ghana: the end

Unfortunately, before our arrival, we’d also already arranged with Big Milly to hire a cab and driver to take us up the coast for a day.  That meant another ride in the ghetto-rigged taxi rocket.  All day long.  And, as if we needed a reminder of its volatility, our driver had to stop for gas.  When the gas attendant climbed in through the hatchback and used a plastic bag to seal the valve, I decided it’d probably be a good idea to get out of the car.  Joey and I stood a few feet away and waited while the tank filled, but the smell of propane permeated the vehicle for the next half hour.  

The information I found said it would take about two hours to drive to Cape Coast from Big Milly’s.   So we arranged to visit Kakum, for its rainforest canopy walk, followed by St. George’s Castle in Elmina, and finally, Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast.  Unfortunately, the information I found does not, apparently, take into account traffic.  After forty-five minutes on the bumpy road in the hot rocket, our driver told us it’d be another two-and-a- half hours to Kakum.  I’m not going to lie: I was exceptionally annoyed.  Four hours, unbuckled, in an un-air-conditioned car on exceptionally bumpy roads had just turned into seven, and had I known this from the get-go, we probably would have planned the whole trip differently.  But que sera, sera, and soon enough we reached the entrance of the rainforest and bought our tickets for the canopy walk.

I’m not really sure how I manage to take us on death-marches (as my husband likes to call them) every time we go on vacation, but sure enough, we faced a hike up the rainforest that left us sweaty and winded.  With my unique inability to put two and two together when they’re staring me in the face, I hadn’t realized that in order to get to the canopy walk in the rainforest, one must first climb to the height of the canopy.  Duh.  Somehow I also neglected to heed that walking through the canopy means walking over the tops of trees.  Really old trees.  Really, really tall trees.  And I am afraid of heights.  

What was I thinking?  Did I mention this canopy walk is a suspension bridge?   This means when you move, the bridge moves.  And the more people on the bridge, the more the bridge moves.  And the guy in front of me is tap dancing.  I so terrified of heights I don’t even enjoy sledding and I am suddenly on a swaying, rope bridge 100 feet off the ground.

And then it started to rain.

I get that it’s called a rainforest.  Who would guess that it would rain in the rainforest?  But seriously, why did it have to rain as soon as I climbed on the suspension bridge?  The first five minutes walking along the wooden planks weren’t so bad.  The view was breathtaking (in more ways than one) and the rain wasn’t coming down too hard. 

Then it really started to rain.  And we are still on the longest suspension bridge in all of Africa.  With a tap-dancing ranger.  It’s actually a series of seven suspension bridges, in total over 1000 swinging feet, and now it is freaking pouring.   My attempt to shelter my camera from the downpour was overwhelmed by my desire for pictures of the gorgeous, terrifying scenery (or maybe documentation of my bravery), so my repeated, one-handed endeavor of removing my camera from my purse, securing the strap around my neck, taking a picture, taking the camera strap off my neck and returning the camera to my purse every few feet, all while trying to balance on the bridge with one set of white knuckles firmly locked on the rope, ended up with Joey in hysterics and me looking like a five-year old who has to pee.

We finally made it off the bridge to the covered platform, but by then we were completely soaked.  At first we decided to wait it out with the other people who walked the bridge with us, but then they discovered we were American.

“OBAMA!”  One Ghanaian exclaimed.

“Yeah!  Obama!  Obama!”  The others chorused.

Then we proceeded to become photographic fodder, as all of the Ghanaians took their picture with Joey and me.  Then each Obama-loving Ghanaian posed for an individual picture with our soaked and bewildered selves.

After our wet’n’wild photo shoot, since the rain didn’t seem to be letting up any time soon and we were already drenched, we decided to just hike back down.

Oh. My. God. it was wet.  Any semblance of a trail before had turned into a rushing brook, and as if I already don’t have enough problems hiking down hills, I was faced with hiking through a stream down a hill.  The water ran into my eyes, taking with it my sunscreen, and the burning sensation that followed was an added bonus.  All I want to know is why we are incapable of having a normal vacation?  I mean, why, why, can’t we just go for one day without some crazy-ass adventure?  What is wrong with us?  Whose idea was it to vacation in the rainforest in Africa?  Just two dumb Iowans who think it’ll be such an authentic adventure! 

Finally we made it to the bottom of the trail and under the gable of a lodge.  We literally rung out our clothes as, lo and behold, the sun came out.  My soggy sandals squeaked beneath me as we waddled back to the rocket, and when we sat down in the taxi, I opened my purse to see how my camera had fared.

Apparently my method of alternating between taking a picture in the rain and stashing my camera in my purse was just as brilliant as going to an African rainforest and not expecting it to rain.  I unzipped my bag and there my camera sat in at least two inches of water.  I grimaced; the cab driver said, “Oh, shit!”

The last picture as shown by my screen.  Oh shit, indeed.

It took about forty-five minutes to drive from Kakum back to Elmina; during which time I pressed the on/off button on my camera at least two-hundred times.  That puppy was not working.  First the lens opened and then the lens wouldn’t open at all.  Then the lens opened and stayed there.   And the screen?  That thing was completely FUBAR.  We are driving past palm trees, white-sand beaches, crystal blue waters, with awesome African fishing boats and a freaking 15th century castle in the background and my camera is D-E-A-D.  Dead.  Are you trying to kill me?!

As we pulled up to the visitors entrance of St. George’s Castle in Elmina, I tried to remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, my broken camera was pretty far down the list of atrocities that took place where we stood.  St. George’s Castle was built in 1482 by the Portuguese as one of its African trading posts on the Atlantic.  Sadly, it was also where thousands of slaves were kept for months in filthy, deplorable, inhumane conditions before they were sent through “the door of no return.”  The castle tour was quite sobering; it’s just impossible to reconcile how human beings could treat other human beings that way.  But our Ghanaian tour guide remained positive.  He ended our tour by saying, “We keep this castle not to reopen old wounds.  It just serves as a lesson to humanity.” 

Meanwhile, my lens seemed to be responding, and although the screen was still black and worthless, the rest of my camera appeared to be functioning.  Using the viewfinder, I mimed taking pictures, with hopes that I might capture even a little bit of the scene around us.  We drove back through the town of Elmina, in which you could sense the European influences in the narrow streets and architecture, before driving along the Atlantic to reach Cape Coast and its infamous slave castle.

One of the views of Elmina from St. George's Castle

The tour guide at the Cape Coast Castle was decidedly less friendly.  Part of me can’t blame him; it was absolutely disgusting how those slave traders behaved.  But the second tour guide was so hostile that each description of the slave traders’ barbarity seemed to end with the entire tour group of Africans subtly turning and glaring at the two white scapegoats: Joey and me.  We were so uncomfortable that we left half-way through the tour.  It felt like a mob was going to punish us for the sins of our forefathers, and for some reason I didn’t think our argument that none of our ancestors had even stepped foot in America before slavery was abolished would suffice. 

From Cape Coast castle it was another three hours in the rocket back to Big Milly’s.  The dirt roads our driver took to circumvent the brutal traffic were both physically and emotionally jarring.  At one point I felt pretty sure we’d stumbled onto the set of the movie, “City of God,” as we drove through the maze of concrete blocks.  But we made it back safely, and just in time for dinner.  In between bites of fresh grilled rock lobster and sips of hand-muddled caiprinahs, with the sand beneath our feet and the salty ocean breeze in our hair, we swayed to the reggae music played by the band under the moon, and life was good. 

Our last day in Kokrobite was perfectly relaxing.  We walked on the beach, collected shells, drank fruity drinks and ate lobster and french fries.  One more ride in the hot rocket returned us to the airport in Accra, and in a few hours we were safely (well...) back in Abuja.   

Amazingly enough, all of my pictures turned out.  Here's the link.