Kumasi: “Wow! White Peoples!”

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I apologize for the lack of updates last week. I experienced a bunch of power outages, sometimes lasting twelve hours at a time. The Internet connection also was “finished” most of this week. On top of the technical difficulties, I’ve been fighting a bad head cold. So instead of staying up writing, I’ve been trying to catch up on my sleep. Having a cold in 85-degree weather is so gross! I then managed to acquire food poisoning, and spent most of my Sunday attached to the porcelain throne. Needless to say, it’s been a tough week.

Despite being sick, I was determined to travel somewhere this weekend. I had Friday off of work as was a national holiday called Farmer’s Day (Pretty much the Ghanaian equivalent of Labor Day).  Thus I convinced Abby to accompany me to Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana. Other ProWorld participants had fairly negative experiences in Kumasi, but I was determined to see the market, the zoo, and the palace. So armed with an outdated guidebook and no sense of direction, Abby and I headed to Kumasi.

Kumasi is about four hours directly north of Cape Coast. The ride was fairly uneventful except for the fact that the trotro was nicer than usual and air-conditioned. Abby and I rationed our water to avoid having to squat on the side of the road. As this trip was last minute, we didn’t plan on where we were staying, or what we were doing. We used my Bradt’s guide of Ghana (5th Edition) to pick a cheap hotel/hostel and figure out what we wanted to see. We found the perfect hotel, the Nurom Inn, Annex as it was in a central location on the map, and supposedly incredibly cheap. I tried the phone number list, but no one answered. This wasn’t surprising, as phone numbers change frequently here.

The closed Cultural Centre

The closed Cultural Centre

After reaching Kumasi, we were quickly introduced to the horrible traffic. Most of the vehicles here run on diesel, so we were asphyxiating on the fumes, and decided to walk. With the guidebook’s map in hand, we weaved through masses of cars and people to find our hostel. While Kumasi is unique in its actual use of street signs, we discovered that most of the names of the roads did not match those on the map. After wandering around and stopping to ask directions, we made it to where our hotel used to be. Yes, used to be. Apparently, the hotel had closed a while ago. So we referred back to the list of hotels and started walking around to find one that wasn’t too expensive and actually functioning. After about an hour and three hotels later, we finally got a room at the Sambra Hotel. We got stuck paying much more than we wanted to ($70 GHC), but the hotel was very nice. Our room was air-conditioned and we need to sleep under a blanket. Heavenly!

The market spills out into the streets

The market spills out into the streets

The restaurant we wanted to eat at was closed for renovations (Sensing a trend here?), so we just ended up eating at our hotel’s restaurant. It was pretty tasty, though a bit overpriced. By then it was almost 5PM, leaving us only an hour of daylight. Not wanted to waste precious time in Kumasi, we decided to tackle the market. The Kejetia Market is touted as the largest market in West Africa. Most travelers choose to use a guide to navigate the overwhelming huge market. Being fearless adventurers (And stubbornly cheap), Abby and I decided to head out on our own.

A glimpse of the market

A glimpse of the market

The first challenge was to figure out how to actually enter the market. While it overflowed onto the surrounding streets, we wanted to see the heart of the market that was surrounding by fences, train tracks, and buildings. So we weaved our way through, getting stuck in the smelly fish section before stumbling into the fabric and used clothing area. To the casual observer, the market is completely unorganized. While there are some random stalls here or there, the market is fairly well divided by product. There’s the food section, house wares section, apparel section, and more. For example, we walked through an area of the market that consisted completely of shoe vendors.

Inside the market

Inside the market

Walking through Kejetia Market is an overwhelming sensory experience. There’s the smell of fish, vegetables, leather, and body odor. Vendors are yelling out prices and urging you to visit their stalls. The aisles are narrow and you have squeeze past thousands of people in a mixture of traditional dressed and used clothing shipped from the West. Since Kumasi lacks a large expat population, Abby and I certain stood out. We were hassled to buy things and practically dragged to stalls. My favorite line was when a man selling belts exclaimed, “Wow! White peoples!” Strangely, the hassling didn’t bother me. I suppose I’ve simply gotten use to it now.

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The next day, we got up bright an early to hit all of the other major highlights in Kumasi. We started with the Centre for National Culture. Unfortunately, it is closed on Saturdays, so we weren’t able to go into any of the art galleries. We did take a couple pictures outside. We also spotted the large bat colony that naturally lives in the trees right next to the center. The bats were huge, about the size of a salad plate, and were making little screeching noises.

This picture isn't that impressive, but the amount of bats flying around certainly was!

This picture isn’t that impressive, but the amount of bats flying around certainly was!

We then headed next door to the Kumasi Zoo. It was the most depressing place I’ve ever been. A lot of the animals were stuck alone in tiny cages. The monkeys, in particular, seemed the saddest due to their social nature. There were camels that were free to wander around the zoo. One thought my hair was hay and attempted to take a bite. The cutest was this baby elephant. He was locked in a small pen while he was eating breakfast. He really liked me for some reason and started sniffing me with his trunk and playing with my hair. I desperately wanted to take him with me and put him in a zoo with other baby elephants to play with. We only managed to stay about a half an hour at the zoo before getting too upset and needing to leave.

"Let me out of here!"

“Let me out of here!”

After the zoo, we decided to head over to the Manhyia Palace.  It was a long walk to get there, as we had no idea where we were going and it was mostly uphill. This Manhyia Palace is the official residence of the Asantehene, or the Ashanti king. While Ghana has a parliamentary government, it still also runs on the tribal system. Thus the king is considered to have the second highest political position. He is in control of handing all affairs and disputes with the chiefs and paramount chiefs.

Entrance to the Manhyia Palace

Entrance to the Manhyia Palace

The first palace was built by the British and given to Asantehene Nana Prempeh I after he returned from exile in the Elmina Castle. It was given to him because his previous palace had been burnt down during a war between the British and the Asantes. This palace was turned into a museum after a new palace was built directly behind it. The museum contained a life-size effigies of several kings, original furniture, kente fabric worn by kings, and other relics. The most random was the king’s first refrigerator and television. I didn’t realize how important the king was to Ghanaian society before visiting the museum. He has been visited and given gifts by many important leaders, including Pope John Paul II. I enjoyed our tour, but unfortunately was not allowed to take pictures.

The outside of the palace

The outside of the palace

After our tour, we got a quick lunch of fried rice and got on a trotro to return home. Our trip to Kumasi was short, but we were able to visit all of the main tourist attractions. While Kumasi wasn’t my favorite destination in Ghana, I am very glad I went and enjoyed my trip. I was proud that Abby and I were able to navigate the confusing city and only took one taxi the entire time! If you had told me during my first week that I would be randomly wandering around a major Ghanaian city, I would have thought you were crazy. This goes to show how much I’ve grown and adapted here.

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