West Africa Trip 341She set foot on the first plank holding tightly to the suspension ropes on both sides of the hanging
bridge. Looking at the seven bridges ahead of her she automatically decided she wasn’t going through
with it. No amount of reassurance from her boyfriend or our tour guide could convince her otherwise.
So she walked back to the safety of the seating area taking my self-confidence with her.
 
Only a few minutes earlier, I had been very excited to be at the Kakum National Park and about to
embark on its popular canopy walk. There was just one tiny problem though – I’m afraid of heights.
Luckily, I had an angel in the form of a fellow tourist visiting from Abu Dhabi to help me. He stepped
gingerly onto the first bridge and was already bouncing along onto the third when he turned around and
saw me still contemplating whether to even get on the first bridge. We were 130 feet from the forest
floor and seeing the planks and ropes that made up the bridge sway from side to side with each one
of his footfalls gave me cause for pause. He cheerfully reminded me that we had traveled from various
parts of the world to visit Kakum and we surely couldn’t leave without making it across the seven
bridges.
 
West Africa bridge
“It has been up since 1992 with no casualties,” our tour guide’s words reverberated in my mind. I barely
remembered his comment about the quality checks performed at the beginning and end of each day
and took the first step. Then it got really humid - fast. Maybe it was panic or perhaps at that altitude
the humidity in the forest simply strikes you at a different angle. By the third bridge I was sweaty but a
bit relaxed and appreciating the bed of vegetation below us. It was awe-inspiring to think that the thick
lush of greenery below us were treetops. After making it past the seventh bridge, we made our way on
downward through the Park, stumbling upon the coconut juice stand along the way. The patron swiftly
cut off the top of large coconuts with a wide cutlass and handed them to us to drink the juice.
 
Refreshed, we went looking for crocodiles nearby but outside of the Park. We found several nestled
in or lazing on the bank of small bodies of water. We moved in close enough to observe them but we
didn’t dare disturb them.
 
More serene, and less populated, this part of Ghana stood in interesting contrast to its capital city Accra
located about 275 miles away. Consistent though was the general ease with which Ghanaians carried on
with daily life.
 
Before venturing from the Greater Accra region towards the Central region, I had spent several days
touring Accra. This was preceded by the day-long bus ride I took from Nigeria through Benin and Togo
before arriving in Ghana – arguably one of the most tourist-friendly countries in West Africa. We
alighted into a burst of commercial activity. People hawking – from trays on their heads and roadside
stalls – everything from recharge phone cards, prepared food and snacks to bundles of the tiniest red
onions I had ever seen. But in the background remained an impenetrable calm.
 
Because Accra is a compact, relatively well-laid out city, getting around was quite easy. The country
had recently lost its president, Atta Mills, and tributaries abounded on almost every street corner from
street lamps to museums. Ghana knows how to honor its socio-political luminaries.
 
West Africa Trip 246The Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park – a carefully constructed homage to the country’s first president
– is a must-see. So is the W.E. Dubois Memorial located in the well-heeled Cantonments area. But it
was Jamestown, an old fishing community, that offered one of the most stunning views of the city via a
lighthouse that dates back to the 1800’s.
 
If the National museum showcased Ghana’s history and rich cultural heritage with art, excavations,
textiles from around the country and other parts of West Africa, Aburi Gardens helped display its
natural beauty. Ghana’s “Garden of Eden” sits high in the mountainous East Legon region requiring a
bit of an excursion from Accra. Attractive homes etched in hills peppered the landscape on the way to
Aburi Gardens which strikingly overlooks Accra. Aburi is home to many acres of trees with stories for
a lifetime. Some had quite unusual characteristics – with leaves growing from its bark, for example.
One that seemed to garner a lot of attention grew horizontally with “two tops”, one on each side. Short
trees. Tall trees. All arresting in how disheveled or gracefully they stood.
 
It seemed like an ideal prelude to the drive up to Cape Coast to visit the castles. The Cape Coast CastleWest Africa Trip castle
and the Elmira Castle are the two predominant castles, with the latter being the older and larger of thetwo. At Cape Coast Castle, a personable tour guide relayed heart-rending stories of slavery in Ghana
skillfully balancing a very sensitive subject matter with just enough detachment. In every dungeon weentered he challenged our group to try to imagine what it was like living in slave conditions.
 
Noteworthy - and touching - were the bouquet of flowers, gifts heaped in a corner which he said were
from African Americans who visited the castles to pay homage to their ancestors. One was from some
special visitors – the First Family of the U.S.When Michelle Obama visited Ghana in 2009 with herfamily, she too presented a special bouquet at the Cape Coast Castle to honor her forebears. Thereit was, positioned near where the chief priest would have been seated had he been there when wewere on the tour. Replete with animal skin, the pseudo throne of the chief priest represents Ghana’s connection with its traditional religions the tour guide told us. A little more subdued but not lackingthe complex, fascinating history of the Cape Coast castle, Elmina Castle’s fishing town backdrop offeredeasier access to admire the works of a flurry of carpenters building giant fishing boats and fishermenprepping vast webs of fishing nets. While nearby a tribe of goats lazily grazed close to waterfront quiteoblivious to the waves noisily clashing onto shore less than five feet from them. Very slowly, venturingwestward, the sun began to paint the scenery with a subtlegolden hue. It was time to start heading for Accra.West Africa Trip obama
 
 
Ufuoma Otu is an avid traveler who is passionate about intercultural exchange. Recent travels have taken her to China, Thailand, Cambodia, Panama, Nigeria, Ghana, Czech Republic, and Turkey.
 
Photos:
1) Author at Kakum National Park
2) Kakum National Park Canopy Walk
3) Kwame Nkrumah Memorial, Accra
4) Elmina Castle
5) The Obama's plaque at Cape Coast Castle
 

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