Saturday, December 27, 2014

SOUTH DAKOTA: REPTILE GARDENS, MOUNT RUSHMORE, AND CRAZY HORSE MONUMENT

We took a short trip to South Dakota in October because--well--just because. South Dakota was one of the unchecked states on my husband's Fifty States List. Honestly, I wasn't all that excited to go to South Dakota. The whole state has only 850,000 people, 3,000,000 fewer people than Los Angeles.

Besides, unlike my husband, I had been to South Dakota before. My family had driven through in 1975 and visited the three sites covered by this post. This time, Bob and I flew to Rapid City and rented a car. Our first stop was just 15 minutes from the airport.

1. REPTILE GARDENS
Unfortunately, we arrived in South Dakota a couple of days after the earliest snowfall in the state's history. Sadly, the "Gardens" part of Reptile Gardens had been drastically affected. There was substantial frost damage:
But other parts of the garden still looked pretty good:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, PART III: SPORTS--CHURCHILL DOWNS AND THE ALI CENTER

Louisville is a sports-loving city, well, two sports in particular: horse racing and boxing. One represents all the wealth and excesses the city can offer, and the other is a showcase of the working class struggle. One thing the two sports have in common? Grit.

I. CHURCHILL DOWNS, site of the annual Kentucky Derby, is twenty-minute bus ride from downtown.

Churchill Downs was built in 1875 by Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. (Hmmm...wonder where his parents got his name?) on land given to him by his uncles. Born into the upper class, M. L. Clark (known to family and friends by the rather embarrassing nickname of "Lutie") was also the founder of the Louisville Jockey Club and had a life-long interest in horse racing and breeding.
Aristides, the winner of the first Kentucky Derby in 1875

Thursday, December 11, 2014

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, PART II: ART--INDOORS AND OUT

Louisville has a distinct sense of humor, evidenced by the city's street art. Standard bike racks just wouldn't fit in this city famous for its bourbon, horse racing, fried chicken, and nightlife.



Sunday, December 7, 2014

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY, PART I: SPLENDOR ON THE OHIO RIVER

For the last three years, I have spent eight days in Louisville, Kentucky, scoring AP English Composition exams. It's a wonderful opportunity to hone my grading skills, to assess what material needs to be better taught, to meet other English teachers, and to (last but not least) see new places on someone else's dime.
I've fallen in love with Louisville, a city with a population of about 600,000 that retains a small-town Southern America feel and even prides itself on being "the northernmost Southern city in the United States."  It stretches along the southern bank of the Ohio River, and several picturesque bridges spanning the water connect Louisville to Indiana on the far bank.


The Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating steamboat in the United States
(she turned 100 this year)  at dock next to our hotel. We heard her gay
calliope music several times a day as she picked up and deposited her passengers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

BOOKS TO READ FOR A TRIP TO AFRICA

Dr. Seuss, in his inimitably profound way, wrote, "The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."  

He is SO right!

Our trip to Africa was the first time I made a conscious effort to really tie in my reading to our traveling. I had always read a few books about our various destinations, but I had certainly never read EIGHTEEN books for a single trip. My reading doubled my travel experience--at least. I will never travel the same way again!

I include all these books under my "Literary Tourism" tab at the top of the site, but for the sake of easier Google searching, I include them here as a post. Each title is linked to the post in which it is referenced or discussed.  I have at least five more books on my "To Read" list, but a new trip is in the works. I may just have to take another trip to Africa to get back to my list!


KENYA:

Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi

Born Free by Joy Adamson

Love, Life, and Elephants by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Weep Not, Child by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson


TANZANIA:

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

Facing the Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton


Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone by Martin Dugard


GHANA:

Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War by Stanley Meisler

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

Saturday, November 29, 2014

AFRICA: DRIVING BACK TO ACCRA, FLYING HOME, AND A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS

After our four days of exploring the slave forts and castles on Ghana's coast, we reluctantly made our way back to Accra. We had found Ghana to be an energetic, bustling, and very stimulating place, but Russ and Shelley needed to get back to missionary work, and after almost three weeks in Africa, we had to go home. 

Our drive back to the capital city was every bit as fun as the rest of our time in Ghana. There was always something to see. For example, over 71% of Ghana's citizens are Christians, but theirs is a much livelier form of Christianity than I'm used to, evidenced by the names of the businesses. Here is a sampling that I wrote down in my journal:
       God's Power Motors
       Blessed Home Catering
       The Battle is the Lord's Men & Women's Wear
       By Grace Furniture and Coffin Workshop
       Blessed School
       God First Enterprises Wood and Cement
       Father's Legacy International School
       Motorway Mothercare
       River of Peace Beauty Salon
Note the juxtaposition of this billboard that promises "Life Transformation and Miracle Services"
and the Chevy van that appears to be miraculously balancing on its rear wheels.
Can you see the "Jesus Palace"? Not exactly my idea of what a place with that name would look like.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

AFRICA: GHANA, FORT WILLIAM (AKA ANOMABU )

Our last stop in Ghana was a trip to Fort William, also known as Fort Anomabu because of the town in which it is located. We were well-seasoned slave-site sightseers by this time, having been to Fort Amsterdam, Cape Coast Castle, Fort St. Anthony, and Elmina Castle, but for some reason Anomabu was especially haunting. Again, we were the only tourists there for most of our visit, and the sheer isolation carried its own eerie feeling.

The building that sits on the shores Anomabu today was constructed by the British in 1760. It hasn't changed much, at least not in the past 140 years:
Anomabu in the 1870s. Photo from here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

AFRICA: LDS CHURCH IN GHANA, PART II

Just a few miles east of Cape Coast is a secluded beach with a view of the Atlantic Ocean stretching to the far horizon. A line of rocks a dozen yards from the shore makes a nice wave break.
This is where the Cannons and Mabeys brought Joseph Billy Johnson and 88 members of his congregation to be baptized on December 9, 1978.

Rocky mounds on the shoreline provided privacy for changing into and out of baptismal clothes:

The group named the place Baptism Beach.  They waded out into the water in the area in front of those rocks for the baptisms:

Ted and Janet wrote in their personal memoir:
The water was warm and pleasant, [but] it was not always as deep as we would have liked it, especially when we had tall men and big women whose feet and knees wanted to come out when their heads went in. The swelling waves added to the difficulty, until a team system was begun, with one of the two officiators baptizing while the other held down the feet of the person being baptized. Some of the young men helped the women and children in and out of the water. Women on the shore held the babies that had been wrapped on their mothers' backs. That night Janath wrote in her journal, "What a glorious, exhausting day!"

Newly baptized members were confirmed at the waters edge, and the ordinances continued past sunset and into the night. Ted and Janath wrote:
The moon came out, casting a pale light on the beach. Fireflies and glow-worms sparkled in the dusk . . . "It was a lovely night," wrote Ted in his journal, "a memorable day. The people sang together as they walked back to town."

Monday, November 17, 2014

AFRICA: LDS CHURCH IN GHANA, PART I

One of the things I really looked forward to on this trip was the opportunity to attend church in Ghana. As we drove along the Ghana coast, we noted LDS chapels in almost every town of any size, and if not a building, at least a sign for the church with an arrow pointing down a dirt road. The LDS Church presence is very strong on the coast, a miracle considering it's been there less than 40 years.
Graph from here
I've already discussed the fact that Bob's third-great-grandfather was a slave trader on these shores, and it was partly to better understand that part of Bob's ancestry that we went to West Africa, but there is another part of the Cannon history that drew us to Ghana. In 1978, Bob's uncle Ted Cannon (his dad's brother) and his wife Janath were called to serve an LDS mission in Ghana and Nigeria with another couple, Rendell and Rachel Mabey. The two senior couples were the first official LDS missionaries in West Africa, and what they found when they got there was astonishing, and I'll get to that story in a minute. First, a few words and pictures about our experience attending Sacrament Meeting in the Cape Coast 2nd Ward.

Unlike many of the other LDS buildings we had seen during our travels, this one wasn't the typical American-style architecture:
It looked more like a hotel or apartment building, and it's probably a lot more practical for Ghana than the more Westernized versions of an LDS chapel we had seen in other towns.There was a nice entry:
. . . with a nice barbed wire fence:
 . . . coupled with a welcoming sign. (However, I think you're only welcome if you come when the gate is open.)
 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

AFRICA: ELMINA CASTLE (AKA ST. GEORGE OF THE MINES)

The Elmina slave castle, also known as São Jorge da Mina or St. George of the Mines, has many claims to fame (or infamy, depending on how you look at it).
* Built in 1482 by the Portuguese to facilitate their gold trade, it was the first trading 
     post on the Gulf of Guinea.
* It is the oldest existing European building below the Sahara. 
* It was the largest of all the slave castles.
* It was one of the most important of all the slave trading sites.
* Christopher Columbus is said to have visited here as a mate on a ship bringing 
     building supplies in 1482.
* Supposedly Columbus returned in 1492 on his way to "discover the New World" and 
     spent three days at the castle.
* It was the first pre-fabricated building constructed south of the Sahara. All of the 
     materials were sent from Portugal to Elmina on board twelve ships, and many of the 
     parts were prefitted. 
* The Dutch captured it in 1637 and made it the capital of the Dutch Gold Coast (and 
     built Fort Coenraadsburg to protect it, as discussed in my last post).
* Approximately two million slaves went through Elmina during the 350 year period of 
     the slave trade.
* During the Dutch period, Elmina was the rival of nearby Cape Coast Castle, owned by 
     Britain.
* In 1871 the castle was ceded to the British, who held it until Ghana received their 
     independence from British colonialism in 1957.
* For a while it was the Ghana Police Recruits Training Center before it became a 
     museum.
* The German filmmaker Werner Herzog filmed a movie here in 1987 entitled Cobra 
     Verde. Based on a Bruce Chatwin book entitled The Viceroy of Ouidah, it is the story 
     of a fictional Brazilian slave trader.

As we approached the entrance, we stopped to look at this grand compass built by the Dutch in 1679, an ironic reminder that those brought here would not stay and that they were part of Western Europe's conquest of the seas. Some sources say that ships' captains would come here to reset their compasses using this as their gauge:
I don't know if that story is history or folklore or just pure tourist blather. Another source says it's a sundial.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

AFRICA: ELMINA, GHANA

We planned to spend a day at a castle and fort that were just a few miles from Coconut Grove Resort where we were staying, so we had a leisurely morning and then got on our way.  Just outside the resort we noticed this interesting hillside.  What was on it? A new kind of farming? An avant-garde art project? 
We decided it must be laundry day for what we guessed was a boarding school, and this was a Ghanaian clothes line:
The beautiful Elmina coastline:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

AFRICA: GHANA, FORT ST. ANTHONY

Fort St. Anthony (Portuguese) was our third slave-related destination in Ghana after having visited Fort Amsterdam (Dutch) and Cape Coast Castle (British).  While in Ghana I was totally confused about the difference between forts and castles. Both were used to hold slaves until they were sold to slave traders, and they have similar facilities: a central courtyard, offices, living quarters, and slave dungeons. According to my husband, the difference between a slave fort and a slave castle is that a castle was an administrative seat for the country participating in the slave trade, and the forts were satellite facilities. Typically the castles, because they housed more bigwigs, were also larger and better equipped than the forts.
Built in 1515, Fort St. Anthony was the second fort built on the Gold Coast by the Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to get a foothold there. It was a satellite of Elmina Castle, which we visited the following day. In the beginning, Fort St. Anthony was used primarily for the gold trade and was said to have amassed more gold than every other fort on the Gold Coast put together. However, the Portuguese were pushed out of the area, and by the 1720s, this fort was owned by the Dutch, who would have been the ones conducting the slave trading here. In 1872, long after the slave trade was abolished, the Dutch turned this fort over to the British.

I took this photo from the fort, looking back across the muddy field that served as a rudimentary parking lot, towards the city of Axim:
We had driven across the bumpy surface, crisscrossed by channels of water created by rain, and parked next to the fort. Obviously, we were clueless about the big soccer match about to occur on this field--one complete with uniformed players, a rarity.
 I can imagine these boys discussing the predicament:
"What are we going to do about this car parked in the middle of our field?"
"Let's use it for goal practice."
"Nah, we'd better find out who it belongs to first."
"I'M not going to go tell someone to move his car. YOU do it."
"I'm not going to do it. You do it."
"Let's just use it as for goal practice."
"Extra point if you break a window."
"Sounds like a good idea to me."

Friday, October 31, 2014

AFRICA: GHANA DRIVING, ELMINA TO AXIM

I just finished reading Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck's memoir of his 1960 circumnavigation of the United States in his truck with his poodle Charley by his side. Steinbeck had a great deal to say about travel in general in this book, and one paragraph in particular seems relevant to our drive from Coconut Grove Resort in Elmina to Axim.
Steinbeck wrote:
Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. . . . [A] journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.

Every day of our Ghana journey was full of surprises. Every day was dripping with its own personality, temperament, individuality, and uniqueness (and perspiration).  A good example was our 160-mile round-trip drive from our lodgings in Elmina to Fort St. Anthony in Axim. That distance in the United States might take one-and-a-half hours one way and contain a few things of interest, but in Ghana every trip takes much longer than expected, which is just fine because there is something new and fun to see around every bend in the road. For example:

As in Kenya and Tanzania, there is a thriving microfarming industry in Ghana. We would drive past six or seven stands like this at a time, all selling the very same thing. Someone needs to teach these farmers about diversification.

Monday, October 27, 2014

AFRICA: COCONUT GROVE BEACH RESORT IN ELMINA, GHANA

Where do you stay if you're traveling in a Third World country far away from a big city and familiar hotel names? Unlike our experience in Kenya and Tanzania, in Ghana there aren't luxury lodges at the end of a three-hour drive in the bush. There are also no safe-bet Radissons, Marriotts, or even Super 8s on the Ghana coast. Foreign tourism just isn't that big in Ghana--and not because of a lack of things to see. We were so glad we had Russ and Shelley's experience to draw from in figuring out our three nights of lodgings on the road. However, I must admit that as we made our way to Coconut Grove Beach Resort, I was feeling just a bit skeptical. "Resort" just didn't seem to be compatible with "Ghana."

What a surprise to check in and find this spacious, clean room with volume ceilings throughout,  even in the walk-in shower:

There was a flat-screen TV, a small fridge, and lots of nice little touches, such as the marigolds tucked into our bath towels:
As lovely as this room was, however, we learned that high ceilings and Ghana heat and humidity aren't a good mix. There was one small air conditioning unit in our room, but it must have been cooling the upper third of the room because it was about 95 degrees with 95% humidity in our room at night, and no, opening the windows wasn't much help. It was a sweat box. The first night, there was no electricity on one side of the room. The second night, we had no hot water.  On the third night we asked for a new room, and they put us in the older section of the resort. Our room there was just as lovely and still nicely appointed, but it had normal eight-foot-tall ceilings, continuously flowering electricity, and unfailing hot water. Best of all, not only did the AC work well, but there was also a ceiling fan. We actually got a little chilled during the night. It was glorious. We wished we had moved after the first hot night.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

AFRICA: GHANA'S CAPE COAST CASTLE

Our next destination, Cape Coast, was about sixteen miles west of Fort Amsterdam on the Ghanaian coast. A city of about 170,000 people today, Cape Coast was once the capital of what was known as the Gold Coast, but after the British consolidated their power in the region, the capital was moved to Accra in 1877. 

The slave castle in Cape Coast is one of Ghana's most visited tourist sites. Before we entered the castle, however, we stopped at a little batik fabric dying place run by a church member that Shelley knows.  It was an inauspicious location:
. . . for a place that can turn out the likes of this:
Unfortunately, the storm of the previous day had flooded the place, and the owner was busy cleaning up. I would have liked to see her at work making her gorgeous wares. Shelley said she sells her fabric to top children's clothing lines all over the world. It is interesting to think that her beautiful work, made in a hut next to a slave castle, is turned into expensive clothing bought and worn by the children of wealthy first-world families.
I wonder who is happier, the one who makes the cloth, or the one who buys the clothing? This woman was welcoming, cheerfully dealing with the mess made by the storm, and proud of her work. I'm sure she would not be able to relate to some of our first-world angst. On the other hand, I am not so naive as to think I would want to trade places with her.

Her building was right next door to one of the largest of the thirty slave castles on Ghana's coast: Cape Coast Castle. This site and Ghana's other coastal forts/castles merit a position on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The UNESCO site notes: 
The castles and forts of Ghana shaped not only Ghana's history but that of the world over four centuries as the focus of first the gold trade and then the slave trade. They are a significant and emotive symbol of European-African encounters and of the starting point of the African Diaspora.
A metallic bas relief adorns the west end of the castle. (Can you see in in the picture above?) I wish I knew more about this beautiful work of art, which must be of relatively recent vintage.
The tide was out and we started to walk the shoreline in front of the castle, but we were stopped by a boy who told us it wasn't safe for us to go there, implying that the danger was not from unexpected waves but from unpredictable men in the area:


Slave ships used to drop anchor some distance from the shore, sending canoes to shore to deliver trade items like clothing, spices, sugar, and silk, and to collect "goods" in return, including slaves, gold, and other resources. One of those ships was captained by Bob's great-great-great grandfather, who traded at this castle at least once.
Cape Coast Castle is quite large--three stories plus an underground dungeon--and has been well-preserved and carefully renovated twice, once in 1920 by the British Public Works Department, and then in the 1990s by the Ghanaian government using funds from the United Nations Development Program, USAID, the Smithsonian, and other NGOs. 

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