I wanted to visit Axim ever since I read that not only is it home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Ghana, but the town also boasts Fort St Anthony, 'one of the most impressive forts in Ghana' according to the guidebook. After a stuttered but easy journey from Beyin, consisting of a tro-tro, two shared taxis and a private taxi, I discovered that the first part was absolutely spot on; following the guidebook's advice I took a bungalow at the Axim Beach Hotel and settled into a life of luxury to recoup on the sleep that had eluded me in the stilt village.
The Axim Beach Hotel is a little paradise, perched on a high cliff overlooking the majestically sweeping Awangazule Beach as it curves off to the southeast. My beautifully appointed self-contained bungalow was a serious improvement on the cockroach-infested hypermarket of the night before, and with two huge double beds to jump around on, I was in heaven. Sure, the room cost me 150,000 cedis a night, some three times the price of my room in Kokrobite and ten times the price of the guesthouse in Kakum, but a little bit of maths soon justified the expense; my beach paradise was costing me a little over £11 a night, a pittance for such a treat.
To shake the remnants of Nzulezo from my mind, I took a stroll along the beach, an uninhabited curve that's lined with palm trees, an inland lagoon and coconut palms that look like they've been attacked by low-flying planes. All along this stretch of the coast the coconuts are suffering from a blight that kills the trees, making all the leaves fall off and leaving nothing but tall, thin trunks; thankfully Awangazule Beach has an awful lot of greenery besides the coconut palms and it's still a lovely stretch of beach to wander along. The sea is vicious here, but I've never been one for swimming in the sea, so with a huge sigh of relaxation I settled in for my first day of doing nothing since leaving Kokrobite.
Fort St Anthony
The second boast in the guidebook turned out to be a little overenthusiastic, though I think some of my disappointment in Fort St Anthony was down to an overdose of coastal forts. After a few tours you realise that every fort has the same collection of stories, and while the dates might change, the experience is pretty much the same. For example, Fort St Anthony has male and female dungeons, and of course the colonial officers – in this case the Portuguese and the Dutch – would pick out the prettiest female slaves and rape them; it has officers' quarters and rooms for the governor; it has lots of blackened cannons pointing out to sea; it has a large cistern, fed by rainwater; and it has a caretaker who will take you round for a small fee (or, in my case, a caretaker who will deputise his young son to do the job). It's not quite true to say that once you've seen one fort you've seen them all, but after a while you stop noticing the slave dungeons and the mouldy whitewashed battlements and you start noticing the little oddities that differentiate each fort.
Fort St Anthony, the second oldest fort in Ghana after St George's in Elmina, is home to the biggest flock of vultures that I've ever seen. Perched in rows on the roof of the castle, which was completed in 1515 by the Portuguese, these huge birds swoop majestically in loops round the turrets, landing on the battlements and adding an eerie poignancy to the dismal atmosphere of the slave dungeons. The Dutch captured the fort in 1642 and traded slaves on a small scale until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807; the three dungeons – for men, women and children – only held about 25 slaves each, but by the time the Dutch sold the fort to the British the vultures had moved on to dead goats instead of dead slaves.
The young boy who took me round spoke so quickly and with such a hurried accent that I kept having to ask him to repeat himself, but after showing me what he claimed was the first clock in Ghana, he took me to the euphemistically named guesthouse where his baby sister, who'd been balanced on her brother's hip throughout the tour, filled her nappies with a stench from hell, thus speeding up the boy's presentation to the point where I didn't understand a single word. But it didn't really matter, because the guesthouse – two totally empty rooms with not even a mattress for those bold enough to sleep here – was full of a particular kind of junk that fascinates me; it was teeming with the detritus of bureaucracy.
Before opening up as a tourist attraction, Fort St Anthony was an office of the Ghana Education Board, and while moving out someone had obviously decided to take a whole box of paperwork and throw it on the floor. I was fascinated, and once the guide had stumbled his way through the rest of the tour and headed off to clean up his sister, I returned to the guesthouse to pick my way through the papers. There was all sorts of fascinating rubbish there: a 1998 Ghanaian languages syllabus for primary schools; a completed form from the annual school census of 1998/9; a copy of a 1971 University of London Examination Board certificate for a Mr Ebenezer Christian Andoh of Takoradi, who managed to get passes at O-Level in economics, geography and religious knowledge; a hand-written letter, dated 1987, from a hopeful applicant for a job as a teacher in a primary school; essays from a secondary school exam dated , the subject of which was teenage pregnancy; and strewn all around the room were flat files, crumpled carbon papers and piles of letters.
I spent a good half an hour poking through the remains of what was once someone's job, before noticing something intriguing pinned to the door under the sign saying 'General Office'. Someone had taken a piece of cardboard and drawn an eight-segment pie chart on it, under a heading saying 'Movement Chart'. Each of the segments had something written in it, and pinned to the centre was a little paper arrow that you could turn to point to one of the segments. The options were 'Out', 'Break', 'Travel to Accra Headquarters', 'Messages to Institutions', 'To: Regional Office', 'Closed Work', 'Waite' [sic], and 'To Main Office', each neatly written in biro.
The arrow was pointing to 'Break', which, given the state of the office, I felt was a little too optimistic, even by Ghanaian standards. Taking one more look round the bleak interior of the ex-Ghana Education Board, I moved the arrow to 'Closed Work' and shuffled out of the door, leaving Fort St Anthony to the vultures.