Friday, October 5, 2012

Pesky Pirates - Again

Map picture

I knew something was afoot even before the official announcement. Working our way down the West Coast of Africa, we have managed to stop at almost every country along the way. We did skip Liberia and the Ivory Coast, but finally put in to the country of Ghana. The day before we reached Ghana, I noticed the presence of what was obviously a security patrol walking the deck, and it reminded me of the times we were in the Red Sea and near Somalia. Sure enough when we reached Accra, Ghana and started our second cruise, we received a ship wide notice advising that “some events related to Piracy have occurred in the latest months; therefore we will adopt additional security measures as a precaution.” Those measures, sure enough, included a 24 hour security patrol on the outside decks. Also from sunrise to sunset, all balcony doors are to remain closed, all balcony lights must remain off and all curtains closed. At the discretion of the Captain, all outside lights may be extinguished at any time during the night. Furthermore our stay in one port is being shortened in order to allow the ship time to travel further from shore than usual. All in all very wise steps, albeit a little of a surprise because I thought that all piracy was confined to East Africa – that seems to have changed.

We made two stops in Ghana, well actually three. On the final days of our first cruise, the ship first stopped in Takoradi, and then the following day put into Accra, the Capital of Ghana. At Accra, our first cruise ended and our second cruise started. On the first day of the second cruise, the ship once again went to Takoradi, which is why I said we visited two cities but in three stops.

Ghana was a refreshing change from what we have seen before. Yes, it is still a third world country, but it is clearly a country that is a step ahead of its neighbors. The water was not full of garbage when we arrived, and their beaches were clean. The country offers sanitation services, at least in the cities, and electricity and running water seemed to be readily available. Like its neighbors, however, the condition of its roads leaves something to be desired. The roads are narrow and were built for an earlier time. Today when there are so many cars and busses on the roads, they are completely overwhelmed. By early morning, traffic moves at a snail’s pace as bumper to bumper traffic slowly moves along in a snaking fashion. Cars and busses alike stop whenever and wherever they want, snarling traffic even further. Just to add to the enjoyment, suddenly and without warning the asphalt simply disappears and we were driving on dirt. It amazes me because I am sure that asphalt was there at one time, but it has simply disappeared – strange. Just as quickly as it disappeared, we would once again find ourselves on a narrow paved road.

So, let me move on to discuss the city of Takoradi. In order for us to make any progress on the roads, each of our buses was assigned a police escort. Unlike what we had in Sierra Leone which was two young police officers in a wind blazer marked “police” and both riding together on a motorbike, here in Takoradi, we had a full-fledged and properly dressed police officer on an almost new Honda Motorcycle, complete with red lights and sirens, which he took great delight in using. I know this must seem strange to talk about our police escort as one of the most interesting things we saw in Takoradi, but in truth people were fighting to see through the front windshield just to watch this guy’s antics. At times he would execute steep s-turns back and forth across both lanes of traffic, so steep in fact that we were betting he would lose control and skid off the road – but that did not happen. One of his favorite tricks was to drive full speed right down the center of the lane of oncoming traffic in what seemed like a dare as to who was going to turn first. He indeed had a few close calls, but in general he always won out. Our bus drove right down the center line on the assumption that the policeman would move all traffic out of the way – that usually worked, but not always. The absolute best show stopper was when the cop would drive right down the center stripe and put both hands up in the air, followed by his feet, thus creating a giant cross. Now how he managed his bike without hands or feet became quite a discussion on our bus.

Eventually after a drive of almost two hours, we came to our first stop, the historical fortification known as Cape Coast Castle. Takoradi, GhanaOriginally erected in 1653, by Swedish traders, it was enlarged in 1663, and then seized in 1664 by the Danes. By 1665, it was taken by the British and extensively rebuilt. Notice that the fort was not constructed to support the slave trade, but eventually it was used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The fort is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was visited by President and Michelle Obama in 2009. Takoradi, Ghana

From here our bus stopped in Elmina village so that we could walk around and visit the people and cross over the bridge which gave us wonderful pictures of the colorful fishing fleet. The fleet was in the harbor because it was a Tuesday. By order of the Government, no fishing can take place on Tuesdays in order to ease the strain on the fish population, so Tuesdays are when the fleets are in port and all hands are repairing their nets. Takoradi, Ghana

Yet another long drive brought us to Elmina Castle which was first erected by the Portuguese in 1482. It was originally an important trading post on the Gulf of Guinea, and is the oldest European building still in existence below the Sahara. Here again it was seized by the Dutch, and then the British and was eventually used in the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.Takoradi, Ghana It too has UNESCO Heritage status.

We finally stopped for lunch at a beachside resort where we were treated to local entertainment. Takoradi, GhanaThen we set out for our long drive back to the ship. One reason for the long drive along the coastal road is that in effect Takoradi is actually composed of two cities which merged. Takoradi is where the wharf is located, but the oldest part of this large community is Sekondi. Sekondi was the location of the early trading posts, and in 1903 became the terminus of a railroad built to bring timber and mineral resources to the coast. In WW II, Sekondi was home to an important staging point for British forces. Today it is booming since the discovery of large quantities of oil, and unofficially it is known as the Oil City of Ghana.

Overnight our ship moved down the coast to the capital of Ghana, Accra. While the ship was doing a “turnaround day” the roughly 25 of us who were staying on for the next cruise took a city tour, or at least that is what we thought. The description of the tour sounded wonderful, but in reality it turned out in large measure to be what I lovingly call a “spam in a can” tour. That is when you sit in a bus and drive for hours passing all kinds of interesting things, but never stopping for pictures. It is a “drive by” tour. There were only two exceptions during our 5.5 hour tour; we did stop at the National Museum, and again at an old quarter called James Town. The museum was clean, small and in my opinion not very interesting. The group was given a “guided” tour by some young lady who droned on and on about every little detail, but most of us broke away and went through the entire place in about 15 minutes.

James Town was a bit more interesting. Accra. GhanaPresumably inhabited by the autochthonous population known as the Ga, it dates from Portuguese times and is devoted to fishing. Frankly the people looked and acted the same as the general population, but our walk around the village and marketplace was interesting. Our Guide took us through the backyards to an overlook that gave us an astonishing view of Accra harbor. Accra. GhanaOn the way back out, he gave a generous tip to the family whose yard we crossed and that brought big smiles and a great photograph or two.

Today and tomorrow we are at sea enroute to San Tome and Principe. We are taking a wide circle around Nigeria. Starting with San Tome, I will start a new picture gallery and will let you know the name of the new folder.

Take care,


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