Ghana an underrated gem
Ghana is regarded as one of the most visitor friendly countries of West Africa. For me, there were two highlights; the coastal fringe, colourful, vibrant but with a dark history, and the far north, much of which remains centred on village and small towns with strong traditions. There is also a divide in terms of religion, with the south being predominantly Christian, and the north predominantly Muslim.
As with most people, I started and ended my journey in Accra. The city does not stand out as a great tourist attraction despite being the ‘Gold Coast's’ de facto capital during the early part of the 20th century. The locals will give you the stadium and the theatre as ‘must sees’, and there are some prime examples of soviet style architecture. But give it time; wander the streets, round the markets, and down to the sea front and a vibrant character soon emerges.
The most fascinating part of the town centres on the fishing harbour below the lighthouse. Initially, I found my way down avoiding the touts who ply the slipway by the lighthouse claiming variously that it’s not safe without a guide, that a ticket is required, or that permission is required from the chief. On later visits, a smile and a joke seemed to suffice. Wandering alone led to pleasant interactions with boatbuilders fishermen, women smoking fish over barrels of charcoal and men repairing nets.
Nearby, is the only one remaining fort open to the public, fort Usher. When I say open to the public, it took several returns to find anyone to open it up and then a great deal of banging on bars to wake him up. This is where Nkruma was locked away during his days attempting to remove the colonial masters. It’s an interesting legacy of British colonial rule, and a stark contrast to the touristed homestay of Nelson Mandella. Nkruma was to become head of the first independent former colony in Africa.
But as my time in Accra and Ghana increased, so did my fascination with the very welcoming people and their markets.
My journey took me north to Kumasi, a major commercial centre and centre of the Ashanti region. There are few tourist sites, although the military museum gives quite an insight into colonial days and the Ashanti wars.
One rather peculiar artefact is the ‘sword in the stone’. The legend attached to this is strangely similar to the British legend associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. A sword is embedded in a stone. In this case, however, there really is a sword set in a stone, and rather than waiting for someone to remove it, while it remains there the Ashanti kingdom will stay unities. Despite its fame in Ashanti history it was not easy to locate (let alone remove from the stone.)
Kumasi is also the home to Kejetia market, reputedly the largest market in West Africa. I was warned that photography would be quite impossible. Initially, the crush of humanity, the seemingly aggressive sales pitches and the sense of total loss of direction left me loath to bring out a camera. But quite quickly, the unfamiliar becomes the familiar. A few jibes with local traders, the offers of totally impractical souvenirs from vast fruits to new shoes, and the warmth of the market is revealed. With the camera ready, the reluctance continues. But as usual there is one extrovert. The first few picture need to be good, as then everyone wants to see the result.
‘What? How can you possibly want to see her picture when you wouldn’t allow one of you?’
At this point there’s a clamour to have a picture!
Lake Botsumwi is a delightful spot to spend a few days relaxing. It’s an enormous circular lake, at one time believed to be volcanic, but now thought to be the result of a meteor strike. It makes for pleasant walks in the surrounding villages