0° 0°

0° 0°

On October 1st, the day after departing from Takoradi, Ghana, we officially crossed the 0° 0° line, switching our maritime titles from Pollywogs to Emerald Shellbacks. Are you just as confused as I was? I thought so!

The 0° 0° line is the exact point where the Equator and the Prime Meridian cross in the Atlantic Ocean. This point is 0 degrees latitude, and 0 degrees longitude. Not north nor south nor east nor west. It is, however, where the north and south and east and west hemispheres all meet. While crossing the equator by ship is something that many ships do experience, crossing at this specific point, this 0° 0° is especially rare. Because it is such an exact point, commercial ships would not go out of their way to get there. Our ship, on the other hand, made it a point to go right for that spot to say we were there (we are very privileged!).

On this exact spot is a buoy marking this very hypothetical significance. I say hypothetical because they are lines made up for navigational purposes. There is nothing else significant about this location in the middle of the ocean. I’m unsure of why, but the buoy is owned by the United States, Mexico, and France. This almighty buoy floats there day after day, showing the very few visitors where this 0° 0° location is at. Although I probably sound sarcastic, it is pretty cool that we had the chance to visit there. The Captain even made a loop so that we could get closer to the buoy.

Pollywogs and Shellbacks

Never having heard these terms until a few days ago, I’m assuming many others haven’t heard them either. In maritime tradition, a Pollywog is someone who has never crossed the Equator by ship. A Shellback, on the other hand, is someone who has crossed the Equator by ship. Historically, this was a time of initiation from the Shellbacks to the Pollywogs to enter them into the club. From what I hear, it used to be intense. On Semester at Sea, we have our own ceremony and celebration of Neptune Day, the day we cross the Equator.

Neptune Day is one of the most popular days on the ship. The Shellbacks, who have already been initiated, plan the day’s events in secret. Pollywogs aren’t supposed to know anything about the day. However, Youtube kills that tradition for many who do a simple search. I did not do any research, as I wanted to be surprised. (You may have noticed that I first mentioned we are Emerald Shellbacks, rather than just a Shellback. Anyone who crosses at the 0° 0° mark is considered an Emerald Shellback since it is much more rare to do)

The God of Neptune must initiate all Pollywogs through ceremony. What this means is that our Assistant Executive Dean Tom (who happens to be friends with my good friend, Brady) dresses up as Neptune. His green painted body, large white beard, and large crown made him look like an evil Santa King. All Pollywogs (around 600 people) gathered on the pool deck, where Neptune led the ceremonies. We Pollywogs repeated certain phrases like, “I respect all of the seas”, and, “Yes, I am worthy.” And then, one by one, we stepped up to the side of the pool to take our final oath, after which we had some kind of a green liquid dumped onto our heads, and then we jumped into the pool. After swimming across and climbing up the ladder, two Shellbacks were holding a large 24-inch fish, of which we had to kiss (yes, this is a real fish). Then we go to Neptune and his wife, greet them, and then kiss the ring on Neptune’s right ring finger. And then finally, we are officially Shellbacks! (If this whole process sounds weird, you’re right. It is weird. But it was fun.)

One by one, for the duration of a few hours, each Pollywog completed this process. A part that I found humorous is that this happened to be a Monday morning at 8:00AM. I’m not sure if many Monday mornings were as interesting as this particular one!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Takoradi, Ghana

Takoradi

Arriving to Takoradi after a few days on the road was refreshing. We don’t realize how spoiled we are on our ship until we leave for a few days. It’s not the same as backpacking for a month or two at a time where we are truly living out of our backpacks and we only have so many choices for accommodations. In this case, our home is always there, no matter which country we are in. Our cabin, our clothes, our own beds, free food from the dining, and hot showers are always available. And when this is available, it makes staying in other places, like Airbnbs, seem not as nice as they otherwise would. What I’m trying to say is that it was nice to get back on the ship for night 3 of 4.

While we were traveling, the ship sailed from Tema to Takoradi, about 200 miles southwest. So now we were in a brand new city on southwestern Ghana, and we had just one last day left to explore.

In the morning of our last day, we went with the executive dean, assistant executive dean, and a marine biologist professor, and we went to a local Ghanaian artist known as the Fish Man. He paints with oil on large canvases, and his paintings are mostly made of small fish into large aquatic designs. It’s hard to describe, but the Fish Man invited us to his studio and showed us many of his pieces of work. We found him from a friend of the assistant executive dean. The Fish Man is from Ghana but shows much of his work in Barcelona, and he also has an upcoming show in Los Angeles in which he’ll be represented. It was a nice visit to see some very unique art!

Afterwards, Chika, the marine biologist, and I took a taxi into Takoradi and walked around their city market. It is supposedly the largest produce market in Ghana, as it span all the way around a large circular intersection with vendors inside and outside the structure. Vendors were selling anything from tomatoes to avocados, and from snails to crabs. After getting overwhelmed by the amount of activity, along with the smells, we decided to head off in a different direction to try to find a place with internet and/or food. Because we don’t have much internet on the ship, it’s always a planned stop when we’re on land.

Throughout the afternoon, we walked on our quest for internet, finally finding a good spot for 30 minutes. Our lunch was again the delicious fufu, of which Chika and I each had our own bowl! Finally, our time in Ghana was winding down, and our on-ship time (the deadline to be back on the ship) was getting near. We took a taxi back to the port, went through ship security, and then embarked the ship and back to our normal lives as we sail south to South Africa.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Cape Coast and Central Ghana

Cape Coast and Central Ghana

We arrived in Cape Coast just before sundown, after taking the three hour van ride from that very busy market in Accra. We were hoping that, after a long day of walking around in Accra followed by several hours of being in transit, we would be able to quickly get to our Airbnb and relax. Unfortunately, as you can probably already tell, that didn’t happen.

On the Airbnb page, there is always a map showing where the apartment or house is located. Using this, I found out pretty much where the house was located. Our host, Freddy, had said to have the taxi driver give him a call when we arrived (we didn’t have a working phone in Ghana). Once we arrived near his home, we found a guest house to give him a call. Turns out that we were nowhere near his place; he had moved and had not updated his place on the map. We also found out that he wanted us to have the taxi driver call him BEFORE going anywhere. Freddy took a taxi out to find out, and we waited somewhat frustrated, wanting just to get to bed. After Freddy got to us, we immediately forgave him for the positivity and energy that he showed to us. He was very excited to have us there and to show us around his area. Even though we had a rocky start, Freddy was one of the kindest and most welcoming hosts I have ever had with Airbnb.

Cape Coast & Elmina

Cape Coast is located in central Ghana and, you guessed it, along the coast. This area was the center of the colonization of Ghana and the exploitation of minerals as well as slaves. Until 1957, this area was named the Gold Coast, the name the Europeans gave it because of the prevalence of gold. This goes along with the bordering country to the west and what the Europeans used to exploit in their land, which is the Ivory Coast.

Today, Cape Coast is a mid-sized city in Ghana, known for its education systems and universities. Many tourists come to Cape Coast to discover the horrible history that took place here, as two of the major slave trade castles are still standing.

Europeans first arrived in the mid-to-late 1400s when the Portuguese landed on the rocky shores of central Ghana. Seeing an opportunity for wealth, they began to build the infrastructure they needed in order to steal the minerals and to also protect themselves from other intruders. This is when they built Elmina Castle, a massive guarded structure where the governor lived and where they would store their goods before shipping. Elmina Castle wasn’t originally built for the transatlantic slave trade; it was built for the exportation of gold, ivory, bauxite, and more. Soon after, however, the Portuguese did begin enslaving people and used Elmina Castle as a place of transit for the Africans before being shipped to other countries like Spain, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States. This was the start of horrific 400 years of slave trade, where Africans were dehumanized into “goods” and were traded as if they were gold. Over the years, parts of the coast changed hands between other European countries. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the Danish, the Swedes, the French, and more. These countries were there for only one reason, to exploit the land and the people for their own profits.

Elmina Castle

Elmina is a smaller city of about 50,000 people located just about 6 miles west of Cape Coast. Today, it is known for its fish market, where a few hundred boats bring their early morning catch into the town to sell them to local townspeople and vendors. They sell crabs, tilapia, snails, and more. This market attracts vendors from all over the area; they purchase in Elmina and then sell in their own towns.

When we arrived in Elmina with our host, Freddy, who decided to take us all around for the day, we were overwhelmed with the activity in the fish market. The colorful wooden boats hung flags to tell their customers who they are. The boats lined the canal to sell their catch, and the mass of people we could see at a distance was impressive in itself. Seeing this amount of activity proved the importance of this busy market.

After observing all of this for a moment, we took our first steps into Elmina Castle, the oldest European castle in Ghana, dating back to 1482 and built by the Portuguese. While the Portuguese originally named this Sao Jorge (Saint George) Castle, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1637 and renamed this area Elmina, meaning “The Mine” in Dutch. This area was under Dutch control until 1872, when the British seized the land and the castle.

We walked into this ancient castle by stepping onto the draw bridge that leads over the first moat and then the second moat. This is the same entrance that the millions of slaves went through, chained together and beaten and exhausted from the brutal journey from their home villages. At 9AM, the castle seemed to be empty, other than the handful of employees working there. To have an idea of all that happened here, the brutality that took place here as millions of people were beaten so horribly that over ¼ of all people who came through here died here.

The main courtyard area inside the castle is just plain eerie. On one side are the entrances to the male and the female slave dungeons, where the enslaved people were held until forced onto a boat to be shipped across the Atlantic. The other side directly across are individual cells, solitary confinement, for the high-profile prisoners or those who they are afraid will rally others. Directly ahead is a 4-story white washed building, with a balcony towards the top. The top of this building is where the European administrative offices were located, along with the governor’s living room and bedroom. Finally, behind us is the Portuguese Church, a well-kept structure where the Portuguese worshipped, even though it was in this same area where these inhumane activities were being done to fellow people.

As part of the entrance fee, a tour guide is provided to give an in-depth tour of the castle. He took us to the dungeons, where over a hundred people were trapped in this small area with almost no ventilation or light. So many were shoved into a dungeon that, to sleep, they had to lay on top of each other. The ground was made of stones, so sleeping would’ve been tough anyway. There was no such thing is a restroom to the people who were kept enslaved, so the dungeon floors would be covered in human waste. They would be served food twice per day, but not near enough food was ever given. Those who passed away may not have been moved for days. And they did not receive a proper burial, but they their corpses were simply thrown into the Bay of Guinea, since the castle was built right alongside the water.

Our tour guide took us first to the female slave dungeon, then to the male dungeon, the Point of No Return, the governor’s quarters, the Dutch church (which was directly above the female slave dungeon), and finally up to the top guard towers. Walking through a small dark hallway, where we had to duck down to not hit our heads, we were shown the Point of No Return. This heartbreaking corridor was used to lead the enslaved people out the back of the castles and straight onto boats. I cannot imagine the horror and trauma caused to these enslaved people, after being forced into tumultuous conditions, they were finally led (probably beaten most of the way) to this small hallway and onto boats, many times being separated from their families. From these small boats along the shore, they were taken out into the ocean and forced onto a larger ship, the ship that would take them across the Atlantic. In these ships, the enslaved people are locked to the floor of the ships, very close together, and are forced to remain there the entire journey. Because of the horrible sanitary conditions, seasickness, and lack of food, many Africans died on their way across the Atlantic. And once they arrive in the Caribbean or the Americas, they are inhumanely sold and forced to their new living areas, whether it be a plantation picking cotton or sugar cane, working as servants in a house, or of many other jobs.

This is the story that went on for over 350 years. The people who were forced into this were largely west Africans, people of various tribes from what is now Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Burkina Faso, and more. Many of the enslaved people were prisoners of war, victims of tribal wars in west Africa. They would be sold off to the Europeans for a profit for those who were keeping the prisoners. Others were kidnapped, either by other Africans or by Europeans. Houses would be raided at night where men, women, and children would be taken from their houses and forced to walk to the castles while being tortured along the way.

Being able to put pictures together of how these horrible crimes took place, and imagining the amount of suffering by Africans, it pained me to be standing at this spot.

Cape Coast Castle

After the Elmina Castle, we took a taxi back to Cape Coast, walked a bit, and then visited the second castle in the area, the Cape Coast Castle. This area was held by the Swedish, the Dutch, and the Danes, before it was taken over by the British. The Swedes originally built the castle to trade timber and gold, but it was later used for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, just like Elmina Castle.

The Cape Coast Castle was a highlighted in the news a few years ago when Barack and Michelle Obama took a trip to Ghana and to the Cape Coast Castle. Some of Michelle Obama’s ancestors were forced into slavery and brought through this castle before being forced onto ships across the Atlantic. For the first black US President and First Lady to come to Ghana, this was a huge deal in Ghana. People from all over the country of Ghana came to Cape Coast, as well as many people from other countries, in order to see the President and First Lady.

We arrived to Cape Castle, and we found many Semester at Sea students already there. Whereas we were just two of very few people at Elmina, it was clear that Cape Coast Castle has many more visitors, at least on this day with all of our students in the area.

Like Elmina, our entrance fee included a guided tour. Our tour group this time was with about 30 people, almost all students. And like Elmina, we were shown the male dungeons and the female dungeons, the punishment/torture rooms, the governor’s quarters, and more. This castle was reconstructed by the British in the 1700s, and they redesigned it to be a slave trade castle. This meant that the dungeons were underground, and there was a tunnel underground where the slaves were forced to the Point of No Return without coming to the main level of the castle. On the water side of the castle, there was a battery of cannons looking out over the water. The fact that there were cannons looking out over the water was a strong indicator of who may attack the British; the cannons weren’t looking inland where any Africans would be coming, but the cannons point outwards toward the sea, where other Europeans might attack and attempt to take over the castle.

Our tour guide took us into one of the punishment rooms, all 30 of us, and closed the door for just ten seconds. Within those seconds, we were already starting to become claustrophobic, overheated in the damp and humid air. This is where those who “acted out” could be put for days on end, many of them dying in this very spot. Again, like Elmina, our tour guide took us through the Point of No Return, where so many enslaved people were forced onto boats and taken across the ocean. I heard there was one woman who was forced through this door of no return as a slave, and she was able to come back to Ghana after slavery was abolished. She was the only person who exited the door of no return only to enter it from the other side years later.

Visiting these slave castles and dungeons brought many emotions. I feel absolutely ashamed for mankind that we would put other humans through this horrid treatment for almost 400 years. It’s unbelievable that the Europeans were able to dehumanize the black Africans to the point where they considered them to be goods, cargo, rather than real people. I believe they had this in their mind, they they were real people so they could be tortured and destroyed. It makes me very sad to think that much of the wealth in the United States as well as European countries came directly from this slave trade. Those gorgeous colonial buildings we saw in Valencia, Spain, were funded from the exploitation of Ghana and other countries for their gold, minerals, and through slave trade. Many cities in the United States were built by slaves coming from Africa, including Charleston, South Carolina, and the original Washington DC (the White House and Capitol Building). By forcing real life people into slavery and into these brutal conditions, the British, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Americans, they were able to get rich, and Africans received the brunt of it. There is much more that I would like to say, but I’m having trouble putting it into words. It really is disgusting to think about the white Europeans coming into a country and taking everything they can from the country at absolutely no cost. I know this has happened all over the world, in Latin America, Africa, etc., but when these are the ancestors of most black Americans, it hits home even more.

Walking Around Cape Coast

After these draining visits to the castles, our host, Freddy, and his brother took us all around Cape Coast. We walked through these little markets hidden in these walkways, we tried various foods that we purchased from street vendors, and we had lunch at a spot, essentially a tiny restaurant set up in a family’s yard. Here, we ate fufu, which is a dough made from pounded casaba (a root) which is served in a seafood soup with tilapia. Their tilapia is much different than ours, as it usually comes as the whole fish, and it is much meatier and thicker than the tilapia we have at home. The interesting part with eating fufu is how we ate it all together. Rather than serving it in four bowls (one for each person), we had one large bowl of soup with fufu and fish. No silverware, just hands.

At restaurants in Ghana, there is always a large plastic bowl, a pitcher of water, and a bottle of soap. This is the hand washing process. Where they don’t have restrooms, you simply wash your hands at your table.

Now even though we all washed our hands right there at the table, I still felt a bit uncomfortable eating a soup with my hands with three other people. I did enjoy the experience, however, as the fufu was pretty good, essentially a chewy dough, and the tilapia was very good.

Soon after lunch, we took a van to the city of Takoradi, a few hours southwest, where our ship was now docked. As you can see, Cape Coast and Elmina were overwhelming places to visit, but learning about their histories was an important experience in understanding world history as well as American history.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Ghana

Ghana

After the beginning of our voyage in Germany, we spent four days in Spain, including Barcelona and Valencia, and then we exited the Mediterannean Sea only to head south along the coast of Morocco and northwest Africa. After making a quick refuel stop in the Canary Islands, we continued on just off the west coast of the countries of Western Sahara, Mauritiana, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and finally, Ghana. We were typically anywhere from 25 to 100 miles off the coast of these countries. After nine full days at sea, we finally arrived in Tema, Ghana, where we put our feet onto solid ground again. The evening prior to arriving to Ghana, we could see the lights of the city of Takoradi, Ghana, to our port (left) side. After more than a week at sea, it seemed surreal that tomorrow we would be walking on the continent of Africa, my first time visiting Sub-Sahara Africa.

We were set arrive to the port around 8AM, which means we would pick up the pilot around 7AM. The pilot is the local expert on the port who helps a ship’s captain safety through the port and to the pier. Because every port is different, it’s important to have someone onboard who works in the area every day, knowing the risks and dangers of each area.

I got up to the bow of the ship just after 6AM. Normally, I am the only one of just a few at the bow for sunrise; however, the excitement as we get into a port meant that around 20 or so students had already beaten me up there. As we got closer to the Port of Tema, the number of large vessels anchored out in the waters grew and grew. It looked like several of these ships had not been inhabited for quite some time.

Next, something I never would’ve imagined actually happened. In between all of these ships, some active and others not, we saw two humpback whales playing in the waters. At first, we saw the water spraying out of their blowholes. Soon after, they were both breaching, rising almost completely out of the water. They were a decent ways into the distance while breaching, but I was borrowing a pair of binoculars and could see them clearly. To see them playing around in an area with so much traffic, it was a terrific surprise.

As the sun brightened the sky, small fishing boats started to pour out into the open ocean. Many of these fishing boats, mostly 15-20 foot boats with anywhere from two to five people, came very close to our ship out of curiosity, to make sure what they saw from a distance was in fact a ship carrying almost 600 college students. They must’ve been amused by the fact that their one wave to our ship was returned with well over a hundred from our ship.

As we guided our way into the port, with no other passenger ships in site, we were alongside our dock. Coming up to the port, I thought I could hear some drumming and other music playing. Sure enough, looking like just a few ants on the pier, was a Ghanaian band with dancers, drumming and strumming away. While I thought they would say for tips as 700 people exited the ship, they actually left before we were cleared to disembark. Someone said they were a volunteer band, just playing to welcome up. I also heard they may have been hired by the tourism bureau. Either way, they did a great job of making the students and faculty/staff feel welcome and excited to be in Ghana.

Accra

Ghana is a relatively small country in both population and geographical size. With a population of 28 million, it’s slightly larger than the population of Canada. In terms of land, it’s about the size of Michigan or Great Britain. While the population isn’t enormous, it is growing at a fast rate with a large chunk of the population being under the age of 18 years old.

The country’s largest city is Accra, a city of about five million located along the coast in southeast Ghana. We ported in Tema, which was a city built in 1965 BECAUSE of the creation of this deep-water seaport in which we docked. Tema is just about an hour drive to Accra’s east. The deep-water seaport, like I mentioned, is not normally for passenger cruise ships. It is, however, a large industrial port. Leaving the Port of Tema was like a tour through a shipping village, with the large shipping containers stacked on both sides of the road, 20 rows deep. The activity in the port actually rerouted our bus to another route as we zig-zagged our way away from the moving of the containers and towards the exit.

As our bus left the port, we all quickly realized that we were in an entirely new place. What makes this feeling different than normal travel is that we made no effort in getting from Spain to Ghana. We didn’t book airfare, no buses or trains. We just got on the ship in Valencia, continued our normal lives on the ship with work and classes, and then we suddenly show up in Sub-Sahara Africa. So here we were, ready to take on new adventures for the next four days.

Accra is a sprawling city, and we spent most of our time in the area known as Osu and Jamestown, centrally located and not ever far from the coast. We were dropped off by the Semester at Sea sponsored bus on Oxford Street, and we were immediately surprised. What we thought was a developed street, as one might think with a name like Oxford Street and being the center of the city, we found to be just a normal road with smaller shacks and smaller concrete buildings, spotted with shops selling household items like laundry detergent, to small food outlets serving fufu and banku. The nicest buildings, by far, were the banks. They were large colorful, clean, and almost immaculate compared to everything around them. We strategically found an Airbnb for the night just a short walk from where the bus dropped us off, so we found the place and checked in, just a 5-minute walk down a few windy residential streets.

We had no idea what to expect with this Airbnb. Our host, Isaac, met us at the corner of the block and then led us to a gate entrance, where we walked into a small courtyard on bare concrete, clothes hanging to dry, and a larger water tank. Isaac opened the door to the building on the left, and we walk into a small kitchen with tile flooring, and then he shows us the bedroom, a very simple room with a full-sized bed and not much else for decorations. But it did have something very important: air conditioning. When it’s 85-90 degrees and humid, and the humidity lasts throughout the night, it’s a nice amenity.

Leaving from the Airbnb, we walked down Oxford Street, straight towards the coast and the main sites we wanted to see. First on the agency was to see the Osu Castle, an old European fort built in the 1660s that is now used at the seat of the government. In other words, this is their Capitol Building.

To get there, I saw a direct route on the map down Oxford Street. As we got just a block away, the area became much more impoverished with a few people begging on the streets, and generally the infrastructure and houses decreased in quality. We finally got up to a little gate, and there was a police officer standing there, with automatic rifle and everything. He seemed very annoyed with us before even speaking with us, and he asked where we were trying to go. After telling us this is definitely not the way (at least in his tone), he told us he would get someone to show us. We refused and decided to walk independently back around where we came from, trying to find another way over. We ended up never getting a great view of the castle, even though we were fairly close. What struck me is how impoverished the few streets just outside the castle were, leading all the way up the gates of the 350 year old castle.

We moved on west towards our other points of interest. Next up was Black Star Square & Independence Monument, two sites that were built along with Ghana’s independence from the British in 1957, after about 500 years of European rule. What is bizarre is that Ghana is the first West African country to become independent from Europeans. A man by the name of Kwame Nkrumah led the way to independence, and other West African countries followed the road to independence soon afterwards.

Continuing on westward, we then found ourselves at the Art Center, an artisanal market made for tourists. Dozens and dozens of shops were all packed together, where you can buy anything from leather drums to skirts. It seemed to be the type of place where most shops, even though there were over 50 of them, they all sold essentially the same stuff. We’re not huge fans of markets like this, so we went through pretty quickly as vendors tried to pull us into their shops by offering discounts and “looking for free.”

Next was the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial and Mausoleum, the national hero’s final resting spot. This extravagant memorial is made of up fountains, statues depicting musicians playing instruments, and the gold statue of Nkrumah. Inside the large granite structure is the tomb of Nkrumah. With this area being so pristine, especially compared to the streets just outside the gate, one can see how importance of Nkrumah for the country of Ghana.

Continuing on, we walked along a main street on the most southern part of the city, not too far from the coastline. We walked to the neighborhood known as Jamestown, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Accra and obviously named by the British. By this time, our coworkers Jess and Ally were with us as all four of us were exploring the city. The sun was starting to go down and the heat began to lighten up. Kids were home from school, and workers returned home for dinner. The streets were packed with people. Kids playing soccer, families catching up with each other, vendors selling various types of foods. It was overwhelming to walk through such an active area, where every side street seemed to be its own small block party.

The main site in Jamestown is the Jamestown Lighthouse, located next to an old British fort and directly in front of an old British Palace, where the British governor may have lived long ago. These colonial buildings are remnants of so many years of British and European rule over Ghana. As we continued traveling throughout the country, it is shocking how many European forts, castles, and palaces are spread all along the coastal region, a history of exploitation of minerals and people. I will talk more about that in my upcoming post about the Central Ghana area in Cape Coast and Elmina, where a large part of the horrifying slave trade was done.

Because we stay in each country for a short period of time, we have to really pick and choose what we want to do. In the case of Ghana, we decided not to spend more than a day in Accra, but to head west along the coast to the central coastal region. So after our one night in the Airbnb, we headed to Cape Coast via tro tro, a shared van that leaves when full of passengers. These are very much like the colectivos that are used frequently in South American countries like Peru and Ecuador.

One of the more memorable parts of the trip was finding the correct tro tro to get to Cape Coast. We took an Uber (I believe they just recently got it here!) to the market area and had to walk on a busy sidewalk surrounded by vendors, doing our best to find the right van. They have signs on top of them saying where they’re going, and the sign will also indicate if they have air conditioning, the latter costing just a bit more. Once we found the correct van (21 cedis (pronounced like CDs), or $5, for the 3 hour ride), we were sitting inside waiting for it to fill with other passengers. With the engine off and the windows rolled down, there was like a moving market all around us. Vendors carry their products on their heads, usually in bowls or buckets, and their best captive market are those waiting in a tro tro. They were selling anything from Ben Carson’s book, to socks and underwear, to fried rice, plantains, water, to belts, soaps, etc. etc. etc. Anything and everything. Vendors stop by the open van door and by every open window to ask you if you want anything. Every five seconds or so, someone new would pass by with a different product. It was fascinating to watch this action, people buying and selling, wealing and dealing, anything and everything.

Before we knew it, our van was full and we were on our way west to Central Ghana.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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First Ports: Barcelona and Valencia

First Ports: Barcelona and Valencia

After surviving the treacherous English Channel and rounding our way into the Mediterranean Sea, we finally made our first port in Barcelona, Spain. With our arrival in Barcelona being around 8AM, it was like Christmas morning as many people woke up and went straight to the bow of the ship to see the city, right smack dab in front of the ship.

Barcelona is the fourth most visited country in Europe, and many of its visitors come by cruise ship. Because of this, the cruise ship is nice and convenient to the city. After disembarking the ship, we just need to go through the cruise terminal (kind of like a very small airport), and then we were just steps away from the popular street of Las Ramblas. The ship was in Barcelona for two days and then sailed to Valencia. We decided to stay in an Airbnb in Barcelona, so we traveled overland by bus rather than by ship. This was in part so that we could celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary in one of Europe’s great cities, Barcelona!

Revisiting Barcelona

I was very excited to revisit Barcelona. I had been to the city in the region of Catalonia two previous times. The first time was one of my two weekend trips while living in London in 2008. I remember being blown away by the city in that trip and absolutely falling in love with the city. The second time I visited was in 2009, and I spent just over a week there in total. Now, eight years later and being able to speak Spanish, I was curious to know how I would experience the city this time around.

After arriving, you can almost imagine the 700 passengers on the ship dispersing all across the city. Many are doing field programs, loading up into buses and visiting different parts of the region. And many others, like us, are simply disembarking the ship and using our feet to see what we find.

We immediately walked along Las Ramblas, the famous avenue lined with restaurants and tourist shops. This is also the place where the recent terrorist attack occurred just a few weeks earlier, when a man drove a van rapidly down this street, killing and injury many. On the north edge of Las Ramblas was a memorial with candles and flowers dedicated to those who were killed in this horrible attack.

Continuing our walk, we went through the Gothic neighborhood with its windy pedestrian streets. We saw the Cathedral as well as several buildings designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi. His works, especially that of Parque Guell, caused my jaw to drop in my previous visits. His modernist architecture style with its curves and colors are unique to Gaudi and Barcelona.

We walked all afternoon around the city center. For dinner, we met up with six other staff members, and I walked everyone to dinner (as if I knew where I was going). We found this little tapas place in a new part of the city, in more of a neighborhood. Because this was our first port after more than a week without internet, it was fascinating to see everyone affixed to their phones. I had gotten used to almost no use of phones on the ship, so it was weird to be sitting at a restaurant in Spain and seven people are on their phones looking like the world depended on what they were doing at that moment. After a while, it became normalized again, and we had a good time. I walked the group through some backroads, again acting like I knew what I was doing, and through some beautiful little alleyways. We finally arrived back at Las Ramblas, where we sat down for a few drinks there to end the night.

The next morning, Chika and I checked into our Airbnb, which was conveniently near Las Ramblas and near the Plaza de Catalonia. We decided that day that we would go to Parque Guell, the famous park designed by Antoni Gaudi. While deciding if we would take the train or walk, we saw that it was a 40 minute train ride with transfers, or it was an hour walk. We love to walk, so it was an easy decision to walk, and we would spend the four euros or so that we saved on food.

Within a few blocks, we already found a bakery in which we bought delicious pastries for less than 2 euros. Then we found other snacks. Then I stopped at a butcher shop to buy chorizo, the Spanish cured sausage. Then we stopped to buy Spanish Serrano cured ham. Then we stopped at a bakery to buy bread. In the end, the one-hour walk took us over two hours as we stopped as we pleased. It was fun!

One advantage of coming back again was being able to speak Spanish. At the butcher shop, I had a request to cut the chorizo into small pieces, since we didn’t have a knife with us. Being able to speak Spanish made it much easier to ask this question. Ordering food, asking for directions, it all is much easier. Plus, when you speak their language, I think most people will treat you better since they feel more comfortable communicating with you.

We finally made it up to Parque Guell soon after noon with our sandwiches in hand. We found out that to get to the sculpture part of the park, we would have had to purchase tickets in advance. So we decided to continue on and visit the free parts of the park, still a beautiful place to get great views of the city and just to walk in a unique place.

On this afternoon, we just kept on walking and walking. By the end of the day, we had taken over 40,000 steps!

That evening in Barcelona was our night in the Airbnb, and it was September 16th, the eve of our one-year anniversary. Since we were in Barcelona, we decided to celebrate with a nice dinner out in a less touristy part of the city, in the Vila de Gracias. This used to be its own town and town square long ago, before Barcelona spread and took over the entire area. We found a restaurant with seating out in the plaza. You may remember that the Spanish eat very late, especially on weekends. We arrived around 8:30PM, and we waited for about 15 minutes for our table. When we ended up leaving the restaurant, it was around 10PM and people were waiting to get their tables. It was a beautiful evening and a nice meal. Chika ordered octopus and I ordered duck with noodles. The dessert may have been the highlight. Our wedding cake a year ago was tiramisu, rather than the traditional cake. Just on the other side of the square at dinner was a dessert place conveniently called “Tiramisu”. It seemed to be a sign – dessert was in order!

Our time in Barcelona was pleasant to say the least. It was Chika’s first time in Spain, and we just enjoyed walking around the chic metropolitan city and see all that it has to offer. The following morning, we jumped on an early bus heading south to Valencia.

Valencia

Rather than taking the ship from Barcelona to Valencia, we opted to extend our time in Barcelona and then take an early bus to Valencia the next morning. Because of this, we only spent about a day and a half in Valencia, which is really limited time for a new city. Because we had Barcelona to look forward to, I didn’t do any research on Valencia. I didn’t really like knowing almost nothing about the city. No idea of the history, no idea of things to do and sites to see. And with such little time, that meant that I really didn’t feel like I took advantage. Either way, we tried to do as much as we could!

The two main highlights are the historic center, which is a formerly walled with narrow and windy streets and colonial Spanish architecture. This is that classic Spanish old city architecture that you may think about when you imagine Spain. The other highlight is the complete opposite, this is the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic complex of museums and the opera. The area was built within the last 15 years and is not at all what you may imagine Valencia to be.

Valencia is also known for its beaches and for being the capital of a famous Spanish food, paella. Paella is rice, spices (including saffron), some vegetables, and a protein. In Valencia, it’s common to have rabbit and chicken, whereas other parts of Spain usually have seafood. Even though it’s one of the most famous foods in Spain, I was never too impressed with the paella I had tried in the US and other cities in Spain. This was different though, and by far the best I’ve had!

Before we even knew it, our time in this Mediterranean country was done and we were on our way south to Africa!

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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