Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eat, Drink, Pedal 2

For the last few blog posts I've written about my early-November (time flies!) bike ride from Accra to the Lake Volta region about 60 miles north of the Ghanaian capital.  Here is the fourth, and final, post about this journey.

Recently I wrote about my cousin Glen teaching me - on a three month bicycle ride across the US in 2002 - not only to pedal hard, but also to take care of myself while riding.  He taught me well, and most of the time I follow his wise advice.

But, we wouldn't be human if we didn't want to do things our own way - and forget our lessons - now and again.

My three-day bike trip to Lake Volta and the Akosombo Dam was coming to an end.  I had pedaled hard for a day to get there, explored the area another day, and now only the 100 kilometer (60 mile) ride back home to Accra remained.

I slipped out of the Afrikiko Resort early, just after sunrise, hoping to beat the day's heat.  Though my muscles ached from two days of riding, it felt good to get back on the bike.  That reminded me of Glen: he'd always find joy in 'saddling up,' bad weather or sore body be darned.

As I hit the road thinking about Glen... I realized that I was completely disregarding everything he had taught me.  I was setting out into an equatorial day with no sunglasses (broken), no breakfast (cook wasn't up yet), and only a few drops of liquid in my water bottles.

How daft!  You're supposed to eat and drink, then pedal.  But I knew that, though Glen is gone now, Ghana would provide.

I definitely needed some water.  Get dehydrated in this land, where the sun is darn near straight overhead, and you're toast.  So, in the nearby town of Atimpoku, I pulled over at a small watering hole.  The owner took awhile to acknowledge me, and he looked quite sullen at my request for water.  But suddenly he was running over to the shop next door to find me a bottle, since he was all out.

Water, check.

At the road-side 'bars' where I stop for water and a cold drink,
there's often chickens underfoot...

Eggs always appeal for breakfast, and in Ghana it's normal to find egg sandwiches as street food.  So, in the next town, Kpong, I stopped for one.  I sat on a low wooden bench in the dirt at the side of the road while a woman fried up some egg on 'tea bread' for me from her tiny open-air stand.

Here's the tasty result.

Breakfast, check.

Sunglasses were harder.  Here, they are not sold in shops.  Instead, you've got to find an itinerant salesman.  You'll see him sitting under a tree, or walking around a market, carrying a foam block with dozens of glasses stuck into it.  I guess these guys like to sleep in, though, because my sun-dazzled eyes just could not find one of those bright yellow foam blocks.

After asking around, I finally ran into a sunglass-guy at a local bus 'station.'  Unfortunately, I was too intent on my purchase to fully appreciate the irony that it was a blind guy - I think - who first helped me out when I pulled up.  A shirtless-but-seeing man showed up, then, to do the deal, and I finally had my eye protection.

After taking time for all those errands, I had to put my head down, then, and get some kilometers covered.  Around noon I looked up and there was the big roundabout at Tema, the port city just east of Accra.  Ah, only 20 more kilometers to go.

But those were some long kilometers.

A couple local riders had advised me to, on my way home, simply use the motorway to get from Tema to Accra, since it is the most direct route.  But wait a minute now, the motorway, I find, is a four-lane highway, and when I took their advice I instantly regretted it.  The shoulder was rough and strewn with glass, and when I tried to ride the edge of the better-surfaced main lanes then I had trucks whizzing by at 60 miles per hour, scant feet away.  But I was too tired to turn around.

And that's when the final lesson from Glen kicked in: sometimes, it's enough to just keep pedaling.  You've pedaled hard, you've tried to treat your body right, but now the sun is high and passing cars are going frighteningly fast.  Your muscles are screaming at you and your butt hurts, and home is another eighteen kilometers ahead.  Now you just gotta spend enough time in the saddle, with your legs goin' 'round and 'round, and you'll get there.

I thought, then, about the first 'century' (100-mile) ride I'd ever done.  Glen and I had made it to Columbus, Ohio, on our cross-country trek.  We decided to try to reach Goshen, Indiana, before a friend left town, which meant we had to cover over 200 miles in 2 days.  I didn't think we could do it.  But we got on the bike early, and pedaled till it was dark, and we made it.  Thank God the American midwest is flat.

I did get off that Ghanian motorway, then.  When I realized I was chanting, "Just don't get dead," to myself as I tried to keep my legs going, I knew I had to find an alternate route, even if it was less direct.  Glen always hated riding the high-traffic roads more than I did, anyway.

And I made it home safely.  Thanks, Glen, for those bike - and life - lessons.  I'll do my best to live them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Afrikiko, Atimpoku, Akosombo, Dam!

In the beginning of November, as referenced in preceding posts, I rode my bicycle from my home in Accra, Ghana's capital, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north to the Akosombo region at the southern end of Lake Volta.

My route took me from Legon at the northern edge of Accra, through the jam-packed 'suburb' of Medina...

...then on to the towns of Dodowa and Somanya until I arrived on the banks of the Volta River at Kpong.

A few kilometers further I came to the town of Atimpoku.  Here there is a bridge across the Volta...

...giving access to the towns of Ho and Hohoe and the hills on the eastern shore of the lake, next to neighboring Togo.  According to my map there's only two bridges for what must be a 75 mile stretch of river between the lake and the ocean.  Maybe that's why Atimpoku had the looks of a small transport hub, with a hoppin' tro-tro (mini-bus) stop where women by the dozens flocked around any stopped vehicle trying to sell bread and bananas through the windows.

Not far above Atimpoku, then, I found the Afrikiko Water Front Resort.

Tired from a long day of riding in the sun, this place felt like paradise.  A little room with a colorful bedspread...

...and an AC unit kept me cool while I rested.  Then the waterfront deck and restaurant gave me exactly what I wanted: a cold drink and a good meal with great views over the wide Volta River and the forested hills on either side.  A little European football (soccer) on the satellite TV didn't hurt, either.

The next day, I got out to explore.  Other than the river and the lake itself, the main attraction of the area is the Akosombo Dam.  This 1960's construction formed Lake Volta, the largest human-made lake in the world.

Approaching the dam, the view from the road made it worth the trip.  What was even better: due to recent rains in the north the lake level was very high, and so the dam's spill doors were open.  Long columns of white water thundered down the spillway, sending up a roar and a plume of mist like Niagara.

Someone pointed me down a dirt path...

...which I was able to ride to the water's edge, getting even better views of the dam.  Lots of locals were out dam-watching, too, and I later learned that the spillway hadn't been opened in eighteen years.  I felt lucky to be there, by chance, at just the right time.


I rode a little further north, then, through the hills to get above the dam to the edge of the lake itself.  There I found the dock for the Dodi Princess, an excursion boat kept by the posh Volta Hotel for weekend picnic cruises on the lake.  Workers were extending the boat pier's gangplank, which had been overtaken by the rising water.

I confess, then, I didn't do too much more exploring.  In fact, I was back in my comfy room at the Afrikiko by 3 - it was just too hot.  But I was really glad I had made the trip.  Finding this little forested, lake-ed, and river-ed corner of the world was nicely satisfying.