Along the western coast of Ghana lies Beyin, situated on a dusty and bumpy track, and perhaps of little significance to the traveller in and of itself. Beyin is a laid-back, friendly launch pad for those wishing to make their way to the stilt-village of Nzulezo, an intriguing oddity considering the vast tracts of empty inhabitable land that surrounds this small, amphibian settlement.
Getting to Beyin does involve some canny figuring out of where to change tro-tros between Takoradi and the village itself. Try and leave plenty of daylight hours to get there, as it’s probably worth arriving while it’s still light out, especially as Beyin isn’t blessed with fantastic street lighting, so arriving by day will make finding the two main guesthouses far easier. The first of these, Fort Apollonia, is the furthest west of Ghana’s 14 whitewashed coastal landmarks, the more imposing of the two guesthouses Beyin has to offer, and thus the more obvious and popular abode for folks to lay their heads. Meanwhile, on the main road through Beyin sits a rather withered looking two-story dwelling that handles the overflow when Apollonia is full. Whichever dwelling you choose, or come to take, don’t expect abundant luxury; both the fort and guesthouse offer only basic, though comfortable, friendly and very cheap, accommodation.
Obviously, most of those passing through Beyin will be curious to see Nzulezo, and getting there couldn’t be much simpler. Beyin knows only too well why many visit their humble spot on the western coast of Ghana, and no sooner after unfamiliar faces are spotted, arrangements will be made for someone to boat you to the stilt village. In the absence of any official tourist office or business, this is most likely to be carried out in familiar Ghanaian ad-hoc style by one of the self-employed village guides, whose livelihood largely depends on ferrying tourists and travellers to and from Nzulezo.
Nzulezo then, is located on a lake just to the north of Beyin. Getting to the shores of the lake requires a short trek through some undergrowth and just how short this walk is depends entirely on the seasons -- and whether it’s dry or wet. Obviously, the higher the water level, the further you’ll be floating along the water. We enjoyed a laid-back punt through lush reeds and jungle in the morning sun for most of the way there; shortly before we arrived at this stilt complex, a joint effort was required to row of the boat. The journey there is certainly an education in and of itself, with the guide pointing out how he and others fish in the lake using various fish traps along the way. Nevertheless, the journey is a means to an end; the end being to have a polite nose about the rather unusual affair of a village on stilts. And after the hard work put into rowing a boat through a tropical day, the sight of it, which allows the body a hard-earned rest, is more than welcome.
Once moored up at the village and you are able to look around. One thing that's common to every visit to Nzulezo is the signing of the guestbook along with the handing over of a compulsory but small donation to the village coffers. Looking around the village, it's satisfying to note that theses donations have made a difference to this small fishing community. On our visit, our guide pointed to the school as an example of where collected money went. While it could not be garnered for sure as to whether this was strictly true, with public services in this poor corner of the world so thin on the ground, it would be quite likely that this was the case. There was also talk amongst the village that the next collective project here would be to establish a small guesthouse on the stilted phenomenon itself. So, this may have already been established, but since the wheels of progress oft turn very slowly in Ghana, the opposite might also be true.
Walking around the village is certainly an interesting experience, not least of course because the place is a fully functioning and working settlement. The oddities of the place will undoubtedly raise a wry smile as well, especially when walking past homes with TVs and stereos (of course a relative luxury in this corner of the globe) plugged into large car batteries. Listening to tales from village elders about how the village was founded is also eyebrow-raising; apparently it involved a magical snail and a fleeing tribe from Mali?! Perhaps the overwhelming impression however, given by the villagers along with the guides, is one of a genuinely welcoming attitude, which makes paying what feels like a pittance to both village and guide, easily worth it.
On leaving Nzulezo do make sure that you have reserves of physical strength, as obviously there will be a reasonable amount of rowing to be done to get back to dry land, where the majority of Ghana exists in settlements that aren't established directly over water. Once back on dry land and in Beyin, the only way out of the village is by tro-tro or taxi back towards Takoradi, from where, of course, a number of road routes through Ghana are easily navigable.