Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On the outside looking in...

Boxing Day -- Thanks to the lingering influence of the Brits, Boxing Day is a holiday here in Ghana. Can't complain about an extra day off. BEP and I decided to hop on our bikes for a few hours of local riding. The fact that we can and do hop on our bikes and zip around for several hours without having to consult a map or ask for directions (a futile exercise here in any event) suggests that Accra is becoming home. In many ways it is, but today's ride also reminded me just how "other" things still feel and how much more I have to learn about this place I'm calling home for two years. I see. I kind of know what I'm seeing. But I have only the most superficial understanding of it. A few examples might illustrate.

A few minutes after setting out from home, we passed the airport. Just outside the entrance, a mini-city has sprung up along the side of the road of vendors and people sleeping, praying and waiting. They are, I have heard, pilgrims taking part in the Hajj. Ghana has a significant Muslim population so it is not surprising that people take part in the Hajj. But what is the story behind this mini-encampment? Is it just the result of people caught in travel snafus that have left them stranded (that'd be my first guess) or some more complex story. We ride by.

At the next major intersection, we come across the usual array of hawkers selling food, auto parts, you-name-it, but mixed among them are people dressed in jumpsuits made of brightly colored scraps of cloth and rather frightening looking masks and wigs. They seem to be collecting money. I've been told this is a Christmas tradition (it looks more like a mardi gras outfit than anything I'd associate with Christmas) but what is the origin, who takes part, why? We ride on.

At the last major junction -- Atomic Junction -- before we hit some open road (actually it is a congested area that lasts at least two miles) , we find ourselves in the midst of the ever-popular relatively good-natured game of chicken that plays out on the roads throughout Ghana. We do battle with the tro-tros that are packed to the gills with travelers and weaving on and off the shoulder to pick up and drop off passengers with alarming irregularity. Somehow, everyone seems to know where the tro tro is going and when it will stop. I'm told that the hand gestures are the key -- they all look like frantic waves to me. Perhaps someday, I'll decode it all. We make it through unscathed and hit the open road. At last I feel at "home" -- on a bike, going fast and headed to the hills.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas ! ! !

Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza and Boxing Day as well.
Who on earth came up with that corny photo idea and what possessed us to actually take it (it took some doing to place the camera just-so for a time-delayed shot)? Chalk it up to holiday spirit in the tropics.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Second job offer!

I just received a call from my wife to tell me about a job opening. She was kind of rushed, but covered the specifics thoroughly enough and needed me to accept right then and there.

The offer seemed decent - free food and drink as well as a uniform. Alas, I had to decline to be Santa for a Day at an embassy Christmas party. No, winter coats, baggy pants, tall boots and hats just aren't my style in the middle of the day. Besides, it would be such a disappointment to see Santa wiping sweat from his brow with his fake beard and fighting off the early symptoms of heat stroke. Sorry for that visual. Sorry to decline.

"What about that first real job offer," you ask. Ah, that is story for another day.

Friday, December 15, 2006

What to do with that old bike?

This question was asked recently on the MORE forum. Being that time of year when many of us replace, replenish or replicate something that works just fine, I fully understand the dilemma of the bike crazed consumer - what should we do with that old bike or part (or just about any other object found in a typical house)? Be it buyer's remorse or simply a lack of storage space, we eventually clue in that it might be fine time to downsize.

Since arriving in Ghana, I've had a few email exchanges and phone conversations with various non-profit organizations promoting bicycle usage in developing communities. In my own words, the promotion and description of the programs list below would be entirely simplistic. They all collect donated bikes and parts for distribution and affordable resale through various means. They all need used bikes. Bikes can be just a means to obtaining a better life - not just a indicator of having already achieved it.

Best to skim the sites for yourself for the full story...

Bikes for the World

Village Bike Project

Chain Reaction Youth Bike Shop (DC)

Surely there are many other programs that operate domestically as well.

In my most recent phone coversation with a BftW rep back in Arlington, VA, we discussed how I might be able to provide a somewhat local perspective of the bike scene in Accra and beyond. What works? What doesn't work? What is the Government of Ghana doing to promote cycling (sorry, had to chuckle)? How are bikes being used? What do bikes/parts cost? Who rides bikes? Why?

I'm pretty excited have the opportunity to do something like this.

Oh, so don't scrap that old bike. Recycle it!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

New York to Accra non-stop on Delta

Delta Rounds Out Year of International Expansion in New York with Nonstop Flights to Africa


Good news!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tafi Abuipe, Ghana - Kente

Biakpa, Ghana - Mountain biking

Day Two - All trails lead to Kpedze.

We weren't the first to rise. The local villagers beat us. They must have been up at 6am on Saturday morning. We could hear the faint singing and talking as they passed by on the road a few hundred yards away - perhaps going to a funeral or to market according to the MPL owner.

We finally emerged from our room around 7:30 for breakfast before heading out on a self-guided mountain bike tour. According to the topo maps, a combination of road, tracks and trails could link together four villages. Off we went down the road descending more quickly than any car - not that there were any, but simply the mtbs were in their element on the rocky bumpy road. At Fume, we headed east up a similar rocky road through Gbadzeme village. Although we pass through slowly and quietly, the sudden appearance of two freaky looking white people on bikes wearing helmets is reason enough for the local kids and adults to stop, turn, wave and(thankfully) offer, "you are welcome." It is such a pleasant contrast to the annoying "obruni" we encounter in Accra, and simply ignore. The road passes through the village center and into groves of casava, where there is a split. A quick consult of the map is confirmed by the local farmer who points us to the right. The road, now mostly just and overgrown road with a singletrack down the center rises quickly testing our legs a bit before topping out at Amedzope.

At Amedzope we were greeted in the town center by three teens who escorted us to the very oddly prominent visitor's center. We explained our route to the VC staff. One recommended that the trail is not worth riding to the next town - Kpedze. We had been assured by the MPL owner that the same route was ridden the week earlier. Another staff agreed that the trail does exist, and pointed us down the road. Before leaving Amedzope, we grabbed a quick drink. Shouldn't every tough climb have a bar at the top?

The next few miles of trail were all singletrack. Surely not recreational trails given the number of people walking with bundles of firewood or handsawn planks of lumber on their heads. Sweet trails none the less. We were mindful to control our speed and greet any locals we met along the way.

After another 45 minutes or so of gradual descending, we had to make another fork-in-trail decision. We chose left this time following the sounds of singing and drumming presumably on the fringe of Kpedze. The 1973 topo map was not so much help at this point, but we guestimated that the trail must lead to the village. The singing and drumming, and occasional kaboom that sounded alarmingly like a gunshot but was probably just a kaboom, was just the Kpedze "Kid Fest" wrapping up for the day. We managed to sneak through to the main road rather unnoticed.

The rest of the ride wandered to Dzolokpuita around the south base of the range. From there, we headed up a well maintained dirt road back up into the range through Vane, Biakpa and finally the MPL.

We were back at the MPL well before dark, showered but tired, relaxing and rehydrating ready for another nice meal. We're excited to return knowing that there are so many more trails and roads to explore on the bikes.

Biakpa - Kulugu River waterfall hike

With a few hours of daylight remaining after settling into the Mountain Paradise Lodge, SJD and I inquired about one of the local short hikes starting from the lodge. A guide would lead us down the road and into the forest, up and down trails to a series of secluded waterfalls for a small fee. Since we spend waaaay too much time at REI with the end result being a sense of being terminally over prepared, we grabbed our Camelbaks, laced up our hikers, slathered on sunscreen and bug spray, donned our sun hats and joined our guide - Princeton.

Princeton, who apparently has not read any Bill Bryson or Jon Krakauer, headed out in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, carrying a piece of brown bread. Not TEVAs or KEENS. Blue rubber flip flops, without socks. He answered all our questions as we stumbled down the road to the trail head. My question: "Why the machete?" I didn't quite make out his answer, but kinda wanted to believe I heard him say, "Oh, to clear the path of branches and weeds." Into the woods we followed to a rock ledge with a dangling rope down to the first waterfall.

SJD drops in.

We're being watched from a safe distance.

Waterfall number one. Check!

Onward and up the trail we passed through a farmer's small plot in the middle of the forest. Apparently this is on Princeton's regular loop, so our five minute visit was not an intrusion to their privacy. The husband and wife grow bananas, cocoa, avacadoes, palm oil nuts, and yams. All non-mechanized farming up to the point when they sell it in the nearest village - 3 miles away by foot, plus 1 mile in the forest. He shared that the house may last up to six years depending on the weather. The thatch roof probably three years. The three sons have left home for school or work in Accra. We thanked them for the visit and pressed on to the lodge.

Princeton eventually lead us straight up the slope of the hill to the foot of the lodge. Clearly the trails are the shortest distance between two points - not necessarily intended to be scenic, sustainable or easy to walk on in boots, flip-flops, or bare feet.

Back at the lodge, tired and hungry, we ate a simple but nicely prepared Ghanaian dinner as the sun set.

Escape from Accra!

Feeling the need to escape Accra, SJD and I loaded up the car with the mountain bikes, maps, snacks and clothing for a long weekend in the Volta Region. The VR is the hilly and green sliver of land nestled between the Lake Volta and the border of Togo. The air was certain to be cooler and fresher than in Accra. We hoped to see some sites, relax, ride, relax, eat and relax. We ended up staying at the Mountain Paradise Lodge, about half way between the towns of Ho and Hohoe, near the village of Biakpa.

For our first major solo outing in our car here in Ghana, I wanted to make doubly sure we would not encounter any problems mechanically or navigationally. We copied all important insurance, registrtation and license docments in case we would be asked to present them. The car was topped off with fuel. Plenty of maps. I stowed a reflective traffic saftey triangle as required by law. All set. Three of for more trips later back inside the house to make sure we unplugged the iron, toaster, TV and computer we were ready to go. Oh yeah, Ghana requires a small fire extinguisher be carried in cars. Not entirely sure where to get one right now, I grabbed one from the house - the big one! The Ghanain gardner, Emmanuel, had a good laugh watching us. Finally we're off for the hills!

Traffic was light, and we were making decent time. Not rushed. Just crusing along getting a chuckle at the reaction and gestures of onlookers to a small car with two half-assembled bikes mounted on top. Certainly not an oddity in the US to see bikes dangling off cars, but in Ghana, oh yes, it grabs one's attention. Stop, turn, point. Kinda the same way I stop, turn, and scratch my head everytime I see a tro-tro or flatbed truck stacked high with oil barrels, couches or humans. Well, the Ghana Police Service apparently didn't think it was just simply amusing as we approached the check point north of Ashaiman. We were waved to the side of the road. I cracked the window as the officer approached the driver's side. He simply asked where we were headed, and for how long before politely wishing us a safe trip. The officers on the other side jabbered on and pointed to various stickers and the bikes on top. SJD just smiled. We pulled away a minute later feeling relieved but a bit annoyed.

Eventually the scenery changes from dry and dusty to greener agricultural plots. Tro-tros pick and drop passengers along the way. People are still walking great distances between towns. Two more police check points produce only curious stares, but no suspicion. An hour or so later we are deep into the Volta Region, passing through small farming villages at the base of a low mountain Akwapim Togo Range. Soon after we turn off the paved road, onto a three-mile gravel and rock strewn switchback road leading up to the Mountain Paradise Lodge.

MPL is the lone structure solidly perched on the top of a hill overlooking a lush valley near Mount Gemi, Amedzope, Gbadzeme, waterfalls, a monkey sanctuary and not much else. The MPL is off the "grid". Perhaps a generator supplies power, but it was not used during our stay. Solar and oil lanterns provided sufficient light for dinner and relaxing before bed. It is quite a pleasant place with attentive staff serving decent meals. The photo below is from the open air dining porch.

Maps - Accra and abound

Okay...you can skip this post if you're not planning to visit Ghana, or have no intention of venturing beyond Accra. By the way, you should do both. Yes, this is another commentary on maps.

We've been relying on the Bradt Guide (THANKS BOSTON PROPERTIES!!) to plan our trips. For the most part, information in the 2004 update seems correct and fair. Prices have naturally escalated a bit since printing. One collapsed bridge has been repaired. It is a good guide book specific to Ghana - or as far as we can tell, the only one available in the US.

International Travel Maps "Ghana - scale 1:500,000" is the only map we could purchase in the US specific to Ghana. It is fairly accurate. Togo is correctly indicated to the east. The ocean is correctly indicated to the south. Data to the north, as far as we can tell, should not be relied upon without verification as mentioned in the previous "Aburi and Back" post. A bike trip last week uncovered yet another mapping mistake - locating a hill top village of Larteh in a valley. No worries.

Before heading out of town last Friday morning, we made another visit to the local Department of Surveys (Airport and Gifford Road junction). Here you can buy the much more accurate scale: 1:50,000 topographic maps for any specific area you might want to visit. C50,000 ($5.40) gets you a 24"x36" multi-colored paper sheet that indicates contours, trails, roads, villages, water, structures. With surprisingly accurate for data gathered in 1973, we're only amending whether or not minor roads are still dirt, or have since been improved. Also, we're locating gas stations and police barricades.

Oh look, here is SJD below comparing, overlaying, triangulating and plotting our course.

I'm curious to read comments on GPS usage here. Anyone?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wednesday morning

A few images from Wednesday AM crit practice. The red "Ontario" jerseys were donated by Ontariocycling.org in 2006. The Ghanaian team hopes to travel and race in Canada and the US in 2007.

Above: pre-practice group shot.

Above: It looks like an old 7 speed cassette (with a huge gap in the middle) mated to whatever changer was available. It works though. I think I'll be able to find a good home for all those used bike parts cluttering our basement.

Above: Nobody ever passes on the inside line. Wonder why...

Above: Two post practice shots.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Neighborhood crits with the National Cycling Team

What more could a wanna-be bike racer geek ask for?

As mentioned in the Ride fast.Turn right.Repeat post, I met up with the national team for an early morning crit practice session. 7AM just a few blocks from our house, but we never thought to look there/then. There is no online information available. Actually they meet on a street adjacent to the US Embassy that is currently under construction.

The course was short but with a brutal little rise that seemed to get steeper at 20 laps. I hung for 18, but had to rest for two.

Wednesday, I may meet them again to snap some photos.

In a country where soccer is king, these guys have decided to ride bikes.

If you need to call me,

my cell number code word is "ochopawalo". It doesn't mean anything, but has a nice ring to it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ride fast. Turn right. Repeat

Sunday morning I had an 8am invitation to race with the local road teams in Accra. Actually it was just a practice race for the season starting in December. A race none the less. No entry fee or race numbers to pin on. My last criterium race was back in July in the US - a rainy day on a twisty course, and overall not much fun. Although I've been riding a fair bit in Accra, I was unsure just what to expect this morning.

Criterium per Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterium

Organizers in the US usually stage racers a few minutes before the start to restate any details about the event - distance, dangerous corners, special rules, sportsmanship reminders, etc... It can sound like a broken record after a while, but is necessary. Today there was none of that, or maybe there was, but I missed it due to the language barrier. So there was a 10 second countdown and we were off, without me knowing if this was a 10 or 15 lap race. There was a motorcycle escort for a lap or two, but otherwise the road was open to traffic, albeit light early Sunday morning traffic. Twenty or so starters settled into a good 23-24mph average speed for the first few laps. The pace was comfortable for a flat course, but I know that these crits generally pick up the speed after the half-way mark and again at the very end. On the final lap there might be only two or three guys that are real contenders for the win.

I rode at or near the front of the pack for five laps sharing the work of setting pace and breaking the wind. Just to see what would happen, I tried a one lap break away. Reality restored order and the pack caught me very quickly. About eight laps in I'm really curious how many laps we have to go. More conflicting information. Nine laps??? "To go, or completed" I ask. A small group that was resting in back for laps 1-8 has now moved to the front and is pulling away while I'm realizing I'm pretty tired. My group of six stragglers rotates through eventually dropping two riders. I'm completely out of water, when the consensus seems to be that we have another 4 laps to go. I'd really like to just pull over and stop, but the three other racers seem to want to race to the bitter end, so I keep going. Finally we get the bell lap - one to go. I take my pull early and settle in on the back stretch. The finish has a slight down hill to a 90 degree turn and 200m flat straight to the finish. I punch it into the corner in 2nd place, swing wide and grab another gear. The guy in first stays in front. We have a good sprint for spots 2-4, although I think I was nipped at the line. Not bad I guess.

Afterwards, the gentleman that was counting laps and keeping time introduced himself and a few riders that are on the Ghana National Cycling Team. We arranged another early Tuesday morning ride in our neighborhood.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Escape from Accra!

It has been over a month since we ventured out of Accra by car (another blog entry will expand on this some day). The bike club jaunts, although interesting and physical at times, never really satisfy the need to leave everything behind and see something new.

Last night our friends Dan and Giselle phoned to ask if SJD and I would be interested in checking out the Accra-Tema Yacht Club. I didn't really have any plans, but SJD was tied up with work and reluctantly had to decline the offer. Accra has some pretty swanky parts of town, with enormous opulent gated residences with pricey Mercedes, BMWs and Land Rovers parked in front. On the other hand, it also has it's fair share of people living in very substandard and unfortunate conditions. Could Accra really have a yacht club? Well, we must find out for ourselves. I always kinda cringed walking past the white yachts anchored in Georgetown on a Saturday evening while those on board ostentatiously sipped champagne. Well, the answer is yes - there is a yacht club in Accra.

Dan, Giselle and I headed east an hour or so beyond the suburban sprawl and into the scrub, before heading south a bit down rutted dirt roads through the fishing villages that line the Volta River where it dumps into the Gulf of Guinea at Ada Foah. After a few minutes of searching, we located the ATYC - the first patrons of the day. In the case of the ATYC, the term "yacht" may be a bit of an overstatement. I'm not exactly a sailor, but these yachts available for hourly rent did not exactly conjure up thoughts of caviar, huge wakes.
No, they were something you might expect to see tied down in the back of a pick-up truck barreling down the highway. Starfish. Laser. Ok, we really did know that we were going sail boating - not yachting. We were a bit surprised to be stuffed - the three of us - into the little yellow boat pictured behind Dan and Giselle. No signed and notarized waivers. No collateral driver's license. No map. Just life preservers and a shove away from shore. This is not the US afterall.

Dan grew up sailing he assured me. Giselle, his wife, seemed at ease so I sat still and let Dan pull rope, steer and instruct us when to lean or duck our heads under the boom. The Volta water was quite smooth and the winds were light. We headed down river passing several beachside mud walled, thatch roofed villages nestled under coconut trees. There were several docks, but not a single white yacht. Instead, lengthy wood canoes with motors lumbered from shore to shore loaded to the max with people and goods. The boat in the background is empty, but you can kinda get the picture. The blue and white boat in the foreground is for hire from a restaurant presumably for tourists.

Anyway, back to our little seafaring adventure. Dan is navigating quite well. We haven't capsized or rammed any boats. Eventually we pass a few sand bars and can see the ocean tide breaking at the mouth of the Volta - maybe a 1/2 mile ahead. As the gentle water begins to churn a bit, we decide it is best to swing 'er 'round and head back up wind and up river. Dan instructs us to duck as he whips the little boat 180 degrees with ease. The sail fills with air, and by looking at our wake behind the rudder it appears that we're really cruising. Looking at the trees on the shore it appears that we're standing still or perhaps moving backwards with the current. The constant river tide is matching our forward progress and soon enough is beating it. For about 15 minutes we monitor our lack of progress up stream as we drift closer to the shore. The ocean tide seems to be coming in behind us which it seems, logically, should give us that little push we need to get moving again. Instead it just seems to make us roll up and down in place. What would Shackleton do? What would Gilligan do? What would Dennis Conner do? Dan pointed the boat directly into shore. I'm happy to report that we're safe and sound, enjoying the sand and plentiful coconuts on a deserted beach opposite the ATYC. Come visit! Well, okay not quite.

We dragged the little boat around the horn of a sandbar and strategized for a moment before setting sail again. Our location would allow us to sail into the wind but perpendicular to the current briefly. Even if we drifted a bit we would be spit out into the calmer waters very shortly. Well, all worked just fine. The water was nice and warm - shallow enough at times to require a gentle shove.

Back on course we pulled into the ATYC a half hour later and headed to the local hotel/restaurant for some (what else?) pizza.

For those following along at home, the Bradt Guide page 214-218 has some good info on Ada Foah.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Susan and I hosted about twelve friends, spouses and co-workers last evening to a somewhat traditional dinner. We managed to procure three turkey breasts (or would that be six?)...well, the bodies of three turkeys in any case...minus the wings. The rest of the menu was kinda cobbled together with last minute trips to the three local grocery stores, two liquor merchants, the commissary and local vegetable stands. One-stop shopping seems so amateur :-) Next year we'll be prepared!
So here is the menu.

Wine and beer
Hommos and pita chips
Cheese and crackers
Carrots and celery sticks

Roasted herb turkey breast
Yams and apple casserole
Roasted potatos with garlic (lots) and red onion
Roasted green beans with dill and mustard sauce.

Famous chocolate wafer log
Ice cream
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Pound cake

We wish we could have shared the day with even more of our friends and family, but hope that each of you did the same someplace.
We're especially thankfull to report that everyone reported to work today without food poisoning.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Meet the Chain Gang

Here is our local bike club, The Chain Gang, getting ready for another Sunday morning ride. They meet at 8am, chit-chat for a while until someone decides to roll out - usually around 9am. First stop is generally 9:02 at the local gas station to pump up the tires. Around 9:15 we roll out in earnest. We were told by two Australians that 8AM GMT is also known as Ghana-Man Time. Makes sense.

Yesterday, Sunshine (white/blue shirt, shorts with yellow stripe) informed us that the ride would take us out to the former salt ponds area west of Accra. I've explored quite a bit by bike, but have yet to go many places alone - somewhat for safety, but also because maps detail is lacking.

Some more photos along the way.

Approaching Independence Square on the way out of Osu.

Passing through Jamestown.

A very determined and impatient driver.

Ah, the things that you don't experience speeding along in a air conditioned car. The blaring high-life music. Curious children.

Traffic jams. Weaving and rattling tro-tros loading and unloading passengers. The open gutters and odor.

Ahh...love those tro-tros at Kaneshi Market.

The ride was dragging on and seeming more like a death race than a recreational ride. We decided to call it a day and meander back home on our own.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kotobabi Soccer

A fellow dip husband and I had an invitation to play soccer on Sunday afternoon. Just the chance to kick the ball around. No keeping score. Certainly no full field or goalies.

It has been about five years since I last kicked the ball on the National Mall. At that time I was trying to balance my biking habit with something different - soccer. I suppose a more productive use of time would have been to read more books, create something, or brush up on a language. Nah...soccer. Well, each week I would limp home with sore knees and ankles. The high school soccer muscles had fully transformed into their current cycling muscles under a slight layer of 30-something body fat. That little experiment lasted probably six weeks.

This weekend, David and I met our Ghanaian contact Tirol (???) at nearby grocery store. During the phone conversation that lead up to the arrangements, Tirol used the words "friendly", "coach" that made David and I kinda wonder just what we were getting into. Certainly this was just a pick-up game. Maybe a practice at best. A short cab ride to the Kotobabi soccer pitch exposed the truth a bit more. As Tirol explained, he was sitting out this game recovering from malaria. The other team, he begain to explain... Wait a second. We wanted to assure Tirol that we were just two guys approximately twice his age looking to kick a ball, that had infact not kicked a ball in recent memory. I was trying to avoid embarassing myself by recalling one of the more basic rules. We hadn't even arrived, but realized we were in waaaay over our head.

We paid the taxi driver his fare at the edge of the lot, and sure enough at the soccer pitch there was a small crowd sitting in the shade watching the current game. I kind of whispered to David that the crowd would only certainly grow if the two of us attempted to play. I think he agreed, that although it might be quite amusing to watch to older guys trip over there own feet, that the game deserved more. We took a seat under the tree and watched.

The Kotobabi pitch is just a red clay dirt open space with a slight downward slop to the north goal. Chalked touch lines had long since been worn away by the previously played matches. There is no grass to be seen - just the gritty red clay. What could possibly grow in this heat and under the enless games afterall. There are no bleachers. No scoreboard. No soccer-moms with coolers and collaspable chairs.

Without any grass to slow down the ball, the ball movement is very fast to the point of seeming out-of-control at times. Bounces are big. Simply keeping the ball in bounds and under control seems difficult enough. The field surface does not provide much traction for making quick stops, starts or changes in direction. The gound is too hard for cleats to dig in, but too slippery for shoes to grip. Attackers kick up dust, then plant a foot and slide before booting the ball on goal. The goalie attempting to stop the shot, moves his feet until eventually gaining traction. My joints just ache watching the players twist, slide and bump chasing the ball. The local Dynamic All-Stars control the ball from the whistle, and pelt the opposing goal with shot after shot.

Tirol explains that this field is the home field of one of the current Ghanaian National Team - The Black Stars (Michael Essien?) that surprised so many major world soccer giants in the 2006 World Cup. Certainly the recent soccer accomplishments by the Black Stars must inspire the local players the way Michael Jordan or Lance Armstrong does in the US. There is definitely an enormous amount of athletic talent and determination displayed on the field this day - probably every day. Every player has the basics skills and a enough flair to be a standout on any team I've played on.

We'll be back someday.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Strange days

The day started out normal...for being in Ghana. Breakfast and coffee at 6:30 AM. Checked the tire pressure on the bike. Downloaded some NPR podcasts.

SJD had asked me to do some ironing since her week had been very busy at the office. No problem. Might as well get it out of the way before considering a bike ride or plans for the rest of the day. Recall our extra large house? I went to the Ironing Board Room and plugged in the iron. The IBR is next to the Room Without a Purpose Room. Anyway, I'm ironing away just fine. As I hang the first garment, I notice something small plop onto the floor, but don't pay much attention to it. After two or three more items, I'm done. I unplug the iron. Voila! Done. I catch a closer look at the something small that went plop on the floor and realize I've ironed one of our house geckos. Yes, less than two inches long and grey-green with four toes. Kinda like the commercials without the schmarmy sales pitch. Cute little guys, or girls. They wander around the corners and ceilings of the house silently and efficiently eating bothersome insects. We don't ask or invite them to do it. They just take it upon themselves to keep our place tidy. So now we're down one gecko. I guess he was hiding in SJD's shirt and didn't think to scurry out out when things got hot. To make amends to the remaining geckos, I stirred up the ants nest on the front porch in hopes of providing a special treat.

All chores complete and evidence of the ironing mishap disposed, I headed downtown for lunch. Nothing too weird there, except for the quicker than normal service.

Next stop, the Mapping and Survey Department for another map. You may recall from earlier posts that maps of Ghana leave a bit to the imagination. Somehow, the Canadians have managed to map Ghana in great detail. Sure the maps were original in 1974, and are not exactly sized for easy transport, but the roads and villages seem to jive with reality - something KLM maps (depsite all the tech available to fly planes) doesn't quite seem able to pull off. Michelin, for whatever reason, isn't even a player in the map business here. So, thanks Canada! I purchased another great big map for adventures another day. The guys at the MSD always seem to have exactly what I'm looking for right at hand. So the day takes a strange twist after that. I mapped out a short route to the near northwest side of Accra. Main arterial roads with wide shoulders. One or two turns to remember. I was headed to the gate of the Achimoto Forest Preserve since our guide book suggested it might be a viable place to ride bikes without having to deal with much/any traffic. Getting there is easy enough. There is a gate with people streaming in and out. A kiosk to the side lists hours, but has the fees scratched off, so I ride on through. As far as forests go, Achimoto is a bit underwhelming. Trees do not seem to grow higher than 15', but the vegetation is extremely dense. Several people are carrying books and plastic patio chairs and exiting the park on foot via dirt roads laid out on a perfect grid. Something isn't right. It seems as though people were making Achimoto home, and I didn't want to surprise anyone. Hey, folks call Rock Creek Park and streets all over DC home too, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this. I give it few more minutes before deciding that I'd come back another day with someone who has been here.

As I'm back-tracking my ride back into town, I pass a car and truck stopped at a busy intersection. Two Ghana Police and a few other people are standing on the island gesturing and talking on cell phones. Figuring it is just another minor fender bender it doesn't really catch my attention. Another glance over my shoulder, and I realize I know the woman (AKA Jane)involved, and I circle back around to ask if things are okay with her. Physically everyone is fine, even if clearly frustrated. Cars sustained only minor damage. The GP are directing both drivers to move cars from the turn lane. Jane snaps a few digital photos. With some reluctance, both drivers move the vehicles. (Where is the cop car? The badges? The radios? Back up? In DC, this would surely mobilize three or four squad cars.) In Ghana, well.....let's see... A call to the local station eventually got the attention of a dispatcher who recommended Jane call a cab to deliver two officers to the scene. No, squad cars are not very plentiful, but taxis are everywhere. Cops are on the scene, although I'm not really sure how they got there - doesn't really matter at this point. A minute or two later, the officer allows the truck to leave the scene. We ask the cop what is going on, but there is no answer. One officer is producing a nice sketch, but there are none of the normal exchanges of name/insurance/address/license. The other officer is growing impatient. More waiting... The cop launches into an exhaustive and wandering diatribe accussing the US and Jane of being arrogant, imprisoning the innocent, obruni this, obruni that... Finally, the officer instructs Jane that the investigation will occur back at the local sub-station, and that in fact that is where the other truck would be found (doubtful). Well, why didn't he say that 20 minutes ago? Of course, they need to hitch a ride back to the sub-station in a passing pick-up truck. Throughout the mini-drama, the street vendors continued to try to sell belts, dog leashes, plantains and other miscellaneous items to the cops and Jane .

As if the gecko, Achimoto and the police were not enough, I almost tripped over a sleeping night guard while taking out the garbage -- it must have been a friend of our guard, who was dutifully awake. That is enough for one day.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Inaugural Ghana Aluminum Man Triathlon - Akosombo, Ghana

Here we are with the Directeur Sportif of the inaugural Ghana Aluminum Man Triathlon.

Simon Hankinson explains the format of the event.

Run 2.8 miles,
Swim 500m across Lake Volta
Bike 16.5 miles
1800' of elevation gain

Simon - "We'll run to this point right over here."
Dylan - "Hmm...okay. I've seen worse."
David - "Looks kinda steep."
Brian - "I can't even see the water from where I'm standing."
Simon - "Look just beyond the weeds."

Simon - "Perhaps we can just hack through the weeds and throw a rope down the slope. No problem."

Simon - "At this point, you'll enter the Volta River and swim 500m to the other side. We'll give this guy a few cedis to pluck any stragglers from the water.

Brian -"What was that about bilharzia?'

Simon - "Anyone not swimming can add another mile to the run by going over the bridge to the bike segment."

Actual race recap to follow...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Months 1-4 condensed

Okay. Here is a quick photo recap of the four month prior to arriving in Ghana.

Here we have the lucky bride an even luckier groom with some of the happy family.

A day trip to Chicago for another architecture boat tour. Here, SJD catches the bean reflecting lower Michigan Avenue.

Location: Millennium Park, Chicago

SJD pauses momentarily to scratch her head and consider which way is down.

Location: Mt. Dickerman, North Cascades, Washington State.

I wonder if SJD is thinking the same as me. High enough yet?

Location: Mt. Rainier, Washington State

Me foraging for SJD's dinner.

Location: Kitts Beach, Vancouver, British Columbia

Go Team City Bikes! My next to last mountain bike race for 2006 in the US.

Location: Quantico Marine Base, Virginia

Remembering grandpa.

Location: Corey Lake, Michigan

An afternoon at the beach with my sister and niece.

Location: Indiana Dunes National Park

Moving day in DC. I guess this means we're really going to Ghana.

Location: Washington, DC

Monday, October 16, 2006

This American Life podcast

Now available via Podcasts for free apparently.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Not another bike blog entry...

Today, SJD and I decided to head out east from Accra on the road again to do bit of a recon ride on unfamiliar roads. Keeping our previous experience riding to Aburi in mind, we decided to keep things fairly simple with an out and back route. A mile from home I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a group of 20 or so receational cyclists waiting at the side of the road. I motioned to SJD to pull a u-turn to stop and say hello. We quickly changed our plans and tagged along with the club Chain Gang Ghana, not really sure they were headed or for how long. The CGG members were riding knobby tire mountain bikes of various vintage. SJD and I were riding slick tire vintage commuter bikes. They were friendly enough to ask us along, but were probably wondering just how we long would hang on before the trails and roads would get the best of our bikes.

The route back tracked along a few familiar roads for a while as the pace increased. As the pack was strung out, a rest stop was in order. A rather long rest stop, but it provided a few more introductions and the usual equipment comparisons before we rolled out again (note from SJD - the riders were quite impressed with BEP's speed on his SS commuter). More road. I figured the guys must be headed to some trails soon. Now some of the better roads around Accra can be rather rough, even by Washington, DC standards. The minor roads can rip wheels off cars. Perhaps this explains the mtbs on pavement. In any case, a long ride will likely involve a bit of rough riding. There were a few nice climbs and a short section of dirt thrown in for good measure, followed by equally long rest stops where bunches of bananas and watermelon was offered. So on and on it went for another two hours adding and subtracting riders before the big finale sprint into town. (Kinda sketchy there guys). The ride ended at noon at a local bar (not Kilroys, the beer was just as cold but Kilroy's doesn't have women who come around with aluminum tubs on their heads full of plastic bags of squid for sale or the ritualized offering/collection associated with a funeral taking place nearby). Plenty of the usual guy/bike banter. Apparently they ride every Sunday at 8am. We'll be back.

An Aussie couple on the ride introduced us to a young Ghanaian - apparently the National Champion cyclist-- who stopped by for the post-ride socializing. Also apparently, Accra was supposed to host a major West African Cycling race today. A criterium competion of local clubs. Unfortunatley we heard nothing of it ahead of time. Perhaps more unfortunately, the event was postponed when the sponsors pulled out last minute. So we missed it, but not really. It was somewhat unclear if the event has open entry or is a club event only. There is very little information via normal means (bikereg, list serves) that we're aware of so far.

Ok, the next entry will be non-bike related.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Accra to Aburi

by bike in a day. SJD and I have heard that Aburi will be our best best for real mountainbiking around Accra. Accra seems rather flat and congested surrounded by more flatness - not the best combination for trail riding. Aburi lies about 30km north of Accra on the top of a low mountain range. We set out early Sunday morning on commuter bikes with the intenion of riding to Aburi, and just turning around.

All was going well the first hour on the roads. The tro-tros didn't run us off the road. A Ghanaian rode along with us for a mile or so chatting away about Aburi and his bike...I think. Eventually the pavement ended at a barricade and a small kiosk. Out pops a Ghana Police to ask where we're headed. Aburi we assure him. By bike? Yes, by bike. Why? Because. He pointed out that the road ahead was under construction. A moment later a construction type guy ( I can spot them) appeared. Same two questions/answers... He says we can ride through if we're careful. We nod to each other to be careful and proceed around the barricade and up the gravel switchbacks. The road climb offered nice valley views and a good workout.

Fast forward a few miles to the top in Ketase where we stop for a quick drink. The kiosk owner pulls out two plastic chairs for us. Very nice. A knock on the adjacent kiosk window produces two bottles of Coke from an eight year old girl. We quite the object of attention of the local kids. At one point, a little guy appears from around the corner. He stops dead in his tracks seeing SJD and me in bike helmets and garish (SJD disputes the use of garish to describe her tasteful lavender jersey) shirts. He retreats quickly to his friends.

Back on our bikes we finish the final 5km to Aburi for our turn around point. A small tour company www.ghanabike.com operates out of the end of town. We'll be sure to return.

Heading back south through Ketase to Accra we near the same construction zone from the north end. Construction workers have gathered, and we assume it must be the end of the day. SJD snaps this picture.

Just your average road sign warning of "unpredictable inconveniences." That could mean a lot of things in Ghana, but in this case it seemed to mean "blasting". Luckily a more diligent Ghana Police officer stops us from proceeding further. The options appear to be wait until blasting stops, or take a bypass. We bypass not entirely certain where or how we'll get back into Accra. The road is full of pot holes and rolls along the ridge a while before dropping back into the valley. Our map does not agree with the towns we're passing through. Names are spelled differently. Roads connect differently. Villages are not even mentioned. In the end the bypass is somewhat unpredictable, but conveniently funnels us back to a familiar intersection near home. We arrive at our house tired, thirsty and dusty.

I stopped by the Mapping and Surveying Bureau today to pick up a more accurate map. It is really amazing the misinformation provided by the tourist maps. Someone could ignore all warning signs and bypasses and simply wander into a blasting zone.

Columbus Day

A photo from an short trip to a local Batik print cloth shop - kinda a learning and shopping experience rolled up in one. The process seems pretty simple at first. Stamp blank cloth with wax design. Dip in dye. Let dry. I'm sure though that if I were to step in for anyone at this particular shop, things would go downhill rather quickly. It really was fascinating to watch for the hour we were there. There is nothing automated about it. Fire to melt the stamping wax. Sun to dry the dyed fabric. Not even a cash register or neon sign guiding us in.

I'm pretty certain that each piece of fabric is unique in pattern and color combination. The finished product was on display in the upper room of the house in the photo. Unfortunately the power was out in the neighborhood today (load shedding due to energy shortage), so we had to view colors out on the balcony in direct sun. Business as usual apparently.

The printed fabric is ready for sale straight from the drying lot if necessary. I bought 4yds of one print for C-72,000 (about $8US). I'm not really sure what will become of it. I've heard that tailors are very good and inexpensive. For now, the fabric adds some welcome color to our otherwise bland white home furnishings.

Later in the day, I went searching for maps - accurate maps!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Home away from home

Here is a photo of the front of our house in Accra. It is very white with lots of outdoor sitting areas. Six stoops, patios and porches last time I checked. The inside is even brighter white. Kinda hard to believe. I haven't yet taken time to name every room similar to our house in DC, simply because they all kinda look alike.

Hidden around the corner inside the wall is a small driveway. If/when our car ever arrives, this is where we'll find it. For now, we enjoy grand entries on our bikes...before hoisting them through the front door.

The gardner Emanuel has been keeping up with the gardening very nicely. I guess it is a year round gig for him since there really is not any big seasonal change. There is a papaya tree in the rear that we're keeping an eye on. Not sure if we wait for them to fall to the ground, or if I need to send SJD scampering up the trunk to retrieve them.

Right now it may just look like an ice cube tray full of mud, but just wait! Today I started a few seeds for our tomato plot. If tomatos like hot and humid, then they'll like Accra.

Or, I could also just walk around the corner to buy some fresh ones.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mr. Rexford's bikes

Ok, I have a few bikes stored in my house. More specifically 5 of the 6 bikes you could hop on and ride away right now. Then there are the boxes of bike parts that could possibly build another two or three bikes with a little help from Mr. Rexford (pictured). I stumbled upon Mr. Rexford's bike repair shop today while wandering through a rather interesting part of town. I'll have to retrace my route on a map to figure out just where I ended up.

Anyway, the main thoroughfare was lined with auto dealers. Turning onto the side street was like stepping into a junk yard, although a very organized junk yard. But is wasn't a junk yard at all. There was block after block in every direction of storefronts peddling used bumpers, wipers, dashboards, right doors, axles, engines, mirrors, cables, mufflers, gas caps, things, gizmos, doohickies and whatchamacalits. Oh yeah, batteries and dipsticks and lots of jacks. I'm not really sure why I kept going. Probably just to see how far it would go on. All used stuff. If the Makola market fruit and veggies was the most colorful place I've seen, this auto parts market was the darkest place. Everything black and covered in grease and dirt. Almost creepy in broad daylight.

Oh yeah, back to Mr. Rexford. Apparently the majority of the bikes are donations and cast-offs from Asia, US and Europe. Perhaps Bikes-not-Bombs collections... He didn't quite know for sure. Some notable items. Lots of horizontal slot frames. A belt drive bike. Lots of interesting and racks. Lots of scap. This is the smaller of three or four piles too.

We chatted a while longer about bikes, rides, hard work and Rasta (not sure why) with me mostly nodding in agreement until I needed to get out of the sun. Was interesting.

I just hope that I won't need to return for automobile related reasons once our car arrives.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Well, I've arrived in Ghana.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Entry No. 1

Not exactly an exciting title. Please keep reading.

I have a lot of free time on my hands lately. As many of you know, my lovely new wife and I will be moving to Accra, Ghana in West Africa later this month. Actually, she as already departed DC to the warmer, more humid climate in Accra. I'll be joining her in Accra by mid Sepember. The free-time comes from the fact that I resigned from my job last week. We decided there was just too much paper work and home repair to keep me busy before my move.

So, here I am tapping away at the keyboard at 7am on Sunday morning starting a blog. I don't know what direction it will go, or how often it will be updated.