The third update in the Ghana trilogy and we see the bike making a comeback. The long awaited reappearance!
No more excuses for staying in Accra. Time to put the panniers on the bike and wheel the bike out the door. Start pedalling. Direction north (yes I know I eventually need to start heading south if I’m to ever reach Cape Town).
Aburi Botanical Gardens
To ease myself back into cycling I aimed for Aburi, a mere 40km from Accra. What I didn’t realise was that there was rather a steep hill. The result: 1. more time spent walking than cycling and 2. my legs hurt a lot. I visited the Aburi Botanical Gardens. It’s wide avenues and tropical plants made for a pleasant evening stroll before the bugs appeared.
I enquired about a room at the hotel there – ‘No rooms,’ was the answer. That seemed strange as I could see several keys hanging up on the wall against various room numbers. The place seemed deserted. ‘Oh. Are there really no rooms available?’ I ask again. Same answer. Not sure what to do now. ‘You mean to say that that all the rooms are occupied?’ – ‘No’. Hang on… ‘I don’t understand, are the rooms free or not?’ And then the morose lady at the desk explains. ‘Yes there are free rooms, but there is no running water.’ Right. So you hadn’t really been answering my question, I thought. ‘Could I have a room with a bucket of water perhaps?’ – ‘Of course, no problem.’ It’s all about asking the right question. And knowing the answer as well sometimes helps.
Red, Yellow, Green
Continuing north, the road from Aburi was Atimpoku was a joy to ride, gentle ups and breezy free-wheeling downs with expansive views of the rolling green Akwapim hills over my left shoulder. Small townships brighten the hillsides with their pink, cream and terracotta painted houses and dusty-rusty corrugated roofs. Passing through these sleepy towns you were hit with yet more bright colours – the shops lining the main road were brightly painted in red, yellow or green. The primary colours of Ghana’s national flag. The primary colours of the three major telecommunications companies in Ghana. Red for Vodafone, Yellow for MTN, Green for Zain. It seems the mobile phone industry is single-handedly keeping the paint manufacturers in business.
I had thought I was fed up with jollof rice and spaghetti and sauce. Apparently all that was needed however, was to burn some calories on the bike. As lunchtime approached, I began avidly searching out a fast food street stall – serious carb cravings. I devoured two bowlfuls of rice and spaghetti before the stall lady had popped the cap off my coke bottle. And it tasted delicious. I had been sat down at the roadside bench, facing the wall away from the road. Not much to look at. As I gulped the fizzy coke I heard a thunder of hooves on the road behind. How strange. I turned to see twenty young women rushing after a tro-tro, flip-flops pattering as they went, one hand on skirt and the other balancing the bowl on their head. Whoever got to the tro-tro window first would be the one to sell their fruit. Except soon enough another tro-tro appeared, and the race re-started while the winner of the last round was still getting her change. They never tired. And I’m guessing they do this day-in, day-out; dawn to dusk. If only my legs had that much energy.
Atimpoku lies on the Volta river, just a few kilometres downstream of the Akosombo dam. The dam, when completed in 1965 created the world’s largest artifical lake – Lake Volta. Huge expanses of land now underwater. Whole communities had to leave their homes.
The project cost £130million and was largely funded by international companies. The result being that only 20% of power generated by the dam goes to lighting up Ghana. The rest is generated for foreign owned companies. I didn’t go up to see the dam. Instead I crossed the river at Atimpoku via the more modest but beautiful suspension bridge. As beautiful as steel and concrete can be.
Youpi-Choco Hope and Fan-Yogo Delight
Next day, Ho. A short name, but a big town. Ho is the provincial capital of the Volta region. That doesn’t mean to say it’s worth visiting. There was one glimmer of interest here – Youpi Choco. These little tubes of spreadable chocolate were in abundance in Guinea, purchased in equally large volumes and eaten soon after. Since then they’ve been noticeable by their absence. You can imagine my surprise then when I spotted these chocolaty delights in a little shop in Ho, Ghana. But did I buy any? No. Not for want of trying. The little tubes were still in the original box of ninety. The reason – this shop owner would only sell the whole box. I only wanted one or two. Well, that’s a lie. More like ten. But I really couldn’t justify buying the whole box. Not for the added weight to the bike. Because I would have stayed up half the night, opening one by one each little sachet and squeezing the chocolate down my throat until they were all gone. Or more likely thrown up. Two weeks after the sighting and I still wishing I’d bought them and thrown up. It would have been worth it!
But now there is Fan-yogo. Not chocolate. But tasty frozen yoghurt. Simply perfect in this heat. So now the kilometres are broken up not just by coffee and coke breaks. Fan-yogo comes plastic-wrapped. Just bite off a corner and begin. It’s a bit like buying ice-cream from a van. Except here they come from a large ice-box on the front of a bicycle, wheeled or pedalled by a local lad in a blue smock. Easy to spot.
Hills to Togo
After Ho I took to the hills again. Still unfit from the lazy days in England, I once again resorted to hauling the bike along on foot. Sweat dripping down my face, neck, back, arms and legs. Leaving a trail along the road that any animal could easily track. Drenched from head to toe. Occasionally I’d wring the bottom of my shorts. Frankly, gross. Really gross.
Thankfully the following day, as I crossed the border into Togo it seemed as if my legs had finally remembered how to cycle. There were more uphills. But I managed these pedalling. Just keep the wheels turning. Low gear. Slowly, slowly. Until you reach the top, round the bend, change up through the gears. Soon enough you begin to feel the wind against your rosy cheeks, the sweat-drenched shirt cools as it sticks to your body. Then you can stop pedalling and look out at the endless panorama, a green blanket of the tropics spread over the valley. Until… Bump! And you hit a pothole. Better to watch the road….