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Consumption and Cycling and Geography and Photography07 Apr 2010 at 12:07 by Jean-Marc Liotier

One fellow mapper on complained that there was very few comments about the Amod AGL 3080 GPS logger from other OpenStreetMap users… So here is one.

I liked my trusty Sony GPS-CS1 GPS logger, but autonomy of barely more than a good riding day was too short for my taste and the one Hertz sampling rate was too low for satisfactory OpenStreetMap surveying by bicycle or roller-skate, though it was plenty for walking.

After sifting through various reviews and specification sheets, I declared the Amod AGL 3080 the true heir to the Sony GPS-CS1. And after a few months of use I am not disappointed.

AMOD AGL 3080 GPS logger

This solid little unit is simple to use : normal operation requires a single button. After mounting as USB mass storage with a standard mini-USB cable, a pass trough GPSbabel is all that is needed before the data is ready for consumption. There is also a handy second button for marking waypoints – I use it mostly to record points of interests. The AGL 3080’s SiRF Star III chipset provides satisfactory reception – subjectively much better than the GPS-CS1’s, and the storage capacity is more than you will need for anything up to a transcontinental ride. It uses three AAA batteries, which makes it practical for underway replenishment while making the use of rechargeables possible too. For a walkaround, PocketGPSWorld has a review with detailed pictures.

But what I appreciate most is the ability to configure the output NMEA sentences for the best compromise between autonomy and the richness of the of logged data. 6 logging modes can be by cycled through by pressing the “MARK” button for as much precision or as much battery life as you wish to adjust as you go :

Mode LED Status Output format Interval (seconds) Records Duration (hours)
1 “Memory
Full” on
GGA/GSA/RMC/VTG 1 260 000 72
2 “Memory Full” flash Only
1 1 040 000 288
3 “GPS” on GGA/GSA/RMC/VTG/GSV 5 260 000 360
4 “Battery Low” on Only
5 1 040 000 1440
5 “Battery Low” on GGA/GSA/RMC/VTG/GSV 10 260 000 720
6 “Battery Low” flash Only RMC 10 1 040 000 2880

The not so good is that the absence of rubber gasket on the battery compartment hints that this device is not waterproof. Like the Sony GPS-CS1 it has been through rain with no apparent problem, but pushing my luck too far will probably result in corrosion.

The ugly is that I have yet to find a way to strap the Amod AGL 3080 securely. It features a strap slot on only one side, making any balanced setup impossible. Supplied Velcro strap can connect it to a carabiner, but the resulting contraption dangles around wherever you attach it – I hate to have dangling things attached to my kit. The Sony GPS-CS1has a pouch that features a convenient Velcro strap to conveniently attach it to a any strap – I use it on top of my backpack’s shoulder straps or on top of my handlebar bag. The Amod AGL 3080 has nothing like that and I have yet to find a good way to mount it on my bicycle – for now, rubber-bands are the least worst option.

But for 70 Euros, it is a bargain if you need a cheap, simple and flexible GPS logger for photography, sports or cartography. Buy it – and then tell me if how you succeeded in mounting it on a bicycle or on a backpack !

Consumption and Cycling and Roller skating12 Oct 2009 at 0:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

As a preamble, let me declare that I am in no way affiliated with Princeton Tec and that I stand to gain or lose nothing by expressing my opinions about their products.

A year ago, I needed a light for both cycling and skating, powerful enough for seeing and being seen in urban traffic, and with the capability to rapidly switch between the two modes, which means helmet mounting. So I went searching the web. Among the most interesting finds was Bike Magazine’s December 2007’s test of eight LED trail lights – the Princeton Tec Switchback are HID not LED, but the tests were otherwise informative. I ended up with a shortlist of two candidates : the Niterider TriNewt and the Princeton Tec Switchback 3.

As MTBR’s light shootout illustrates, the Switchback 3 is far from being as powerful as the Nite Rider Trinewt, but it has twice the autonomy (six hours at full power) which is important because on a skating raid I want reliable lighting that can last the whole night. Its list price is 40% lower price and it features a blinking mode which I find useful for surviving the daily commute among zombie drivers with mobile phones. Considering the startled looks on people’s face when I ride across town, I’m guessing that the Switchback 3 is plenty powerful enough for that purpose – it even gets me well noticed in daytime, especially on blink mode.

But power is not everything. In addition to the power, the Switchback 3 has a well designed beam pattern with enough reach for moderately high speeds in the dark, and enough width close up for seeing what you are sticking your wheels into. The two outer beams provide the reach, and the diffused center beam provides the breadth. The regulated power supply ensures stable lighting power whatever the state of the lithium-ion battery (which charges in two hours). With battery, the Switchback 3 is 300 grams heavier than the Nite Rider Trinewt, but if I need to lose weight I’ll start with some body fat. In addition, the weight of the light itself is very low and the hefty remote battery can be stuck near the center of gravity, where its weight is not a concern.

The whole system is watertight – even the connectors are very well designed. During the year it endured heavy rains with no problem although one handed connection and disconnection is a bit difficult with wet gloves.

The lamp not only looks solid – it most definitely is very solid. Skating in a traffic jam, as I passed a stationary dump truck I ducked under its rear and forgot about the light topping my helmet, thus underestimating my height. The light smashed hard into the dump. While my head strapped to the helmet stopped my upper body, the rest continued and I fell down on my ass. The light took the full brunt of the shock of my skating 93 kilograms – backpack not included. That was enough to make it pop out of its otherwise sturdy quick-release tool-less helmet mount, but I was able to slide it back in right away and it is still as secure as before. There is now a dent in the frame, but the frame played its role right as the slightly recessed optics did not suffer the slightest. The system has been performing nominally ever since.

I love this light and I think that my security on the road has markedly improved since I have been wearing it. Here is another review from Crankfire and one from Metro Sucks – both go along the same lines.

My only gripe was that the extension cord was too short. For applications such as roller skating raids and even for exploring the catacombs of Paris (hint – mount it on the side of the helmet to avoid bumping into the low ceiling all the time) really for anytime a backpack is worn, the original extension cord is perfect for having the accumulator pack in the backpack and the lamp on the helmet.  But for strapping the battery on my bicycle frame while using the light on the helmet mount, it is far too short. Of course, mounting the lamp on the handlebars would not require an additional extension, but on top of the additional flexibility, helmet mounting allows me to point the beam towards the direction from which I want to attract attention – for cycling and skating, that provides appreciable extra security in dense urban traffic. So I went looking for an extension cord that is longer than the one supplied with the package, but did not find anything like that.

I asked Princeton Tec support for help and the extremly helpful Rob confirmed that instead of a longer cord I could chain two of the original ones. But I only had the one shipped with the lamp and searching for Princeton Tec Switchback extension cord only yielded pages of shops displaying the description of the accessories kit sold with the lamp. None of those seems to sell the cord itself.

I asked Rob again and his reaction utterly surprised me – he simply offered to ship me an additional extension cord… Free of any cost ! That is support above and beyond the call of duty. The Switchback’s price led me to expect good support, but I have often been disapointed by other companies pretending to care. That was not the case with Princeton Tec : those guys plainly turned a slight gripe into complete satisfaction – with a cord now long enough I have nothing left to complain about. Considering the cost of an extension cord, one could see their reaction as just good commercial sense – a happy and probably returning customer for a few dollars, but it is not everyday that I stumble upon a supplier with that sort of intelligence. It looks like I am not the only one to have had that sort of experience with them. Thank you Princeton Tec – next time I need a lamp for anything, you can be sure you’ll end up shortlisted at least !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana and Travels30 Aug 2009 at 21:31 by Jean-Marc Liotier

We start at nine after Pauline had the full English breakfast she insisted on – it is horribly late and the sun is already way up, but at least she won’t complain too much about the usual lack of lunch. While she was eating I had a chat with the gardener about cycling in Africa, and he ensured me that there is a new village and a new bridge on the way to Prince’s Town. As if I needed more contradictory information about today’s trip !

We head downtown along the old coastal road. That way there are less than five kilometres between Ankrobra Beach and the Axim fort. We stock up on water and juice, seven liters in total. I find a tailor’s roadside shop and asks him if he can fix my ripped pants, but he looks offended. Apparently some tailors feel above mending my disintegrating clothes.

To sum up the information gathered so far, consensus is that there is a river crossing mid-way, best case is that there is a bridge, worst case is that we have to ford bilharzia infested waters with not even a dugout in sight, median estimate is that a canoe crossing is possible. Anyway since the unknown obstacle is half way, even with no account of underway replenishment I will be able to return using onboard reserves alone provided I start with enough for the whole crossing.

On the way out of Axim, we ask for Prince’s Town. The people along the road advise us to ride up to Abora, but I soon understand that they are once again talking about the tro-tro way, not the direct one I’m looking for. In Africa, most people’s mental map is set by public transportation and forms a network of bus stops with no regard for physical geography. After some thoughts I realize that the same could be said for most people in Paris – they know metro stations but they have no idea about which way is less hilly of shorter by bicycle.

About one kilometer out of town is the turn-off to the Axim Beach hotel, and it is also the start of the road to Ajemra and Prince’s Town. A nice seamstress tries to dissuade us from this folly, but a local fellow cyclist mentions that it is perfectly doable including the canoe crossing. On that optimistic note, we set out toward the terra incognita.

The uphill parts of this backcountry road are almost the raw terrain profile. On one of them I have to resort to having Pauline dismount and push the rig along. But I was not the only one : a tro-tro going the same way as us had to let its passengers dismount and push uphill too !


By now you know my song about the heat, my 100 ml/km drinking habit and so on. On this stretch, I believe I regularly hit my cardiac ceiling – a sign that I should not be pushing that hard in that heat. Normally on long haul efforts I’m always limited by muscle exhaustion or lactic acid accumulation long before any sign of cardiac fatigue.

All that experience underlines how big the difference can be between dust piste and tarred road. Depending on their respective states, I believe there is an effort ratio of three to four between them. And with Pauline now exceeding 23 kilograms not including luggage and water, going uphill is no longer a trivial matter. In general, weight and hills are central consideration in bicycle tour planning – but this sort of experience is great incentive to give them even more consideration. Meanwhile, out efforts along that deserted stretch are rewarded with plenty of hornbills and other colourful birds that I did not recognize.


We talk to the guard of the Lou Moon lodge. He is much more precise than other people we spoke to. He explains to us that after a while before Ajeemra (halfway to Prince’s Town and therefore a handful of kilometres from where we were) the road ends. There are only footpaths beyond that, and a few stretches follow the sandy beach. I conclude that going further is not reasonable – at least not with what I am dragging along. So I head back six kilometres to the Axim-Agona road… We are going to push toward Agona, and at Abora wel’l make up our mind about whether we go down to Prince’s or push all the way to Takoradi to have more time in Elmina and Cape Coast.

Back on the tarred road, we take a leisurly pace – the going is easier but the heat is still there. We stop a couple of times to observe grasshoppers and butterflies. We also see a small green snake flee at our sight.

Riding on roads is easy and before we know it we arrive in Abora, at the fork to Prince’s Town. Takoradi is more than 40 kilometres away and Prince’s Town only 18. The dirt road is not all weather, but it looks freshly graded and this is not the rainy season. It is too inviting, especially after two failed attempts across other ways. I want to know what this now near-mythical place looks like, so I engage into the branching road.


Whereas the rest of the whole region looks like it is owned by Ghana Rubber Estates, the vegetation along the Prince’s Town road looks more interesting. We see a huge, maybe 150 cm long dark lizard with a white and red ringed tail cross the road twice before us. A sign notifies that we enter a globally significant biodiversity area, and we can believe it. I would love to come back there and walk around the landscape for more encounters with those interesting fauna and flora.

We see a couple of workers waiting on the roadside with a pile of isolator plates. They tell us that the thunderstorm two days ago damaged the only power line to Prince’s Town, but we might have electricity tonight as they ensure us that they are working hard to restore service.

Obviously it was all running too smoothly and some adventure was required. I had checked my rear tire pressure before entering the Prince’s Town road. I had added a few pumpfulls of air into it, but obviously not enough. So 160 kilograms of people, bikes and luggage hurtling downhill at 50 kilometres per hour on a rough patch of stones produced a perfectly formed classic snakebite like the ones that shredded my tubes back when as a kid I was enthusiastically brutalizing my mountain bikes with uses far in excess of their specifications. I broke open the carton of a replacement tube and discovered that the thick stem of the Presta valves mounted on my bike are slightly smaller than the Shrader valve of the new tube – yet another story that shows why going touring with hardware that you don’t yet know well enough is a bad idea. I’ll drill the rims wider when I’ll be back home : I like the big fat valve and its compatibility with the car infrastructure. But for now I carry three useless tubes. Good thing I also embarked a large load of puncture repair materials. So I take that opportunity to teach Pauline about the fine art of puncture repair, under the watchful eyes of locals eager to see how the obroni does it. Whatever you do in Africa, you always have an audience.

I like the road’s rural setting – low population density and lack of other tourists makes the world so much nicer. Arriving in Prince’s Town, someone hails us on the side of the road in a way different to the usual “obroni” calls. He reminds us about seeing him at Axim’s fort… He is none other than the fort’s caretaker and Prince’s Town is his hometown. He is happy that we visit his town too and confirms that there is accommodation available at the fort.


We end our 62 km ride as we enter a German fortified farm very far from Germany. The grey stones are much less colonial looking than the whitewash of other coastal forts. The inner yard is a well kept grass, with banana and papaya trees that betray the exotic location. Climbing the stairs to the perimeter walls reveals a stunning view over the whole bay, including the laguna and Cape Three Points, Ghana’s southernmost tip.


The fort’s population is a whole other lot of surprises. The fort’s caretaker has apparently made arrangements with a whole retinue of village touts, some of them cooking, washing or running errands for an overlander Land Rover full of Germans that arrived before us. Others were apparently friends of the Germans, others were the caretaker and his staff, and yet others had wholly unguessable roles – but the hanger-on are standard in an African setting, especially when tourists are around.


The line may be under repair, but the repair crew’s estimate was a bit on the optimistic side : power it is still cut tonight. Night has fallen and the only lights downtown are a few petrol lamps. We fill ourselves to the gills with a huge plate of rice and fish – a necessary thing, even though Pauline does no notice that is has been days since the last time we had lunch. We sit under even more stars than yesterday and only the faint halo of Axim of the horizon. For a tiny town like Axim to produce a halo, you can imagine how dark the surroundings are. On the ramparts, a dozen of us remain, European and Ghanaian. For washing myself, I lifted a bucket from the fort’s cistern, probably like the original occupants of the fort did four hundred years ago. Tonight we’ll sleep on a mattress on the ramparts, under our mosquito nets – the ocean wind is the best air conditioning. Apart from the plastic plates and the odd flashlight, we could as well be seventeenth century German soldiers right after the construction of the fort.


Some guy gives me a small tour of the fort. He insists that the prison could contain up to 7000 people… I roughly measure length and width, get an approximate surface of 72 square meters, posit that each of them can hold ten people as a theoretical maximum and come up with an estimate of 720 people as the most anyone could imagine stuffing in this place. Was his gross overshoot an honest mistake, or is someone having too much fun making the hapless black Americans cry ? For now, the only guests of the prison are a few tiny bats.

Artist-friend-musician-touts of all trades of course end the evening in a drumming session with the beer swilling German guys in the courtyard. Screw them ! I had escaped their ilk up to now, but in tourist spots all over Africa it is only a question of time before you have to confront them. I must confess having once shopped for jembe materials around Ouagadougou and gotten them assembled for me by local artists, and that was a fun experience. But generic pseudo-traditional cultural activities served in tourist locations are too much for me.

Meanwhile, Pauline is very happy : she has fun with whoever she can grab – usually the first African girl available, but anyone else will do. She is disturbed that I set up the lent mattress (a rather clean one for once), the sheet sacks and the mosquito nets outside – but she’ll get used to it. Waking up at night under the starry dome with fully adapted vision more than makes up for the rough setup !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana and Travels17 Jun 2009 at 21:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

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 !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana and Travels17 Jun 2009 at 2:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Takoradi and Busua, 25 February 2009.

First mission of the day is to ride downtown to replenish my provisions of cash. The withdrawal limits displayed on the screen are grossly inferior to what I can actually withdraw – 200 GHC seems to be the limit. While taking back my card from the ATM, I fumbled with two thick 200 Cedis worth wad of notes freshly spat out and I broke the card in two pieces. Ooops – not good. Mission creep hits us – we have barely started our day, and now on top of our program we have to find a way to withdraw cash for the rest of the trip. I already have enough for a week so I’m not overly stressed, and in an emergency you can always count on the expensive money transfer operators.

My first thought is to get in touch with my credit card company through a local bank. Staff at various banks bounce us from branch to branch and it increasingly looks like this is not the way to get in touch with my credit card company – the normal way seems to be to call them directly or go though the issuer bank. We ride eight kilometres around Takoradi and through the harbour until I find the main Barclays branch there. Barclays employees reassure me that cash can be issued given just my credit card number and my personal identification. That informative and efficient branch was just one kilometre away from the hotel, but of course it was probably the very last one in the whole town that we visited. At least I had a nice tour of Takoradi and its harbour, with highly exotic moments of being stuck in the trading chaos of Market Circle. We also caught a glimpse of a school marching band with a couple hundred pupils in uniform following suit – but I was too focused on my cash problem to take a picture. Next time I’ll redund my credit card – extra cash would be nice too, but I don’t want to risk carrying too much.

I was planning to start at seven thirty, but with the slight logistical complications it is ten thirty when we actually head out of town. Telling the story of such boring matters may appear mundane, but this sort of situation is what travelling is mostly made of, especially outside of the most developped countries. After paying the hotel bill and loading the pedal mule, we head due east to Busua and Dixcove. I miss my Takoradi friends already, but travelling is always like that too : meeting wonderful people in wonderful places, and then having to move on to discover the rest of the world. This is a story that I keep repeating, and the urge to move on always win over enjoying where I am. Anyway, the smiles and compliments of Lauricia at the Standard hotel nicely helped us get underway.


It is getting hot and a succession of small hills is sapping my energy. I can pedal fast forever on level ground, but the hills are considerably more tiring, especially with the sort of load I’m pulling. I have to make a good figure though because some people along the road have an even harder job : they are sitting in the sun next to heaps of rocks, using rudimentary hammers to break the rocks into coarse gravel. Is a rock breaking machine that expensive or are these people that cheap ? This is the sort of occasion when I want to take a picture, but then decide to leave the camera idle in the handlebard bag : I am not (yet ?) shameless enough to photograph distressed people so easily.

With the sun hitting us hard, I have to constantly remind Pauline to drink – she does no yet have the drinking reflex. Ten kilometres out, on top of Dixcove hill road we stop to pick drinks and biscuits. Because it is on a main road, the petrol station has a nice assortment of quality products. What passes for an orange juice in the dinky village shops would make the lyophilized drink in mountain rations taste like luxurious fresh nectar, and the nutritional value of the biscuits is usually close to zero, except as a source of glucose. At the petrol station, we turn left to take the road to Dixcove.

Along with stone breakers, the roadside has its usual assortment of biscuit and drinks micro shops, mechanical workshops, schools, brick makers and and incredible number of churches of all denominations : it seems that 20% of the GNP of Ghana is generated by religious activities. We also spot a yard with a line of large pots full of roasting unidentified beans with mounds of those beans all around the yard. I’ll later understand that these are palm nuts.

At a large crossroads with lights, we ask locals for directions and then turn right past the barracks of the 2nd infantry bataillon – we had inadvertantly taken quite a detour out of town. The road runs straight on undulating terrain for at least ten kilometres. What we did not know at the time is that it led us to Agona Junction – which is probably not the shortest way. Another road seems to exist, but Agona Junction is the tro-tro hub of the region, so as we’ll learn later, all roads lead there – or at least all driving directions ! Asking the locals for directions may sometimes help, but checking the compass is always necessary as a reality check. Sadly, it is only after forgetting that a second time the following day and suffering worse consequences that we understood the wisdom of that reflex.

I’m drinking like a crazed camel and I’m still pissing yellow and not often… Need I mention that it is hot and that I’m drenched in sweat ? Luckily, a rainstorm soon provides us with welcome refreshment – a mild one tough because the water is lukewarm.


On the way down to Busua, we ride along big lush palm plantations. But ever since we started, roadside plastic littering is just as prosperous as the vegetation. We keep gathering our own trash for disposal in trashcans. But from what I see, the collected trash is at best burned, and most of the time dumped in an apparently quite unregulated way.

The lush vegetation is everything but wild. There are plantations for bananas, plantain, cassava, palm, bamboo – the whole leafy landscape is in fact cultivated, leaving very few wild areas. But all these agricultural riches do not seem to lift the area economically – the high proportion of pisé mud houses does not indicate well distributed wealth. But whatever the economic success of the villages we cross, our minor celebrity status is intact – the superstar is Pauline on her trailer and I’m in a mere supportive role as Pauline’s father.


A fork in the road gives us a choice between Busua and Dixcove – we choose Busua based on the opinion of our friends in Takoradi. By the time we reach Busia, all semblance of humidity is a long forgotten memory and we are getting parched again, but the day’s pedalling comes to an end. The Lonely Planet gave Busua at 30 kilometers from Takoradi, but the distance measured by my bike’s computer today is 50 kilometers. That is more than a slight difference – I wonder which turn I missed. We rode the distance in 2H45 thanks to the excellent (if hilly) roads.


Busua is a small fishing village backed by a long beach. The touts that immediately chase us are proof that Busua is a tourist destination. We meet Nana, the manager of Zweite Heimat and drink fresh smoothies in front of the restaurant. The fruits are fresh pineapple and banana, but as usual in Ghana, the milk is the canned concentrated stuff which I’m not yet used to. But after such a ride I can swallow anything liquid that contains a source of glucose.


Nana offers us a room for six GHC. That sounds more like my prices. It is a bare room with a mattress, in his own two rooms house. Squat toilets are outside and there is no water nor electricity. But after days of splurging, this is a welcome change. We spent the evening and night for twenty GHC, food included ! The house lies on the flank of the small hill behind Busua. Pushing the loaded tandem uphill across the steep tilled fields was mercifully not too long, but the view from the top is worth it.


We then head towards the beach for a dip in the ocean. Pauline attempts to get local boys to play in the waves with her, not understanding that being unable to swim they won’t get far from the shore. She gets her sinuses whashed clean while being tossed about by the rip curls. Meanwhile I catch the big waves for body surfing runs. The beach is huge and very sparsely populated, sand and water are clean (not a given in Africa near a village), temperature is ideal, and the surrounding vegetation completes the picture. After the effort of the day, fun and refreshment in the waves feel great.


I walk around with the camera, but fishermen loudly refuse to be photographed unless money is paid – I pass. Later I manage to sneakily take a couple pictures – bad quality, but I enjoyed the transgression !


Nana’s restaurant is covered in graffiti from satisfied travellers – in several languages so it is difficult to fake and that is what finally convinced me of using his services. Nana cooked fufu and groudnut soup for us – not bad. While we eat, a guy walks by with a loudspeaker, broadcasting political propaganda in the streets. We meet Anne, a French woman quite experienced with Africa. We chat away the evening while downing beers, the way it ought to be in a real maquis. By the way, the local name for a maquis is a “spot”.


As in many small villages, toilets are a series of closets laid over a large septic tank were the users relieve themselves through a hole in the ground – with no lighting at night and paper only available if you bring your own. Pauline has a slight case of culture shock, but a few laughs with the local children makes help her see the place in a better light.


A few street lamps light some corners, but the village is mostly unlit. While we walk away from the village to Nana’s home, Nana hears one guy saying “this is the one who came with a bike” – and this somehow worries Nana who wont let us be alone at his home. I get the capsaïcine can out of the backpack I carry – if only to reassure Nana. Locked inside his house we should do fine come what may. Against an ambush or a sudden attack, reaction time make the spray wholly useless especially if the spray is in the bag – but out of the bag, with the edge of readiness, and in a locked house we have a credible defence against the most willy opportunistic thieve.

We climb back on the hill under the stars with my headlamp. The insects and frogs sing all around us. This sort of environment is a first for Pauline. The bed is unequivocally dirty – the only unknown is the number of generations who have slept on it with no washing; so we use the linen sacks we brought along for such gruby occasions. We still have salt and sand on our bodies, the room is stuffy, the linen sack is too short for me… I’ve slept in more comfortable places. I’ll put that on account of the cultural experience !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana04 Jun 2009 at 23:28 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Accra, 23 February 2009.

While I had breakfast, the manager was struggling to set up 802.11 Internet access, but I carefully omitted to mention I could probably fix that. Sometimes I manage to suppress my benevolent urges for voluntary technical support.

For me, the first order of the day is to go fetch a seat seat post for the bike. The trip starts at the auspicious 777 km mark on the odometer, but I take no account of that : superstition is bad luck.

The hotel boys believe that I might find spare parts in the Madina market, but having them explain how to get there is another matter. If you ask someone how far a place is, the first answer you’ll get is not a distance but the price of the tro-tro ride. So with the barest instructions I head out of East Legon toward the Madina market on my seatless bike while Pauline remains at the hotel using the staff as her playthings. The suburban roads are a mix of tarred and partially corrugated surfaces leading to a minaret dominating a market town on top of a small hill. With such a name, the place is of course Muslim. Interviewing locals about that, I learn that it is the largest coranic school in Ghana – quite a surprise considering that the south is mostly Christian.


Making my way haphazardly across the market, I find a car mechanic which, as I suspected, knows where his pedal tightening colleague is hiding. I cross the town in the other direction, turn near the post office and find Moses’ Cheap Shop. Moses has quite literally a heap of bikes and parts, and it does not take him long to unearth a properly sized seat post for me. And I even get to chose among dozen of seats to top it. And it cost me a grand total of ten Cedis ! I’m ecstatic to find my bike in complete working order again. I thank everyone, take a picture and head back toward East Legon at full blast, maybe a bit too fast considering how I slid ten meters a the bottom of a corrugated downhill, narrowly missing a turning tro-tro.

After that sobering moment I stop at a store for water and a tube of super glue to fix the on-board calculator’s support that got smashed during the flight in. The two girls sold that to me with smiles and giggles, plus while I was living one of then was singing a song about love descending unexpectedly. Along with smiles while underway, this is not the first time I get that sort of response – but the experienced traveller knows not to take the flattery too seriously. But more important, my bike is now is 100 % operational ! With the calculator now online, I can tell after riding home that Madina is 8 kilometers north-west of East Legon.

Back at the hotel I paid 150 Euros for two nights, drinks, dinners, breakfasts and airport pick-up for Pauline and me. I have never paid that much for two nights in my entire life, but the place was so nice that I would have done it again, if only because Pauline enjoyed herself so much there and I got excellent advice for what I had to get done.

It is one PM and we are now invited for lunch by the owner so it is two PM when we hit the road. On the way we ride past the presidential palace again. Snatching a few bad pictures under pressure from the guards who seemed slightly unhappy enough about it that we did not overstay our welcome.


On the way to the STC bus station downtown Accra, Pauline attracted huge interest from tro-tro drivers and street peddlers sometimes barely a few years older than her, who sell plantain chips to sunglasses, water, sweets and even chocolate tablets that miraculously resist the sweltering heat.

14 kilometers later we buy tickets at the STC state owned long distance bus station. This company is very well organized, with fixed price, booths with well kept books, uniformed personnel and due process for everything in sight – a relaxing experience compared to many means of transportation around the continent. 6.5 Cedis for me, 3 Cedis for the bikes, 2 Cedis tip for the bike handlers and Pauline travels for free. What a great deal ! That, the bike parts and today’s food make the the hotel price ludicrous in comparison. But in Africa, anything remotely related with tourism has nothing to do with local purchasing power.

On the bus ride out of Accra we went past the huge Kanechie market. Heavy traffic jams follow all the way after Dansoman, hinting the overgrown village that Accra is often said to be might outgrowing the local infrastructure. While I’m stuck in traffic dreaming about how fast I would overtake it all on my bike, here is how I write my travel diary. I take notes whenever I can, mostly on the E71. In the evening, I transfer my notes by Bluetooth to the NC10 where I rewrite them in a text editor. It is also in the evening that I usually perform the first elimination of unacceptable pictures on the 50D to lessen the burden of sorting when I get home.

Keyboard input lag on the E71 is mightily annoying. This problem has been solved twenty years ago in PC word processors that ran on CPU less powerful than this mighty PDA. Nokia may build fine phones, but the general purpose computing aspects of their products is a big disappointment.

With 7k Euros worth of equipment and a budget of 60 Euros a day for two, this is not shoestring travel. But most of the equipment is photography and IT, with the bikes being a distant third. And the budget is that high because with a kid around I have to ensure a level of comfort that I would certainly would not care for had I been alone or with weathered adults.

The STC bus is impressive : only four people in a row and it even features air conditioning that works – although it is used with way too much enthusiasm. The bus was scheduled for 4:40 and started ten minutes later, on time and not when it is full. This is nothing like the stereotypical African bus stuffed with sweaty people, assorted bags and bundles including smoked fish and live poultry with goats and extra people on the roof. I’m surprised that people travel with few luggage, but maybe those upmarket lines are too expensive for the small traders who are often encountered with heavy bundles. The STC matches any long distance coach service in Europe – this is a great surprise that I had never had in Africa before.

But what still African about this bus are the encounters. When I’m riding my bike, meeting people in buses is something I often miss, even though the bike is a great conversation starter for when I stop in villages. Today we met Arama, a 20 years old first year banking student in Accra who goes visiting her family in Takoradi for the holidays. She offered to help us find a quiet hotel, advising against the ones near the market whose idle boys might be hassling.

Arama took a taxi with Pauline and I pedaled like a madman behind to follow them to our destination. We ended up at Akroma Plaza, a clean and secure big anonymous hotel with Chinese furniture and Chinese toilet paper – Chinese ownership would not surprise me. The rooms look like they could be anywhere in the world, and they are quite comfortable. At 50 Cedis a night I’m still grossly over-budget, but arriving at ten PM in an unknown African city, I won’t complain too much about not finding the optimum. After we entered our room, Arama left to join her family. Tomorrow she’ll be our guide around Takoradi. And for tonight, Pauline and I still have our clothes to wash !

Africa and Cycling and Travels17 May 2009 at 18:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Accra, 22 February 2009.

We wake up to the sounds of religious chants from the Christian center next door. In Ghana, there are churches all over the place and they are packed every week… You can’t miss them ! Churches often feature live music, and while passing by I have several times seen people take the microphone to add their testimonies of spiritual enlightenment. Atheists such as me better swerve when religion comes as a discussion topic : every Ghanaian is a true believer and will lecture you given the opportunity.

We wake up lazily and enjoy an English breakfast on the hotel’s roof. The staff is very nice and we are the only guests in the six rooms hotel. By the way, I recommend this hotel heartily even though it exceeds any typical backpacking budget. Its official name is Golden Oyster Executive Hotel – In Ghanaian English, “executive” means anything that is sophisticated and commands premium pricing.

The sky is a gray ceiling with light rain falling, but it is already so hot that you don’t notice the rain drops falling among your own perspiration. I scan the 802.11 frequency bands but no networks are detected. Data roaming does not seem to be functional in Ghana – at least I won’t be tempted to spend my money !

“Papa, please close your eyes and open your mouth” – and next thing I know I’m chewing on fresh garlic… Pauline probably got that from the hotel’s kitchen and somehow decided I would be the guinea pig for that mystery food.

Next up, assembling the bikes minus one seat and stowing away the flight bags. I use one bike bag for each bike, and a big duffel bag to keep three of the panniers together for the flight. I keep the fourth pannier as a carry-on to protect the most fragile stuff. To pack the bikes, I only disassemble the handlebars, the seats, the trailer’s beam and the big bike’s front wheel – so that assembly is a quickly expedited affair. In theory I should have bothered with disassembling the pedals, but their width is actually not a problem. Removing the pannier racks would have hugely reduced the package’s length and facilitated transportation, but then disassembly and assembly would have been much a more involved business and I prefer to have the bike arrive in a configuration whose solidity I trust. As usual, the tandem bike is a sure-fire conversation starter with any passerby.

Before leaving the hotel I noted its address : East Legon, opposite the Christian center, near the A&C shopping mall. Yes, that is an actual address, as good as you’ll get in most African locations. We are then free to descend downtown Accra for some sightseeing. The hotel lies in a quiet leafy suburb near the airport. A very nice neighborhood even, as measured by how the villas are built and decorated, how vegetation is kept and the amount of security that surrounds them – though the street in the neighborhood are still beaten earth strips sided by ditches with partly broken covers. But there is construction going on in many streets so that might change.

A short walk away from the hotel we catch a tro-tro apparently heading in the general direction of the city center, but it drops us at Nkrumah Circle, a stinking muddy African minibus yard cum marketplace where finding our next tro-tro took some searching among the chaos and language difficulties – the quintessential African experience.

Badly covered drainage ditches, stagnant water with decomposing matter, dust and traffic produce the patented smell of Africa, although the Ghanaian version is very tame and only appears in the worse neighborhoods – in other places the public utilities seems to work rather well. Part of the reason for the relative cleanliness might be the omnipresence of public urinals which make rogue excretive exercises less frequent, although the drainage ditch does seem to double as a toilet – one more reason to watch your step for missing covers. But with dirt and filth often around them, many Africans make a point of being spotlessly clean – in Accra I even saw a several occurrences of a guy hand-washing the wheels of his vehicle with a sponge. And those were apparently not vehicles for sale.

Private schools advertise their results on billboards. With unreliable public services, Africans have no choice but to be entrepreneurs, and education is a market like any other. In Ghana there are establishments named “remedial schools” that are focused on supplementary teaching. It is the same as evening classes in Europe, but the advertising is surprising : instead of being focused on success, the unique selling proposition is invariably based on “not failing”.

It is Sunday so most of the shops in what on the map appeared as the historical center are closed. On the way to Jamestown, I start recording our positions so that I can geotag the pictures. the lack of activity, the derelict buildings and the odd abandoned one produce a strangely quiet atmosphere. Accra’s urban landscape is rather low and extensive, like an overgrown small town.


We came across a card playing competition with a big scoreboard and a couple dozen of animated tables – I snatched a couple pictures and nobody paid attention to us. Most people in Accra don’t care about photography anyway, and they sometimes even show off a bit.


Jamestown is supposed to be next to the historical center, but it is very derelict with obvious signs of poverty. But even in this sort of environment, there is not a sign of hassle, aside from a timid half hearted demand from time to time. One girl tried a pass at me – which earned me stern looks from the guys, and a boy tried to sell me fish – yeah I obviously need fresh fish. I felt very secure here, apart from the ship construction yard workers who don’t seem to like tourist intrusion. In any case, this is not cadeau country – this makes me feels much more relaxed.


The harbour, which is actually a beach protected by a breakwater, is a very interesting place with fishermen mending nets, boats coming and going, children playing in the water, equipment strewn all over the place, habitat in the middle of it all and as usual in Africa heaps of people milling around with mysterious purposes.


Behind the harbour, people live in narrow alleys where a few goats munch on plantain skins. The presence of goats is a clue that this is a poor neighborhood. Goats eat anything and no vegetation is left.

From what I gather from my feelings and talking with locals, apart from the odd petty thief the place is safe. In crowded neighborhood, the odd opportunistic petty thief is all you have to worry about – but I’m warned that deserted estates at night are a different story.


We pass by the childhood shack of a famous Ghanaian football player with a life-size portrait painted on the front. Not far, a flock of kids dances in front of a wall of loudspeakers – I did not want to intrude with the camera, but the scene looked like a ragga music video. The best pictures are the one you did not take…

The advertising plastered on walls mostly falls in the following categories :
– Politics
– Mobile telephony
– Religion
– Music
– Obituaries…


The obituaries are A4 or A3 posters, often in color and containing a picture of the recently departed along with biographical information. I had never noticed them before in other African countries.

A mobile telephony operator advertises free airtime in exchange for receiving inbound calls. I had never seen this marketing scheme anywhere else, but it makes a lot of sense to cash in on termination fees by encouraging prepaid users to ask for calls. The effect could be compounded by having network preferential rates for the postpaid users.


Kwame Nkrumah memorial park is a tidy place, apparently a favorite of wedding photographers with no less than four couples and their suite posing in the park. According to Wisdom <>, the only Ghanaian in the park who is not part of a wedding, few Ghanaians come here for any purpose other than the photo opportunity – although Nkrumah remains a big figure with no less than three political parties claiming to be their heir.


I don’t know what earned me all the smiles from the bridesmaids, and chatting chatting one up definitely crossed my mind but I tried to remain focused on purely touristic endeavours. I learned from the small exhibition near the mausoleum that after having been ousted in 1966, Nkrumah had been named co-president of the Republic of Guinea. A picture as early as 1960 shows them together. After all I’m not surprised, but it is the first time I see it mentioned.


A couple of roller skaters glide by, one quad and one inline. I had seen a couple in Dakar too, but roller skaters on the African streets are uncommon enough to be noticed. Accra even has enough properly tarred roads for fun skating rides, although the wild traffic might be too much for most riders to handle.


Short African minibus tutorial – lines exist but all minibuses are alike, with no sign displaying where they are going and the bus stops show no distinctive indication either. So you have to have to listen to the minibus monkey boy calling the destination as the minibus pulls by, and quickly decide if the line ending there passes by where you want to go. The locals have a general idea of what line goes where, but few people can read a map, notions of geography are ofter limited to uni-dimensional concepts and in some places people are not comfortable with reading, so communicating with a map is not going to get you anywhere. Just talk to whoever you find and you will end up finding someone you can communicate with effectively, who knows where you are going and who will point you to the right bus. So “East Legon, opposite the Christian centre, near the A&C shopping mall” might see like a strange address to Europeans, but it is really the best one for finding your way home.


On the way we passed by the brand new presidential palace, a shiny piece of modern architecture whose cost overruns are currently a matter of much debate in Ghanaian politics. Some government buildings such as the national theater are definitely worth a sight – interesting architectural trends express themselves there. The rest is the usual utilitarian lot of post-independence administrative buildings. In Takoradi I learned from Arama’s father that the National Theater was built by the Chinese, as a few other buildings in Accra and other places – such as Takoradi’s stadium for example. The presidential palace on the other hand was built by Indians.


Legon and Legon East are farther than they sound. Following the the Legon line we became temporarily unaware of our whereabouts. While Pauline was drinking and eating a coconut, darkness fell. At this latitudes, darkness falls very fast. We tried another direction and then ended up getting a taxi for the last leg. On the way we drove past a drugstore where I found Malarone for Pauline for 90 Cedis, slightly less expensive than in Paris. Street peddlers use a tin can and a wick as a makeshift oil lamp. I spotted a girl frying coconut – I have to try that !


The night is quiet as there are barely any mosquitoes in Accra, a nice break from the usual tropical fare. But in the bush out of the city I have been told to expect having to use lots of repellent. After fooling around in the hotel’s pool, we showered and washed our clothes while showering – the most efficient way to do it, trust my experience. We then headed out to grab dinner. As we chatted with Sharon, the nice lady who built and owns the hotel, I showed her the pictures we took today. She recognized Jamestown and told us that although she spent a few years in Europe, she is the queen of Jamestown. Named Sharon, she goes by the name of Queen Sha. She showed me pictures of events where she is carried on a ceremonial chair. She is the heir of a centuries old title previously held by her mother. We are hosted by royalty – nice !

Africa and Cycling and Travels11 May 2009 at 23:20 by Jean-Marc Liotier

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 !

Africa and Cycling and Ghana06 May 2009 at 14:50 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In the second half of February this year, I rode with Pauline in Ghana : in Accra, in the western coastal region and in the Cape Coast hinterland. As a prelude to the trip reports that shall soon be published here, we’ll start with the GPS track logs collected with my trusty Sony GPS-CS1, sliced and diced by GPSBabel and mashed up on Google Maps by GPSVisualizer.

Most of it is of no particular interest to people other than me, but if you are planning a trip there you might like some parts of our western coastal region track logs : the abandoned road between the Axim and the Axim Beach Hotel on the other side of the bay is nowhere to be found on any map I know, and our forays halfway to Prince’s Town, especially from Busua are bush rides that you probably won’t read much about anywhere else.

So here are our tracks :

  • Accra – back and forth between our hotel, the STC station, Madina market and a walk along the waterfront.
  • Western region – Takoradi, Busua, Dixcove, Axim, Prince’s Town, Agona Junction and quite a few dirt tracks in between.
  • Cape Coast hinterland – Elmina, Hans Cottage, Kakum National Park and Cape Coast itself.

These maps will soon come handy as support material for the trip reports.

Africa and Cycling and Economy13 May 2008 at 18:51 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Urban transport in Africa is chaotic and only getting worse by the year – degrading infrastructure, growing megalopolis and rising energy costs are not helping. I traveled in quite a few African countries and I had the dubious privilege of using public transportation such as the legendary minibuses which are a mandatory part of the African experience. At home in Paris, I mostly ride my bike. I always wonder why bike transportation is not more developed in Africa : it would be practical, sustainable and consistent with the local standard of living while extending business opportunities and access to goods and services – all while using few imported goods and mostly local workforce.

At first glance the bicycle seems ideal transportation for many in Africa cities: most are flat, trip distances are short and money for private motor vehicles and public transit systems is scarce. But generally bicycles are underutilized in Africa” writes David Mozer in “The Bicyclist’s Dilemma In African Cities”. He notes that “a survey of literature by Africa writers indicates that bicycles were a prominent mode of transport during the first half of the twentieth century. But for reasons that are not totally clear the bicycle and bicyclist don’t fare well in the contemporary Africa city. [..] Bicycles are used less in most African urban centers than in many European and North American cities. Africans show a substitution directly between walking and motor transport as income increases“.

The difference with Asia is striking. Ten years ago, at the UNCHS (Habitat) Regional Symposium on Urban Poverty in Asia, A. Rahman Paul Barter noted many differences between bicycle use in Asia and Africa : ” In most Asian cities, bicycles are within reach of many poor households and have been widely used for the last several decades (Replogle, 1992). In Asia, unlike most African and Latin American cities, bicycles are affordable even to many of those for whom public transport is not affordable (Godard, 1997; Howe and Dennis, 1993; Tiwari and Saraf, 1996)“.

The difference may have a lot to do with the presence of a deliberate industrial development policy geared towards the building of a sustainable local cycling manufacture and maintenance industry : the UNCHS paper goes on : “Several Asian countries have successfully pursued policies in the post -World War Two era which enabled a local bicycle manufacturing industry to flourish and for large numbers of affordable bicycles to be available on the local market. The main low-income examples is China but bicycle manufacturing is also significant in India and Pakistan, while earlier Japan and Taiwan also developed very large bicycle industries (Replogle, 1992). In China before 1979 bicycle ownership and production remained something of a privilege but with market reforms bicycle ownership rose steeply (Hook and Replogle, 1996). China has also long provided direct government and employer-based subsidies to workers for the purchase of bicycles (Replogle, 1992). India and China have also managed to become large exporters of bicycles. The lack of a significant domestic bicycle industry and high tariffs on imports in Bangladesh contributes to bicycles being beyond the reach of the poor in Dhaka (Gallagher, 1992). There are some examples of successful credit schemes for the purchase of non-motorised vehicles by low-income people in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (World Bank, 1996)“.

Why African governments have disregarded the opportunity to develop a home grown light industry consistent with local manpower, local competence, local needs and ressources is a nagging question, especially since such light industry can be the seeds of an economic biotope within which more sophisticated industries can develop in a grassroots fashion.

But practical obstacles and hostile individual attitudes toward cycling are also to blame, most of them catalogued in Rahman Paul Barter’s paper. I had the opportunity to interview locals about them. The objections related to security and afford ability are easily invalidated by the fact that in many African countries light motorcycles are overwhelmingly the popular way to provide individual transportation as soon as it is within economic reach, as anyone who has ridden among the hordes of mopeds can testify.

So what remains is prejudice against human powered vehicles in general and bicycles in particular as a serious mean of transportation. As I have heard from potential users in Africa, riding a bicycle is not recognized as a dignified mean of transportation. Physical exertion being shunned, the bicycle being seen as a child toy unworthy of an adult, cycling being incompatible with the socially accepted role of women… The objections I witnessed in Africa are strangely similar to the ones I hear in Paris. And apparently they are the same elsewhere in the world. A lot of communication work remains to be done everywhere in the world so that cycling becomes a serious choice for transportation. It is sad that even where it makes the most sense and delivers the most positive externalities, cycling still needs propaganda to convince transportation users.

Of course, cycling is not a universal solution. But it is a valid tool which is currently underrepresented in the transportation mix, especially in poor countries where in many situations where it is economically and practically optimal, it is neglected for irrational reasons. I hope that African entrepreneurs will see the opportunity along with micro-credit institutions and ambitious politicians who can foster awareness initiatives.