Throughout West Africa I've met people doing a similar journey to mine, but in the opposite direction. In Mali I met lots of people who came from Ghana via Burkina Faso, and the one consistent impression I got from them was that Ghana is by far the most relaxed and easygoing country in the region. Within a few seconds of crossing the Ghanaian border, I knew they were right; here people smile, joke and laugh in a way that they simply don't in Senegal and Mali. And for someone whose French is adequate but not fluent, the joy I felt on hearing English again was palpable.
Irritatingly I lost my drive in Ghana, not because of Ghana, but because I finally realised I need to go home; I therefore failed to explore Ghana in great detail, instead concentrating on the coast west of Accra, where I lazed on the beach and hid from the hassles of Africa. But even though I haven't seen as much of Ghana as I have of Mali, Senegal and so on, I've fallen in love with the place; Ghana is a perfect place for travelling, and as an introduction to African travel, it's hard to beat.
This is strange, because although Ghana has some wonderful tourist attractions, it isn't reeling in world-famous destinations. Mali has the global brand of Timbuktu, but Ghana doesn't have an equivalent; Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast and Elmina are all great places, but none of them are household names. But to look at Ghana in terms of tourist attractions is a mistake, because the real stars of Ghana are the people.
They say that you visit West Africa for the people and East Africa for the animals, and when it comes to Ghana, this is spot on. I found the Ghanaians to be wonderfully friendly without the in-your-face annoyance of the Sahel countries; indeed, the most irritating tout I met in Ghana turned out to be a Malian, which sums up the difference rather well. Although Ghana has a few irritating hustlers, notably around the castle at Elmina, it really is possible to walk around the country without being mobbed. It's delightful.
Not only are the people great, but Ghanaian food is good and plentiful. The view from the bus as you approach Kumasi from the north might hold a clue as to why; after the desolate dryness of the desert, southern Ghana is a veritable Garden of Eden, with greenery absolutely everywhere. From the road you can see food growing on the trees, and it's instantly obvious that this is a much more comfortable environment than the desert. Sure, Ghana at this time of year still reaps the benefits of the wet season and I'm sure it's a different story in the dry season, but at the moment southern Ghana is luscious and so is the food. Staples like fufu, kenkey and banku might not be to everyone's taste, but the sauces that they come with are great, especially if you like spicy food. I've ended up regaining all the weight that I lost in the Sahel, and I've been ill far less in Ghana than up north; I actually feel well again, and the novelty hasn't worn off yet.
So Ghana has at last provided me with a taste of West Africa that I actually like. I found travelling in Senegal and Mali difficult, and the pain was not worth the gain; in Ghana, however, there's been no pain at all, and I have gained a lot. I've loved being in Ghana, and the only reason I'm cutting my journey short is because going home is the right thing for me to do; it is not a comment on this delightful country. As Neil Diamond once wrote:
Is worth the coming home
In the Sahel, I definitely felt lost. In Ghana I didn't, but by the time I found myself I knew I had to go home, and even the lovely Ghanaians couldn't change my mind.
They came close, though.