Cruising Around Bolgatanga On A Motorbike
Traveling to any part of Ghana, it is important to be open mind to easily go with the flow. People who are happy to temporarily leave luxury at home and travel to discover how the other part lives. It is not a place I will recommend for the faint of heart. You can find areas where luxury-ish, private beach resorts, and a few other beauty spots that make 1- 2 weeks luxury travel achievable. Despite this, in general as a whole, Ghana is a travel spot for the wild at heart and when you venture anywhere north of the capital, places such as Accra, more adventure-filled, and unique experiences are reachable which you may not enjoy anywhere else in the world. This can range from enjoying moments shared with hospitable people, who are in fact some of the most materially poor people in the world, here you may be lucky enough to be at the receiving end of touching experiences from really humble people.
- Here is a capture of me on my first ever motorbike ride, wearing the helmet lent to me.
In Bolgatanga, commonly known as Bolga, is known by its popular export Bolga baskets, and is a calm mid-range town in the Upper East region of Ghana. It is 100 miles from Tamale, the capital of the north. It is very clean, and despite the locals experiencing levels of poverty, some of the most generous people are situated here that you will find in the whole of Ghana. I traveled for the first time not knowing a single person. In fact, I received a waxed lyrical phone call from a young man who talked about reading about my work in a national newspaper and was invited to travel up North so we could work out an agreement, such as me providing training to some women in soap making with shea butter. The North of Ghana is famous for producing more than half of the world's shea butter. And just as you do, I asked my dad to drop me off a few days later at the bus station to travel up north to meet a man I knew nothing about.
Bolga doesn't have the same pace as Accra and the other cities. The northern part of Ghana in general has a good presence of NGOs, students from around the world on gap year breaks volunteering in different spheres, voluntary health personnel, etc, and international staff that produce programs that are sponsored by large cosmetic giants. The northern part of Ghana is pretty safe and even better when you travel with your family, small kids, or share many stories about your husband and children.
The weather in the north is pretty unique, with the mornings starting off with a cool temperature at around 18C and quickly rising to arid and uncomfortable highs at well above 30C, remaining so until mid evenings around 7:00 pm when the temperature drops back to a cool 18 C or below depending upon the time of the year. The terrain is completely different from the southern part of the country which receives more rainfall and houses several rain forests.
Many visitors to this part of Ghana would actually come in via Burkina Faso and travel across the border by road as it is only a few miles compared to doing the giant travel from Accra which by road is around 400 miles. Travel systems in Ghana are limited to coach transports, very limited rail service, and very limited airline services. As much as I spend a lot of time traveling within Ghana, I have not journeyed by commercial airlines myself around Ghana, I doubt I would be for the foreseeable future.
- This is the veranda in front of my room at the Bolgatanga Presbyterian hostel.
I enjoyed my stay in Bolgatanga every single day I was there, starting each day with a cold shower in the hostel as shown in the picture. I would then continue to walk to the roadside to buy Fried bean doughnut (akara or kose). I have the recipe on here - just refer to fried bean doughnut.
My food intake was very limited as I didn't have access to a kitchen to cook my own meals and eating just anywhere was completely out of the question. Ghana still has yellow fever and typhoid, as such, it is highly recommended that firstly, you enter the country has had a yellow fever injection, and secondly, you do not eat out freely. I wrapped up my meeting very quickly with my host, we planned a date for me to return back and facilitate a training session for about 16 women. We then decided to visit my host's family in Navrongo and continued to travel to Paga which is a town on the border of Ghana and Burkina Faso on his motorbike. The journey was probably my 3rd or 4th motorbike journey. I became accustomed to sitting on the bike without fear. On my first journey when I was collected by the gentleman who mentioned above, from the bus station, I initially refused to ride on the motorbike provided. When I was finally convinced the following day, I insisted I would have to wear a helmet. We borrowed one from someone that could spare his helmet, the helmet was more ceremonial than functional because it simply sat on my head and the fastening didn't work.
Several people insisted to me that the roads were safe and white people who came to visit always rode with no helmets and all sorts of warming words. I didn't want to be convinced any further. I agreed to go a few rides around Bolga first on the bike, and then we went as far as Navrongo when my fears over a motorbike accident were not as big of a concern anymore. Once you go as far as Navrongo, you may just as well go all the way to the borderline. At Navrongo, we stopped at the small shop owned by the aunt of my host. The mum of a disabled child who also had development and learning disabilities. She was such a welcoming woman, she insisted on serving me with a can of Fanta which is a very expensive beverage in Ghana and many people especially up north would only get to drink at Christmas or at a religious festival or at a party. I protested to no avail to pay for it. I knew very well that she would never recoup the capital she lost from the day's sales so I felt very guilty. I also do not drink any fizzy drinks so I would have rather accepted my offer however hospitality in Ghana works on a system that you have to accept and consume instantly or you insult your host. As well as this the kind lady insisted on feeding me which I had to stop at any cost, but she understood that. She even shared that people like me from abroad tend to be ill when they eat local food. She never asked me for any generosity.
What is common in the capital and big cities is that people always end making acquaintances with you on a familiar note of introducing you to their charity and burdening you with asking you to help them with old clothes and support in any form. I was greatly impressed by this, her husband also insisted on giving the motorbike a thorough check and he asked some local young men to ride on their bikes alongside us to accompany us all the way to Paga to ensure our safe journey. The journey is through an open stretch of low grass fields that scorch and burn on their own nature from the burning sun. The journey is also very lonely, as there is absolutely no traffic beyond Bolgatanga. In fact, on Monday mornings, Bolga doesn't experience any rush hour traffic so you can just about imagine when I say that the journey is lonely. Once we left Navrongo, I allowed the men to ride with us halfway, I then offered them money for petrol worth 2 journeys as we promised to call them on our way back to come out and meet us.
- Monday morning in Bolgatanga. There is no rush hour.
Once in Paga, we paid a visit to a crocodile pond. Many tourists in Ghana would read about the sacred crocodile ponds in Paga where most visitors are surprised that they can touch a live crocodile. A friend commented on Facebook on seeing my pictures, 'why on earth are you touching a crocodile'. I think once you make it to Paga, you have to have to capture a photo moment touching a crocodile. The crocodiles are accustomed to being touched by humans and posing for pictures as long as you feed them fowl which you can buy from the guides that hang around. At the time of my visit in 2011, you didn't have to pay any tourist fee, just buy several fowls to be fed to the crocodiles. Mind you I also had a local with me, which means that there was a chance of trying to fleece me dry. I have read on TripAdvisor others saying that you have to pay something to the guides. I can't confirm this. People trying to end the day making a buck is one I am familiar with.
- Testing out crocodiles out of the pond in Paga, Ghana.
I would say that it is easier to handpick a random person at the bus station when you arrive at Tamale or Bolgatanga if you are traveling here and offer to pay them to accompany you around. Many people are unemployed and would be honest guides as long as you also observe safety routines. If you are staying in a hostel, ask for recommendations. If you choose to travel on your own anywhere in Ghana, well you are asking for it really. Ghana is a country with an incredibly high rate of unemployment, poverty, no welfare, and a high number of chancers. You may have travel experiences in Asia, Southern America and the Caribbean, but if you do not have travel experiences from Ghana as a long stay non-Ghanaian. Always travel around with a guide.
What you find is that most people outside of the cities do not beg but if you have any loose change certainly give it to someone that has been kind or helpful to you in a situation such as giving you directions or at the shop if they offered a polite service.
How To Travel From Accra
You can travel by air, to do this head to the Kotoka international airport and ask to buy a ticket. It is that straight forward. By land, you can travel by a coach, STC, VIP, and several others (O.A., JoePee, metro) that board from Circle in Accra. Some do 1 long journey, which is a 14-hour journey. The STC coaches always have an armed police guard on board. This can be interpreted anyhow, it is not a big guarantee of anything). You may choose to break your journey into 2 by stopping in Kumasi for a day or more before continuing on a journey to Tamale or break your continuing from Kumasi to Kintampo or to Damongo Junction and then Tamale traveling by trotros which is a fun experience. You don't need to buy tickets in advance when you are traveling by trotro if you are not familiar with Ghana. Trotro's are patronized by local traders and those with little money to spare. These types of travelers are usually very empathetic. However, you will have to buy a ticket in advance when traveling with STC. I have not traveled by rail since I was about 10 years old, but there is an overnight train from Accra to Kumasi mostly used by petty traders who carry their baskets of vegetables, etc they purchase to sell on this type of journey. If you do not fancy having half a basket sitting on your lap or being compelled to carry a baby to soothe him from crying because his mother has exhausted every word she can offer to stop him wailing then this type of journey may appeal. Otherwise traveling north is a big adventure and you may want to preserve your emotions and do the less demanding travel route on the busses.
- Mighty baobab tree in Bolgatanga, Ghana.