli Waterfalls: The waterfalls are reached from the village of Wli. You must stop at Hohoe and change for either a tro or a taxi to Wli, 30 minutes east, on the border of Togo.

If you start at Fume, wait at the junction and flag down a tro heading north to Hohoe—the next big stop. If you’re coming from the south, just catch any tro heading to Hohoe. At Hohoe station ask around for the Wli tro (pronounced variably “Vlih” or “Wlih” depending on who you speak to). There are two main lodges there, equally good. Waterfall Lodge (please click the link for their email and phone--they have no network coverage so they visit town to get texts and emails) is owned by a German couple and Waterview Heights is owned by Ghanaians who, incidentally, worked in Cambodia for an intl org. The income saved there funded their establishment. They’ll happily chat with you on the verandah. Waterfall Lodge has the advantage of sitting in a lovely garden overlooking the upper falls in the distance. It’s just fifty metres down the dirt track to the guide centre that takes you into the park and the falls. Their German-cuisine-focused menu is delicious. Waterview Heights is a few roads behind and serves good Ghanaian and continental dishes. You can stay at one, eat at the other; it’s only a ten minute walk between them.

I adored Wli for its clean, quiet charm and the mountains that reminded me of bushranger territory in Australia. On one occasion I was there for Christmas and it was lovely to watch the town go about its quiet celebrations, singing hymns in church where palm fronds had been plaited, decorating the open church windows.


This photo was from Flickr's attribution licence: by Stig Nygaard

And then there are the waterfalls. We took a guide, which I strongly recommend, and hiked to the upper falls. It almost killed me. If you have average stamina and a strong will, you can do it. The falls are lovely and the air at the upper falls is, I would wager, the coldest in Ghana. It was freezing. I pulled my sarong around me. My friend found a fresh water crab way up there in the rock pools from the waterfall. The walk down is tough on your knees but you won’t pass out from exhaustion. You can venture into the lower falls pool and stand under the waterfall. My friend said it was at once frighteningly heavy, then surprisingly light, and he was surrounded by rainbows in every direction.

Now, from here you can either return to Hohoe (taxi from main road in centre of Wli to Hohoe) straight to Accra (4 hours). Or, you could do the reverse trip down, stopping along the way. Or, you could go to Kumasi and then head on north, traveling to Koforidua and along the highway to Kumasi. To Koforidua: 4 hours, and on to Kumasi: 5-6 hours. Or, you could do that route less traveled thing across Lake Volta. I have created a separate post for that here.

This is the view of Wli from the trail leading to the upper falls.

7 comments:

  1. Great photos! I love Wli waterfalls and the entire Amedzofe area. It's gorgeous.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ashorkor, Hi thanks very much. I love it too. Those are not my photos, unfortunately. I attributed them through the licence system with flickr and picasa. My photos from those trips got corrupted with a terrible virus attack some time back. Now, it only it were closer...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Gayle,

    Great advice on travelling. The Volta region was a fav of mine. We spent a few days at Wli orphanage which was quite heart breaking. At the time Charles - the director had 2 small rooms for the children, no electricity or bedding. He was a lovely man (although always had the smell of palm wine on his breath).

    I have some great photos of my travels (over 2000 in fact) so please let me know if you would like me to send you any.

    Cheers

    Rachael

    ReplyDelete
  4. The Kpando women's pottery collective is a must visit for Volta region. These women make insanely beautiful items from hand sized to human sized.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @ Rachael. Thanks for this. Always good to get word-of-mouth suggestions. If you want to upload any photos, please let me know!

    @ Anonymous. Thanks so much for this. Extra great tip if you happen to be stuck in Kpando waiting for the Volta ferry.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wli Falls was absolutely amazing, and you're right, it's quite a hike to the upper falls, but well worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi John, Thanks for your comment. It was amazing. Still one of my favourite experiences in Ghana.

    ReplyDelete

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