Skip to navigation

Ghana: Nzulezo

Raffia trees by Amansuri Lagoon
Raffia trees, the basic building blocks of Nzulezo, reflected in the tranquil waters of the Amansuri Lagoon

After double-dosing on the slave forts of Cape Coast and Elmina, I decided my best strategy for exploring the Ghanaian coast was to head as far west as the attractions would take me, and then slowly make my way back east, back towards Accra. This would require a reasonably hard day's travelling from Cape Coast to the village of Nzulezo, near the border with Côte d'Ivoire, but I figured it would be worth the effort; Nzulezo doesn't appear on any of my maps and is conspicuously absent from my guidebook, but I'd heard that it was home to a village entirely built on stilts, and this sounded weird enough for me. After the fantastic but touristy World Heritage forts of the central coast, I fancied getting off the beaten track a bit.

Magical Mystery Tour

Evans punting a canoe along the tranquil Amansuri River
Evans punting our canoe along the Amansuri River

It took me a little time to find the office, not because I was heading in the wrong direction, but because the sign outside the building – the last building in town, of course – actually read 'Amansuri Conservation and Integrated Development (ACID) Project', with 'Ghana Wildlife Service' scribbled in tiny letters underneath. I had no idea what ACID was all about, but it seemed like a good excuse for a truly awful pun.

The Canoe Trip

A canoe pushing through thick greenery
Pushing through the overgrown river

Unwittingly I hit the nail bang on the head; visiting Nzulezo was indeed a trippy experience. Once I handed over my money I was introduced to a young man called Evans, who was to be my guide. Strangely enough this turned out to be his real name, despite sounding ridiculously Victorian; the only Ghanaian name he had was Kojo, as he'd been born on a Monday, so Evans it was. I felt like I'd signed up for a flag-waving British expedition deep into the interior as Evans led me down the road and into a huge, flat field full of grass.

The main drag in Nzulezo
The main drag in Nzulezo
A half-made house in Nzulezo
The houses in Nzulezo are made from hundreds of raffia trunks

The Stilt Village

An outdoors kitchen in Nzulezo
To prevent fire sweeping through the village, kitchens in Nzulezo are built away from the houses

The first thing that struck me about the stilt village was that the tall poles that stick vertically out of each house made the place look like a balding porcupine. The second thing that struck me, as we drifted closer, was that each of these poles had a surprisingly familiar object stuck on the end; that's because these poles are in fact TV aerials.

Nzulezo stilt village
The stilt village from the lagoon, with the Nzulezo Homestay on the left

Visitors are to put on waterproof footwear and come along with raincoats.

Evans showing off a fisherman's catch
Evans showing off a fisherman's catch

'Eh? I'm supposed to wear waterproofs?' I asked Daniel.

Visitors to the stilt village are to wear life jackets. This [sic] will be provided at the visitors centre.

'Um, I never got a life jacket,' I said. 'Should I have one?'

Do not make any provocative or mocking statements when you get to the stilt village.

Do not stand up in the canoe.

Do not make noise in the wetland.

Making love openly at the beach or any of the communities is prohibited.

'Blimey,' I said. 'Are you telling me that you've got a problem with people making love on the beach here?'

A man fishing on the Amansuri Lagoon
Fishermen on the Amansuri Lagoon catch their food using nets
The Nzulezo Homestay
My bed in the Nzulezo Homestay was in the small building on the right

The Migration

The chief's house, Nzulezo
The chief's house, Nzulezo

As I lay there trying to con myself that it really was raining outside and that the cockroaches were nothing more than the product of a fertile imagination, I thought about a story Evans had told me about why the Nzulezo people lived on stilts. I'd pointed to a rectangular raffia box on stilts just outside the village, and Evans had told me it was a shrine to the gods of the river and that it was all part of the story of the migration.

Inside the school, Nzulezo
The school at the end of town

Fort Apollonia

Fort Apollonia
Fort Apollonia

Early the next morning, after a fitful night's sleep and a quick breakfast, Evans and I paddled back to Beyin, stopping only to say hello to the fishermen and to admire the little catfish they were pulling from their nets. Perhaps it was because I was tired, but Evans was starting to get on my nerves; I ended up having to pay for his accommodation and meal, which wouldn't have been a problem if someone had mentioned beforehand that it was all going to end up on my bill, and he then scribbled his address on a piece of paper and handed it to me, saying, 'Here is my address, so you can send me copies of your photos. Oh, and you can give me my tip now.'

Inside Fort Apollonia
Inside Fort Apollonia