Friday, April 30, 2010

Cape Coast: Castles and Crocodiles

Friday was an exciting day. We were getting pretty tired of Accra--it's a mildly interesting city, but you don't really feel like you're in Africa. I was starting to miss the trees and termite mounds, and the unabashed friendliness of villagers.
We loaded up the bus and headed west out of Accra, toward Cape Coast. I hadn't realized how sprawling Accra is. The central part of town (where everything important seems to be) is rather compact, but ringing the city is an unending mass of suburbs, a confusing jumble of homes, shops, and chop bars in no apparent order. We drove for an hour or two before the urban areas finally broke up into evenly-spaced towns. It was good to be in the countryside again, but I must make a qualification on that: no part of Ghana is truly remote. Outside of the cities, the land seems evenly populated. You drive past small towns and villages everywhere you go. Even out in the bush there are villages everywhere, with thatched or tin roofs and animals running everywhere. Also, even in the bush areas you frequently see the same beautiful clothes: boys run around in the colorful bo--basically a piece of fabric wrapped around the waist that rises up to be tied behind the neck. The mean sport bright batik or tie-died shirts, sometimes with matching pants, and the women usually wear their colorful, form-fitting dresses with puffy square sleeves, a head wrap on nicer days, and a baby tied on their back in a different pattern of cloth.
The drive to Cape Coast is pleasant, but far enough from the beach that you don't notice it for an hour of two. Soon you start to notice that the poinciana trees are fuller and redder, and there are more palms. Quaint little towns populate the hillsides with clusters of orange, red, and blue buildings capped with rusting metal roofs. Some of the towns are clustered around crumbling hilltop castles dating from the colonial era. Most homes usually sport a 40-foot bamboo post, to which they attach a tv antenna.
I noticed that most of the colorful buildings also bore the logos of cellphone companies. I wondered about that for a few minutes, until I saw some guys in red Vodaphone shirts painting a house. They use colorful paint as a branding tool. You set up a shop and Tigo will paint it blue for you, MTN will supply you with yellow signs bearing the name of your shop, and your house next door might be painted in the purple and teal of Zain. Some of the students didn't like the blatant commercialism, but I thought it was a good way to beautify a town and also move your brand into remote areas. One interesting byproduct of this is that you start to own the color you advertise in. Some houses were painted yellow but didn't bear any logos. I still thought of MTN when I saw them, and I had only been looking at them for an hour.
We arrived in Cape Coast and turned north toward Kakum national park. Kakum is a rain forest preserve with a series of rope bridges that allow you to look down over the canopy of the forest. We hiked through the forest, up to the crest of a tall hill and lined up to get on the bridges. As I stepped out onto the bridge a vast scene spread out before me. The forest seemed to go on forever, broken here and there by green hills. straight, branchless tree trunks reached above the canopy, finally bursting into green foliage at amazing heights. I looked down and got a little dizzy: through blankets of leaves I could see little patches of red earth far below me.
There were 7 or 8 bridges, each 100-200 feet long, spanning in an arc between the tallest of the trees. At the end of each bridge a viewing platform circled the trunk of the tree. Strangler fig vines grew up the trunks of many of the trees. They blanket the tree, eventually killing it, and take its place. There were supposedly many varieties of animals, and even some monkeys, but the other people were being so loud that I'm sure every creature for a mile around had already retreated further into the jumgle.
Coming back down the path I noticed hundreds of butterflies of many colors. A vendor was selling cacao fruit for a few cedis each. Ray bought one and I tried a piece. The fruit doesn't contain much by way of food, but surrounding the large seeds is a silky pulp that is citrusy and very sweet.
After the canopy walk we stopped at the crocodile restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is a cluster of buildings raised in the air over a green lagoon. The waters underneath the restaurant contain an estiamted 40 crocodiles. We paid a lady one cedi each to feed them. She brought out a tray of raw chicken and took us over to a pool of filthy black water under the restaurant. A twelve-foot long crocodile was lounging lazily in the muddy water. We all gathered within five feet of the thing, and the lady stuck a piece of chicken on a stick and started waving it above the croc's head. It lethargically raised its head and started snapping at the chicken. After tormenting it for ten seconds the lady allowed the crocodile to eat the chicken. We repeated this a few times, snapping a million pictures, and eventually noticed more crocodiles. A cute twelve-incher floated in the pond nearby. It looked like a little stick with eyes. We saw two more slowly inching their way through the water toward the bank behind us. We tried to get them to come up on the bank, but the lady said that it was too hot for them to leave the water. Sometimes they'll get far enough out of the water that you can come behind and touch their tails. We had no such luck, but I was perfectly happy seeing one from a few feet away. Besides, that black water looked and smelled pretty gross. The crocs seemed like deadly reptilian pigs.
During lunch I had the opportunity to try a Malta. It's a popular carbonated beverage in Ghana. It smelled and tasted just like Total or Raisin Bran. One sip was enough for me.

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait to see these pictures, with the rain forest preserve and the crocodile! Ewww, I've heard of Malta, hadn't heard what it tasted like. I'll think differently next time I eat Raisin Bran. Hehe.