Mindelo, Cabo Verde 2022
The morning of December 11 dawned for us in Porto Grande Bay in Mindelo, another city in Cabo Verde. Founded in 1793 by the Portuguese, the town was named Mindelo in 1838 to commemorate a successful military landing near Porto during the Portuguese Liberal War. Its population is around 70,000, accounting for most of the population of the island of São Vicente. As a long voyage starts coming to an end one begins to tire of long excursions (particularly on a bus) so unless there is something we really want to see we tend toward just walking around the port city on our own. We had never been to Mindelo so this seemed a good plan here, a relaxing walk around the town. We set out on the shuttle bus with our friends Robert and Bill to get a feel for the city.
The Portuguese discovered this island around 1460 and its discovery is attributed to Diogo Afonso, one of the explorers sponsored by Henry the Navigator. A large statue of him sits on the waterfront facing the bay. Also near the waterfront, located in a traffic circle, is a tall sculpture of an eagle on top of what looks like a tower of rocks. In 1922 the aviators Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho made the first air crossing of the South Atlantic, flying in several stages (with 3 different planes) from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. The trip, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Brazil’s declaration of independence, took almost 3 months because of having to ditch and replace their plane several times on the way, Their last stops before crossing the ocean were in Mindelo and Praia, Cabo Verde. The eagle sculpture was erected on the 76th anniversary of their flight, which would have been 1998.
We visited a souvenir store in an art gallery down the way where we learned about Cabo Verde’s favorite folk singer, Cesária Évora, known as the “Barefoot Diva.” A native of Mindelo, the airport is named after her. We walked further down the street to where the library was located, according to Mary’s research. The three story building was there but it was closed up tight and it took us a while to find a small sign, not on the front. We hope it wasn’t closed for good. On the back was a building sized wall painting of Cesaria Evora (photo rather blurred but you get the idea).
The Tower of Belem was built in Lisbon in the late 16th century on the Tagus River to defend the city, and it also served as the departure and return port for Portuguese explorers. A three story replica of that tower sits on the waterfront in Mindelo. Opened in 1921, it now houses Mindelo’s sea museum and has a nice view from the top. We didn’t know about that when we visited, but here are some pictures of the outside.
The Pro-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Light was built in 1862 and is one of the oldest buildings in town. As we understand it, a pro-cathedral is a parish church that temporarily plays the role of a cathedral in a diocese that doesn’t have one. It is smaller than most actual cathedrals but was expanded in recent years so that only the facade is original.
Not far from the church was a delightful souvenir store, brightly painted inside and out, called IstanBlue. Another building had an interesting painted door and there were trees and flowers in the neighborhood as well.
Originally opened in 1874, with a second floor added in 1934, is the bright pink Palacio do Povo (People’s Palace). Originally intended to house the government if the capital of Cabo Verde was moved to Mindelo (it wasn’t), this striking building now contains a museum space.
Our last stop was at an open air market where vendors were selling clothes, crafts and souvenirs. Some were set up inside a covered area and others had their wares spread out on the ground. There were interesting items to be had and at very reasonable prices. After that we walked back to the shuttle bus stop to return to the ship. All in all we really hadn’t strayed too far from the waterfront where the bus let us off.
This being our last African port there was a sail away party on the aft deck with the very good Ocean Bar band playing rock music. It was nice out except for a very strong wind. To our left in the port was what looked like a huge rock emerging from the water to form an island called Ilheu dos Passaros. On top of the dark rock island was a white structure leading from the top to half way down. This turned out to be the Farol de D. Luis, a lighthouse. We were gone by the time the sun set so we didn’t see it lighted up but we understand that the light is right at the top of the rock with a small 15 foot tower and a white stairway down to the keeper’s house halfway down. The lighthouse was built in the early 1880’s and named for the then king of Portugal. Also to our left on top of a tall hill was the Fortim d’El Rei, a fort built in 1852 to defend the Porto Grande Bay and the city. Its military use ended in 1930 and it has since fallen into disrepair from neglect. We saw this fort from the shore in town as well.
Very near our ship on our left was the Mein Schiff Herz, a German cruise ship. We waved back & forth. We had some very nice views of the harbor and the city as we prepared to leave.
As we sailed away from Mindelo after a very nice day in our last foreign port there were some memorable vistas in the fading sunlight.
Praia, Cabo Verde 2022
December 10 found us docked across the bay from Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde (Cape Verde Islands) since 1770. It was founded by Portuguese settlers in 1615 at the location of an earlier settlement destroyed by Sir Frances Drake in 1585. We visited here in 2018 when we walked through the city and took a bus tour around this mostly dry and barren island. You can see that here:
Since we had toured the island before and had seen much of this small city of around 160,000 (about a third of the population of Cabo Verde), we decided just to take the shuttle into town and wander around on our own with some of our tablemates. We saw much we had seen before, had a beer and a bite to eat, and found the national library (our only new objective).
The Avenida 5 De Julho (date of independence in 1975) is a pedestrian street lined with trees on both sides that have been pruned to form a sort of canopy over the street. When we were here last in 2018 this was just getting started and none extended over the street but there has been notable progress since then and the street is now completely covered. It looks very nice and provides important shade to walkers. On this street we visited the Municipal Market, a covered building full of stalls on two floors. It was early so the market was not yet crowded.
We walked out the back of the market and along a small street to reach a road that ran along the edge of a cliff with an extensive view across a valley containing another part of the city. We walked to the right and passed a wall with some interesting graffiti.
Mary had located the national library on a map, but it turned out to be in the valley, a long walk down old stone steps that had been brightly painted in rainbow colors. So we walked back across the town and walked down these stairs. Robert, Mary and I walked all the way down to the library while the others waited on the stairs about half way to the top. The library turned out to be closed (hopefully not permanently), so we weren’t able to see the inside.
Having trudged back to the top we explored for a while. The Palace of the Presidency of the Republic was built in 1894 as the residence of the Portuguese governor. After independence in 1975 it became the presidential palace. It is a fairly stolid looking building though not unattractive and has an excellent garden to one side (the guard made me stop taking pictures after I got this one).
We stopped by the large 1956 monument to Diogo Gomes, one of the men who discovered this island in 1460. It stands near a corner of the plateau that houses the center of the city and from the walls here we could see in two directions. To the left we could see Zaandam docked across the bay. To the right we looked over the beach of Gamboa and an island to the left not too far from shore called Santa Maria Island. This island was the first stop on Charles Darwin’s 1832 voyage on the Beagle, and where he made his first geological observations. It is now connected to the shore by a bridge about the length of a US football field. In the distance on a jetty you can see between the island and the shore is the Farol de Dona Maria Pio, a lighthouse built in 1881 on the southernmost tip of the island. It was named after the Portuguese queen at that time. Its tower is octagonal and is about 60 feet tall.
The large green square at the center of the city is called Praca Alexandre Albuguerque, named after a Portuguese governor of Cabo Verde. Along its side is the Pro-catedral Nossa Senhora d Graca (Pro-Cathedral of Our Lady of Grace). It opened in 1902 and is the seat of the Catholic Diocese of the island that dates back to 1533. Facing the square on another side is the Quartel Jaime Mota, which opened in 1826 as a military barracks. The current building dates back to 1872 and has been modified since. Jaime Mota was a Cape Verdean revolutionary killed by the Portuguese before independence, after which this building was named for him. It is unclear to us whether today it is used by the military or the police.
It was a hot day and we had done a lot of walking so we stopped at a place called Esplanada Morabeza in the square for a beer and a bite to eat. It had a shaded outdoor patio to relax on. We had a Strela beer and also ordered hamburgers. The beer was cold and good but the hamburgers were all but inedible. People who know Rick will realize how unusual it is for him to leave most of a hamburger on the plate, so you know it wasn’t good.
On our way back to the shuttle stop we passed the Supremo Tribunal de Justica (Supreme Court of Justice of Cabo Verde). It was established after independence in 1975 and has changed names since then but is till the highest court in Cabo Verde.
Back on the ship at dinner we had a modest celebration of a significant event. Three quarters of a century ago, on this date, Rick was born. Wow, three quarters of a century! Who could imagine that someone who looks so young could be so old? As usual on birthdays the restaurant staff brought us a small birthday cake and sang the Indonesian birthday song. A good time was had by all.
Dakar, Senegal 2022
On December 8 we were in Dakar, Senegal. We were supposed to be in Banjul, Gambia, but were informed a few days earlier that the stop had been changed because tidal conditions in Gambia, where we would have to sail up a river to the port, would not permit more than a brief stop there. We previously visited Dakar in 2018 and if you want to read more about this area you can see it here:
As you can read in that post, in 2018 the stop in Dakar was problematic, mainly because passengers were harassed in town and some crew members were robbed of their phones (as far as we know none of this happened during this visit). We had a bus tour of the highlights of Dakar on that visit along with a very interesting morning on Goree island. So we decided to spend this visit at the Bandia nature reserve visiting a variety of African animals.
Located about 40 miles south of Dakar, Bandia has some 2500 acres, soon to be expanded to 8500 we read in 2018 and again this year, of natural habitat surrounded by a fence. Since it was established in 1997 they have been bringing back many native species that had gone extinct in this area over the last several hundred years from hunting and the loss of habitat due to encroaching human settlement. We rode in safari vehicles through the reserve’s dirt roads with a guide to help spot animals and tell us about them (although her English was a little hard to understand). We left early in the morning, passing the Dakar railroad station on the way out, then boarded the safari vehicles, open but with a bright green canopy on top, and set out into the woods.
The absence of large predators is clear from the relaxed way the animals stand around, mostly eating, and from the fact that monkeys and birds can be seen walking around on the ground. We have read that there are some lions and hyenas here but they are kept in separate fenced areas so they can’t bother (by which we mean eat) the other animals. We did not see them.
We don’t know the names of all the animals we saw but will do our best. Our first encounter was with a Green Vervet Monkey, which seem to be plentiful in the reserve. They have black faces with orange, white and black fur, with very long tails. They are found as far afield as the Caribbean, where we saw one once in Barbados.
We saw several kinds of antelope. The Roan Antelope is striking for its black and white face and curved horns, resembling an Oryx with shorter horns. The Eland has straight horns and a clear beige face. We saw a group of them in some woods. Impalas were also there. We had seen them in herds during our 2018 South Africa safari, but here it looked like just a family group. In South Africa they provide food for the big cats and other predators, but there was none of that here.
We stopped near a lake where some birds were standing on the shore. We don’t have identifications but the tall one may be a heron.
We saw some Patas monkeys on the ground and sitting on logs. These are ground dwelling monkeys and they are the world’s fastest primates, able to run more than 30 miles per hour. I guess that comes in handy if you want to stay alive while living on the ground, although there doesn’t seem to be any danger in this area.
We came upon what turned out to be a young buffalo, sans horns, hurrying through the grass looking like some kind of strange dog or pig from a distance. Then it caught up to its mother who was grazing in the grass, which gave away its identification. If you look closely there is an Oxpicker bird perched on the mother’s side, just above and to the right of the calf. These little birds (6 or 7 inches) spend their time on the hide of buffalo, giraffes, rhinos and other large animals in Africa where they dine on ticks and other insects (as well as the animal’s blood sometimes if there is a sore spot). Most of the large animals don’t seem to mind them; perhaps they are happy to have their parasites removed.
Several giraffes were munching on some trees. And a couple of zebras were lazing in the grass. This is what you see when you do a game drive in the middle of the day, since most wild animals take it easy then and are more active in the evening and the early morning.
A couple of showy types of bird were around too. We saw two Western Red-Billed Hornbills sitting on a branch. Elsewhere on the ground we saw what is probably a Long-tailed Glossy Starling. It’s back was a shiny metallic looking blue-green and it had round yellow eyes that looked a little freaky. A startling starling!
Speaking of birds, we saw two ostriches, both males (black and white feathers). Ostriches are the biggest birds on Earth and the fastest two legged runners, peaking at about 40 miles per hour. Each of the ones we saw was by itself. With their large bodies and tiny heads they looked like something out of the movie Yellow Submarine.
Bandia Reserve has a large number of Beobab trees scattered throughout. These large trees can live a thousand years or more and have very fat trunks with a lot of water in them. They stood out from other trees during our drive because they were very white and mostly leafless (in addition to being big). Near the end of our drive we stopped by a particularly large one and our guide explained that inside this living thousand year old tree is where the indigenous people of the area bury their Griots when they die. Griots are African storytellers who preserve the local history through oral performance, with or without instrumental accompaniment. This is similar to Homer, the somewhat legendary blind troubadour of ancient Greece credited with authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey even though he would not have been able to read or write. Griots are prominent people in their societies, often important advisors to the local headmen. Our guide told us that after several generations the local people decided to stop burying their griots in this tree, but then they were hit by several years of drought. This convinced them to resume the practice, after which the drought ended. On the other side of the tree from where we were parked there is apparently a large hole in the bottom of the tree with a metal fence, behind which can be seen a couple of skulls.
After our drive was finished we walked to the outdoor cafeteria. We passed a fenced area on the way in which were several giant tortoises. The cafeteria has a view down to a lake that is full of crocodiles. Happily, they weren’t too close and the overlook was well beyond their reach.
So ends the good part of this excursion. It was a nice drive and we saw quite a few animals, considering the time spent and the time of day. But of course this was nothing like the 4 day safari we had in South Africa in 2018. Still, it was our only opportunity to drive into the woods to visit animals in their natural habitat, so we were happy to have done it.
We returned to the bus at the appointed time and had to wait . . . and wait, because there are often some people who think they are entitled to take as long as they want, here to eat and shop, before joining the others at the bus. Then as we finally left the reserve one of the passengers asked the guide if he could have something to drink. They didn’t have anything (some people bring their own water if this is important to them) so the whole bus full of people pulled over at what looked like a sort of drug store and we all waited while he went inside and bought some soda. We were irritated because the last time we were here there was a great impromptu market spread out on the dock and since we had missed shopping (and everything else) in Cape Town we were hoping to do some here. But as we got back into town, already much later than advertised, the guide announced we were going to stop at a large local market at the request of a couple of passengers who wanted to shop there. This was met by a loud chorus of “No, take us to the dock” from most of the other passengers but that made no difference. The bus pulled into an alley through traffic and the guide and about three people got off the bus and went into the market while the other 40 or so people just sat on the warm bus waiting for them. After about 25 minutes (I think) they finally returned, having purchased . . . nothing.
When we finally returned to the dock we discovered that this time there was no market there! We don’t know why but this was quite disappointing for us. Before dinner we sailed away from Dakar and from the continent of Africa, heading west with only two more stops before reaching the US.
Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire 2022
We arrived at Abidjan, the economic hub and largest city in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), on the morning of December 5. While this area was probably inhabited more than 10,000 years ago the current indigenous people apparently arrived from the north sometime before the 16th century. The name of the country derives from prolific trade in ivory with Europeans during the 17th century, but by the end of the century the consequent reduction in the elephant population had pretty much killed it. The French established a protectorate in the area in 1843 and in 1893 it officially became a French colony. Independence was achieved in 1960 and for some time this was considered a model of stability among newly independent African nations. But that ended after a coup in 1999 and two civil wars between 2004 until 2011. The current administration has been in office since 2010, winning its third election in 2022. Today Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa beans, its largest industry, although this is quite controversial because of serious allegations about widespread use of forced child labor.
Abidjan is a large modern looking city with a population of some 4.7 million people. Originally a small fishing village, it was elevated to the status of “town” in 1903 and was the capital from 1934 to 1983, before and after independence. After independence development was rapid with the population growing from 180,000 in 1960 to more than 1.25 million by 1978. In 1983 the official capital was moved to Yamoussoukro, the president’s home village, but many government agencies and foreign embassies remain in Abidjan. We had an expansive view of the city from the port located on the other side of the Ebrie Lagoon.
The city was accessible from the port via a long bridge but we did not go there. Because the cruise industry was shut down during the pandemic our cruise had been postponed several times and we had been preparing for it since 2019. We had been booked for a couple of years on a private tour here that would have taken us to Grand Bassam, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the first French colonial capital of the Cote d’Ivoire colony from 1893 to 1896. Unfortunately that tour company closed down during the pandemic (as did many others) so when we saw that HAL was offering what sounded like a similar excursion we signed up. That might have been a mistake because it turned out that HAL’s excursion company was not ready for prime time.
We set out in the morning in two buses for the fairly lengthy drive to Grand Bassam. We had seen quite a bit of poverty the day before in Ghana but it seemed to be much worse here. We passed mile after mile of one story wooden structures looking like they might fall down in a strong wind. There was a lot of trash and rocks strewn around the ground in many areas. But many of the people were busy and dressed in very colorful clothing which kept the area from being quite as sad looking as it otherwise might have been. We passed the Akwaba monument, a large white modern sculpture of two people hugging that was erected in 1989. Akwaba means “welcome” in several of the indigenous languages and this is a monument to hospitality situated near the airport. Many women were carrying loads on their heads. These are street photos taken from a moving bus, so not as high in quality as one hopes. It should also be remembered that this is only a small part of the area, where our bus happened to be driving, so other parts of Ivory Coast may be quite different.
Grand Bassam is a town of about 85,000 located on the coast east of Abidjan. Originally occupied by the Nzema people more than 500 years ago it became the primary French port in the region in the mid 19th century. It was made the capital of the French Cote d’Ivoire colony in 1893. The capital was moved in 1899 because of a yellow fever outbreak but it remained a key port until the development of Abidjan in the 1930’s. By the 1960’s the town was all but abandoned but it began to revive a decade or two later. In 2016 19 tourists were killed in a mass shooting by radical Islamists but apparently there has been no such trouble since.
There are two sections of the town. The old French colonial settlement is near the coast and across a lagoon is the commercial area, built on what was originally the location of African servants’ quarters. We drove into town through the newer commercial area and crossed a bridge to reach the colonial part of town. As we approached the town we drove through the Place de la Paix where there was a large monument to the 500 (or more) women from Abidjan who staged a protest march in 1949 seeking the release of their husbands and brothers who were imprisoned in Grand Bassam for belonging to an anti-colonial party. They were stopped and beaten by French soldiers. Nobody was released from the prison.
We drove through the sometimes crowded streets and parked by an alley. We were instructed to walk down the alley where we came to the Cathedral du Sacre Coeur, the seat of the local Catholic diocese and the oldest cathedral in Cote d’Ivoire. It is modest compared to most cathedrals we have seen. A small wooden church was built on this spot in 1896 but it was deliberately burned down a few years later while combatting yellow fever. The current building opened in 1910. We milled around outside for about 20 minutes while our guides tried to negotiate our admittance but to no avail (One passenger insisted loudly that we had been barred for racial reasons, which we don’t think was true). Finally we were instructed to walk back to the bus, so we never saw the inside. Our friend Robert, however, stepped inside the front door and took some pictures before we were informed we were not welcome. While we waited in the bus for our guides to return, we saw some school children dressed in uniforms probably off to lunch.
Next we drove to the Maison des Artistes, billed in the excursion description as “a cooperative of craftsmen selling . . . paintings, masks, batik and woodwork.” Maybe we missed something here, but we didn’t see any craftsmen working or selling and the only art we saw was paintings. The gallery was not very big, the rooms were small and dim and we had to stay in line as we went through the building. On the way there we passed the municipal library, always a highlight for us.
Across the street is the National Costume Museum. This building was constructed between 1893 and 1902 and served until 1934 as the residence of the colonial governor, even after Grand Bassam was no longer the capital. In 1981 it was reopened as a museum, considered one of the notable attractions in town. We walked through the first floor, which housed about a dozen large glass cases containing mannikins wearing the dress of different indigenous peoples of the country. The excursion description said we were supposed to have a guided tour in English but that didn’t happen, and it really mattered because there were no signs in English to inform you what you were looking at. We have read since that there is more to see upstairs but there was no indication of that when we visited (at least in English) so we left after walking through the first floor, quite disappointed. Attached to one side of the building was a very well stocked craft and souvenir store.
We boarded the bus yet again for the short drive to our lunch spot. We had a very good buffet lunch, with local beer included, outside under tents near the sea shore by a hotel. We didn’t know its name, but a friend who took this excursion on a later cruise identified it as the Hotel Etoile du Sud (thanks Pete). Vendors were selling various souvenirs under a shaded structure by the beach and there was a fellow in a canoe just beyond the very active surf.
After lunch we were told to reboard the bus. After a while all the passengers and our guide moseyed aboard and we were driven . . . about one block to park again outside the costume museum. We sat there for more than half an hour while the folks from the other bus visited the museum. We have no idea why they didn’t visit it before lunch like we did or what they were doing instead, but this was really no fun at all. Why couldn’t we have visited one of the other landmarks promised in the tour description that we never did see? Or since this was the end of the tour of Grand Bassam they could have just driven us back to the dock at that point, but they said they had to wait and travel along with the other bus. Very puzzling and irritating.
We finally did drive back to Abidjan once the folks from the other bus were finished. At one point near the end of the drive a group of soldiers armed with automatic weapons directed all of the traffic off of the main road onto narrow service roads on each side. We sat there for about 15 minutes with the main road entirely empty and nothing happening. Then a single ambulance drove down the main road heading away from the city. A few minutes later we were permitted to drive on. We thought that ambulance must have been for someone pretty important! It gave us a taste of what local drivers must feel like when police accompanying one of our tour buses makes them clear the road for us. So here are some scenes we saw from the bus window, first in Grand Bassam and then during the remainder of the trip back to the dock.
In sum, Grand Bassam seems to be a worthwhile place to visit, after all it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. I imagine the private excursion here we had booked earlier would have been pretty interesting, with a small group and a knowledgeable guide well versed in English. But the folks running our excursion were unable to handle the logistics and we had very little in the way of explanation of what we were seeing. HAL’s Shore Excursion department agreed and refunded half of what we had paid for it. But they couldn’t give us back our only day to visit Cote D’Ivoire! Too bad.
We left the port before sunset, sailing a pretty good distance before we reached the open ocean. Leaving Abidjan in the distance we passed a pretty island full of palms on the way out.
Takoradi, Ghana 2022
After 3 sea days we docked on December 4 in the port of Takoradi, Ghana. It appears that the first organized state in what is now Ghana was established by Akan people in the 16th century (there was a kingdom called Ghana before the 13th century but it was in a different location). The Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade with these people in the 15th century. The primary commodity at that time was gold (still an important export) so Europeans called this area the Gold Coast. By the end of the 15th century they had built the first European strongholds here and by the mid 17th century the Dutch, Swedes and Danes had joined the party. Some 30 European castles were built along the Gold Coast which, during the 17th and 18th centuries, were used as depots to send newly enslaved people to America. The British arrived in the 1870’s and eventually established control of the area after a 100 year war against the Ashanti Empire. In 1957 Ghana became the first African colony to gain independence, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Particularly in the 21st century the Ghanian economy has grown, its major exports being oil, gold and cocoa beans.
Takoradi has Ghana’s oldest deep water port, established in 1928, which was where we were docked. Takoradi and Secondi were neighboring towns that merged in 1946 into the hyphenated city of Secondi-Takoradi, now with a combined population in excess of 450,000. Both were originally established by the Ahanta people (part of the Akans). The Dutch built a fort in Secondi in 1642 and in Takoradi in 1665. Because the lucrative oil industry is centered here the city is nicknamed Oil City.
We spent the day on a bus excursion along the coast to the east (missing the oil rigs to the west . . . darn) and then into a rain forest. The drive to the Kakum National Park was long so we spent a lot of time watching the streets from our window. Different views of daily life amid a good deal of what we would consider poverty. It was Sunday, so not many crowds out and about in the early morning.
The people of Ghana are 71% Christian and almost 20% Muslim. We passed some small local mosques and some churches, one of which had congregants out front in their Sunday best even though the church’s roof was under construction.
Kakum Nation Park includes 145 square miles of tropical rainforest. It became a nature reserve in 1931 and a national park in 1992. We have read that there is an abundance of wildlife here but the only ones we saw were a giant worm and a bird near the visitor center.
We came here to visit the Kakum Canopy Walkway, a series of seven hanging bridges 130 feet high connecting the top portions of seven huge trees. It is more than 1,000 feet in length, the largest and highest in West Africa, and enables visitors to walk among the tree tops. It is pretty challenging for people of a certain age because it is suspended from wire ropes strung between the trees and can sway as you walk. You walk on long narrow boards, fastened to the bottom of a rope mesh, which sometimes tilt left or right as people walk along with you at different gaits. And the beginning and end of each bridge tilts up toward the tree because the middle part hangs lower. The walking board is smooth so you could easily slip on the steeper bridges and must hold tight to the rope mesh walls of the bridge.
Before even reaching the canopy walkway, however, we had to climb a long and steep path to the top of a hill that was paved with uneven paving stones, then up a ladder to reach the beginning of the walkway.
It was very difficult to take pictures while walking on the rope walkway because it felt like you had to hold on to the rope with both hands to avoid falling. It was much easier standing on the platforms attached to the trees, which were sturdier and much larger. Rick was walking behind Mary so there are some pictures of her from behind and there are some pictures of us walking on the walkway taken by friends of ours standing on the tree platform we were approaching. We actually have a picture below of our friends Susan and (another) Rick, who took those pictures.
It was, in fact, quite a view up in the treetops, although disappointingly we didn’t spot any birds or animals while we were up there.
There were times it seemed we would never reach the end of the walkway, but we finally did and then walked back down the hill to the visitor center. Ghana is very close to the equator so it was quite hot and we were pretty sweaty by the end. There were signs on the stone pathway telling you not to run, but it was doubtful anyone needed a sign to figure that out. At the bottom we declared victory! This was an unusual and interesting experience and we were glad we did it. But it was comforting to know that now we never have to do it again. The sign suggests we weren’t the only ones who felt that way.
Leaving the park we drove to the Lovers Inn Oil Mill where we saw the palm oil production process.
From there we drove to the Kokodo Guest House where we had lunch on the patio. The sun was very bright and hot, so tables in some shade were at a premium. The food was good and it was a pleasant lunch stop. Throughout Africa women can be seen carrying large baskets or bags on their heads, balanced without support from their hands. We drove through one small town whose main street was lined with unpainted one story wooden buildings, looking like a very poor area. Then as we passed one I looked up and painted along the top of the facade was “Miami University, Oxford, Ohio U.S.A.” We were too close and moving too quickly for a picture and I have no idea what this facility might have been, but it was pretty startling to this Ohio boy.
After lunch we proceeded to the oceanside to visit the Cape Coast Castle, the main reason we chose this excursion. The Portuguese established a trading post here in 1555, trading mostly in gold and timber (especially mahogany) and the Swedes replaced it with a timber fort almost a hundred years later. Between 30 and 40 forts were built by Europeans along the Gold Coast in this period, especially after the Atlantic slave trade heated up. After changing hands a few times the fort was acquired by the British in 1874 and it stayed in their hands until Ghana gained independence in 1957. The British rebuilt the fort out of stone and named it Cape Coast Castle. It has been restored in the 1920’s and again in the 1990’s. We were lucky in that the guide assigned to our bus had a lot of expertise about the Cape Coast Castle and the slave trade in Ghana.
The castle was protected from sea attack by cannons mounted along a sea wall that was pretty much the length of the building.
This building’s primary significance is its role as one of the largest depots for exporting slaves to the Americas during the 17th & 18th centuries and right up to the British abolition of the slave trade in 1807. The British built what they called “slave holes” in the lower areas, huge dungeons with no windows, little light and ventilation and no toilet facilities other than the floor, where up to a thousand slaves could be held until they were sold to a slaving ship. We visited these gloomy spaces, separated into men’s and women’s quarters. In the last room of the men’s quarters was a religious table reflecting, if we understood correctly, the indigenous religions.
In a corridor leading down from the Castle’s courtyard to the sea ends at the “door of no return,” where the enslaved people were taken from the dungeons to the waiting slave ships. The title reflects the fact that once they walked through that door they would never see their homeland again. We had seen another “door of no return” in 2018 on Ile de Goree in Senegal, which opened directly to the ocean. The door here opened onto a shore area of rock and sand where they would have to walk further than in Senegal to reach the ship. A sign saying “Door of Return” is on the outside of this door, but few if any of the enslaved people who walked through this door were ever able to walk back in. President Obama visited both of these slave depots in 2009 and there is a marble plaque here commemorating his visit.
The beach area of the small bay outside the door of no return was really jumping on the day we visited, full of people and boats and flags. We even saw a couple of small goats wandering on the rocks. We have seen many of these dwarf goats in West Africa roaming free like you often see feral dogs in other places. Our guide told us that most of them belong to families who let them run free during the day (to eat elsewhere) and they return home at night. Then when they get fat enough, he said, we eat them.
We were later than scheduled in leaving the Castle to return to the pier. Partly this was due to the previous stops and travel taking longer than anticipated, and also to at least one of the folks in our bus continuing to shop beyond when she was supposed to be back. It seems there is often someone whose personal shopping is more important than everyone else assigned to the bus having to sit in the vehicle to await their leisurely return. So there was some angst among the folks on the bus about getting back before the all aboard time and being left behind (in my opinion, there is no way they are going to leave 30 or so passengers behind for being a few minutes late, but that’s just me). The guide was prevailed upon to phone in and let them know we were on the way, which he did. Then, not very far from the port, we suddenly pulled into a gas station! This was entirely unexpected and of course generated concern that it would make us later. But it took very little time since they prepaid for the gas and bought just enough to get us to the port rather than filling the tank. In the end we made it back shortly before the all aboard time. No problem, right?
As we drove by the water not far from the port we had a view of a Turkish owned ship purpose built to generate electricity from oil or gas. Ghana now gets 20 to 25% of its electricity from this (not sure whether there are other such ships in Ghana). A pipeline has been built from local natural gas fields to the ship to facilitate this. The power ship is the one on the left in the last picture below.