The Canopy Walk at Kakum National Park and Cape Coast’s Castle might be two of the most touristed sites in Ghana, but for good reason. A few weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to hop on a bus for a daytrip out there with the British contingent of visitors to Adidome, you can bet I took it.
Kakum National Forest
West of Accra, past the heavy traffic, the coastal road passes palm trees dancing on beaches, then plunges into dense green. Thicker palm trees, stands of tall and tangled bamboo, and street vendors selling big yellowed cocoa pods and bottles of palm wine line the roads. When it rains, it really rains. Orangey mud sloshes down the edges of the streets in near-rivers, “like in Jurassic Park,” says one of the Brits. People walking alongside grab giant palm leaves to use as makeshift umbrellas. The ever-present goats huddle miserably under any shelter they can find. (Who knew goats hated rain?)
Then you reach Kakum National Park. The Rainforest. I hadn’t realized how accurate those zoo exhibits were. The trail is edged by thick, tangled greenery. The humming and chirping of bugs is loud in your ears. But the trail is rocky, slippery, and uphill. I kept wanting to slow down so I could take it all in. Given more time, I would have taken a slow amble through the trails. But this time there was a destination: the rope-bridges of the Canopy Walk.
We climbed up and up, until we were at the tops of the tall trees. Seven somewhat-rickety wooden, net-lined bridges span the gaps. The views are amazing. Mist and green as far across the gently rolling hills that the eye can see. It really feels like African forest. Tarzan kept coming up in conversation, because this was the sort of place you could picture him swinging on the vines. The rope-bridge adventure itself was a bit nerve-wracking, but very worth it.
Cape Coast Castle
I love castles and coastlines and history. But I found this white-washed, 400+ year old castle quite disturbing. This castle was one of the major slave trade ports of Western Africa. The last place on the continent that many Africans were held before being sent across the oceans into slavery. I was glad to visit, but found this experience of such a dark story in history quite dark indeed – in more ways than one.
The sun was beginning to set as we arrived. Though the sunset over the coast was beautiful, it took the light with it. I’ve never been a fan of closed-in places or places that there have been a lot of death, and that is, of course, exactly what Cape Coast Castle contains. The slave dungeons are awful, especially at dusk, and gave me a creeping feeling down my back. The church that sits above one dungeon is disturbing in a different way. And even the governor’s fancy home above it all, such a contrast to the living situations below, is creepy in the darkness.
The Door of No Return, that very last place the slaves would see, could have been the worst of it. But through the door, colourful fishing boats were beached for the night, and fishermen were mending their nets. And the opposite side of the door is now marked Door of Return, since the remains of two former slaves were brought through the door again about five years ago. Cape Coast Castle comes with a message: a clear ‘never again’, but also a somewhat out-of-place reminder of hope, and that things can change.