ACCRA, GHANA - Last year,I found myself living in dusty, dirty Accra. I was volunteering with Crossroads International and working with a local partner called Pro-Link, doing communications for their projects in maternal health and HIV/AIDS education. Our office was in a bleak industrial zone and I was ready for a break.
Ghana, a country of 26 million, is rich in cocoa, gold and oil. What most people don’t know about the country — formerly known as the Gold Coast — is that its 500-kilometre Atlantic shoreline is filled with beautiful and almost empty beaches.
First, I had to see the slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina, a three-hour drive west of Accra. Ghana’s coast is dotted with dozens of these sad fortresses that dealt in human cargo for more than 300 years. Governed by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and British, they saw millions of captured West Africans shipped to lives of slavery in North America and elsewhere. It was heartbreaking to enter the dungeons of hopelessness and be brought back to this heinous time in history. Afterwards, I needed a quiet place to process what I had seen.
Further west, past the city of Takoradi, I joined some friends at Escape 3 Points Ecolodge. Facing the beach, the compound was dotted with funky bamboo huts and hammocks were slung between the waving palms. The vibe was Gilligan’s Island meets Castaway. An open dining area and small bar — lined with shelves of books left by previous guests — felt so welcoming. It was heavenly and my spirits lifted.
Above: Accommodation is set right in the heart of the eco parks.
John Griffin, from Vancouver and standing in as general manager while the lodge owners were away, gave us the rundown on the sea turtle preservation program.
“We have around 100 Kemp’s ridley sea turtle eggs right now in a shelter on the beach. When the mothers come to lay their eggs in the sand, we move them into the shelter to protect them from predators, including humans. They usually hatch after midnight.”
When Griffin asked who wanted to be woken up if the eggs hatched, my hand immediately shot up.
The sun had not yet set when the call went out. I rushed to the shelter. Griffin sat overlooking a portion of screened-off sand. Beneath the screen, two turtles the size of a loonie were clumsily trying to find their way out. Griffin gently placed them in a bowl and then put them on the beach, pointing towards the sea. We watched the tiny creatures make their way to the surf, cheering as the waves took them away.
Above: Local fishermen prepare their traditional boat before heading out to sea.
My days at Escape 3 Points were spent swimming, hiking to the nearby lighthouse, reading and snoozing in a hammock. At night, we had campfires, with some guests drumming and singing. There was no Wi-Fi or TV and I hadn’t brought my computer. Funny, I didn’t miss my electronic gadgets at all.
A few months later, my husband, Stephen Plunkett, came for a visit and we headed for another spot I had heard about — Meet Me There. It is a small lodge in the Volta Region near the town of Keta. Nestled on a lagoon, it had two separate chalets and a row of rooms with ensuite bathrooms. Those in the dorms, which slept four, got to use the separate compost toilets. Meet Me There was run as part of a community support project by Dougal Croudace, a young expat from Bath, England.
“We asked the community what they would like to do with funds we raised and they said they wanted toilets,” he told me.
So far, Dream Big Ghana — Meet Me There’s sister NGO — has built 20 compost toilets throughout the area and more are due this year.
Food in Ghana can be rather limited. After months of chicken, rice, cassava and yam, I was delighted to see one item on the Meet Me There menu —pizza.
At breakfast we had a choice of pancakes or eggs and lovely French press coffee. What a treat! Ghanaians are big tea drinkers so good coffee was hard to come by.
We swam in the lagoon, visited a local market and explored the nearby Keta nature preserve by boat. We also took a trip north up to the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, near the town of Ho. Started as a sustainable tourism project, the sanctuary was home to five groups of Mona monkeys. I was instructed by our taxi driver to come equipped with a big bunch of bananas. Standing with our arms outstretched, a banana in each hand, my husband and I looked at each other. Were we crazy?
Suddenly the air with filled with chirping noises and two small monkeys hopped on our arms, quickly grabbing the bananaa. The grandfather, a much larger fellow, appeared on the path and regally reached up (no jumping for him) for his share. I wished I had brought more bananas.
Above: You get very close to nature here.
Back in the grinding heat and dust of Accra, it wasn’t long before I needed to hatch another getaway plan, but this time a little closer to home, Kokrobrite Beach, which was just a 45-minute drive outside of town. Known as a reggae enclave, I was told there were lively concerts every Saturday night. But that was not what I was looking for. I went mid-week instead and booked into Kokrobrite Gardens, owned by Italian chef Franco Savastano and his Spanish wife, Caye. It was a paradise of lush blooms surrounding a sparkling swimming pool. The restaurant had tasty, Mediterranean-style fare featuring bruschetta bursting with juicy tomatoes and delicious fresh fish kebabs. Breakfast featured zesty Italian coffee, served in a silver espresso pot with a tiny jug of milk and dish of sugar.
Above: Our writer gets to know the local women.
The beach had shallow water, great for body surfing, which I did endlessly. In the evenings, I enjoyed a Club beer at Big Millie’s, the reggae hub, or Savannah cider at Dizzy Lizzie’s. Chatting with the owner, Lindsay Williams, I learned she was a Welsh teacher who came to volunteer at a school in the area three years ago.
“I fell in love with the place and decided to open the restaurant,” she explained.
And the name?
“The locals can’t say Lindsay. They call me Lizzie. Some friends think I’m a bit dizzy to still be here,” she said with a shrug.
A country full of character and surprises. That’s Ghana. Especially off the beaten track.