Amateur Traveler Interview – St. Helena

For a record 8th time, I’ve had the pleasure of joining my This Week in Travel co-host Chris Christensen on the Amateur Traveler podcast. Similar to my past appearances, the topic dealt with very small places. This time we talked about my recent trip to the island of St. Helena, located 1,500 miles off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean.

Amateur Traveler Episode 417 – Travel to Saint Helena

UNESCO World Heritage Site #272: Island of Gorée

UNESCO World Heritage Site #272: Island of Gorée
UNESCO World Heritage Site #272: Island of Gorée

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Island of Gorée testifies to an unprecedented human experience in the history of humanity. Indeed, for the universal conscience, this “memory island” is the symbol of the slave trade with its cortege of suffering, tears and death.

The painful memories of the Atlantic slave trade are crystallized in this small island of 28 hectares lying 3.5 km off the coast from Dakar. Gorée owes its singular destiny to the extreme centrality of its geographical position between the North and the South, and to its excellent strategic position offering a safe haven for anchoring ships, hence the name “Good Rade”. Thus, since the 15th century it has been prized by various European nations that have successively used it as a stopover or slave market. First terminus of the “homeoducs” who drained the slaves from the hinterland, Gorée was at the centre of the rivalry between European nations for control of the slave trade. Until the abolition of the trade in the French colonies, the Island was a warehouse consisting of over a dozen slave houses. Amongst the tangible elements that reflect Gorée’s universal value are, notably, the Castle, a rocky plateau covered with fortifications which dominate the Island; the Relais de l’Espadon, former residence of the French governor; etc…

The Island of Gorée is now a pilgrimage destination for the African diaspora, a foyer for contact between the West and Africa, and a space for exchange and dialogue between cultures through the confrontation of ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Gorée Island was one of the original 12 world heritage sites which were inscribed at the inaugural convention in 1978. It is probably the most important historical monument in the world with respect to the slave trade and the most visited attraction in all of Senegal.

Unlike most historical monuments, it is also a living community. There people who work, live and go to school on the island. This means you have many vendors selling art and other products to tourists everywhere on the island.

Getting to Goree is pretty easy. There is a ferry which takes you there from the port of Dakar. It is about a 15-20 minute ride. The above photo was taken from the deck of the ferry.

I think there needs to be a little work done to Goree to clean it up and help preserve some of the buildings. I don’t think a lot of money is necessary, but it does need work.

Many of the other travelers who were on the West Africa cruise with me listed Goree as one of the highlights of the entire month long trip, which should give you an idea of the importance of the site. It should be a must see for anyone visiting Dakar.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #271: Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions

UNESCO World Heritage Site #271: Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions
UNESCO World Heritage Site #271: Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions

From the World Heritage inscription:

These fortified trading posts, founded between 1482 and 1786, and spanning a distance of approximately 500 km along the coast of Ghana between Keta in the east and Beyin in the west, were links in the trading routes established by the Portuguese in many areas of the world during their era of great maritime exploration. The castles and forts were built and occupied at different times by traders from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Britain. They served the gold trade of European chartered companies. Latterly they played a significant part in the developing slave trade, and therefore in the history of the Americas, and, subsequently, in the 19th century, in the suppression of that trade.

They can be seen as a unique “collective historical monument”: a monument not only to the evils of the slave trade, but also to nearly four centuries of pre-colonial Afro-European commerce on the basis of equality rather than on that of the colonial basis of inequality. They represent, significantly and emotively, the continuing history of European-African encounter over five centuries and the starting point of the African Diaspora.

I visited both the Cape Coast Castle and the Elmina Castle as part of my 2014 West Africa Cruise on G Adventures. The image shown is on the Elimina Castle.

The slave trade is one of the most significant and common historical themes which can be seen along the coast of West Africa. Millions of people were captures, almost always by other Africans, and traded to Europeans before being shipped off to work in New World plantations. The slave trade was so large that the area just to the east of Ghana was known as the Slave Coast.

The forts in Ghana are far easier to visit, and are better preserved, than the slave forts in other neighboring countries. Ghana has a better tourism infrastructure and has more resources to devote to cultural preservation. That isn’t to say they are perfect, but far better than their neighbors.

In addition to the forts themselves, the nearby fishing towns and villages provided an amazing opportunity for images of boats and fishermen.

I would consider the forts and the slave trade history to be a highlight of any visit to Ghana.

Day 23, West Africa Cruise – At Sea off the Coast of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau

Today marked an important milestone in the trip. Today we rounded the southwest corner of the Guinea region of Africa and started heading north.

For the last 2-weeks, since we left the cold Benguela current, the water temperature has been hovering around 30°C. Regardless of air temperature, when the ship is in a bath of hot water, it becomes difficult to cool down the vessel. This is especially true for a ship that is designed for the polar regions.

From Angola to Sierra Leone, you could notice the increased temperatures in all the public areas of the ship. Once we rounded Guinea-Bissau, however, the water temperature dropped dramatically. The sea temperature went from 30°C to 25°C. Everyone on board could tell when the water temperature dropped. It was a great feeling.

In addition to sailing in cooler waters, we are now also entering a very different part of Africa. The stretch from Angola to Sierra Leone was very green, more densely populated, with a Christian/Animist population. Now we are entering a drier region: the Sahel. Beyond that is the even drier Sahara Desert.

This is also the beginning of the last leg of the trip. We’ve now traveled about 3/4 of the total distance we will be sailing. From here we also only have 4 more stops before we arrive in Morocco: Gambia, Senegal, Western Sahara and the Canary Islands.

We’ve done so much, it seems like I’ve been on the ship much longer than 3 weeks. I’ve been trying to upload a few images from each country, but I have several hundred to upload once I get on land. I’m really proud of some of the photos I’ve taken the last 3-weeks. It is some of my best work ever, especially my photos of people.

Tomorrow we arrive in the Gambia, the smallest country on the physical continent of Africa.

Next Stop: Banjul, The Gambia

Day 22, West Africa Cruise – Freetown, Sierra Leone

Latitude: 8° 14.4182’ N
Longitude: 13° 09.7768’ W

For the first time on the trip, we woke up in the same place we were the day before: Freetown, Sierra Leone.

We were supposed to be in Guinea-Bissau today, but for reasons only known to them, they would not let us land. So, to compensate for the extra day in the schedule, we stayed an extra day in Freetown.

The passengers on the ship had two options for the morning today: 1) visit an orphanage and present them with a gift of school supplies, or 2) go on a birdwatching tour of a near by nature preserve.

I went with option #1, the orphanage visit.
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