My plan was to find and ride the ferry boat up Lake Volta, which was steadily filling after the recently completed Akosombo Dam. Once filled Lake Volta became the largest man-made lake in the world by surface area. It covers 8,502 square kilometers (3,283 sq mi). Lake Volta stretches halfway up the country. It was the largest economic investment in the country’s history, built primarily for aluminum refining which takes a lot of electricity.
At the edge of Akosombo, I caught another ride with a smiling man in a nice car.
“Are you going near the dam?” I asked.
“Sure, hop in!” he exclaimed, smiling broadly.
Thanks to almost divine intervention, I had managed to be hosted by the Captain of the Yapei Queen. The Captain smiled broadly as he greeted me and we drove together into the town of Akosombo.
He was on his way home from a trip to Accra with supplies for his next journey all the way up Lake Volta 500+ kms to the Northernmost terminus at Yapei-Tamale on the White Volta. He invited me to ride along on the voyage.
There were beautiful new streets which led up to the dam. Then he turned off to the left to enter a community of new split-level homes – that would have looked in place in a suburb of New York or San Francisco. His home was near the top of a hill above the nearby dam. We drove into his driveway, and he happily got out came around to my side of the car, opened my door and said warmly and proudly, “Welcome to my home. You are most welcome.”
We walked together to his front door, where his wife was standing smiling at us. He explained that he had met an American student from Florida and school in Philadelphia. She welcomed me in and showed me to a spare room downstairs, which was across from its own bath. They suggested that I make myself at home… I could take a shower and rest and relax before dinner. It was late afternoon.
This kind of open hospitality, as you will read in these stories, was not exceptional in Africa during my travels. People were warm, welcoming, and offered whatever hospitality they could. Reading about “deepest darkest Africa” at home, I was continually surprised at how open and giving the people were.
In my downstairs room, I was, in a way, back home with the comforts I had long been accustomed to and taken for granted. I showered, rested and wrote notes in my diary. Even a brief nap. I was gently awakened by my friend to please come up for dinner.
After a wonderful meal with the Captain, his wife and two kids, he suggested that we get to bed early, as we would be getting up just before sunrise tomorrow morning to begin our journey up Lake Volta on the Yapei Queen.
I was packed, refreshed, and ready to go when he came downstairs for me the next morning. We had a brief breakfast and nice fresh coffee, then set off to the dock at the dam.
There was already a flurry of activity when we reached the dock and the boat, after a short drive. The Captain briefly introduced me to his crew, and then showed me into the single (and only) little private passenger cabin on the top deck behind the bridge. He told me to settle in as they completed their preparations for their imminent departure.
Sure enough, we were off on our way within an hour, just as the sun was rising in the east — a spectacular West African sunrise.
The Yapei Queen was one of the lifelines along what had been the Volta River, built for cargo not for speed. It was a diesel-powered ship with a dropdown prow for easy landing and loading in areas without wharves. It was a workhorse, delivering cargo, towing barges.
As we settled in on our course I could see the dam steadily disappear to the south, until we were surrounded by water, a few hundred meters off the Western shore of the spreading Lake Volta, with patches of branches of trees poking up out of the water. Lake Volta was still filling up behind the great dam, and the inundated trees had months yet before they would be fully engulfed and overcome by the rising waters.
We cruised along for hours. During the day I took pictures of the Captain and the crew. We had a late afternoon meal, then slowed for a series of unloadings of cargo onto smaller barges and other boats that would latch alongside us.
As the sun set, we continued to move steadily north. I fell asleep for several hours, and was awakened in the middle of the night to see bright lights and hear shouted commands as the captain directed the unloading of massive tires, large steel parts and mechanical assemblies for some industrial facility under construction onshore. Development relied on the Yapei Queen to deliver major parts, equipment and supplies.
After a few hours of intense activity, we continued on through the night and into the next morning. We passed the confluence of the Black Volta and White Volta, so called because of the white silt that colors the river. Around noon of the next day, we reached our final terminus of Yapei-Tamale port, at the extreme north of the navigable White Volta River.
I thanked my friend the Captain and his friendly crew as I walked away to catch a ride to Tamale, and then on. In Wa, I found a simple room for the night, nothing as nice as the downstairs room at the Captain’s house.
Early the following morning I was able to reach Lawra in the extreme northwest corner of Ghana, then on to the border with Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). There I encountered some very friendly and welcoming border police who were amused at seeing a non-African come their way. They were chatty and pleased to hear about my journey up Lake Volta. They had all heard of the Yapei Queen, and some of them even knew my friend the Captain.