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:

As we approached Elmina Castle, a few young men took it upon themselves to be parking lot attendants. I think they were looking for a nice tip for finding us a spot in this crowded lot:
Later, when we returned to the car, they weren't hesitant about holding out their hands and asking for "cash."

We had excellent camouflage on the car. I'm surprised they could even see it once we parked. I'm sure it blended right in with the ground, keeping our valuables safe.
Elmina was the very first European settlement in West Africa and was named for the gold mines that were supposedly plentiful in the area. Today the city has over 33,000 inhabitants. I found it interesting that Elmina's sister city is Macon, Georgia, a place where perhaps many descendants of the slave trade reside.

The Elmina Castle (which I'll cover in my next post) sits on a slight rise overlooking the ocean. Some sheep and goats were hard at work manicuring the landscaping:
There was a lovely view of the harbor, one of the best harbors along the Gold Coast because of its relative depth:
We noticed a sign tacked onto one of the palm trees and went closer to get a better look:

YIKES.
We turned our attention to other parts of the coastline, glad that everyone seemed to be obeying the rules.
Elmina Castle, built by the Portuguese in the 1480s, was captured by the Dutch in 1637. The Dutch strategy was to first capture the Portuguese church of St. Jago, which was on a hill overlooking the castle, and then to use that vantage point to bombard the castle with their cannons. Not wanting someone to do the same to them, the Dutch replaced the church on the hill with a fort whose sole purpose was to protect the castle (and so no slave quarters).

We walked up the hill to Fort St. Jago, renamed Fort Coenraadsburg by the Dutch:
. . . and were greeted by a few lively children and an ersatz tour guide:

 We took a look around the fort, seeing the typical things we had seen at our other stops,
 . . . including plenty of artillery pointed at the harbor:
Whoa. Now here's a new sight--a clothesline?  (Must be a good day for laundry.)  It appeared that there was someone living in the upper quarters of the fort:
 Looking down the hill towards the coast:
We had a great view of Elmina Castle from Fort Jago/Coenraadsburg:


The Benya River runs through Elmina. Not much like the rivers running through the cities of Europe, is it?


The crush of humanity along the banks of the Benya River was visual and auditory cacophony.




I'm not sure what that blue-roofed building is, but it sure looks out of place in my photo. Not great urban planning.




One of the challenges in Elmina was finding a place to eat. Maybe that fine dining establishment with the Coca-Cola banner? Hmmm . . . maybe not.
It's not like there were a lot of attractive, tourist-friendly restaurants waiting for our business. Luckily, we discovered the Coconut Grove Bridge House Restaurant, located (obviously) near the bridge. It's that three story brown brick building on the left, facing the bridge that spans the chocolate brown water:

It was conveniently located right in between the fort and the castle and really stood out in the chaotic mass of people and shanties. Owned and operated by the same company as our lodgings, it seemed like a safe place to eat.
Photo from here.
The ground floor and patio comprised the restaurant, and we chose the latter as it felt a little cooler.  "Cooler" was definitely relative however, as you can tell by my hair, my red face, and the lack of focus of this picture resulting from a foggy lens:
 From one side of the patio we had a view of the back of Elmina Castle:
Out the other side we could watch an endless stream of humanity:
Construction on a new concrete box-girder bridge to replace a highly corroded steel bridge over the Benya River had just begun in March, and protective barriers and piles of dirt were everywhere. According to this article, the old bridge "had become a deathtrap," was "dilapidated and looked like it could cave in at any moment,"and was "fast losing its essence."  (I especially like that last description.)
Because of the state of the bridge, vehicular traffic had been banned, creating major traffic flow problems for Elmina (but making our people watching more interesting).

While we waited (and waited and waited) for our food, Bob played with the critters darting back and forth under our table and between our feet:
Red-headed rock agama lizard
True to the time table of the restaurant at Coconut Grove Resort, lunch took a full hour to arrive at our table after we ordered it.  We started with a rather ordinary salad, so I'm not sure why it took so long to prepare. That old joke about waiting for the hen to lay an egg might very well have been true in this case:
My chicken and beans with fried plantains was pretty good:
Bob thought his fried grouper and sweet potato fries were fantastic:


Bob had read of Elmina's huge marketplace and wanted to walk through it. There were hundreds of makeshift stalls selling a variety of wares, from food to made-in-China trinkets to used clothing.Blaring music, shouting voices, and a general lack of English made communication difficult. Russ and Shelley were accommodating but cautious. This was clearly not a tourist place by any stretch of the imagination, and for the most part we didn't feel comfortable taking pictures. Bob was braver (?) than the rest of us in approaching the vendors and looking over their commodities. 
Booths manned mostly by women and children were selling various tubers (yams, cassavas, unidentifable roots), crabs, spiny lobsters, fish, and various fruits. 
Spiny lobsters
Cassava, which is dried and pounded into flour or made into tapioca.
 I wish we had taken more pictures, but I'm also relieved we made it safely back to our beds that night.


 Next up: Elmina Castle

5 comments:

  1. A lot of times when I am in not so touristy areas I find a dilemma in the camera situation. I would love to have more pictures but I find taking out my good camera instantly ruins the moment and brings out the "tourist mode." Which is not very authentic to me.

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    1. I think it was more that we did not feel a lot of friendly vibes. It's not a tourist area, and they didn't want their pictures taken.

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  2. I think it's rather brave of you to eat in this place. What a jumble of colors and buildings and people.

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  3. The big brown tubers are actually yams, real yams, not sweet at all - unlike the "yams" we get in the U.S. that are actually sweet potatoes. The "sweet potato fries" with my fish were actually yams, from the same big brown tuber. They were more starchy and a little more solid than potato fries, but were not bad. Walking through the market was a little intimidating. I felt very out of place. And those guys outside the Castle in the "parking lot" were over the top. I thought I was going to get mugged on the way in. I had five or six guys all crowded around me wanting me to buy something or other I don't recall. Russ was nice to come up and rescue me.

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  4. The boundaries between visitors and residents can be tightly drawn, can't they? I think you and Bob adapted very well to the situation. The story of this day reminded me of my optimistic FIL, who was forever thinking the world was a fascinating place, and whose innocent curiosity often protected him from harm.

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