Many Ghanians would disagree with me if I said Sunday is a good day to travel in their country. This is because most people go to Church. Religion is a serious affair here and Christianity clearly dominates. One of these Sundays I will accept the invite to attend a service, but so far I’m doing quite well at using them as travelling days. The roads are far from empty, just a little less chaotic.

It was partly because of the traffic that I decided to head away from the coast and journey north towards Lake Volta. This is the World’s largest man-made reservoir, and the controversial dam which resulted in its formation is also responsible for much of the country’s power supply, or at least should be. Every Monday the Yapei Queen chugs its way from the southern wooded shores in Akosombo, where the dam is located, up to the north. The opportunity to be on-board and travel what is a vast expanse of water (over 400km in length) was the real reason I chose to come this way.

The road north to Akosombo provided a bit of a break from the speeding coastal traffic. Green hills visible in the distance to my left and a few rocky granite outcrops closer by offered something of visual interest between non-descript shadeless settlements. More interestingly my back page fame in the Sports section of the Daily Guide newspaper from the week before had reached the attention of one of Accra’s cycling clubs. Speeding towards me were two lycra-clad vein-popping members. They stopped to say hello having already pedalled 170km that morning.

Ghanian racers

Where is your permit?” asked the security guard when I reached the dam later that afternoon. Apparently I had to apply for it back in Akosombo town, which looks more like a post-war surburban council estate in the Midlands than a town in west Africa. The identical bungalows and houses were built here in the 1960s for employees constructing the dam to live in. There are even rubbish bins fronting well-tended green lawns and gravel driveways. In actual fact the place was probably cleaner than a council estate.

The permit to visit the dam is not so much a permit, but a ticket and guided tour. I was happy to pay, but those not traveling in a car are discriminated against. The company running the tour don’t have their own vehicle and require visitors to drive the tour-guide. I explained my predicament and asked what provisions could be made. Why could I not cycle there I asked? Apparently the road leading up to the 120m high wall is too difficult to ride a bicycle and as the dam is 4 km away from the ticket office there would be no way for my guide to get there and guide me. In the end I never got to visit the dam and went off the following afternoon to find the port, picking up a copy of the Ghana Times to read with my lunch en route.

Ghana Times article

Lunch

A second class ticket from Akosombo to Kete Krachi costs 7 Cedi (£3) and an extra 4 Cedi to bring a push bike. First class passengers must book weeks in advance as there are only a handful of cabins. As far as I could tell there is no difference in price for third class passengers. Those who scramble to get aboard first once the gate opens stake their claim on a place within the middle-deck. Once this offers no free wooden benches the lower deck starts to fill. This is obviously hotter and louder as it is closer to the engine. The upper deck, where the cabins are, has a bridge with more benches. In theory this is a seating space for first class passengers, but a few better-off Ghanians who consider themselves above the hoi-poloi cackle of women and screaming babies take their places here. It was the most civilised, peaceful and perhaps safest of places for me to park myself for the 18 hour journey.

Embarking on the Yapei Queen

My bike remained with the empty pallets on the open deck below. From what I could gather from others who made the journey more frequently, these pallets and accompanying crates are filled with yams on the return trip. Yams, which are a bit like potatoes and not bad when fried, grow in greater abundance on the north shores around Yeji, where the ferry terminates on Wednesday morning.

Yapei Queen

The ferry departed an hour after the scheduled time, which I thought impressive. Somewhat frustratingly most of the journey took place in the dark. This made for great starlit gazing from the upper deck, until the rain started falling around 3am and my sleeping space became flooded. I tried to read with my head torchlight, but despite the rain flying insects kept dive-bombing my face.

Sunset from the Yapei Queen

Little light shone out from the lakeside shore, although I realised the next morning that there were many small villages dotted along the banks and dug-outs fishing nearby. One of the passengers I met was involved in providing solar-powered lights to such communities. He explained the government paid 60% of the costs and they were expected to make up the difference. “The problem is few of them do. They assume it’s a free gift. Many of these people have been resettled because of the dam so blame the government”.

I got off the ferry in Kete Krachi, a non-descript town offering few reasons to linger in, unless one is tired and in little rush to leave Ghana. The border with Togo is not far, which is probably a good thing as my visa expires shortly and I’m running low on Cedi. If I pick my roads carefully I might have some climbs to get stuck into, at least something higher than the 120m that the dam guide thought impossible for a bicycle.