update 10.  

rediscovering the pleasures of cycling

30 January, 2007

Burkina Faso and Ghana

Total kilometers cycled: 16,459

Specific country info on routes & roads/food & accommodation/the locals available here.

We are always amazed at how kind people are to cyclists!  Here are some of the nicest things people have done for us since we've been on the road.  

The thorn trees eventually tapered off, the dusty and desolate dirt roads gave way to modern highways cutting through the dense tropical forest, and we're finding evenings spent  chatting around a bonfire at the beach  ever so much more enjoyable than those spent repairing punctures.   Yes, life has gotten better for your road-weary cyclists--we just might make it to Cape Town after all.  

Not that the cycling has been a bed of roses since we left Niamey, where we last updated you.  All was going (reasonably) well until we met up with a fellow cyclist traveling in the opposite direction, who suggested we alter our route to take in the Arly National Park in Burkina Faso.  This meant 'extra' kilometers, and we were leery of giving up smooth tarmac for the unknowns of a secondary road.  Now, we trusted our new bicycling buddy when he assured us that the road was in good condition and sand-free.  What a mistake! We were in for three days of bone-jarring corrugations, potholes of unfathomable depths and the usual sandy pitfalls.  All that pushing was good for buffing up the biceps, but constituted a big blow to morale.  

After ringing in the new year over beans and beer in the roadside town of Pama, we took to the tarmac again and pushed on to Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou.   Time to pick up visas again, stock up on toilet paper and toothpaste and take in a locally made movie--Ouaga being home to a highly-acclaimed film industry.  This was also one of our last chances to enjoy the crusty baguettes of the francophone countries--we were heading towards English-speaking Ghana and were in for the  soggy and sweet variety of bread bequeathed by the British.  Even worse,it turns out, than the bread Amaya was subjected to as a child growing up in Montana.

Our last stop in Burkina was the capital of Gourounsi country,Tiébélé, where, for a small fee, one of the chief's younger brothers gave us a tour of the rather pretentiously named 'Royal Court'.  A literal labyrinth of intricately painted dwellings where one had to duck low to enter the circular mud huts.  This was a security measure, we were told, to keep out foreign invaders during the tribal wars of former times.  We declined the offer of rooftop camping in the compound (again for a small fee) and in spite of the midday heat, headed on to the Ghanaian border.

There was another traveler snoozing outside the  border post when we pulled up on our bikes.  Having roused him from his rest, he explained--and we detected a note of exasperation in his voice- that the official entrusted with the stamps had 'gone out'.  By the time the stamp man had returened, we'd gotten to know Graham and accepted his invitation to spend the night in nearby Bongo, where he was teaching in a local secondary school.  After a delicious dinner of veg curry and rice, we walked over to the adjoining hostel to meet some of the boarding students.  

Despite the absence of adult supervision, the teenagers we met demonstrated remarkable maturity and discipline. In the girls dormitory,  young ladies were busy sweeping the courtyard, cooking stew for the coming week and revising their lessons.  And this was still the Christmas break! Conditions were cramped with more than 40 bunks crowded together with just enough room to squeeze by.  No one was complaining though, because the girls had it quite good compared with the boys.  They had no bunks at all, and slept on thin mats (which made our therma-rest knock-offs look downright luxurious).  There was no toilet either for the boys, and those who want a little privacy get up before dawn to head for the 'bush toilet' to take care of their needs in the cover of darkness. The young men appeared to be just as studious as the girls, and we found most of them in an empty classroom poring over their books.  We were impressed!  Unfortunately, there are still many children who don't have the opportunity to attend school.  If you'd like to support education for girls in Africa, please consider contributing to Camfed.  More details here.

In the West, sex sells, but in Ghana it's God that brings in the business.  Signboards everywhere make reference to religion:  Christian prices, Baptist builders of blocks, In God we Trust Grocers. Oddly enough, alcohol also looms large in Ghanaian society.  'Drinking spots' are found almost as often as the prevalent places of worship, and sometimes the two are even combined--as in the case of the Catholic Mission Guesthouse in Tamale.  It wasn't crucifixes and paintings of the Virgin Mary that adorned the courtyard, rather posters advertising Star Beer (for the foreign tourists who like the local brew) and Guinness (for the locals who prefer their beer from abroad).The country is also home to money launderers.  No, not the kind that make ilegitimate money appear legitimate, we're talking about people who wash money--literally.  
On the food front, Ghana's got bush meat for those who are daring.  The busy roads are lined with men proudly displaying freshly-caught grasscutter.  Prices seemed quite reasonable, but we decided to go for the juicy pineapples instead.

One thing you don't see much of in Ghana is beggars.  And with good reason: the country is one of the best-educated and most prosperous and politically stable in the region.  In neighboring countries (Mail in particular), the situation is truly troubling. Bands of boys, some as young as five or six from the looks of them, loiter at the roadside foodstalls waiting to gobble up what the customers leave behind.  It's a sad sight to see these youngsters, usually shoeless and dressed in tatters, shivering in the chilly sahelian mornings waiting for a few bread crusts or perhaps a handful of beans.  Hard to understand,too, why more isn't being done to end this suffering.

We've been doing lots of touristy things since we arrived in Ghana.  First a visit to Mole National Park and an early morning walk in the savanna to observe the elephants, warthogs and crocodiles in their natural habitat.  After conquering some unbelievably steep hills, we enjoyed  time camping and chilling out on the shores of Lake Bosumtwi.  Then on to the coast and a couple of relaxing days on the almost deserted beach at the Green Turtle Lodge. The canopy walk at Kakum National Park gave us a different view of the rainforest and left Amaya's head swimming (she'll remember not to look down next time!) And finally, visits to some of the coastal forts built by the Europeans gave us a dose of culture.  

Soon the sweltering heat of the tropics will  give way to cooler temperatures, as we cycle on to Togo and the picturesque plateau region.  Who knows what they call white people on the other side of the border, but we hope it's not obroni. We can hardly go anywhere in Ghana without hearing shrieks of Obroni, Obroni--where are you going? or Obroni, stop, stop!  I wanna talk to you.  or even Obroni, tell me your name--who are you?.  Tiresome as you can imagine, and simply ignoring all the attention gets us nowhere, as the children (and a fair number of aduts as well) only become more insistent.  Haven't they got anything better to do with their time than worry about what two white people are up to?  Ahh, the joys of instant popularity!