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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 Ghana and Travels23 Aug 2009 at 18:43 by Jean-Marc Liotier

We start the morning lazily and I’m sitting on a bench in front of the bungalow, writing our diary while Pauline wanders around. Twelve hours of sleep did wonders except that the last stages of my digestive process are still very disruptive to say the least. So it is a good thing that we have this day in this benign home to give my body time to mend itself, with a good helping of loperamides…

We set out to walk to Axim along the beach. There is also a very derelict coastal road connecting Axim to Ankrobra Beach – this one would have saved us many kilometers yesterday, but neither guide nor map mentions it. Walking this road from Ankrobra Beach to Axim took us one hours and forty minutes. A broken bridge in the middle, with only a single file span remaining makes it impassable to vehicles with more than two wheels.

We have the entire beach for ourselves. Pauline collects sea shells, and since I will carry only one for her she ends up with an armful of them, waiting for me to buy something so that she gets a plastic bag.

As we near Axim there are a few fishermen and women gathering wood. Nearer to the town we exit the beach to follow a crumbling road – a good idea since the whole section of beach up to the town is a big latrine that stinks the whole way. In general, beaches near towns are far removed from being anything like postcard tropical paradises.

Once more I have to force Pauline to drink. On top of not noticing she dehydrates, she avoids drinking for fear of having to go without a European toilet seat. Pauline likes Ghana, but she has a few topics of regular complaint. By reverse order of importance :

  • Squat toilets with newspaper. Actually she ended up liking the squat toilets, but newspapers remain a beyond her tolerance.
  • Languages she does not understand. Pauline is dissappointed that speaking French very loud does not help non-French speaking people understand French any better.
  • Red pepper in food, even in the bolognaise sauce.
  • Having to wash her clothes herself – though this summer I noticed that she has taken my habit of showering with my clothes on to wash them while I’m under she shower.
  • People littering, which she sermons every time… Good thing they don’t understand what she is saying.

Mzungu, oyinbo, farenji, foté, toubab… I have one more name to add to my collection : obroni. This is how the kids in this region call me. This calls for another variation of the “my name is not Mzungu” t-shirt.

Like all other coastal towns in Ghana, Axim is geared toward fishing and agriculture, with a sprinkle of tourism. But there is not much tourism : according to its guestbook, the Axim fort had in average one visitor a day during fall season, one in January, and three in February – including us. The visit costs one Cedi per person and one Cedi for the camera. So this month, the guide and his apprentice worked for less than five Cedis. Good thing they have a commanding view of the local soccer pitch for distraction.

The fort is a well preserved piece of 15th century architecture, apparently undergoing some inner renovation – new floors and mounds of wood chips attest of that ongoing effort. The views over the bay is nice.

The apprentice tells us about an undersea tunnel leading to the lighthouse island a kilometer offshore, where he says the slaves were loaded abord the ships – but that seems too incredible to me and I believe that this tunnel is only fantasy. Sixteenth century quality of life for the troops manning the fort looks quite rough – only the commander has decent living quarters, but not that much better than aboard a large ship.

The tiny slaves cells are of course impressive and you can imagine the horribly squalid living conditions there. But most impressive is the location of the dining room right above the cells :dinners and prisonner slaves could hear each other easily. The vultures circling above the fort are a perfect addition to the theme.

After resting in the shade at the fort away from the crowds, we go downtown to gather intelligence about the road to Prince’s Town. A policeman dissuades us, explaining about the danger of criminals on a very isolated road – the danger exists, but officialdom always give the worst case out of precaution. A group of young men playing cards explain that the road is cut by several rivers and that for lack of bridge they must be forded. I’m not geared for fording, especially not in bilharzia contaminated areas.

Crossing a hamlet on the outskirts of Axim, we stumble upon one of the hotel’s employees. He explains us that the road is quite doable, but that there is one large river that can be crossed using a pirogue ferry service. At the hotel in the evening, the manager’s husband tells us that the dirt roads are impassable in times of rain – but that is not a probelm in this season. So all in all I’m beginning to think that I’ll give Prince’s town a second try, this time from the west.

Along the beach I notice that the sand is peppered with crab holes – I saw a few crabs in the open them, but most of them seem to remain hidden. There are no marine birds in the places we visited – absolutely none of them, which is very surprising in fishing towns. The big birds are nothing to write home about : a few egrets in the wetlands and vultures wherever there is human trash. The mangrove nearby may have more diversity, but we’ll probably not have time for it this year – too bad because I like the mangroves very much.

Halfway between Axim and the Ankrobra Beach hotel lies the empty shell of a building half eaten by vegetation. On a wall I recognize the logos of scuba diving gear brands. The husband of the Ankrobra Beach hotel manager tells me that between 1995 and 2002 a French and an Australian operated a diving center there. There is a shipwreck west of the bay and also a few interesting cliffs. But their main business was lobster farming : they pulled 800 to 1000 kilograms of lobsters out of the sea every day. They had cages at different spots along the coast and their truck collected them. This was a great business, but the owners spoiled it : they dodged taxes and the French guy spent way too much money on local girls. So in 2002 they tanked and the French guy ended down in prison. The coastal ecology still provides great business opportunities though – in the estuary mangrove west of Axim, a spanish guy makes a tidy profit breeding baby eels and shipping them to Scandinavia where they are farmed.

Near the coast, most plots of land have headless palm trees. They were a complete mystery to me until I got my answer from the German managers : it is caused by a virus and all the palm trees will die. This will completely change the face of this place. The same thing happened in Mexico and Guatemala in 1989 .

We have the same dinner as yesterday as the kitchen’s has apparently not restocked since then. The cook may make excellent red-red and nice pancakes, but unripe bananas don’t go very well with the pancakes, especially with no topping. We go to bed after washing clothes and other general camping chores. Tonight we’ll sleep early again – tomorrow is a big and challenging day.

I end up discussing investment opportunities in Africa with the husband of the manager. He explains that Ghana has low levels of corruption and a serious administration that seriously enforces fiscal laws. He believes that Ghana provides a firm ground for any serious venture. From the mouth of an upright German, this is no faint praise.

Evening in a safe place with reliable electricity is the occasion for sorting notes and photographs. All my pictures are left on the Compact Flash cards and backed up on the notebook – and the whole thing is backed up to a large flash USB dongle which I keep under my clothes to prevent theft. Though non-zero, the likelyhood of losing it all is as low as possible.

I went back out during the night for a stroll in darkness among the dying palm trees. I enjoy the starry skies of locations unencumbered by light pollution. But what I came out for was on the beach : the hidden crabs were out in force. Dozens of them reflected in my grazing light. Some zipped straight to the water, others froze dazzled by the light. One more mystery had been solved : those crabs are a nocturnal specie.

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 Ghana and Travels05 Jun 2009 at 21:25 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Takoradi, 24 February 2009.

While we wait for Arama who is one hour late to our meeting, I set our plans for the rest of the trip : considering the large distances involved and the constraints of human powered mobility, we’ll give the national parks a miss after all and focus on the coastal region between Takoradi and Axim. Back in Takoradi, we’ll then ride to Elmina and Cape Coast, before taking a bus back to Accra. I’ll definitely have to come back to Ghana !


In the morning from the hotel room’s windows I see hordes of school children in uniform walk up the street while packs of military-looking men run by, chanting and stepping at the exact same cadence. About a thousand children gather around a soccer field nearby, cheering their comrades on the field. So far, soccer seems to be the undisputedly dominant sport in Ghana – wherever you go there is always a game going on somewhere, either kids on the streets, adults in a courtyard, a big team in the stadium or Manchester United on TV. It is school holidays in Ghana, and Arama tells me that the kids on the soccer field are part of a week-long sporting event. All the little girls have their hair cut short – if a girl has her hair cut very short, it most likely is because she is still attending school.

As usual in Ghana, it never takes long before religion emerges in the conversation. Arama and her family are Mormon, a minority religion in Ghana – but with a power quite beyond its size. I ask Arama if she has completed her mission, but she says that it will have to wait until she has completed her studies and civil service in Ghana. By the way, Ghanean missionaries only travel to Africa as too many of them have taken advantage of missions in Europe and North America to never return – and some even joined the church for precisely that purpose.


We walk to Arama’s home in central Accra – her family owns a four level building and occupies one of the apartments on the lower level, on a little courtyard away from the street. Doors are open during the day and there is a Mediterranean feel about that quiet place. Arama comments her family pictures, and we soon meet her father – a former banker who has also been the voluntary manager of the Mormon employment resources centre in Takoradi for three years.

I chat about the local economy with Arama’s father. Takoradi used to be a major timber export harbour, but there are no trees left outside of the national parks – so the timber exportation infrastructure has long been idle. Nowadays the local resources are essentially manganese and bauxite, with a few factories for the transformation of agricultural products such as cocoa. Manufactured goods are mostly imported from Dubai and China – that explain the Chinese furniture and bathroom equipment at the Akroma Plaza hotel. Takoradi is about as close to Abidjan as it is to Accra. According to Arama, people go to Accra for foodstuffs, but Abidjan is a popular destination for consumer goods.

The major change in Takoradi for the coming years is the discovery of oil near Axim and Cape Three Points. Takoradi’s harbour is going to be the logistical base for the offshore operations. Extraction has not yet begun, but significant reserves have been confirmed. The locals expect a small oil boom and everybody wonders if the Government will ensure equitable allocation of the new resources.

Tithes are still a practical reality of the Mormon church. Funds are sent back to Salt Lake City where they are centrally managed and allocated to local churches who make their demands at the beginning of every year for specific projects and operating expenses. This concentration of financial resources under central command makes the church quite powerful.

While I was chatting with her father, Arama disappeared with Pauline, and later came back with a takeaway dish of chicken and rice. But as everyday in Ghana, spices are a problem for Pauline who is not yet pepper hardened. It seems that every sauce here contains some… I really like this place !


We head down to the beach with Arama. She warns me not to go swimming. Because of the waves and strong currents ? No, because it is Tuesday, and swimming on Tuesday is bad luck. Even the fishermen don’t go out to sea on Tuesday.

While Arama goes in town for an errand, I walk with Pauline along the beaches and observe marine life. Among the small animals in the tidal ponds we even find coral. The wind is no match for the scorching sun and we are close to overheating. Tomorrow we’ll start at dawn to avoid that heat.


Arama rejoined us, and on the way back we enjoyed a stroll among the quiet and leafy villas in the most expensive parts of Takoradi – mostly inhabited by foreigners. Ghanaians who build nice villas seldom live in them : they prefer to rent them and stay in a more modest dwelling.

We switched hotels and found the Standard hotel, an almost as nice and secure hotel as the Akroma for 50 GHC instead of 70 GHC. While Arama goes in town with Pauline, I displace the bikes and bags from one hotel to the other and the join them at Arama’s family home. I come across Arama’s father on the way, instantly recognizable in his Mormon attire. At my destination I am introduced to Arama’s mother, her elder sisters Akua and Yaa Serwaah, and their young brother. Like innumerable Ghanaians, Akua spent a few years in London – but she is tired of it and says she is back home for good and hopeful of landing a decent education job in Takoradi to avoid busy Accra.


On top of english, the girls speak both fanti and twi. Twi is their mother’s language, and fanti is the regional language. And they can utter a few words in French. As often in Africa, impressive multilingualism is considered normal.

A South African channel is playing on TV and we chat cheerfully while their one and a hald years old nephew violently defends his territory against the nonplussed five years old Pauline. While Pauline has a plate of fried plantains just for her, I am served boiled yam with palava sauce. Palava is a leave sauce with white beans taking the place of the ndolé’s fresh groundnut. I am very fond of leave sauces and I feel in heaven while I enjoy such great cooking with such a great family around. To top it we then have pineapple – picked ripe, not artificially matured like what passes for fresh fruit in Europe.


I have confirmation from the girls that the Ghanaian chocolate sold on the streets does not melt, even under the Ghanaian sun. Looking at the package it contains milk, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa butter, lecithin, vanilin – with 35% cocoa minimum and 15% milk minimum. Does that leave almost 50% sugar ? Anyway it tastes better than many industrial chocolate I know, and the texture is very nice compared to anything other chocolate-like material in the African heat.

After we salute everyone and leave the poor nephew crying for Pauline who is now his best friend, Arama and Yaa Serwaah walk us back to our hotel under a canopy of stars to the beat of birds and insects in the ideal temperature of a slightly breezy African night. I am really really going to miss Takoradi.

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 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.