This is the long awaited update of my last days in Ghana before I returned to England for a holiday and to get a new passport.
Hopefully you won’t have to wait so long for my take on Ghana part 2.
Road to Larabanga
Yet more corrugated roads. It is impossible to describe the effect that trying to cycle on corrugated dirt roads has on the body. Corrugations are not like ruts and potholes. These you can at least attempt to avoid. Cycle around. Corrugations span the entire width of of the track. Unavoidable. Inescapeable. I bounced and bumped and jolted and jumped my way to Larabanga. Slowly. Often I preferred to walk. It was a long day but I made it.
Larabanga lies at the entrance to Mole National Park – one of Ghana’s highlights. A must see. So the guidebook says. I was passing so I stopped. A chance to see some wildlife up-close-and-personal.
A morning walk with a ranger and not only do I see some tame warthog, monkeys and antelope, but three elephants playing in the lake and several little crocodiles. I think they were small – I could only see their eyes.
The following day I left Mole. Back to the bad roads. Once again I am covered in orange dust from passing tro-tros and taxis. I feel a sharp stone in my shoe. I ignore it, deciding to remove it when I next stop. Ouch. It’s really sharp. Think I’ll stop now. I put on the brakes, dismount, remove my shoe and bash it upside-down against my hand. Nothing. No rock. No sharp object. That’s strange. I shake harder. Eugh!!! No rock. But a huge, pale green spider falls to the floor and escapes as fast as it’s eight hairy legs will allow.
When will I learn? What will it take? I must always shake out my shoes before putting them on.
Before putting my shoe back on (having shaken it a few more times for good measure) I inspect my foot. My sock now has a hole in it, but the big toe appears whole. Well that’s something.
The cycle from Larabanga (post-spider removal) to Kumasi was not particularly noteworthy barring a few exceptions. I shall just summarise this part:
- A fun dirt road to Buipe.
- In Buipe, I met the son of the old chief of Larabanga. He had fled the village after his father had been killed in a challenge for the chieftancy. Now he was looking after a small shop to earn some money to send to his ‘exiled’ mother.
- Tired legs made hard work of the main road to Kumasi.
- The main road got busy with seemingly endless roadworks which meant bad roads and inhaling cement dust of hours on end. Unpleasant in an understatement.
- One night I camped by the roadside to be awoken in the early hours by a horrific crash. Next morning, I passed an overturned lorry with a smashed-up now bricked-up cabin. No hope for the driver. Sad story.
- I got rocks thrown at me. I threw insults and obscenities back. In hindsight, I think the guy was ‘mentally disabled’ (that’s the pc phrase isn’t it?). Didn’t stop me being pissed off though.
- Tired legs still making hard work of the main road to Kumasi.
- No energy. No coke. Anywhere. Instead I end up with a revolting Malta (that’s a Guinness brand non-alcohol malt drink), which I couldn’t stomach and palm wine, which surprisingly I could. Re-hydrating effect – Negative. Energy level – Unchanged.
A tired arrival in Kumasi – but only time for a day’s rest. I had booked a return flight to the UK and so had a deadline for getting to Accra. I hate deadlines. Best to avoid them. Second best is to ignore them. Last option is leave what needs doing to the last minute. Nothing like a bit of pressure to focus the mind. But cycling is mindless and no matter how much pressure I put on my legs, they just can’t go faster.
Nevertheless, I pack my bags and check-out of the hotel. But while eating lunch, it starts to rain. A lot. I don’t want to cycle to Accra on hideously busy roads, breathing diesel fumes and cement dust while dodging decrepit tro-tros. I especially don’t want to do this in the rain. Perhaps I could take the bus…
Conveniently, the bus station is just round from the hotel. There is a bus to Accra in the morning. It can take me and my bike. I check back in to the hotel and unpack by bags.
A Bus Saga
Next morning, I push my bike to the station two hours before the departure time. I buy my ticket, buy a ticket for my bike and confirm that my bike will fit on the bus. And wait. I have an argument with one lazy porter who demands money for putting my bike on the bus. He has spent all the time avoiding the incoming passengers so he doesn’t have to carry anything. Meanwhile the other porters, old enough to be his grand-father, jump at the chance to help. I ask why he doesn’t ask for money for all the local people’s luggage. He thinks me insolent. Except I doubt he knows this word. I think him lazy. Except I’m the one wanting to take a bus when I have a bike. I decide I will give the porter who puts my bike on the bus a tip. It won’t be the lazy one. That I know.
The bus arrives. It looks quite full of people already. The luggage compartments do too. The porters begin putting luggage on-board. The lazy porter is nowhere to be seen. My bike is ignored. These porters are amazing – it’s a geometrical conundrum fitting all the suitcases in such that all available space is used but no luggage is left out. Except my bike. Time to get involved. The security lady’s calls of not to forget the bike have gone ignored. ‘And my bike,’ I call out. Ignored too. I boldly approach one of the porters and point to my bike. ‘There’s no space’. Now even I can see there’s no space now – but the roof is empty and I haven’t looked inside the bus yet. I also know that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And in Africa, if there’s no will, money is an acceptable substitute.
‘Where are you going to put my bike?’ I ask. ‘No space. The bike stays. Now get on the bus.’ What a ridiculous concept – just leave my bike and luggage behind – as long as I get to Accra. I explain again that I have bought passage for my bike, that I am not leaving it behind and that I had been promised on multiple occasions that there would be space. ‘If you don’t want to leave the bike, then you must stay also’.
Perhaps cycling would have been the better option but still my legs are willing me find a way for me to get on the bus with my bike.
I speak to the baggage lady. By now she is crowded around the bus along with the driver, security people and numerous porters. All the other passengers are on the bus already, their luggage safely stowed. Just me and my bike. Nothing to do she says and hands me a refund for my ticket. There is another bus tomorrow. But how do I know there won’t be the same problem again. There won’t be she says. I say I have heard this already. And if I can’t get the bus then I will have run out of time to cycle instead.
I am tired. I am angry. I am being watched by a bus load of locals. I am being shouted at because I am holding up the bus. I want to cry. If only I had left on the bike yesterday I am thinking.
Fine. I go to collect my bike – get out there and think about what to do. I begin to walk away. A little tear runs down my cheek. Get me out of here quick. No tips for anyone. But not before I get a refund for the luggage ticket. I about turn and ask for my money back. Money received, I turn away and leave. I am embarrassed. I never cry.
‘Wait!’ I keep going. ‘Wait!’ shouts the baggage lady. I stop. ‘It’s OK, there is space on the bus.’
What!! By now I have several tears running down my cheeks and I’m sniffing a little too. The whole bus station is watching me. ‘There is space on the bus.’ I am told. Miraculous. I am incredulous.
The bus is like a little universe. Space expanding with time. Something from nothing.
If I can take off the wheels, the bike will fit I am told. I had suggested this several times already to no avail. But as the baggage lady’s idea, it is possible. No longer an idea. A reality.
I am furious now. I hate creating a scene and they don’t come much bigger than this. Except I didn’t create this one. It unfolded around me at centre-stage. An unwilling actor in this saga. A tragic-comedy.
In a flash, the wheels are removed and all components and bags put inside the bus. There is still plenty of space. I keep quiet though and am shepherded on-board also and try to find a seat. There are several spare seats also.
This is not like taking a bus in most other West African countries. Here it is one person to one seat. Not two to every one and then the aisle filled to bursting. Arse to crotch. Barely space to breathe. Not that you’d want to when the air is filled with the acrid stench of who knows how many unwashed bodies. On this bus, I breathe in the cool conditioned air. Deep breaths. Calm is returning. The bus is already out of the station before I can wipe the dried tears from my face.
The simple life returns. The last couple of days in Accra are lovely. Staying with new-found friends. And then back to England. Mixed feelings about returning home. But I’ll be back on African soil soon enough. I need a rest anyway.