By Bernard Pollack, BorderJumpers
At the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana they call it “the door of no return” — the final exit for thousands of slaves on their way to America and Europe. While in the castle, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the look, smell, and feel of the place. And standing there is a moment we’ll never forget.
Behind “The Door of No Return”
In the not too distant history, two million people arrived here from all over West Africa, some walking for hundreds of miles, many dying on the way. All of them crammed for weeks or months into dungeons — as many as a thousand were packed into a space the size of a small living room, without toilets, and without light. Many were raped or killed.
We understood immediately why President Obama and Michelle Obama made Cape Coast a trip here last July. It was humbling as Americans to stand here, face to face with our complicated history, unable to comprehend our decisions of the past. Yet, the thought of our President, an African-American, standing here, in this very spot, filled us with both pride and shame, something too difficult to explain with words.
Getting to Cape Coast
We think every American should come to Ghana, not just to absorb the past, but because it’s really a dynamic and incredible place. By plane you can fly via Delta from JFK direct to Accra, Ghana, the capital. Make sure you obtain a VISA in advance (approximately $50USD), because the airline won’t let you board the plane without one (we learned the hard way). Once you arrive, and after you’ve enjoyed a couple of days in Accra, you can board a bus with STC for the four-hour ride to Cape Coast for only a couple of dollars. The bus ride is safe and leaves twice daily, but it’s often full so make sure to book your tickets a day or so in advance.
Great Ghana eats and lodging
In Cape Coast we stayed at the budget-friendly Mighty Victory Hotel ($40/night double room with a/c), which has hot water, fast WiFi, and a restaurant downstairs. A block from the Cape Coast Castle and in walking distance from the local crafts market is an organic restaurant called Baobab. You’ll love the vegetable soup, salads, and fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies. For dinner check out the affordable (and vegetarian friendly) Chic-Herbs restaurant or enjoy fresh seafood or a tasty pizza at The Castle restaurant. Afterward, the fun spot to chat with locals, meet other tourists, and grab a beer is a pub in the middle of a park called Oasis.
Awe-inspiring African excursions
While in Cape Coast, you should budget a half-day to visit Kakum National Park, dubbed “the world’s most accessible rainforest.” It’s just 10 miles outside the Cape Coast city center and home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, and butterflies. We took the 30m-high canopy walkway (about $8USD), allowing you to literally walk between trees, and see birds and monkeys at eye evel (go early in the morning to avoid legions of noisy school-children). For those afraid of heights (like us), try to look down for a breathtaking view of the forest. After the canopy, we took an hour-long hike with a private guide ($10USD), who knowledgeably explained all the different types of trees that lived in the forest, many of which are used for healing (make sure you wear hiking boots).
Ghana prides itself on being the friendliest country in Africa. It’s somewhere we always felt safe, and always at home.
Next week: Grand Bay, Mauritius
Next week on our African itinerary, we’ll be blogging from Grand Bay, Mauritius, an island nation in the middle of the Indian nation.
BorderJumpers Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack will be blogging here as part of a weekly series documenting their travels around the world. In every country starting with Africa, they’re highlighting innovations working to alleviate hunger and poverty.