Busua, Dixcove… Axim, 26 February 2009.

Roosters calling from three in the morning onwards are not something I’m used to. But who does not enjoy some background music when nature calls repeatedly ? Nana’s food was obviously not the freshest thing and my lower digestive tract is paying the price – for the immense benefit of the local flora !

Nana had a rough night too, but not for the same reasons. He comes to confide in me about his problems with his wife : he is investing whatever he can into adding a couple of rooms and toilets next to his house for his tourism business, but she wants the money right now. In the morning I notice him on the doorstep pouring a libation of schnapps and murmuring prayers – looks like the spectrum of religions in Ghana is even wider than what I saw so far. Let’s hope that the spirit will do something about his wife – if they do I might buy some schnapps too !

Pauline adapts well to the lack of amenities – the presence of kittens soon makes her forget those logistical matters completely. We share our breakfast biscuits with Nana’s children. My packs are made, I put the bike outside, it is quarter past seven and we are ready to roll. I think I am, going to try to make it to Prince’s Town today in spite of the warnings about the road. But I’ll try to gather more intelligence on the way out of Busua before I take any decision.

Many locals do not know of any direct road to Prince’s Town : their mental map is the tro-tro line all the way to the main road. But we are in luck : Nana says he once rode the stretch with a couple of Germans. He says it is a bad earthen road, but with none of the sand or corrugations that I have learnt to loathe. So I’m going for it.

At small shop at the entrance of Busua, we load six litres of water : enough for the day with a security margin. Nana guides us to the west end of the village, where a metal bridge marks the beginning of our track. With encouragements from the ubiquitous pack of kids, we set out on our way. The track is packed lateritic earth, and it rolls reasonably well. The sun is fast dissipating the morning mist and we are heating up.

We pass Dixcove, a big fishing village with a cute white fort. It is less touristy than Busua so the people are nicer and we salute everyone in sight. The whole place is very colourful – with the yellow clad schoolchildren adding to the decorated boats moored in the harbour. The small fort, the excellent natural harbour and the buildings suggest a colonial past, but any hint of historical turmoil has long since yielded to the quiet life of rural Ghana.

The climbs on the piste are taking me to the limit – the weight of the extra water is clearly felt. The lack of speed robs me of the advantage of relative wind for cooling by evaporation. And to top it all, yesterday’s beers, pepper and the food whose hygiene I did not trust are combining to produce effects that surpass what I experienced during the night. I could feel better…


The track is very quiet – two taxis passed in the first couple of hours. There is the odd peasant and a few tiny villages. But we don’t get the full story : the track is a corridor in the bush and our view is bounded by the roadsides. Among all the bird cries, we sometimes hear faint voices or hacking sounds : we are not really alone. Flight of hornbills pass us – hornbills are among my favorite birds. We see plenty of other tiny birds I can’t identify, butterflies and colorful insects.

Some peasants are slashing and burning fields for planting cassava – primitive agriculture at it finest whose result can be seen on a few hills where the soil is gone entirely. Primitive as an agricultural practice it may be, but as a full-body workout it is a different matter entirely : tight sculptured muscles to make any body builder jealous – maybe there is a nascent fitness fad being born there… But don’t be too jealous : their working conditions in the sun are probably not worth the ribbed abs.

After the hills the track plunges down to the sea and runs along the magnificent beach. After one hour and a half and 13 kilometres, I am beginning to feel slightly exhausted and decide to stop more often.

At 15 kilometres the road ends in a small fishing village on the mouth of a mangrove estuary.

That village is near Achenim. Villagers tell us about a foot bridge on the other side of the village, so we cross it through a maze of tiny alleys among pisé houses, surprising the villagers who mill about to their daily occupations. After the foot bridge we follow the river upstream for a couple hundred meter and push the bike up the very steep path up the other side. Out of breath we finished the mercifully short climb in the middle of a school yard with a hundred kids swarming us instantly – yeah, we are minor celebrities !

On the road out of the village, I finally understand the purpose of all the torii on the side of the road, under which bunches of palm nuts are laid. They are support for the scales used for weighting the fruits before loading them. One more mystery solved !

We don’t see the ocean anymore, but I will never notice that seemingly obvious problem. The damn Selle Italia seat is savaging my ass and Nana’s food is not helping either – the two combine to compound the fatigue of the ride. At that point of the journey, my judgement was probably already seriously affected.

We cross the huge hevea plantation of Ghana Rubber. Is seems that some of the plots are rotated with leguminous plants. In that area, we gain the company of Gillian, a 14 years old boy on a BMX. He keeps up with us, but that is not saying much considering our sorry physical state. As you may notice, there are no photo of this part of the journey – a clue that we are not quite comfortable with our going.

Gillian lost both his parents and works for food at the plantation. Gillian and passing villagers insist that we passed Cape Three Points long ago. I’m amazed that we saw nothing – having passed Cape Three Point would mean that it lies between the, 20th and the 25th kilometre of the ride – which makes no sense on the map. The explanations are confused, but the only thing I understand plainly is that we are on the road to Axim. This sounds crazy and makes the map look grossly out of scale, but I decide to take the local’s opinion for granted. So I begin to believe I may even end up in Axim at the end of a very long day.

Clouds gather increasingly thick, shielding us from the sun and promising a nice shower before the evening. On top of that the road improves progressively, sand has long disappeared and corrugations are less frequent. Morale improves accordingly. And then reality strikes, in the form of a tarred road – there is not supposed to be any tarred road anywhere between Dixcove and Axim. Worse, there is a partially legible road sign indicating Dixcove. A couple of people waiting for a tro-tro explain to us that this is the road between Dixcove and Agona Junction. I’m dumbstruck. I flip open my compass and immediately realize that we have been going east for at least fifteen kilometres out of thirty two. How can I have been so daft ?

Listen to the locals, but then trust your compass. From what I understood from our conversations, I was somewhere between Cape Three Points and Axim. But that was not the case. We came back straight where we came from, finishing a nice 32 kilometers loop. I had been driving back east for a while – the peasants telling me I passed Cape Three Point which I did not see should have been a hint. But meanwhile, the clouds had blocked the sun, robbing me of that obvious reference. I had the compass in the handlebar pouch, but the pains broke my concentration and I stupidly went with the flow. The direct consequence of that story is that I’ll soon mount a handlebar compass so that it is always under my eyes to keep me from doing such gross mistakes. For now you can see our GPS track log graphically depicting my mistake – see how I headed north from Achenim instead of following along the coast.

With morale low, fatigue and more digestive problems forcing me to contribute generously to more roadside fertility improvement projects, the road to Agona was not particularly enjoyable. I was especially disappointed as I realized that I had already visited that place the day before – which explains the twenty kilometres difference between my actual distance and the Lonely Planet’s estimate. So that is two grievous navigation errors in two days – I have room for improvement.

Pauline had enough, and going anywhere would have meant at least 35 extra km, which would be extreme for both of us. So we negociated the transportation of our tandem, disassembled the trailer and the luggage, and jumped in the waiting bus to Axim, just in time while the big thunderstorm to broke out – perfect timing !

The bus dropped us in Axim. As I was rigging the panniers on the debused bike, I realized that to reach my chosen dwelling for the night I still had a sizeable ride ahead of me. Five kilometres back to the fork between the Axim and the Elubo road, and then five more on the Elubo road. Five kilometres before arriving, a new thunderstorm broke out, drenching us in a shower so intense that I had to switch on my lights in fear of not being visible to the cars. I was not sure if I was on the right track, but at that stage I was on so sick and tired that I was not going to stop for anything. I was relieved to spot a big signpost marking the entrance of the dirt road to Ankrobra Beach and I found the entrance checkpoint is a few hundred meters down. That is the end of a day of only 53 kilometres – but the number does not tell the whole story…

After checking in quickly, I started by having the shower I had dreamt about since yesterday morning. We then went playing in the waves, but salt on my private parts irritated by the bad saddle spoiled my fun.

At the hotel as in any self respecting African restaurant, there is what is written on the menu, and then there is what is actually available – the best method is to forget that the menu ever existed and start directly by asking what is available. I discovered red-red, a dish of fried plantain served with a tomatoes, beans and chicken sauce. Everything about it was perfect. I’ll make some in Paris !

We met the German lady who recently took over the management of the Ankrobra. She seems to have things firmly in hand, and this marvellous place will probably get even better.

On the way to our room we meet the camp’s security guard, a cheerfully middle-aged chap in khakis who sneaked up on us among the palm trees to have a chat, claiming to be a former Ghanaian UN peacekeeper with experience in Liberia, Cambodia, and the DRC. It is good to see a motivated guy like him patrolling the area – but to be frank I’m so tired that I would sleep with or without it !