• And the winner goes to… A year in reflection December 31st, 2010

    I started the year learning to surf in Morocco and I’m finishing it drinking a lot of beer in Cameroon. Between then I’ve crossed 14 countries in Africa and cycled about 12,000km, collecting more than a few stories along the way. Here is a review of some of the highlights, lowlights and other interesting observations from my year on the road. If there is a category you’d like to add please post a comment to let me know. Happy New year.

    Most atmospheric place: Harper, Liberia. A town full of war-ravaged buildings, surrounded by beautiful palm-fringed beaches.

    North from Harper

    Country I’d most like to return to: Nigeria. Forget the bad reputation, Nigeria is the India of Africa in my opinion. Big, overpopulated, ethnically rich, full of positive energy and immensely rewarding for those adventurous enough to explore it.

    Worst day of the year: March 13th. I was mugged by 5 men in Dakar, Senegal, who slashed my left wrist and left foot with a machete as I attempted and failed to prevent them taking off with my camera and day-sack. Just in case you’re wondering – the foot slash was minor and I was back on my feet walking fine within a week. The injury to my wrist was much more serious as 4 tendons were severed and required stitching together. There remains a slight stiffness, but no real discomfort. I probably ought to have done and ought to continue doing more physiotherapy as I don’t have the same degree of flexibility in my left wrist as I do in my right, but all things considered recovery has been good. No point in adding the category – ‘Place I’d least like to return to’.

    Machete wounds

    Most popular day of traffic to this website: The day I posted an account of the above. Almost 2500 hits, which goes to show bad news travels quickly.

    Worst roads: Leaving Nigeria and entering Cameroon. Steep, full of large rocks, deep gullies and impossible to cycle on.

    Most hassle at a border: Crossing from Guinea-Sierra Leone. Immigration told me the border was closed until the country decided on its new President. I’d have been there for months if that was true. I crossed without paying the bribe.

    Most beautiful women: Senegal and Ivory Coast. Pity my French is poor.

    Least ‘African’ feeling place: Abuja, Nigeria. Clean, well-paved roads and a sterile, but relaxing oasis from the ‘real’ Africa.

    Easiest place to get a beer: Cameroon, which might also be one of the World’s easiest place to get a beer, just don’t assume it will be cold.

    Hardest place to get a beer: Mauritania, unless you’re lucky enough to be staying with ex-pats who like drinking because there is very little else to do when you live in a city like Nouakchott.

    Best place to drink a beer: Overlooking Bakau fish market in The Gambia. Dozens of boats off-loading the day’s catch, which is then sorted and sold beneath you.

    Friendliest country to spend time in: Ghana, followed or possibly matched by Sierra Leone. Kindest, most (on the whole) non-aggressive and generally sincerest people in west Africa.

    Swamped

    Country with the best beaches: Sierra Leone. Unspoilt, palm-fringed and clean white sands.

    Beach in Sulima

    Most generous donation to Against Malaria Foundation: £1450 from American International School of Nouakchott, Mauritania. A great effort for a small school.

    Best ‘African’ food: Senegal and Ivory Coast: Fresh baguettes, good grilled fish/meat and a Francophone mentality that generally dictates ‘quality’ to be more important than quantity.

    Worst ‘African’ food: Sierra Leone and Liberia. The nation seems to survive on rice and cassava leaf with a bit of fish or unidentifiable bush meat thrown in if you’re lucky.

    Lunchtime

    Best ‘on the road’ refreshment/snack: Fresh coconuts along the coast in any country.

    Biggest disappointment: Finding that the jungles of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast have mostly been destroyed.

    Most frequently asked question: Are you not afraid of wild animals?

    Most colourfully dressed people: Togo and Benin. Everyone wears bright wax-cotton cloth.

    Best sleeping place: One of many nights out in the Sahara under the stars.

    Saharan star-gazing

    Worst sleeping place: In an abandoned building in the Sahara full of dry human excrement. I was trying to hide from the wind with little success.

    Desert camp

    Biggest relief: Finding my passport two days after leaving it in a room I stayed in within The Gambia.

    Most historically interesting/moving place: Slave Castles of Ghana, particularly at Cape Coast and Elmina. Shame on my ancestors and all other European powers in Africa.

    Never again: Slave depiction, Elmina

    Most used/valued piece of kit: My trustworthy Tilley hat

    Dune-scape

    Least used piece of kit: My Solar charger. I’m rarely away from a power source for long enough to warrant using it, although it’s lightweight and packs easily so I’m holding onto it just in case.

    Solar power

    Best new piece of kit: X-mini speaker. Sound beyond size as the logo says and it fits snugly between bottle cage and my handlebar bag. Nothing like a bit of Led Zeppelin blasting out on a tough road.

    Best books read: The Poisonwood Bible: Mary Kingsolver, French Lessons in west Africa: Peter Biddlecombe and The Grass is Singing: Doris Lessing.

    Most common on-the-road thought: Do I write a book when I finish this journey? There are a few stories/characters I don’t write about here.

  • To go or not to go to Togo? October 20th, 2010

    That was the question I was left asking myself. My passport had been stamped out of Ghana and now at the Togolese border post I had a problem. Obtaining the visa I needed to enter  was not going to be such a simple procedure. It wasn’t helping matters that the burly officer on duty refused to accept my handshake nor look me in the eye as he stood chewing and spitting a stick of cane sugar. A nice welcome back into Francophone Africa.

    If I wanted a visa I would have to take an overpriced taxi and be unnecessarily escorted at great cost to a town inside Togo. Where this town was and how long it would take before coming back to the border post (where I would unhappily be leaving my bicycle an hour before sunset) I couldn’t ascertain. The officer-in-charge merely shouted “Do you want the visa or not” and had no time for my pathetic questions in French. So I decided to go back to the Ghana post, where I’d made friends with the welcoming and polite guards, and explain I didn’t want to cross this border and grease the hands of the idiot on the other side.

    I would be curious to know what a Frenchman’s experience of travelling through west Africa is. Does he get shouted at, interrogated and treated with zero respect when entering an Anglophone country, where his proficiency in English is somewhat basic, and then get warmly welcomed with utmost courtesy when entering Francophone Africa where he can be confident and fluent in conversation? I wonder. I’m coming to the conclusion (I’d reached it a long time ago) that Anglophone Africa is basically a lot friendlier than the Francophone part, at least when it comes to matters of officialdom. Perhaps this sounds bias coming from England. I need a neutral party to chip-in here.

    I discussed all this later that evening after pitching my tent in a dis-used room of the immigration office. Dickson, the officer-in-charge, agreed that I should continue the next day to the town of Shia, where he believed the Togolese were issuing visas on the border. Had he wanted to he was within his means to fine me for remaining in Ghana beyond the 30-day stay, but thankfully the press cuttings about the journey and my remarks about hospitality and kindness in his country steered the conversation away from my passport.

    The border town of Shia didn’t look all that far away on my map, but what should only have been a 50km journey ended up being closer to 100km. The map totally failed me again and the instructions and directions from local Ghanians along the way were equally as inaccurate and misleading. At least I was seeing a bit more of what has been Ghana’s most scenic region.

    Wli Waterfall

    Eastern Ghana

    DSC_0019

    School girls at break

    Pineapple stop

    By the time I’d reached Shia and explained myself to immigration the day was getting on. They too could have issued a fine, but agreed to let me spend another night within Ghana and cross into Togo the next morning. If only all border officials were as understanding as these ones.

    Double exit stamp

    As it turned out the Togolese visa is not issued on the border here either, but 5 kms away. I was given a motorcycle escort by the Ghanians to smooth the way. No money was exchanged, other than paying for the visa, but the Ghanian officer-in-charge will now be donning matching waterproof jacket and trousers when on patrol in the rain. I needed a good excuse to off-load these clothes I haven’t worn since Morocco and this seemed like a good time.

    My visa here in Togo is only valid for seven days. A short time, but the country is tiny and I’m less than 100km away from crossing into Benin, a country that claims voodoo as it’s national religion. A Sunday service there might be one with a difference.

  • Out of money October 17th, 2010

    After paying for a second boat across Lake Volta I was short of money. It wasn’t that the boat was expensive, merely I miscalculated how much money would be needed for the remainder of my time in Ghana. This is something I deal with in every country; calculating how much money is needed until I reach another ATM machine? The trouble is not every ATM machine I find accepts my card or works, and I sometimes naively assume that in more developed countries, like Ghana, ATMs will be available in small towns in the provinces. A currency like the Ghana Cedi is pretty valueless once you cross a border, so having a lot left over is a bit of a schoolboy error in the traveller’s manual.

    Approaching Dumbai

    There is of course the back-up US dollars that I carry for such occasions. But then you are dependent on finding someone who will change them. Wheeling my bike up the single-street lake-side town of Dumbai was a case in point. I was looking for a Mauritanian, Indian or Lebanese shop-owner, of which there are a surprising number hidden behind boxes of foodstuffs in west African wooden shacks.  These chaps are usually willing to take dollars, albeit sometimes at unfavourable rates. Here however there were none. So I went to the bank, which might seem obvious, but there was no currency exchange booth, and my sweat-soaked skin and dishevelled appearance wasn’t going to do me any favours when I told the clerk I had ran out of money and needed some help.

    He pointed me to a closed door. I knocked, entered and instantly noticed the air-conditioning was set at a more suitable temperature for someone preparing a trip to the south pole. The manager was fat, which is not really saying anything. It is hard to find a man of rank in Africa who does not display his wealth by adding several inches to his waistline. Goosebumps had now crystallized the sweat beads on my arm as I kindly asked if he would change the crisp $20 note I was holding before him.

    It took several more minutes, during which he telephoned a number of people and received negative responses. Finally I explained that I would have to sell some of my belongings in order to eat and sleep that night (I needed a good reason to sell my waterproof clothes that I never wear). That seemed to clinch it. The money came, I apologized again and cycled off in the rain.

    Owing to this stupidity of mine I decided to cycle south to the town of Hohoe, where there is a bank with an ATM. The road to bring me here has been the quietest and most scenic I’ve cycled in Ghana, but also the worst in shape. A Korean company is in the process of repaving it. Whilst they get called ‘ching chong’ (Africans assume that anyone from eastern Asia is Chinese) children in this part of Ghana have taken to calling me ‘father’ (as in a Roman catholic priest) as I wave my way past their mud-brick abode or school.

    Swamped

    Primary School girl

    There are more people on bicycles in this part of the country, which can only be a good thing. I even met three of my own on the road yesterday (Dutch). They were cycling from Accra to Burkina Faso and agreed that the map we were both using was terrible. Other than Hiromu, a German I briefly met in The Gambia, and Mick the underfed wiry Englishman (also in The Gambia) they’ve been the only foreign cyclists I’ve met in  sub-Saharan Africa. Speaking of Hiromu, he e-mailed to say he’s made it to Accra. I wish he would buy a mobile phone.

    Dutch trio

    A balancing act

    My visa for Ghana expires tomorrow, which is a pity. My time here and the hospitality I’ve received will be hard to beat. If I can find the road taking me into Togo I will be there the same day. I wonder if the French left a legacy of bread-making during their short occupancy there? Here in Ghana it’s been bloody terrible.

    In case you’re not exactly sure where Ghana is, I passed this map on the wall yesterday, alongside some more interesting wall art.

    Ghana in Africa

    Local art

    Local art

  • Journey on the Yapei Queen October 16th, 2010

    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.

  • Faking it: Visas in Accra October 14th, 2010

    The best thing about the journey from Cape Coast to Accra is the fruit being sold at the roadside. Lines of stalls overflowing with pineapples and watermelons, and carts filled with fresh coconuts. Forget the glutinous starchy fufu and oily soups, I reckon I could survive on fresh fruit alone in Ghana, and many other African countries for that matter.

    Coconut sellers

    The worst thing about this same road is the traffic. There is a worrying frequency of signs stating how many people died at that specific spot. I usually try to find alternative routes in such cases, but here there were none, at least according to my map. This is proving to be one of the worst country maps I’ve ever used. Whoever was responsible for producing the International Travel Map for Ghana needs to improve their cartography skills. Not only does their map not include simple road distances between places, but they have drawn roads which don’t exist and have depicted what are in fact large sprawling towns to be villages. Ghanians would agree with me if they could read maps.

    I broke the two day cycle from Cape Coast to Accra by stopping over in the fishing village of Apam. It was a worthwhile detour, mostly because I got to sleep in a 300-year old slave fort. It was originally built by the Dutch, but handed over to British control 100 years later. This was about the only information I could decipher from Grace, the fort’s female caretaker. I highly recommend it for those making the same journey. You sleep with the sound of the waves crashing below you and wake up to a view worth far more than the £2 it costs to stay here. There is no electricity or running water, but anyone overlanding in Africa ought to be familiar with this minor inconvenience. Candle-light is far more appropriate in such places.

    Apam fising village

    Apam

    The ride into Accra was hot; the kind of heat that turns your Tilley hat stiff with salt stains. Fortunately filtered water is very cheap in Ghana (like £0.02 for a 500ml sachet) and frequently available, usually sold chilled in blue cool-boxes at the roadside. I never remember water being sold like this when I first went to Africa 10 years ago. I have no idea to what extent this water has been tested or approved by any regulatory body, but my stomach seems to be coping OK.

    The hospitality I’d received in Takoradi a few weeks previously was extended in Accra. My host here was director of the Accounts department for the country’s National Audit Service. In other words a Ghanian of some rank. Not so long ago he was a night security guard in central London, a job which allowed him to study through his shift. This was the real reason he’d gone to the UK. He told me this after I’d followed his chauffeur-driven SUV way out of Accra to a large hotel by the sea. We’d only just met, I’d pulled him out of his busy job and now he was buying me lunch.

    The following 5 days in Accra were centered around applying for visas and giving presentations about my journey(s) by bike. Almost half of that time seemed to be spent in traffic, where armies of street hawkers brush past your window selling anything that can feasibly be carried by hand or head. “This is nothing compared to Nigeria”, remarked my host George, who lived some 20km east of the city centre. His daily commute, which we did for the remainder of the week in his newly re-sprayed Mercedes, took between 1-2 hours each way. It would certainly have been faster on a bicycle, which would naturally have been my mode of transport had it not been for the convenience of having a driver assigned to take me to the necessary embassies.

    Nigeria was up first and I arrived at the new address (20/21 Roman Ridge road, just off Achimota road for those who might need it) lacking the necessary documents to secure a visa. Up until now west African visas have been a doddle to apply for. This one required an invitation from the country, although in reality I just needed a hotel reservation from Nigeria, plus photocopies of my insurance details and vaccination certificates.

    Visa requirements

    I went away to find an Internet Cafe and returned an hour later with a printed online booking. It was totally false, and handing it in felt a bit like playing a Nigerian trickster at his own game. Does anyone ever fall for those bogus e-mails saying a relative has recently died and left a huge sum of money that can only be released if you agree to be guarantor?

    The reservation was merely a formality, along with the other bits to be handed in with the $130 (West African visas don’t come cheaply) before being told to return at 14.30 the following day.

    I opted to take a tro-tro (Ghana’s version of an overloaded and uncomfortable mini-bus) back into the centre, (even though I probably could have telephoned for a driver) and found the city’s National Museum. This is the first I’ve been to on this trip and a welcome diversion from the city’s shadeless streets. I was the only visitor that afternoon and had to wake the Museum’s shop assistant to buy some postcards. She shuddered when I told her I’d been at the Nigerian embassy to apply for a visa. “Why are you going there? It is full of crooks”. Her reaction and remark is one echoed by many Ghanians, who consider their nearest Anglophone neighbour in west Africa to be something of a big bully. It is a little daunting to think that 1 in every 5 Africans on the continent is a Nigerian, and there have been very few people in recent months who’ve responded with anything positive to say when I’ve told them I’m going to cycle across the country.

    The embassy of Benin was equally as hard to find the next morning (19 Volta street, 2nd close Airport Residential district), although the visa cost one third the price of the Nigerian and didn’t necessitate the paperwork nor the overnight wait. Rumour is it I could probably get the visa at the border, which is what I’m hoping for with the Togolese visa (I was reluctant to part with 25,000 west African francs at the embassy when I heard it is 10,000 at the border). I realise all this information is beyond the interest of most readers, but for the few overlanders google searching ‘Nigeria visa Accra’ or ‘Benin visa cost Accra’, perhaps this blog post will be of help.

    Mid-way through my stay in Accra George had taken it upon himself to get the media onto my story. Several journalists and a camera crew turned up in his office trying to figure out what the connection was between an English cyclist and the country’s National Audit Service. The interview went ahead, I struggled to keep a straight face and my voice was failing having already given two talks to an American International School in the morning. But George had also arranged for me to speak to the Audit Service team in the boardroom. This was my first all-African audience and typically they wanted to know why I wasn’t afraid of all the wild animals.

    Talk to National Audit Service

    As a parting gift to George and his wife I decided to print out two of my photos and have them framed . They were delighted and hoped I’d stay for Sunday Service at Church. I had the Lake Volta weekly ferry that departs on Monday as an excuse.

    Mother Africa and Princess Thorny

  • Malaria bites October 11th, 2010

    He was lying on the hospital bed with his hands on his forehead and a drip protruding from his wrist. Thirty minutes previously I’d received a phone call from a man to say “your friend collapsed in the Internet Cafe and is now in hospital. Please come!”.

    Hiromu had seemed fine the night before. After saying goodbye 9 months ago in Morocco, we met again the previous evening and had plenty to talk about. He too is cycling to South Africa, having started his journey in Istanbul last year, so I’m hoping we can make a plan together. Now he looked pale and in pain as I tried to decipher his Japanese in the accident and emergency ward.

    Sure enough he had malaria, and when the nurse rolled him over and jabbed him up the backside with two injections of quinine I was glad it wasn’t me. Not even my joke about this being her first Japanese bottom to deal with produced any response, apart from her asking me to leave the room. I went in search of food and found what you see below.

    Hiromu with Malaria

    Hiromu hadn’t been taking any prophylactics to prevent himself from the disease. What did he expect after cycling through the rainy season in west Africa (we followed similar routes as far as Liberia, after which he went inland to Mali and Burkina Faso)? Now he was paying for it. And would do for the next several days as I delayed my departure and nursed him back to some semblance of life, whilst he ached, groaned and sweated it out from a shoe-box-sized room in a guest house.

    Despite the pain and his foolishness for not taking any prophylactics, Hiromu is one of the lucky ones. He paid the £40 hospital fees and received the necessary treatment to get better. For millions of other Africans (often pregnant women and children) malaria is a step into the grave. Lack of funds and access to treatment means many people die. An insecticide treated mosquito net, such as the ones I’m raising money for in support of the Against Malaria Foundation, is a simple and cost-effective way to prevent the disease. Your support is much appreciated.

    I’m happy to say Hiromu made a slow, but sure recovery, although I left him after several days and journeyed on alone to Accra. It will now be Togo, Benin or Nigeria that we meet again.

  • Great Cyclist Arrives In Ghana October 7th, 2010

    Such a modest headline don’t you think? In an exclusive interview I took time out of my ever so busy schedule to speak to Ghana’s National Newspaper – the Daily Guide. Not sure I will reach South Africa by the middle of 2011.

    Ghana press 

  • Forts and fishing boats September 29th, 2010

    Ten years ago I might have taken the room, but cramped dormitories with narrow beds and the aroma of half-a-dozen young men sleeping off a hangover have less appeal these days. I happily paid the extra Cedi (less than $1) and found a single room away from the beach. Welcome to Cape Coast, capital of the Central region of Ghana and one of the country’s major tourist destinations.

    The ride here was described to me as lovely, but lethal. It was neither, although I wished I’d had metal hands to slam through the window of  a taxi that pulled over in front of me shortly after leaving Takoradi. There is only one coastal road and it is busy.

    Ghana’s coast is littered with a dark history. Between the 16th and 19th Century Thousands of slaves were held in forts along the coast here awaiting transportation to the Americas. Taking a tour of the forts at Elmina and Cape Coast and listening to  how your fellow countrymen were involved in what must be one of the greatest human atrocities in history is a moving experience. The French, Portuguese, Dutch, Danes and Swedes all had a hand in it too I might add. Fortunately the fanti fishing boats, which also dominate the coast, provide a colouful distraction.

    The plan was to leave today, but last night I received a call from Hiromu, the Japanese cyclist I met in Morocco eight months ago. He called to say he would be arriving in Cape Coast today. Hurrah!

    Never again: Slave depiction, Elmina

    Slave Castle: Elmina

    Slave cell

    Canons on Cape Coast Castle

    Cape Coast fishing fleet

    Waiting for the catch

    Sleepy Sunday

  • When force matters September 25th, 2010

    In the end it required four of us to remove it. I’d struggled for two hours previously with an adjustable spanner in one hand and chain whip in the other and got no-where. I was in danger of doing myself an injury. The advice I’d been told about removing my bike’s rear sprocket was true. The thing wouldn’t budge without tremendous force. Two men held the wheel, another the spanner and the biggest of the four of us thrust down on the chain-whip. It finally gave and I unscrewed the dagger-edged piece from the hub.

    Replacing it was much easier. I made sure I greased the sprocket thread. In another 5000km or so I’ll remove and reverse it. Or need I do it so soon? Had I read my Thorn manual and done this with the first sprocket I might have prolonged its life. It now dangles from my handlebar bag as a kind of souvenir come weapon/African juju. Together with a new chain, front chain-ring, oil change in the hub and two new tyres I’m all set to continue into Central Africa. I’m even carrying spare tyres, which I rarely do, but these are special and were donated by a generous reader.

    Abidjan would have been very expensive if I hadn’t been given the keys to the apartment of a friend. Across the road in this peaceful suburban area was a supermarket stocked with imported food-goods. People shopping here had plenty of money to spend. Most items were twice the price they’d be found for in Europe, but it was hard to resist a little fromage, pate and vin rouge.

    After collecting my Ghanian visa I left Abidjan and headed to Grand Bassam. The French settled here first when they arrived in Cote d’ Ivoire and a number of colonial buildings, many in ruinous states, survive from that era.

    Grand Bassam

    Sunset paddle

    I visited and spoke to students at an International University here. I’m sure I was something of a curiosity, but don’t think I inspired any of these privileged individuals do undertake something of a similar nature. Anyone with status or money doesn’t ride a bicycle in Africa. One of them asked what the most striking thing was I’d seen in their country. I told them the destruction of their natural environment. “What about the women”? another asked. I confessed they were much better preserved. Cote d’ Ivoire ranks with Senegal in this regard.

    My bike was clean until I arrived in Ghana. When the tarmac ended beside a stretch of French holiday homes some 60km east of Grand Bassam I loaded the bike onto a wooden boat. This was effectively the end of the road in Cote d’ Ivoire, but the border post with Ghana was another 20km away down a sandy track. “Pas possible”, declared the locals when I said I would cycle it. They were right. You can only cycle on sand when it’s compact. So I waited for the tide to turn and sat with an elderly man tending a herd of goats behind the beach. He said he was originally from Niger and beamed a large smile when the Voice of America broadcast a show in Hausa on his small radio. I left him when the tide had sufficiently dropped enough and followed the palm-fringed beach with the sun at my back towards the border.

    Lagoon crossing

    ”Waiting