Accra, 21 February 2009.

As usual, packing was deferred to the last minute. Some attempts at anticipation are notable, but biking and outdoors are now so deeply embedded in my lifestyle that a sizable chunk of what I bring on tour is a part of my daily life that I cannot pack aside in advance. But I have the drill down pat – I made everything modular and activity based, so that I am confident that even in a hurry I am not forgetting anything I may want to have at hand underway. Apart from a couple of UK electricity mains adapters, I fetched what I needed from my cupboards and I did not have to buy anything – an amazing first. A few seasons of relentless acquisition quenched my requirements for hot and moderate weather touring equipment requirements, so I can nowadays be ready for an exotic deployment in less than an evening.

On top of disassembling the bikes, sorting and packing everything, I left the configuration of the sub-notebook for the last moment and took time on top to configure an USB flash memory as a backup – so I had just one hour of sleep, but the excitement kept me going nicely.

We had an uneventful flight, with breathtaking Saharan landscapes of dark rock and bright sand. Further south the clouds drowned all but the sunset largely compensated that with stunning colors. Claiming our luggage at Kotaka’s we had the disappointment to find the bike’s bag’s zip ripped apart. The bag was open and the seat which was traveling disassembled in a smaller bag had escaped from it. After inquiring to a few useless luggage claim employees, I concluded that prosecuting the case in Accra was hopeless. Filing a complaint to Air France – KLM on the way back in Paris is far more efficient. The smashed rear light on my bike and the abrasion marks on the trailer’s bike tell a story of gross mishandling, but all we have is another lesson in bike shipment hardening. I’m increasingly thinking about shipping the bike in a crate – I’ll think about that unless I find a bag more sturdy than that weak Go Sports bag that was not even cheap and lasted intact for a grand total of three flights.

So, as usual, the tour is therefore going to start with a wild spare part hunt – always a fun way to discover an African city. With a cycling culture supposedly well implanted in Ghana and plenty of riders, I’m guessing that we should have that problem solved in 24 to 48 hours. And what would a bicycle tour be without some exotic spare part problem ?

After almost 40 hours up with one hour of real sleep without Pauline interrupting, I was beginning to feel a bit winded. The Lonely Planet’s selection of places to sleep in Accra was depressing, and I foresaw that I was going to spend more than usual. For my first night in a country, I always spend more than average though : more than comfort, hotel prices are about service – and being disorientated and wary in an African country is not the time to skimp on service.

After lengthy pleas about my lost and broken pieces of luggage, I had lost so much time that the terminal was almost deserted. I managed to change a hundred Euros at the still open forex office and went on. A guy I chatted with on the plane had tried to wait for me to help me find a taxi – but I lost him because of my luggage issue keeping me behind. A security guard told me he had been waiting for me at the arrivals lounge, and he disappeared to search for him. While I waited and minded his recharging phone I noticed the still open albeit empty hotel reservation booth. With nothing to lose I decided to explore its offerings. Coming back empty handed, the security guy fetched the hotel reservations guy for me. I told him I was ready to spend about 90 Cedis (a slightly above low range rate for Accra), did not care about the location and wanted a friendly quiet place. He sent me to the Golden Oyster hotel, which I don’t regret. He called Ernest, the manager of the hotel, who came pick us up at the airport and helped me load the bikes on his pick-up truck, and we were off. By African standards, this is an incredible airport experience : I perceived no threat, no chaos, not even a hint of hassle, the officials were friendly – even with my problems it was all very relaxed. An airport is often the first experience about a country, and this one tells good things about Ghana.

So, in the span of an hour I had met half a dozen very nice people who helped me find my way around my problems. They were all very warm. It was a great surprised, but it is actually a typical Ghanaian experience : you meet an amazing number of friendly people and they are always up for a chat.

The hotel was hosting a wedding reception – actually a mass wedding with ten couples tying the knot at once. The party was taking place on the rooftop and we mingled among the guests, enjoying a meal and an African-sized beer (750 ml is the standard). Ghanaian hiplife dance music was rocking the place – I definitely have to listen to more of that at home (first keyword for surfing : “Praye”).

Pauline was excited to find plenty of fun guys and nice girls to play and dance with – as crazy as it might be, this is exactly what she had told me she expected from Africa. Meanwhile I ended up having a chat with the splendid lady who owns the place – an Anglo-Norwego-Ghanaian with an Austrian ex-husband.

Most unexpectedly, the party drew down around midnight – Ghanaian go to sleep at the time when the Congolese begin to go out. That is quite a surprise, but it fits my holiday rhythm perfectly and after two full days with a sleepless night in the middle I was probably not going to dance until morning anyway. So we shut ourselves in our comfortable room – the Golden Oyster hotel is lavishly furnished and not the sort of place where you normally find backpackers : it even has air conditioning in the rooms. To me, this is luxury and the place might even be fit to receive my parents, the golden standards of people you will never find hanging out in a backpacker’s joint. But for a good night of sleep, it will do very nicely !