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krisek Elmina - A travel report by Krys
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Elmina,  Ghana - flag Ghana
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krisek's travel reports

Elmina - the slave castle and football teams

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Someone said that Elmina sounded more like a name of a beautiful girl than a name of a little village in Ghana. Well, it happens to be a lovely place, anyway. It became definitely my favourite place in Ghana. For a few reasons.

Elmina travelogue picture
The remarkable castle was only one of the reasons. But mainly it was Elmina’s semi-professional football club - Panya FC. I met them when they were getting ready for their match. I decided to support them. And you know what? They lost that day. It was, apparently, their first defeat in the season. They were really down! Seriously, not a pretty picture at all. Any match was an important event in Elmina. The football pad was packed and the crowd was responding spontaneously. I would even say that some of them acted dangerously. Many ran inside the pitch waving their hands crazily.

Later, the boys invited me to join them at their camp. What I experienced there was the most engaging occurrence of my trip. The guys gathered in a dark and extremely hot theatre and prepared for the next day game. They stood in a circle, sang and clapped their hands for about twenty minutes. Then, they held their hands and prayed for about half an hour or so. They prayed aloud. The first prayers were said together in a few local languages and then in English. Then they prayed individually but still standing in a circle and still holding hands. Some of the boys prayed with so much passion that I find it difficult to describe. They had their eyes closed and their faces struggled to hold all that emotion that was being expressed. Majority were Christians but at least two lads were Muslim. Yet, they fully participated in all the prayers and held hands. The session was not over until they also said their Muslim prayers in Arabic. Hands remained being held tight and all the guys fully participated in their prayers, too. This was the greatest harmony, fellowship and amicability, to which I’ve ever been a witness! It was the most moving, heartwarming and touching experience. I have to say that I knew about such harmony in West Africa. I experienced in the Gambia, but for the first time ever, did I see Christians praying together with the Muslims holding hands.

Favourite spots:
Elmina travelogue picture
The fort, the Castle of St. George, is arguably the oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa (the other is a small chapel of on the Mozambique Island) and definitely one of the most extensive. Construction started in 1482, but since then, the castle had been extended so many times that it does not resemble the small little hut it was in 1492. It was great to visit it. Its size could easily rival many castles and forts in Africa, however its state could not. Although it was made a museum, the interior was still in ruin. In fairness, an extensive effort was being spent to renovate the fortress. Work was not moving very fast, though. Like anywhere in Africa, I might add.

It was a superb observation point however. Entire Elmina could be seen from the bastions and walls, the ‘shipyard’ of wooden vessels, the recreation beach, the toilet beach, the fishing harbour and the town. One of the courtyards hid a decent bar and a so-so restaurant.

What's really great:
Elmina travelogue picture
The vicinity of many other historic places made Elmina a great base, too. For example, the Cape Coast Castle, along with its counterpart in Elmina, had been centres of possibly the most horrific and long-lasting crime against humanity. The number of people dispersed from their homes via these facilities is beyond belief. The millions of people forcibly shipped across the Atlantic changed the face and the economy of the entire planet. The slave trade undisputedly created the America’s wealth and fortunes, and devastated Africa. Yet, the Cape Coast Castle doesn’t make an impression of the centre of evil. It’s rather pretty, architecturally brilliant and painted ‘innocent’ white.

And other forts, castles, little villages, gorgeous beaches are so close to Elmina, that it is possible to just walk there! Yes, it would be a hike, but a lovely one, too. The beaches around are pristine and empty. Their certain parts are used as toilets, but the rest is just for you!

Elmina travelogue picture
In the morning, a self-appointed impresario of the football team, Joseph, took me on a tour in Elmina. I didn’t care too much where he was taking me. The village is small, and he was an interesting company. However, I wanted to see Fort St. Jago at Elmina’s only hill. It was great. It was substantially larger than other hill strongholds.

The rest of the town had a magnificent potential. There’re quite a number of grand buildings around. The European Commission, provoked by the Dutch, had been investing in the renovation of a selection of them. The day when all of them are renovated and the rubbish is cleansed, Elmina will become one of the most attractive sites in West Africa. The grand mansions and colonial houses along the main streets of the town and around the now redeveloped Trafalgar Square could host hotels, restaurants and bars. The beaches in Elmina are superb.

Oh, yes and the fishing port is a sight on its own, too. It’s incredibly animated and colourful.

Elmina travelogue picture
In central Elmina there was only one good value hotel option. It was the Coconut Grove Bridge House - right opposite the castle, across the main canal leading from the harbour to the ocean. The rooms were clean and had en suite bathroom and were air-conditioned, and there was a fan, too. Some had working TV sets, as well. The great thing of the place (about USD 40) was its location - so close to the action of the village and all the sights. The restaurant at the hotel was good, but they kept refusing serving chicken hiding behind the avian flu. Yet, eggs were available! Anyway, the hotel was safe. It provided a slightly overzealous security guard 24 hours a day.

Elmina travelogue picture
In the evening, some of the footballers took me out in Elmina. I went in a few local drink bars (there seemed to be an unlimited number of them) and almost entire Elmina knew me. The news that I gave the boys some money travelled with the speed of light as many Panya FC local supporters recognised me. My hand was shaken many times that evening. It felt good and my name was shouted by many.

The Top View was my favourite bar in the village. Although it was closing rather early (about 10:30 pm) it was airy - being situated on a top of a building and having no windows allowed the wind to supply plenty of breeze. And that was a bliss! Some of the dark bars located in cellars and rooms with no windows at all were so hot, that I could not stay there too long, sweating like some fur animal. There were a few with tables outside, and those I favoured after Top View shut down for the night. Elmina’s bars were perfect for meeting and talking to the Ghanaians.

Elmina travelogue picture
As for the hangouts, I would have to say that Elmina might have a few. I personally loved the fishing harbour, where the business took place. The beach by the side of the castle was superb to watch boys kicking football and the fishermen fixing their boats. The beaches were perfect for doing nothing and simply contemplating the tranquility of the place, listening to the voice of the ocean, baking in the sun. The castle bar was not bad for sipping a beer or two and watching the boats crossing the canal entering or leaving the harbour.

The Castle of St. George had one bastion open for everyone. It was a fabulous place to go and hide from everyone and read a book or listen to an iPod. Sometimes, I went there to be alone, where no-one could see me.

Fort Jago
Fort Jago
Local food around Elmina was available in a few places. Food stalls along Liverpool Street (leading from the castle to the exit towards Cape Coast) provided skewers of meats, banana crisps, samosas and other simple food. Some small restaurants and bars served spicy soup with meat. Coconut Grove Bridge House had a restaurant, which served a number of dishes and could cook almost anything if ordered a day in advance. The parent company, Coconut Grove Resort - an upper scale accommodation, cooked brilliant dishes from a long menu, and they were not scared of the avian flu. The other more expensive hotel in Elmina, Elmina Beach Resort, had a sophisticated menu and decent food, too. I stuck mainly to the Bridge House and street food whilst in the village.

Other recommendations:
Fort Vreedenburg
Fort Vreedenburg
It wasn't really in my plans, but as soon as I heard that the ruined fort in Komenda was extensive, I decided to go. It was about 5 minutes drive from Elmina. One of the Panya FC strikers, Frederick, went with me. He'd attended one of the schools there and knew the town well. He became a teacher himself, at the Elmina’s Christ Cares Prep School. I was so glad that I went, because there were two ruined forts in Komenda. One was Dutch, Fort Vredenburg and the other, across the river, British, called Fort English. But there was one thing that out rated the fortresses - the beach. Its golden sand and tall palmtrees in great numbers looked like they were taken from a TV commercial!

Later I found that Isaac, 13, one of the young Panya FC footballers, had never gone to school. When he learnt that I'd asked around to find out of school fees and maybe sponsor his education, he wouldn't leave my side. He wanted to go to school so much. I called the school and did it. It only costs c.£120 a year!

Published on Tuesday February 26th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:39 PM rating by alfonsovasco

you are like marco polo, opening the world to us

Sat, Mar 08 2008 - 05:10 AM rating by magsalex

Another great African report!

Wed, Feb 27 2008 - 11:09 AM rating by rangutan

I like your reports about places I have never heard of, they are most brilliant. [4.75]

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