Archive for April 10, 2023

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.

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     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.

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     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.

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    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.

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     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.

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     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.

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     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.

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     Leaving the park we drove to the Lovers Inn Oil Mill where we saw the palm oil production process.

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    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.

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     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.

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     The castle was protected from sea attack by cannons mounted along a sea wall that was pretty much the length of the building.

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     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.

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     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.

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     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.

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    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. 

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