Cape Coast x2

My first month in Ghana has come and gone more quickly than I ever could have imagined. I guess that is always to be expected of a new experience. As they say, time flies when you are having fun! As I admitted in my last (and only- oops!) blog post, the beginning of this experience was not easy. However, the transition from hard to easy was surprisingly quick, and suddenly I find myself waking up excited for each new day, ready to see what Ghana has to offer. I am not saying I don’t still have my bad days or my moments of weakness, I am still human after all, but overall things on this side of the world are going pretty well.

One of the perks of studying abroad through a program is the weekend trips that are often planned for us. My group has already visited the seaside town of Cape Coast on two separate occasions, so I will be dedicating most of this blog post to those experiences. This way I can describe the full depth of the place to those of you kind souls who are actually taking time out of your busy lives to read my words. (Thank you, by the way!)

Cape Coast is a small fishing city located about three hours west of Accra along the coast. Situated right along the Atlantic Ocean, it is a beautiful town rich with history, with an economy and culture based solely around fishing. Unfortunately the history of the place, which is deeply rooted in the transatlantic slave trade, is not a pleasant one to hear about, but it is important to learn about nonetheless.

Our first stop when arriving in the misty and humid city was to visit the former slave castle called Elmina Castle, which stood tall and white, overlooking the torrid ocean. The palace was bustling with tourist, the beauty and crowdedness of the place making it feel less haunting. The palace itself was truly a beautiful sight to see; shockingly white walls glistening against the grey sky and water, archways and courtyards sitting proudly where they had once been hand-built, and large brass canons standing guard high above the sea. The ocean below raged wildly, equally dangerous as it was beautiful, as we walked along the grounds where thousands of people had spent their last days. Our tour began and we learned about the horrific events that happened right there where we stood; thousands of Ghanaians taken from their homes and families, living human beings forced to stay naked in dark and crowded chambers, innocent women and children tortured and raped by white men … We saw the stuffy dark rooms where the slaves were kept, and the contrarily spacious area where the European men lived. We walked through the halls where innocent people were herded like animals to their death, and looked through the ‘Door of No Return’, where slaves were shipped away from their homes forever. My group and I stood silently in shock and horror as we learned about what had been done, trying hard to grasp how human beings can do such things to one another. Hearing about a bloody history is never, ever easy, but learning about what happened is so important. Without knowledge of our past, we can never hope to be better in the future; and it is up to those of us who set foot in these places to share these atrocities with the people back home. Ignorance may be bliss, but it will never change the world.

Not only is Cape Coast a place rich with history, it is a place rich with culture, beauty, and personality. Our first trip there was spent touring the slave castle, swimming in our hotel pool, and balancing on thin wooden bridges high above the jungle at Kakum National Park. Our second trip we ate seafood by the water (that sounds more romantic than it was- our food took over an hour to come out and did not taste very good, but we had a good day otherwise), attended the Fetu Afahye festival in the heat of the day, and spent a blissful 18 hours at a quiet beachside hotel, relaxing and playing in the waves like children.

Kakum National Park was truly one of the coolest places I have ever been to. The park, which was packed with American, European, and African tourists on a Sunday afternoon, is a dense rainforest that was turned into a National Park and Reserve in 1992, and is now one of the biggest tourist destinations in Ghana. The jungle is home to many different types of wildlife, which unfortunately can only be seen at night due to their fear of massive groups of humans, and is most known for its high-swinging canopy bridges located in the trees. Many of the people around me were terrified of the rickety wooden bridges, but I loved the thrill of being so high up in the trees- surrounded by huge trees and vines on all sides, while a cacophony of strange sounding birds echoed in the dense greenery around us. We walked through the trees among shrieks of joy, awe, and fear alike, on seven different bridges that eventually went in a full circle. It was a short-lived adventure but an epic one nonetheless.

The Feru Afahye Festival, which is celebrated in Cape Coast every September, was definitely a sight to behold. The festival was originally designed as a gathering of people praying to the gods after an outbreak of disease, and is now an event celebrated to keep the town clean, the people in good health, and the crops and fish abundant. The streets were packed with people watching as tribes dressed in all different colors paraded down the streets, singing and dancing and having what looked like the best time of their lives. Music blasted out of loudspeakers, cars carried beautifully dressed women on top, vendors sold meat sticks and fresh fruit on the sidewalks, and everyone danced and danced and danced. Then came the chiefs. Held high above the heads of their villagers, they were dressed in elaborate robes and headpieces, sitting in wooden palanquins under velvet parasols, waving gracefully at the screaming crowds. It was the closest I have ever been to seeing royalty. Talk about seeing a new culture; this was definitely not the Ithaca Festival Parade- that is for sure. The day was scorching hot and I got a bad sunburn on my shoulders, but I was so glad to be out there with the Ghanaians, celebrating and eating and dancing until right before sunset.

After a long day in the sun surrounded by thousands of people, arriving at our beautiful beachside hotel was a sweet relief. We divided our small group up- three to a room- screeching with delight upon seeing the full shower with hot water, a TV in the corner, and a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean stretching out in front of us. For less than 24 hours we were in paradise. We showered, took photos on the beach as the sky slowly darkened, and ate a delicious buffet dinner under the hotel’s cabana-style dining area. Some of us stayed up later, drinking hard cider and listening to the waves, then made our way down the beach to look at the sky, which was utterly vast and magnificent against the silhouetted palm trees. Thousands of constellations dotted the dark expanse, with the Milky Way’s hazy trail just visible among the sparkling stars. It was truly breathtaking, and we all took a moment to stare up at the universe, feeling small in this big world and grateful to be here on the other side of it, experiencing this country and this place and all of its magic. The morning came with sunshine and crashing waves. We woke up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise, groggily wrapped in blankets as the eight of us walked along the beach in search of pink or orange streaks as the sky lightened. Disappointingly it was too cloudy to see any bright colors, but it was special to be up at that hour, and we all returned to our rooms for a few more hours of blissful sleep. Some people slept in, others sat by the beach and drank coffee, watching the ocean and reading until breakfast was ready. We leisurely ate French toast and fresh fruit before spending the next few hours playing in the water, splashing each other and running from the crashing waves, laughing and jumping like children again. It was just what we needed before piling back into our little bus, heading back east to Accra for another week of life in our new home.