A West African Overland Trip travel blog

Sleepy Hippo - Richard (aka Will Smith), the manager

Sleepy Hippo - Patricia, the chef

Sleepy Hippo - Mirrium, the chef's assistant

Sleepy Hippo - dining area

Packing up to start our journey

Zoe and Aminah

On the way - plenty of new construction

A vegetarian / vegan restaurant

A marked chicken

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Slavery Museum

Cape Coast Slavery Museum

Brenu Beach Campsite

Brenu Beach Campsite - my tent

Brenu Beach

Brenu Beach Campsite - preparing dinner

Kakum National Park - canopy walk

Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park - fauna

Kakum National Park - fauna

Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle

Elmina Castle

We packed up Aminah (our transport and home for the next 3.5 months), said our farewells to the Sleepy Hippo (and the lovely staff there - Richard [aka Will Smith]; Patricia; and Miriam), and left Jason to collect the passports once the visas had been issued. Then, off we set, for the Cape Coast - the axis of the transatlantic slave trade.

The drive down the coast was uneventful enough: the wayside scenery was lush; the construction industry noticeably active; the roadside hawkers abundant; and the litter unrelenting.

We pulled into Cape Coast for lunch and, to my amazement, there, in that little fishing port was a vegetarian / vegan restaurant!

Not only did this tiny eatery have a gorgeous assortment of tasty home-cooked meals; mouth-watering breads and cakes of all description; yummy, freshly-squeezed juices and smoothies of every imaginable tropical fruit; an amazing selection of teas, including ginger, fennel, and peppermint; it was a charity and, by eating there, each diner was donating to the cause.

Although I was the only one from the group (we have 4 vegetarians on the trip) to decide on the vegetarian option, the place was absolutely heaving with patrons ... all white foreigners (Russian, German, Italian, French, English, American), and, from overheard conversations (ie, eavesdropping!), all were volunteers. Well done, Baobab House!

The advantage of being by the coast is that there can be a sea breeze and, in the shade, this is sooo, sooo good! The disadvantage of being by the coast is that the humidity increases and, even in the shade, it’s the pits! Thus far, the temperature has averaged around 32°C, which isn’t too bad; however, with a mean monthly relative humidity varying between 85%-99%, the humidity absolutely slaughtered me. Give me the desert any day.

Our tour of Cape Coast Castle took about 90-odd minutes, by which time we were very pleased to return to the truck and be on the road again. Not because the tour had been boring, by no means! We just needed to feel the wind through our hair again ... and cool down!

The original building on the Cape Coast Castle site was built, in 1482, by the Portuguese as a trading post. Apparently, even Columbus visited the Gold Coast – some years before he became famous for ‘discovering’ the Americas.

[FYI: In 1444, the first public sale of slaves occurred in Lagos, Portugal. In 1510, the Spanish delivered the first slaves to South America.]

Because of the lucrative trade in gold, ivory, and slaves, many European countries wanted control of the area – and were prepared to wage war for the benefits.

In 1610, the Swedes took over control of the trading post and built a lodge; in 1650, the Dutch took over control and extended the lodge; in 1657, the Danes took over control of the lodge and built a fort; and, in 1662, the British took over control and reinforced the fort, renaming it Cape Coast Castle.

By 1787, campaigners in Britain petitioned for the abolition of the slave trade and, by 1807, Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. In 1819, Britain sent a naval squadron to West Africa to enforce the ban on slave trading and, by 1874, Britain ruled the entire Gold Coast (as Ghana was then called).

In total, about 40 ‘slave castles’, including Elmina Castle and Fort Christiansborg, were built along the Gold Coast.

[FYI: Michelle Obama considers Cape Coast her ancestral home.]

For me, the most remarkable part of the tour was learning that selling slaves had started long before ever the Portuguese arrived. Africans migrating south (from Egypt and North Africa), west (from Sudan and Ethiopia) and north (from the Congo) were displacing the locals, and trying to set up new kingdoms and empires for themselves.

During this period war was inevitable and to the victor goes the spoils - in this case, prisoners of war who were exploited for trade with the Arabs, Berbers and Europeans.

It was a sombre ride from Cape Coast Castle to Brenu Beach Campsite.

But, soon, we had the back locker unpacked, tents erected, dinner cooked, pots, pans and plates washed, flapped and packed away - before cracking open yet another bottle {or two}, to relax and revel in the lovely beach location. A really delightful setting for camping ... and some hardy campers were skinny dipping as soon as the sun had set!

The next morning, after a 06:00 breakfast, we were off to Kakum National Park, to enjoy the protected rainforest and its canopy walkway (of which there are only two in Africa).

It is utterly incredible that such a place exists at all, particularly as this site was an initiative started by local people. However, the experience was thoroughly ruined by the fact that our guide led a party of 20 through the forest and up into the canopy. Even had this group said not a single word or made a single sound (which didn’t happen!), having so many tramping through at the same time made the rainforest judder underfoot, echo from the crunching of dried twigs and leaves, and reverberate from the resonance of the human voice.

The entire event could have been much better managed so that those who wanted to could have had a chance to spot the protected mammals and birdlife of the area ... but, not-a-one did we spy. Everything in the animal and bird kingdoms was very quiet; everything in the human kingdom very noisy!

Also, it would have been helpful to read a few notes on what it was we were seeing from the canopy. Unless you understood biodiversity, or were a specialist in rainforest biomes, you would not know what it was that you were looking at ... and the guide said nothing to enlighten us.

(Maybe I expect too much of Africa?)

Our next sightseeing activity was a visit to Elmina Castle, so back to the coast we dashed.

Attracted by rich resources of ivory and gold, the Portuguese (in 1418) started to explore this area. By 1482 they had built Elmina Castle as a trading post - the oldest (and, for many centuries, the largest) European building south of the Sahara - originally called São Jorge da Mina (St George of the Mine), and known as “A Mina”.

For all its grandeur, and the really picturesque surroundings of blue skies, sandy beaches, and tropical palms, Elmina (including the other castles/forts along the coast) have a dark history. By the 17th century, most of the Gold Coast’s “trade” concentrated on the sale of slaves.

Elmina’s dungeons, built to hold 200 slaves but where around 1,000 male slaves at a time were shackled, were dank, cramped, with no space to lie down, very little air or light, absolutely no sanitation or water to clean floors or themselves – a cesspit, where disease was rampant and many fell seriously ill.

The women’s dungeons held around 500, but circumstances were worse for them. Not only did they suffer from the conditions in which they were kept; not only was malaria and yellow fever rife; women were regularly raped by the guards.

Captivity and confinement in these dungeons usually lasted 3 months (before slaves were shipped off on a treacherous journey to the New World); however, any slave, man or woman, who was rebellious or tried to revolt, was thrown into airless confinement cells, beaten, and then starved to death.

Around 30,000 slaves a year passed through Elmina. Even with the passage of time, little of these horrors have been erased.

After the abolition of slavery, Elmina was rarely in use, until it became a training centre for the Ghanaian police recruits, and, for a short while, a school, before being converted into a museum.

In 1990, Elmina was given a facelift – but, unfortunately, not much has been done since, and it is suffering because of it. Many parts of the castle are too rickety for tourists to traipse through, including some of the ramparts, and really should have been closed to the public ... but weren’t.

None of the group was up for a trip through the town of Elmina, most wanting to return to Brenu Beach Campsite for a swim and a swig of cool beer, to wash away the horrors of the dark history of the Gold Coast’s slave castles.

Tomorrow we are off to visit Kumasi, Ghana’s 2nd largest city.

Much love to you all xxx

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