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.
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This month’s image is of a fishing village near the Cape Coast Castel in Ghana. It was taken during my West Coast tour from Cape Town to Morocco on the G Expedition.
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
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.
Latitude: 8° 25.1932’ N
Longitude: 13° 12.38.52’ W
I had no idea what to expect when I visited Sierra Leone. The only thing you hear about Sierra Leone was its civil war which took place in the 1990’s and the horrific crimes which were committed. Children being used as soldiers, amputation as a form of terror, wanton killing, enslaving people to work in diamond mines and systematic rape.
Prior to our arrival, we had a lecture on Sierra Leone and watched several documentaries about the war and its aftermath. It left you feeling sorry for the place before you even arrived.
Latitude: 7° 00.8041′ N
Longitude: 12° 40.7239′ W
I’ve decided to combine these two days at sea because there was little which differentiated them, and because we have just gotten past the meatiest part of the trip. From Sao Tome to Ghana, we had 6 stops in 7 days, with only 1 day at sea.
From here, we have 2 days at sea to reach Sierra Leone, another day at sea to reach Gambia/Senegal, and a few more after that before we arrive in Morocco.
We had a very short trip between Accra and Takoradi, Ghana. Probably the shortest sailing we had since the trip began.
It was also one of our shorter excursions on the trip, because we had to set sail early in order to get to Freetown in Sierra Leone in time.
Our objective for the day was to visit several of the slave forts along the coast. We visited two forts: Cape Coast Castle and the Elmira Castle, both of which are part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Latitude: 5° 38.1051’ N
Longitude: 0° 00.0001’ W
Accra completed changed everything I thought about West Africa.
Since we left Swakopmund, we’ve visited a series of very poor, developing countries. The levels of development differed, but there was a certain commonality they all shared in terms of infrastructure and sanitation.
Accra is at a different level from all the other cities we visited. The roads were paved. Grass was mowed. The monuments were clean and keep in good condition. There were business raining from large to small. Most people were driving cars, not motorbikes.
Ghana in general, but Accra in particular, has been the star of West Africa so far. This is not to say it is perfect or that it is a fully developed country, but when compared to nearby Togo and Benin, the differences couldn’t be more stark. It is easily one of the most dramatic differences I’ve seen in standard of living between people of different sides of a political boundary.
Latitude: 6° 28.1006′ N
Longitude: 2° 23.4704′ E
As I mentioned yesterday, the port of Cotonou, Benin was closed for Easter. Technically speaking, we could have gone to Benin on Easter because the Benin navy had offered to transport people to shore for the low, low price of €350 per person….each way! It also would have been in a single small ship that could only take seven people at a time (the ship’s zodiacs can take 10 for example). Somehow, I don’t think the money would have wound up in the coffers of the government of Benin :)
Nonetheless, we managed to arrive in Benin without naval assistance the Monday after Easter. Oddly enough, the border between Togo and Benin is a time zone change so we had to set our clocks back one hour, for one day, during our Benin visit.
Benin, like Togo is a French speaking country with dozens of different ethnic groups in its small area. Cotonou, while technically not its capital, is its most important city and oddly enough, where most of the government buildings are anyhow. It is its largest city, most important economic center and location of its largest port.
Latitude: 6° 08.5126’ N
Longitude: 1° 17.0908’ E
In the last two updates I said that our next stop was going to be Cotonou, Benin. Togo is clearly not Benin.
What happened was a classic case of West African bureaucracy and being able to adapt. Day 15 was actually Easter Sunday. Despite the fact that this trip had been planned for over a year, it was less than 24 hours before we landed that we were told that the port in Benin was closed for Easter!
Thankfully, our ground agent for Benin was also our ground agent for Togo, so the staff on the ship and the agent on shore scrambled to switch our schedules for the two days around. Also, because the sailing times between Benin, Togo and Ghana are so short, it didn’t really affect our sailing times. To give you a sense of scale, the distance from Lome, Togo to Cotonou, Benin is only 90km (55 miles).
In the end, they managed to switch around our days in Togo and Benin and everything worked out. There were some small changes which had to be made because it was Easter Sunday, and thankfully it didn’t really change the experience.