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.

The grounds at Coconut Grove were lush and well-maintained:
. . . and the location right on the coastline was gorgeous:
However, the surf was up, and when Bob tried to go for a swim, he was called back to shore by somewhat frantic lifeguards.
Note the canoe in the distance with eight, maybe nine, passengers.
No worries about the surf, however, because we had this very nice pool, and boy, did it feel good to slip into the cold water at the end of a hot day. Listening to the pounding surf just a few yards away was good enough for me.
The resort was not crowded--a few other couples and a group of relatively well-behaved American students from Yale University on some kind of study program joined us at the pool and restaurant.

The resort also had its very own golf course, although we never did see anyone golfing:
I wonder why? Maybe it was the flood:

Or perhaps it was the rough, weedy grass that would stop a ball in its tracks.  Of course, it could have also been the 95°/95% humidity weather.
I think that's supposed to be a sand trap, not a lake.
There were a few very interesting amenities that we've not seen at other resorts. Look closely. This isn't just a mud pit:
It's a crocodile pond with about a dozen small crocs languishing on the cement deck:
Bob was sold. Any resort with its own croc pond is a resort worth staying at:
There were also some birds, both captive and free. I love the Ghanaian crows in their table-waiter outfits:
A bit less appealing to me but wildly appealing to Bob were these voyeuristic hooded vultures that lurked in the palm trees surrounding the pool. Sometimes there were as many as twenty staring quietly down at us. They made me think twice about leaving the water.
The biggest draw, at least for Bob, were these two caged monkeys:
He spent a little bit of time with them every day. They would come to the wire and grasp his finger, looking at him with their soulful eyes, as if asking to be taken home in his suitcase.
Sorry, guys. No can do.

I myself enjoyed the Ghanaian sense of humor in evidence all around the resort:



In addition to the humorous pieces, there was some really lovely art. My favorites included this wooden seamstress, eternally sewing away in the resort lobby:
. . . and this painting of local children:
I wonder if this is a slave ship model?
We frequently saw carved wooden stools in gift shops, museums, photos, and paintings. Stools are an important symbol of power for the Ashanti people (aka Asante), one of the largest ethnicities in Ghana. Tradition has it that only the leader of a clan or tribe is allowed to sit on the stool, and sometimes the very act of sitting on the stool makes one the king. This practice dates back to the legend of the Golden Stool. According to that legend, in the late 1600s, a golden stool descended from heaven to earth in a cloud of white dust and landed in the lap of the first Ashanti king. That stool is housed in the royal palace in Kumasi, Ghana.

 The flag of the Ashanti people even has the golden stool on its middle stripe:

The lobby of Coconut Grove had a particularly beautiful stool with a traditional curved seat:
A stool, whether it be gold or wood, was not going to fit into our luggage, so I bought some handmade clay beads and some seed pod beads from a local vendor instead:
Another thing we enjoyed about Coconut Grove was the food. We ate our breakfasts in this outdoor covered dining area:
There were lots of yummy choices served buffet-style:
Fresh fruit and royal bissap (hibiscus) juice
Clockwise: Roll, omelet, beans (black-eyed peas?), and
an oily dish made of snapper, onions, and peppers
Obviously, this was Bob's breakfast. I would not
have ordered this bony, crunchy, whole fish.
He said it was a bit dry, but he loved the red pepper sauce.
The black-eyed peas dish, egg with red pepper sauce,
a pancake with honey, and a biscuit with honey
In the evening we sat at a roofed table outside of the main dining area but still overlooking the beach, and we ordered from a menu that was largely fish dishes and some local dishes with chicken or beef options. The light was dim, the breeze off the Gulf of Guinea was refreshing, and the wait was . . . LONG. Once we ordered, it took an hour to an hour-and-a-half to get our food each night. I think the staff had to go fishing/kill the chicken/dig up the potatoes, etc. On the positive side, there was plenty of time for stargazing. One night we even played several rounds of Bananagrams while we waited for our food. (It's one of my favorite games, so that made me happy.) 
Bob's fish plate included spiny lobster, prawns,
shrimp, and fish. He said it was mediocre.
The next night Bob pronounced the cold lobster with a
mayonnaise sauce "much better" than the previous night's lobster
This Ghana-style fish and chips using grouper was delicious.
My favorite dish at Coconut Grove: plantains, spicy Jollof rice,
and a moist chicken dish in a really wonderful sauce.
Overall, I think we had a great introduction to Ghanaian cuisine, but someday I'd like to try some other dishes. I don't think we had any fufu (cassava pounded into flour and made into a gelatinous mass) and goat meat, for example:
Picture from here
Anyone know of a place that serves fufu in the Los Angeles area?

Final verdict on Coconut Grove Beach Resort in Elmina:
If you're expecting the five-star luxuries of a nice American or European hotel, this isn't going to be it, but if you want a safe, clean, quirky, centrally-located, friendly, service-minded place to stay on the Ghana coast, we give it two thumbs up.

P.S. 
As a post script, Russ and Shelley recently included some pictures and information from a visit to a bead factory that makes beads like the ones in the necklaces I purchased. 

Shelley wrote:
I had fun going to a bead factory yesterday with some of the Sisters. Now when I say factory, that means that they are in production and have a system in place. From the pictures you can see that the "factory" is outside in the dirt with primitive equipment that has not advanced much in one hundred years.
One of the ovens. They use paddles
with long handles to remove the hot
molds that hold the beads.
These are the traditional Ghanaian beads. They collect bottles to break and melt down. Each bead is hand formed, hand painted and placed in an outdoor oven multiple times, then worked on by hand again to string.
A man painting a tradition pattern on a wire string of beads.
 It's amazing handiwork that I'm guessing fetches pennies for the actual craftsmen. How long will skills like these survive in the 21st century?

7 comments:

  1. A crocodile pond at the "resort"? Is that where they throw unpaying patrons?
    I really like the art- so instantly identifiable as African, so colorful, so unique. I need to get myself a stool so I can declare myself Queen.

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  2. Looks like fun one day I want to try fufu.

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  3. You forgot the wonderful lizards that ran across the wall of the crocodile pond - beautiful. I loved the outdoor meals under the thatched roof with the surf pounding nearby and how can you not love cute monkeys that hold your fingers!

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  4. Ah, but did they have Wifi? You didn't mention that. I think the heat would have melted most of us, so I was glad you finally got a room with a/c. Interesting descriptions of the resort and the food. That Jollof rice sounds like a variant of Spanish Rice; is it?

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes they had WiFi and sometimes they didn't. Mostly they didn't, at least not in the rooms. And yes, the rice was somewhat like Spanish rice, only spicier.

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  5. Thanks for sharing such a great article and it's helpful for everyone. Great Post! tehran hotel

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