Africa is hot. The sheer temperature of this place keeps me in constant sweats. Between the hours of 9am to 5pm the heat is almost unbearable. Trying to think let alone operate in this type of heat and humidity is simply not possible. The best hours in Africa therefore are dawn or dusk, this is when the people come out, this is when the suns rays are lowest and it actually lets you live. In days gone by travellers to this area of the world would have taken months to get here. Slowly acclimitising as the ship or horse carriage came closer and closer. A European traveler would cross France, into Spain and the heat of the southern region all via horse and finally onto ship. This could take months. However today in a matter of hours the modern traveller is flown from a temperate or snow covered landscape and thrown violently into blazing tropics (for me it was -2 in Hamburg before flying into Morrocco). No easing into it, no steady as she goes; just boom. With this type of jolt the unfortunate automatic response for a westerner is to sweat and sweat some more. As if I didn’t stick out enough already. Alright onto the journey.
I am excited about Ghana. It is described as Africa for beginners. It is safe, people speak English and the infrastructure/transport and tourist hotspots are all of high standard. Ghana is the most politically stable country within west Africa and that has led to economic wealth. It also unsurprisingly turns out to be one of the few countries that has somewhat successfully navigated towards creating a nation rather than a collection of tribes. For these reasons alone Ghana is worth the visit but as I came to understand the history of its slave really put the context of Africa into perspective for me. But first, time for a break.
”I need a timeout. Send me to the beach and don’t let me come back until I change my attitude.” – anon
After crossing the border into Ghana I head an hour up the coast via a dirt road to the stunning beach of Butre. I check into my hotel, the green Zion garden and am greeted by the explosive energy of the host: Ellis the Ghanaian Rasta. It is a beautiful, secluded spot where he has created a garden oasis. As I am the lone guest he makes a special vegetarian curry and we chow down and talk (ok he doesn’t talk, he smokes some green tobacco while I eat). Ellis is special in that he is a local that has travelled abroad and is a definitely wiser for it. Many of his countryman have not and as a result the number one question I get asked in my travels is: can I take them back overseas. Actually I lie, the number one is: can you send me to an American university. No starting with something small like: can I have a dollar; straight to sending them to university! Ellis talks about the limited levels of appreciation locals have for their own country here. They have one of the most stable countries in West Africa, productive economy and to top it off it is beautiful and easy going. From his point of view their is a lot of gazing at the grass on the other side (literally in the world of Ellis!) whilst ignoring what is in front of them. I really feel this as I travel around these places, I sometimes wish I could transplant them to a western culture and see how they react going from somewhat carefree to bills, stress and always on the go. Ellis has lived in England and quickly made the decision to return to seek a more fulfilling life back home. His words strangely become more familiar as I meet a guest on the 2nd night; German Ghanaian whom was quitting Germany to come back and start a business here. When expats are choosing to return home it is a pretty good indicator that your country is in pretty good shape.
After a few days in paradise I head to Cape Coast to get a reality check. Cape Coast is the former ground zero for African slave trade and it’s focal point is the English castle that overlooks the bay. The stats on the slave trade of Africa are simply mind boggling. Between 1525 and 1856 12million Africans were captured and forcefully taken from their homelands. Many of whom died on the trek from the interior to the port and then many more on their passage to the Americas. What I think is quite startling about this and didn’t register to me was that the rounding up and capture was done via mostly other Africans. Due to the hostile heat, terrain and diseases such as Malaria, the colonial powers normally stuck to the coast in their fortresses. The grand action of enslaving was done by African kings and kingdoms. This was part one of what was essentially a three phase system. Africans supply the slaves which head to the America’s. Here they use the labour to create raw goods such as cotten and cocoa and spice which goes to Europe. In Europe they take the raw materials, make and then sell the products and using proceeds send items back to the king’s of Africa (such as guns) as payment for more slaves. Then the cycle starts again. It was an incredibly successful triangle whose ghost still lingers on today.
Cape Coast castle was one of the pivotal slave ports in West Africa. On the west coast there are 60 former colonial fortresses, 40 of those are in Ghana where they dealt with the lion share of the trade. Cape coast castle is gigantic and is a chilling reminder about the cruelty of an unchecked human spirit. Hundreds of thousands of slaves passed through the castle and it’s “door of no return” on their way to bondage. I get taken down into the dungeon where 1500 people would cram into an area smaller than an average NZ house. Dark, damp, no ventilation and most importantly no sanitation. For 2 weeks at a time the slaves would literally live in their own faeces and thousands died before they could even see a ship. You actually walk on several inches of old solidified excrement as you move through the halls. What is somewhat amusing/depressing about this is that directly above the slave chambers was the castle chapel. The pastor and his flock were literally praying for salvation whilst the cruelty of slavery was happening around and in this case under them. To finish the tour you are led to the governors chambers on top of the castle with floor to ceiling views and tastefully decorated, a real juxtaposition but symbol of this time period.