Accra, Ghana: An unusual destination
In October 2009 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia we began a journey to visit nearly every country in Africa. At each stop we are meeting with farmers, community organizers, labor activists/leaders, unions, non-governmental organization (NGOs), the funding and donor communities, and local press. Once in a while we manage to step back and enjoy local food, cultures, and even nightlife.
We understand why Barack and Michelle Obama made Ghana their first stop on the African continent.
When you touch down in Accra (or anywhere in Ghana), you are greeted with the word "akwaaba" or "welcome" and the place is buzzing with activity: construction projects, vendors hawking antennas and groundnuts to commuters, roads being built and new investments.
Ghanaians boast about their stable democracy – they just peacefully transitioned governments in a 2009 election decided by only 40,000 votes.
It’s an exciting place to be. Here are our suggestions for what to do, where to stay, and where to eat when visiting Accra, Ghana.
Spend a week or two volunteering in a rural areaWe visited several projects across the country, and each of them reinforced our perception that people are working hard to lift themselves out of poverty. In Abokobi, just outside of Accra, we met with women who are using dairy cows donated to them by Heifer International to make yogurt to sell to local businesses and schools. In the village of Akimoda, we met the "King" who is working with farmers to grow and market moringa, a plant known as the green gold of Ghana because of its health benefits for people and livestock. In Kasoa, we met small-scale livestock farmers who are helping prevent slash-and-burn agriculture by raising grasscutters, large rodents which, to the locals at least, are considered a delicacy. And in Cape Coast we met with a group of women fishmongers who are working together to process and sell the fish catch.
Visit Cape Coast CastleWhile in Cape Coast, we visited the Cape Coast Castle, where slaves from all over Africa were imprisoned before being shipped to the US and Europe. We walked through the 'Door of No Return', which was the last thing some two million slaves saw before being loaded on to, what the slave traders referred to as, "floating coffins". For every single slave that made it to the US, at least four others died somewhere along the journey.
We learned that slaves were forced to walk to their prisons from all over West Africa. And once they arrived, hundreds were packed into dark dungeons with little food and water. The ones who survived were then herded on to ships, leaving behind their homes, their families and their culture forever. As disturbing as this was to hear, it only strengthened our admiration for the resilience and strength of Ghanaians.
Visit Kakum National ParkWe visited the Kakum National Park and watched birds and monkeys at eye level as they walked along their 350 meter 'canopy', located in a small rainforest about 35 miles from Cape Coast. Afterwards, we went for a long hike with a private guide to admire views of incredible birds, trees, and small animals.
Where to StayIn Cape Coast, we stayed at the Mighty Victory hotel, a great budget option, that provides wifi, air-conditioning, a nice restaurant and bar, clean and spacious rooms, and hot showers. From the hotel you can walk to the local markets and all the main attractions. In Accra, we had a hard time finding a place to recommend (we didn't like the two places we stayed), but with loads of options on Lonely Planet and Student Flights you will hopefully have more luck than us.
Where to EatIn Cape Coast, grab a bite to eat at Baobab, probably the only place in the country where you can find a soy latte on the menu (as well as local foods and juices). The salads, sandwiches, and soups are terrific. The Baobab also sells cute gift items that support a local NGO as well as bags made of recycled water bottles, sachets, pottery, and paintings -- all crafted by kids at the Baobab School out near Komenda Junction. In Accra, check out the terrific Lagasse Gardens vegetarian restaurant. The dishes are huge and delicious (and only about 4USD).
Though we didn't see much of the beach, the Cape Coast sits along the Atlantic and the constant sound of the waves crashing around you undoubtedly beats the docile murmurs of a Caribbean island.
For many travelers, Ghana probably never makes it onto the radar. But if you're bored of lying around on beaches and want to visit somewhere truly inspiring, then maybe it should.
With a Sony handycam, an eight-year old laptop, and an only sporadic internet connection, Bernard Pollack and Danielle Nierenberg bring stories of hope from across the region to as large an audience as possible. They've already visited more than 130 projects in seventeen countries and blog everyday from the continent on their website BorderJumpers.org Danielle is also co-director of Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet project and blogs daily at NourishingThePlanet.org
All photos by Bernard Pollack and Danielle Nierenberg