After finishing up in Elmina, we headed up the coast a few minutes, to the nearby former colonial stronghold of Cape Coast. Before the ascendence of Accra, this was the most important city in Britain's Gold Cost colony, although today the grandeur has largely faded. There are a couple major sights within town (the castle and Fort William), but Cape Coast failed to win us over.
All this is to say, we were ready for a nice little getaway... and that's exactly what we got at Ankobra Beach Resort, just outside the town of Axim. We even splurged, and asked them to send a driver all the way to Elmina to pick us up. From the moment we stepped onto the premises, we felt more relaxed. This is an eco-resort, founded some years ago by a German-Ghanaian couple who recognized the potential of this beautiful and almost completely untouched beachfront property.
Our hotel was located about a few kilometers away from Axim, along the beach, and we decided to walk into town. It took about 40 minutes, and although it was nice to stroll along the beach, it's probably not the most beautiful way to approach Axim -- we went past a noisy construction team installing new wave-breakers along the coast, and then into a rundown neighborhood, where our appearance caused confusion among the local children, followed by immense joy.
Jürgen and I live by a set of unspoken mutual agreements. Number 14 states: once we've started debating whether to leave a place ... be it a restaurant, a movie, a cafe, or a party... we should just immediately leave. And that goes for hotels, too. When we checked into our Elmina hotel, we were immediately displeased.
Posuban shrines are a regular feature of the Fante region of Ghana's central coast. Any town, almost regardless of size, will possess at least a few such shrines, which are often decorated with cryptic symbols or statues. We managed to find four elaborate examples in Elmina, although there were almost certainly more hiding in the town's back streets.
Constructed in 1482 by the Portuguese, who called it São Jorge da Mina, Elmina Castle is the oldest existent colonial structure in Sub-Saharan Africa. It's held up beautifully throughout the centuries, but as a center for the transatlantic slave trade, much of its history is dark. We took a tour, during which we were confronted with the unthinkable conditions suffered by the prisoners, before they were shipped off to the New World.
After being "discovered" by the European colonial powers in the late 15th century, it didn't take long for the coastline of present-day Ghana to become highly coveted property... there's a reason they called it the "Gold" Coast, and nobody wanted to miss out on the early plundering. The Portuguese were first on the scene, establishing Elmina Castle in 1482 to swap their goods for the abundant precious metals of West Africa. But other forts would follow, as would other Europeans ... and other, less-honorable forms of trade.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas is an award-winning journalist who has dedicated himself to exposing the rampant corruption and malfeasance which has plagued his country for so long. Using hidden cameras, a team of dedicated investigators, and an impenetrable anonymity, Anas has "named and shamed" some of Ghana's most powerful people. The only time he's ever shown his face was in an interview with the BBC -- and it was later revealed that he had been wearing prosthetics, even for this unveiling.
It was difficult to depart from the Mole National Park after two days. But it wasn't impossible. We knew that our time with Ghana's wildlife was not yet finished. In fact, our very next excursion would bring us into even closer contact with the animals of Ghana: a visit to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, where monkeys live in absolute harmony with the community.
Within the confines of the Mole National Park, visitors have two options for accommodation: the Mole Motel or the Zaina Lodge. The names probably indicate where each falls on the "luxury" spectrum. But you probably wouldn't believe just how beautiful the Zaina Lodge is, until you step onto its grounds.
We woke up bright and early on our second day in the Mole National Park, Ghana's largest protected wildlife refuge, and moved from the Mole Motel to the Zaina Lodge: an upgrade of at least a few stars. We had booked a jeep safari in the very early morning; a time at which we hoped the animals of the park would be at their most active. We certainly wouldn't be, so it was nice to sit in the vehicle and let our driver do all the work.
Ghana is not blessed with the expansive savannahs of nations like Tanzania or South Africa, and you won't find families of gorillas hiding in its jungles, like you might in Rwanda or Uganda. But this is still a large African nation, and as such, there's plenty of amazing wildlife to be seen. The biggest and best of Ghana's numerous national parks is Mole, which occupies a sizable 5000 square kilometer chunk of the country's northwest. We spent two nights in the park.