Kyla and Nick Around the World travel blog


Transportation in Ghana - Nick writing

We were introduced to the transportation system in Ghana on our arrival. The two coordinators of the volunteer program met us at the airport - Lisa, from Germany, and Emmanuel, from Ghana. They took us to the pick-up truck with stories of a very long day - the truck broke down three times getting into Accra, making the 1.5 hour journey a tad longer.

Kyla and I hopped into the pickup part of the truck and started driving from Accra to Bawjiase. The whole way through Accra we were smiled at, waved to, hailed, and offered dozens of different everyday products from people on the side, and in the middle, of the road. The sellers were selling purewater (water in plastic bags), toilet paper, oranges, cloth, food, and almost anything else, all balanced on top of their heads.

Soon, the tempermental truck (the Ghanaian expression is "the truck is getting sick") showed up - we had a few break downs, and at one point, I had to jump out of the truck in traffic to push it through an intersection, with other cars zooming past us. Another person ran out from the side of the road to help, until the truck jumpstarted and we got moving. A smile, a wave, and a thank you, and our good samaritan was gone.

Unfortunately, the truck suffered its final gasp of the night at Kasua, still about a half an hour away from our destination. It was dark, and we stood by the side of the road trying to flag a tro-tro (more about tro-tros later). No luck - too late from tro-tros. So we had to flag down a taxi and leave the truck at a garage. We arrived, tired but safe after a great introduction to travel in Ghana.

Tro-tros are the backbone of the Ghanaian system - they are best defined by what they are not. They aren't a car, they aren't a taxi, they aren't a transport truck, and they aren't a public bus. They are pretty much everything else on the road, usually in the form of a slowly (or quickly) deteriorating Mercedes Benz van from 20 years ago, filled with decaying rows of seats and driven with a reckless disregard for personal safety and speed limits. Almost all tro-tros have religious messages and Christian invocations written across the back window, and even though I lean a little more towards the agnostic, scientific, and humanist, I heartily endorse any divine help to keep these things running and not flying into a million rusted pieces and a dozen screaming passengers. In fact, I would ask that all other religions around the world begin to invoke their own deities to protect the tro-tros of Ghana.

When I said "a dozen screaming passengers" above, I should be more clear. I should have said "between a dozen and an indeterminable number, which is usually about 5 people above the physical capacity of the vehicle, but can never be counted, given the people continuously getting off and on, and the fact that your face is squeezed against the side". Tro-tros are private vehicles, and all employ a "mate" who hangs out the window, yelling and signing the destination continuously. Our soundtrack of Ghana would include a hoarse man repeating endlessly "Circle, circle, circle, circle" and spinning his fingers.

(Destinations in our area are abbreviated, so the main traffic circle in Accra is simply "Circle", and the mate's hand is waved in, logically, a circle. Destinations that are far away are pointed with a finger up, destinations that are close are indicated with a pointed finger down. I had a chance one day to try this when we rented a tro-tro to take a bunch of the kids to the beach at Fette. I was sitting in the Mate's seat, so I started hanging out the window yelling "Fet-teh, Fet-teh, Fet-teh" until I was hoarse, and pointing to the right, since our destination was in that direction. That is, I did this for a while to the amusement and laughter of lots of Ghanaians on the side of the road, amazed at seeing an Obronyi, or white man, as a Mate, until one man actually shouted back angrily that he wanted to go to Fette Beach, and if we weren't going to stop for him, why was I yelling it out the window.)

Catching a tro-tro is as simple as standing by the side of the road, and figuring out what the hell the screaming man in the speeding, fume belching van is trying to say. You wave your hand, they stop, the sliding door opens, you pile in, and then at some random time before you arrive, the mate asks for a small (for us) amount of money. A common fare for an hour drive is 1 cedi, or about 1 Canadian dollar. Then, when you want to get out, you tap the mate on the shoulder, the van swings over to the side of the road, pauses for a second for you to scramble out, and then peels off again.

And the system works too - tro-tros cover the whole country, and are much cheaper than taxis and buses. And they come constantly - in the big cities, there are huge stations of them, each with a mate yelling some destination in a mass of confusion.

Often then leave when they are full, so sometimes if it is at a station, you'll have an hour of waiting, listing over and over to "Circle, Circle, circle". But at least you can buy some toilet paper and toothpaste from off the head of the seller outside the window.



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