We again traveled by taxi to the Accra suburb of Teshie to see coffin makers ply their trade. The coffins are elaborate and limited only by imagination and money. It can take up to a month to construct coffins that resemble fishes, cars, boats, cigarettes, beer bottles or anything else the customer wants and can afford, as they cost around $600 to 800. Since many people only make about $50 a month, it is truly a luxury purchase that requires much sacrifice by survivors.
A stop at a local casino to obtain a souvenir chip revealed video poker machines with about 95 percent return. The table games opened only in the evening.
They resembled the worst small off-Strip Las Vegas casinos. An expensive Chinese restaurant was located across the street, and its parking lot was filled with luxury autos.
A one-night stay to experience what locals endure was enough.
My next couch surfer stay was with an American ex-pat who lived with his Russian wife in a luxury high-rise complex. Access was controlled through a gate with guard, and there were guards posted at the entrance to each building. Rent for the two-bedroom apartment, which included pool and tennis courts, was $3,000-plus a month, paid by his company. His job as an information technologist for a major international corporation took him around the world. He was also provided with an SUV and driver. An annual round-trip ticket back to the United States is also part of the benefit package. The building was a complex built by an Italian firm, and there are several more in the construction stage. At these rates, in such a poor country, it must be a great return on investment.
Dinner that night was with a group of ex-pats from around the world at an upscale Italian restaurant, Bella Roma. The contrast with my dinner with native Ghanaians was striking.
Ex-pat living is a revelation. There is a huge shopping mall nearby that even has an Apple store. Prices are very high. Shorts cost $40. Native markets have large used clothing sections, where prices are extremely low. Ex-pats enjoy seeing movies at the mall, where many other ex-pats gather. We saw an Adam Sandler film, “Grown ups.” My review title would be “Throw up.” Another night we saw an older movie on DVD at home.
Ex-pats mostly socialize among themselves. They have often met through their company, their housing complex or at parties. I met people from Sweden, Colombia, Thailand, Georgia (the country) and the United States. One day we met two other ex-pat couples for a potluck picnic at Royal Beach, where a section is rented out privately in a roped-off area with a thatched roof enclosure. We brought steaks to barbecue and also bought large crayfish from fishermen on the beach.
The beach was rather unkempt with trash scattered in many places. Locals hauled in a net much like a hukilau, and everyone shared in the meager catch of small fish. Many buildings along the seashore were unfinished or were in poor condition due to neglect.
I left the next morning, not wanting to overstay my hosts’ hospitality. An arrangement was made to hire a private driver to take me to Cape Coast and onto Kakum National Park for a canopy walk. That night my host, who is a Princeton graduate, received a call from a recent graduate asking him for tips. He mentioned my plans and the younger grad, who is in his mid-20s, volunteered to share the costs if he could tag along.
Early the next morning, the driver picked me up and then the Princeton grad. It turned out he lived very close to where I used to live in Orange County, Calif.
He believes there will be great business opportunities in Ghana, and wants to explore them.
At Kakum, a certain number of people must assemble as a group before being led on the canopy walk with a guide. Our group included several Australian females, a Canadian and her Australian boyfriend who were living in London, and a Japanese female from Tokyo. The walk was disappointing in that only a few birds were seen, and just the treetops. Experience the canopy walk on YouTube, at: http://youtu.be/oAYnivamaJ4.
After the walk, the Japanese female said she had stayed on Cape Coast the night before. She came here on a tro-tro and planned to travel to Accra. She would have had a long wait so we offered her a ride back to Accra. We made a stop for lunch at Hans Lodge, just outside of the park where several ponds contained many alligators.
I was amazed to see such a tiny young woman from Japan traveling alone to such a remote place. She said she had saved her money and came despite pleas by her parents not to go. I wonder what life will be like for such an independent female back in Japan.
We toured a fort on the Cape Coast that was used as a holding area for slaves who were then shipped in horrible conditions to the New World. A plaque commemorates President Barack Obama’s visit here. We viewed the outside of a similar fort at Elmira, but the stifling humidity discouraged touring the interior, since it would probably be much like the previously visited one.
My new abode was at Joska Lodge in the Osu area of Accra, which is said to be the main tourist area and close to many restaurants. The rate was only 45 cedis (less than $28 USD) and included breakfast, private bath and Wi-Fi. The Princeton grad said he was paying $45 at his place and it wasn’t as nice as this was, although it was by no means a palace.
Unfortunately, the “runs” hit my intestinal system, and kept me close to the bathroom. I made plans to return home the next day, instead of the planned two additional days.
Las Vegas Tidbits
Chinese New Year is always a major event in Las Vegas, and Jan. 23 begins the Year of the Dragon. This is a very auspicious year; expect a major celebration for the 14 days of the new year by all the casinos. Many casinos will be offering limited $8 commemorative chips during this time, but expect them to sell out, so if you wish to purchase any, get there on the first day.
The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.