We start the morning lazily and I’m sitting on a bench in front of the bungalow, writing our diary while Pauline wanders around. Twelve hours of sleep did wonders except that the last stages of my digestive process are still very disruptive to say the least. So it is a good thing that we have this day in this benign home to give my body time to mend itself, with a good helping of loperamides…

We set out to walk to Axim along the beach. There is also a very derelict coastal road connecting Axim to Ankrobra Beach – this one would have saved us many kilometers yesterday, but neither guide nor map mentions it. Walking this road from Ankrobra Beach to Axim took us one hours and forty minutes. A broken bridge in the middle, with only a single file span remaining makes it impassable to vehicles with more than two wheels.

We have the entire beach for ourselves. Pauline collects sea shells, and since I will carry only one for her she ends up with an armful of them, waiting for me to buy something so that she gets a plastic bag.

As we near Axim there are a few fishermen and women gathering wood. Nearer to the town we exit the beach to follow a crumbling road – a good idea since the whole section of beach up to the town is a big latrine that stinks the whole way. In general, beaches near towns are far removed from being anything like postcard tropical paradises.

Once more I have to force Pauline to drink. On top of not noticing she dehydrates, she avoids drinking for fear of having to go without a European toilet seat. Pauline likes Ghana, but she has a few topics of regular complaint. By reverse order of importance :

  • Squat toilets with newspaper. Actually she ended up liking the squat toilets, but newspapers remain a beyond her tolerance.
  • Languages she does not understand. Pauline is dissappointed that speaking French very loud does not help non-French speaking people understand French any better.
  • Red pepper in food, even in the bolognaise sauce.
  • Having to wash her clothes herself – though this summer I noticed that she has taken my habit of showering with my clothes on to wash them while I’m under she shower.
  • People littering, which she sermons every time… Good thing they don’t understand what she is saying.

Mzungu, oyinbo, farenji, foté, toubab… I have one more name to add to my collection : obroni. This is how the kids in this region call me. This calls for another variation of the “my name is not Mzungu” t-shirt.

Like all other coastal towns in Ghana, Axim is geared toward fishing and agriculture, with a sprinkle of tourism. But there is not much tourism : according to its guestbook, the Axim fort had in average one visitor a day during fall season, one in January, and three in February – including us. The visit costs one Cedi per person and one Cedi for the camera. So this month, the guide and his apprentice worked for less than five Cedis. Good thing they have a commanding view of the local soccer pitch for distraction.

The fort is a well preserved piece of 15th century architecture, apparently undergoing some inner renovation – new floors and mounds of wood chips attest of that ongoing effort. The views over the bay is nice.

The apprentice tells us about an undersea tunnel leading to the lighthouse island a kilometer offshore, where he says the slaves were loaded abord the ships – but that seems too incredible to me and I believe that this tunnel is only fantasy. Sixteenth century quality of life for the troops manning the fort looks quite rough – only the commander has decent living quarters, but not that much better than aboard a large ship.

The tiny slaves cells are of course impressive and you can imagine the horribly squalid living conditions there. But most impressive is the location of the dining room right above the cells :dinners and prisonner slaves could hear each other easily. The vultures circling above the fort are a perfect addition to the theme.

After resting in the shade at the fort away from the crowds, we go downtown to gather intelligence about the road to Prince’s Town. A policeman dissuades us, explaining about the danger of criminals on a very isolated road – the danger exists, but officialdom always give the worst case out of precaution. A group of young men playing cards explain that the road is cut by several rivers and that for lack of bridge they must be forded. I’m not geared for fording, especially not in bilharzia contaminated areas.

Crossing a hamlet on the outskirts of Axim, we stumble upon one of the hotel’s employees. He explains us that the road is quite doable, but that there is one large river that can be crossed using a pirogue ferry service. At the hotel in the evening, the manager’s husband tells us that the dirt roads are impassable in times of rain – but that is not a probelm in this season. So all in all I’m beginning to think that I’ll give Prince’s town a second try, this time from the west.

Along the beach I notice that the sand is peppered with crab holes – I saw a few crabs in the open them, but most of them seem to remain hidden. There are no marine birds in the places we visited – absolutely none of them, which is very surprising in fishing towns. The big birds are nothing to write home about : a few egrets in the wetlands and vultures wherever there is human trash. The mangrove nearby may have more diversity, but we’ll probably not have time for it this year – too bad because I like the mangroves very much.

Halfway between Axim and the Ankrobra Beach hotel lies the empty shell of a building half eaten by vegetation. On a wall I recognize the logos of scuba diving gear brands. The husband of the Ankrobra Beach hotel manager tells me that between 1995 and 2002 a French and an Australian operated a diving center there. There is a shipwreck west of the bay and also a few interesting cliffs. But their main business was lobster farming : they pulled 800 to 1000 kilograms of lobsters out of the sea every day. They had cages at different spots along the coast and their truck collected them. This was a great business, but the owners spoiled it : they dodged taxes and the French guy spent way too much money on local girls. So in 2002 they tanked and the French guy ended down in prison. The coastal ecology still provides great business opportunities though – in the estuary mangrove west of Axim, a spanish guy makes a tidy profit breeding baby eels and shipping them to Scandinavia where they are farmed.

Near the coast, most plots of land have headless palm trees. They were a complete mystery to me until I got my answer from the German managers : it is caused by a virus and all the palm trees will die. This will completely change the face of this place. The same thing happened in Mexico and Guatemala in 1989 .

We have the same dinner as yesterday as the kitchen’s has apparently not restocked since then. The cook may make excellent red-red and nice pancakes, but unripe bananas don’t go very well with the pancakes, especially with no topping. We go to bed after washing clothes and other general camping chores. Tonight we’ll sleep early again – tomorrow is a big and challenging day.

I end up discussing investment opportunities in Africa with the husband of the manager. He explains that Ghana has low levels of corruption and a serious administration that seriously enforces fiscal laws. He believes that Ghana provides a firm ground for any serious venture. From the mouth of an upright German, this is no faint praise.

Evening in a safe place with reliable electricity is the occasion for sorting notes and photographs. All my pictures are left on the Compact Flash cards and backed up on the notebook – and the whole thing is backed up to a large flash USB dongle which I keep under my clothes to prevent theft. Though non-zero, the likelyhood of losing it all is as low as possible.

I went back out during the night for a stroll in darkness among the dying palm trees. I enjoy the starry skies of locations unencumbered by light pollution. But what I came out for was on the beach : the hidden crabs were out in force. Dozens of them reflected in my grazing light. Some zipped straight to the water, others froze dazzled by the light. One more mystery had been solved : those crabs are a nocturnal specie.