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At the Cape Coast Slave Castle

The next morning I said goodbye to my lovely hut and outdoor toilet to get back on the truck and head east to Cape Coast. I did love my room, however, I had to employ a technique there that I hadn’t used since 2009 when I was in Nicaragua during a particularly hot and muggy spell of weather. Without a fan, which is really essential in the heat of the night, the only way one could fall asleep would be to get in the shower and get completely soaked with cold water, and then lie back down on the bed still wet and try to fall asleep before you dry off.

That technique helped me to fall asleep the prior two nights in Elmina.

Morning in Elmina at the market

Baby asleep with head all the way back while carried by mama

Woman carrying massive ice blocks on her head…Because, Africa.

Our journey out of town had us passing the exact same busy thoroughfare that me and the boys had walked the night prior – though being morning, it was even busier than what it had been. From our unique vantage point aboard the truck, it was super easy to get great photos of people passing by carrying massive baskets of fish, produce and other wares to sell in the market. The boats were heavily laden and still bearing their colorful paints and biblical names – headed out to sea as we drove by.

One of the amusing things about Ghana, given its dominant Christian makeup in the south, is that so many small businesses name their storefronts with a religious title. Here are a few examples of the names we saw along our journey:

“Thy Will Be Done Licensed Chemical Shop”

“Life in Christ Radiator Specialist”

“Merciful God Vulcanizing”

“God is My Provider Aluminium Works”

“If Jesus says yes, no one can say no market”

“God is Alive Curtains Internal”

“Charity begins at home drinking spot”

This defies belief. Hence, photo.

Special thanks go out to Mike for keeping a log of these gems.

Soon we got to Cape Coast Castle and unloaded for our tour of this castle – different to Elmina in that it was built specifically for the slave trade in 1610 and opened in 1653. On entering, we immediately saw the plaque commemorating the visit that Barack and Michelle Obama made here back in 2009.

Cape Coast Castle courtyard

Female Dungeon

View from other side of Door of No Return…where the ship would pick up the slaves passing through it.

The visit was just as haunting as my visit to Elmina, so I won’t recount my reactions here except to say that we were given a lot more free time to explore once the tour was over and I chose to go back into the dungeons alone and stand quietly in the darkness.

Even just in comparison to being down there with the group, the forboding and eeriness was far more palatable when I was alone and it was difficult to imagine the untold stories of suffering that were contained in those walls.

One item I failed to describe in my last post was the treatment of women in the female dungeons as sex slaves.  This was true in both Elmina and Cape Coast.  The governor, or any soldier residing in the castle could choose a woman to rape whenever he wanted.  The women would be marched out of the dungeon and selected from a balcony overlooking the courtyard.  She would then be washed thoroughly and brought to her captor to be violated.

On the one hand, if chosen, you’d be raped.  On the other, you finally got to bathe.

I know, not funny, and I don’t mean it to sound trite.

Many of these women became pregnant and would be taken from the dungeon to a separate building to give birth and then wean the infant, only to have it taken away from her once it could eat solid food.  She would then be returned to the dungeons or put on a slaver ship.  Later on, these “Mulatto” (their word, not mine) would be given an education in specially built schools and many went on to be leaders in the slave industry – seen as more elite and superior than their darker countrymen.

With Wayne and our guide

In comparison with Elmina, Cape Coast did house a well-curated museum regarding the slave trade and it’s impact on the New World and African American culture today. There was even displays of the branding irons that owners would use to be able to identify their “property” and visual representations of the inside of the slave ships with gut wrenching diagrams of how people were stacked.

I especially liked the room that chose to honor those African Americans who’s roots can be traced to those once in bondage and give credence to their accomplishments and continuing fight for equality. I will include a few of the pics I took here below.

Branding iron used on Slaves to mark as property…this one of the ATI company

After the visit we had only a short journey north to Kakum National park where we would be dividing into groups and hiking into the jungle for a night up in the tree canopy in the treehouses that offered a pretty unique place to sleep.

While waiting for dinner, Mike had the misfortune to step onto a wooden platform that completely gave way causing him to puncture his foot with something metallic, perhaps a nail. Watching him go down was initially quite funny until we realized that he was hurt – but after getting some alcohol to clean the wound and a bandaid…he still managed to power through and do the hike with us.

Sinead hiking to our Treehouse in Kakum National park

Treehouse in Kakum National Park

Kakum is home to a number of species including the pygmy forest elephant – but we were advised to keep our expectations very low for what wildlife we might be able to spot in the short time we were visiting.

The hike in was very easy and took just over an hour. It’s funny to me how much hikes are always made to seem so difficult and that they require such physical stamina by the hosts in countries where I am visiting – I guess it must mean that their average tourist is simply very out of shape because I find them to be generally quite tame despite their arduous descriptions.

There were around 14 of us staying at the treehouse that was a little bit of a further trek away – and in looking up at the structure, I did wonder just how safe it was for that many people to make it home for the night. Several people just brought their tent with them, but the rest of us made it up the eighty or so steps, trying not to think about how difficult it was going to be to have to come back down in the night to pee.

View from the forest canopy walk in the early morning

We formed sleeping mats in a circular fashion on the floor around the hut and tried to get set up for what was going to be an early night. After a well deserved Smirnoff Ice (Mike and I packed a few in that managed to stay cold) we headed out for a Night Walk with our guide, Sammy.

The night walk was mostly about hearing the sounds of the jungle and animals around you. It’s funny how without a headlamp, you can easily just be convinced that every creature is out to “get you”, when in reality, it is very difficult to spot wildlife with headlamps. We did get to hear the Hyrax – a rodent that is actually a genetic relative of the elephant make extremely high pitched sounds as they came down from the forest canopy to forage for food. We also managed to spot several bush babies, millipedes and an errant moth who wanted to fly into my bra for some reason – to which I emitted a rather loud shriek which in turn was received with various forms of mocking.

Overall, the experience in Kakum was fun and unique – if not exactly for its wildlife encounters then for its atmosphere.

Walking the canopy just after sunrise

In the morning, we did a walk through the upper tree canopy by walking along hanging bridges that were built from platforms to platforms. It was an early start at 0530, but how often do you get to see the sun rise from a tree canopy in a National Park in Ghana?

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