Sunday, January 30, 2011

One day of Tourism... that's enough for me!

One day while I was in Cape Coast, my traveling buddy, also Liz, and I decided to take on the tourist traps. Cape Coast is considered one of the more touristy places in Ghana, but it's not tourist-y the way I imagined before coming. Yes, there are a few nifty resorts along the coast near to Cape, but it's nothing like tourism in the States. It's touristy in the sense that you'll see a few more white people and there are a few sit-down restaurants and gift vendors, but really, it's no Disneyland.

So on Saturday, January 15th, I went into Cape Coast proper in the morning to walk around and get some breakfast. One of the highlights of my day happened early on when I was shopping. I stopped at a seamstress shop/gift shop to look at some bags that caught my eye. They were exactly what I'd been looking for, so I knew I was going to buy one, but then the owner came over. A young woman, no older than thirty named Lily, to helped me look through the bags. As I decided on the bag I wanted and paid, we had a great conversation about how she got her start. It sounds like she took out a small loan from a credit union several years ago, and began her seamstress business then. I mentioned that I was working for Global Mamas and she was familiar with it, so we chatted about different loan options and business as a seamstress. She was so charming and kind, I returned later for gifts.

After meeting Lily, I found something to eat and searched for a quiet place to sit and eat. This is not easy to do, but I eventually found a spot amongst some napping fisherman on the sidesteps of the Cape Coast Castle(!). This is the main tourist attraction in town, yet it's not roped off or protected like any museum/historic site I've ever seen. It was kind of surreal, but absolutely gorgeous to eat there.

I met Liz at eleven at the entrance to the castle and we entered, paid our fees, and waited for the next tour to begin. Our tour group included 28 (!) other white people (they seemed like students), and I kept looking at them like, “Look at all the obruni's!” forgetting that I am an obruni! Anyway, we learned so much about a really important piece of global human history. Cape Coast Castle was originally built in 1654 by the Dutch as a government center and fort; not long after it was built, the English took over. It wasn't entirely clear, but I think the slave trade was pretty much established by that point in time, and Cape Coast Castle happened to be one of the largest export sights of slaves in West Africa. (The first castle and more famous one is actually in Elmina, just a short ways from where I stayed for a week and a half, but unfortunately, I didn't have time to visit it.) On the tour, we saw the governor's headquarters, canons, and other Castle-y oddities, but most striking were the slave cells. What a powerful experience to walk down the treacherously paved path into the dungeons where hundreds of thousands of men and women were imprisoned for weeks/months before leaving through the “Door of No Return.” Our tour guide was wonderful at creating an ambiance that matched the trauma of such a serious history lesson. As sobering as all of it was, I'm so grateful to have walked through the underground passageways that shaped human history across the globe for hundreds of years.

Following the tour, we grabbed some fresh pineapple juice and just wandered around. We ended up on the street closest to the waterfront. I loved watching the fishermen! They fish by taking out large canoes (maybe 20'?) and dragging a long net behind them into an arc shape some hundred or two hundred feet off shore, once they're out six or seven men on shore drag the nets back in. Each canoe is painted, named, and flies a unique flag so the shoreline is gorgeous, and the whole area was a collage of color and chaos that bright, hot Saturday afternoon.

Eventually, we decided to fit in Cape Coast's other main tourist attraction—Kakum National Park. I think it was about 2 pm when we decided to go, but of course, we weren't really sure how to get there. I thought it was a ways out of Cape, but didn't know exactly how far, so we just started making some offers to cab drivers. We started at 3 cedis, but the drivers were insisting on 15... I'll let you guess who was off. After watching us hop in and out of a cab two times, a man on the street told us that it was at least 30 kilometers out of town and that 15 cedis was fair. Well, Liz and I thought that this sounded like too much, so we kept walking through town, trying out fare offers with different drivers. Finally, we found a driver to take us to Kakum, a shared ride, for 6 cedis each! (We realized later that this was a total steal.)

When we got to Kakum, we caught the last 'tour' to the canopy walk. It was a neat experience to hike through a tropical forest in Africa. It was not a rainforest, but I did see a bunch of ants marching across the trail, and a lot of the vines looked like snakes. Kakum's claim to fame is the canopy walk which consists of 7 rope bridges ~50-100 feet above the forest floor (Dad, you woulda freaked!). The whole thing was pretty nifty, but as we walked back from the canopies and ended our hike through Kakum, the same thought kept running through my head, “I was raised in the most beautiful part of the world.” (That part of the world is the northern United States from Lake Superior to the St Croix and Missisippi river valleys in WI and MN.) Still, I felt accomplished after checking off all the tourist attractions of Cape Coast, and have a lot of great memories from that day.

On the way home, we didn't have the same cab-fiasco because we decided to walk along the road until we found a shared car for cheaper than 6 cedis. Luckily, as we came to the highway some Rasta guys showed us the bench where the trotro would stop to pick us up. We had a nice chat and one of them smoked a J while we waited for the tro. The ride back was turbulent as the driver swerved around countless potholes and speed bumps, but the whole 30 km ride only cost 1 cedi 70 pesewas! What a good feeling to save a little cash and travel around like a legit Ghanaian.

That day left me so exhausted, I'm only just writing about it now, but it was certainly worth it. And seriously, if you're ever thinking about visiting Ghana, please talk to me! I have some contacts in-country who would be great tour guides.

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