Published: July 2nd 2011June 29th 2011
Beibhinn and I woke around 5.30am to a rustling noise which we believed to be our carefully stacked pile of luggage we had placed in front of the locked door should anyone try to kidnap us on our first night. In fact, we were probably most concerned about the two young guys who had brought our luggage to our chalet for us as we had not had any money to tip them! It turned out to be just a mouse or something in the roof-thank goodness! Richard took us from Accra, through various different villages and towns, to Takoradi which is a twin city of Sekondi. Sekondi was once the more prominent of these two cities but is today a more derelict and run down version of itself with Takoradi taking the reigns as the premier city. What astonished us most about our first daylight experience of Ghana was the sheer volume of people. There are people literally everywhere-and we thought Shop Street on a Saturday afternoon was awash with people! Richard told us the population of Ghana is 22 million (actually almost 24million) and the population of Accra is 6 million (most websites say that it is just below 2 million but it is often disputed as a lot of people are not registered). He nearly died with laughter when we told him the population of our entire country is just 4million and is around the same size! Lack of family planning was his reasoning behind the Ghanaian population being so high. He was also dumbstruck as to how we are able to keep a country running with so few people-we told him it isn't quite running at the moment!
People here live in sometimes tiny wooden shacks or red clay huts at the roadside where they are subjected to really tough and cruel living conditions. The air is moist and humid and full of smoke and fumes which is a contributing factor to the life expectancy of the country being just 59. Anyway, each person be they 5 or 45, seems to be an entrepreneur of sorts! Hawking appears to be a common practice with such things as fresh fruits, dried yams, mints, drinks, sunglasses and flip-flops being flogged when the traffic lights have turned red or when you approach a toll barrier. Another thing we noticed was that every out of every roadside hut that was trading, every second one was painted bright green or red- green advertising "Glo" and red advertising "Vodafone". As we got closer to Takoradi the green changed to yellow and the logo to "MTN", a phone network provider. Great advertising tools at presumably minimal cost!
We stopped at Elmina Caslte to break up the journey and to visit our first tourist attraction. At this stage, we had not seen a single white person since leaving the airport and were beginning to wonder whether or not we would at all! Elmina Castle was built in 1482 by the Portuguese as a trading settlement but was later to become an important stop on the slave trade route. It is also the oldest European building below the Sahara. Seized in the 1600's by the Dutch, the slave trade continued along the Gold Coast until 1871 when the British Empire took it into their possession. The "Gold Coast" was granted it's independence in 1957 to form what is now known as Ghana. Given the slave like treatment of the Gold Coast inhabitants, sexploitation was common and many Dutch guards would have a Gold Coast wife which they chose from nearby Elmina town. As a result, a lot of the inhabitants of Elmina are of Dutch and Portuguese descent. The stories that we were told about the slaves and captives were pretty horrifying with some dungeons being around 5x5metres, equipped with little ventilation or light. The captives were not fed or washed and were literally left to rot in their own feces. If you were brought to the "Gate of no Return", you would end up in Europe, America or dead. It was a highly interesting visit but extremely sad. (Apparently, Barrack and Michelle Obama wept at the nearby Cape Coast Castle.)
So after our four hour taxi journey which set us back $140, we arrived at Beach Rad, Takoradi! We're staying with my New Zealand/Irish/pretty much everywhere cousin, Teresa and her German partner, Peter. They live in a former Chinese restaurant owned by Mr. Chin, a funny if slightly mad Chinese man from Shanghai. The house is right on the sea edge so waking up every morning and going to sleep every night to the sound of the ocean is something I could definitely get used to!