CAPE COAST AND ELMINA
Friday morning Beatrice, Pippa Sophie and I woke up early to catch some breakfast, and we were off for our first trip together. I know many of you have asked where I am staying, so before I go on I can briefly explain. Our program, The Humanity Exchange is stationed in Ghana at a space that was once a hotel, but is now used by a mining company called Adamus. They let us use their dorms for sleeping, food hall for meals, and drivers to get to and from places. It’s a lot like college. It’s not what you may typically think of as a hotel, but it is really nice. We all have our own rooms, and every day we are given bottled water in our rooms (as we can’t drink from tap here) and we have the option to get our laundry done daily. So, it’s really everything we need. I know some of you will be asking me about the food. If you know me well, you know there’s a blog dedicated solely to food in my future 🙂
Once we were ready to go, one of the Adamus drivers were able to drive us to Tacoradi, 2 hours away. After a few rounds of Nintendo DS, we arrived at a “taxi” station. There we paid 3 Cedis each and were told to wait for a “tro-tro” that was going to Cape Coast, about 1.5 hours away. In Ghana, there are three main forms of public transportation. One, is a private taxi, which usually the most expensive if it’s just you and/or a friend, as we have back at home. The second is shared taxi, in which you pay less and there is 1 or 2 other passengers also going in the same direction as you but getting off somewhere separate; this is usually the most convenient way to get around quickly and cheaply. And third, is a “tro-tro”. Fares on tro-tros are cheaper than either form of taxi and is the term used for pretty much any licensed passenger vehicle that isn’t a bus or a taxi. They are also slower and usually less comfortable than buses-because they pack in so many people! You may look at a filled tro-tro and think to yourself that there’s NO way more people can fit. But, surely a Ghanian will come along and easily be able to (somehow) squeeze in 6 more passengers. Actually, I have come to notice that overcrowded vehicles is common here in Ghana. I watched a family pack into their car with so many, that I watched the car physically lower only a few inches from touching the ground. Also, the children at our school pile into this “school bus” that looks more like a van; Beatrice and I stand in amazement at how many children are actually squished in together. Even more amazing is no matter how crowded it may be, at the end of every day there’s always a few children who manage to squeeze their little hand out of the window to say goodbye to us! (Reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem about too many kids in a tub!)
Most Ghanians don’t really like the tro-tro.it..but there we were the 4 of us absolutely loving the experience and were taking it all in. Sophie and I were squished in the front seat next to the driver, and Beatrice and Pippa were in the back. 4 smiles from ear to ear the entire ride. What we found really amusing, was right before we left to go, a few woman selling a variety of things on their head, came up to the car. This is really typical for Ghana, and something that never ceases to amaze us. Literally, children, woman, men, elderly will all carry things on their head rather than in their hands. Even luggage!! It’s seriously incredible. This particular woman was selling toiletries, and turns out one of the girls remembered she forgot her razor. Unsure if the woman carried it, she asked if she could see what was on the other side of the woman’s head, and the woman just slowly turned her head like it was a turning plate of food on display at a diner! It was really funny…and ended up helping us out in the end.
After a long ride we arrived in Elmina, where we took another short cab ride to the town by the beach. You didn’t have to have been out the cab for long, to know you were in a fish town-all you needed was a quick sniff. It was a smell like I have never smelt before…fish was everywhere. It was almost as if we stepped into another world, like old school Ghana. Right away we found truth to our guide book’s warning about men being pushy here; Sophie and Pippa who are blondes had people touching their hair the most. There was a fish market by the water we paid a few Cedis to get into, and immediately we sensed that we were not very welcome. This was surprising to us at first, as most Ghanians have greeted us with smiles and waves in other towns. They especially didn’t like when we took any pictures. I assume they probably felt we were being intrusive with our cameras, so we were quick to look around and leave. We moved on to walk along the streets of the village and then by the water, where we stood and watched the fisherman reel in their fishing nets and see new boats arrive. We found a small bridge from which we were able to get some really pretty views as well.
It was so hot and humid, so it wasn’t the best day to be in a fish market. We sat down and had some Fantas, brought some fresh bread,and then headed to Cape Coast.
Cape Coast is a beach town that’s known for it’s modern urban Africa life, often filled with many tourists. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel and went right to the shops we saw along the road in our taxi..then onwards to see the Cape Coast Castle, one of the known landmarks of this town. (Priorities, priorities..) It was actually really exciting for us to shop, since the town we are living in is small and often not visited by tourists. Something we were really excited to see, were the beads that Ghanian women are known to wear.
These beads are sold around 1 Cedi per string. In Ghana, they are usually worn around waists of women or around babies to measure weight gain, though they can also be worn on wrists as well. After much indecisiveness we each selected two colors and had the man tie them to our wrists. (It was really hard to pick with so many to choose from! ) We also got some other jewelry, handbags, and some cool African looking pants.
It was time to do what we really came for, and visit the Cape Coast Castle. It was such an interesting learning and sad learning experience, one I’ll always remember. In the colonial era this castle was the place where Ghanian slaves were held before being put onto merchant ships and traded for alcohol and guns. We first walked through a small museum and looked around the upper level of the castle, then took a tour around the inside. Ironically, the British made the castle so beautiful from the outside, when such horrific things took place inside.
On the tour we were shown the rooms male slaves were kept. It felt very eery being inside. There was also one for female slaves. In both rooms, the slaves had to defecate and urinate right there along side all the other slaves. Even worse, the females has there menstrual cycles in the same space as well. It sounded so horrible, and many people died because of the poor living conditions. The rooms were barely lit and were also very hot. Sadly, we learned there was a tunnel connecting the British living quarters to the female slave chamber, so that any time an official may want to rape one of the female slaves they had “easy access.” We learned that if a woman resisted, there was a separate public chamber where they had to stay for a few days without any food; it was visible on the upper floor in order to teach the other female slaves a lesson. We also learned that if any of the raped woman got pregnant, they were removed by the British and automatically freed, but only to become a house maid to take care of the baby. The babies were born with light skin and given English last names. To this day, many African families of descent still have British last names as a result. It was really sad and was quite the experience walking through this castle.
Many come to pay respect and in some of the chambers we were led through visitors have placed flowers in memory of those who suffered and/or died through this horrific experience. Cape Coast Castle left a lasting impact on me and is one place I will never forget. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to visit.
Because we had such a long day, we spent Saturday night relaxing. Our hotel was beachfront, with a bar and restaurant as well as live performances at night. It was great..we really couldn’t figure out why the reviews were so bad. The food was really good and it was our first time seeing other white people in a week! It was a nice change not being the only one. At night we slept in a “dorm”, which was pretty much a hostel with 7 other people. 10 Cedis, not too bad. They even gave us locks to keep our bags safe. They also had really nice individual outside showers, which made me feel like I was in Fire Island. After we got some drinks we settled at a large table where we ate, made some new friends, and watched an amazing acrobatic dance show. We were also excited to show off our new African pants, as seen below. I’m totally wearing those in NY.
A great day was had by all.
KAKUM NATIONAL PARK
Saturday we woke up early to visit Kakum National Park. Though it is known for it’s monkeys, birds, some elephants and ….HONEY BADGERS (This one’s for you ladies!)…unfortunately we were unable to see much other than trees and butterflies. Kakum protects some of the most extensive rainforest habitats in Ghana. Something interesting we learned was that the plant that is in the malaria prevention medicine can be found here. Here, we learned it often rains a lot and has a high humidity level. It’s most well known for it’s canopy walk, that was constructed in 1995. These were a lot of fun to walk on, and gave us really beautiful views of the rainforest below. It reminded me of ones I have been on in Costa Rica.
Lastly, though we had little money left, it was a must to stop by this Monkey Reserve we had read about in tour guides. It’s run by a friendly Dutch couple and they were exactly what we pictures when we thought of “monkey people”. It was raining while we visited but we enjoyed it nonetheless. The animals at this reserve were either sick or in danger and brought to be rescued. The reserve mainly provides shelter to baby monkeys, brought by hunters who killed their mothers. All local hunters know that they can do so whenever there are baby monkeys nearby, and it is at this reserve that they are taken care of and some are then released to the wild. Those there are mainly monkeys, there were some other animals such as these little guys, that we just fell in love with: (Himali, if Monty sees this, tell him I still love him)
Well, everyone but Beatrice..
At the top of the reserve was the perfect view:
(It reminded us of The Lion King)
We had such a great time together and feel so lucky with each day of this amazing experience. Until next weekend, back to working with our little kiddies this week!