Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics
Thanks to a reasonable air-conditioning system in our hotel (Chez Lien
) and the long journey from Tokyo to Accra the previous day we had a good night's sleep on our first night in Ghana.
One thing for foreigners in Ghana to take about is disease. Before we headed off from Tokyo we had to get a Yellow Fever vaccination (after which we could apply for our entry visas), and also we picked up some Malaria medicine to take as well. However while the Yellow Fever vaccination protects for about 10 years, the Malaria medicine at best serves to reduce the symptoms if you are unfortunate enough to be infected. And so, as a preventative measure, the use of mosquito repellents is recommended. At night we used a kind of mosquito repellent incense to burn up and keep the bugs away from us while we slept. I don't know how common it is in western nations, but basically the incense stick is made in a flat round swirl shape, and you stick it on top of a small metal stand and place it on the floor or something while it slowly burns up (by some miracle I managed to step right on top of the small metal stand in the morning darkness, so that's another thing to be careful about I suppose, but getting Malaria would be worse).
KG who was staying elsewhere came to meet us in the morning and brought us some bread to have for breakfast. Shortly after we left the hotel. Our plan for this second day of our trip was to head along the coast to a place called Elmina.
Elmina is probably around 200 kilometres west of Accra, so we first got a taxi ride to a Bus Station. When we arrived at the Station, which to me looked a bit like a large car park, the place was bustling with people. Some police officers at the entrance told us where we could find a bus heading to our destination. We made our way past a few tens of rows of parked vehicles until we apparently found what we were looking for. The previous day KG had advised us to get a good night's sleep as today's journey might be a little cramped and crowded. The reason is that the long distance buses in Ghana are basically mini buses or large vans with about three rows of passenger seats, hence fitting around 14 passengers in total (2 in the front beside the driver, 3 or 4 in every other row - the narrow aisle beside each row of seats is equipped with little fold out seats for people to sit on so it's completely packed in). Also, the buses don't have a schedule, they leave once the bus has got a full load of passengers.
We were lucky, and found a bus heading to Cape Coast and Elmina which already had about 10 people in it waiting, and after we three got on, only had to wait for one other passenger to show up before we could depart. My bus ticket is pictured up to the left. The fare was 60,000 cedis, but this was in the old currency denomination. In 2007 the central bank in Ghana introduced the new Ghana Cedi with 10,000 old cedis being equivalent to 1 new Ghana Cedi (also roughly equivalent to 1 USD at the time we were there). We got the seats of the very back row of the bus for us 3, and our luggage was loaded into the small boot at the back.
While we waited, various vendors selling food and water bags came up to the windows offering their wares to the passengers waiting inside. Rather than being sold in pet bottles, water there was sold in small plastic bags, which you kind of tear a whole in the corner of and drink from there.
A guy outside who seemed to be in charge of collecting bus fares from passengers at one stage was talking with Kana via KG as interpreter, and apparently at one point said "please marry me" to her. This is apparently something that men in Ghana say as part of a typical polite conversation, but I was unaware of that and so showed the guy the wedding ring on my finger. This got a good response and the smiling man and I shook hands with a bit of laughter all round.
Soon our final passenger arrived, and it seemed like we were set to go. However suddenly there was a commotion in the bus with the passengers infront of us yelling at the window at a guy outside. In fact it was the driver who had just jumped out of the driver's seat to go outside for some reason, and the passengers were voicing their discontent with the bus's departure being delayed. All was well though, and we soon hit the road, after slowly weaving out way out of the bus station car park, through all the other parked vehicles. Kana took the photo to the left from her seat at the back right of the vehicle during the trip. The guy in the white shirt was sleeping with his head against the seat in front (seems like a common way of resting while on the bus there, you can't really lean back I guess). Eventually after a while I realised that the guy in the orange cap up the front was another foreign traveller.
Outside, once we had left the bustling city that is Accra, the buildings we saw on the side of the road were more and more rudimentary (pictures later), and once we hit the "motorway" (surprisingly well furbished), there was pretty much only scrub on the side of the road with occasional collections of houses, etc. One thing that really stood out was the colour of the soil - it was almost Martian red as opposed to the brown soil in New Zealand (and the lack of soil in Tokyo). Along with being surrounded by dark skinned people, it was a curious thing to see just how different the very same Earth on which we all live together can appear when you find yourself on the other side of the planet.
As we sped along we'd also pass by the odd person, or group of persons, often carrying something on their head as they strolled on their own long journey beside the road. Another thing that had become apparent to me by this time was that the drivers in Ghana use the car horn as a accident prevention mechanism. The drivers don't leave it to chance, and as soon as they see a person off in the distance beside the road, they start hooting the horn to make sure that the person has no chance of not noticing the vehicle approaching them. The horn is also hooted quite rhythmically - a few quick bursts on initial sighting, and then a few more bursts on the horn as the vehicle is about to pass by.
After about 3 hours on the road, we were apparently nearing our destination and after KG did some of her communications magic with a guy up front it, the bus pulled over to the right side of the road and it was time to get out. Our luggage was unloaded, and the bus quickly sped off. The other foreign guy (from somewhere in Europe) who had been riding up the front also got out here, but he was heading to nearby Cape Coast, not Elmina, and took a cab off by himself. Our next night's accommodation, the Elmina Beach Resort
was not far away apparently, but there were a few shops back behind us which we headed back towards first. One was a furniture repair shop, but beside that a small restaurant place with a kind of Ghana style convenience store behind it caught our eye as a lunch option.
The lady who was running the joint prepared us the meal you see above. Basically it's fried rice, some chicken, and some veges. Plus coca cola, as you can see. Good stuff.
We also had another customer trying to get some of our food for free.
The little kitten pictured to the left appeared on the scene as soon as our lunch did.
After lunch we continued back along the road, which was pretty devoid of other shops, but a large advertisement signboard on a corner with a road heading south towards the beach was apparently where we needed to take a turn, and around the corner we found ourselves at the Elmina Beach Resort.
The staff here were quite different from the people back in Accra - here you could tell that they had had training in hospitality and services etc. After checking in and leaving our luggage in our room, we took a cab further along the coast to the centre of Elmina.Elmina Castle
Hundreds of years ago what is known today Ghana was home to European (firstly Portuguese, and later Dutch) trading outposts, and apparently the section of coast where we were has one of the highest concentrations of existing European forts in the world. Today the forts serve the area well as tourist attractions, however in the past they were also a focal point for the unfortunate reason of being at the centre of the human slave trade.
Above is a picture of Elmina Castle taken from the beach. If you want to read about it you can get a good summary at the Ghana Embassy homepage
, or here
We joined a guided tour around the castle, getting taken through various slave dungeons, where hundreds of people were said to have been crammed in at a time for as long as 3 months, living in horrendous conditions. Each dungeon had only a small barred window letting in a tiny amount of daylight and fresh air, slaves were given food within the dungeon only and it was also within the dungeon cell - crowded with hundreds of people - that the slaves had to "go to the toilet". Women slaves were often the subject of rape. Eventually the slaves that survived the conditions would be marched through a "door of no return" to ships where they would be taken from their homeland to various parts of Europe and America.
Some of the tourists of African-descent that we took the tour with were evidently from places such as Europe and America themselves, and returning to the places where there ancestors were forcibly taken from hundreds of years ago.
Inside the dungeons it was pretty dark, but with the camera flash you can get a bit of an idea. The dungeons were (as they would be) down below the ground level, but there was also a corridor beneath the complex to which the dungeons were connected. Apparently the slaves (who survived the atrocious treatment in the dungeons) would walk through the corridor towards the so-called "Door of no return", leading out of the fort to where the boats would be waiting to take them away.
One of the more unfathomable features of Elmina Castle's design is that above the dungeons on the ground level, there is a church building in the centre of the complex. The European slave traders would no doubt have had much to repent about while singing their hymns in church, while below them hundreds of slaves were being held in such terrible conditions for months on end (not to mention the rape, etc). The two pictures above are of the church, the one on the right obviously taken from the floor above, where you can also see out into the Gulf of Guinea.
Here are some more shots from within the castle:
Finally, a plaque recently furnished upon on a wall within the complex reads:
In everlasting memoryElmina
Of the anguish of our ancestors
May those who died rest in peace
May those who return find their roots
May humanity never again perpetrate
such injustice against humanity
We the living vow to uphold this
On a brighter note, the township of Elmina
today is a bustling small fishing town. From the top of Elmina Castle you can take in plenty of good views of the area.
Firstly here's a shot of the scene in the area outside the castle entrance.
Lots of young kids hanging around, and the odd person with wares on their heads. There were some oranges on sale here.
Looking to the south west along the beach, there ain't much happening there:
But now let's swing back over to the north side of the castle, and I'll give you a panorama of the Elmina township:
This is the bustling fishing town that I mentioned above - it's a really fantastic sight. The little inlet in the left and center photos is some indication of just how many (small) fishing boats there are there... Heaps. Most of them these days seem to be powered by outboard motor, and there were still some boats heading out to sea around 5 pm just before it was about to grow dark. When we took a walk along the road just across the bridge you see there in the left photo, I remember seeing a few fish, but whether they were out on display for sale I've now forgotten. I don't remember what species they were, but what I do remember is that they were around 50 or 60 centimetres in length, looked like tasty enough, but being placed outside in the heat with no ice or anything as such to maintain the freshness, I wasn't about to buy any.
When I came back to Japan I did some searching and found this page
which details the challenges facing Elmina's fishing sector today (the whole Elmina Heritage
site is good reading too, and a lot of what I experienced there during that one afternoon is written about in some form or another).
Also catching the eye is Fort Coenraadsburg (built by the Dutch a few hundreds years after the Portuguese first arrived) up on the hill.
Here's some better shots of the fishing boats from the digital camera:
Perhaps in relation to The Elmina Strategy 2015, there is also a bit of development going on here:
The final part of the tour of the Castle took us into the bedroom of the head honcho at the Castle if you will, but we didn't get any photos there. One memorable moment there was that the guide (who didn't seem to be all so enthusiatic, to be honest) asked me where I was from at one stage - and I heard him asking the same thing of some other foreign tourists. Finally as we were making our way downstairs out of the castle he came back to me and somewhat persistently told me a couple of times that he was working there as a volunteer. Finally he seemed to be getting frustrated and made it clear that he was looking for a tip (hark back to day one when I just arrived at the airport). I wasn't carrying any money, but as we did have to pay a fee to enter the castle I reckon he was getting paid anyways. I figured later that he asked me which country I was from to try to fathom whether I was a potential tip giver or not. Maybe in the end he decided he would ask for a tip anyways. Trying to scam foreigners for tips is something that Ghana would be better off without, but given Ghana's overall circumstances this is a tough problem (more about this below).
After leaving the castle we went down to the beach first.
There's a small fishing boat there on the left speeding back out to sea.
Along the beach a kid wearing some kind of traditional looking garb approached us and asked for something. For food apparently. KG told him we were hungry too.
"Harrassment of tourists" has been recognised as an obstacle
of sorts to the development of Elmina's tourism (perhaps this could be said for Ghana in general), and I'm kind of reluctant to write too much about it as overall I'd recommend Ghana to anyone (well especially to young people) and don't want to give too much of a bad impression. But the harrassment is obviously not the reason you choose to go there, but in hindsight people travelling there would be better equipped if they knew to expect it before going. The persistent tip requesting (which only happened a few times) is a form of harrassment as well really.
But at least as far as we experienced it, the harrassment was only sometimes of a really annoying or imposing nature, and it's perhaps possible to say that it's the way of life there. Behind it the kids are good fun as evidenced below. This bunch were attracted after my lovely wife took a photo of a kid who was gathering sea shells. Then a whole bunch of the little posers gathered around, and asked to pose for another picture, did their performance, and then rushed over to the camera bearer to check the results.
How about those poses folks? I guess this is the trend in Ghana these days.
We eventually returned to where we had come from and walked across the bridge (the environment here seemed a little rough, but no problems) and strolled up to near the Fort Coenraadsburg. On the way up we passed some houses, and a lady was sitting outside mashing some kind of vegetable up for dinner, apparently. She noticed us looking on, and KG eventually called out to her to explain that the curious foreigners were just interested to see what she was making.
"Would you like to have some?", she asked with a big smile.
Here's a bit of a panorama from up at the top of the hill looking back south towards Elmina Castle.
This time it was me attracting the young ones. The lad pictured below came up to me, introduced himself and we got talking. He lived on the other side of the hill he told, and was going to school nearby. His English was pretty good too, and he managed my kiwi accent alright too. Finally he said to me with a smile something like, "so, have you got anything for me?"
As you can see I had nothing for him :) According to a strict definition of harrassment this would probably qualify but I wasn't too bothered any more by this stage.
That night we went further along the coast to the west to a different hotel to the one we were staying at to have dinner.
Great stuff. Another taxi ride saw us get back to our own hotel for another good night's sleep.
Labels: Elmina, Ghana, Kana and I