“Ghana won the ‘which West-African country would you recommend to your friends’ competition: developed, safe, and with a variety of easy-to-reach attractions. Of course, we were also delighted to find ourselves in an English-speaking country at last.
Ghana is, by the standards of Sub-Saharan Africa, a relatively developed country. Even in the villages there are shops, electricity, bars and restaurants. It has a stable, democratic government, and a few days before we arrived a new president was sworn in.
The majority of the population are Christians, and they don’t hide their faith under a bushel: the enormous name of God is written across a chemical plant, and fishing boats have biblical verses painted on their sides: “Psalm 23” or “II Thess. 3:10 – if any would not work, neither should he eat.” The hood of the minibus is decorated with a picture of the Prince of Peace, and there are signs at every street corner informing the public when the next church services will be held. On our last evening in Ghana, we too went along to see a Pentecostal service. Wonderful singing drifted from the church – a building of undressed concrete slabs – but at first we were too shy to do more than peek inside. The thirty dancing, singing women soon invited us in. Though English is the official language, the only word we understood from the whole sermon was ‘Jesus’, but the music, the joy, and the enthusiastic rhythm section were all contagious, and soon we found ourselves joining in the dance.
We began our trip through Ghana with visits to two nature reserves. In Mole National Park we really got close to some wild animals: while we were camping, I was surprised to see, in the beam of my headlamp, an antelope staring back at me. Then, by the canal, we saw a friendly warthog wallowing in the water, and finally we came very close to a patient elephant. For almost an hour and a half we followed her, walking around her and observing how she chewed up tree branches. Whenever she gave us too sharp a look, our guide would always take hold of his rifle, though he’d previously told us that he had never actually used it to kill an animal. In the end, his claps and shouts were always enough to move her on.
The second nature reserve was the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. The locals do not harm monkey for religious reasons, so they’ve become quite used to the presence of humans. Indeed, they often steal food from villages. We soon encountered some mona monkeys in the forest, and they went from friendly to demanding as soon as they realized that we had bananas. In exchange, though, we were able to get really up close and personal with them. Up at the top of the enormous trees, black-and-white colobus monkeys eyed us from a distance.
Heading towards Accra, we stopped off in Kumais, where we wanted to see a market which some judge to be the largest in Africa. As luck would have it we arrived on a non-market day, so only a few of the 45000 stalls were open, and we could walk around without any agoraphobic anxiety attacks. What we liked best in Kumais, however, were the British fort and the guided tour connected with it, which focused on the Ghanaian army and the Kingdom of Ashanti. The funniest part of the tour was the series of photographs which showed how in war after war, the British marched off together with soldiers from the Gold Coast – the only difference being that the latter did not wear boots, which Africans could not get used to. Of course, they took a photo of the first Ghanaian soldier who decided to wear boots, though only for two days a week.
After Kumasi we visited Lake Bosomtwe, Ghana’s only (!) natural lake, which sits in the middle of a gigantic crater. The humid haze, however, meant that we didn’t see much of it. In Accra we spent three days sorting out our visas, then made another vain search for hiking boots in my size. At last I bought a pair in size 40 (for size 42 feet).
From Accra we set off west, to see the slave forts of the Gold Coast. We weren’t really all that keen to be reminded again of the slave trade, but the forts which have been given world heritage status, and particularly Elmina Castle, surprised us. I’d never be able to successfully put into words how oppressive it felt to see the windowless, airless cellars into which several hundred slaves were crammed, then kept there for weeks at a time, or the cell opposite, into which some were thrown to die of thirst. I can’t help but mention one illustrative fact, however: when it came time to prepare the castle for opening as a heritage monument, a one-meter-thick layer of human remains, long since broken down into a sort of compost, had to be removed. One other story stuck with us: a female slave voluntarily offered herself to the soldiers, simply because she knew that beforehand she would at least be permitted to bathe.
Twice in Ghana we encountered ‘overlanders’. These are big buses, usually made from converted trucks, which carry between ten and twenty travelers on a journey across West Africa that can last for months, and on more or less the same sort of route we were taking. This is a quite unique form of travel, in many ways more comfortable, and certainly easier/cheaper than going it alone. To us, the biggest disadvantage seems to be the amount of wild camping you’d have to do, which might make mornings a bit unpleasant, with a group of twenty people… As a counterpoint I present Jo and Mike, a couple from Oregon who were on a trip around the world in their Subaru Outback, and had now reached West Africa. The bumper of the station-wagon almost touched the ground – it was the strangest overland vehicle we’d ever seen. (2017)
Traditional Ghanaian garments