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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 5.108, -1.24815
The wonky stomach for DH continues but it's not to the point that we can't travel (or at least she won't admit that it is) so we decide to push on. After one last breakfast order for the deer-in-the-headlights, slow motion staff at the Rainbow Hotel (which they got wrong), we took a short taxi ride to the start point of our first Tros Tros, the Ghanian version of the Bush Taxi we were more familiar with in Mali and Burkina. Like the Bush Taxi's the Tros Tros' are the ultimate in entrepreneurial transportation- they don't leave until they are full (and we're talking about the African definition of full), in their former life they were probably comfortable vans but now had bench seating installed in the back, and they normally travel in a straight line for a relatively short distance, picking up and dropping off passengers, livestock, and big bundles of merchandise along the way. If you're travelling any significant distance, you simply hop from one Tros Tros to the next and there was a fair bit of assistance offered as we made our trek (we had to use four of these vehicles plus the two taxis at
either end but it all worked out). One big difference between the Tros Tros and the Bush Taxi seemed to be the front seat capacity which was usually restricted to three (I suspect to avoid giving the numerous slumbering Ghanian policemen at the various checkpoints the excuse they might need to demand a financial gift) and for once my extra poundage became an asset. When I was shoved in the back I was taking up the valuable real estate associated with the daily attempts to set people per square inch world records so DH and I were normally moved to the front seats as quickly as possible to allow the people stuffing to begin. From this vantage point it was a little easier to marvel at the thought process of the people standing alongside the road who flag down a van with bodies bulging outside the windows, the thought process of the Tros Tros driver and assistant who actually believe they can fit just one more person with merchandise into a vehicle that is already bottoming out, and the quiet acceptance of the people inside the van/sweatbox when one more joins the fold. I found myself wondering what the average
West African might make of our HOV Lane attempts to encourage 2 people in a vehicle.
After yet another attempt by a Ghanaian taxi driver to crank the price at the end of the ride despite having agreed to a set fee before starting (and another situation where the extra pounds have come in handy as I looked to persuade the driver to see things my way) we found a hotel and completed a brief exploration of Cape Coast. We found a great chill place (that serves pizza!!) that is right down by the ocean so we made arrangements to move here for our second night.
After shifting our backpacks we grabbed a ride to Elmina to visit the St George's slave castle (not sure why it's called a castle given both its purpose, and the general look and feel- certainly not in the mould of a European castle. Admission to the castle includes a guided tour and, while I'm sure the quality of guide varies greatly, the individual we had brought the appropriate amount of drama and passion to the tour. Architecturally there's not much to recommend- it's a rectangular block building/fortress with a ring of cannons along the top
wall. It's what took place within the thick walls that is of greatest interest and shock. The slave dungeons in St George's Castle would hold about 100 men and 100 women at any given time. The women's dungeon opens out into one of the castle's tall courtyards. Around the top of one end of this courtyard is a balcony that formed part of the officers' quarters, and this is where the officers would stand and order the female slaves to be hauled out and paraded in the courtyard below. The Governor in particular would study the slaves, and if he liked the look of any, she'd be cleaned up and sent up the stairs, where she'd be raped.
Slaves would be held in the dungeons for between one and three months, waiting for a slave ship to turn up. When one arrived they'd be led down a dank corridor to the 'Door of No Return', a one-person-wide slot in the castle wall through which they would stumble, chained and manacled, while looking for the last time on their homeland. For any slaves who caused trouble while in St George's; there was a small, airless prison room where they would be left
to die of thirst and starvation- it was right next to the prison cell for any of misbehaving Europeans- the difference between the two was remarkable; neither was a picnic but you had a chance of survival in the European cell. The idea was to inflict maximum pain on slaves who revolted to act as a deterrent for the others
The Dutch slave trading building in the middle of the compound was a chapel when the Portuguese owned the castle. The Dutch converted the building but established a room for worship in one of the upper rooms. This was one of the real perplexing dichotomies for me- how could you do what you were doing to other human beings and still claim to be devoted men of God?
After this emotionally draining visit we walked through Elmina, wandering through the fascinating harbour area, visited the Dutch cemetery (given the history of the Dutch in this area, I wasn't sure why the local population hadn't destroyed this site some time ago), a couple of posubans, Fort St Jago, among a number of other sites. We then headed back to Cape Coast to see the larger slave castle which was equally disturbing. This British
owned castle could hold 1000 males and 500 women in dungeons that were actually below floor level. Once again the conditions must have been horrific- Barrack Obama made a celebrated visit here recently and, according to our guide, was moved to ears- very easy to see why.
We were really enjoying the ocean-front location of the Oasis Beach Resort so we decided to extend our stay here by one night- it meant that would we would miss Accra but everyone we had talked to suggested that Accra was a dirty, polluted, noisy, and typical West African city that had little to hold the interest of travellers. I'm sure there are enthusiastic defenders of Accra but we certainly didn't meet them. The down day turned into one extended people watching exercise starting with one of the strangest fishing scenarios I had ever seen. A boat with paddlers who looked to be practicing for the yet to be announced Olympic event of fishing boat racing would dig hard against the ocean waves all the while stringing out a fishing net that was also being held via a long rope by another group of men on the shore. Once the boat had completed a
huge loop, the paddlers would beach the boat and cross over the first group of men and the two groups would start pulling in this massive net with the assistance of men, women, and children who magically appeared on the beach. The two groups had their own song and it was quite the sight to see this exercise in manual labour being done with a cadence being provided by a couple of very rhythmic tunes. After an extended period of time, the nets were pulled ashore and seemed to yield quite the harvest of sea creatures- the biggest jellyfish I have ever seen were disposed of in a pre-dug hole but everything else was salvaged. Everyone that had helped was paid with fish, lobsters, squid, etc in an amount that was presumably commensurate with the value they added during the whole event (how that might have been calculated was a complete mystery). An instant fish market sprung up, the nets were loaded back into the boat, and the cycle was repeated- it seemed to be an extraordinary effort for a somewhat limited return.
The other bit of fun we had was watching a fairly substantial group of local self-appointed gigolos (complete
with fashionable sunglasses, gaudy jewellery, and western jeans) attach themselves to a number of willing, young girls staying at the hotel who have all done the Rasta braids (do they actually think that's a good look for them?) and who seem to be drinking in all the attention they're getting. We had seen a number of scenarios earlier in our travels that looked to be a bad advertisement for sex tourism (older, unattractive male with a stunning, young local girl- DH is convinced that people are saying the same thing about me hanging out with her) but this was playing out the other way around.. Probably the easiest travel day we've had so far with the added bonus of falling asleep to the sound of waves crashing into the shore.
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