Hola y Hasta la próxima

I’m more than a little embarrassed, I wrote the post below back in October of last year; I just didn’t get round to posting it because I was put off by the effort of sorting through the pictures I took and embedding them in the post.

Yes, I am that lazy and lacking in will power.

I’ve decided to publish it anyway because I’m in NY now and damn it, I’m going to do a timely post on at least one of my trips, so ashamed and repentant, here’s what I was thinking while in Madrid, almost a year ago.

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It’s been an age, hasn’t it? Since my last post, I’ve been to Kenya and other nice places but I’ve also been lazy and undisciplined hence the paucity of posts. But I decided that’s not who I want to be so on my last day in beautiful Madrid I took some time out of what I must admit was a very lazy day to write this post. Despite my best efforts I didn’t get round to posting it till my return to London (sigh). Also, it’s a little long as I tried to compress 6 days-worth of activity into a post but despite that I was very proud of myself while writing it.

‘So Ade, why Madrid?’ I hear you ask. Well, good folk I am here in beautifully sunny Madrid by way of my cool friend, J and my shameless opportunism. J’s here in Madrid for 3 months working remotely and studying Spanish (non-remotely), as you do. And since he rented a flat with a spare room, is brilliant to hang out with and too polite to say no, I invited myself over for a visit.

I arrived on Friday evening and tagged along to a cultural exchange ‘meet up’ at the Circulo de Bellas Artes, that J was going to. The drinks and food were overpriced but you’re paying for the view and the experience. I took a picture but as I had forgotten to charge my camera, I ended up using my phone camera and I fear the picture I took doesn’t do it justice so I won’t post it; you’ll have to take it on trust that if you’re ever in Madrid for a few days it’s worth a visit.

On Saturday, I joined J and a group of his friends on a visit to Sergovia. Sergovia is a province located in the Iberian Peninsula and is a 30 minute train ride from Madrid. Although its earliest recorded inhabitants were Celtic, the province has been ruled by Romans and Arabs in turn. The Roman occupation explains the very picturesque aqueduct in the main plaza (and in case you didn’t realise that there’s a bronze sculpture of the Capitoline Wolf nearby). The old city is littered with a diverse range of civil and religious buildings, and an ecosystem of shops and restaurants has developed to serve the tourists that flock there.

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What did the Romans ever do for us?

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Courtesy of the Moors

Sunday evening was spent at the Prado Museum. Monday, I lounged around in the Parque del Retiro, reading and people-watching while resisting the urge to lecture people on why its wrong to feed the squirrels. The lovely sunshine, my Britishness, my lack of Spanish and J’s alarm at the prospect, held me back.  Otherwise I totally would have.

I made it to the Mercado de San Miguel ahead of a tapas bar crawl. I learnt a few things about myself and tapas on this fun but ultimately unsuccessful adventure. I lack impulse control when it comes to good food but have a small stomach; both these things are handicaps if you’re planning to go on a tapas bar crawl. The result was that we had to call a halt to proceedings after hitting two bars (the shame!).

Me, at the night market (in the early evening)

Me, at the night market (in the early evening)

Last but not least, I made it to Barrio de Las Letras, the old Literary Quarter. I’m not sure what I was expecting but this sign pretty much sums up what I saw and it left me feeling sad and philosophical, ergo I’m just so full of deep thoughts and feelings.

In the end, it's all about the shopping.

In the end, it’s all about the shopping.

I could tell you more about the things I got up to but as I didn’t really go off the beaten track it’s not that exciting. Besides, I took pictures and they tell a thousand words (thank you, I’m here all week).

Because Churros and thick hot chocolate, make everything so much better

Because Churros and thick hot chocolate, make everything so much better

#BecauseChurros

#BecauseChurros

Garden cafe outside J's apartment

Garden cafe outside J’s apartment

So I’ll wrap this up by telling you how Madrid made me feel or more accurately, what I’ve felt while I’ve been in Madrid. I’ve felt the absence of balance in my life. Some of that may be down to seeing J doing his thing here in Madrid and coveting that experience but I feel the city and its inhabitants multiply my envy. They reinforce this by just being so chilled. all. the. damn. time. They do it by insouciantly going out to dinner late at night – as though they didn’t have to get up early for work the next day (many of them do, I know because I made enquiries) or as if, y’know, work will happen and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. Imagine that!

The city seems designed for life, for holistic living – I see it in the way children’s playgrounds, residential housing and office blocks seem to nestle contentedly alongside each another.

Granted, I’m on holiday and my view of the city is that of a foreigner at leisure but even if my view was a rose-tinted one, I liked what I saw.

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What the newspapers said

A more accurate title would be ‘What the Daily Graphic Said’ but I liked the current title better. Why ‘said’? Because I’ve not yet had a chance to review today’s paper; I am on holiday, y’know! So, here’s what the Daily Graphic (DG) had to say yesterday, 6th of January 2011.

  • according to a survey they conducted, Ghanaians believe that 2011 will be a “breakthrough year” for their country’s economy. In the article, DG has helpfully presented some suggestions from citizens on what the government priorities should be.  These include health, education and infrastructure development, particularly roads.
  • A tragic hunting expedition (one hunter shot another having mistaken him for game) is being investigated by police.  The accident occured in Sefwi-Dwenase-Kokokrom.
  • The recent cabinet resfuffle received much coverage- suffice to say, opinions vary. In the interest of balance the DG set out some of these opinions. Their own: “inevitable”; some think-tanks': unclear, explanations for the selection of new ministers should be provided; Ghanaian Medical Association: unhelpful to execution of long-term objectives (they’ve had to deal with 3 health ministers in the last two years).
  • A lot of discussion on the impact of the 30% fuel price hike on the economy, little of it positive.

In other African news:

  • the first delegation of African leaders who have so tried to convince Laurent Gbagbo, of Ivory Coast, to step down- with the offer of exile- have failed in their. They’re not giving up though, negotiations continue.
  • A Nigerian opposition party, Conress for Progressive Change,  has chosen Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader/dictator as its presidential candidate for Nigeria’s 2012 general election (Y’know, I don’t think that name was chosen in order to make an ironic point.  Sigh.).
  • Apparently, US Senator, John Kerry found the comments of Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir on the upcoming referendum on southern independence “extremely encouraging”.

And there you have it. See, this holiday isn’t all about me. Now, I’m off to lounge by the pool.

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The road to Aburi

The road to Aburi is very good. The state of the road to Aburi Botanical Gardens isn’t what this post is about but it is noteworthy. It’s particularly noteworthy to a visitor to  Ghana who has been mercilessly jostled in the back seat of taxis as the poor drivers navigate the pothole-ridden and/or uneven roads in many parts of Accra.  Anyway, both the journey up there and the Aburi Gardens themselves were beautiful.

Aburi Botanical Gardens are located to the North East region of Accra in the town of Abrui (didn’t see that coming, did you?).  Courtesy of the town’s  high altitude is much cooler than the  Accra. Aburi Botanical Garden was established in 1890.  The land on which it is established was previously the site of a convalescence and acclimatisation centre for colonial civil servants. The original intent was that the gardens would support experimentation with both economic and decorative plants from other tropical and sub-tropical countries with a view to finding out those which could thrive under local conditions and were of value to the European market. It was also supposed to support the teaching of scientific agricultural methods. Unfortunately, the high-altitude climate put paid to the garden’s ambitions to be an agricultural centre but  the garden still played a key role in Ghana becoming a key producer of cocoa (today, Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world). Thanks to  Tetteh Quarshie, Ghanaian farmers were already growing the crop commercially, however the high cost of seedlings limited widespread cultivation.  The successful nurturing of the plant by the botanists at Aburi resulted in the sale of seedlings to local farmers at cheap rates. A thriving export market and good climate did the rest.  Meanwhile the garden’s operations were scaled back to just botanical activities.

While I was there, I had lunch (at the Aburi restaurant- be aware the food takes a long time) with one the gardens’ landscapers and managed to wrangle a guided tour- my inner geek rejoiced the whole way through the tour. The biodiversity is simply amazing. I could go into detail here but I’ll spare you- here are a few highlights instead.

The oldest tree on the site- predates the establishment of the site- is a beautiful Silk Cotton tree.  Here’s a picture (with me standing in front of it to give you some perspective of its size).

I nicknamed it, Methuselah

The creepiest tree has to be the tree dubbed the Strangler Ficus; common name: Rubber Shade tree. It’s an epiphyte which slowly but eventually strangled it’s poor host plant.  It’s hollow trunk (by the way, the holes mark the points where the host tree’s branches used to be) indicates the size of the host tree.  This particular specimen of the epiphyte was discovered in 1906.

The Strangler

The most delightful tree was the Monkey Pot tree so called because of the attraction it holds for monkeys. These monkeys (the greedy ones, anyway) have been known to get their heads stuck in its fruit pods having stuffed their mouths full of the seeds.  I found the idea of these monkeys with the heads stuck in these ‘pots’ hilarious. Yes, I have the sense of humour of a small child. I never promised sophisticated humour would be a feature of this blog. Deal with it! :-)

Here's the monkey pot tree

And here’s the pot that catches the monkey

Finally, did you know that dragon-flies are nature’s way of checking the malaira-carrying mosquito population? No? Well kids, for this and more scintilating facts get yourselves to Aburi. And even if none of this stuff interests you (seriously, what’s wrong with you?), it’s still a lovely place to chill and have a picnic.

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Getting from A to B

By virtue of my friend M’s gracious friends I didn’t have to travel by public transport for the first two days of my visit to Ghana but I eventually ventured onto public transport. I decided to travel by taxi. Aside from some attempts at arbitrary price hikes (the ‘tourist rate’) and traffic jams (both issues I’ll discuss in a later post), my taxi experiences haven’t been bad. I haven’t yet been able to summon up the will-power to travel on a TroTro though- I’ve travelled on the Nigerian equivalent and I’m not in too much of a hurry to repeat the experience if I don’t have to. Still, I’m keen to convey something of the experience.  Thankfully, Ghanaian poet, Kwadwo Kwarteng manages this beautifully. His poem and Kinna’s intro can be read here on the Kinna Reads blog. Enjoy.

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Baby, it’s hot outside

Yes, I did it- I bastardised a classic song title for my selfish ends. I’m hoping that the fact that I’m a fan of the song (the Rod Stewart/ Dolly Parton and Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong versions, since you ask) makes up for this in some way.  See the thing is, it’s simply not possible, or at least it shouldn’t be, to blog about a trip to Ghana without a hat-tip to the heat.

At the moment the heat is strong and humid (not the dry, Harmattan heat). This has the effect of making the air “heavy”. It virtually wraps itself around you. I’m a fast walker- to my mind, a matter of etiquette that should be observed by anyone who lives and travels in London. Few things irritate me as much as those who dither at trains doors or walk, as if they have nowhere they need to be (this might indeed be the case but if so, why travel during the rush-hour?!).  Anyway, I digress, the point I was going to make was that the Accran heat has cured me of this impatience! I’ve adopted a slow gait that, well, just isn’t ordinarily my style.  However, I’ve decided that this is the appropriate walking etiquette in Ghana as I don’t see anyone else walking any quicker and anyway, when in Rome…

It’s not just the nature of human movements that the heat affects.  The other thing it does is to support the flourishing insect population. The stagnant water that is sometimes allowed to collect in the open gutters helps create something of a perfect storm. In Acrra, insect repellent is your friend. Having been bitten at least 4 times, my initially lackadaisical approach to insect repellent application was soon kicked into touch- itching and inflammation help focus the mind, like you would not believe!- I’m a lot more conscientious now.

Similarly, sun block (SPF 30) and I well have become re-acquainted. The moisture levels of the air makes sun-burn less obvious at first but if you do burn- it hurts the same. A little while ago I bought Dermalogica’s Climate Control Lip Treatment and I made some unflattering comments about it.  I take them all back- it has come into its own in the Accra. Finally, hydration is required- do it well, do it often.

Now, I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression- this is a glorious heat. It makes you feel deliciously languid the exact feeling you want to have while you’re on holiday.  You’ve simply got be prepared for it.  Otherwise, you might find that as in the Morcheeba song, too much of a good thing really could wear you out.

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Forward ever, backward never

I am in the country of Kwame Nkrumah and he still looms large in the Ghanaian consciousness- his spectre is still conjured up by politicians  for this very reason. Yesterday, I visited the Kwame Nkrumah Museum and it was well worth the trip. The cost of entry is low- 6 Ghana Cedis for non-Ghanians. The museum and its surrounds are well-maintained (with some beautiful pea-cocks and -hens roaming the grounds) and the tour guides are very helpful and well-informed (if biased). Nkrumah, like many of the first crop of African leaders post-colonial rule, divide opinion when discussed today.  This, I think, is inevitable. He was a charismatic leader, like many of his contemporaries, and his pan-African vision was impressive, but his attempts at implementing this vision were naive, somewhat self-serving and ultimately doomed to failure. His failure to achieve the economic prosperity that he promised and his increasingly authoritarian leadership fed the dis-satisfaction that would lead to his over-throw.

Forward is this way!

In spite of his failures, he seems to still have a hold on the hearts of Ghanaians and even Africans beyond Ghana.  The most obvious reasons I can think of include the fact that he played a key role in the nation’s independence- Ghana was afterall the very first African nation to achieve independence from British rule.  Further, he wasn’t in power for that long (6 years is a short time to rule in African politics), so the monster that his critics decried never fully manifested in the public sphere; he wasn’t blatantly craven; there’s an acknowledgement that he was erudite- even by those who disagreed with his ideology and perhaps most importantly, those who overthrew him didn’t do a much better job.

This analysis is a fairly superficial one; post-colonial African development is a complex issue and Nkrumah is a complex man.  Regrettably, I don’t know enough about Nkrumah and other African leaders of his ilk to have an opinion that bears scrutiny, and the museum certainly isn’t the place to acquire an unbiased view but I left with a thirst to know more. I heartily recommend a visit.

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In other news…

My second job post-University was as a Standards Engineer with Nortel Networks.  There were many brilliant things about the job- it was stimulating, I had a very cool boss, really clever and supportive colleagues and- most relevant to this blog- I got the chance to travel. Even better, I got the chance to stay in nice hotels while on these foreign trips.  I learned that nice hotels, amongst other things, will often deliver a copy of one or two local newspapers to your door every morning.  At first, I simply read these papers as an ecxuse not to have to make conversation at breakfast (in spite of my best efforts, I’m not a morning person and jetlag makes me even less so), at least not until I’d had my first two cups of coffee.  However, I came to enjoy the insight into the places I travelled to that I was able to glean from the newspapers.  The long hours spent in meeting-rooms discussing, arguing and persuading (or trying to) other delegates meant that it was possible to be in a country and barring a few late dinners in local restraunts with colleagues, get no insight into the country at all.  Local newspapers afforded an opportunity regardless of my work schedule.

Anyway, that’s where I picked up the habit of reading the local newspaper(s) in countries I get the chance to visit. So, here’s a summary of what was happening in Ghana on the 4th of January, according to the Daily Graphic- Ghana’s biggest selling newspaper since 1950 (also according to the Daily Graphic)- outside my immediate sphere of existence.

  • Ghana’s $1.2 billion Gas project is on track as all bottlenecks are cleared. One of these “bottlenecks” seems to be the efforts of local youths from Bonyere in the Jomoro District of the Western region to resist government attempts to site the gas plant in their area.  The Bonyere youth claim they weren’t consulted and that siting the plant in their town would lead to the destruction of their economically valuable trees and the loss of their livelihoods. However, it appears that the scheme has “received the full backing of landowners and chiefs” in the area.
  • The National Petrolen Authority, NPA, has announced petrol price increases of between 25 and 30 percent as a result of rising world crude oil prices. The increase in the TOR debt recovery levy from 2 Gp to 8Gp imposed on petroleum products, which recently received parliamentary approval, is also a contributory factor.  (My taxi driver had a lot to say about this price hike!)
  • The Ghanian president, John Evans Atta Mills’ “outstanding leadership style” has been rated an ‘A’ on The Mo Ibrahim Index, an index which apparently ranks African leaders. He and four other African leaders ( Mr Ramgoolam of Mauritius, President Piers of Cape Verde, President Khama of Botswana and President Lucas of Namibia).  Meanwhile the leaders of Sudan, Guinea, Chad, Equitorial Guinea and Eritrea ranked poorly in the index.
  • An inmate (identified only as inmate 2020) at the Kumasi Central Prison decided to make his greviance at being moved to the Nsawam Medium Security Prison known, by scaling to the top of the communication mast erected in the middle of the prison.  He ignored the pleas of prison guards that he climb down and remained up the mast for over two hours.  Thankfully, the arrival of the Ghanian fire brigade caused him to reconsider his psoition. The PR officer for the prison, emerged after keeping jornaliststs waiting three hours, to inform them that Deputy Director of Prisons, Mr Kwame Akon Gyeedu “had instructed him” not to discuss the incident with journalists.
  • Local sports: the newly appointed coach of the Black Meteors is expected to start work immediately so the team is ready for the 2011 Mozambique All Africa Games and London 2012 Olympics qualifiers. Also, the Freedom Stars were the winners of the Ayawaso House Party Cards league in 2010.

There you have it. I bet you’re feeling much more informed and connected to Ghana now, aren’t you?

What the papers say

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