Gambia And UK Open Fort Bullen Museum, A Bastion Against The Slave Trade

A fort in The Gambia that was instrumental in stopping the slave trade has been given a new museum, the Daily Observer reports.

Fort Bullen was one of two forts at the mouth of the River Gambia, placed there in 1826 to stop slave ships from sailing out into the Atlantic. It stands on the north bank of the river, and along with Fort James on the south bank constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Bullen has been open to visitors for some time and tourism officials hope the new museum will add to its attractiveness as a historic site.

The museum was financed by the British High Commission in The Gambia. The country used to be a British colony. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1807 and soon took steps to eradicate it throughout its domains. Of course, before that time the empire made huge profits from the slave trade, with the River Gambia being one of its major trading centers for human flesh. One hopes this aspect of British history isn’t ignored in the new museum.

[Photo courtesy Leonora Enking]

The Kura Hulanda Museum in Curacao – looking back on a dark history of slave trade

If you were going to study slavery, you might not think to look in Curacao, but the Kura Hulanda Museum has the most extensive collection of slave-related artifacts and replicas I’ve ever seen, anywhere. The museum, located at Hotel Kura Hulanda, also houses the largest collection of African artifacts and anthropological exhibits in the Caribbean. It seems impossible, considering that about half of the Americans I’ve spoken to don’t even know where Curacao is.

(It’s in the Dutch Antilles by Aruba, and very close to Venezuela. Venezuela is on the north coast of South America. Curacao is below the hurricane belt, which makes it an ideal beach destination for the June through September months.)

So. Inside Hotel Kura Hulanda, a charming historical neighborhood-turned-hotel with unique rooms and gorgeous antique furniture from all over the globe, is the Kura Hulanda Museum, which is owned and curated by hotel owner and entrepreneur Jacob Gelt Dekker. He hand-picked each item for the collection while traveling the world, and continues to add to it whenever he comes across something special. He’s not without skill — the result is an incredible, gut-wrenching teaching institution for all of the Caribbean and beyond.

Those who know a little about the history of slave trade have probably come across Curacao in their studies. The Dutch West India Company made Curacao a major hub for human trafficking in 1662 and it remained as such for the next 200 years. By the time the Dutch abolished slavery (1863), the economy had become entirely reliant on slave trade. Abolition crushed the prosperity of the island for many years, that is, until oil was discovered there in 1914.
It’s a strange history for what many would call a strange island. The green landscape is filled with bright, colorful buildings made in traditional Dutch styles, and the major landmarks include a fort full of bars and a floating pontoon bridge which opens and closes to allow cruise ships to dock, as well as the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the entire Western hemisphere. You might expect such an unusual island to brush its history as a slave trade hub under the rug. In fact, that’s just what many feared was happening until the Kura Hulanda Museum opened in April of 1999.
Now, visitors can explore a labyrinthine exhibit through modern buildings, courtyards and shacks with a vast slavery collection including KKK uniforms, brands and unfathomable torture devices — some replicas, some real. There’s a basement converted into a replica of a slave ship slave’s quarters.

The first gallery is about the origins of man, with priceless ancient treasures collected by Dekker. My guide, Yflen, explained to me that the point of this gallery is “to remind you that we all come from the same place.” The impressive exhibit features ornate clay tablets and tax collector slabs, zoomorphic vessels, terracotta deities and fascinating relics from Iran, Ethiopia, Syria and other know habitats of early man.

Then, you enter the first courtyard and are presented with this beautiful face:

Walk around a bit and visit a shack full of skull replicas and the astonishing spider dolls (see: Kura Hulanda’s spiders – an unforgettable hotel exhibit), and take another look at this stunning sculpture by Nel Simon.

It is from here you can begin your journey into a horrifying history of torture and abuse — things we don’t like to, but must, remember. Along with the sinking feeling of seeing what awful things human beings have done and do to each other comes a strong sense of the importance of learning about those things. Being there is a way of honoring the people who suffered; recognizing the significance of that suffering.

The museum ends in an expansive gallery of African artifacts, celebrating the unique and fascinating cultures from which the slaves were torn. My heart still breaks when I recall the story that Yflen told me: slave catchers would figure out where the children from a village went to play, then fill that area with concealed metal traps. A child would inevitably get caught and the adults would come to rescue him or her, only to be caught themselves. Perhaps you already knew that story; perhaps you know one of the thousands of others.

The Kura Hulanda Museum takes you on an emotional and richly educational ride. It’s one thing to have a dark history of slave trade, and another thing entirely to put it out in the light for all to see.

[Photos by Annie Scott.]

My visit to the Kura Hulanda Museum was sponsored by Kura Hulanda, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Amazing Race Season 13: Excitement begins and new destinations

As much as I enjoyed watching I Survived a Japanese Game Show, there is no better way to vicariously travel than watching the Amazing Race when it comes to reality TV. It’s been months since T.J. and Rachel, our favorite hippie couple won the million in Season 12.

In last night’s episode, the first of the season, a different cast of characters headed off from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a pell mell dash for LAX airport and the first leg of their journey to a fortune. And if not a fortune, a heck of an adventure. The teams ranged from a separated middle-aged couple looking to see if they can salvage their marriage, to an older hippie bee-keeping older couple wanting to love the world, to divorcee women friends who think their bad marriages have honed them for the challenges of travel.

True to real life, the airport proved to be one of the biggest hurdles as some of the teams tried to find the right ticket counters and delt with overbooked flights as a result of standing in the wrong line.

First destination: Salvador, Brazil

Recap and impressions and cultural sites:

In the midst of gearing up for completion, there were friendly hellos and glad to meet yous when there wasn’t much else to do but wait for a plane to board.

Although Salvador, the first colonial capital of Brazil, is known as being a fun and easy going place, our eleven new couple friends didn’t have much time for frolic. From the minute they scrambled out of their American Airlines and United Airlines flights after a plane change in Rio de Janeiro came the unnerving task of making it around a bustling city they didn’t know. That was after the stress of delayed and over-booked flights.

Salvador looked like a stroll-worthy city with it’s gorgeous architecture and narrow streets that meander through markets. Instead of strolling through the bounty, the teams first headed to a O Rei Do Pernil sandwich shop where they learned they were to push a loaded vendor’s cart to Praca Da Se, a popular square where they would find the next clue.

The carts were piled with snack food candy that dropped off with the tiniest bump on the cobblestone. That was no wonder. From what I could tell, the carts weren’t much bigger than a balance beam, probably so that they could be maneuvered through crowds.

The candy with the most camera time was Blong (the pink and blue boxes in the picture). I have no idea what it tastes like, but I’m curious. If I’m ever in Brazil, I’m trying some.

Although candies fell off the cart like rain at times, the couples kept their cool for the most part–everyone’s still in that “I’m a good little traveler mode.”

Traffic didn’t present too much trouble as heavy as it was, and no one went the wrong way despite language barriers with the taxi drivers once the cabs were found. At least, I didn’t pick up on unbearable tension.

Once the teams delivered their carts, they were off to a military base to spend the night in the jungle with mosquito nets protecting them from attack. I assume there were mosquitoes, but no one talked about them. The jungle stay did point out that this part of Brazil is lush with rain forest.

On the second day out, the first stop was Pelourinho, the historic center that is the original town. Dating back to the mid 1500s or so, it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The first details of the day’s task was found at a gorgeous church.

There were two tasks to choose from: “Hard Way Up” or “Soft Way Down.” Everyone but Andrew and Dan chose Soft Way Down.

Soft Way Down meant scaling a rope webbing down the 236 feet of Elevador Lacerda, a building with an elevator that connects the upper and lower sections of Salvador.

The view from the top was stunning, but like one of the blonds said, “I cant’ even enjoy the view because I’m about to pee in my pants.” Once the height factor was dealt with, scaling down wasn’t too difficult. They were strapped into a safety harness so no one would go splat and ruin the show.

The Hard Way Up involved climbing a serious off weathered stone stairs leading to the cathedral Escadaria do Passo on hands and knees. Devotees do this, we were told. Although not exactly fun, the task wasn’t particularly difficult except for the samba drummer who stood at the top playing loudly the whole time. Once at the top, Mark & Bill were asked the question, “How many stairs?” Since they weren’t into stair counting the first time up, back they went to do it again. Number of stairs? 53

From the Elevador Lacerda, the next stop was the Pit Stop at Forte Sao Marcelo, a floating battlement off the shore. accessible by boat. From the elevator, it’s quicker to walk then take a taxi as brother/sister team Nick and Starr found out. They arrived at the Pit Stop first due to their quick thinking.

For their first place standing, they won a five-day trip to Belize.

Eliminated: Anita and Arthur, the hippie bee keepers/blueberry farmers came slightly loping in last, but seemed okay with the elimination. How many people can say they scaled down a 236-feet building in Brazil?

The moral is, if you don’t want to come in last, you have to hustle. Anita and Arthur’s speed never revved up. The heat held them back, they said. Being from Oregon proved to be a liability for this gentle team.

Their words of travel wisdom: You can be assertive, but treat people well.

Travel Tips pointed out in 1st episode:

  • When driving in Los Angeles, use the commuter lane on the left. It will save you loads of time.
  • If you ever have to wind a vendors cart, or any kind of cart and things keep spilling off, wrap your jacked around the loot. It works wonders as Mark and Bill discovered.
  • When in Portugal, it helps to know some Portuguese like Sarah does and helped put Terence and her in the front of the pack.
  • Ask for help from local people. One woman helped one of the teams push their candy cart and because Starr and Nick asked
  • Spend time in Pelourinho if you’re in Salvador. An important detail, not mentioned on the show, this area was central to the slave trade. For its counterpart in Senegal, head to Goree Island.

Who I am rooting for: It’s too soon to tell. No one popped out as a total idiot, or root-for worthy yet. I did like that Andrew and Dan were the only two to climb the stairs. I’d have felt bad if the drummers were all set to play and no one showed up.

Why to stay tuned: Which teams lose their cool first? Plus, new destinations where the show has not been filmed in the past are on the horizon. The teams also go to India, one of my favorite countries.

((Photos from Amazing Race Web site.)

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, one of the world’s biggest churches

It’s a lovely thing when a Gadling reader posts a comment that leads us to another post. Such is the case with Moody 75’s comment “Dude, Manhattan has what is claimed to be the largest cathedral and Anglican church and third largest Christian church in the world” on my post “Temples and churches to visit in New York City.

Sure enough, Cathedral Church of St. John, The Divine is definitely one that I would like to see myself. From the picture, it looks familiar and perhaps I’ve passed by it on my way to somewhere else, but next time I’m in New York, I’m heading here.

First of all, its history is one that reflects the times and economic struggles. This is not a church that found easy funding at all junctures or has had enough people to build it over the years ever since the cornerstone was put in place in 1892. The Great Depression and World Wars 1 and 2 are only part of what has thwarted progress, although since it is the largest Anglican church in the world–and one of the world’s largest churches, one can make the point that there is tenacity and dedication at work here. Plus, the history reads like a Who’s Who. I’m impressed.

This is a church that seems to reflect aspects of American culture and because of its stature has attracted important people to speak here and perform such as Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Leonard Bernstein. Madeline L’Engle who died this past year, even set a novel in this cathedral.

Along with giving tours, the church offers concerts and performances to the community. The next one, January 13, is called “Let My People Go: A Service of Liberation.” There will be various performances and singing along with a talk in commemoration of the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

Cape Verde: Rich in Heritage and Beauty

Cape Verde, made up of 10 islands off the coast of West Africa, boasts the oldest European settlement in the tropics. I didn’t know that. All I knew before I did some searching is that one of my Peace Corps friends went to Cape Verde on vacation once and sent me a post card of its beautiful mountains.

Unfortunately, the reason for Cidade Velha was the slave trade. Back in 1462, the place was hopping. But, pirates ruined the affluence. My son, who at age five has a thing for Jack Sparrow, would love the idea of the pirates. They raided so much the Portuguese quit the town and moved elsewhere. If you head to Cape Verde, you can still see Cidade Velha’s ruins that indicate its history as a trade center.

Cape Verde’s islands also have beaches for lazing about if that’s your thing, or you can put on hiking boots and hit a trail. Because of its location, Cape Verde has both Brazilian and Senegalese cultural trimmings. The music here, in particular, is a fusion of both. Check out Cape Verde Travel. There is a map of the islands. Click on each island for information particular to that one. For several shots of Cape Verde’s landscape, villages and wildlife, ignazw’s photos on Flickr are a great place to start. Detailed descriptions are included.