We have yet to make a trip in Ghana that we regret or can’t find positive things to say about. Some of the places we’ve visited we may not choose to visit again, but we’re happy to have been there.
And then there is our experience this last weekend at Dreamland Beach Resort in Ada Foah. Life is uncertain, plans can change quickly, and we still have a lot of Ghana to see, but we definitely hope to return to Ada and the peace and warmth of this guest house.
For those unfamiliar with Ghana, I should say a few words about the use here of the phrase beach resort. Before coming here my main point of reference for a beach resort was the very polished and very decadent resort we visited in Cancún during our Juárez tour. There were two pools, a beautiful beach with abundant, comfortable, and well-maintained lounge chars, beach- and poolside food and drink service, and a family suite as spacious and comfortable as the corporate apartments we’ve lived in during our D.C. training stays – but with an ocean view from the balcony and a fridge stocked with water, soft drinks, beer, and wine.
Beach resort in Ghana means something different. Or I should say it can mean something different. There are resorts here so expensive that I can only hope for their customers’ sake that their amenities rival those of the Mexican resorts. Then there are some that are more attainable for mere mortals but still quite expensive by the standards we’d come to expect in Mexico – and that tend to have rooms ranging from Super 8 to maybe Holiday Inn standard. And kind of a run-down Super 8.
And then there are “resorts” like Dreamland. Which, I want to emphasize right away I absolutely loved. But just so you have the right picture in your head, a U.S. traveler might consider a place like Dreamland something between a hostel and a guest house. There is no air conditioning. If you don’t turn the water off in the bathroom overnight you’ll hear the shower dripping – almost flowing – constantly. Sometimes a bucket of water helps the toilet flush all the way. It’s a good idea to just acknowledge that the spiders in your room are more interested in eating the mosquitos (which is good!) than biting you. And anyway, maybe the lizards in your room will eat the spiders. There is a fan (which works if you plug it in just right) and the windows are screened. There’s a mosquito net if you want to bother with it, but the cross-ventilation from the windows and the blowing of the fan seem adequate to keep mosquitos away.
So it’s that kind of place. And we loved it. Loved it so much. Will be dreaming of it all week. Because this was the view from outside our upstairs room:
And this is what it looked like around the table where we ate breakfast:
And when we said we’d like fish for dinner the night we arrived, the proprietors went and bought a freshly-caught fish and cooked it on the grill for us, served with sides of rice and plantain. Every meal was cooked to order, from scratch (give them about 2 hours lead time for meals if you go there – or order your food before you even get there and they’ll have it ready when you ask).
The beach itself has some of the same issues we’ve encountered at every beach here – there are spots where trash has washed ashore, and that’s not particularly appealing. And there are waves so strong they knocked Andrés over a time or two, so we stayed within arm’s reach of Marisela at all times. But we were the only ones out playing in the water, and only saw a few other people walking the beach. The waves were beautiful to watch and hear, and the sun filtered through the clouds in postcard-worthy style.
On Sunday – Mother’s Day! – David, one of the proprietors, took us on a boat tour on the Volta River. Ada Foah is the point at which the Volta spills into the Atlantic, and in addition to fishing, the people of the area also harvest clams both for food and for their shells, which are used in paving and brick-making, and there is a fairly small but significant tourist trade. David and his friend John, who owns the boat, took us to an island in the Volta where a family maintains a fish farm, harvests and sells mangos, and keeps up a small crocodile pond to show tourists and visitors. He tells us that at one point the crocodiles dug a hole and escaped their confinement, but that they later returned. He figured they preferred the regular meals they received in the pond.
Our boat tour gave us the chance to see touristy entertainments like the crocodile pond, but also to see regular life along the Volta – the families digging for clams on the banks, the men rowing out with traps to catch crabs, the elaborate, luxurious shoreline homes owned by the wealthiest of the wealthy (one of them looked like an amusement park – complete with huge walrus and whale statues, an enormous faux riverboat that must be a house right at the shoreline, and a huge arched entryway topped with a sign reading “TREASURE ISLAND” – unfortunately I missed getting a picture of that, as I had assumed it was a hotel, and while it didn’t seem photo-worthy as a hotel it was definitely photo-worthy as a private home).
David was incredibly knowledgeable, telling us about the economy of the region, the difficulties posed by climate change and habitat loss, some of the traditional foods and cultural celebrations of the region. It was a trip that I think will be one of the highlights of our time in Ghana.
Something I can’t capture in photos or even describe adequately is the sense of welcome and hospitality we experienced during this trip. David and his colleagues at Dreamland were all gracious and genuinely kind and understanding. They welcomed Marisela in to the kitchen and let her help cook and serve the food. They recognized Isaiah’s clear desire to just read quietly and be left alone and they never once (I don’t believe) mentioned how tall he is (this earns big points with him these days).
I know it’s unfair to generalize a group or a culture. Not all New Mexicans, for example, are laid back and green chile-obsessed, I know (though I would say I tend to be both). But there is a pervasive spirit of easy friendship and warm openness here that I find very touching. Foreigners, as a whole, over the centuries, have not always done right by Ghana. And yet we have met with such openness, such warmth, and such welcome.
We stopped at a gas station to use the facilities before starting the two-hour trip back to Accra yesterday, and while other family members took their turns in the bathroom Marisela busied herself collecting bottle caps in the dirt surrounding the station (which also had a little outdoor bar/cafe, so there were plenty to find). She took the last turn in the bathroom, and as we were walking back to the car, the mother or an auntie of the family that ran the cafe called to us. Her daughter, who looked perhaps Isaiah’s age, or somewhere between Isaiah and Marisela, had seen Marisela collecting the caps and had assembled a pile of her own to give us before we left. She ran inside to get a plastic bag to hold them all. Her name was Rejoice – a common Ghanaian girl’s name, and one of my favorites – and she seemed pleased just to see Marisela’s delighted smile. Marisela ran to the car and got a rainbow loom charm she had made during the drive and gave it to Rejoice. It was such a nice moment – a tiny moment, but one I’ll certainly remember.
And it’s not just away from the big city that we’ve experienced random kindness. Today as I was walking along the road from our house to the embassy a woman in the passenger seat of a car driving by smiled a huge smile and said, “Hello, madam! I hope you are well today!” No reason. No need. No ulterior motive. Just a kind hello as I walked by. Our road is currently chopped up by some significant potholes (potholes that could have swallowed our Ford Focus whole) and the extreme slow-down that causes meant the car was just creeping by. Slow traffic and potholes are not generally as much a cause of irritation here as they are to people in the U.S. Why waste that energy? Why not use it instead say a warm hello to the obvious foreigner walking by? That is Ghana.