Thursday, January 27, 2011

MV Princess to Dodi Island: A 5-hours’ tour

This trip on the day after Christmas has a smaller cast of characters than the other holiday posts.  Steffi is not a fan of boats, so she and Markus decided to spend the day around Kpando and Torkor, leaving the trio of Benee and Dorella and me to take a pleasure cruise on the Volta Lake.  The MV Princess ferryboat is scheduled to leave at 10:30, but given that it was a holiday weekend, we decided to leave the house around 7 to get us to Akosombo with plenty of time to spare.

Since we had made this drive in the dark on the 24th, I enjoyed seeing it in the daylight.  Every little town looks identical in the dark, but in the light of day, the differences become more apparent.  The roadside stands were selling varied and sundry items that were different from the Ashanti region (of which Kumasi is the regional capital): pottery in some places, drums in others, and even pillows in one particular town (perhaps it’s near a distributor of Ashfoam, the major brand of foam that goes into beds and other upholstered furniture).

Upon arrival in Akosombo, we stopped in at the Volta Hotel to inquire about tickets for the Dodi Princess… and for Dorella to get a much needed coffee.  We were told that the tickets had to be purchased at the dock.  While in the hotel, I saw a sign for the brand-new website for the Dodi Princess at  Unfortunately for us, this website doesn’t show up in the first couple pages of a Google search on “dodi island cruise Ghana”.  The Volta Hotel might want to redesign the website to get their site higher in the rankings, especially since it offers the ability to do online booking, at least for anyone with a Ghanaian bankcard.

Arriving at the dock, there was a long queue at the ticket booth for the boat ride.  While waiting in line, we saw some pretty bad examples of queue-jumping, e.g., one person standing in line until he arrived at the ticket booth when ten of his friends joined him buying multiple tickets each.  This sort of line-jumping is pretty common since almost everything in Ghana requires waiting in long lines.  Benee handled the purchasing of the tickets for us while I wandered over and watched some boys fishing from a wooden boat.  Finally we got our three tickets and headed onto the ferryboat.

After checking out the upper and lower levels of the boat, we staked out three wooden deck chairs on the back deck of the boat, shaded by the upper deck.  The proximity to the splash pool meant that we’d probably be surrounded by screaming kids rather quickly, but it seemed a better choice than the excessively loud band upstairs or the boring indoor area. 

We sat down to relax in the shade of the boat and waited for the rest of the passengers to load onto the boat.  The crew of the boat filled up the splash pool with water from the lake and about twenty kids jumped right in.  Somehow, no matter how I dress, I always look like an American, but this time it led to a conversation with a fellow American from Georgia who had brought his wife and kids home to Ghana to see the extended family.  I noticed a guy with a couple of digital camera bodies, including a Canon 5D Mark III, and learned that he’s a professional photographer and videographer.  (More of my pictures from this trip can be found here.) 

Somehow the boat left the dock only fifteen minutes late, which even the US airlines consider an on-time departure.  The festive holiday atmosphere was evident from the happy smiles on everyone’s faces.  Dorella, Benee and I took turns watching over our seats.  The band was loud but not overwhelming, as we could carry on conversations on the lower deck.  Since we were cruising north towards Dodi Island, our seats were in the shade for the first half of the journey.  I enjoyed standing at the deck railing, watching the land go by and entertained by the antics of some of the young men dancing.  Dorella seemed to have a great time talking with a few different people on the boat, including a lady who runs tours for fellow Ghanaians.  Benee was in full videographer mode, taping some of the scenery and the people around us.

Around 11:30, Dorella came back to the seats with a plate full of food.  The buffet had opened up but not too many people had realized it yet, at least not when she went through.  I quickly went inside to find a line of people building.  Being aware of the queue-jumping earlier, I was alert to any more instances of it.  Unfortunately, I made a mistake in thinking someone was queue-jumping when it turns out that it was just a less-than-organized line.  After a somewhat long wait, I got my plate of rice and tilapia, the latter of which is caught right there in the Volta Lake. 

Dodi Island dancers
 The stop at Dodi Island is the halfway point of the cruise.  As the ferryboat went around to the north side of the island, we could see many people waiting at the ferry landing and could hear the drums and singing.  Due to the late start, the stop was cut down from an hour to thirty minutes. Quite a few of the disembarking passengers started dancing with the welcoming group.  The dancers aged in range from girls as young as eight or nine up through adult women, while the drummers were mostly young men. Due to the short stop and the need to hold onto our seats, Dorella decided to stay on the boat while Benee and I joined the passengers heading onto the island.  Looking back on it, maybe I should have stayed on the boat, too.

Visiting Dodi Island ranks up there as one of the saddest experiences in my time in Ghana.  As soon as we left the ferry landing, where the celebration had made me happy to donate a few cedis, we encountered a steady stream of ragamuffin children.  They would shyly reach to hold our hands in the hopes that few minutes walking with us would lead to a few pesewas for them.  Others were less reserved and just put their hands out to beg.  For once, the children saw no difference between the locals and the obrunis.

As we started up the hill, we saw an impromptu fish market underneath a concrete shelter.  Continuing up the hill, there was another set of drummers who were allowing the visitors to play, albeit very badly.  My heart started breaking when I saw this five- or six-year-old boy shaking a bead-covered gourd with all his might, hoping that we visitors would give him some money for his efforts.  We kept walking with the trail of sad little children following us.  On the other side of the island, another group was dancing to a different type of music, which Benee said was from the northern part of the Ewe (pronounced “a-way”) region.

Boy with gourd noisemaker
 On our way back across the island, the beginning children started following us again.  I almost started crying at the sight of a ten-year-old boy who was obviously suffering from a number of serious ailments, as evidenced by the hunched back, stunted fingers and flaky white skin condition.  I had resisted the begging of the other children, but his sad condition compelled me to press a few coins into his hand as we walked past on our way to the boat. 

Benee and I discussed whether or not all these people lived on the island.  We came to the conclusion that they must paddle over for the arrival of the ferry every weekend day and holiday in the hopes of making money off the tourists.  I was pretty distraught at the thought that these small children would grow up thinking that this was the only way to survive and wished desperately for a happier life for them.

On our return trip, I felt a bit more subdued due to the encounters on Dodi Island.  The hot African sun beat down on us as the boat cruised south back towards the dock.  Dorella and I spent some time giving travel advice to a couple of Austrians who were planning to visit Kumasi in early January.  While was I taking pictures of the late afternoon sun breaking through the clouds that had finally cooled things off, I talked to a very nice Japanese girl who was living in the Volta region for three years working as a music teacher in the schools as part of  the Japanese version of the Peace Corps.  As we approached the dock, I could see a large group of people waiting for the boat to return.  The ferryboat pulled into the dock as people pushed their way to the exits from the boat.  We waited for the crush of people to subside, then gathered up our things and disembarked from our pleasure cruise on the Volta Lake.

Sun over Volta Lake

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