Five weeks and some change, and I find myself trudging laboriously through 5 inches of fresh, windswept snow. I missed Boston.
Africa wrapped up nicely. Last Wednesday, just before 5:30am, I awoke to the pitter-patter of light rain. The sky, still shadowed, appeared calm, but I was worried the weather wouldn’t hold. Francis picked me up at the hotel, and once we escaped the environs of citified Accra, I dozed off. 3 hours and 300km later, the rain had stopped, the sun had risen, and our car pulled into Kakum National Park. It was quiet – the kind of quiet one can only expect to find so far away from urban clamor.
Ghana (under British colonial rule at the time) passed its first conservation law in 1907 – banning the cutting of young trees of a certain size. Over the following decades, Ghana noted both endangered species and a dwindling supply of rainforest timber, so, in 1994, Kakum National Park opened with the goal of integrating environmental conservation and small enterprise development with community engagement and tourism. Today, many trails are available, and 410 species of butterfly have been discovered (I saw two of them!). The park also boasts the only rainforest canopy walkway in Africa – a route I was set on taking.
Kakum National Park is a protected area. It is necessary, then, to have a guide. I was ushered to an elderly group of four. Bill and Pauline and Jim and Margaret were from Kent, England, and I was happy to join their company. They were comical. Bill commented on the weather – “I don’t mind the rain. It is the rainforest after all” and Jim, explaining the psychology of the canopy tour to his wife, grinned – “It’s an equation, my dear. Fun divided by terror, or something like that. Ha!” They were a riot. Lots of chuckling up the trail.
Rockson, our 15-year park veteran from central Ghana, led us to the start of the canopy walkway. Gesticulating with his hands, he pointed out seven bridge lengths that looped around in a sweeping arc, one of them 180 meters above the forest floor.
Bill, on the last leg of the walkway, declared:
You know, Alan. I used to have vertigo. Now, I am just shit scared.
I left my friends and walked back down the trail, knowing that my time was limited. I stopped at a coconut stand, and for about $1.25, purchased a coconut and a 20 oz bottle of locally fermented palm wine. By the time I got back to the car, I was tipsy, wishing I had bought more wine for the day.
Francis drove us to Cape Coast Castle, and I sobered up immediately after learning that the dungeon corner where we started our tour housed up to 300 men at one time. That room was damn small. I spent about 2 hours walking around the premises. It was an informative, emotional experience, learning about the brutal conditions in which American-bound slaves spent their final hours in Africa.
On Saturday, my flight did not depart until 8:10pm, so I had one final day of exploring. I spent the first half of that day at Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, a park and museum constructed in honor of Ghana’s first president. When I first walked in to the park, I was immediately approached by 30-40 school children who noticed my camera. It was intense – like a swarm of jubilant gnats, they surrounded me, pulled me, laughed and shouted and all the wonderful, playful things that a group of excited kids can do. I snapped a few photos, and each time I showed them their faces I triggered a new wave of hoots and howls. It was hilarious, but after a few minutes I was exhausted and had to duck away. My second pair of African-bought sandals had just snapped, and I asked the woman at the gift shop if she had any super glue. Before I knew it, she had grabbed a large rock and was hammering nails into the bottom of my right sandal. Whatever works.
In the museum, I was amused at all the images of President Nkrumah – with famous folk like Fidel Castro, John Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth and Mao Tse-Tung. I left the museum and spent the last few hours at Makola Market, a series of streets devoted to ready-made clothing, assorted fruits and vegetables, fabrics, household items – it’s vibrantly chaotic, beautiful and animated in the kind of way that you can only find in market-based economies.
I bid farewell to Francis, my trusty auto-guide for the week and wheeled my suitcase into the immigration line at Accra’s Kotoka International Airport.The immigration official and I shared an amusing exchange.
Official: So, you leave us now. We hope to see you again soon. Have you finished all the Ghana currency?
Me: Yes, yes I have.
Official: Why have you done this?
Official: Because I am standing right here you see – *wink* *wink*
Me: Next time I see you, I will make sure to have some left over, yea?
I spent my final minutes on African soil at the airport bar, sipping my locally brewed Star beer and thinking about the survey in its entirery. The beers propelled me into the inevitable hallucinatory state of 24+ hour travel. I remained alert enough to finish a German movie about a failed (and fatal) attempt of the Eiger’s North Face, falling asleep for the remainder of the flight. I spent a few hours in Frankfurt, and before I knew it, I was back in Boston, happy to unpack, unwind, and turn my mind off for the afternoon.
That wraps up my February survey. I hope you enjoyed the posts! I have some fun things planned for the month of March, kicking off this Thursday with a list of unfrequented, rogue travel destinations. Gotta satisfy that travel itch before I leave again in late April!