By Steve Gregson
If you follow the `Essex` meridian line down until meeting `our`Barrancabermeja`s Colombian latitude, it is in Ghana so a good enough reason to choose it for a winter tour, no? After 17 weeks cycle touring in Colombia, Sweden and Austria last year always in our comfort zone, Ghana is certainly out of our comfort zones. Temps between 35 and 40, loose tummy, no proper food, perhaps our ageing too are the downside to very friendly Ghana folk.
The first 6 days have been as hard as we can remember, certainly harder than the Guatamala highlands or the 75 miles a day on the Colombian end-to-end. Here is a flavour of those 6 days.
Jan 5th, 36C at 12am- the first 10 miles were on a cycle path separated from a dual carriageway with small businesses lining the road. The road then rose at 5 – 11% for a few miles to Aburi where no proper food!
6th. Incessant villages sprawls, ups and downs 5-10% all day, Anni hit on buttock by a wing mirror, but the driver at least stopped to apologise.Scrub, bushes and isolated trees. I had been reading about London-Edinburgh-London and our days seemed to be so similar- ride-eat-ride-eat-sleep a bit-ride.
7th A very dusty hard shoulder with lots of rumble strips. sleeping policemen.Cacti on roadside, hills to north an south. Again, 34 miles took all day, we are so slow.
8th. Rolling road territory but at end of day a long 11% hill to walk up.In addition, we cannot accurately find out about ferry times across Lake Volta and how near we can stay if there is only the one (10.00 am) ferry.
9th. Anni restrained on 2 separate occasions by young men wanting to know `where we are going?` We hear about a place to stay 20km from the ferry but no-one answers the door, so a neighbour telephones someone. We continue but there is no habitation, nowhere to stay just mud huts, no food, a long way back to Mpraeso if we are isolated at the water`s edge. A big car arrives with 4 burly guys who invite us to return to their guest house. No thanks , we continue downhill along a dusty wide road, no traffic ( perhaps we have missed the ferry?) to the ferry just in case there is something but the 10am, the 1230 pm has gone and there is another in an hour at 2pm but there are some wooden open boats waiting for 4 passengers, so in we go with our bicycles. Nowhere half decent to stay on the other side so 15km in searing heat 40C but flat . Plus slash and burn roadsides keep us cosy! I think its the second day eating only biscuits.
10th. 39C at 12am. A flat dusty road , often a sandy piste, washboarding, loose sand / stones and again the slash and burn! Birdlife and bushes make for the interest. However, flat. At the end of the day, Anni sat wearily on the road waerless, fed up and whacked, but at Donkorkrom we find a restful Guest House in a garden and decide we have earned a few days rest. Longest day so far 38miles. 4 days of loose tummy begins!
Traffic much less now!
The second week began after 2 lovely rest days in Donkokrom , walking in the woods, attending church and meeting a 74 year old lively, retired? Irish mission sister. It was then an early start for the 15 miles to the 10am? `engine boat` back across Lake Volta, slipping and sliding on loose sand and even being hit from behind by a motor bike ( 3 people) that fell over, it was also slipping and sliding along like me. A bit like dual slalom! At Hohue it was decision time, whether to carry on northwards on rough roads and places to stay probably 100 km apart. a no brainer really so it was turning east and a nice visit to Wli waterfalls, one of Ghana`s big attractions, consequently folk a bit aggressive and wanting `money` .A German guesthouse owner said we would not make Ho in a day (120km) and recommended a Mountain Pleasure resort but grubby carpets and bathroom were too much for us so at 3pm it was head downhill(ish)through tree lined country- side and even a rain shower and full speed the 36km to Ho where we did arrive before dark and found a nice hotel with delicious steaks. My computer made it 80km. 2 days rest and checked over the bikes. Met USA missionaries and were invited to stay in their guest room, (we give donation), a lovely family with 4 children taught at home, the eldest takes us a walk up to an escarpment isolated hamlet.
By now we are acclimatising but its much more humid than Colombia and the mosquito nets etc take patience putting up. The folk continue to be most welcoming and helpful with food and drink.
Onwards south to Adidome, moving out of the few hilly escarpments. A split innertube ( faulty Indonesian)just as a beatifully dressed young woman came past on a bike with 2 water cannisters , I did manage a photo and nearby was a roadworks depot to change the innertube . Plenty of cycle repair sheds, wheel builders and even a spare spoke to buy.
Mostly flat from now on.
At Sogakope , a `worldclass` hotel with a view over the Volta as it widened before the Atlantic Ocean. Good food. Sitting on veranda early morning a treat.
Dragoman bus passed us, open windows, a really old strong thing. Wonder if those adventurers are sorry for us or jealous?
As we were not going north, we then put in an extra loop eastwards to the coast near Togo and found, at Keta, a Guest House by the beach with photogenic fishing boats/ men. On the way, 7 young men on side of road hand loom weaving bright Kente strips, clickety click. Further on drummers, trance – like dancers at some kind of religious or funeral event. In the lagoon, kingfishers, hornbills, plovers, stilts, weaver birds.
Here in Ghana, am wearing long ankle sox a la Wiggins, not for performance but at average 8mp could do with that. More to reduce skin cancer risk on shins ( 2 friends suffered seriously).
We continue on our `proper holiday along the turquoise Atlantic Ocean, the sand and then the road or something called a road potholes connected with sand of which the most lands on our shins and in the chains. Gosh we have brown legs! Or sand covered!. Cross the Volta Delta on an engine boat, just for us `special` price! Prampram, 6x 60 ft tree trunks hewn out in the shape of the fishing boat hulls on a lorry and on the beach the finishing works going on , quite massive construction. Good for 15 years or so, a snip at £75000.
Marvellous to see all the young kids able to walk smartly alone to school. Dressed in clean uniforms, satchels and a polite Good Morning to us always.
At one point, on a lonely cul-de-sac along the coast , a Moslem lady in Blackburn Rovers top! As we had just seen them draw with City in the cup 0-0, wev thought of such a sight in Blackburn back home.
Eating improving too, octopus, lobster as well as the ocean`s fish. Safer than chicken. Even a gin/ tonic last evening.
Going to the west of Accra from Shai bird Reserve and run-down chalets, we got caught in torrential rain on the equivalent of the M25 but fortunately we found a welcoming, excellent Forest View Hotel at North Dzorwulu, not far from the Accra airport.
One last observation as we start our second month and are still happy to do so. Most days we are asked our age, but at the last occurrence, a big heavy plant transporter driver, helping with directions shook both our hands 3 times, then embraced Anni, hugged her and then hugged me too. He was a giant (black man). Such unexpected daily happy things are a great delight here in Ghana. Lots of fun as we ride along, cries of `Grandma`,` Grandpa` as they call folks who are past it.
*** March summary so far- after a 3- day stay at Asaasi-Yaa, a friendly seaside resort where we have breakfast overlooking the Atlantic, we decided to find some Rough-Stuff Touring and also to avoid the main east west highway so turning west out of the gate onto a hard sandy byway, this soon became a grass- centred track then a footpath, then just grass next to the beach then on to the beach until an estuary which we waded across, fast flowing so gave 2 panniers to 2 young `porters`. The next day more dirt racks but a nice hotel at the end. Then a 3-day diversion to the interior northwards on quiet roads to Oda and back south again, enjoying the cocoa plantations, short hills and a hotel with colourful garden where we ate our evening meal.
A few days later another beach track from Ellmina, meanwhile 2 castles to visit and in between a discussion with 3 `suits` with ties in a Security Firm`s big 4 Wheel drive who sat there engine running and wound up the windows when we asked them politely to turn it off . Arrogance in abundance.
Another walk on the beach to Besua after a very steep headland track. The African Rainbow was a professionally run hotel, very friendly staff. Later a visit to a castle bought by a Surrey farmer. A day to rest up then off again only to be halted by threats of extortion/ protection money on another track that left us further back than when we started! All part of the adventure! Still, in March so far there have been some lovely days on beaches by some of the Beach Resorts where we have stayed, eating only fresh fish ( and chips or rice)from the nearby Atlantic.
As a bonus, we have mostly managed to avoid the busy east west highway and are just half a day from the Ivory Coast border.
Weather still hot, no complaints there . Now and again a shower but no wet clothes, always somewhere to shelter . One puncture a week to give us a moan!
Hi again, what an experience at the frontier to the Ivory Coast , a long straight road that became full of folk selling palm kernels, other fruit and veg plus all manner of goods on both sides of the road,exports/ imports from the Ivory Coast, trolleys moving in all directions and us trying to make progress forwards. Tall herb/ medicine sellers from Niger and Benin. Eventually we came to some closed gates and in the distance, a lagoon, perhaps 2km to the other side. The police, then Customs then Emigration let us pass but we were nervous in case of not being let back in but in the end an officer took us the to the edge of the Quay and we managed a photo. We bought a a mango and avocado for lunch.
That was it, our tour nominally ended ,we turned our wheels for home. Just a couple of hundred miles to Accra airport . 3 Days followed with us rolling along in a big gear, hindwind for the first time, then a bus ride and breaking a lifelong taboo when we rode the last kms to our guest house in pitch darkness.
Yes, Ghana, West Africa and `The White Man`s Grave` had certainly grown on us. The welcome of the people and the hot weather the real plusses.
See you soon, we have evaded the cannibals pot so far!
The final ride t o stay near airport, collect a box and find an extra one went trouble – free. At the overnight flight check-in, the girls were so impressed with what was in the 2 boxes and consequentlyy our riding in Ghana that they upgraded us! A just reward, maybe. It was certainly not for my sartorial elegance, a many times hand washed shirt and black toe-tector boots ( for the wildlife snakes)
Quite one of the best blogs around at the moment is Peter Gostelow’s ‘Big Africa Cycle’. He’s just blogged a long list of do’s and don’t’s which are definitely worth a look, even if you’re not planning on a trip there in the immediate future. They’re a bit of an eye opener, that’s for sure. I find it hard to believe but it’s 44 years since I was last in Dar. I do wish I could have all that time back. I arrived by ship, not by bike, so it doesn’t count really.