And so we come to the end of this little adventure, but here’s a small innovation for the last travel blog – a combination of photo gallery and blog post with a couple of video clips thrown in. I hope Yury is happy with the balance between text and images at last? 😉
(Click on the photo to open the slideshow view)
And that is about that. Troopy will be in a box until November and I seem to have brought the rainy season to the South of France. Its been entertaining for me – so until next time, thank you for following!
I was not expecting this – there are a lot of vegans in West Africa. I started looking in Burkina Faso, and discovered a busy restaurant serving all-vegan versions of West African dishes. This is no specialist upmarket outlet catering to foreigners or tourists – just good healthy food for local people in Ouagadougou.
I missed out on visiting a vegan place that is listed in Kumasi on HappyCow.net due to the horrendous traffic and poor road conditions approaching the city. Then in Accra, staying at a vegetarian hotel/restaurant we found 2 vegetarian restaurants and a vegan restaurant, and Amanda found 20 vegans to interview in just 1 day. And then a fellow traveller happened to mention a Vegan Lodge, and I was able to visit Roots Yard Lodge on my way towards Togo.
I hope that answers some of those silly questions back home about it being difficult or a luxury to be vegan in Africa? There’s lots of vegans here, and they aren’t just the relatively well-off, but a mixture of all sorts of people. The food is good value, nutritious and tasty, not to mention in large portions…a little too large for some of us! Sometimes even us vegans fall for the stereotypes and propaganda we are faced with at home – but the truth is that even here there’s no excuse for not making choices that are better for animals, health and for the environment. Actually there are lots of excuses and we’ve heard them all – from evolution to religion, from flavour to nutrition – but excuses and habits are what they are, not real reasons.
Anyway I suppose a catchup is in order since I’ve let Ady and Amanda provide the input lately. So, where was I? Oh yes – back on the Ghana visa trail on my way to Ouagadougou, which turned out to be an interesting experience – mostly due to finding NASA and chatting to Yasmine, the owner about how healthy, tasty, vegan food is very popular. The ginger juice was a great find as well – just what was needed to combat the raging thirst brought on by wandering around the baking streets.
I also gave Troopy an oil change – by a professional at a garage this time, a guy with a great sense of humour who was recommended by Guillaume, the owner of Pavillon Vert where I was staying. This did however entail riding on the back of a moped through the streets of Ouagadougou holding on to a couple of 5 litre bottles of oil…wearing flip-flops and shorts. I think I have officially gone local.
After picking up my Ghana visa it was time to head South for the border, though not before having 10,000CFA extracted from me by a police checkpoint for the avoidance of serious consequences and delays should I not cooperate with their alternative unreceipted cash option. This sort of thing got worse through Ghana, and much worse in Togo and Benin. Corruption is one thing that is really putting me off coming back to West Africa. Appalling road conditions, clouds of diesel smoke that make overtaking impossible through lack of visibility, suicidal driving, and the general mess that people seem to make to live in once anywhere gets bigger than a hamlet…those are some others.
The day I drove from the beautiful wilderness of Mole National Park, through gradually thinning forest, then no forest and sprawling settlements along the road, and into the stinking, dirty, insane world of the Kumasi rush hour – that day was nearly enough to make me pack up and go home. But then I found Lake Bosumtwe, and Cocoa Village, and spirits were restored. I camped in the lane outside the guesthouse and enjoyed the food they made, and in the morning woke to the sounds of the Slovenian guy who is managing the place busy coaching some local kids at volleyball.
There are definitely 2 sides to humanity – the majority of negative impact through greed or laziness, and then the few dedicated people trying to undo the damage and change things for the better…but the ‘glass half-full’ outlook is under a lot of pressure here!
In Accra I made the rendezvous with Amanda, and met Ady, and we had a cool time seeing Vegan Africa and taking a couple of trips – but you’ve seen the video and read the post already? The main reason for there being quite so many vegans in this part of Africa is the high number of Rastafarians – though that is by no means the only sort of vegan here! I’m looking forward to seeing Amanda’s 365 Vegans interviews to hear the stories of a few of them.
So after that it was time to move on – and by chance I’d been told about Roots Yard Lodge which was towards the border with Togo. What can I say about this place to do it justice? Run by Bob and Jaqueline in Bob’s home village near Lake Volta, it is a Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurant and Lodge – using local produce to make fantastic meals, including making their own tofu.
But thats just the start. They are working on local projects – organising Re-Forestation, building and managing a skate park for the kids (Roots Rebel Sk8 Park), and this summer they are going to be biking across the UK from coast to coast to raise money to have proper toilets built for the local school. It strikes me that this is the level of Western/African cooperation that actually works – what you find here is absolutely the best of both worlds, because its personal and they care.
So in the end I went out of Ghana on a high, though I wish I had stayed longer, but after a lovely couple of days, many excellent meals and a little paramotor flight, I headed for the Togo border.
Not a lot of wildlife, no dragons, but indeed…here be vegans.
Being Vegan in Ghana is a nice experience. You get to hear new and strange stuff about veganism, what people think it means, you meet people who think you’re weird, or worst, a fanatic.
So let me introduce myself. My name is Ady Namaran Coulibaly. I am vegan, editor for Health Africa Magazine (the only Bilingual Vegetarian Magazine in Africa) and also the campaign manager for Meatless Monday Ghana. I had the opportunity to get in touch with Amanda who told me about her project (356 Vegans) and learnt that she was coming to Ghana for the first time, to interview vegans as part of her project, which I find really inspiring. She’s put so much passion and zeal into this; it’s hard not to want to support her. This project is special and I am excited to be a part of it. We agreed that I pick her at the airport.
After a heavy downfall on Saturday night, Sunday morning was really cool. I left home at 7:30am to fetch my friend Amanda from the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. I got there a little late, spotted her and we hugged and exchanged pleasantries. Then we got a cab to the hotel and met with Jonathan. Jonathan lives an exciting life (I actually wish I was in his shoes), travelling around in his Jeep (called Troopy), and experiencing being vegan in different countries.
We wanted to have a day out somewhere, and we thought it would be nice to spend time at the Kokrobite beach in Accra, which is about an hour’s drive from central Accra. We boarded Troopy (I couldn’t wait to have a ride since I saw it on www.veganwithoutfrontiers.com) and off we went. The drive was peaceful, except for some drivers ignoring the street lights. It was a Sunday, and as most Ghanaians are religious and always go to church on Sunday mornings, there was little traffic on the road at that time of the morning.
We got to the beach and stood by some fishing boats, just admiring the scenery.
There were lots of white people; something Jonathan said was unusual in other countries like Mali, Burkina Faso etc, probably due to terrorism reported in the media. We stayed around for a while, taking pictures with Amanda, who was busy taking pictures of a dog. I think she’s got a soft spot for cats and dogs.
The sea was really cool and chilled; we could not resist the temptation to swim in it. After sometime we had some drinks and talked about how nice the place was and other stuff.
By the time we had made up our minds up to leave the place, the clouds had turned dark and it seemed like there was going to be some heavy showers. And oh! Barely five minutes after we had driven off, the rain started falling very heavily. Within twenty minutes the roads were flooded.
Several vehicles were parked by the street, obviously because the owners preferred not to take the risk of driving through the rain. Such heavy rain in Accra usually causes a lot of damage. The gutters are small and open; as such people just use them as refuse dumps and throw in all sorts of items, especially plastics. When it rains, the water can’t pass through so it just comes on the road, and carries away cars and other items. This is a recurring phenomenon, but all the same, the Mayor of Accra won the award for ‘Best Mayor in Africa’ just last year.
We got to a point of the road where we would have gotten stuck, but for Troopy the Jeep. We were able to drive through volumes of rain and made our way back to the hotel, and to Asaase Pa around 4pm to have lunch. Asaase Pa is a Twi word that means ‘Good Earth’, and this restaurant is the first Vegan restaurant in Ghana, and was set up 18yrs ago. According to the owner, Brother Kwasi Adu, it was difficult getting clients because the concept of veganism was a new one but gradually he was able to create awareness about its benefits. Lots of people patronise vegan food now, thanks to his efforts. He was very friendly.
Amanda ordered ‘Zinger’, Jonathan got some ‘Royal Ginger’ and I got some pineapple juice. Zinger is made from a mixture of Hibiscus and ginger. Burkinabes and Ivorians call it bissap while Ghanaians call it sobolo.
Amanda wanted to try a local Ghanaian food, fufu. I suggested she tried it with groundnut soup which is my favorite. Finally, Jonathan and Amanda had fufu with groundnut soup and I had brown rice with groundnut soup. The food was good.
After we had eaten, Brother Kwesi Adu introduced some vegans to Amanda, and although initially she had planned to start the interviews for 365 vegans the next day, she started right away. I was third to be interviewed, and really had fun during the interview. Can’t wait to see it on 365 Vegans Youtube Channel!!
My day was just perfect. Thank you Amanda and Jonathan for the great time, for what you are doing out of your passion for veganism and your vegan journeys which are inspiring. Looking forward to spending more time with you guys!
Last time I talked about vegan meals on the road, we were crossing from Malawi into Zambia. The more south we have gone in the last couple of months, the less we have gone out to eat and started cooking more and more in the car. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, there are better stocked supermarkets; secondly, there isn’t as much traditional foods to try, but rather a mix of different cuisines, mostly meat-based; and thirdly, the places we have been staying in lately have “game” on the menu, basically the animals we see running around wild end up on people’s plates. No thank you.
When we got to Lusaka, I thought I got rid of yet-another-illness of the stomach and we got some tomato juice and pickles and celebrated with a Bloody Mary. A day later I ended up going to the hospital (unrelated to the drink) and found out I have multiple infections in my digestive system and got put on yet another platter of pills, so Jonathan had to drink all the consecutive gin&tonics and Bloody Marys for a few weeks.
While in Lusaka, we had gone out to eat twice (not counting chips). The first meal was at the mall, and we ate in an Indian fast-food place, which was alright and even good by mall standards. The second time we ate at a backpacker place where we had gone to check out the wifi and the bar. Jonathan ordered a veggie burger, while I opted for the beans and rice; the food was quite yummy despite taking about an hour to make and driving us into hunger-induced bad tempers. I found the “veggie burger” option in a few places actually, which is a nice addition to the usually predictable chips.
Before leaving Lusaka, we found a little Indian shop that sells Indian snacks, so of course we had to buy some. The most bizarre looking one ended up being the insanely oily but addictive one, whereas the others left us mostly indifferent. They are good to munch on before lunch, but they are so oily that everything in the front of the car gets oily as well.
After Zambia we headed to Zimbabwe, and in Harare went out to eat the first night – to the Holiday Inn restaurant. They had a buffet which surprisingly had quite a few (accidentally) vegan options. On top of that, they apologized tremendously that they didn’t have more for us, and only charged us the price of one meal. Incredible? We had some salads and then some sadza (maize meal) for the first time on the trip, and I wasn’t impressed. I know it is a staple in many countries but it was just a bit bland and reminded me of baby food – or kindergarden food.
The other amazing thing about Harare of course was that we visited V Delights – the Vegan Friendly Products (read interview here) restaurant, which is completely vegan. There are many items on the menu, all catered for different kinds of people, some are vegan African dishes, some more Western ones, then there are a whole lot more “healthy” options, and then again more options suited for new vegans or transitioning vegans. The pies and the cookies we had in V Delights were just out of the world. If you are ever in Harare, you have to stop by there!
While staying in Victoria Falls, we went to one restaurant twice – and had some tapas. There were a few vegan options (I had maize again, this time with some spinach things inside) but the second time we came the food quality had dropped significantly. Their gazpacho was too salty, their toasted bread was soggy, but overall it wasn’t so bad I guess.
The last place I want to talk about (before mentioning that we are going to check out the Ethiopian restaurant here in Windhoek!) was called La Marmite in Windhoek. We accidentally stumbled upon the place in the “Zoo” park in the center, thinking we would only have drinks but then saw the menu and decided to try out the vegan options. The food was pretty good, and the dishes are supposedly variations on Western African cuisine. I had a stew with okra, Jonathan had another stew with groundnut sauce, and we also shared spring rolls and salad. Windhoek has a lot of places to eat and drink, and I am sure traveling vegans would have no problem finding food here.
The rest of Namibia – not so much. In Botswana and Namibia a lot of expensive lodges (where sometimes we end up staying because they do cheap-ish camping) the menus pride themselves on having extravagant game steaks – gemsbok, springbok, kudu, oryx, and so on. The first place we stayed in Namibia, in Gobabis, was one of those places. I think I already mentioned how awful the service was in a previous post, but let me add that the menu was incredibly un-vegan, and when we tried to get something altered, it came as is, so I ordered potato wedges, asked for “no mayo” and they still brought mayo. Trying to ask for some olive oil instead of creamy dressing turned into another ordeal. This is sadly the way it is in most places where expensive guests are catered for. We had another buffet experience, this time in the Etosha Park, and I ended up eating sad salad and boiled rice with mustard. Only after we paid we were told “oh yes there is a separate thing for vegetarians” like the waiter couldn’t have told us earlier or figured something was wrong as he saw a pile of sad rice with nothing on it on my plate. Oh well – I was just getting my cold then and I was already in no mood for food anyway.
As for us cooking our own meals, we have come up with some real highlights lately. We have been buying leeks because I personally love them and Jonathan makes a really nice potato leek soup. Sadly one day I decided to make it, with a special twist (pickles) but I didn’t manage to achieve the taste I wanted, which was a shame. Otherwise we’ve had a lot of curries and chillies, there was a particular evening meal I remember well. We bought a box of white wine, which was quite fancy (by our standards) and I wanted to make a few dishes. I made a stew / chilli with cabbage, cauliflower, potato, beans and so on. I also made guacamole (the avocados are good again) and Jonathan toasted some brown German bread as we had no tortilla chips to go with the guac. It was truly magical, the whole combination!
And then just the other night Jonathan made one of his coconut curries which was supposed to be very good for my sinuses, as I was really ill at this point. There was chilli sauce and ginger, and many other ingredients, and they blended so well together that we had to restrain ourselves to leave some for the next day’s lunch.
A word about chakalaka: what is it? where does it come from? It is a tasty canned mixture of tomato gooeyness with some veggies and curry flavoring – and quite spicy too! It has an unforgettable taste and smell, I mean I recognized somebody else having it in our campsite yesterday. It can be put on bread, it can be used in stews and sauces and curries. We mostly put it on bread, but sometimes we also use it in sauces. They even make chakalaka packet soup! Which we had once as well, it didn’t look like much but it was spicy and it was better than tomato packet soup.
We’ve had a lot of snacks, most of them quite unhealthy, so instead I am adding a picture of me snacking on tomato paste, something I do quite often. We are done with our adventure for now, excited to try out the Ethiopian restaurant in Windhoek(we really miss Ethiopian food) and overall it hasn’t been hard being vegan on the trip at all! I do realize we have the option of cooking for ourselves, which a lot of times saved us, but in reality everywhere will have at least rice or maize and some vegetables. However, Ethiopian food has been the most memorable by far on the whole trip, both in terms of availability and quality of taste!
Today I realized, looking at our supplies, that everything we use every day in the car has become an interesting array of international products, some even from countries we haven’t visited! (yet)
Since we left Ethiopia, we haven’t had much luck finding local delicious vegan cuisine, unless you count Indian food. Especially in Kenya and Tanzania we found many Indian restaurants and fast-food places, some specifically listed as “vegetarian”. Starting with Kenya, the first disappointment for us came when we stayed in a hotel and for breakfast, without being asked, were served eggs, liver, and other non-vegan products. This was very upsetting, mostly because we were not even asked what we wanted: the hotel had a breakfast menu, but they just assumed we wanted the Kenyan-style full breakfast. In the end we settled for stale pieces of bread with tiny sprinkles of jam.
When we stayed in Nairobi for a week, we checked out one of the vegetarian restaurants in the city, which was an Indian place. The food really was remarkable, and because the hike to the restaurant was a long, hot and exhausting one, we stuffed ourselves silly. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the restaurant now, and I can’t seem to be too sure which of the vegetarian ones listed on HappyCow this one actually was.
We were in Nairobi for a long time, so we had to cook for ourselves for the majority of our stay at JJ’s. Luckily, there was a little market nearby, where we could count on the lovely ladies to sell us the best tomatoes, potatoes, oranges, bananas, and other various vegetables and fruits. One of the first days we were there, Jonathan made a soup out of squash, and a cucumber and tomato salad. It was delicious, considering I don’t even like squash.
No conversation about Kenya is complete without mentioning the banana chips. Dried crunchy banana strips with savory rather than sweet flavoring. We even got the other campers addicted to the stuff!
In Tanzania we had more Indian food – twice in Dar es Salaam, and a few times eating in the campsites’ restaurants. HappyCow has several listings for vegetarian restaurants in Dar, and as it turned out, we tried pretty much the main ones. We had lunch in a small lunch place Purnima Restaurant where the “no animal products” idea was understood correctly and immediately, and we were given a plate of various fried finger-foods, which we devoured mostly before I even remembered to take a picture!
For a pre-dinner snack we headed to yet another fast-food vegetarian Indian place, 56 Bhoq, where we had more fried finger-food, and for dinner we went next door to Retreat Royal, where foolishly I decided to order something that sounded completely alien and not ask in advance what it was – it came with a splash of cheese on top, so I had to swap it for our Rui’s (our dinner guest) meal, which was a basic vegetable curry.
Jonathan’s meal was much more enticing, as it came in pancake-type wrappings. Again, very solid meals with interesting flavors, although sadly not as spicy as we would have liked. The only problem I had was with the starter, some fried vegetable balls which had a minty flavor, and I hate mint.
We had a mishap in Tanzania as well in terms of being vegan: while we were staying in Peponi, on the northern Tanzanian coast, and our vegan needs were clearly understood, one night they were not met. We ordered a couple of vegetable samosas, and one of them turned out to be a crab one. Understandably, it is impossible to tell the difference in pre-cooked samosas, but still it was a nasty shock for me to bite into one. Thankfully I don’t have an allergy to crab meat, but that does not in any way negate my disgust, my sadness, and the stomach cramps I got afterwards. However, we believe this sort of mistake will never happen again at Peponi, as the cook, the servers, and the manager, all took the time to get to the bottom of this situation and apologized many times over.
At another beach lodge, further south down the coast, at Kilwa Beach Resort, we were given a custom meal of carrot and coriander soup, vegetable stew and vegetable curry (which looked exactly the same and had exactly the same ingredients except the flavor and the spices were different), and a fried banana dessert. The food was filling, but not in any way was it spectacular cuisine. Still, we were happy to be catered for and understood exactly what we eat and don’t eat.
Nothing special can be said about our meal in Masasi, as we just had potato fries and beer. However, it was in Masasi that we bought our biggest, stalest, most bizarre bread loaf yet! It was filling bread, but it had to be toasted in order to be eaten, otherwise it was a strange combination of chewy, dense, dry and mostly inedible.
Driving to Malawi, we stayed one night near the Matema village, in the Blue Canoe Safari Lodge, which had few veggie options on the menu, but they made an amazing Indian vegetable curry there, and had authentic German sauerkraut to go with it. Strange combination, but delicious nonetheless.
What can be said for Malawi, other than the all-vegetarian meals provided in the Mushroom Farm, where we stayed two nights. Both nights we had the communal dinner (with special modifications made for us, and we didn’t even have to explain veganism, the word alone worked its magic) and also on our last morning there we ordered breakfast off the menu, again with small modifications (no fried eggs for Jonathan). I tried a typical Malawian porridge with mashed banana, potato, onion, groundnut and who knows what else! It was very filling and very tasty.
Other than that, any place I haven’t mentioned, we probably cooked in the car or had potato fries, which is the no-fail options for vegans traveling anywhere, at least in Africa. We had them in a market where the lady who fried them spoke no English at all, we had them in an empty campsite where the restaurant and bar area were shut most of the time, we had them in a busy campsite where the bartender did not understand what “vegetable samosa” meant so we ordered fries, again and again and again. My problem with it is the repetition: usually I eat them so rarely that they become a nice little treat, but having to succumb to the oily fried potatoes day-in and day-out, I am getting a little sick of the taste. The only thing that makes it bearable is the variety of hot sauces we have encountered in all the countries so far.
The other amazing thing we found in Malawi, a bit too late I am afraid, is the local corn-puff treat, salty and tasting slightly of instant noodles, we only bought one bag on our way to the Zambian border, and ate it within five minutes.
Another thing to be mentioned here is the lack of variety in most villages’ markets: apart from the usual tomato, onion and whatever local fruit, the markets provide little food even to us, so cooking for ourselves sometimes becomes redundant as well. We’ve encountered cabbage, potatoes, but most of the produce on sale is either over-ripe bananas, unripe or overripe papaya or mango, and buckets of tomatoes, sometimes nice and red, sometimes pale yellow and green. We started buying baked beans in tomato sauce and eating them on toast for breakfast. A little slice of home is sometimes the most welcome.
Vegan travels around the world in our off-road camper van Troopy.