14th of August – 10th of September 2019:
The extremely friendly and interested border officials dismissed us into Ghana and confirmed our image of the warm people of the Ivory Coast. After a few kilometers of no-man’s-land, the very professional officials welcomed us on the Ghanaian side. There was even a duty-free shop with cheap spirits, even though we were in the middle of nowhere.
The bad road accompanied us a bit, before we reached an ancient, tarred road, equipped with many potholes. In a small village, we tried our first meal in Ghana and were enthusiastic. Finally, something new for our taste buds!
A quick test in a health facility confirmed Adrian’s concerns regarding a fresh malaria infection. In the waiting room, they displayed an American wrestling show and the fusty documents lay unsorted in a dusty rack. Back on the gravel road, a bus full of singing and clapping children overtook us and we felt like being part of a stereotypical African movie made in Hollywood.
During our first night in Ghana, we heard a mosque and afterwards music with an extreme bass until late at night. In Ivory Coast, we heard drumming or music many times at night as well. Unfortunately, we never saw the action live.
Inga and Kenneth, who currently travel through Ghana as well, told us about Mole National Park and that it is possible to see elephants from proximity for a good price. Therefore, we decided to cycle the long detour. At least we found a shortcut on the map, which proofed to be a good idea quickly.
A couple of years back, there was a well-established national park in this area called Bui. Unfortunately, the government decided to build a huge dam and 40% of the former national park was flooded. The 400-megawatt project at least made the connection to the national grid system possible for many villages.
A friendly woman at the entrance to the dam referred us to the headquarters. A cool young man in a fashionable shirt introduced us to the vice-CEO and drove us to an observation point, from where we could see part of the lake and the dam. Normally, such a tour needs to be booked ahead, but our story gave us an advantage once again.
Since we left Abidjan, the landscape changed quickly, especially after we crossed the border. Instead of dense rainforest, the surroundings reminded us of the Gambia, just much greener because of the rainy season. Occasionally, we saw huge trees, but bushes and termite hills dominated the landscape. This change is not surprising, since we already cycled more than 500 km north from the coast.
In a small village called Maluwe, the locals allowed us to visit an ancient mosque in the west Sudanese style. The mosque is several hundred years old and only consists of clay, wood poles and sticks. Luckily, there is a microphone at the ground level, so the old muezzin does not have to climb the narrow, dangerous steps to the roof.
Lately, we slept almost every night in our tent and enjoyed the calmness and freedom of nature. Because of the glaring full moon, we did not even need a torch in the night when going to the toilet. Such a scenery is hard to replace, for that reason outdoorsmen call the tent a hotel equipped with millions of stars.
Adrian caught additionally to his malaria infection a cold, since his immune system was already weak. Therefore, we decided to do a rest day. In a larger town, we asked around if someone could host us, since we did not want to sleep in a hotel. A family, which migrated from Niger, showed us a room without hesitations and gave us the key without asking any questions.
Next to the road, we ate several local dishes prepared by strong women and had some nice conversations with them. A smart teenager explained us the production of Kenkey, a local maize dish systematically. First, separate the grains of maize from the corncobs by storing in water for 2-3 days. This initiates the separation of the husk from the grains. Next is the fermentation of the grains, which takes one day. After milling the fermented grains, one must add salt and water to the milled powder and cook it like that for around 30 minutes. Finally, form a ball by hand and surround it with the maize leaves, cook it for 2-3 hours on the open fire and then it is ready to eat with a separately prepared sauce.
In Africa, all guests of a street restaurant drink from the same cup and fill it in a huge water bucket by an elegant hand movement. The restaurant owners wash the cups at most every evening. Washing the plates and the cutlery with cold water and a bit of soap for the next customer is already a luxury in some places.
Unfortunately, despite English being the national language, the communication was difficult, since many older people hardly spoke any English. Even if they knew a little English, they did not understand us, since we did not speak the Ghanaian slang. Amusingly, several people accused us of not speaking British English and therefore a “broken” English and that was the reason why they did not understand us. The reality was probably the other way around, but difficult to explain under the mentioned circumstances. Additionally, in the north of Ghana live many people from Niger, Mali and especially Burkina Faso and speak French.
Adrian’s fever and cold proved to be persistent and therefore we rested a bit longer in Bole than anticipated. When we wanted start cycling, Fabian realized that he had a puncture on his rear wheel. He fixed it on the spot with more than 20 kids watching every move he did. On rough tarmac, we cycled until a junction where one road led further to Burkina Faso and the other one eastward. We turned east and quickly reached the corridor between the Mole national park and a forest reserve. Soon, we spotted the first monkeys deep in the forest. In a small village, we found dinner and breakfast, both for take-away. The corresponding sauce had to be prepared first and a mother delegated her daughter to do the work, as it is usual in Africa.
In Larabanga, the last village before the entrance to Mole National Park, we bought provisions, since one must pay up to 50 times more for the same dish inside the park. We paid the low entrance fee and cycled directly to the viewing area, from where visitors have an overview over a waterhole.
We were not disappointed! We hardly started to look for animals, when we saw a group of elephants who filled their mouths with lots of leaves from the verdurous trees. We were happy that the long detour was worth it and we enthusiastically observed the animals for a while.
In the afternoon, we joined a Safari led by a local park ranger equipped with an old firearm. On the two-hour tour on foot through the bush, we saw an elephant, many antelopes, waterbucks, baboons and other kinds of monkeys. Apparently, there is no other place in the World, where visitors can approach an elephant like that. It felt quite special that only Europeans surrounded us for the time in the park. Finally, we saw our first animal of the “Big Five”!
The strong tailwind and the terrain let us cycle more than 80 kilometers before lunch for the first time since a long time. At a junction, we turned southwards and started the long journey until Kumasi, the second largest city of Ghana.
After the diversion, the landscape got extremely flat and the road was dead straight and was quite boring. In a small village, we asked if they have something to eat for us and after a short amount of time, we received a pot full of rice as a present.
The crossing of the Black Volta, a tributary for the 8500 km2 large Volta reservoir was rather unspectacular and after the bridge followed a dead straight road again. The construction of the Volta-dam started in 1961. It is the third largest reservoir in the World, produced plenty of electricity in the beginning and even export to the neighboring countries was possible. Because of the extreme population growth and hence the increased demand for electricity, the energy production for Ghana itself is too low nowadays and there are more and more blackouts.
The region was gradually more densely populated and the distances between villages got smaller and smaller. On the side of the road, there were kids selling huge pieces of yam in small stalls. Dozens of those shelter-like shops came one after another and sold the same thing.
Finally, the relief changed again and soon we already complained about the long ascents. Especially with the present headwind, the hills extended for quite some time. While repairing a puncture, we charged our laptop and dried the extremely wet tent. In the night before, there was continuous rain and therefore, we had to pack the tent completely wet in the morning.
When we wanted to continue, a woman who was cooking next to us for the last hour said we should at least wait until she can offer us some food. Of course, we could not refuse this offer. After the delicious meal, it started to rain heavily and her husband said we should sleep in their house. He did not like it anyway that we planned to camp in the bush, since it was too dangerous. An interesting view that all Africans shared so far.
At eight o’clock in the morning, the parents said goodbye, since they went to church. They said that breakfast was ready and we only answered: “OK”, since were still half-sleep.
We continued mastering bravely the many hills and in Techiman, we strengthened ourselves for the following climbs. Suddenly, when we cycled behind one another on a clear stretch of road, a motorcyclist brushed Adrian from behind, lost his balance and fell sideways on the tarmac. During the camber, he fell from the motorbike and landed on the other side of the road. Luckily, Adrian did not fall and could immediately help the accident victim. Fortunately, he wore a helmet and had therefore only open lips and a road burn in his face. In addition, he had some scrapes on his arm, broken pants and his motorbike was in a miserable condition. At least the motorbike was still rideable and the men could continue. Finally, we were all glad, since we knew that it could have ended worse.
In retrospect, we even remembered that the motorcyclists who was involved in the accident crossed our path before the same day. He overtook us two times with his bike and corrected us how and where we must cycle. We ignored him, since we had the feeling that we did everything in the proper way. Finally, we did not what his intention was or if there was a hidden agenda at the time of the accident.
In any case, we reached Kumasi and therefore the first large city in Ghana and had to fight ourselves through the stinky, dusty and loud traffic. On the way to our host Enoch, whom we contacted through Warmshowers, we visited the Kejetia market, which counts as the largest market in West Africa. The lively activities in the narrow alleys were rather impressive and we could hardly get our eyes off. Especially, the unbelievable strong women astonished us once more, how they carried extremely heavy things from A to B for only a pocket money. Later, we reached the large house of the Ghanaian and he liberally invited us to a local diner including a beer.
Kumasi is the capital of the former kingdom of the Ashanti with its great civilization. Ashanti is the heart of Ghana, located in the southern middle. The gold production is an important pillar in this region.
Enoch lived already in Scandinavia for a few months and told us without much enthusiasm about his time there. He had to work more than twelve hours in a fast-food restaurant as a cleaner every day and was shocked about the coldness of the people in this region. Sadly, racism was often present and he was therefore happy to be back in Ghana.
Instead of sleeping in the tent, we could sleep in Enochs bed and he desperately wanted to sleep in our tent. However, he did not want to sleep outside, since he wanted to get used to the experience gradually. Therefore, we pitched the tent in a hallway of the house and he was extremely happy with his new experience.
People in Ghana ask us a lot for money, even though they have a much higher standard of living than in the previous countries. The reason for that is probably once more the tourists who unfortunately give money or presents to the locals. In addition, Adrian was several times called Jesus, since his beard and his rather long hair looked like they imagined him. The Ghanaians did not even accept our proposal that Jesus was from Africa and therefore not white. After the visit at the hairdresser, who cut the unfamiliar hair unskilled with toy scissors for two hours, the Jesus calls decreased.
A friend of Enoch cooked every dinner for us and we enjoyed the luxury of trying all the different dishes. The people in Ghana are always amazed when we tell them that we already tried all the local specialties and liked it a lot.
After a breakfast together with our new friends, we started cycling back towards the city center. There, we exchanged money on the black market with the help of a contact of Enoch. On the way to Lake Bosumtwi, we had to cycle some time on a dusty, destroyed road, climb a short and steep ascent and then pay the entrance fee for the lake region. Afterwards, the road led us down to the largest natural lakes in Ghana on an extremely steep road.
Next to a bar, called “spot” in Ghana, the owner allowed us to pitch our tent directly on the shore of the lake. Whereas we refreshed ourselves in the water, the hardworking fishermen pulled their fishing nets out of the water. Because of an important local goodness, who does not like iron, the fishermen still use narrow wooden planks for fishing. It looks like they hover on top of the water, since they only use their hands and feet to paddle.
The steep ascent out of the lake basin, which apparently resulted from a meteorite impact, was hard work and especially Fabian suffered additionally. He steadily lost air from his front tire and had to fix another puncture as soon as he reached the top.
A narrow road, characterized by potholes led us to the road between Kumasi and Accra. Many completely overloaded trucks pushed us to the service lane when they overtook us. Unfortunately, with our bicycles we have no priority on African roads and therefore must make sure that nobody overruns us from behind.
Repeatedly, we slept in unfinished houses or somewhere in the bush. One could think that people who saw us there in our tent would have almost collapsed by the shock they experienced and would immediately have informed the whole village. Surprisingly, the Africans took this new situation extremely relaxed and saw our behavior as strange but did not bother at all.
The last weeks were rather dry and we could escape the rain well. However, it started to rain more lately and we had to take breaks, since we did not know when the wet clothes would dry again in this humid climate.
Most of the times, we asked in restaurants or houses, if we can refill our water bottles. So far, this was never a problem and there was always a canister with water or a draw well somewhere. In Ghana, most people drink nothing but water from the plastic bags and cannot understand why we do not like them at all. Therefore, we had to explain each time that the empty plastic bags end up on the ground and this is not good for the environment. Finally, we somehow always managed to get water from a shared water tank, which replaced the wells in this region.
We left the valley surrounded by limestone formations and cycled into a narrower valley. There, we unsuccessfully searched for a waterfall, which we finally found in a completely different location. Instead of paying the horrendous price of 4 Euros for visiting a waterfall, we searched our own trail and reached at the end the point where the water drops several cascades.
Shortly before dawn, we found an ideal place for our tent and were astonished once more that despite the remoteness, we still heard music. In Africa, the motto is that music is only good when played with maximal volume.
A long descent led us out of the cute valley. Afterwards, we had to cross a mountain crest, before we saw beautiful view on the Volta region. We could see part of the immense reservoir and the Volta River. After the bumpy downhill, we got our calories back at a place where all the long-distance busses stop. During their stop, many sellers attack the passengers from outside and shout through the windows. A smart girl told us that those women normally start selling their products in the early morning and stop around midnight. Some of them carry more than 20 kg on their head and expose themselves to the beating sun for hours.
Kente is a cloth only produced in Ivory Coast and Ghana and the rules only allowed kings to wear it in the past. Directly next to the road, we saw a few weaving looms and a young man who was preoccupied with his work. We asked if it was possible to watch him a bit and he agreed using a broad smile. Skillful and with an unbelievable speed, he threw the drawstrings through the strands.
Directly after we wondered how well the quality of the current road was, suddenly there was a cut and we found ourselves on a horrible gravel road. We could choose between a sandy side and one with lots of gravel. The cars came from all directions towards us and the dust stuck to our sweaty bodies.
Later, we took a detour, so we could navigate around the bumpy road. Normally, we ask some locals about the quality of the road, but this time we naively assumed the tar would be loyal to us.
The rainy night behind an unfinished church was not relaxing at all for Adrian. He had to run out of the tent several times to go to the toilet. In the middle of the night, he additionally got fever attacks. Until we reached a clinic on the following day, Fabian complained having fever and headaches as well. The malaria test showed an infection for Fabian and Adrian had to do three tests of which two were negative and one did not even work.
Therefore, we gathered all our energy to get to the next village and found a hospital. The doctors tested Adrian’s blood with the help of a microscope for malaria and typhoid. Both tests showed negative results and the doctor assumed a stomach infection.
Therefore, we decided to search for a place to stay and asked a woman and an older man in front of the courthouse. They said it would not be a problem to sleep in the courthouse. For us it seemed a bit strange, but we did not comment on it. A bit later, we had to move, since some official people were not pleased with us sleeping there and a room was organized.
Sara, who finally organized us a room at her brother’s place, visited us from time to time and we talked about life in Ghana. She was a middle-aged woman and had still no partner. This was a big deal for her, but at least she believes that God will take care of this unfortunate situation.
The position of women in Ghana is special and important. All women regard an occupation as self-evident and the rate of 80% confirms that. Interestingly, women never get the name of their husband, have their own bank account and it is possible to have children in the absence of a husband without ruining their image.
We spent most of the time inside our room to rest our sick bodies and watched a movie from time to time on our computer. Only to eat, we walked through town and talked with the interested people on the street.
We already felt better and ready to continue cycling. From everywhere, we heard church singing and priests preaching. In this region and generally in Ghana are many different churches and cults. Those include Presbyterianism, Methodism, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, The Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites, Baptistes, Lutheran Church, Rebirth Communities, Apostolic Communities, and Pentecostalism. Most of these churches are rarely seen in Switzerland. Sometimes, we only heard scattered, loud screaming from the churches and other times, we saw people dancing and there were even instruments.
Before continuing, we luckily found a Muslim woman, who does not visit the church and could sell us breakfast. The road was completely empty and all shops closed.
After a few kilometers, we reached the village, which lays on foot of the highest mountain in Ghana. We placed our bicycles in the forest and tried to find a path to the summit. This was rather difficult from our starting point and we had to fight through the thick jungle, until we found the right trail. The ascent was steep and some motivating signs told us when we reached another quarter of the altitude.
From the summit on a bit less than 600 meters, we enjoyed the beautiful view and the surrounding mountains over casted with fog. A few peaks already lay on the Togolese side, since we were located close to the border.
After we descended with some funny local tourists form the capital, we walked to the Tagbo waterfall as well. The stunning trail led us first through various plantations and afterwards along a stream deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, the steep valley ended and we reached the imposing waterfall.
In a small village, we saw a white man walking and asked him what he is doing here. He worked here as a teacher with a friend four years ago and now visited their friends in the village. The German guys offered us a place to sleep and we exchanged our experiences in Ghana during dinner.
After we left the small, sleepy village and cycled a bit on the damaged main road, the road got suddenly extremely steep. Ascents of approximately 20% and serpentines like on a mountain road in the Alps let us sweat and breathe like some old horses. When we climbed the strenuous 350 m uphill, we decided despite tired legs, to climb another 250 m to the highest village in Ghana. Directly after our arrival, torrential rain started and we realized how lucky we were to arrive just before the rain. We skipped the nearby summit covered in fog and cycled downhill again. Soon, the road got even steeper and we enjoyed the amazing view on the surrounding mountains.
After our last night in Ghana, we ate the last time «Coco» for breakfast. This porridge, made from maize powder, ginger, chili, hot water and other spices is our favorite breakfast in West Africa. At the last village before the border, we saw women, men and children working in small quarries and felt like being in the 18th century.
At the customs, the officials did not want to believe us that we really cycled all the way from Europe to Ghana. We answered all their questions and the same situation happened again at the immigration office. During these conversations, we were reminded again how much Ghanaians like to laugh and we left the country with a nice ending.
Ghana gained independence in 1957 as the first colony in the tropical part of Africa. The most famous person is probably Kofi Attan Annan, who got popular through his position in the UN. After Ivory Coast, Ghana is the second largest exporter of cacao in the World. Many farmers earn less than 1 USD per day and therefore live in poverty. In addition, Ghana is the second largest producer of gold in Africa after South Africa. Almost a third of all cars on Ghana’s road are from South Korea and we even saw many people with Korean T-shirts instead of Chinese ones.
Based on the first name, one knows immediately on which day a person was born. Therefore, in most parts of the country, there are only fourteen names. If parents have several kids born on the same weekday, they must use local remedies. In general, nicknames like scorpion are rather popular. According to this interesting name giving, everyone knows exactly that Kofi Annan was born on a Friday.
Another interesting fact is that we saw hardly any smokers in Ghana due to the extremely low acceptance among the population.