Ghana: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 5 - Central Region: Cape Coast, Elmina, Katum


The coast is generally thought of as the domain of the Fante (also spelled Fanti) sub-group of the Twi, but it is not so simple because at least the Mina are a different group, and historically, at times, the Mina and Fante were on different sides of disputes, such as who controls a piece of land.


Kakum National Parkroad past Kakum National ParkGhana's most significant national park, near the coast, is Kakum National Park. The entrance is about 40 kilometer inland from Cape Coast on the Twifo Praso road.  The biggest amusement at the park is the canopy walk. Presumably it provides a better opportunity to learn about the park, but in hearing dozens of people returning from the canopy walk, none were talking about how it was a means to a better understanding of the forest flora and fauna, but there was a lot talk about itKukum National Park canopy walk as the attraction in itself.  This is strikingly similar to canopy walks in parts of the world where rarely do they provide an enhances opportunity for seeing an wildlife -- perhaps because there is just too darn high a concentration of  clamoring people on them, which creates a wildlife-free zone-- but they are a nice income generating amusement to support other park initiatives.  In Kakum National Park, an hour of canopy walking, for a foreigner, cost 30 Ghana cedis (~UD$20). 

If your interest is flora and fauna you will be better off staying on terra firma and going on a guided forest walk for half the price.  Kakum forest was logged at one point so it is not as grand as it would have been before commercial logging began, but it has been protected since about 1960 so it is now filling out.  The forest guide makes a number ofGhana, Kakum National Park, White-Crested Touraco stops to discuss the history of the park, the flora and fauna and ethno-botany of some of the significant species.  We got a fairly nice look at what was probably a White-Crested Touraco (left), though the Collins Field Guide doesn't indicate that is should be found anywhere near this area and the camera didn't have a lens at all suitable for bird photography.

Kakum National Park visitors center.For those who are interested, there are rustic accommodations in the park and there is a small restaurant with reasonable prices (and limited hours) atGhana, plate of Red-Red, Kakum National Park the visitor center.  If you're traveling light and don't want to have to rely on cooking your own food, but want to stay in the park past several meal this is an option.  The restaurant has the popular, but not always common dish, Red-Red – a plate of beans and fried plantain, and sometimes fish (right).  If you want the restaurant to provide you with an evening meal it is advised to place your order in the early afternoon.

Ghana, team hauling in fishing netGhana, Cape Coast-Elmina RoadBesides being picturesque the beauty of arriving at the coast is the breeze gives the environment a freshness.  The sea obviously plays a major role in the people's lives.  The shore is dotted with boats for miles and it is a rare morning that you can't see a team hauling in a fishing net.  The nets are set in a large arc by boats and then dragged into shore over the course of hours.  The team will pull for ten or fifteen minutes, then take a break, before recommencing with the toil.

Ghana, Elmina, smiling childrenGhana, Elmina, main street and the churchElmina is often in the shadow of its larger neighbor 20 km to the east, Cape Coast, but its beautiful setting, accessible size, friendly disposition, and high concentration of points of interest, including the harbor, two forts, a half-dozen Posuban Shines, several bicycle shops and the coastline) make it a a more desirable place to spend time to me.Ghana, Elmina, bike shop

We visited bicycle shops every day or two around the country, including in Elmina.  The universally has a limited inventory of tools and supplies, but across the board they were as friendly and helpful as far as their resources allowed, and often beyond.

Ghana, Elmina, main street and the churchGhana, Elmina, main street, restored building, 2011The economy seem to be reasonable healthy in Elmina. A number of building have fresh coats of paint, traffic bustles and a couple significant older buildings have been restored and given new active lives. Ghana, Elmina, main street, 1986The photo left and right (below),Ghana, Elmina, main street, 2011 are from the same section of street twenty-five years apart, in 1986 and 2011, respectively.  The white building in the right-center of the left photo is the yellow building on the right of the right photo.  Adjacent to the yellow building (to the right, out of the picture) is the stone building (above right), which has also been beautifully renovated and is now a seaside restaurant.  The town has also spread to the west and the north.  In 1986, the strip of land between the harbor and coast (left) used to have a few scattered coconut palms, but but by 2011 it was filled with buildings (right).

Ghana, São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle Ghana, São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle

Ghana, São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) CastleGhana, São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) CastleElmina is best known for its "castle."  It was originally built by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle.  It was the first Ghana, São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castletrading post built on the Gulf of Guinea, so it is the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara. It was first established for goods trade, the castle later became one of the most important stops on the routeGhana, São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle of the Atlantic slave trade. The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637. Control of the Castle and the slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814.  In 1871, the Dutch Gold Coast, including the fort, became a possession of the British Empire.

Ghana, Elmina, Fort St JagoGhana, Elmina, Fort St JagoThere is also second fort in Elmina, Fort St Jago, on the next hill over.  It doesn't get the attention that Ft St George gets, perhaps because it is smaller and doesn't have a direct connection to slavery.  Around 1503 the Portuguese built a church on the hill.  In 1637 Ghana, Elmina, Fort St Jagothe Dutch set-up a gun position on the hill to bombard Ft St Jorge, and eventually take it from the Portuguese.  The hill was further fortified in 1638 and the 1660's.  The stone fort, named Coenraadsburg, is unique as “the oldest purely military architecture of the Gold Coast". It had no commercial warehouses of any kind and its military fortifications were based on the design of baroque military architecture. Its main features comprised two giant,Ghana, Elmina, view from Fort St JagoGhana, Elmina, view from Fort St Jago strong landward bastions on the northeast and northwest sides for defending the castle from land attacks and two smaller seaward bastions on the southwest and southeast sides.  It offers a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.

Ghana, Elmina, Posuban ShrineUnique to the central and western coastal region of Ghana and a bit of eastern coastal Ivory Coast, Posuban houses are elaborate concrete shrines in the urban areas of Fante settlements.  These shrines are the work of Asafo companies.  Asafo companies are the patrilineal military units that are a feature of most Akan societies.  Once they were responsible for the defense of the town, but now they are are more ceremonial and cultural.

Ghana, Elmina, Posuban ShrineMany Posubans originated as storage houses for arms and company regalia. While the actual sites are quite ancient, their present form date at least from the colonial period and probably mostly post-independence.

Ghana, Elmina, Posuban ShrineThe design, though African, don't seem to have strong traditional roots and draws seemingly randomly on western culture and mythology for most of the imagery. One of Elmina's Posuban has a European-style ship on the roof and a very nautical theme.  Another building includes figures of Adam and Eve and mermaids.

Ghana, Elmina, fishing netsGhana, Elmina, mouth of the harborBeing a fishing town, there are fishing nets and boat paraphernalia all over town and the towns harbor is filled with boats.  Blue and red seem to be the preferred color, but there is enough yellow and green in the mix to make it a colorful place.

Ghana, Elmina, fishing boats in the harbor Ghana, Elmina, fishing boats in the harbor Ghana, Elmina, fishing boats in the harborGhana, Elmina, mouth of the harbor Ghana, Elmina, fishing boats in the harbor   

Ghana, Elmina, beach at Stumble InnGhana, Elmina, beach at Stumble InnLocal entrepreneurs have developed a number of lodging options along the coast.  Many seem overbuilt, over manicured, and culturally sterile -- almost turning there back on the coast and beautiful naturalGhana, Elmina, Stumble Inn environment. That certainly is not a description of Stumble Inn.  The buildings are simple and fit with the land and culture and the lot sits right on the ocean.  It is a very relaxing bit of tropical paradise.

Ghana, enjoying a good mealAfter a hard day of tourism it is always nice to relax with a good meal.  The "hard day of tourism" might be a stretch, but we had plenty of good meals.  Some of the stars of a Ghanaian menu are: Ampesi (a plate of either boiled yam, plantain, cocoyam, cassava; any two or all of them served with stew / gravy / kontomire or thick palm-nut soup), Fufu (assava, plantain, yam, cocoyam and/or rice, pounded into a glutinous mass and served with soup), Jollof rice (a simplification of Senegalese thieboudienne, flavored rice with fish, chicken or meat), Kelewele (spice fried plantain), and Waakye (rice and beans).

Bicycle wheel repairBicycle wheel repairA typical part of a bicycle tour is the practice of self sufficiency.  Here the wheel is giving us a little test.  At least for the moment we passed the test and bicycled on to the more fun, adventure and enrichment.

Ghana, Cape Coast University gateCape Coast is the home of Cape Coast University (left) and Cape Coast Castle (right).  Ghana, Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast University is one of five major universities in Ghana, with about 15,000 undergraduate students on campus.

The first fort on the site of Cape Coast Castle was built by the Swedes in 1653.  Ten years later all of the Swedish holdings on the Gold Coast were seized by the Danish. A year later the Castle was conquered by the British and extensively rebuilt.  The Castle original purpose was for the trade in timber and gold. Later the structure, and it large storage rooms, was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Ghana, Cape Coast, boat regattaGhana, Cape Coast, fishing netsBeing the big city in the area, Cape Coast has a broader range of economic activity than the more rural areas of the central coast, but fishing is still a significant part of the mix.  There are piles of fishing nets stacked at various places near the shore and unoccupied parking lots are used to repair them.

Ghana, Cape Coast, boat regattaGhana, Cape Coast, boat regattaOn this day there was also a bit of a boat regatta.  They weren't acting like they were fishing and they weren't moving like there were racing, but they were clustered and decorated with pennants and flags, including one boat flying an Israeli flag.

In this pair of photos from Cape Coast, Maggi (a bouillon-type spice used to flavor soups and sauces) and Cerelac (an easily-digested instant cereal) are advertised with painted tri-cycle.  The operators said they didn't have any merchandise for sale nor as samples.  Both brands are owned by Nestle Corporation.

Ghana, Presiden Obama welcome sign

President and Michelle Obama visited Ghana on the President's first official trip to Ghana, in July 2009.  Along his motorcade route, along the coast, of a number of signs welcoming him and singing his praises.  Two years later it is doubtful that any have been taken down, but some are getting significantly weathered.

Ghana, MankessimGhana, MankessimMankessim is the traditional paramouncy for all the Fantse-speaking people and is linked to the Nananom Pow (sacred grove) near Obidan, but an outside won't get a clue of that driving through.  Mankessim is also said to have a number of cultural performing groups that helps to preserve and promote its rich cultural heritage. 

Driving through, mostly you are aware that it is large market area where two major roads come together -- the coastal highway and a road into the interior that can be taken to Kumasi and beyond. 

One significant point of interest, even to an outsider, is a large Posuban shrine.  It is tucked away in a neighborhood a half-kilometer north of the traffic circle. The art, though African, draws on western themes, looking somewhat out of place in traditional Africa. Among the decorations in Makessim are cannons, horseman, birds, lions, officials, the three warriors Obrumankoma, Odapagyan and Oson – who helped the people's migration from Takyiman in the current Brong Ahafo region to Adoagyir in the Central region, deer, coat-of-arms, and some on lookers.

 Ghana, Mankessim Ghana, Mankessim Ghana, Mankessim


150th anniversary of the Methodist Church in Ghana

Our 1986 visit coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Methodist Church in Ghana.  Supporters filled the streets of Elmina with a parade.

150th anniversary of the Methodist Church in Ghana

150th anniversary of the Methodist Church in Ghana


 Next dispatch.



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