The Botanical Gardens in Aburi are lovely. It’s an overcast day, and it really is infinitesimally cooler in the hills. Needless to say these gardens are all outside and are called “lawns” rather than gardens, for good reason. Trees are the main plant featured, from all over the world, some very old, towering, with dinosaur-like trunks, web-footed and leathery. Fragrant flowering bushes and poison vines, vast-trunked trees (in which you could build a modest home) and some that disappear skyward. We meander, sit, wander on. Quite lovely.
The next morning, Peter Pizza has arranged a taxi to take us to Accra. He arrives spot on 10AM with the driver, Richard. There is a final bit of negotiating, as Richard wants 35 cedis instead of 30 (and soon we know why – getting to Accra is no problem, getting across the city takes another hour ) and off we go. We are dropped (after several stops for Richard to find the location where we hope to find an air conditioned tro tro to Cape Coast) at Kaneshie Market. Accra increasingly feels like a nightmare – hot (of course), terrible roads, blaring horns, mad taxis and tros everywhere, hawkers at the car windows, endless stalls & shantytown, red dust, women with the most incredible loads on their heads, children playing in the dirt , goats galloping across busy streets, the ever-present stench of open sewers.
And Kaneshie Market is massive, a warren of stalls and hawkers that stretches on for ages. Richard drops us at the spot where we believe we can find the tro we want. We push our way along the road, dragging the suitcase. Huge Tro station, much bigger than the other one we’d been at. And amazingly, there on the road is a tro with a sign that says “Cape Coast, AC” – and it is almost full (Tros do not go according to any schedule. When they are full, they leave. Until they are full, you wait.) We get our seats, but want a washroom before embarking on a trip that could take up to 5 hours (tho usually more like 3.) A not-so-small boy leads us through the tro station (we’re instantly lost) to a public toilet up a street – not a toilet I care to describe… ah, Ghana. Then back we go, onto the tro and off to the coast. Amazingly we get there in 2 ½ hours – the tro is very cool, which almost makes up for 1) the preacher who rails at us from the front for the first half hour and 2) the Nollywood film with volume at painfully high level that seems to amuse the other passengers.
We get to Cape Coast, surprisingly just at the same time that Mike and Hannah’s tro arrives (they were up at 2:30 am to catch a bus from Tamale at 4:30 – it had filled up so they sat on stool in the “aisle” for that six-hour ride, then caught a non-AC tro to Cape Coast (another 4 hours.) They are shattered. We take a taxi together to Elmina, and then to our hotels. Mike and Hannah had booked all four of us into Stumble Inn, a quaint and quite lovely place on the beach – but with no AC. Feeling like the ultimate wimps, Jay & I decided a few days prior that we HAD to have AC, so we changed the booking – M & H would stay at Stumble Inn (as Mike felt a responsibility to fulfil the booking) and Jay I had a reservation at a very expensive (in Ghanaian terms) resort right next to Stumble Inn. Our resort was stunning – swimming pool, beautifully decorated, marble-floored rooms, lounge chairs and umbrellas and bar poolside, fabulous restaurant.
Two days later, Mike and Hannah stagger into our room in the morning, exhausted. Their hut at Stumble Inn has no cross ventilation, they haven’t slept a bit. We check them out of the Stumble and into Elmina Bay Resort with us. We spend another day poolside while they recover. Then we visit Elmina Castle – and the following day, when we relocate to Cape Coast itself, we tour Cape Coast Castle.
The two are similar, especially in terms of purpose: these are castles built in the 15th-16th century, specifically to hold slaves prior to them boarding ships. They serve as horrendous reminders of man’s inhumanity to man, and we all feel quite sickened. Hundreds of slaves, linked by chains neck-to-neck, shackled hands and feet were shoved into chambers with no light , very little ventilation, no “facilities” and kept there for 3 months, until they had the pleasure of passing through the “door of no return” onto the ships that would carry them to south and north America and the Caribbean. Food is dropped through a hole in the ceiling, but they live in their own filth all that time. Occasionally women are brought into the courtyard so the governor can select one for his bed that night. Prisoners who misbehave (rebels) were put into the condemned cell – 30 at a time – and left in there until the last one died. Only 1/10th of slaves brought into the castles actually survive to the end of the transAtlantic journey. The rest die, in the castles or the ships.
We need serious drinks after those visits, and in Cape Coast have a fabulous surprise moment when we are en route to an ocean-side restaurant and come across a drumming and dancing group – absolutely fantastic. We sit, mesmerised, on a stone wall and watch for an hour. Jay catches it on video – so watch for it on YouTube (if we can figure out how to get it up there.)
The last day in Cape Coast, we’re up early to go to Kakum National Park. We get a tro (no AC) and are told it is 2 cedis each. Jay and I sit up front with the driver, Hannah and Mike are in the very full back with the assistant and lots of others. Hannah quickly ascertains from other passengers that the actual price is 1.5 cedis per person, they are trying to rip off us white folk. Hannah isn’t having that, and since we haven’t paid yet, she gives the assistant only the 6 cedis we should owe. We don’t really realize what is going on, but the driver starts shouting “2 cedis! 2 cedis!” And the assistant keeps leaning out the back door and in at Jay’s window (startling Jay) and talking to/arguing with the driver, who continues with his railing refrain – getting quite angry. Then he drives right past the park entrance before pulling over to let us out. Hannah and Mike burst out the back of the tro, shouting at the driver: “You KNEW we were going to the park and you drove right past! Now we must walk back! You show NO respect!” “It is NOT correct!” The expressions on the faces of the other passengers indicate that they approve of Hannah’s outburst, but they do have to continue the trip with the driver, so say nothing.
The park is amazing – a deep rainforest, still and silent and leafy shadows. We go on the canopy walk. A couple of Canadians constructed this walk in 1994 – it is the only one in Africa. We climb to the first swaying bridge – really a series of ladders attached to each other, with boards laid on top and rope sides that we cling to as we sway along, forty meters above the forest floor, gazing down on a sea of green (we can’t see the ground, but can see open sky and the tops of trees that are hundreds of years old. There are seven separate bridges. It takes almost an hour to complete the walk. We all feel a bit dizzy and uncertain, mouths in throats, at first but then adjust. Except for Mike who finds the whole thing surprisingly stressful and is very happy when we finally have solid ground under out feet again.
So we end our stay in Africa back in the forest, a reprieve from the modern squalor and historical horrors we’ve experienced. But even in the deep shadow of the rainforest it is HOT and we are streaming sweat by the time we finish the walk.