From Houston to Sydney 2013

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West Africa


2014

 

Elmina was a beautiful sight in this morning’s light mist.  The ocean had a swirling pearl grey sparkle that seemed to be swallowed by an undefined horizon, and looking across to St George’s Castle from our hotel revealed a faint golden yellow glow as the whitewashed walls reflected the weak rays of the rising sun.

Our aim today was twofold.  First , we were to visit Kakum National Park, situated about 30 kilometres north of Elmina.  Second, we were to undertake the 245 kilometre drive (additional to the 60 km return trip to Kakum) northwards to Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city (after Accra) and the capital of the Ashanti region.

Kakum National Park is an area of 357 square kilometres of rainforest, jungle and semi-deciduous forest.  It is said to have some 300 species of birds, 600 species of butterflies and about 40 mammal species, including elephants, antelopes, squirrels and monkeys.  We are also told that almost no-one ever sees these animals because most of them are nocturnal, and the few that come out during the day are easily frightened by the noise of visitors.

The big drawcard of Kakum is an elevated series of suspension bridges that form a walk through the rainforest canopy.  At its highest point, the canopy walk is 40 metres above the ground, hence the advice we received not to look down (which really defeats the purpose of doing the walk to some extent).

Getting to the beginning of the canopy walk involved a slow uphill walk of about 15 minutes, during which it was possible to get a good feel of the floor of the rainforest – trees with buttress roots, lianas, epiphytes, ferns, and so on.  Then, the experience of walking on the suspension bridges was great fun.  A maximum of four people are permitted on any one of the seven bridges at one time because of the swaying that occurs as people walk across.  The views are truly spectacular, the breeze was very welcome, and fortunately for us today, it was not raining in the rainforest.  To give you some idea of the experience, a short video showing Andrew on the canopy walk can be seen at http://youtu.be/c6Bus3z3eZQ.

The canopy walk took about an hour including getting to the start and walking back from the finish.  It was hot and steamy, so before we set off, I bought Andrew, Mama and Harouna a cool drink, which prepared us well for the long drive ahead.

The drive north to Kumasi was a lovely cross-section through southern Ghana.  Starting on a rough road on the flat coastal plain, the road improved as we climbed into the hills where Kumasi is situated, especially when we arrived at a long section that has been constructed by the Japanese as a foreign aid project.

The road passed through small towns every few kilometres, most of which had a scattering of houses, stalls along the main road, several churches (mostly protestant) and one or two schools with students in immaculate, brightly coloured uniforms.  Many of the street-side stalls were selling the produce of local farms, such as bananas, pineapples, yams, maize and coconuts.  The road also passed through several areas of palm oil plantations, and we could see trucks being loaded with the ripe palm oil seeds to be taken away for processing.

As often happens when we have a long drive, we didn’t stop for lunch again today, but after the excellent breakfast at the hotel this morning, we didn’t mind.  Mama seemed to feel sorry for us (or maybe he was just hungry himself), and at one of our stops at the police check points he bought us each a hot, grilled banana – somewhat dry for my taste, and eaten with the skin, but a good tummy filler nonetheless.

According to Google Maps, our drive to Kumasi should have taken 3 hours and 20 minutes; in fact, it took just over 5 hours, and we arrived at 4:30 pm.  Our hotel in Kumasi, the Hotel Georgia, has spacious and comfortable rooms, with separate bathroom, hot water, soap, television and air conditioning.  It also has internet, but it is so slow that almost nothing will load, hence this travel diary will need to wait for a couple of days to be uploaded.

Dinner at the hotel was quite an interesting experience.  The restaurant is located under an open-sided shelter away from the main building, beside the swimming pool (which contains no water).  The tables and chairs were made of lightweight aluminium, which seemed to suit the tiled floor quite well in a kind of 1950s retro manner.  Because the restaurant is open-sided, we were able to experience the evening air of Kumasi (hot, dusty and filled with smoke from wood-burning stoves nearby) and the traffic noise (as we are beside a major road).  Lighting was elegantly subdued; the only illumination came from a streetlight that was well away from the restaurant.  Perhaps they were worried that lights might have frightened the dozens of bats that were flying above us.

There were no printed menus because there was only one item available – chicken.  There was, however, a choice of accompaniments – either French fries or fried rice (we both chose the latter).  Despite everything, it was actually a very good meal.  The meat comprised a lovely tender, roasted, slim half chicken, the rice was hot and beautifully prepared, and this came at a cost of just 18 cedis each (about $9).  There is something to be said for paying for food rather than décor.

As mentioned above, Kumasi is the centre of power and culture of the Ashanti (or Asante) tribe.  Historically, the Ashanti controlled one of the largest of the African empires, stretching across Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and into Niger.  The Ashanti remain an extremely powerful and influential part of Ghana today; they still have a king who is consulted on all important matters by the Ghanaian President before significant legislation is finalised.

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to exploring the city tomorrow.

As a postscript, during today’s long drive, I noted the names of some of the small businesses that tickled my fancy.  Today’s ‘winners’ were: the Infant Jesus Sawing Centre (a carpentry shop), the If God Says Yes Who Can Say No Funeral Directors, Anointing Fast Food, Heaven’s Gate Funeral Parlour, the Most High Water Works and the Psalm 91 Meat Works.

Friday

24 January 2014

Day 28 - Elmina to Kumasi, Ghana