Friday 2nd December was a public holiday in Ghana (National Farmers’ Day), so we had a long weekend and decided to make our first excursion away from the Accra area to Cape Coast, the ancient capital of the British Gold Coast colony. It’s less than 100 miles to the west of Accra, but our excursion there seemed like an adventure for two reasons. First, we decided to travel light, so set off with just our rucksacks on our backs. Second, the journey was far from easy.
It takes only 30 minutes for us to walk from the flat to the main coast road. Buses between Accra and Cape Coast pass along that road – but unfortunately they do not stop to pick up passengers. Therefore, in order to reach Cape Coast, we had to first travel to Accra, in the opposite direction, and fight our way through the usual horrendous traffic jams.
We took a tro-tro into Accra, and then a taxi to the STC bus station (STC is one of the two companies running services to Cape Coast, and we had been told they were the best). We arrived in good time, because we’d been warned that there would be long queues. This proved not to be the case, and the bus we planned to catch was late, so we waited a total of three and a half hours before heading west again. The traffic getting out of Accra was even worse than it had been in the morning, so we passed Weija Junction (a mile or so from our flat) six hours after we set off.
After that, things were much easier, and it took not much more than two hours to reach Cape Coast. The main sights of interest there are the castles built by different European powers to support the slave trade. We visited two of these. On Saturday morning we went to Elmina, a short distance west of Cape Coast, and had a tour of the castle there. This was originally built by the Portuguese but then captured by the Dutch, who ran the slave trade from there until eventually selling it to the British.
The tour was very interesting, but quite horrific. We saw the dungeons where hundreds of individuals were kept for up to three months in terrible conditions. We heard how so many of them died and their bodies were thrown in the sea, and how female slaves were chosen by the governor to be raped by him and his soldiers. At the end of the tour Ian was feeling quite ashamed of his Dutch ancestry.
Elmina town is quite interesting, with a large number of local fishing boats using it as a base. There is also Fort Jago on a nearby hill which offers a good viewpoint over Elmina Castle and the town. Walking round the town we saw some of the ‘posuban’ shrines erected by the local companies of militia, which are decorated with unusual sculptures, including a sailing ship and statues of Adam and Eve.
On Saturday afternoon we returned to Cape Coast. In the evening we had drinks at a beach resort, watching the sunset and children playing in the surf.
On Sunday we did a tour of Cape Coast Castle, where the slave trade was operated by the British. The conditions in the dungeons were equally horrific, and we passed through the ‘Door of No Return’ which ushered the slaves out to the waiting boats to take them away from home forever. We saw the plaque on the outside saying ‘Door of Return’, because a few years ago they brought back the remains of a couple of slaves through the door and had a ceremony in the castle to mark their return home. We also saw a plaque commemorating a visit by Barack and Michelle Obama in 2009. Michelle Obama apparently believes that her ancestors may have been among the slaves shipped across the Atlantic from Cape Coast.
Our long weekend at Cape Coast was informative and enjoyable, despite the horrific nature of the history there. We liked being able to walk out and have restaurant meals and drinks in the evening, although it was not easy to pick our way between the traffic and the open sewers (Sandie actually had her toe run over by a taxi, but fortunately no damage was done). We did some shopping (a few souvenirs, and a dress for Sandie); we even found a small secondhand bookshop where we were able to stock up with reading material.
The journey home was much easier than the journey to Cape Coast. We decided to use Metro Mass (the alternative bus company) because they operate more frequently and leave from the centre of the town. The great thing is, that although buses do not pick up passengers along the coast road, they will drop passengers on request. So we did not have to go back into Accra. We alighted at Weija Junction, and walked back up the hill, with rucksacks somewhat heavier than when we set out.