17 June 2013
Today was one of those days so chock-full of memories it’s hard to know where to begin…In the last 12 hours I walked through the canopy of a rain forest, touched a live crocodile, and stood in a place that had seen unimaginable suffering. Two of these experiences seem great, but it was actually the third that will likely stick with me for the rest of my life.
We loaded into the van and left Immuna at about 9:00am and drove to Kakum National Park. Once there we took a brief look through a museum detailing the various species of plant, animals, and insects who call the park ‘home.’ We paid 20 Cedis each (about $10) and proceeded to hike with a guide and about ten others. At the beginning of the path there was a beautiful sign that read, ‘Leave nothing but your footprints,’ a motto more of us should take.
|Walking through the forest canopy|
After the hike, we went for lunch at a restaurant on the grounds of a crocodile and bird sanctuary, which boasted over 40 crocs, hundreds of loud, yellow birds, and whitish/pink egrets. The meal of beans and plantains was quite good, but the highlight of the lunch was getting to touch a living, breathing crocodile!
|Touching a crocodile!|
The next leg of our day saw us in the city of Cape Coast for a visit to St. George’s Castle, more commonly referred to as El Mina after the Portuguese word for ‘the mine.’ This was one of the most touching and deeply moving experiences of my life and, at several points along the tour, I was moved to tears. Emotions ranging from pity and anger to remorse and hope, yes hope, coursed through me. Originally built by the Portuguese and subsequently owned by the Dutch and the British, El Mina was once the center of European trade in West Africa. Gold, wood, and slaves were stockpiled in the castle until ships came to take them away. Once inside, the castle’s white walls temporarily masked its dark history, which was brought to life by our skilled tour guide.
|El Mina Castle, Cape Coast, Ghana|
We were first brought to the female slave dungeons which were overlooked by a balcony from which the governor could select slaves who he desired to sleep with. The dungeons were dark, crowded, and had litter air flow. Standing in a place where such horrific acts and unfathomable suffering had taken place was mind bending. On the very stones where I walked, thousands of slaves had slept, urinated, vomited, bled and died before being forced on to the next in a long chain of torturous holding cells. We later experienced the punishment cell for those slaves who dared to fight for their freedom. It was a small, nearly airless chamber with no light. Rebels would be slowly starved to death and often times rot next to other dying people.
The guide adeptly walked us through the journey of a slave all the way to the ‘room of no return’ from which slaves were forced on to boats bound for the United States and Europe. Standing in those rooms, you could almost feel the fear that these walls had echoed back onto helpless masses.
|The 'door of no return'|