Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sabbatical Day 9

A Day at the Coconut Grove, Elmina, Ghana

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

We left our hotel in Paris on Monday, 12 June, at about 7AM and arrived finally in our rooms at Elmina, shortly after midnight, which felt to us like 1 o'clock in the morning. So, we decided to take it easy on Tuesday.

A view from the dining area of the Coconut Grove
We set an alarm and arose at about 9:30, having learned our lesson on Tuesday the 6th in Paris, and ate a late breakfast. The Coconut Grove set a full breakfast at 7 o'clock each morning in their outdoor dining area, serving until 10AM. Ghanaian hotels where we stayed were inclined to provide travelers with some semblance of the elements of a full English breakfast - eggs, toast, sausages, baked beans, fruit, fruit juices (including something new to us which they called, bissap). At the Coconut Grove, their eggs are cooked to order as omelettes by a very accommodating cook, offering a variety of fillings but not cheese.

A photo by Coco of what would become the staple of
our morning routine in Ghana
When we arrived for breakfast at 9:30, the chief steward, whose name was Moses, and who had been the apparently grouchy fellow behind the counter when we arrived, saw that I was pouring the last of the brewed coffee into a cup. He asked graciously whether he ought to brew some more. Of course, you should brew more! I thought. Then, I noticed that he was subtly indicating at the same time a plenteous set of sachets of Nescafe which were in a small unit of shelves with sugar and coffee whitener. I had poured my coffee from a carafe that had been nested in a fairly inexpensive-looking Mr. Coffee brewer like the ones you see in most American kitchens. This seemed a curious question, at the time. But in the weeks since Moses asked me that, I have come to realize that he and most Ghanaians consider brewed coffee either too much of a bother or else creates a waste - filters, grounds, leftover unconsumed beverage... However, the state of mind I was in at the moment, which is to say that I had experienced insufficient sleep and had not yet begun my consumption of caffeine, rendered me a bit insensitive, and I said, as affably as I could, "Oh, my wife is going to need some, so, yes, it would be good of you to brew some more."

The ceiling of the dining area was decorated with
numerous paintings of sea life, including this mermaid
On the flight from London to Accra, we were introduced to something called half or semi skimmed milk. This is approximately equivalent to American two-percent milk and is the standard for adding to tea or coffee. Semi skimmed milk has 2.5% milkfat by volume. It must make for a wonderful addition to tea, but who drinks tea! Coffee, on the other hand, it turns a brownish gray. It tasted better than the powdered milk or coffee creamer that was offered, however, and I was always glad to see it provided - even if just in a sachet.

Gwen cooed over the watermelon juice, and she was very pleased to discover that the orange juice had no pulp. She and Coco had full English breakfasts (Coco skipped the baked beans, and Gwen took a double portion.). I concentrated on the fruit and some oatmeal that looked pretty fresh. The mango and the pineapple were amazing, the mango the sweetest I have ever tasted, and the pineapple had white flesh that almost melted in the mouth. this was definitely not the gold or yellow pineapple I had always eaten in the States. I was wrong about the oatmeal, so I turned to the bread case.

The Coconut Grove has this
little guy on staff, too,
here attending to guests needs
for breakfast fluffiness
In a glass case there was a collection of rolls and muffins that substituted for sliced bread. The muffins were gingery, and I was very happy to have that with my coffee and fruit.

A consistent ocean breeze prevented mosquitoes (at least, that's what Moses told me), but flies were a bit more resilient. So, at each table there was at least one clove-scented incense coil to deter them, and more than one at the food service tables. Since there was a breeze, the incense never became overwhelming. But the odor of mealtime at Coconut Grove was always preceded slightly by a whiff of clove once you got near, and I anticipate that, someday when I smell that incense again, my sense memory will kick in and I'll hear again the sounds of waves and sea birds and wish for a gingery muffin with white pineapple.

The day was sunny and unprogrammed, and Gwen wanted to go swimming. Swimming in the rough ocean seemed ill-advised, and - much as the staff tried to keep ahead of the trash that might wash ashore - even wading looked a bit treacherous. So we suited up and headed for the pool, which was just past the dining area and included the wet bar that also served the dining area. It's at this point that I realized just how many people were employed at the Coconut Grove.

Gwen at the crocodile enclosure, not genuinely smiling...
By far, the lion's share of workers were at a building the roof of which was being replaced and the interior restored. We had walked past the construction operation when I had gone to the office to work out with our driver Emmanuel tours for Wednesday (to Cape Coast and Elmina castles - two of about thirty slave trading posts built by Europeans along the "Guinea Coast" for the holding of captives intended for sale) and Thursday (to Kakum National Park). But in addition to the ten or so young men attending to the heavy work, there were at least three people at desks in the front office. And Emmanuel was there also, as well as a caddy for the golf course. There were always at least two people in the guard house, and usually three. There were two or three in addition who tended the animals - a petting zoo of parrots and exotic chickens, a couple of very small goats, seven or eight horses in the stables, and a collection of crocodiles living in an enclosed water hazard on the golf course. Housekeeping was run by a tall, older man with two female assistants. At each end of the beach there was a guard monitoring the occasional persons who strolled by - Ghanaian locals who were usually uniformed employees of other resorts, and tourists out for some exercise. There was a licensed peddler, whose wares were set atop the retaining wall overlooking the beach. And then there was the wait staff, Moses and the chef and their respective crews - easily half a dozen people, often more, who covered the kitchen and the dining area. And yet, on this day, the only guests of which I was aware were ourselves and another couple, who were from what I could overhear missionaries on holiday.

A young man greeted us with towels and arranged the towels on a couple of lounges. Another, one of three or four groundskeepers, was keeping him company. A bartender brought the couple some soft drinks. By my count, then, there must have been a couple dozen people on the premises working. They must do a remarkable business on the weekends! I thought. And just as I thought that, Moses came to the edge of the pool and asked whether we were planning to stay past Friday. "We have a jazz band coming on Friday night, and it promises to be a wonderful evening!"

"No," I said, "I'm afraid we really must leave on Friday afternoon. We have friends coming to fetch us, and they have things pretty well planned for us. They're going to show us around the Volta Region where they live."

"It's too bad," he said. "They're really good."

If the Coconut Grove have entertainment like that, every weekend, it might justify the staff arrangement during the week. And why wouldn't they! The resort was established in Elmina, as were others along this stretch of coast, to provide a haven for business people from Accra and Kumasi from the big city hustle. At least, that's what their website says.

It worked out pretty nicely for us tourists too, during the week.

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