Ghana has no distinct seasons – it’s hot, very hot or stupidly hot – so the Harmattan, between December and March, provides some shape to each year. This trade wind, which blows southwest from the Sahara towards the Gulf of Guinea, coats Ghana and its West African neighbours with a fine red dust carried from the desert.
Not everyone welcomes it. Many Ghanaians complain of headaches and colds, brought about by the cool temperatures, and the dust can cause breathing problems. And Accra, never the smartest of cities, is even scruffier than normal with every last street looking like it needs a good sweep. Guidebooks advise travellers that the Harmattan can spoil views in the mountains or when wildlife watching, and photographers bemoan the damage done to their cameras.
Personally I enjoy the Harmattan, not least for the spectacular effect it has on the sunsets. Each evening, the haze turns the sun into a perfectly round disc as it drops, tinting the sky with vivid oranges and reds.
A good place to appreciate the effect of the Harmattan is the Hillburi resort, near Aburi in the Akapwem hills. While this option is not open to most people in Ghana – one of the plush rooms costs 320 cedis a night, double what some earn in a month – for those fortunate enough, it makes a welcome escape from Accra.
Hannah and I headed there for a late Christmas treat, to enjoy their fine food and relax in the ‘world’s end’ swimming pool, which overlooks the surrounding hills. Normally the view stretches for miles across the interlocking hills, but in early January only the nearest two slopes were visible through the dust.
Enjoying dinner on the terrace, our eyes were fixed on this view across the valley. It’s captivating at any time, but the Harmattan haze made it particularly special. And once the sun had set and the day-trippers had departed, the only sounds we heard were the plop of a Gulder beer bottle opening and the flapping wings of the bats.