Benin Part III – Time Out in Ouidah and Chillin’ in Grand Popo

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The Door of No Return monument on the beach in Ouidah

Ouidah is a significant town on the beautiful Benin coastline because of its historically significant slave trade sites.  Among these is a famous “Tree of Forgetting” that captured slaves would walk around in circles – men nine times and women seven times, in an attempt to forget and leave behind their memories of their West African lives before being forced into slavery.  The tree marks the spot from which there was a well-used path of no return to a strip of beach where ships would forcibly remove chained men and women from their African Homeland.  This path is called the “Route des Esclaves” and is now scattered with monuments, museums, and voodoo fetishes (statues) to commemorate this walk that would have been trodden by thousands of men and women during the 300+ year slave trade.

Mike and I set out to visit these sites, but started at the supposedly famous “Python Temple” which turned out to not be a temple at all – you basically walked into a reddish room that looked like it might be the entryway – and it turned out to be the actual temple, with a handful of pythons laying around looking trapped and without much room to be…snakes. It was the biggest waste of 3,000 CFA each that we had spent.  Cursing ourselves for not having gone inside one at a time (to exit and advise the other not to bother) – we made our way to the tree of forgetting, hoping it might also do the trick for us and the Python Temple.

This is how I felt about the Python Temple

From there, it was about an hour’s walk back to the beach along the “Route Des Esclaves” passing the various monuments and commemorative plaques about slavery along the way.  Luckily, since we had napped, we had skipped the hottest part of the day and were making this longer walk as the sunset approached.

About two-thirds of the way, we came across yet another voodoo ceremony being enjoyed by a rather large crowd of locals, all clapping and dancing to the music being played by men while a group of women danced and “performed” their ceremony to the onlookers.  I loved the fact that a good number of these women were elderly, and it didn’t inhibit them one bit in owning their movement to the music.

One of the fetishes along the “Route des Esclaves”

At one point, one of the oldest ladies feigned (whether “real” or not is ultimately in the eye of the beholder) possession and ran out into the crowd to grab someone, and the whole audience shrieked and took off in the opposite direction.  It appeared to be lighthearted, but again, it was a little difficult to tell.

Again, we were the only white people present and we got a mixed reception, some folks smiling and inviting us to take photos, while others appeared to be deeply suspicious and instructing us to put our cameras away.  It was a real shame that the folks from the truck, staying at a different hotel on the other side of the “Door of No Return” monument on the beach hadn’t known about this voodoo ceremony.  Mike and I were grateful to have yet again stumbled across one that tourists have to typically pre-arrange and then doubt its authenticity.

Monument to Benin Independence

It was almost dark when we got back to the beach, and we decided it might be nice to visit the truck’s hotel for a beer or two.  As it turned out, the hotel served pizza which was too good of an idea for us to pass.  We got to our hotel finally much later than planned, but bellies full of cheesy goodness.

The following day we took advantage of our nice digs for a relaxing morning by the pool.  Since leaving Accra, we had been going at quite a pace, and I for one was desperate for a few days to slow down.  Since it had been closed the day before, we headed back out along the beach that afternoon to visit the “Museum of Return” which honored the heritage of those who had been forcibly removed from Africa who were now being given an open invitation to return.

Ironically, the museum’s “Door of Return” remained locked and unattended even after we had waited and taken beers on the beach until the signposted re-opening hour.  Like sarcasm, I think irony is also lost on West Africans – as I received zero reaction from our hotel receptionist when I related this funny story to her.  Then again, it might have been my French.

Trying to get in through the Door of Return

Sigh.

Of note that afternoon was the fact that a local Benin man bought us a round of beers when we sat down at the beach bar waiting for the museum to re-open.  That was a first, and it was a most welcome sign of hospitality.

Being too lazy at this juncture to take public transport, we arranged a pretty decent cab fare to be driven the hour or so to our next point of interest – Grand Popo – a lovely beachside hotel called Auberge de Grand Popo, that would also house Dragoman for the next two nights.  Not only did Mike and I crave some more respite from our formerly chaotic pace of travel, but we also had a lot to discuss/arrange in regards to whether we were ending the trip in Lome/Accra – or whether we would continue traveling and visit Ethiopia together.

Our lovely room at the Auberge de Grand Popo

It was Jan 30th and we’d been traveling together for two weeks.  Originally, I was supposed to fly home on the 5th of February, so a decision had to be made soon and I was hoping for fast internet in order to accomplish all the research I would need to do.

The Auberge was gorgeous, historic, and beautifully kept with a location that I would gladly fly to just for a week’s vacation – if I lived in Europe.  The highlight was the restaurant, and though the food was a little expensive compared to what we had grown used to spending – it was still very affordable by western standards and boasted utterly delicious food.  On the first night, we ordered a shrimp cocktail followed by grilled prawns with rice and vegetables, topping it off with a raspberry sorbet for dessert.  It was phenomenal and paired with a couple of cocktails, I felt like I was home again.

Me, Mike and Liz enjoying our lovely meal in Grand Popo

We hung out that night deep in conversation with Liz and Sinead from the truck and it was really nice to be social with our friends again.  The whole next day I edited photos, wrote my blog, researched Ethiopia/flights, and took breaks to swim in the pool and walk along the beach.  I was feeling much restored especially with the lovely surroundings, good company, and delicious food.  I didn’t even want to leave the next day – but we needed to make our way to Togo and then on to Accra, having decided that we would fly to Addis Ababa from Accra and join the truck for their final goodbye party on a Saturday night in the Ghanaian capital.  Since we had missed so many of Accra’s main attractions during our first stay – it only made sense to go back – even if we had to finagle and pay for a transit visa for Mike – who opted to get a single entry visa for Ghana when first making his travel plans.

On the first of February, we left Grand Popo in a cab headed for the Togolese border.

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Benin Part II – Stilt Villages and Voodoo

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The Stilt Village of Ganvie

The bus journey was actually quite comfortable.  If you can stand the fact that they insisted on blaring loud gospel music for hours starting at 6am, followed by God-awful Benin-ois soap operas played back to back for hours on end, all of which had essentially the exact same plot.  There would be a room of men shouting at one guy, the victim.  He would eventually get beaten with a stick and have his shirt taken from him while all the men continued yelling.  Then there would be a “romance” scene with a man and a woman in some passionate embrace, followed by them having a falling out.  The woman would then grasp her face in both hands, crying, and begging the man to not leave her (am guessing here) while he loudly berates her before storming out.  Then the final scene would be the crying woman seeking comfort from her father/friend about the awful man who’d yelled at her.

I swear it was the same plot every episode – and the people on the bus were absolutely mad for it and laughed up a storm.

The good thing about this very long journey was the fact that we had air conditioning.  The bus also actually stopped a number of times for bush pees – and I learned a fascinating thing.  The women in Benin use large rectangles of fabric, much like the material they use to tie a baby to their backs, to cover themselves while they squat and pee out in the open alongside the men!  It’s ingenious!  The only trick is to skip wearing panties, and presto – the woman’s nightmare of peeing in the bush in Africa in private is partially solved.

Our lovely air-conditioned bus from Tanguieta to Cotonou

Sure beats holding it in for hours, I can tell you.  I made a mental note to make better use of my sarong for next time.

After weeks and weeks of public transport and bus stations – I can tell you that what Africa needs above all else – is an abundance of clean, available, usable, public toilets.  We take toilets for granted.  Toilets are a luxury item.  And peeing isn’t a big deal for guys – though some very funny signs in Togo and Ghana warned that urination against a particular wall carried with it the penalty of death!

We got off the bus in Abomey-Cavalie, the town where there was a port where one could catch motorized pirogues (long wooden fishing boats) to the stilt villages of Ganvie.  Hundreds of years ago, the local people started building homes on the lake to try and escape being captured in the slave trade.  Since then, over 130,000 people now call these settlements in the middle of the lake home (and, presumably so does the raw sewage they must pump out into it on a daily basis…)

Men and women sporting matching outfits in pirogues in Ganvie

We were met with the normal swarm of moto-taxis vying for our business.  Two guys who were particularly aggressive told us they knew where our hotel was and started grabbing our bags before we had negotiated a price.  They asked for 1500 and I stated I wanted to pay 1200 and they started arguing violently talking about the price of gas, blah and blah as per normal.  However, they were also super pushy, so I decided against going with them and walked a little further down to a nice quiet rider who immediately agreed to my stated fare.  At that moment, the two guys who’d lost my business come over and start screaming at this man saying he doesn’t get to give me and Mike a ride.  This escalates and Mike and I take a step back as now a larger group of men are screaming at each other and starting to fight.  The whole thing is ridiculous.

A “supervisor” of sorts comes over and asks me what is going on.  I state that I want to ride with my chosen moto-taxi.  He takes our luggage and starts walking away and gives it to two totally new moto drivers and we are forced to leave this melee that is quickly worsening.  I turn around and try to tell the poor man who is being attacked that I’m sorry – and off we go.

Not exactly what we wanted for our first 10 minutes off an 11-hour bus ride.

We arrive at our accommodation for the night and immediately order some dinner and beer.  After half an hour, the driver who was attacked shows up to apologize.  He told us that the two guys who first tried to take us to our hotel were drunk and it was good that I had avoided them.  At first I am taken aback by his kindness, but then came the predictable “sob story/ask for help/please can I call you in the US and you can get me a visa?” part of the conversation.  By this point, I was hoarse with my standard sore throat/cough and could barely speak English, let alone French.  I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to send this poor guy away empty-handed.

I told him, in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t help him come to America.  That it wasn’t the prized solution he thought it was – it was a tough and unforgiving place where you need to speak English, not French, to get by.  I told him if he was determined to leave Benin, he should consider France first – but also to consider that perhaps life in the West was not as glorified as he imagined.  I asked if he wanted the opportunity to make some money and make up for the business he had lost that evening.  He said yes.  So – I asked him what he would charge us to go buy phone credit for Mike and some cough/cold medicine for me.  After another short lecture on how important it is for him to decide what the value is for his time (since so many Africans rely on the “pay me whatever you think my services are worth to you” mentality) we came to an agreed amount.  He happily went and ran our errands for us, and we were able to pay him for his time.

It felt like a positive outcome from a negative event.

The following morning, we moto’ed again over to the port to await the arrival of our orange truck.  It felt a little weird and good at the same time to be seeing our friends again, and we soon got a message from Sinead that they were running a little behind schedule.  A commotion on the dock drew our attention and we wandered over, only to find ourselves in the midst of an annual Voodoo ceremony commemorating the start of the Voodoo calendar in Benin!  It was quite a spectacle.

Priest officiating the Voodoo Ceremony

Woman, feeling the “spirit” move her

There was a couple hundred people all dressed ornately in white, some with face tattoos/painting.  A priest, I’m assuming, was chanting over some lit candles which were, in fact, not candles at all but lit cigarettes mounted in a tall candle-holder.  He was holding a pigeon that was presumably going to get sacrificed.  All the while, musicians played rhythmically on drums, drawing shouts and dancing from the crowd.

After a few minutes, several women starting showing signs of contortion and flailing about, as if possessed.  They pawed at their own faces and started screaming in gibberish (though, of course, we couldn’t quite tell the local dialect from gibberish, so whether or not they were speaking in tongues or not remains a mystery.)  It was quite a spectacle and Mike and I were proud that we had taken the initiative of walking over and getting involved with this local ceremony – we were travelers, unlike the other white “tourists” who stood waiting for their own pirogues to show up on the docks – completely ignoring this authentic display of culture because it wasn’t a part of their organized itinerary.

Soon enough, the Dragoman truck showed up and we were greeted heartily by our friends old and new before piling into two boats that headed out into the lake.

The stilt village of Ganvie was a photographer’s dream because it was full of people going about their daily lives, so very different to any other we’d seen, because their life was on the water.  It was a Benin version of Venice.  In addition, since it was a Sunday, and the start of their New Year, many locals were dressed in their very best – and even better, entire boatloads of men and women passed by our chosen hotel for the night dressed in identical vibrantly colored and highly-patterned costumes.

One of our pirogues used to get to the island

Our hotel was very basic and unfortunately, not all rooms had fans in them and we were facing a very sleepless night in the bug-infested, hot and humid night air.  In addition, the hotel was built out of wood with very rickety floorboards that had massive gaps/holes in them – our room being situated above the kitchen such that we also got the conversations and the plethora of aromas rising up from below.  Add to that the fact that the bed was on a sloping floor, we both committed to sleeping somewhere out in the open that night – especially after deciding to move the bed clockwise so that the slope was from head to feet rather than lateral, and realizing too late that this meant our mosquito net would no longer fit the bed.

Some of the oldest structures on the lake – over 120 years old.

We passed lunch with beer catching up with friends and watching life boat by us on the water from the convenient balcony above the restaurant which afforded a great viewing platform.  In the afternoon, we ventured out onto the water once more, visiting more settlements, some of the oldest stilt homes in the lake, and a few mosques/churches built on the few land masses/islands that existed at the center of this large body of water.

The oil needed for boats, generators and cooking in these villages came from Nigeria – and we were shown the giant jerry-can laden boats that make the hazardous journey via the lake across the border to buy illegal oil to bring back in the dead and dark of night.  We were also lucky enough to spot some beautiful kingfishers diving for their own lunches in the water.

Offerings on the ground at the Voodoo Ceremony

On our return, we saw a huge line of boats with villagers all patiently waiting for fresh water that is presumably pumped from a spring hundreds of meters below the lake bed.  The water was being dispensed by a giant pipe that one by one was filling the huge water containers that locals used for their freshwater needs.

It was a sight to see and the line didn’t seem to grow any shorter as the sun began to set.

My night passed quite fitfully and awkwardly – maybe one of the worst I’d had in Africa yet on this trip.  Mike, I and Jodie all opted to vacate our “rooms” above the kitchen to place our mattresses on the second floor of the hotel in a wide open space at the top of the stairs.  The air was still and hot, but at least it was cooler than our fanless rooms.

After about an hour, Mike fast asleep, I noticed I was getting bitten all over by mosquitoes.  I decided to go back to the room, realizing though, that our bed no longer had a mattress on it!  Thankfully, I had my own inflatable sleeping pad, but once I placed it on the bed – I faced two issues.  One – the slats of the bedframe were too big to properly support my small pad, and Two – the mosquito netting only covered the pad partially, inviting my original problem back with a vengeance.

Realizing that Jodie had also left her room, I went next door and settled my sleeping pad on her bedframe which was made out of wire and therefore supported my pad.  Unfortunately, without her mattress on the bed frame, the mosquito net also didn’t quite reach me, and some of the little buggers were able to fly up for their blood-feed through the wire frame of the bed.

It was 2am by now and I was exasperated and tired.

I decided to take my sleeping pad and try the other side of the hotel where perhaps additional breeze meant fewer mozzies.  I found Ron, one of the trucks’ passengers trying to catch some Zzzz’s in a chair – telling me it was just too hot in his room to sleep.  Sympathizing, I offered him my sleeping pad, and resolved to go back to where Mike was still happily asleep.

I doused myself in extra repellant, took an ambien, and hoped for the best.  I finally managed to get a few hours’ sleep before having to awake for breakfast and our boat ride back to the mainland.

Grabbing our luggage from the hotel in Abomey-Cavalie, our guides from Ganvie were kind enough to drive us to a taxi rank and negotiate for us a ride to Ouidah – our next stop along the Benin coast.  Turns out that the screaming/arguing we had observed a few nights’ prior amongst moto and taxi drivers alike – is standard practice.  At least we weren’t involved this time as it took about 15 minutes for our guides to negotiate a fair and reasonable fair to the coast.  I was so tired, I was glad to have someone else deal with this apparently unavoidable discussion/fight that ensues at almost every stage of navigating the logistics of public transport.

Super happy and chillin’ in our lovely hotel pool in Ouidah

On arrival in Ouidah, we found a lovely and well-maintained, clean, rather upscale hotel with a beautiful pool only ten minutes’ walk from the beach.  I was thrilled, and after some lunch and a swim, enjoyed a glorious nap to make up for my prior mostly sleepless night.

Benin Part I: A Safari to Remember

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Beautiful bird in Penjari

The night in Fada N’Gourma luckily passed without incident, unless you count the fact that Mike and I both got up in the night and had to pee in our shower, since our bathroom was sans toilet.  We had to get transport to Pama and then onto the border with Benin from there, so the first order was to find a ride to where minibuses were heading south.  We had been seeing these tricycle trucks that were flatbed trucks being pulled by a motorcycle, and I couldn’t resist thumbing one down and asking if he would take us to the station.  At first, the guy was confused since he wasn’t a taxi – but gladly accepted our offer of money and we were happily on our way.  It was one of my favorite forms of transportation yet.

Happy on the Tricycle

Getting aboard the tricycle

Better yet, the guy driving knew exactly where to go, and I was lucky enough to be able to find a café that let me fill my Nalgene with coffee for the long journey ahead.

In a triangulation with 3 countries

The minibus was jam-packed and turned out to be one of the tightest squeezes on our foray into West African public transport to date.  At one point we were 23 people, 6 goats, a motorcycle strapped to the roof, luggage, jerry cans and even then 2 more people squeezed in through the back windows to fill any available pocket of air, regardless of whether an area of their butt actually touched a seat or not.  Mike and I were squished together to where we had to relieve certain areas of our body that had gone numb in unison, otherwise it was pointless.

I was pretty happy to get out of that transport once we were close to the border.

Guy getting in to the already crammed minibus through the window!

Our minibus

For the rest of the ride, we negotiated to go in a private taxi that wanted to take six people before it would leave.  Imagine riding with 2 people in the front seat and 4 squeezed into the back?  Yeah.  That is standard practice in Burkina.

To be able to get going faster and have a little more room, we negotiated to pay the cost of 5 seats so that the one person waiting could still go and we wouldn’t have to wait any longer.  All seemed to be going well until our driver decided it would be ok to try and make some extra cash along the way and leverage the fact that he already had six paid fares in the bag.  First, he picked up someone who rode in the front for five miles and then mysteriously got out.  Then, he tried to put a pregnant woman and her small daughter in the front seat sitting next to/on a man she’d never met.  We violently protested and, of course, insisted that she get in the back with us.  I complained to the driver who just kept saying it was only for a “short distance” – which was a blatant lie.

The woman, who at first was grateful, decided she could own her part of the back seat and gladly spread out herself and her child to where Mike and I were now squashed.  I assured the driver that he had broken his agreement with us and he was not gonna be getting the full fare.

How to wind up a window in Burkina Faso

I was well and truly convinced of this when he had the audacity to then further pick up another THREE guys and put them in the rear of the vehicle, crushed and sitting on top of our luggage.  I was livid at this point, and by the time Mike and I had made it through the border crossing and the extra hour to Tanguieta, the town we would stay at in order to visit Penjari National Park the next day, I was determined to only pay for 3 of 6 seats and geared up for a confrontation.

I gave the money to the driver, got out of the taxi and walked straight into our hotel for the night – and the taxi drove away without saying a word.

Huh!

Mike climbing onto the “death seat”

Exhausted, hot, sweaty and irritated – we still had to figure out transport and a guide for tomorrow, as well as figure out communication/SIM cards for our time in Benin.  After a shower and beer on the rooftop terrace, we started feeling a little better.  The hotel contacted a local guide, Charles, who came over to the hotel to explain what would be involved in a visit to Penjari the next day. Another guy who worked for the hotel in maintenance had also been kind enough to go into town and register SIM cards for Mike and I.  We offered to pay him for his trouble and he actually turned it down.  We were shocked – that was a first in Africa.   Charles explained that this was not that uncommon and that the Beninoise people were very hospitable by nature and truly wanted visitors to feel welcome.

We were going to need to be ready to leave the next day at 4:30am in order to get to the park at a reasonable hour to spot wildlife.  We would rent a private 4×4 vehicle and complete a full game drive till around 2pm when we would leave the park and head to a waterfall for a refreshing swim.  We then negotiated into our private tour the option to visit a traditional Tata Somba house in the evening before returning to the hotel.

Baboon

Baby Elephant

Charles didn’t disappoint.  Unfortunately, despite being promised repeatedly that there would be a packed/prepared breakfast ready for us to take on safari at 0500 – the restaurant was closed and no-one who was awake knew or cared enough to find out where our promised food order was.  This meant that we would have to go till 2pm without refreshment as there was apparently no services inside the park until we had reached a distance where the two lodges were located.  Luckily, Charles knew of a shack that sold coffee and eggs that was open at this ungodly hour.

Not only was it open, but they were literally blasting a full on action movie at that time.  It was something to behold.  Armed with coffee and baguettes with fried eggs – we could finally be on our way.

We tried to get some sleep but the road was just too bumpy.  We arrived at the park around 6am and had to register.  Then Charles put up the rooftop seat for us to climb into for our private game drive.  Apart from the fact that the seat up there had no guard rail and a large bump in the road or an overly enthusiastic right turn would result in certain death for the unfortunate occupant of that side of the seat or both – it was super fun being up there.

Beautiful Penjari Lodge where we had lunch

Mike, ever the gentleman

I’d say the wildlife here was far less habituated to humans than we had seen in Mole and so, Penjari became a highlight for us.  Aside from the expected crocodiles, hippos, baboons, oodles of antelope (JAFA, or AKA Just another fucking antelope) elephant and warthogs, we also saw red colobus monkey and some incredibly colorful birds that I can’t remember the names of, but will try to include photos of lhere.

We were altogether quite happy with our decision to visit, and yet, the highlight of our day was to come during our lunch stop at the Penjari Lodge.  I had requested to dine at this accommodation because I knew they had a watering hole and I thought we might be able to view more wildlife while having lunch.  As it turned out, it was a beautiful spot and rather swanky to boot – and despite the fact that they told us the kitchen didn’t serve lunch, per se, and we could only have spaghetti with tomato sauce – we were quite happy to enjoy cold beer and our simple meal while watching for more animals.

During our meal, the waiter came over to tell us that a lion had been spotted at the watering hole.  We excitedly made our way over and looked through our own binoculars as well as with the hotel’s own standing powerful scope that afforded a very clear close up of the two lionesses who were walking together around the water.  It was such a treat to see big cats – which are rarely spotted anywhere in West Africa anymore.  After about a half hour, satisfied, we returned to finish our now-cold spaghetti.

A huge herd of Hartebeest started approaching the watering hole and also a family of warthogs (well, I like to think they were a family, but I really have no clue).  The lions were nowhere to be seen, but the herd was beautiful to see nonetheless.

Just as I had grown tired of watching them and was about to go back yet again to our table, Mike shrieks and says “Oh My God!  One of the lionesses just grabbed an antelope!” and in an instant I spun around to see the cloud of red dust from which emerged the gruesome sight of an unfortunate Hartebeest with its neck in the jaws of one lioness while the other was chewing away at its intestines and leg.  This was my second time seeing a “kill” in the wild, and I couldn’t believe we were so lucky as to have such a clear view of what in reality was a good distance away, through the hotel’s scope.  I started screaming in French in case any of the other guests of the hotel were in earshot and wanted to witness this spectacle.

Lionesses with their kill

Lions at the watering hole

Incredibly, people seemed totally nonplussed at this awesomeness and we continued to have the viewing platform to ourselves, and we were giddy as children with toys.

As gruesome as it was to watch, it was still just astonishing.  These cats really play with their food.  This animal was being eaten alive – it took a full ten minutes for it to die.  One cat just held it in its mouth, allowing the other to eat.  You could see the ring of blood around her mouth as she munched away.

In any case, we were grinning from ear to ear when we left and Mike was excited to see what shots he’d managed to capture on his zoom camera.  Charles was happy for us – he didn’t get to see it at all as he was attending to our rented vehicle whose wheel had decided to come loose…luckily for us, right as we arrived at the lodge.

If the lion kill hadn’t been entertaining enough, Charles woke us both from afternoon naps on the way out to see a herd of elephants that were crossing the road right in front of the car, including a few juveniles.  As we stood up out of the car to get a better look, the dominant male starting to charge our vehicle!  We jumped back inside and Charles floored it out of there.  So exciting!

By the time we reached the waterfall it was after 4 in the afternoon and blazing hot.  It was a nice 30- minute walk to the lower falls and we cheerfully noted that we passed the campground where the Dragoman truck had stayed just three days prior.  After a refreshing swim in and around the falls, and watching the daredevil climbing antics of a few locals – it was time to head back to Tanguieta.  I did purchase some drop earrings made from bone that were being sold by a local artist – it’s so rare that I buy souvenirs, but this had been a special day for sure.

Mike and I at the first waterfall

Refreshing dip at the second waterfall

Despite our blinding exhaustion, Charles said that he had promised us a Tata Somba tour, and by God, despite the growing darkness, he was going to show us one.  These are traditional homes in the north of Togo and Benin that are designed to house livestock in the ground floor of the home along with a kitchen, and the roof contains other rooms where the family sleep, eat, and where grains/foods are stored.  We got a tour by a very enthusiastic Tata Somba occupant, and managed to take just a few flash-produced photos before I insisted Charles drive us back to our lodging at Hotel Atacora because we had now had a 15-hour day-trip and I was so tired I no longer knew my own name.

Me climbing to the roof of this traditional Tata Somba home

Unfortunately, there is no rest for the wicked, and the next day we were going to be leaving the hotel at 0500 to catch the 0600 bus that would be taking us all. The. Way. South. To Abomey-Calavie – a stop just short of Cotonou, and a journey which promised to be about 11 hours long.  We would be re-joining our friends on the Dragoman truck the following day on an overnight stay/tour to the stilt villages of Ganvie.

Burkina Fasso Part II: Royalty and what you do-do in Ouagadougou

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Riding a bicycle around Tiabele

Sleeping out on the roof was quite the experience and the stars were absolutely brilliant and shone magically, aided by the lack of streetlights. It will be something I will always remember, especially listening to the village noises in the night. We had heard drumming at around 1 in the morning (apparently there had been a funeral) and a rather upset donkey who brayed at regular intervals through the night, matched only in force by several roosters who I’d gladly see shot. Upon rising to take breakfast and returning – we even found little goats prancing around our mattress, having jumped onto the roof in curiosity.

Our bed for the night was a mattress on the roof of the traditional style home. In the morning, goats were frolicking about.

Arnaud’s cousin, Herman, would take us on the tour that day since he did speak some (broken) English, and with my broken French – we made a passable attempt at understanding one another. The royal court housed approximately 300 people and was marked at its entrance by a seating area surrounding an altar-like building and a mound behind that, rather disturbingly, we were informed contained the buried placentas of all the descendants of the King of Tiabele.

Ok, then.

And so began the running theme of the day: what men can do and what women can/can’t do in this tribe. To start, this seating area was reserved only for men – it was forbidden for women to sit here. Then we were shown the various structures for dwelling – the rectangular houses for grandparents and the children/unmarried women – the round houses for single men over the age of sixteen (who get to live alone while women have to do as grandma says till she finds a man) and the hexagonal units for couples.

The homes in the Royal Court

Built out of clay, these homes all have very low door entrances, presumably to keep the interiors cool. Once inside the initial room, they can extend another two to three rooms further back, with each room requiring a dexterous crawl to enter. Though super impressive in terms of the organization and how there was a place for every conceivably needed tool, I started getting super claustrophobic at the thought of needing to crawl 3 times before getting to daylight again.

Each March, after the harvest, the women of the village use local plants/reeds to make inks that they use to paint the homes with symbols like turtles, trees, birds and all kinds of patterns. Just the women. (Me, rolling my eyes.)

After the royal court, we got on scooters and had Herman and his cousin Charles take us to another village where we had a woman show us how she made pottery, and another village called Tangassouko. For me, the most memorable time during this very hot afternoon, was stopping in the shade at this brightly green painted bar in the middle of nowhere for cold beer and donuts. Somehow, Africans always forget to include plans for refreshment and peeing in their trips.

They’d get more tips if they did.

Could this dude, in Tiabele, be any cooler if he tried?? Check out those shades!!

After a much needed nap, we then rented bicycles and after a slight delay getting new SIM cards cut to nano size, and a foray to the market in search of paw paw, and an improvised way to eat it, we set off on the very dusty road out of town in search of the nearby lake.

This was my first time on a bike in West Africa and incredibly, this rickety old cruiser fit me perfectly. We were quite a sight to the locals and quickly stirred up lots of kissy noises (sound Africans make to get someone’s attention) waves, and invitations to come over to where they were socializing.

Woman making pottery

We stuck to our bikes as the sun was already starting to set and we didn’t want to have to return in pitch darkness.   As it turned out, we did, because we decided to make one more stop for a drink at a roadside café that was playing too good of a reggae beat to pass up.

We used our iPhones as bike lights for the return to our Auberge and dinner.

Arnaud was a musician and he had planned a musical performance and dance for a group of Belgians that had arrived that day, and us, that evening at the Auberge. It was actually rather good, it felt genuine and was especially entertaining when about 20 children poured into the courtyard and took turns showing us their mad skills at the traditional form of Tiabele dance, which involved a lot of stamping and rhythmic arm movements. We westerners often got pulled into the circle, but alas, our skills were quite lacking.

Mike was very thankful when the festivities ended around 10 o’clock and like the true grandma and grandpa that we had become, we exhaustedly hobbled up the steps to our rooftop mattress for the night.

Arnaud and his band entertain us with song and dance

We had learned that there was a minibus going directly from Tiabele to Ouagadougou that Tuesday morning at 7am, and that would save us from needing to rent the car for another day. Since the bus was leaving from the center of town, a dusty ½ mile away, Arnaud had offered to pick us up on his moto (or at least our luggage) at 6:30 to drop us there.

Unfortunately, he didn’t show up and we started walking ourselves in the dawn light, armed with packed coffee for the minibus. Herman walked up and said goodbye and that Arnaud was still asleep. That riled me up and I called him. He lied and said that he was working with the Belgians. He didn’t know that Herman had just told me he was still sleeping, and moreso, that the Belgians were staying at the same Auberge as us and we had seen a handful of them up brushing their teeth or sleeping – so it was a rather obvious lie.

When I pointed out that he’d offered us a lift to the bus the day before, he paused, remembered, and said he was “coming”.

About 100 meters from the bus, he pulled up on his motorbike and started telling me how my French is bad and that I had misunderstood him yesterday. I thought: Is it really necessary to drive all this way just to insult your paying guests who are about to leave? Even IF I had misunderstood his offer to give us a ride to the bus, was it necessary to come over just to tell us that? And not, instead, just apologize for the confusion and wish us a good onward journey? Thank us for visiting?

Burkina might be suffering from a lack of tourists, but Arnaud was not helping himself out in any way by treating the rare guests he did get badly.

Luckily, we made the Tro Tro and got the front seats again. The tro tro left five minutes early and we were on the way to Paga. The coffee I had mixed with milk from yesterday and I think it had gone a little bad because I had explosive diarrhea on arrival in Ouaga and fortunately found a bathroom in a hotel in the nick of time while a taxi waited for us.

The journey had taken five hours in total from Tiabele and there hadn’t been much to see other than a group of elephants that were on the side of the highway just north of Paga! The driver seemed very happy about that. Our seats were relatively comfortable except for the fact that the gear shift was literally against my left leg and the driver had to touch and move my leg away every time he wanted to shift.

Entering Ouagadougou

Burkina and all the northern latitude locales in West Africa are so full of dust, red dirt and pollution this time of year that my cough was back in full force, and Mike’s throat would swell up each night and he was suffering with nose bleeds. This has made traveling here that much more arduous and I haven’t really felt well since we left Amedzofe. I am almost recovered now, writing this from the beach in Benin.

Taking the oldest and most unreliable vehicle you’ve ever seen – we made our way through the capital to our reserved hotel for the night – Hotel de la Liberte. Mike has converted me to Maps.me – and it is super fun to be able to direct a taxi driver how/where to get somewhere, offline, in his city – better than he knows it himself. This cab was so old there was a thick film of dust all across the dash, the roof was sagging, and the windows were permanently rolled down.

Our hotel could not have been more of a welcome oasis. Quiet, clean, simple, with a lovely back courtyard bar/restaurant and just enough creature comforts in our second floor room to offer us some needed rest after our journey.

We later ventured out on foot, with caution, to Kwame Nkrumah street. We had decided to get coffee and cake at Cappuccino, figuring that with the armed guards and body scanner at its entrance, this was probably the safest place for us to hang out, despite its awful history. We ordered cappuccinos, a strawberry cream cake and a chocolate mousse cake.

Divine.

Coffee and cakes at Cappuccino!

Walking back through the city, we debated whether to get a cab as the light was fading, and decided together that we both felt quite safe and this was a chance to get some exercise and take in the city’s vibe.

There are a lot of motorbikes in Ouaga…far more than in other cities. People often carry a scar on their cheek, which is intentionally cut into the face of babies to signify their tribe. The practice is very common in Benin too. Streets were wide and buildings spread out and designed in such a way that Ouaga reminded me very much of Harare. It was, of course, dirty and littered trash was visible everywhere alongside the roads. We passed businesses of a large variety and tried to avoid the darkest of streets. On arrival at our hotel, we found there was a power outage, so we waited for the lights to come back on before ordering a simple dinner.

We were, as yet, undecided as to whether we would stay another day in the city or not – and fell asleep committed to making plans in the morning.

As it turned out, our goal was to meet back up with the truck in Ganvie on the 28th of January. If we still wanted to see Pendjari National Park in northern Benin, we would have to leave the next day and get as close to the border as we could.

So we opted to get a taxi to take us to a number of the more tourist “sites” in the city for some photo opportunities, and then to take us to the Autogare for the bus that headed east to Fada N’Gourma at either 12 or 2pm– information obtained with great effort in over an hour of conversation and calls with the front desk lady at our hotel.

Ouaga Sculpture

God how we take getting information as simple as bus departure times via the internet at home for granted!!!!

Our taxi driver, being a little overzealous in his estimation of speed, got us to the station after the 12pm bus had already left. Luckily, there was a waiting area with a TV playing the move Alien: Resurrection, in French to keep us entertained.

The signs said the next bus to Fada was at 1500. The guy who sold me tickets confirmed that there was a bus at 1400. Then another guy asked to check my tickets and told me I had tickets for the 0600 bus and that I should go back to the window. More questions, and the ticket guy just crossed the 0600 time out in colored marker and wrote 1400 in, which seemed to appease the other guy.

Seriously, NOTHING is simple here. Fucking NOTHING.

In need of a beer, Mike agreed to let me walk down the dusty main street in search of one for him and I. I finally came across a street side bar that was full of men, four across sitting at the bar directly opposite me, staring in disbelief. One asked “who are you? Who do you think you are, as a woman buying beer in the middle of the day?’ – or, at least, something to this effect. I replied “Une femme qui a soif “ or a woman who is thirsty. All four of them raised their glass to me at that, and it was quite a funny moment.

After our beer, we boarded our old, falling apart, large, but comfortable bus that was heading to Fada. We got a row of seats each and despite it being very hot and dusty – it was actually a rather comfortable journey of five hours.

Me getting dust off our nasty mattress

Our crack den for the night in Fada

We arrived in Fada just after 7 and I immediately thought I’d landed in post-war zone Iraq. At least what I imagined that would look like. It was desolate, dark and covered in red dirt streets. We walked to a hotel that we’d found in the Bradt guide and found an abandoned building.

Not a good sign.

Taking two motorbikes across the river to a second guesthouse – we found what appeared to be the same thing (we later found out that the lights were just turned off and that we could have stayed there…I guess if we’d yelled loud enough?) and then found a guesthouse that was open, but no one had stayed there in over a year – or so it seemed by the layer of dust on the crappy mattress and the cobwebs in the ceiling.

Mike told me to take a breath and deal – it was, after all only $10 for the night.

Strangely enough, we managed to have one of our best meals of the trip that night which came to $4 including a beer each.

Tomorrow, we’d be heading to the Benin border!

Burkina Fasso Part I: Swine by Candlelight

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Entering a traditional home in Tiabele

We ordered a private taxi to take us back to Domango where we would pick up a minibus heading back to Tamale and then north from there to the Burkina Fasso border. We asked that he make a stop along the way to a famed mud and stick mosque that’s over 700 years old in Larabanga – and it’s still in use today!

Here are the photos. These types of structures are most famous for being located in Mali, but they do occur in other places across this latitude.

At the Mud and Stick Mosque

Once we arrived in Domango we found a minibus that was slowly filling up to take people to Tamale, but it was progressing rather slowly and something just didn’t feel right to me when I was told that this was the “only” form of public transport going to Tamale. In looking for a bathroom, I stumbled across the public bus station and lo and behold but a large bus was about to leave for Tamale for the same price!! I was so mad and told them to wait before having to run back down the road, scream at Mike to come and demand our money back from the lying minibus driver before just making it and finding seats.

Though the bus was slow going and rough going over those famous Ghanaian speed bumps, we were glad to at least be moving, and we might have been waiting over two hours for the first form of transport to depart.

Once arriving in Tamale, rather strangely in the middle of a food market (what the actual fuck) we took a cab to the Tro Tro station that served northern routes to Bolgatanga. Since the Tro Tro was full, we were offered a private car for 25 cd’s each, but we had to wait for it to fill. So, we decided to pay for 3 seats so we wouldn’t be squashed in the back and we could leave sooner.

The driver of this taxi turned out to be a total douchebag and tried to charge us mid-journey another 5 cd’s each for our luggage in the trunk. We argued that since we’d bought the middle seat in the back, we would happily move our luggage to occupy the empty space between us – and he started arguing “what IF a third person was sitting back there – THEN where would you put your luggage?” I really lost my temper at that point and told him that the time to inform a passenger of ALL applicable costs was BEFORE the journey commenced and that he could take his illogical hypothetical nonsense and shove it because he was being an idiot. If he didn’t like it – we would get out of the car there and then.

I could feel Mike cringing next to me, but I’d had enough and was unwilling to let patience and politeness rule the day with this man. Fortunately, my abrasiveness paid off – he didn’t know what to do or say to me and kept quiet the rest of the way, even showing a willingness to take us further on to the Burkina border for a reasonable fare.

I guess he wasn’t used to having a woman stand up to him.

I was initially nervous about the border crossing and traveling there as Burkina Fasso had recently experienced an enormous drop in tourism since the two terrorist attacks by the Northern African branch of ISIS in 2016 and 2017. Over 30 people had been shot at the popular coffee spot “Cappuccino” on Kwame Nkrumah avenue and the Splendid hotel across the street in Ougadougou in January of 2016, then in August of 2017, 18 people were killed just down the street at Aziz Istanbul restaurant. Both attacks had targeted westerners/ex-pats and Burkina has seen a sharp drop in tourism since then.

At the Burkina Fasso Border Crossing

As it turned out, the border crossing was simple, and the customs guy on the Burkina side was overjoyed that two Americans were coming to his country. Plus, it was nice to speak some French again.

We had arranged to visit a unique set of villages in a place called Tiabele, which was only about 60kms or so from the border. A guide named Arnaud had been recommended to us to arrange accommodation and a tour of his home, made famous for both its culture and for how they are made out of mud clay and then painted in a variety of symbolic artwork and color.

We took a very very old and rickety taxi to Po, where we would be meeting with Arnaud. Burkina turned out to have the oldest ramshackled vehicles on the trip thus far, with drivers using brute force to change gears, or even open a window (with a wrench kept in the glovebox for this purpose.) Since we didn’t have a sim and we were running about an hour behind schedule, I borrowed the driver’s phone to let Arnaud know that we were on our way.

I was hot, dusty, exhausted and thirsty when we arrived and the very last thing I wanted to do was have a long conversation in French. However, when Arnaud suggested we start with a cold large beer for refreshment, that certainly perked me up somewhat.

Arnaud seemed very genial – he explained that his village system had a royal court/family and that he was a prince (ooh la la) and we would be staying at an Auberge only 100m from his residence in a traditional style hut with rooftops where one could take a mattress on hot nights to sleep outside. He suggested we get showers and a good meal tonight and then tomorrow he would plan a full day’s activities for us.

Once acquainted, imbibed, and a guinea fowl purchased (alive and presumably for Arnaud’s family dinner) we hopped in his rented vehicle and drove to Tiabele, arriving as it was getting dark.

Arnaud driving with the shortly doomed Guinea Fowl

We showered and walked over to the restaurant that Arnaud had arranged for us. It was a couple’s home, with a few tables and chairs laid out in their garden. The host was super gracious and friendly, and fixed a candle to the table itself by pouring hot wax first to hold the candle firmly in place.

Our bed for the night was a mattress on the roof of the traditional style home. In the morning, goats were frolicking about.

Our meal could only be described as maize based white sticky paste and a side dish of brown mush that may have contained some nuts and meat. It was edible and another beer helped wash it down.   It was the ambiance that was so indelible, and I joked with Mike (who is like a brother to me) that we were really missing out on this opportunity to gaze at each other, and drink some wine by candlelight in this romantic spot.

He laughed and looking around and seeing the family’s chickens, goats, cats and pigs all meandering around us, he replied, “Well, we do have SWINE by candlelight, for sure!”

Ghana Part VI: Tamale, Mole and the whole Enchilada

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Finding an empty Tro Tro at side of the road near our hotel…YEAH!!!

We grumpily decided we’d need to get an early start that Friday (19th of January) in order to make it back to Accra with plenty of time to collect my passport from Isaac and get to the airport in time for our 3pm flight with Africa World Airlines- an airline name that defies our US president – to Tamale, a northern city that serves as the gateway to Mole National Park – Ghana’s biggest and most famous national park (which, incidentally, was not included in any of the Dragoman itineraries)

We managed to flag an empty tro tro on the side of the road that was heading to Ho. I know, this joke never gets old. Incidentally, I had forgotten to mention that when I had arrived in Amedzofe a few days prior, on foot, a taxi had pulled up alongside me, rolled down the window and asked “Ho?”.

Hilarious.

Once we were in Ho, it was an easy transfer to another tro tro heading to Accra – and we were offered the front seat, so it was decidedly comfier. After grabbing some ice creams (which are basically plastic tubes of ice cream that you suck through the corner of the bag after you’ve ripped the corner off with your teeth) it was a relatively easy journey that even dropped us off at a bus stop for the airport.

Thankfully, Issac met us at the stop and walked with us to the airport. I haven’t walked to many airports before, so this was interesting.

After checking in, Mike and I caved in to eating some comfort food in the form of pizza and beer and before we knew it, it was time to board.

Boarding our Africa World Airlines Flight

The flight only lasted 50 minutes but was incredibly comfortable and well serviced. We were given a drink of juice and a meat pie (which we thankfully ate later in the taxi heading to the park) and we were able to see the outlines of dusty villages from the dry and barren savannah lands that define the north of the country.

On arrival, we met a Cameroonian who played basketball in Austin, which is incidentally where Mike last lived before venturing out on his travels. His name was Alex, and he has started a non-proft called Leading through Reading and was there doing some work. Apparently, his parents adopted him from Cameroon when he was already 14 years old and didn’t speak a word of English. At 6ft 8”, he was a gentle giant and I’ll always remember his warm smile and demeanor.

Mike chatting with Alex about Basketball, presumably showing him how to shoot hoops

We were bundled off into a taxi with a very miserable driver (not many of them in Ghana) who complained about my trying to negotiate a rate with him to drive us all the way to Mole saying the usual “Petrol is expensive. That is too cheap, Madam, and you understand this is the standard price…blah blah blah” bullshit that every driver spits out the moment you question his quoted fare.   In any case, he was only taking us to the station where we were going to catch public transport to as close to the park as we could get.

As we headed to a tro tro, I stopped to ask another taxi driver what he would charge to drive us all the way privately (it was at least a two hour drive and would be longer/dark by public transport). I managed to negotiate a rate that was less than half what Mr Misery wanted and given the fact that he would also take us straight to the Mole Motel where we had a reservation, and the fact that we’d been traveling all day, we jumped at the chance.

Ecstasy over finding a top sheet

This driver was the total opposite of the first. His name was Abdullah and he had the most infectious, raucous laugh that came from nowhere – he laughed at almost every thing we said, even when it was just to comment on the speed bumps.

Oh, speed bumps. In Ghana. Are the worst.

Though the fact that we timed cute noises as our driver ran his ramshackle beat up car that hadn’t seen a new cabin filter in over two decades over the bumps at breakneck speed made him crack up even more heartily.

He made the two hour journey in about 90 minutes. I had a headache from the fumes that seemed to be coming directly into the car and keeping the windows open wasn’t stopping us from inhaling it. But we were super grateful to arrive at our hotel with enough time to grab a quick bite to eat (which ended up being a rather stale and dry piece of chicken that the waiter claimed was Guinea Fowl and looked at me with a death stare for daring to question the validity of his claim) before retiring to our massive three-bedded room with corresponding three blue buckets of water in the bathroom.

Our beds had topsheets and we enjoyed a good laugh taking some pictures of me ecstatic from having a topsheet.

The next morning we woke early to catch a 7am game drive.   Safaris here are some of the cheapest in Africa, costs being about $11 per person for a two hour excursion (with five persons sharing the vehicle.) . We were lucky in that we were able to share our vehicle with a group of three young ladies from the Netherlands who were volunteering in Tamale as this kept our overall cost down.

Our Safari vehicles in Mole

Immediately upon trying to leave Mole park headquarters, we spotted an elephant roaming around the ranger residences and getting extremely close to the tourists who had opted for a walking safari. Although it was lovely to see an elephant so soon, we didn’t want to photograph an elephant that had a crowd of people in the foreground and houses in the background. It just didn’t feel right. That, and the fact that we had paid for a vehicle, which was thus far only following the walking tour.

After heading out of the area, we passed Mole village where many of the park workers live. We saw a lot of baboons and warthogs hanging around and they seemed totally habituated to humans.

The rest of the drive did not disappoint, thought it was bitterly cold in the morning air and I cursed at myself for not grabbing my windbreaker. The safari vehicles were kitted out with rows of benches for sitting on the roof, allowing for a great viewing platform from which to spot animals. We managed to see more elephants, a beautifully vibrant-colored bird called an Abyssinian Roller, lots of antelope, waterbuck, a mongoose and we ended the drive at a watering hole complete with crocodiles. We were allowed to descend from the vehicle and take photos and as we did, another herd of elephants arrived to drink at the water and afforded us some lovely photographic opportunities.

Mike and I by the watering hole with Elephants

By the time we returned, we were ravenous for breakfast and happily joined our new Dutch friends who were young enough to be our children and still shone brightly with the naivety and innocence of barely having reached adulthood.

The day grew quite hot and I was excited that the hotel had a pool. We were planning on getting changed into our bathers and taking a dip when someone called over that a group of elephants were now getting in to the watering hole and were bathing themselves.

In all, there were nine elephants that we were able to watch and observe for a good few hours as they frolicked about and swam in the lake below. I was even able to do this with a cold Smirnoff in my hands by the pool in my bikini.

I was liking Mole thus far.

After a much needed afternoon nap, I awoke to Mike returning from a very hot meander around the village where he had spotted warthogs trying to eat a carcass. I decided to shower and found myself sharing it with a little gecko who afterwards very much needed Mike’s help in getting out of the tub for fear he might get sucked down the drain.

Watching elephants while relaxing by the pool

We had a little happy smoke before heading over to the restaurant for dinner. I was very giggly. All was good.

We took a night safari that evening and though it was a little more pricey at $20 each – it had a great atmosphere to it with the night sky overhead, being all wrapped up in multiple layers, and using flashlights altogether to try and spot the animals.

Gecko who shared my shower

As well as the same animals we’d seen during the day, we were lucky enough to also spot some Janet cats, bush babies, and a giant owl from the drive.

Getting back we were beat and as we had to face another long travel day in the morning heading back to Tamale and onward to the border with Burkina Fasso, we went straight to bed.

Ghana Part V: Going it Solo from Ho to Hohoe in a Tro Tro

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These places do exist

The first section of our independent journey took us to the mountainous region of Lake Volta, close to the border with Togo. Since the area has a bit of altitude, we were promised some cooler breezes, which would be oh so welcome after Accra.

First, we had to use the services of the Dragoman “fixer” (essentially a local guy who can arrange things that are difficult/get shit done) to go straight to the Burkina Fasso embassy to arrange for my visa, and have them understand that it would be ok for Isaac to pick the passport back up for us that Friday and bring it to the airport in time for us to fly to Mole.

I was amazed at just how quickly the process went. I paid my $100, filled in a form, and we were out of there in under 15 minutes. Mike was perturbed and assured me that other things would definitely prove to be more difficult, moving forward. Haha!

For this section of the journey we would be utilizing many different forms of public transport. To date we have used Tro-Tros (basically a minivan that leaves a starting point once it is full, and that means full in the African sense of the word; literally not a cubic square inch of air that doesn’t contain a person, animal or cargo; and is quite inexpensive and probably the most popular form of public transportation) Buses, Motorcycles (that put our large pieces of luggage on the handlebars between their arms as they drive) Motorcycle drawn “motorcart”, car taxis, bicycles, and our two feet.  It has actually been a lot easier in certain sections than I was expecting and it was more difficult in others.

Taking Moto to Biakpa

On this journey to the tiny village of Biapka, near Amedzofe, we took a Tro Tro, or minibus and it was quite cramped and stiflingly hot inside the vehicle. I was also cursing myself for bringing a small day pack and my travel purse which sat heavy on my lap. We were heading to Akosombo in the hopes of making it there by 3pm to take a tour of the dam there that creates Lake Volta. Unfortunately, it became clear that we weren’t gonna make it by then, and so we got off the Tro Tro at the next intersection and boarded a different one headed to Hohoe and the accommodation we were planning on staying at for 3 nights – Mountain Paradise lodge.

One of the main difficulties with public transport in this region of the world is needing to plan around bladder issues/maintenance. There are very few public toilets and most guys just get off the tro tro at a transfer stop and just pee against a wall. With hundreds of people around, such a location does not make it easy to pee as a woman. As such, we would typically limit our liquid intake during the day and try to rehydrate at night. It is all part of the experience that locals suffer through every day, so I’m not gonna complain about it.

By the times we reached the crossroads where we would try to get a taxi to Biakpa, it was getting close to sunset. Luckily there were two moto drivers there waiting (possibly notified of our arrival by our hotel manager, Tony) to pick us up.

It will be one of the highlights of my trip in West Africa, remembering that cool breeze flowing over my sweat-drenched body as I held on to the back of my motorcycle driver, as we winded up the mountain road through beautiful lush green scenery as the sun was setting.

Cool breeze as we wind through the mountain roads

The view on arrival was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Our hotel was situated on a cliff overlooking the valley below with a curtain vista of mountains surrounding the location. The hotel bar/restaurant was perched on the edge, and our room enjoyed a pretty verandah with potted plants and a few fearful kitties roaming around. It was peaceful, and more importantly, the temperature was refreshingly cool.

The staff at this accommodation were some of the most client-service focused we’d come across. The coffee was local and NOT Nescafe (win!) the food freshly prepared and delicious and there was plenty of information about the surrounding attractions and transportation options.

Our first day started off lazily with breakfast and obligatory post-breakfast nap. We then headed out on a long hike through the village of Biapka where we were told we could find a local to show us the “route” through the forest to the village of Amedzofe from where we could climb the second highest peak in Ghana, Mt. Gemi. Unfortunately, we came across a young lad who said he knew exactly where said path was, but after taking us to it for about 15 minutes and pointing in a direction saying we only needed to go straight, we found ourselves in need of a machete as the trail became impassable for vegetation.

Heading out on a hike to Mt. Gemi and Amedzofe

The young lad had clearly led us astray and we weren’t exactly sure of his motivation. Was it to earn the few Cd’s we gave him? Was he embarrassed that he didn’t really know the way? Or was it the classic African “I don’t know the answer to this white person’s question so I’ll just tell them something because I want to be helpful and that is clearly better than telling them that I don’t know, even if it means they will get completely lost.”

This happens all the time.

It ended up being quite funny and definitely adds to the story overall, I think. We came across what looked like a deadly Green Mamba snake that had a beautiful blue head and green body sitting bolt upright on the trail. We gave it a wide berth and escaped what would inevitably be a much bigger diversion to our day had one of us been bitten.

Getting back into town we thought it safer to stick to the road, and soon we were picked up by a motorbike who had been told to look for “two white people walking to Amedzofe”. TIA.

The driver was very sweet, but his bike was less than powerful and struggled to carry the three of us up the steep road to Amedzofe without stalling every few hundred meters. Eventually, we made it to the village which was very charming.

After registering for the hike to Mt. Gemi, and purchasing some popcorn on the side of the road, we made the climb to the summit where sat a large metal cross, clearly signifying something that wasn’t explained.

While beautiful, the surrounding scenery was obscured by thick harmattan air quality, but we were enjoying finally getting some cardio after weeks and weeks of mostly sitting on a truck.

At the summit of Mt. Gemi

Heading back to town, we stopped at a family’s home to purchase some home produced honey and then to the local village bar where we bought two large ice-cold beers to celebrate the afternoon’s exertions.

We became a point of focus and people greeted us as they walked by, and we sat happily watching the village afternoon pass by complete with wandering chickens, goats, shoeless children and curious local folk.

Cold beer after a hot hike = happiness

A man called Frank, wearing a Givenchy Paris t-shirt with the American flag on it, stopped to make conversation and we were soon engaged in an interesting discussion about homosexuality. Apparently, he was curious about how gay people integrate into society in America, and how we felt about them in general.

Being a strong Christian, he shared the belief system of many Ghanaians in that he felt homosexuality a “sin” and a “choice” that men made that shouldn’t be permitted by society. He seemed somewhat open, however, after I pointed out to him that being gay was as much a choice as his being black or our being white.

That seemed to get him thinking, which made me happy.

Frank

Since we were connecting, Frank offered to take us to a waterfall once we had finished our beer. We were delighted and accepted his generous offer.

The hike was steep going down to the falls, and one had to hold onto a bunch of ropes that had been constructed alongside the trail. We were having a lot of fun, playing Michael Jackson songs upon learning that he was Frank’s favorite US artist.

The waterfall was pretty, but it was mostly the magic of connecting with a local, combined with the chance to explore the outdoors again that was putting a big smile on my face, making me know for sure that I had made the right decision to travel with Mike.

Upon our return to Mountain Paradise, we learned that one of the staff members had successfully been able to procure some much-yearned for weed for Mike and I to enjoy. Neither Mike nor I had much in the way of experience of rolling a joint, and unfortunately, the pot had arrived packaged in lovely little brown paper parcels, but no rolling paper.

Ofe Falls in Amedzofe with Frank

What ensued was hilarious as King, the member of staff wickedly helping us commit this crime, took pages from his math homework book and rolled us a home-created joint. We took photos as the written fractions burnt away as we happily smoked and laughed at the scenario. Who knew you could roll a joint with exercise notebook paper?

It felt so good to be stoned again. And dinner was extra delicious;-)

Smoking King’s Math Homework

The next day we left on motorcycle early to visit the Monkey sanctuary in Tafi Atome, a 20 minute ride away. Though totally wild, these Mona monkeys are habituated to the villagers and will come and eat bananas directly from your hands, climbing all over you in the process.

I was glad I had chosen to wear long sleeves!

It was a unique, up and close wildlife experience, even if a little disconcerting when multiple individuals jumped up on you at the same time to grab banana.

Our driver took us to the local market afterwards where we happily drank some fresh coconut water and bought a pineapple for “dessert” later. After taking lots of pictures, we were ready to head back to the lodge for a siesta.

Mike and I with the Mona monkeys in Tafi Atome

Later on we took another hike to a local waterfall. Since we had to walk on the road to the trailhead, we laughed as Felix, our motorcycle driver with the weaker bike from the day before, spotted us and pulled over to drive us to said trailhead for free. We were becoming known by the locals.

The waterfall was well worth the steep hike and as was becoming normal in this region, we were the only people there as we jumped in for a refreshing swim. With some wise planning, I had brought a large beer with me which we sank into the runoff to cool while we swam.

Cold beer. Waterfall. Beautiful hike. Solitude. Amazing.

I absolutely loved my time in this region. I would highly recommend it to anyone else coming to Ghana. It has such a slower pace of life than Accra or other cities. That evening, we enjoyed another well-deserved joint and giggled through dinner. As exhaustion and a pot-induced haze sank in, we settled in the lodge garden for some of the pineapple that we’d set out to enjoy as dessert.

Inexplicably, we lost the pineapple and couldn’t stop laughing as we shone our headlamps on the ground by our feet wondering where it could possibly have rolled off to?

Lost pineapple. Newly-found joy.

Ghana Part IV: The Asanti Nation, Accra, and a Big Decision

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The incredible expanse of the Kumasi Market. Photo by Mike Hoeffner

We had an incredible Indian meal on arrival in Kumasi – albeit an adventure in travel just trying to get the taxi to get us to the restaurant, which as far as he was concerned – didn’t exist. Having looked up the address, we kept repeating where the restaurant was located, per the guidebook, and he kept pulling over to ask random people if they knew more than he did about what we were muttering.

None of the cab drivers in Kumasi seemed to know anything about anywhere in their city. It’s always amusing, if not stressful – but this is so Africa. Funnily enough, I had my own brain fart when it finally dawned on me that since I’d gone to the trouble of buying an SIM card and had Ghanaian credit for 3G – I could have just pulled the restaurant up on Google Maps and given the taxi driver play by play directions. I laughed hard when this dawned on me.

Me Jack and Mike at the Asanti Museum

The next day we had free time and it occurred to me that my brain was starting to get “travel soft” in the sense that I was starting to too heavily rely upon Sinead and the truck to tell me where to go and what to do. This happens when you’ve been on an organized tour for too long. I was so not in the mood to visit the enormous market in Kumasi, nor go to the many museums this center of the might Asanti nation had to offer. Primarily, I was in a bad mood because my time of the month had still not arrived. But there was another issue that was bugging me.

The following day, this “section” of the trip would come to an end; and the few members of the truck that I had formed an emotional attachment with would be leaving the journey as we started the next leg of the itinerary – the 21 day tour through Togo and Benin. Mike, Peter, and Danny were all leaving the truck, and I was gonna miss them the most.

Need some Pray toothpaste?

On top of that – I had learned that another member of the group, Jodi, was desperate to stay and do the Togo/Benin loop but had been told that there were no available spaces for her, barring someone who had booked on from Accra not showing up due to some unforeseen circumstance.

Mike was going to be traveling through roughly the same region solo, and we had casually discussed the possibility of my joining him. But this possibility hinged on whether or not Dragoman would allow a “name-change” this late in the game – meaning Jodi would be able to stay on the truck, and I’d be able to get off and be reimbursed for the cost of the trip by Jodi herself.

Hilarious front page of local paper in Kumasi

When I was under the impression that this was quite possible three days prior to Kumasi, I was actually quite excited by the idea, but we had since discussed this with Sinead and learned that Dragoman didn’t typically allow for such a last minute change without incurring cancellation charges.

So…for the most part, we had left the idea alone – believing that Dragoman wasn’t going to permit such a change in any case – and so giving it anymore serious consideration was a waste of time.

It was in the late morning on our visit to Kumasi, that Sinead messaged Mike saying that Dragoman had finally responded to her email declaring that they would be ok with Jodi staying on the truck and me getting off…but the caveat was that I’d have to decide that day.

And so began what was ultimately two days of internal monologue and agonizing back and forth decision-making. Poor Mike is as bad as I am at making decisions and we agonized over the pros and cons finally resting on leaving things as they were on that particular evening.

Penultimate meal with the Truck crew in Kumasi

Though we did visit several museums including the former royal palace, which was very interesting indeed, I was super distracted and couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted. I have always valued independent travel and figuring out the logistics of getting from A to B, in addition to being free to decide where I wanted to stay and for how long. Mike is one of the most proficient and capable travelers I’d ever met and I trusted him implicitly – but spending one on one time with someone you’ve only known in a group setting can be difficult to predict.

I felt haunted and just didn’t know what the best choice was (this is funny to me now in retrospect…hindsight is so 20-20)

The following day Mike and I sat together on the truck for the drive to Accra as this was technically his “last day on the truck”. Something still wasn’t sitting right within me and by the time we arrived in Accra, I knew I’d made the wrong choice. Right before our goodbye evening meal – I went to Mike and told him I’d decided to give my spot to Jodi. He gave me his blessing and now I just had to tell Jodi and Sinead. Sinead told me she would immediately tell Dragoman and would have to shuffle some paperwork to get Jodi’s visas sorted out in time. Jodi was utterly ecstatic and this made me extremely happy. Though nervous I almost instantly knew I’d made the right choice and felt such a wave of relief – especially after announcing the change at dinner – much to the disbelief of everyone staying on the truck. Miller immediately asked “Mike! Are you sure, man? You really want to travel with Anita?!!!” – which I took to be a joke, but he was really drunk and might have been totally sincere. I didn’t care either way.

The following day Mike was really sick with a cold – so we moved him into what would now be our room at the hotel and I set about spending a day in internet cafes doing research for our itinerary and coming up with a plan for how we were going to go about this journey on our own. It was exhausting and frustrating at times due to wifi speeds but I had almost forgotten just how much I enjoy and am gifted at trip planning. Despite being groggy and under the weather, I think Mike appreciated my efforts and by that evening, we had re-packed – leaving everything non-essential in a spare duffel bag to leave on the truck (we planned to meet up with it in Ganvie, Benin) and we had our plan in hand.

First we would head to the Burkina Fasso Embassy in the morning as soon as Sinead handed me back my passport with my Togo visa in it. Then we would head to the Lake Volta region first for 3 nights, returning to Accra that Friday to pick up my passport and fly (saving two days of buses) north to Tamale where we could get transport to Mole National Park. We would then head north to Burkina Fasso and the Tiabele villages in the south before taking in the capital and heading east to Benin. After Penjari National Park we would head south and catch up with the truck for some beach, voodoo, and stilt village time.

I was excited!! Goodbye Dragoman truck – hello independence and god knows what may happen!!!

Ghana Part III: Cape Coast and Sleeping in Tree Houses

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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?

Ghana Part II: Slave Castles and Photogenic Elmina Harbor

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Elmina had not really been touted as a destination in and of itself by the Dragoman Itinerary or trip description. In fact, almost nothing was mentioned of its stunning harbor that dramatically juxtaposed alongside its famed Slave Castle that I had read about when I was a teenager in high school.

It turned out to be the highlight of the trip so far.

That morning, all that had been organized for the group was a visit to 3 schools that had been built by a charity that Dragoman supports. The visit left me with very mixed feelings – in the first school, the conditions were ideal and the school’s facilities were superior to what I was lucky enough to experience in primary school in the UK. The kids were all clean, healthy, well-dressed with new shoes and new backpacks. When asked what the criteria was for kids to be able to come to this school, we were told that it was purely based on geography and whether parents could bring their kids to school. To me, just looking at the children told me that this wasn’t the case and that this was a group of kids from the elite upper-class persons of Elmina – who obviously deserved a good education – but why was a western supported charity helping kids who came from families that could already afford to support themselves?

The next school was far more moderate and struggled with class sizes of over 70 or 80 kids. It felt like we were diverting the children’s attention from their classwork, and so the visit didn’t sit well with me at all. In addition, these kids were some of the most aggressively “friendly” of any crowds of kids I’ve come across on this continent. When trying to leave, they practically clawed, scratched and grabbed at me to get physical hold of me, along with pulling off my hat and grabbing my hair. I didn’t appreciate that at all.

One highlight of the visit, however, was that this school itself sat on Elmina beach where a local team of fishermen just happened to be pulling in the day’s catch when we were there. It was a spectacle to witness as the men sang songs and clapped in time to create the unity and coordination necessary to pull in the thousands of tiny fish in their nets ashore. I managed to get a good video of the event which I will include here.

https://youtu.be/gFqBfDRylis

Once the visits were over (and they’d gone way overtime) we were hungry for some food and were dropped off downtown to get lunch and take a walk around Elmina.

Once we’d eaten, it became quickly obvious that there was so much here to see and do and the photographic opportunities in Elmina’s gloriously colorful harbor full of life, locals, and fishing boats coming in and out of the harbor demanded that the rest of the day be spent here.

I was also very keen to visit Elmina castle despite the fact that we were visiting the Slave Castle at Cape Coast the next day. Elmina castle is additionally historic because it wasn’t built specifically for the slave trade, but rather as a trading post for other goods’/commodities by the Portuguese in 1482 – 10 years before Columbus supposedly “found” Hispaniola.

I managed to convince Mike and “Precise” Peter (aka Pipi Lou Lou) to come along with me for the $9 tour of the castle and we further planned to make our own way walking all the way back to the beach that housed Stumble Inn and our accommodation for the night.

I could write a book about what visiting Elmina castle was like, but I will attempt to summarize my feelings/thoughts for you here in a more concise manner.   Much like visiting Aushwitz/Birkenau, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, or the Genocide Museum in Kigali – you cannot quite prepare yourself for the horror you feel when you can actually see a place that housed such a shocking testament to the cruelty, sadism and torture of living humans that other humans are capable of inflicting upon another group of people. And doing so without a sense of remorse or conscience. For me, it stirred up a lot of very heavy emotions and made me look at the history of my own nation with a new set of eyes.

Our guide was incredible, thorough and managed to infuse just the right amount of humor when it was needed so as to not detract from the serious nature of our visit. He did a wonderful job of giving us the preliminary world history that set the stage for the slave trade to begin in the first place – namely the decimation of Native Populations in the Americas due to European-introduced diseases, the noteworthy observation of the physical strength and working characteristics of the African people and a backdrop of inter-tribal warfare that set the stage for the creation of the slave trade, which was, in large part started by Africans enslaving other Africans in exchange for weapons to fight.

The Americas needed to build infrastructure and gather resources from their newly acquired lands. The Africans were warring with one another over land and resources in West Africa. The Europeans saw the opportunity for obtaining vast quantities of cheap, and subsequently “free” labor, by rewarding tribal leaders with weapons, and goods in exchange for their “enslaving” their enemy tribal members and bringing them, in chains, to Elmina and other slave castles along the West African coast to be shipped by the thousands to Brazil, South America, the Caribbean and only about 1/3 going to the continental United States.

For almost 400 years – men, women, and children were brought here against their will, separated, thrown in dungeons where a process of elimination would begin and only those “surviving” these harshest of environments would then be subjected to the grueling and inconceivably inhumane Atlantic crossing to their eternal servitude.

We visited both the male and the female dungeons at Elmina where up to a 1000 persons would be crammed, chained to another person at the wrist, feet, or neck for up to 3 months with little to no food, water, or chance to toilet/menstruate or wash. The ventilation was next to nothing with only tiny windows built into the rock, and these people were forced to live like this in almost total darkness.

What really hit me the most is when our guide showed us a section of the “floor” in the male dungeon that had actually been “cleaned/excavated” to show the original brick flooring. It was a good ½ foot lower than the rest of the floor, and he explained that we were literally standing on compressed faeces, urine, and human flesh.

A drainage system had been built into the floor but it was obviously not adequate to eliminate all waste. The stench must have been beyond imagining. In addition, the guide explained that if you wanted to sit or lie down, you would have to get the agreement of whomever you were chained to – and often this person didn’t speak the same language as you and moreover – he might have been from an enemy tribe. Sometimes, your chained partner would die and they would have to wait for a guard to find that person dead before removing him and throwing him into the ocean.

Once a ship was in the harbor ready to set sail for the “New World” – the slaves would be marched through dark tunnels to the “Door of No Return” where they would be stockpiled and chained like sardines end to end until the ship was full, totally unaware of the horrors that awaited them, and still separated from their families.

Our guide explained that it was sometimes during the rush and panic of getting the men and women onto the ships from these passages that families might be reunited for mere moments before being separated again on female or male only decks.

Even more chilling, if you didn’t see or meet up with your loved ones in the tunnels leading to the beach, then you would know that he/she didn’t make it out alive.

The Portuguese were replaced by the Dutch who were then replaced by the British who did the heavy lifting during the slave trade at Elmina. It made me sick to my stomach when after visiting the dungeons we visited the floor directly above the dungeons where the British soldiers had built a church directly over the heads of the persons they were enslaving and torturing. How a person could sing a hymn in praise of Christ with that misery below is beyond my comprehension and it filled me with rage.

If not more upsetting, above the church was the stunning floor that was the Governor’s quarters – palatial and airy with an incredible 365 degree view over Elmina harbor, the beach and the blue ocean – the color of which most of the slaves marched here never even set eyes upon.

The visit left me somber, but as I always feel when visiting important historical sites such as this – it is our duty as human beings on this planet to be informed of our bloody and barbaric history if only in order that it not be repeated. Unfortunately, given what is going on in Libya and in the global sex trade at this moment in time, it appears that slavery has not had its end, making such a site an even bigger duty to visit and ponder.

Once we left the castle – we were literally blown away by further exploration of the bustling life that was to be observed and photographed in the harbor and along the busy main street that marked our path back to the Inn.

Re-caffeinated albeit with slightly warm soft drinks, we three happily walked along smiling and chatting with the locals, high-fiving with the countless little children, and photographing the busy markets overflowing with fish and produce.

As the sun started to glow a little lower on the horizon, we took a daring early turn to the beach hoping against hope that we might be able to take advantage of the beach “wall” that had been created that year to help prevent shore erosion, but that also happened to provide a rather unique way to walk along the beach back to our accommodation.

The bet paid off and I had what turned out to be an incredibly memorable walk back along the beach as the sun turned a golden red and we got back to camp just as it set below the horizon.

I felt especially full and joyous from the day’s learning, and experiences. I would highly recommend Elmina to anyone visiting Ghana – just make sure you have longer than the one day we had!