Monday, 4 June 2012

A Weekend in Accra

After last weekend's excursion to Cape Coast, Amanda and I wanted to stick a little closer to home this weekend.  Accra is huge and has over 2.4 million people living in its several different suburbs or neighborhoods.  Thanks to our Bradt Ghana Travel Guide, we were able to map out a few things we hoped to do on Saturday.

Jamestown Lighthouse
The first thing we had hoped to do was to travel down to the lighthouse in Jamestown, which is the oldest part of Accra and remains an active fishing center.  Accra was originally two settlements, one British and one Dutch, with Jamestown being the British outpost.  The lighthouse is literally right next door to the Jamestown Castle, which we had also hoped to see. From there we had planned on walking to Ussher Castle, then check out Independence Square, possibly Osu Castle, the AACD African Market, stop and get some lunch, and then head back to our neck of the woods to try and locate a bookstore with used books (we are quickly running out of things to read!). 

Saturday morning, we took a taxi, and asked the driver to take us to the Jamestown lighthouse.  He said okay, so we thought he knew what we wanted.  He asked us on the drive what we were doing in Jamestown, and we said we wanted to check out a castle, and then see a little bit of the surrounding area.  He said, "oh, okay.  The castle."  And we agreed, "yes the castle, but the lighthouse first."  After a few minutes of driving, he said that the castle was right there, and he pointed to a gray building.  I said, "oh, okay, great!" and he dropped us off.  We got out of the taxi and walked up to the entrance gate. 

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park
There were a few other obrunis in line at the gate, so we knew we were at a touristy spot.  I was talking to Amanda, and one of the taller, blonder obrunis asked if we were from the United States.  I told him we were from Michigan, and he told me that he and his dad and some other guy (perhaps an uncle?) were from Illinois.  While I was talking to them, Amanda was looking in the guidebook and said that we weren't at the castle: we were instead at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park.  We decided we still wanted to check it out because it was pretty cool, and we would figure out how to get to the spot we originally had hoped to be dropped off at (please note that we were neither dropped off at the lighthouse, nor the castle.  How we ended up here, I don't think we will ever understand). 

Statue of Dr. Nkrumah in front of his mausoleum
We walked around and saw some neat gardening, as well as fountains and statues.  Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park was created to honor Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to its independence from Great Britain and became the nation's first president.  The gray building in the background is the mausoleum where he is buried.  It was a beautiful day at this point in Accra (as the picture shows, not a cloud in the sky) and we decided to spend a bit logner here at the park.  There was a small museum behind the mausoleum and we checked that out as well.  After we were done scoping out the park, we noticed that there were some pretty tall clouds in the sky.  We looked at the guide book and decided that we would try and walk a little more than a mile to the lighthouse, despite the guidebook's warnings of it being a very grueling walk. 

Partial view of Accra from lighthouse
After our walk we had to do in Cape Coast, this walk was a breeze!  We arrived at the lighthouse.  The guide book said that if we talked to the lighthouse owner, we might be able to persuade him to let us go up to the top of the lighthouse, where we could get a great view of Accra.  As we were nearing the lighthouse, a man asked us if we wanted to go in the lighthouse.  We told him, "absolutely!" and it cost us 5 cedi, but we made it into the lighthouse.  We had to first climb 52 spiral stairs, and then take a questionable ladder and a deteriorating staircase up to the top of the lighthouse.  The view was definitely worth any thoughts of dying!  We could see for miles!  We saw the city, the fishing village (which lies to the right of the photo above), and a large amount of coastline (including the Atlantic!)

While we were on top of the lighthouse, our guides pointed out different parts of the city, including the Jamestown Castle next door.  We were told that the castle was once part of the slave trade (as Cape Coast Castle was).  Once slavery was abolished, it was used to store prisoners, and today it remains empty (?).  Our guides told us that we weren't allowed inside the castle, but that they could take us to an underground tunnel that would lead us into the castle.  We denied this offer. 

Jamestown fishing village
They also offered to walk us around the fishing village, which we took them up on.  Amanda and I do not like fish, so the smell was a bit overwhelming.  Not to mention that a lot of people relieve themselves where ever they needed to, so we had to be careful of where we stepped.  Our guides even offered to take us out on the boats and go around the pier and check out some of the other boats on the water.  We saw one guy emptying buckets of water from his boat, and we decided to decline this offer as well because we were carrying our passports and our cameras and couldn't afford the chance of getting them wet.  After our tour, they hailed a taxi for us.  As we were leaving them, we tipped them for our tour, and we were off for Independence Square

Indepence Arch
Independence Square celebrates Ghanaian independence from the British in 1957 and features an eternal flame first lit by Dr. Nkrumah himself in 1961.  We were dropped off at this open arena type area, and walked to the main road, where we could see the Indepence ArchUnder the arch is where the eternal flame resides, but we didn't get much closer than the photo implies. 

Atlantic Ocean in Accra
We were slowly making headway with our day; we could not explore Jamestown Castle and Ussher Fort as we had hoped (we did see both of them, however) but we consitnued on with our plan.  As we were heading to Osu Castle, I noticed a path running alongside Independence Square with some people walking on it, and perhaps even the ocean behind it.  I asked Amanda if we could explore a bit.  As we got closer, we realized there was a beach there!!  We walked along the coastline for a bit.  I wore my swimsuit under my dress, so I was ready to go in the ocean!  Amanda brought hers, but had no where to change into it (nor did she want to).  I checked with her to see if it was okay if I went in and she said "of course!"  I was not going to pass up the chance to swim in the ocean, so I ran in.  

In Michigan, we hear about undetows, but we never really get to experience strong ones in the lakes--at least not compared with the undertows of the ocean.  They were quite strong on Saturday, and I didn't go into too far (least not further in than the other Ghanaians in the photo above!) as even as close as I was to the shore, it was threatening to pull me in.  The waves were really strong, and a few knocked me over and pushed me into the beach, my butt skidding along the sand.  I was in the water for a few minutes.  There was a kid in a Michigan t-shirt swimming near me, and he waved at me.

When I returned back to Amanda, I started getting ready to go and the boy asked me if he could be my friend.  At this point, a few little kids came up and started making kissing noises.  I said sure, we could be friends, but little did I realize that he wanted to go on a date with me.  I then declined at this point, and he asked to get his picture taken with me, so I obliged.   

We then decided to continue on with our day's activities.  We walked quite a ways in the extreme heat and sun to the AACD African Market, which we read contained souvenirs with sticker prices (no bargaining!).  We arrived there (after some help with a Ghanaian woman!), only to find out they were closed.  We were able to peer into the window, and it was exactly what we were looking for as far as the items they had in the store. 

Chicken pannini and smoothie for lunch
We decided that our next stop was for lunch.  We walked for a few minutes to Nourishlab Smoothies, which had phenomenal smoothies!  We also had our first sandwhiches there: chicken panninis, which were great as well.  They were so yummy, albeit a bit small for the price.  We then decided that we were still hungry, and we knew a bakery was not far away.  We walked to Frankie's and each bought a slice of cake.  It was so delicious!

We then decided we wanted to try and locate our last stop, a bookstore called Payless Books.  We weren't sure of which neighborhood it was in as we only had a cross street for the store, but we hailed a taxi and the taxi driver said he knew where it was.  He had me try and call the number in the guide book to see if we could pindown an exact location.  I tried calling 20 times, and no answer. The driver also stopped and asked a few people if they knew where it was: no one did.  After over a half hour of driving around, we asked him to take us back to Legon where the university was.  We had a mildly successful day, save for the shopping aspect.  No sooner had we gotten home than the threatening clouds proved themselves and it downpoured and stormed all night. 


  1. Glad you got out & about in Accra, but too bad about the stores being closed or "lost". good foo, too & I noticed that you knew that there was a bakery nearby, so you're getting to know he city a bit. Yay!

    1. Haha we are too! We maybe only knew there was a bakery nearby because of the guide book we carry around like the tourists we are :) But it has been helpful and we are definitely recognizing different parts of Accra as we explore new parts and pass by the older ones. So that's exciting! Once we get transportation down, we should be good to go!

  2. Wish you could have found the bookstore! I'd really like to know how it compares to bookstores here in the US.

    1. We wish that we could've found the bookstore too! There is a University Book store right near the library where we work, and we've been there a few times. They have a few used books (some of the James Patterson books they marked up to 10 cedis wheras the rest of the books are only 3-5 cedis. Supply and demand, I guess!). No surprisingly, there is a lot of material on Africa, and more specifically, Ghana, which is really neat to see. We spent a really long time at the bookstore one day. But it's not too bad. We were hoping for cheap books and more novels, which is why we were looking for the other store.