Western region of Ghana

My friend Elena recenlty came out for a visit from Switzerland so it was the perfect opportunity to explore a new part of Ghana. I’d already heard that the Western Region has some of the the most beautiful beaches in Ghana, and I was excited to visit a few new places, including the 2nd oldest slave fort in Ghana, St. Anthony and the Nzulezo Stilt Village, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We stayed at what I can honestly say is the most beautiful spot in Ghana, Loumoon Lodge. This was our travel base from which we did all our day trips. Situated a few minutes drive from the town of Axim, it’s about an hours drive from the airport in Takoradi. It’s a little piece of paradise, tucked away in lush green surroundings, complete with palm tree-lined sandy bays. We ended up going with one of the island suites, which comes with its very own splash pool, and literally overlooks the Atlantic ocean below. The food and service were impeccable and the entire stay was just perfect.




Back to the sites of the Western region – although we didn’t manage to visit the Ankasa Forest and Nature Reserve, we did make the 1 hour car journey to Nzulezo; a village built entirely on water, and one of only two of its kind in West Africa (the other, is in Benin).


The settlement of Nzulezu is built on lake Tadane and is situated about 90km West of Takoradi.  “Nzulezu” is an Nzema word meaning “surface of water.” The inhabitants of the village are said to have migrated from Walata, a city in the ancient Ghana Empire, the earliest of the Western Sudanese States. According to tradition, ancestors of the village were brought here under the guide of a snail – which is why the snail is their totem animal.



All activities relating to everyday life such as schooling, worship and burial take place on the lake – even new born babies are baptized in the lake. Children learn to swim at a very young age, due to their constant proximity to the water. Most of the inhabitants make their living off the water, in some shape or form. Fishing is obviously one of the main activities, and locals make use of fish traps made out reeds. Others tend to small pieces of land a few kilometres upstream on the main land, where they grow fresh produce.




Visitors are encouraged to make a donation to the only primary school in the village. Once children finish primary school, they must make the daily trip up river and onto the main land to attend high school.


The village itself is around 400 years old and offers a unique glimpse into the everyday life of a people who live entirely on the waters surface. Only about 600 inhabitants live here and it is said that they are a very conservative people who do not inter-marry with other tribes.



The following day, we made the quick car ride over to Fort St. Anthony, constructed in 1515 by the Portuguese (then called San Antonio). It is the second oldest fort after Elmina fort. It is still in very good condition and is currently overseen by a caretaker and guide, who will take you inside and give a very thorough and at times, realistically chilling account of exactly what went on behind the fort walls.




The history behind the slave trade in the area then known as the Gold Coast spans from the early 1500’s to its peak in the 18th century, until it was eventually abolished in the late 19th century (1807).

When the Dutch captured the fort and took over its operations trading in human lives in 1642, the Portuguese left the Gold Coast permanently. The British later gained control over all the coastal forts in the 19th century. Fort Santo Antonio became St. Anthony when it was ceded to the British in 1872.


The fort is a reminder of mans’ inhumanity to man. The dungeons, where captured Africans were kept until such time as they boarded ships for the New World to be sold into slavery, are incredibly depressing, the dispair hangs heavily in the air, even after all these years.  You can’t even begin to imagine what these poor souls must have gone through and how they could even have survived such harsh conditions. Many didn’t…. And to make things even more confusing and disturbing, is that the European officials were living just above these dungeons of sadness, conducting business as normal, often hosting parties and even attending chapel – ironically often constructed above the very prisons where they were keeping their captors.


After the sombre tour of the fort, our taxi driver took us on a guided walk of Axim town. We headed down the main road and branched off into one of the side streets leading down to the beach, where hundreds of colourful fishing boats bobbed up and down in the low tide waters. Locals were going about their everyday business – buying and selling, preparing their lunch, washing their clothes and observing the two of us walking around, standing out like sore thumbs!





I would really recommend both trips, especially if you’re looking to add a cultural and historical aspect to an otherwise coastal/beach getaway!


Voodoo Festival in Benin

Voodoo priests and adepts in their striking outfits during the Allada celebrations

When someone mentions the word “voodoo”, the first thing that usually springs to mind is black magic and all the negative connotations associated with it. Voodoo is also viewed as being something evil and often conjures up thoughts of bad ju-ju and wicked spells.

However, these perceptions are misleading and completely inaccurate. They are, in fact, misconceptions. Voodoo has definitely been portrayed in a bad light by Hollywood with its sensationalized and ill-informed depictions of zombies or sticking pins into dolls!  Unfortunately, these portrayals are not only untrue but also incredibly insulting and demeaning to an ancient religion which actually promotes many of the same values as the monolithic faiths. Many of these misconceptions go back to the times of slavery, when Voodoo first came to the attention of European slave traders, who were busy profiting from the pain and suffering of others, in what was probably the most inhumane atrocity of our time: the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. They not only feared Voodoo itself, but also, (and even more so) the power that Voodoo gave the slaves. Viewing it as something strange, eerie, threatening and linked to the supernatural, they sought to snuff it out. Despite their attempts,  Voodoo crossed the oceans into the New World, where it remained a prominent and meaningful religion to those who continued to practice it. It even aided numerous slave uprisings and fuelled the only successful slave revolution in history, on the island of Haiti, where the slaves of African descent overthrew their European rulers and took control of the country. This instilled a growing sense of fear in slave owners and those who controlled the slave trade, as they came to associate Voodoo with bloodshed and rebellion. This further demonized Voodoo in the eyes of Westerners. It was during this time that Voodoo became linked with devil worship, as slave owners (the majority being Christians), actually believed that some of the slaves made a pact with the devil in exchange for their freedom.

Christian missionaries, and later, the colonialists, would try to put an end to Voodoo – to diminish its following, quell its practice and convert its believers. They believed these ‘non-believers’ needed to be ‘saved’ from the evils of Voodoo, but this was just a cover up to conceal their true agenda, which was to convert the Africans to a religion where they could be controlled and subdued. But it was not meant to be – it would never die, nor fade away….Voodoo would endure through it all.

Of course, over time, it mixed and inter-twined with others faiths along the way, which is why a hybrid of the original Voodoo exists in the Caribbean, Brazil and parts of the United States today.

To visit the tiny West African nation of Benin, is to truly discover the source of the religion and to begin to understand and de-mystify the practice of Voodoo. This involves opening our minds and freeing ourselves from the misconceptions and stereotypes we once believed to be real and setting aside our ignorance and our fear.

Local women gather to join in the celebrations at the Royal Palace in Allada

Though many Christians denounce Voodoo today, it is important to note that Voodoo is neither devil worship, nor is it a cult. It is a bona-fide religion in many parts of West Africa, not just in Benin, but also in Togo, Nigeria and parts of Ghana. We need to bear in mind that it was the Europeans who introduced Christianity to Africa and the Arabs who brought with them, the religion of Islam. Yet long before these religions ever reached African shores, the indigenous populations were practicing their own form of ancestor worship.

His Majesty, Dada Daagbo (in blue), the supreme priest of Voodoo in Ouidah

Today, Voodoo is recognized as a legitimate religion in Benin, and in fact, is the official religion of the country. Also known as Vodon or Vodou, it centers around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth. There is a hierarchy that ranges in power from major deities, governing the forces of nature and human society, to the spirits of things found in nature, such as rivers, streams, trees, and rocks. A big part of Voodoo is ancestor worship and followers believe that the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living.

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An explosion of colour – the costumes were decorated with sequins, cowrie shells, dyed chicken feathers and many other materials

The Creator embodies a dual cosmogonic principle – Mawu is the moon and Lisa, the sun, and they represent both the male and female aspects respectively. All creation is considered divine and therefore contains the power of the divine, which is why even trees are recognized as having divine power and herbal remedies are used as medicine. Mother Nature, in all her various forms,  also holds the power of the divine.

So now that you have a better understanding of what Voodoo is, its origins and beliefs, I’d like to share more about our amazing trip to the annual Voodoo festival in Ouidah, Benin. The festival, which takes place annually in January, is a big celebration, drawing crowds of tourists and locals alike. We also attended a more intimate ceremony at the Royal Palace in Allada, which I found more authentic as it was low-key and less touristy, whereas I found the one at Ouidah to be more of a “show”. Both were colourful, frenetic and mesmerizing and I will definitely go back again next year! The costumes were out of this world and watching the local spectators spontaneously burst into trance was quite something! As an animal lover, I found some of the sacrificial aspects difficult to stomach (I chose not to watch the slaughter of a large cow) but I did see countless chickens offered up to the gods and one or two goats lined up to face a similar fate.

A chicken is sacrificed, surrounded by palm oil, used extensively throughout the ceremonies

My absolute favourite part of the spectacle was when a group of Egunguns – masqueraded figures, said to be manifestations of the spirits of departed ancestors, who periodically re-visit the living, especially during times of celebration – dressed in colourful costumes, appeared out of nowhere. Swishing their capes, they caused an absolute frenzy amongst the locals. Their handlers could not control their wild behaviour, as they kicked up a huge cloud of red dust while they danced and contorted like crazy Sufi whirling dervishes down the dirt path.

The enigma that is the Egungun!

There is something deeply spiritual about the Voodoo religion that really resonates with me. As someone who is not religious, (I do not follow the religion I was born into -Christianity), I really identify with the concept of natures role in all aspects of life. After all, everything in nature was created by the Creator (whoever he/she/it may be). The Creator may not even necessarily be called God/Allah/HaShem. I feel most at peace when I’m in nature and I believe that spending time in nature is the closest we can get to our Maker.

Devotees attend the celebration held on the beach near the poignant Door of No Return, constructed to honour the captured Africans who were sold into slavery and shipped to the New World

I was also really intrigued by how this religion managed to out-live all European attempts to suppress and destroy it and how it adapted and evolved to its new surroundings to continue to bring solace to its followers, even in their darkest of days. And how even in modern times, it is revered and celebrated and brings pure ecstasy to all those who believe in it!

Another devotee at the Ouidah festival
A young boy performs a special dance wearing this elaborate costume
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Whirling and twirling into a trance
Women devotees performing a dance, which involved exaggerated forward movements of the shoulders
Men covered in palm oil, possessed by the spirits, dance in a trance-like state

Adventures with friends – ladies explore Ghana!

One of the highlights of this Ghanaian adventure has been making new friends. Some pics from our day trips (and sadly, farewell parties).

Celebrating Carolines Beach Birthday at White Sands
Our trip to Boti falls, Umbrella rock and the magical fertility stone and sacred 3-pronged palm
Hunting for West African treasures including masks and voodoo dolls!
A day in James Town in the lead up to the Chale Wote Festival
Yoga poses at Umbrella Rock!
The sacred 3-pronged palm tree and the magical fertility rock
Farewell party for Namrata
Baby shower for Vero
Cocktails in the jungle!
Shai Hills adventure with Cris and Amy 
Caroline’s Farewell
3 amigas

Postcards from Ghana

It’s been ages since I last updated my blog. Here are just some of the places, faces and festivals we managed to experience so far!


Coconut Grove, Elmina
Elmina Bay Resort
Elmina town, which has both Portuguese and Dutch influences
A young girl during the Dipo festival, a puberty rites ceremony celebrated by the Krobo tribe.
Pictured with one of the Mothers who oversees and heads up the ceremony
Suspended walk-ways of Kakum National Park –  a look at life above the tree canopies of Ghana’s first protected forest park
More Dipo celebrations
Lake Bosomtwe outside of Kumasi, a natural lake formed  in a crater, created by the impact of a meteorite 
Peaceful and beautiful Lake Bosomtwe, revered as a sacred lake by the locals who live on it
Feeding a South African ostrich at Shai Hills Reserve!
Village kids

OAfrica roadtrip ’16

The part I love most about working at OAfrica is getting out into the field and meeting the families on our support. The highlight is definitely the annual road trip, which takes us outside of Accra itself and into some of the more remote areas. I especially enjoy visiting the villages in the rural areas.

On these trips, I’m joined by a photographer and a social worker. Speaking with the children, asking them questions and getting to know them, helps me write the reports for our international donors about what’s happening on the ground and is used as content for our social media posts. I’m so grateful for this experience, and I know that one day, when I’m an old granny, I’ll look back on these memories and smile….

Below are just some of the children and families I’ve met during this years road trip. Special thanks to photographer Shine Wilson for capturing these moments!


Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park, located in the Central Region, is a protected evergreen rainforest. It’s also where you can experience the thrill of the Canopy Walkway – over 7 bridges suspended 30m above the forest floor. From this walkway, you can literally see out over the treetops and take in the spectacular views of the rainforest around you. I saw some of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen – some reach up to 65m high!


Kakum is situated 33kms from Cape Coast, and boasts over seven species of primates including the Diana monkey. Rich in birdlife and featuring over 500 species of butterfly, it’s even home to the African forest elephant!  It is believed that since 2012, the area of Kakum had the densest population of forest elephants in all of Ghana. Although you probably won’t see them through the thick forest canopy below you, you can sometimes hear them scrounging around for fallen fruit.

On arrival, you’ll be appointed a guide, who will lead you across the bridges and give you information along the way. It’s definitely one of the nicer tourist attractions in Ghana, especially if you like being in nature or if you’re bit of a thrill seeker! You get to see a forest like you’ve never seen one before and you literally feel like you’re Tarzan hanging out in the tree-tops!

You can even stay over in one of the tree houses if you want to see the forest come alive at night for some nocturnal animal viewing.

Combine the Kakum park with Elmina or Cape Coast over a long weekend to get the most out of this beautiful region. And be sure to hold onto your camera and sunglasses as you traverse the bridges!!


Shai Hills


Another beautiful place to visit in Ghana, and one of my personal favourites, is the Shai Hills reserve, located in the Greater Accra region, about an hours drive from Accra.

The vegetation consists mainly of open grasslands and plains with rocky outcrops. It is considered the closest natural wildlife park to Accra, although I wouldn’t quite put it in the same league as the safari parks of South Africa, Tanzania or Kenya. Here, you’ll only see a few (very tame) baboons, some ostrich (imported from South Africa, obviously!), some species of small antelope and a wide variety of bird life. But the landscape alone is worth the visit because sometimes you just want to get out of the city and be reminded that you actually live in Africa! The fact that it’s not far away is a huge plus so it makes for a perfect weekend break out of Accra.

You can either drive your vehicle around the park or go on foot, if you’re up for a bit of hiking. You can also hire a guide for the day, who will take you around the park and give you some interesting information about the history of the park and the people who once lived in the vicinty. He will also point out the fauna and flora and take you into the Shai tribes’ ancestral caves, where you’ll encounter a colony of bats!

The best part of the visit was the summit up one of the rocky outcrops. An easy climb which took less than twenty minutes, resulted in the most amazing views out over the plains. It was a truly beautiful Lion King moment!!



Elmina Castle

Elmina is a town on the South coast of Ghana in what is known as the Central Region. It was the first European settlement in all of West Africa and is therefore steeped in history -albeit a shameful one.

The Elmina Castle is the most well-known landmark in the little town of Elmina, which prior to European settlement, was called Anomansah (meaning: the perpetual drink).


The Portuguese were the first of many Europeans to exploit the natural resources of the region – from gold to ivory, and later, human beings. Elmina is most widely known for its horrific past as a major hub for the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, which took place from the 15th to 19th Century. Millions of Africans were captured and transported to the New World as slaves. The Elmina Castle stands today to remind us of this awful period in history, as both a tourist attraction and a living museum – but more importantly, as a reminder to humanity that such an atrocity should never be allowed to take place again.

The castle itself is an imposing fortress, with a painful past. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, it was the first trading post constructed on the Gulf of Guinea coast. This makes it the oldest European building in existence below the Sahara. The Portuguese realized the enormous potential for trade which existed at the time, thanks to the discovery of gold.

It was initially built as a trading settlement and used as a warehouse to store their newly acquired wealth (commodities such as gold and ivory), which were being traded extensively at the time. It would however come to serve a more vile purpose. By the 17th Century, the Portuguese realized there was a commodity more valuable and lucrative than gold or ivory: that of human property.  The castle was used as a depot for captured Africans, before they would be sold into slavery.

The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637 and took over the entire “Gold Coast” as it was then reffered to. The Slave Trade continued under the Dutch until 1814 and finally, in 1872, the fort, including the Gold Coast, became the possession of the British Empire.

A view of the courtyard at Elmina Castle

A guided tour takes you into the various rooms of the upper section of the castle including the Governors’ bedroom, complete with a panoramic view of the Atlantic, a far cry from the squalor and desperation of the dungeons in the courtyard below. The dungeons served as holding cells, and separate rooms existed for men and for women. The conditions were squalid, with very poor ventilation and little respite from the heat. Captors were chained up and forced to endure cramped and sordid conditions until such time as they would be marched to a small room and shipped away to the New World.

Ironically, there was even a church on site, a very clever guise as Christianity was often used as a convenient loop hole to justify the exploitation and subsequent colonization that took place throughout the African continent.

You can walk along the exterior terraces of the castle, and look out towards the ocean and the fishermen below, boys playing football on the beach and women going about their daily lives in the market place.

Colourful fishing boats distract from the dark history that hangs over this fishing village

Then there is the “Door of No Return”, a small opening through which the captured men and women would exit the castle on to small boats waiting to take them to the slave ships which would carry them over the ocean to the Americas. This room was by far the most impactful for me, even more so than the dungeons – which were by no means not moving – but for some reason, this little room felt heavy with such sadness – something really difficult to explain. Just thinking that these souls probably knew that this was the point of no return, and the beginning of yet another journey of suffering, is what really struck me. The saying “if these walls could speak” could not be more apt. If they could indeed speak, what kind of suffering and hardship would they speak of? One cannot even imagine what these people went through, and we were only given a mere glimpse into the unimaginable suffering that took place here through the explanations, narratives and descriptions given by our tour guide. But reality is always far harsher.



Elmina Castle is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is definitely worth a visit if you’re planning a trip to the Central Region. We stayed at the Elmina Bay Resort for two nights and then Coconut Grove for one night – both places are really nice and right on the beach. The drive to Elmina is very pleasant, especially now that some rain has fallen and everything is green and lush. The drive from Cape Coast to Elmina is especially beautiful as the scenery consists of coastal views and palm trees!

A visit to Elmina town itself is also recommended. We took a guided walking tour which included the town surrounds, the Dutch Cemetry, the fishing port, the Bridge House and various other places of interest such as the local shrines. The buildings are remiscient of both Dutch and British architecture and it was really interesting to walk the streets and see the people going about their every-day lives.

We didn’t get to visit the Cape Coast Castle on this trip, the British equivalent of Elmina Castle, but I’m hoping to do this trip next.

Looking out towards the fishing village and port

It’s interesting to note that numerous slave castles and forts dot the West African coastline, including Senegal, Gambia and Sierre Leone. The majority can be found here in Ghana, although most have fallen into ruin.

Elmina town

Akwaaba from Accra!

Three months ago, we touched down in a hot and humid Accra. The night we arrived, we were greeted by a huge African thunderstorm. It was almost as if Mother Nature was welcoming us back onto African soil.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks since then – looking at potential apartments/houses, figuring out where to buy what, getting acquainted with the various areas and neighbourhoods of Accra and meeting new people. So setting up a new blog to document our Ghanaian adventure had to take a backseat. But as things slowly start to fall into place, and now that I finally feel like we’re starting to settle in, I hope to get back to regular blogging.

It’s hard to explain to those who have never upped and moved countries exactly what a big deal it is. I am always amazed that people ask me things like “So, have you found a job yet/have you found a house already”. I honestly don’t think they get the enormity of the situation when it comes to an international relocation. You literally land in a country you’ve never visited before and have to figure out everything from scratch – such as where to buy groceries, which cellular network to get connected to, how the local currency works, how much things cost etc. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s not forget about the administrative issues associated with moving to a foreign country. But luckily, with this being our second expatriation, I’ve found this time around I’ve been able to draw on the learnings from our Swiss move. We have also been fortunate enough to have a fanstastic network of people to lean on from the get-go and the expat community here is really supportive.

One thing I did differently this time around, is I jumped straight into the various social activities/groups on offer and accepted every invitation that came my way. After all, the only way you will meet people and find your ‘tribe’ is if you put yourself out there. I have already clicked with a few amazing people (something that took me a bit longer in Switzerland) and I have a good feeling about the connections I’ve made so far, in this relatively short space of time.

Of course, there are days I miss Switzerland (funnily enough, I don’t miss South Africa, although I miss my family), but I find that there is something beautiful, positive and uplifting to discover each day here in Ghana.  I see things that make me smile, I encounter people who get me thinking about life and I am continually reminded to be thankful and grateful for my blessings. It’s almost as if it was time to leave behind the postcard-perfect world of Switzerland and re-connect with a more authentic version of reality.

I look forward to our new adventure, to learning more about Ghana and of course, myself. And sharing some of my experiences, stories and photos with you!