Alice says Whoosh from Accra - June

Whoosh you were here from Accra!

After a little more than twenty-four hours of traveling, I step out of the airport and am greeted by the USAC program director... and about fifty taxi drivers offering a ride. For once my hours of procrastination and all nighters paid off and I fought jet-lag by considering the next day to be one of those.

Ghanaians are very friendly people -- though sometimes annoyingly so. A friendly introduction will often turn to some variation of asking for money. The traditional communal society where the success of one person must be shared with the community fosters this, in a way. In areas known to attract tourists, no matter how politely I refuse or give an excuse the conversation will only revolve around asking for money. The friendly atmosphere is not all annoyance though, it is customary to greet every person in a store or office before stating your business. This can become confusing in open markets where everyone is calling to you.

I am whooshing from Independence Square, where Kwame Nkruma declared independence for Ghana from the British in 1957. That park was the only place in Ghana where black Africans were not allowed, so the defiant gesture marked an independence with equality of color.

The presentation of the slave trade in both classes and tours emphasizes that though all of our ancestors may be guilty of participating in the slave trade, our task now is to come together to improve our world. This emphasis is remarkably different from much of the sentiment in the states, as the controversies over affirmative action, and other measures continue. Because the slave trade existed long before the Europeans came to the Gold Coast and all tribes participated in it, there is not very much pointing fingers of blame because it could backfire so easily. I did have the opportunity to tour the Cape Coast castle, which was built for the slave trade. The courtyard was nice, the dungeons were not.

Signing up for the weekend trips is great. I have visited Cape Coast, Kakum National Park (canopy bridges!) and Kumasi. Seeing towns other than Accra are interesting, though many of the cultural aspects are the same. Vendors line the roads, the telecom companies are advertised on most of the booths, and trash often litters the sides of the road. A small bit of culture shock occurred when I went to throw away an armful of water bottles, I could not find a place to recycle them! Then I remembered seeing trash beside the roads and in the gutters and realized the disposal of regular trash is still not always provided for. Traveling with the group is nice because we see great places like Cape Coast, downtown Accra, and Kumasi with the comfort of a tour guide and transportation pre-arranged. However, I feel as though I'm not learning how to get around on my own very quickly because of the pre-arranged trips. I still have time to learn, and it looks pretty intuitive.

Classes in the USAC program at the University of Ghana are small and relatively relaxed. The professors are excellent in answering questions and helping us understand the history and culture of both Ghana and all of Africa. The program also allows me to sit in on classes I am not signed up for, but are useful -- like Twi, the local language. Oh, the most humiliating and most fun part of my week is the traditional African music and dance class... let's just say I'm gradually learning how to move to some awesome percussion.

Ghanaian food is made up of rice, beans, and some type of meat. Of course, there are added spices and varieties of types of preparation, but the core allows me to hold off on some of the more daring food if my intestines ask me to.

Oh, for all of you sweating out the 100+ temperatures in Texas, I've been enjoying rather mild temperatures in the high eighties, low nineties.

Emily's adventure in Argentina - June

This past weekend I took a four day trip to Salta, a town in northwest Argentina. Salta is located in a beautiful valley with the Andes to the west and more mountains to the east. My first night I rented a car so that I could drive to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the oldest town in Argentina, and a few National Parks. I noticed that the breaks on the car were squeaky but I didn't think anything of it. On Friday, my first full day in the Andes I drove to Las Salinas Grandes on a 4-wheel drive road that was absolutely beautiful. I saw the sunrise between two mountains and then traveled through the brightly colored mountains into the desert. I passed by a few small towns located along the road that were tucked into the side of the mountains and then arrived at Salinas Grandes (the salt lakes). When I first saw them I was looking out my side window at them (and stupidly not looking ahead of the car) and I ran into a big chunk of soft sand. So of course the car got stuck in the sand and I had to get out and I started trying to dig the car out. I was calculating the amount of time that my water would last me and how long it would take for someone to find me when luckily a man drove by and got the car out for me. I continued on to a bridge that looked over Salinas Grandes and got out and tasted the salt. From there I drove over more mountains and along a beautiful canyon that led to the town of Pumarca. Pumarca is one of the towns in the UNESCO World Heritage site. It is located in "The Seven Color Hill" which is a mountain that is green, yellow, purple, pink, orange, red, and brown. After passing through Pumarca I went to through Quebrada de Hunahuaca, which is the valley with beautiful colored rock formations along the sides of it to the town of Hunahuaca. Hunahuaca is a town that has many native crafts and is great for shopping and experiencing local culture. The next day (Saturday) I drove through the jungle and then into the mountains on a windy road that was thousands of feet high to get to the National Park Los Cardones. Which is a National Park created to protect the Cardones cactus. After driving through the National Park (which had a beautiful view of the Andes Mountains) I went to the oldest town in Argentina, Cachi. I left Cachi and planned on continuing my journey and going to Cafayate. However, on my way down the mountain my breaks went out. I had noticed that they sounded like metal on metal all day but I figured I couldn't do anything about it out in the middle of nowhere. When my breaks went out I put the car into first gear and grabbed the emergency break. My car skidded to the side and one wheel went over the edge on the mountain. I was really really shaken up at this point and had to drive the car down the mountain in first gear. (It was a beautiful drive though). When I got to the bottom of the mountain my tire exploded. I wasn't strong enough to change it so finally a German man drove by and changed it for me. While he was changing it he looked at my breaks and told me that I didn't have any breaks left and that the tires on my car were so old that you could see the inner layer of the tire. At this point I was just plain mad. I couldn't go to Cafayate as I had planned and the company had sold me a car that had no breaks and bad tires knowing I was going into the mountains. I drove back to Salta and reported the company to the tourist police. The police accompanied me to the car company and I used all of my angry Spanish words that I knew on them. They apologized and refunded me all of my money. The next day I hired a guide to take me to Cafayate and we drove through a beautiful canyon and then went to a few vineyards and tasted some Torrontes wine (which is the famous wine of the region). It was a very relaxing day and quite nice after the adventurous days I had experienced before. Overall the weekend was absolutely amazing. I am very happy that I rented a car because I was able to stop whenever I wanted to explore and take pictures. It was really a very nice individual experience.