Jessica Berg Reflects on her Travels During a Semester Abroad in Ghana

This past October, English student Jessica Berg contributed a two-part post in which she discussed her experience studying abroad in Ghana, especially her experiences at the University of Ghana. In her latest blog post, Jessica discusses the difficulties and pleasures she has encountered while traveling in Ghana. Continue below to read about Jessica’s travels and the type of educational experiences she is having outside of the classroom.   

*Photo provided by Jessica Berg

In the three months I’ve been in Ghana, I’ve accumulated a fine collection of bizarre and hilarious stories, most of which involve travelling.  Getting almost anywhere in Ghana can seem like an ordeal to someone who’s used to driving her own car, but it’s rewarding in its own way.  Although it can take days of mental preparation to work up the energy for a long trip outside of Accra, and occasionally things go wrong in stupid ways, all of my experiences have been positive.  I’m sure attitude has a lot to do with that, but I also think that there is a sense of adventure here that I’ve never found anywhere else, which adds an element of awesome to everything, pleasant or not.  It’s liberating to set out knowing that at the end of the day, even though you’re sweaty, exhausted, and sometimes broke, you’ll have had an amazing experience.

I’ll use one of my favorite experiences here so far to illustrate my point.  There is a wildlife sanctuary east of Accra called Shai Hills, which offers hikes to caves and waterfalls and boasts a small population of baboons.  It’s been a popular destination for the international students around our dorm, so two friends and I decided to plan a day trip there on a free Friday.  We began asking around for directions, and we learned that, while most of our friends encouraged us to go, they all warned us against stopping to change trotros in a particular town outside Shai Hills.  Apparently, it is a place notorious for robberies and assaults.  We took this to heart and decided to find a way to Shai Hills without changing trotros.  When we got to the trotro station, which is a muddy lot on the outskirts of a market packed with the rickety, box-like minibuses that Ghanaians call trotros, we started asking around for a trotro directly to Shai Hills.  Ghanaians at trotro stations are extremely helpful, and after a few confused exchanges, we were herded into a trotro and told to get off at the last stop.

If I had been placed on a trotro without knowing the name of its final destination when I first arrived to Ghana, I would have been terrified, but having been here some months, we decided to shrug it off and hope it was going where we wanted it to go.  One sweaty, hour-long trotro ride later, we arrived to a town called Dodowa, which is one of the closest towns to Shai Hills.  We counted this as an achievement and allowed the trotro mate to call us a taxi.  He talked with the driver, and when we asked the price, they responded, “four-fifty.”  We took this to mean four cedis, fifty pesewas, which is about two American dollars, a perfectly reasonable price for a nearby destination.  We agreed.  After the first half hour on an uneven dirt road, we started to question the price.  After the second half hour, we knew that either the price was quoted too low or that the taxi driver was a particularly generous man.  When we arrived at Shai Hills and tried to offer him four cedis, fifty pesewas, he laughed and corrected us, asking for forty-five cedis, roughly twenty dollars.  Had we taken a trotro, we could have made the trip for less than five dollars, but it was too late to refuse payment, so we gave him the money and shrugged it off.  At least no one had stolen our purses.

After we had negotiated prices and met our guide, we started on the shortest hike, which was estimated to take an hour.  We were to hike up a large hill, down into a valley, across the valley to another small mountain, up the mountain, and down into a cave that had served as the historical home of a tribe that now lived in the nearby villages.  When we began our trek, it was hot and sunny.  By the time we had reached the valley, it was becoming cloudy, and it began to sprinkle.  As we walked across the valley, the rain started pouring down, and we were drenched as we climbed the mountain.  But it seemed as though the rain would stop, and our guide assured us that the sun would come soon.  The clouds in the distance promised something else, however, and by the time we had reached the cave, a powerful thunderstorm was rolling overhead, blackening the sky and dropping sheets of rain onto us.  We waited in the cave for an hour while the worst passed, not wanting to venture into the open savanna of the valley while lightning was still a threat, and it was still sprinkling when we emerged.

The trek back was muddy and wet, and we finished our projected hour-long hike in just over three hours.  This was probably the first time during my entire stay in Africa I complained of being cold, and we were all relieved when a nice taxi driver offered to give us a lift to a major trotro station for a reduced price.  We arrived back at our dorm at four in the afternoon, having not eaten anything since breakfast except crackers in the cave, so we ate dinner, showered, and went to bed early.

*Photo provided by Jessica Berg

For a lot of people, this experience would have been awful.  Almost everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.  I ruined a good pair of pants, and the sketchpad I carry sustained major water damage.  But despite the discomfort and the unexpected twists, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip.  Seeing the storm roll across the valley from the top of a mountain was unlike anything I will ever see again, and hanging out in a cave listening to peals of thunder was strangely surreal.  Many people I know have been to Shai Hills, but none of them have seen it like I’ve seen it, and that’s rather exhilarating.  Yes, it was a difficult, exhausting, and often frustrating trip, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.  I’m glad for my stay here for giving me the patience and open-mindedness to be receptive to experiences like these.

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