Fresh fruit, seaside resorts, historical venues and one of Ghana's four National Parks. Metteliva Henningsen visits the small city of Elmina, about 165 km west of Accra, and finds it has everything for the perfect weekend get-away
By Daniel Neilson|
Besides a substantial amount of speed bumps, the three-hour drive is fairly comfortable. Along the well-paved highway, road sellers make a living chasing vans, trucks and cars balancing anything from tasty dried plantains, cubic-formed glass containers to aluminium buckets full of 0,5-liter sodas on their heads. The speed, of which these sellers manage to contact customers, secure the deal, pick the product and exchange the money, is like a bird catching fish in the water. Fast and effective.
While buildings get smaller and the traffic density decreases, a lush nature scene unfolds and a scent of salty fish fills the air. Turquoise and yellow fishing boats bob along the Gulf of Guinea, palm trees and the delightful sounds of nature defines life on the coast. Yet, life here hasn't always been pleasant. An imposing presence sits above the vibrant fish market: Elmina Castle.
Like many century-old buildings, a musty smell, sharp and heavy hits visitors on entry. Here on this very spot, one of the greatest crimes against humanity took place and ended only 200 years ago.
”This is where the rebels went”, explains the tour guide pointing at a skull symbol above the so called condemn room.
The castle, founded by the Portuguese in 1482, is the oldest European building in existence below the Sahara. Established as a trading post for goods, the place bears no signs of comfort or care for the living.
Standing in the courtyard in the burning mid-day sun, you can only imagine how unpleasant, this place once was. A large group of internationals, and a few locals, attend today’s tour around the infamous castle, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Haunted by history and contaminated with a bad conscience of entire nations. As everyone else before us, the stay is only temporary.
”Everybody in” the guide commands and directs the group into the narrow former death cell. Story has it, that no one came out of here alive.
The tour continues through the stone cold male and female dungeons, where slaves spent months on the unforgiving ground, and all the way up to the Governor’s soft wooden floor bedroom, where stories of ‘the lucky ones’ brightens the day.
In between, a quick stop at the gift shop, where buyers can purchase Kente-backpacks, handheld fans, key chains, books and local art.
The group gathers in ’the last transit hall’, as a brief notion of how it must have been like, being held captive before exiting through the ‘Door of No Return.’
For more than three centuries the castle acted as a slave depot. Throughout the years, it is estimated twelve to twenty million people were enslaved and shipped from Africa’s coasts. In 1802 Denmark was the first European country to ban the slave trade. Soon after Britain and the United States both banned the international slave trade, putting an end to the cruelty in Elmina.
After a hefty dose of history, it’s time for nature adventures. Kakum National Park, one of the most diverse and well-preserved national parks in West Africa, is only 30 km away from Elmina. Its suspended canopy walkways are the main attraction, but if you come early, there is a chance to see the park’s animal inhabitants too. Park officials recommend animal lovers to arrive at 7am to see as much wildlife as possible. Noon and lunchtime visitors are more likely to be smitten with the park’s beautiful natural scenes. Recognised by the Bird Life International for its 266 confirmed species, bird watching is a must.
A solid lunch at the park restaurant is worth the wait, as is the hustle of buying, opening and tasting of some sweet slippery cacao fruit. To the sight of school kids playing football, and racing road sellers, we slowly leave the countryside and return to the buzz of busy Accra.
Elmina Castle entrance fees:
• Pupils from Primary & students: GH¢ 1 - 3
• Ghanaian Adults: GH¢ 5.00
• Foreign Children: USD 2 or its equivalent in GH¢