Time here works interestingly. We’re technically on Greenwich Mean Time, but our actual schedule is something like GMT +3. Told to be ready for an 8 a.m. departure, we hang around until actually leaving after 10:30. Even odder is the strange superpower I’ve acquired: one too many time zone changes have left me able to sleep instantly. I could nap almost anywhere before, but now I’m talking hot bouncy car ride with the radio blaring, people blabbing, and me zonked out in a matter of a few minutes. Class will be interesting this year, to say the least…
I wake up for a stop in Accra at a craft market. Somebody named Freeboy is intent enough on selling me a handmade drum to let me bang on it as his friends keep a beat going. My hands stink like the wild animal hide that was used to make the drum skin and he’s just talking to me in an attempt to make a buck, but a cool African experience nonetheless. I exchange 2 American 20 dollar bills for over 320,000 Ghanaian cedis, resulting in a stack of 5,000- and 2,000-cedi notes that barely fits in my pocket, before it’s back to the van and a nap.
I wake up to feel back in Costa Rica: we’re driving through a small village with rainforest surrounding us. I’m confused enough to stay awake for a few minutes, but banter and bumps lull me back to sleep.
Another awakening and we’re at some national park. Lunch features greasy food but good seats for witnessing a heated argument among the locals that defuses after some screams but no punches. The park’s highlight is a series of 7 bridges above the canopy. 12” boards with netting up to chest high that are suspended by ropes a little too thin for comfort, this system’s rickety enough to make me nervous. Although not nearly as funny as my mom ziplining, a fellow Quaker’s white-knuckled grips on the ropes and refusal to look down are worth a laugh. Offering a beautiful rainforest vista but stopping short of pumping adrenaline, the bridges are cooler than anything else we’ve seen here but nothing too crazy.
Another nap later, I find myself in Cape Town. This coastal city was once a hub of the slave trade; now, the huge castle lined with cannons atop the hill serves as a massive reminder of a pretty town’s ugly history. Nearly as sad as the past are many residents’ presents: we’re swarmed by a crowd of young guys hawking junky souvenirs the minute we get out of the van. Little kids are amazed when I take their pictures, jumping and giggling at the sight of my flash. As we’re led to the beach, we pass equally impoverished adults: women skinning small fish and tending cooking fires, men untangling their nets near their wooden canoes. One boy asks for my pen with the reverence I would give to requesting a Rolex; another insists that I promise to send him a copy of a picture of him, handing me a sheet of paper with his mailing address and, incredibly, an email address. I’m paranoid enough to think it’s a scam to gather and resell addresses, but maybe I’m just a greedy American. We trust our First World instincts and avoid giving money to any of the locals, worried that we’ll anger anyone we don’t donate to, and are back in the big white van that I’m becoming all too familiar with.
I sleep as one of our hosts drives back to the Hotel Koreana. We visit the adjoining casino to find a crowd of Asian vacationers playing games with surprisingly high ($8) antes and strange rules. We settle for some Americanization in the form of watching “Rushmore”’s tragicomedy before calling it a night. I’ve slept at least 5 hours during the day, but my roommate’s asleep, it’s probably not a good idea to explore Ghana alone at 2 in the morning, and I soon tire of reading “Atlas Shrugged” with my head-mounted flashlight on, so I fall asleep for what’s gotta be at least the fifth time today.