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Blog 7: Here elephant, elephant, elephant!

Ghana is home to many different tourist attractions and we’ve been taking full advantage of them! A week ago we traveled to Cape Coast to visit Sanford Clinic. This clinic was built by Sanford Health, which is based out of North Dakota, and is providing health care to a community in desperate need. When we arrived at the clinic we were welcomed by the clinic’s director, Harry, who showed us around the facilities. Unlike everywhere else that we’ve visited, this clinic is completely paperless and runs on a computer system. The patient is registered, sent to the physician or triage center, then sent for labs, and then sent to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions without wasting one single tree or producing any trash. This has major implications in Ghana for both healthcare and research. The system holds valuable, reliable patient population information for researchers to observe trends and collect data. This clinic also provides an area for future ONU students to spend time during their international rotations.

From left to right: Bright, Jessica, Amanda, Daniel, and Harry standing in the Sanford Clinic. The pharmacy is down one floor and to the right.

The main hallway at Sanford Clinic

While we were in Cape Coast, we made sure to visit two castles that were along the ocean and had previously been used as slave trading posts. Elmina Castle was built by the Dutch to serve as a trading post for spices, gold, and other African valuables, but was later taken and operated by the Portuguese at the time of the slave trade. It is one of the oldest slave trading points in Africa and now serves as a constant reminder of the mistakes that were once made by humanity.

Looking into the courtyard of Elmina Castle

There were many shocking areas inside these terrible walls, including an area where the governor came out onto a balcony to select a woman who must visit him with the consequence of rebellion being death. The women were kept in an area underneath the governor’s quarters in pitch black, poorly ventilated giant cells. Sometimes the only days they would see the light is when they were brought out for selection by the governor.

Two jail cells located at Elmina Castle. The one on the left was for African captives that misbehaved and the one on the right was for the misbehaving Portuguese.

Another area that we both found to be stunningly inhumane was the area where unruly prisoners were housed. The skull above the door is appropriate because once the slaves entered the cell, they never came back alive. A group of slaves were put into this dark cell that lacked ventilation and kept there until the last one died. The bodies were then thrown into the ocean- no burial services here. The other cell served as a temporary holding area for Portuguese prisoners. As you can see, that cell is well ventilated and has a window, which is visible in the picture of the African cell (these two cells are located right beside each other and the only airflow to the African cell comes through the Portuguese cell). In addition, the African cell’s door was made of solid wood, while the other door was made of iron bars that allowed for airflow and the entrance of light.

Courtyard of Cape Coast Castle

We next traveled to Cape Coast Castle, which was very similar to Elmina Castle. Cape Coast Castle was built by the British and was the only castle built on the coast in Africa to be used specifically for the trade of human beings. At both castles, there is a door called “the door of no return” where captives were pushed out of the castle and onto boats waiting to sail across the ocean to the Americas or pacific islands. However, at Cape Coast castle, they also have “the door of return” in an attempt to welcome Africans from all over the world back to Africa. Two Africans that had been taken from their homeland, enslaved, and ultimately died abroad as slaves were exhumed recently. They sailed back to Africa, passed through the opposite side of the door of no return, and were re-buried nearby the castle. This symbolically invites all African slave descendants back to their homeland. Also of note, the Obama’s visited Cape Coast Castle in 2009 during a goodwill tour of Ghana.

Door of Return at Cape Coast Castle

View of the harbor next to Cape Coast Castle, right outside of the Door of Return. The slaves literally stepped straight from the castle onto the waiting slave ships.

After leaving the castles, we headed up the coast to Kakum National Forest to experience the canopy walk. This consisted of walking up into the forest and then across a series of hanging rope bridges that were suspended above the lower canopy of the forest. Jessica thought this was amazing and had no problem walking across the bridges while not holding on and taking pictures. Amanda had a panic attack. (Jessica filmed it but Amanda probably wouldn’t appreciate that going up here) For future reference: if you are afraid of heights and swinging rope bridges, skip the canopy tour.

Amanda clutches the ropes as she pulls herself out to the highest tree on the tour

A couple of the suspended canopy bridges taken from the “safety” of a tree

After taking on the daring adventure of Kakum, we decided while in Ghana we really needed to see elephants. So we signed up for a trip: An Expedition to Mole with a tour group called Adventure Junkies (look them up because the guys who run this company are awesome! Mole National Park is an animal sanctuary in the Northern Region of Ghana, which is home to all types of animals including warthogs, baboons, lizards, monkeys, snakes, alligators, kob, lions, panthers, and elephants.

We left with the tour group (a group of Ghanaians, the two of us, and one man from the UK) at midnight on September 20th in a bus headed towards the Northern Region. Everyone told us we were crazy for wanting to go because of how bad the roads were outside of Accra, but we were pretty desperate to see elephants in their natural habitat so we went for it (with Bright, our babysitter for the weekend). We ended up arriving in Mole after a few stops at about 6:00 pm the following day.

Jessica standing in front of Kintampo waterfall #3 which was one stop during the Expedition to Mole (right before she tried to get brave, walk further in on the rocks, and fell into the water. Sadly, that misadventure was not recorded.)

Amanda and Jessica with their little followers in front of Larabonga Mosque on the way to Mole. This mosque was the first one in West Africa and was reported by our guide to have had its foundation magically appear overnight. Religion is very important in this region, and all of the citizens in Larabonga are still Muslim. This mosque was discovered/built in the early 1400s and since then the town has gained 7 other mosques. However, this town only has 1 school, which was built in 1992.

After 18 hours of driving, we arrived at Mole just in time to see the sunset over the savannah. It was a beautiful and absolutely breathe taking site. After a few hours of getting to know each other, everyone in the group headed to our hotel rooms, which (along with the entire motel) were located inside the reserve. The next morning was even better when we loaded on top of jeeps and headed out in search of the elephants we all so desperately wanted to see. We had one major issue with actually finding the animals that weren’t willing to come out near the roads or near the hotel, though. We and the tour company didn’t realize that it was the rainy season in the Northern Region and so the usually brown and dry savannah was green and lush. This meant that the elephants would be spread out equally over the entire greater than 4000km2 area instead of being confined to the regions containing lakes.

Sunset over the savannah

Riding on top of the jeep! It broke down halfway through our safari and forced us to walk up a giant hill and walk through a river to get back to the hotel. We were pretty happy with the opportunity to get to go on a guided walking safari, though, so it was alright with the two of us.

Surprisingly, the baboons preferred to be near buildings in the park. We stopped the jeep to get out and see how closely we could walk up to one/get better pictures (remember, the group’s name was Adventure Junkies). This is our fellow non-Ghanaian in the group approaching them.

A Kob and a Green Monkey (yes we know it’s not actually green)

Baboon family crossing!

Pumba! Hanging out by the hotel munching some grass. Hakuna Matata

So in the end, we never saw our precious elephant but we saw many baboons, monkeys, warthogs, antelope, kob, and birds. The trip was amazing and it was awesome to get to know some Ghanaians outside the world of pharmacy.

Ghana has many gems in the way of tourist opportunities and the people here are beginning to take advantage of their homeland’s natural beauty. Between the beaches, many wildlife reserves, and diverse cultures, Ghana has the potential to one day be a leading tourist attraction. We look forward to seeing growth for the country in tourism as it would be a significant economy boost and bring much deserved attention to this beautiful, peaceful country.

So check out Adventure Junkies and start planning your own African safari!,

Auntie Amanda and Auntie Jessica