Coffins and Crocodiles, a Journey Through Ghana (3 of 6)
We headed over to the castle first thing in the morning. A guide greeted us at the reception and invited us to peruse the museum upstairs before he gave us a tour. The museum is, surprisingly, well designed and informative. The history of the slave trade and its impact on Ghana are explained and related artefacts are displayed. A group of French nuns are the only other visitors this morning; they are teary eyed as they walk through the museum. So are we. It’s hard to stay unaffected as the horrors of the slave trade are explained to you.
After the museum we headed down to the reception to start our tour of the castle. Our guide began in the men’s dungeon – a connecting set of dark dank rooms with a set of shallow troughs running throughout. A musty scent, heavy with the tragic history fills the rooms. Our guide pointed out the sole window, a tiny opening where food was thrown in once a day, and the only source of fresh air. He nonchalantly told us that we were stepping on decayed human carcasses and excrement, which make up the top layer of the floor. As we moved on to the women’s section, the guide told us the history of this slave castle. It began as a small trading post in gold and other precious commodities in the 16th century. In 1664 it became a British possession and then the headquarters for both the slave trade and the colonial administration.
Lastly, our guide took us up to the top floors of the castle – the governor’s residence. The rooms are large, and the view onto the ocean gorgeous. It’s hard to believe that any normal human could have lived here, a mere two floors up from this human tragedy and not be affected. The guide showed us the lookout from where the governor could see into the women’s section, and pick out those that he desired for his amusement. We were all utterly disgusted. We left the castle a little wiser, a lot sadder.
We stayed at Sammo’s Guesthouse, a relatively clean, very cheap place in the centre of town. It is definitely the travellers centre in Cape Coast. Sammo’s Guesthouse has a rooftop bar, which is a nice spot to sit, have a chilled Star beer and contemplate the crazy streets below. Here, life takes place on the streets – vending, buying, selling, cooking, eating, washing, cleaning and just plain hanging around. Things happen on the streets here, the action is always outside. Life happens, love happens, possibilities arise. You walk down the street here and children run up and greet you. “Hello!” they wave. “Bruni, how are you? I’m fine, thank you!” chanted endlessly in a singsong voice. People are friendly and eager to talk – men come up and offer you rides in their cars, innocently of course. Everyone wants to know where you are from, where you are going.
Sammo’s is also the best place in Cape Coast to watch the magnificent African sunset. A fiery golden ball, like a gigantic, juicy, ripe orange suspended in the sky. The sky and sea are shades of grey, a pink light cast on old colonial buildings, crumbling under the weight of their disrepair. The building colours are pastel pink, yellow, blue, beige, white. Tall coconut trees stand erect between the buildings, sometimes in clusters, sometimes alone. I close my eyes and imagine this town in its heyday – shiny, with pretty new buildings, bright colours, clean streets, a big white fort. A picture perfect facade for a place that aided in one of the greatest evils of mankind.
Large exotic birds with white beaks, black bodies, white stripe, glide around, resting on the weathered brown rooftops and slicing through the dusking sky. The sun gets larger, brighter, lower – until it disappears gradually behind grey clouds, deep into the horizon.
The Famous Canopy Walkway
The next morning we take a taxi to Kakum National Park, about 30 km north of Cape Coast, and home to the famous canopy walkway. It’s a slightly overrated 350m of suspended walkway above the trees. You can look down and watch the birds and foliage below as you walk along. But be careful – the bridge sways as you walk on it and you have to stay a very straight course if you don’t want to lose your balance. There are six sections of bridge that are linked together by ‘tree houses’ – rest stops along the way.
The views from the tree houses were nice, however the nature walk we did underneath the forest canopy was much more interesting (and much less expensive). In this walk, we hiked around with a guide for about an hour and had the various tree species explained to us. The guide told us about the various uses of the trees, the medicinal value of Mahogany and the building uses of ebony. Unfortunately, since it was afternoon we didn’t see any animals, the guide tells us they are only visible in the early morning.
Later we stopped off for a late lunch at “Hans’ Botel”, a guesthouse with a restaurant that floats on a crocodile pond. It is somewhat of a tourist highlight in Cape Coast, not only for its food, but also for it’s crocodile-watching possibilities. We sipped cokes and watched the crocodiles swimming around the pond. For fun we threw some bread into the pond to feed the fish. They were catfish, and nipped at the bread eagerly and quickly. A crocodile lazily watched the fish feeding frenzy, and at an opportune moment opened his jaw and went for the kill. Lunch is served to all.