The first time we came to Ezile Bay, we’d been to check out Busua, the more famous surf tourism spot, and were on our way to Cape Three Points, Ghana’s southernmost tip. About 45 minutes down an increasingly narrow and bumpy dirt road, squeezing through villages, across some hairy bridges and over hills that would be slippery later in the rain, Sampson had just decided it was too far for Mom and probably too expensive for us anyway, when I persuaded him we’d come this far so we might as well go the last kilometre.
As Big Reg nudged through the trees and rounded a tiny bridge, we caught sight of the bay. When I turned to Sampson, his face looked like Leonardo DiCaprio’s in that classic moment of the movie The Beach. Seriously: this was paradise.
Ezile Bay nestles between the tiny village of Ketakor and the bigger settlement of Akwidaa. Local people cross the beach every day: kids en route to school, families carrying wood on their heads – girls of seven with as many logs, twice their height and as thick as their arm, the mother carrying twelve – or on their way to church, all in white, even the tiny children with powdered faces, beads, lace headdresses and sandals.
Ten years ago, French couple Danielle and Olivier Funfschilling went for a walk across the Ezile river mouth to see the ruins of the old fort on the end of the peninsula at Akwidaa, and turned back to look at the bay. It was completely wild but to them it looked like the place with the most tourism potential in the whole of Ghana. Patience and persistence got them access to the land, and they cleared the bush from around the wild almond trees, built rustic chalets in the local style, and an eco-friendly shady restaurant area from bamboo and palm leaves.
Dauntless Danielle chose their logo from amongst the Adinkra symbols of the Akan. The Aya sign mirrors the hardiness and resourcefulness of the fern that seeds itself amidst the trunks of their palms, and signifies courage and endurance.
Danielle’s cooking is legendary. When I rang John from the Stumble Inn to rearrange our dates, he said “You’re at Ezile Bay? It’s the best food in the whole of Ghana. When I first tasted it, I wanted to weep with gratitude.” That convinced us to break into our emergency dollars. The chicken in mustard sauce and fish in lemon sauce was the most delicious meal we’d had on the trip so far. We were sorry to tear ourselves away after just one night, but were thrilled that we had such a jewel to show Nana for the finale of her fortnight.
Our return journey gave Mom a taste of the roads Big Reg loves to bounce along and arriving at Ezile Bay was like a reward for the trauma she’d experienced at Elmina Castle. She was given a cute clean green chalet with a fan and the kids took it in turns sleeping in her twin bed. Early morning swims together were a joy, calm, with no waves to klap you, and in the warmest water we’ve enjoyed the whole trip. Even I could stay in there for hours, and on the weekend Zola often stayed in the whole day!
The bar/restaurant was a lovely cool spot to do school, though with a rather too tempting view of the sea. By this point, ex-primary principal Mom had taken over teacher duties, giving me (and the kids) a wonderful break. Zola especially loved the extra attention, and Nana’s silly accents while voicing characters in his new reading book. Ruby loved all the extra food, as Nana was partial to indulging them in mid-morning chocolate pancakes or tortillas or cinnamon toast. This was very motivating when you had half a term’s work to catch up. In the time we spent together, I read THREE books as well as a pile of silly magazines. Heavenly. Thanks Mom.
Meanwhile Sampson was surfing his socks off. Every morning, he would get up very early, bolt down some porridge and sprint off down the beach, past the mangroves, over the hill, through the trees and down through the village of Ketakor to surf around the rocks on the point. He went so far as to describe the opportunity to surf this wave daily and get his mental health and physical fitness levels up as “The best thing that’s happened to me since you”.
I loved this place. There is nowhere better in Ghana for a holiday. It has everything: gorgeous scenery, balmy sea, fabulous food and laid-back hosts. It’s very affordable, being the only top tourist destination we took Mom to that charged in Cedis rather than dollars. It’s also very accessible by taxi or tro-tro from Accra. For five days we just ate and swam and breathed our fill.
The only small drawback was the morning announcements made on the village loudspeaker that would boom across the bay at 5am. We called it Akwidaa FM, but it didn’t happen every day, and we soon learned to doze through it. There were also the swarming ants, marching ever onwards in armies across yoga mats and up the legs of chairs. This gave rise to a new saying to add to “There is no paradise without falling coconuts”; the zen-like pearl of wisdom “There is no paradise without biting ants.”
To his cost, Sampson discovered that there were also sea urchins and jellyfish in the surf, and on two days he was terrorised while on his board by a biting tsetse fly constantly bombing him.
Other guests provided great diversion. The majority were French people working in Ghana, Burkina Faso or Cote d’Ivoire, bringing their kids for a holiday and meeting up with grandparents. There was also a sprinkling of backpackers: one afternoon we were entertained by the spectacle of a young German with waistlength ginger dreads hopping up the beach with blood dripping from his foot, waving his hands like a windmill. A friendly woman seemed to be helping him so I carried on with a cell call to my office.
But as he continued to freak out, she backed off so I stepped in. I made him lie down and take off the ridiculous tourniquet he’d wrapped round his ankle “to stop the poison going to the heart” that was turning his foot blue. He may have trodden on a stingray but more likely it was just the sharp rock in the shallows in the middle of the bay. Once we’d calmed him down and washed his foot in Savlon liquid, the cut turned out to be only half a centimetre deep. Panic slowly.
Sampson was keen to do a show to thank the community of Ketakor for their hospitality, so he went to see the head man, Mr Acca, who brought the village children over at 4.30pm so they could be back before dark.
Danielle’s staff were as divine as their groundnut soup and riceballs especially petite manager Elizabeth and French-speaking John Baaku a.k.a. Kwawo from Côte d’Ivoire who sadly was away picking coconuts when this picture was taken.
We were all loving Ezile Bay so much, we stayed an extra day. Just as we were on the point of leaving, a guy turned up on a motorbike with a surfboard strapped to it. Gary from Southern California had come down from Morocco with just a 5’11”, “so he must be very handy,” said Sampson, “but he was very modest.” Check out his awesome surf safari stories at www.bugsonmyboard.org. Sampson could have chatted with him for days, and I felt bad for dragging him away, but we were never going to make it to the airport on time otherwise.
Our third visit to Ezile Bay was just before leaving Ghana and moving on. It was our fifth time to motor along the coastal highway, and we didn’t think we could be surprised by any more roadside ads. We were wrong.
We bowled along the highway, so happy to be finally on our way, singing along to Ritual de lo Habituel blasting out the cab: “I wish we all waved”. It’s amazing how I could recall every single lyric, but struggled to remember the name of the boyfriend who introduced me to Jane’s Addiction. At a huge fresh fruit market along the way, we stocked up with tasty big green tangerines, and small fibrous orange mangoes, which have a somehow more concentrated mango flavour. Sampson cooked cocoyam for supper, making a gelatinous but delicious mash with a hint of roast chestnut flavour.
Amidst the hassle of the intervening weeks, I had forgotten just how beautiful and peaceful Ezile Bay was. And how warm and welcoming the gentle sea – this is truly the only place on the coast throughout the whole of Benin, Togo and Ghana where the breakers are not potentially dangerous for a normal-strength swimmer like me (unlike the fishy Sampsons). Every tenth wave was a biggie you had to look out for, but that only added to the fun.
The kids spent a wonderful week doing school in the bar in the mornings, and playing in the sea through the long afternoons while I bashed on with the blog. I was also practising using the Olympus OMD EM5 from Tudortech – can you tell which pics were taken with the new camera? Danielle kindly let us stay these ten days for free, and even treated us to a meal, bless her. Admittedly, Mom had spent a small fortune the last time we were there, but we couldn’t have afforded to stay so long otherwise, so merci mille fois Danielle.
Our coffers were boosted by the contribution of a contingent of Canadian nurses from the University of British Colombia, Okanagon. One of them had just got married and they were celebrating both a mini-honeymoon and the end of their six month elective. The parents, aunt and uncle of Megan and Sabur Abdulai, had come from Canada to witness their spectacular Muslim Ghanaian wedding in Tamale.
On Saturday, Uncle John enquired whether Sampson would do a show for their last evening. What an honour to be asked, and what a pleasure. Luckily, Ezile Bay has an awesome professional sound system– it seems Olivier was a trance DJ in a former life… Arguably, Sampson had more fun that the girls, and he certainly laid the ghosts of Cuzzy Bro’s to rest. He was trying out new material about what our family does at roadblocks and tied his set together around the concept of ‘blagging’. The best bit was when Aunt Heather, on being asked to reveal details of her and John’s first date, mentioned wearing the “never fail sweater”. Sampson was beside himself: “Only in Canada… a sexy sweater!” Parafina did a fire show and there was even a bit of dancing afterwards.
Their donation paid for us to eat three times in the restaurant, and the Canadian girls also gave us some summer clothes before going back to colder climes. Many thanks angels!
After the show, it was so hot, we all had a ‘midnight’ swim together about 10pm to cool down before bed. It was a very special moment, though quite scary with only the beam of Sampson’s head torch shining into sea to guide us. There had been quite a rough swell that day and there was lots of seaweed floating clammily about; I was only brave enough to go up to my thighs, as I couldn’t see that tenth breaker coming!
On Freedom Day, Zola learned to surf turns in the bay on a 5’6” board with two fins. His Dad was very proud. About the same time, I was very proud to witness him learning to love reading. For the past year, he has been struggling with slight dyslexia, but the exciting batch of books that Nana had delivered had really sparked his interest. When he started reminding me that it was time to read Treasure Island and said, surprised, “I’m really enjoying this”, it was such an achievement, I felt like punching the air.
27th April was also the day that Ruby pointed out that the tattoo on the chest of a bloke who’d just arrived was the same as the sticker on the front of the truck. When I asked “Excuse me, but is that a Cornish flag?” I found that it was, and that David from St Colomb Minor also went to the same high school as Sampson!
After being thrown out of Sandhurst, he cleared mines for seven years from Angola to Afganistan, Chechneya and Mozambique. He was celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his lovely American wife Audri, an ex-stage manager from Texas. They had recently started managing a travel company for English school groups http://www.westafricansafaris.com. I’d been watching them chat animatedly over their beers all afternoon; it warmed my heart to see newlyweds so obviously delighted in each other’s company.
The rainy season was fast approaching. One particularly gloriously tropical rain shower was heralded by a thundercrack so loud it was like a bomb going off. Zola nearly jumped out of his skin. I have never felt sound roll over the ground like that. Zola and I swam in the sea while the rain came hammering down. It was funny to rinse off in the outside shower with almost more rain coming down from sky as from the weedy showerhead!
One morning after a rainy night, it was cloudy and cool enough for me to walk to Akwidaa. I took the tiny path through the jungly bush that pushes right down to the seashore, up and around the corner, with the warm fragrant smell of the forest breathing out around me. Akwidaa is a poor village, with shacks of wood and sheet plastic, and mud and sewage running between broken cobbles. On the wooden bridge over the river mouth, I bumped into Elizabeth with her son Marcus on her back, and she pointed out her house – the only brick, plastered and painted place I could see on the hillside. There was hardly anything to buy, no tomatoes, just onions, bread, plantain and sugar cane. Young woman were pounding palm kernels by hand to make cooking oil. Hard ways to earn a living…
Danielle had left on her annual trip to France to see her family, and Olivier told us she said it was also raining in Paris but 15˚C!
For the long Mayday weekend, two French families arrived with five young kids between them. They were very gentil and invited our kids to join them playing games in the bar. Ruby volunteered to help Elizabeth out by being a waitress. While reflecting aloud about how much nicer my day is when Ruby is in a positive mood, she said, “I think I’ve made my peace with the fact that we can never go back, and it will never be the same as it was. I’ve just got to make the most of where I am now.” Wow. If she learns nothing else on this trip, that revelation was worth it.
Two more French couples arrived with four more kids, three boys around Zola’s age. I took an unreasonable instant dislike to the tall dark pouty woman who was fuming about the sleeping arrangements being not up to her standard. She was obviously one of those spoilt people – the ones other people exchange looks about behind their backs when they make a huge fuss about practically nothing. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then it’s probably you.
I came back to the bar after putting schoolbooks back in the truck to find my son very still, a pile of Lego untouched in front of him. The tears were welling so far behind his eyes, only I could tell that he was deeply upset.
“What happened?” I said.
“Those boys were spitting their drink on my back” he replied, in a hoarse voice.
I reined in my anger, so as not to further embarrass my deeply sensitive boy, and walked over to the parents’ table: “Sorry to interrupt your lunch, but please could ask your children to refrain from spitting on my son?”; then turned on my heel and left them to sort it out.
Guess whose son the ringleader turned out to be? Oh, and apparently the spillage through straws was an ‘accident’. Of course it was. Funny we’ve never had anything like that happen with any African children on this trip. Not.
I was super proud of Zola the next day, when he initiated the Running Up a Curved Palm Tree Challenge with the same three boys. He totally nailed it, getting twice as high as all comers, and they were massively awed by his prowess, cat-man of note that he is. Respect was established. Zola was also kicking it in the surf, braver than everyone except an extraordinary local boy with learning difficulties whom so impressed Sampson, he gave him one of our boogie boards.
Another French family arrived, this time with seven children. The triplet boys amused us by stealing their Dad’s trunks in the sea. The elder daughter and twin girls helped Mum with the toddler boy. And they were all in one car. Incroyable. Just the thought of coping with three the same age as Ruby had me in a sweat, never mind seven of them. Hats off to Julien and Virginie, the loveliest parents we’ve met on the trip so far.
We’d planned to give ourselves two days to reach the border, just to be on the safe side, but when it came to it, Ezile was just too lovely to leave. We stole an extra day (again): Sampson squeezed in one more surf, the kids spent one more long afternoon in the sea and, taking advantage of suddenly bizarrely strong internet connection, I loaded one more blog in a fraction of the time the previous one had taken me. Finally, I had reached Ghana – just as we were about to leave it, but hey, it felt good to be in the same country as myself at last, if only for a day. When the post finally published, I jumped around the bar with glee, much to the amusement of Eric and Comfort.
After a swim with Ruby, I walked up and down the beach for the last time. You know when a therapist asks you to imagine yourself in a favourite place to relax? Well, I was trying to imprint images of Ezile Bay on my brain – it will be there I will be transporting myself to in the future. Sampson and I were both feeling at optimum strength again and so grateful.
Thanks to Danielle and Olivier from the bottom of our hearts for creating this paradise: the idyllic setting would be nothing without the atmosphere of unpretentious indigenous tranquility they strive to maintain. See www.ezilebay.com.
On our last morning, we had a final swim before leaving for the border. I wish someone could have taken a photo of all four of us lying together in a line floating on our backs in the warm bath of the sea, holding hands. It was sheer bliss.