Report on Camera Images visit December 2008
Camera Images looked at many places, looking for a safe place where it could take its training clients, where they could get a wide range of photographic experience at an affordable price. Given that the average photographer with quality DSLR, lenses and other items is carrying the equivalent to a large number of years salary for people in some countries, you can see how temping it might be to help themselves to it even if it could only be sold for a fraction of its cost price. Avoiding the risk of this and selecting a safe and stable country was the first criteria. The second was that it needed to provide a wide range of experience, so that clients would get to master a wide range of photographic skills rather than just have a holiday that they took some photos on.
Camera Images also wanted to run this as a 1 to 1, as they do with all their courses, concentrating on giving the clients total attention and making sure that they fully understand and master every aspect, which is not possible in a group. While the group trip is cheaper to organise as many costs, like guides, vehicles and expertise is shared, Camera Images wanted to go for the best value option, where the client would obtain the maximum knowledge and experience in the limited time available. They also wanted to provide this as near to a complete all in deal as they could, so no extra excursions, entry fees, gratuities, allowances for fuel increases or other price doubling methods, rather the reverse, include everything even including all meals, entry fees, specialist guides, supply of bottled water, snacks, all gratuities and more. Just about everything except the air fair to get there. They choose not to include the air fares in part to allow clients to select their own economy, or better, direct or indirect, and flight times to suit them, but also wanting to keep clear of restrictions that would mean they had to offer this through a specific agent or on a specific airline, which usually would cost more than when you have more freedom. They will do the research for you on available prices and times if you want.
Ghana has many advantages, its stable, safe, English is the official language, its time is at GMT so no jet lag is experienced, and its a shorter distance than many African destinations. The people are friendly and welcome visitors. Experience wise it offers a very wide range from coastal to lakes to inland, has the majority of the forts and castles in Africa, other heritage, genuine wildlife, waterfalls and far more. Colour is everywhere and there are few restrictions on photography.
The first research beyond looking at printed material and the internet that Camera Images did was to make contact with a number of students in Ghana and to get them to both explain more of their country and by sending them a camera get them to take other photos of the culture and life of the people. This continued for several months.
Next they intended to make two trips to Ghana, one to see what the quality of roads, accommodation and the like was like and to find out more on the culture. Then it was planned to put together a route and to visit again going through this looking for suitable hotels and fact-finding on locations. In order to do this car hire was researched, as well as other means of getting about. It became clear that in order to see a fair amount of the country a car with driver was the only economic option, and this was explored, and several travel companies looked at as well.
From this they could see that the process could be concentrated, and what was originally to be achieved in two visits accomplished in one, by using existing local expertise. As no clients would be taken on this trip, there was no time required for training to take place and the hours could be extended, allowing more to be fitted in within a one week trip. In this time it would be possible to cover many of the attractions that was envisaged to be able to be included in the options offered. The only two that would not be would be a trip requiring a day further north to the hippo sanctuary and a day further west to the village on stilts, with would feature in the two week version of the course and experience offered.
There are, besides these, other attractions that are outside the range or where there is insufficient time to include them, and the idea is to visit these on a later exploratory trip if not individually added to trips before.
A travel company who could provide a 4WD air conditioned vehicle and a good guide was selected and the trip then planned, partly utilising the research already done and partly using the expertise of the travel company and guide. This produced a provisional route, and an estimated budget of fuel and other costs. As this was different to other tourist requirements, and more intensive it was not known for sure that this could be achieved.
A date was fixed, airline tickets purchased, visa obtained and all medical shots taken and anti malaria pills obtained.
The flight chosen was just simply the cheapest available, as it was not something that would be offered to clients, and involved a change at Tripoli in Libya. The flight involved a delay, was longer, further, but at a lower cost.
The report below is of this visit.
By Keith from Camera Images
My flight arrived on the evening of Monday 24th November, and a hotel courtesy car was waiting to take me to my first hotel. By the time I arrived, having been through formalities and got to the hotel the reception was shut, but the security people had a key for my room.
I did not, at this point have local currency, it was late at night, it was a hot country, the reception was shut and I had no bottled drinking water. Luckily with the hotel security people were able to speak English and I was able to get a small amount from them out of one of their bottles. So the first note I made was that it is necessary in future to arrange with the hotel to have bottled water put into the room.
The hotel was by the beach, with paths directly onto it, and had a variety of rooms, the one I had was in a separate building in the grounds coming off the car park at the front with a balcony the other side. It had a double bed, a couple of arm chairs, a table, TV, fridge and storage, plus an ensuite room with a large curtained shower area and WC. The main block of the hotel contained a bar area, patio restaurant looking out towards the sea at a higher level, an internet cafe, and a large gift shop, plus reception area and offices. It also had an octagonal conference room in the roof space. The grounds contained plants and there was a lot of lizard like creatures around, but they quickly ran away when you got close to them. The beach area was sand dunes covered in grass, with sand, then the Atlantic ocean. There appeared to be quite a few people using the beach as a shortcut from one place to another.
I had breakfast, this is not usually included in the room price in Ghana, looked around the beach and chatted to both the owners of the hotel and several of the staff, I also had a look at the conference room, and other facilities that may be used on later trips. I paid for this hotel with US$ I had with me.
The travel company proprietor, with car and guide arrived exactly at the time I had arranged. We went over the route and accommodation booked and what else would be required before setting out, dropping the proprietor in Accra and then going to an exchange to change some currency I had with me, and stopping to get a supply of bottled water.
As we were leaving Accra the 4WD vehicle stopped and would not restart, after some delay we went on with a hire car. That evening the proprietor of the travel company would catch us up with a second 4WD vehicle that we then used for the rest of the trip.
I was up early, out taking photos of the plants that flower throughout the year, also across the valley I could see a lot of boys who had also got up early to practice football, while it was cool and before going to school.
After this we visited a place where you can see birds and crocodiles but it was not at the right time of day, to see this well. An overnight stay here would allow crocodiles to be seen best at night and birds first thing in the morning.
Drove North, reaching the town of Mampong having passed through Kumasi.
I briefly visited a Yam market. Yams are used where we would use potato, it can be cooked in various ways including boiling and frying as chips. It is far more filling than potato.
Then an overnight stop.
After a quick visit to another larger Yam market, which was only part open on a Saturday, we went onto a village to see how Kenti cloth was made. This is woven on hand looms in narrow strips and then sewn together. I also tried on some traditional wear. I also saw Cocoa, that is used to make chocolate, growing, and sucked some of the Cocoa beans straight from the pod, and saw a range of other things.
A lot of funerals take place on Saturdays, and in Ghana funerals are a social occasion that large numbers attend. I visited a large one where I estimated that there were at least 4,000 people, all in traditional costume. My guide checked that we could visit and take photos, and I was given complete freedom to go where I liked and photograph everything I wanted to. I have a separate article on funerals. We stayed there until it got too dark to photograph, before going on to the B&B in Kumasi.
That evening I went to a Chinese restaurant in Kumasi, a very popular large place where you had to wait for a table. This was more expensive than other places we had eaten and attracted what was clearly a better off group of Ghanaians, many of which were known by others present.
That night I stayed at the 4 Villages B&B, I think this was the most expensive place I stayed but also the best. The home of retired Canadian teacher Chris who for some years taught in Ghana and Ghanaian wife Charity, who was a chef in Canada. The fridge here was fully stocked with a variety of drinks, and water. My room was large had a double and a single bed, ensuite facilities, tea making and guide books etc. There was a large lounge and a large patio outside. A good cooked Breakfast was served in a dining room.
After a late start we spent part of the day exploring attractions in Kumasi including the palace and sword, before returning to 4 Villages to collect Charity and visit a trade school she runs in a village some way away. I am looking at ways we can support both some into education in Ghana and the trade school, so also while there met up with some of the students I had been in contact with before and a few others.
Then it was the trip back to Accra, I had plenty of time my plane not leaving until very late, however the Kumasi to Accra road, although estimated to take 4 hours, took far longer, partly due to the traffic volume, and partly due to other problems and road works. I had intended to stop at another hotel to get showered and ready to go to the airport, plus have a final meeting with the proprietor of the travel business that had been supporting me throughout. As time passed and we were still battling the traffic it was clear that I needed to go direct to the airport. I did get there in time. In future however its clear that with the state of roads and traffic management we do need to be back near to the airport the day before. There is quite a bit to see in the Accra area so this is not a problem.
In this report, I cannot cover a fraction of what I saw, experienced, or learnt from my knowledgeable award winning Guide.
Arrived back in the UK, and got back to Cheltenham.
Over the week
There was a few major changes I needed to make, including reversing a part of the route and allowing unscheduled time at the end, before the flight back. Besides this there were a number of organisational points, most of which we resolved along the route.
I see no problem now in organising the VIP PLUS service where people can get both training and experience with nearly everything included, but it is necessary to do this in cooperation with the local travel business and a driver/guide.
It is a country that a lone traveller could safely travel and not have too many problems, but you would need a lot of time, with limited time and a lot of items with us we need a 4WD vehicle, and the driver/guide was well worth the cost.