Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The tire purchase, at the time, seemed like a bit of reaction to an over anxious imagination producing thoughts of being stranded whoknowswhere at midnight with two flat tires and just one donut spare. Furthermore, I just assumed that proper tires would be difficult to find in Africa. Not necessarily the case it would seem. I once missed a movie start time because my spare donut was flat afterall. Rough life we live in the big city...
So anyway, the car arrived in Accra three months later with four shiny new tires. The old tires were shipped ahead, and were stacked and waiting in the garage ever since for something bad to happen. Actually, I intended to have the old tires installed on rims for use as spares.
Today I finally got around to checking TIRES off the to-do list. I mentioned to Patience that I was headed out to the grocery store and on a few other errands as I was rolling a tire out the front door. She stopped me to ask what was wrong with the tire. Before I could finish explaining, she was on the phone with her husband arranging to meet me and make sure I didn't get bamboozled by the tire vendors. I could not think of a polite way to say, "thanks, but I prefer to go alone and get bamboozled out of a buck or two, rather than wait." Just find the nearest guy selling a rim and be done with it.
A while later, Derrick and I were making our way accross town to the spare auto parts market between Kwame Nkrumah Circle and Kaneshie Market. He didn't believe me when I explained that SJD and I had walked through the market for fun.
Luckily the tires and rims are located on the road side. I thought surely we could just pull over, point to what we needed, and be on our way home in five minutes. Not so fast rookie.
Derrick kindly reminded me of my whiteness and that I should just stay in the car to avoid being overcharged. He directed me to pull into the gas station a block away. After explaining to the attendants the situation, he and two others were off to the market on a rim hunt. Thirty minutes passed until the three reappeared with a 5 bolt x 16" steel rim - perfect for a spare. We jacked up the front end to remove my wheel to test the fit. Wrong bolt pattern. Back they went.
The second attempt produced a 5 bolt x 15" rim with several dents. Nice try. At this point I realized that I'd better inform Derrick just how much I was willing to spend. He managed to negotiate the price down to every cedi in my pocket.
Now an hour into the search, they returned a third time with a perfect match. We popped on the tire in no time. Derrick paid and tipped the other guys a few thousand cedis and high tailed it back across town beating traffic.
Ghana to Chair African Union Instead of Sudan: Top Official
By Les Neuhaus and Alfred de MontesquiouAssociated PressTuesday, January 30, 2007; Page A14
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Jan. 29 -- Bloodshed in Sudan's Darfur region dominated discussion at the African Union summit Monday, blocking Sudan's bid to lead the 53-country group as the U.N. chief described scorched-earth military policies as "a terrifying feature of life" in the vast, arid area.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Rides fall into two categories: Non-epics and epics.
A non-epic ride is pulled off without much misery. You don't need to rely on maps. Nobody gets hurt mentally of physically. Bikes function properly. Weather remains constant. It is somewhat like you wish your daily commute would be.
An epic ride should have equal but opposite elements. You'll regret starting the stupid ride until you return to the car at which time all is forgiven and only heroic memories are left. You'll get lost along the way. Suffer some sort of injury or discomfort, much to the amusement of your friends. A strange (not necessarily bad) encounter with the locals, animal, authority or similar. Some bike part needs to break, repeatedly. It is even more enjoyable if the weather turns unexpectably. Time and distance are, at best, just guesses. An epic ride is similar to what I imagine it would be like to voluntarily commute between Lorton, VA to Baltimore, MD year round.
I guess our Aburi ride, just barely, qualifies for Epic status.
All good epic rides should start with a mechanical before even leaving the trailhead. As we pulled up to the meeting point, I noticed that the left rear on the Subaru was going flat. Nothing was obviously wrong with the tire. Once I had it removed, one of Kofi's assistants rolled it down the hill to the vulcanizer for a look-see. Twenty minutes later it was back on the car, and holding air. Check 1!
All set to ride.
Kofi, SJD and Chris grinding up the main road between someplace and back yonder.
We passed through this village a month ago, and were met with the same enthusiasm. The kids yell and laugh as they run behind us. Who knows why but I guess it makes as much sense as those spectators who run alongside the riders in the Tour de France. Check 2!
Dave knew of a nice little place to grab a warm Fanta. I was not feeling very good, but not bad enough to visit the Stomach Clinic. Not sure if it was the heat, bad water, bad food. Warm Fanta didn't help matters. Check 3!
Come on Chris, we can't stay here forever.
The village drunk shows up to lecture SJD, about what we have no clue. Check 4!
Kofi, the tour guide and sole proprietor of Ghana Bike and Hike Tours. Everybody knows Kofi. Not too many men can wear a Barbie helmet and spandex with such confidence.
About mid way through the ride, Kofi managed to snap his chain. Not a terribly uncommon mishap, or particularly difficult repair....unless the pin is shot and repair tool is broken... and the tropical sun is beating down...and you have a audience. We tried to reinsert the pin with his pliers (no luck); tried to replace the link with my SRAM link (wrong width chain). Eventually we moved into the shade where my brain could function a bit easier. We ended up removing one link and pressing in an existing link with my chain tool. It was quite the show for 20 minutes. Kids and parents came out to spectate. Every now and then there would be silence, I'd feel a poke on my shoulder, followed by laughter. Apparently they were daring each other to touch the withering white guy. Checks 5 and 6!
Nearing the end of the ride, we came across a boy having some difficulty with his bike. We stopped to see if we could help. The problem was not immeadiately obvious until we realized that the chain was not wrapping around the chain rings properly. Apparently the chain had broken, and while fixing the link he twisted the chain. We took a few minutes to sort matters out before he went of in the opposite direction.
To top things off, the 30K ride we had orginally planned for turned out to be more like 30 miles with 3,500' of climbing.
Ok, maybe it doesn't quite compare to the winter epics in the GWNF in the company of Jens, Buchness, Camp, Quigley, Mike-n-Susan, Dan, Brian, Nancy, Steve and Barry. We're building up to that level of silliness though.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The image above shows Togo Circle before the cutting.
Monday, January 22, 2007
West Africa Consultants Network
I more or less volunteered to convert the paper version of the Qualification Summaries into a Blogsite. With the blog, we can add, delete and sort content as needed. More importantly we can notify a greater number of NGOs, agencies and private employers on a more frequent basis. We are not simply relying on a piece of paper that may get misplaced. We're up 24/7!
So, we number about 35 consultants at the moment. A fairly diverse group, with skills and interests far different than mine.
Have a look and let me know what you think.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I bet the surveillance camera keeps tabs on the population.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Since this purchase, the fabric has been draped across a table to add some color to the house, but also to hide a really ugly side table and coffee table. The style of the furniture was best described as "early motel." Neither trendy nor traditional - just kinda...well functional.
Not far from our house is a tailor named Ester, who operates out of a small kiosk in front of her family's house. We pass it several times each week either returning from fetching the mail, or buying produce from the neighborhood stand located a few footsteps away from Ester. Actually, there are several small tailors around. People who have lived here long enough have their favorite secret tailor. Many are quite talented, and seem to generate a decent income from their work.
It took a few months for me to decide what type of shirt to have made from the fabric. I was not sure if I should just point to one of the photos on the wall of the kiosk (probably not since they were all women's outfits) or try to describe what I was looking for using words and gestures. Would she be offended, or just refuse if I handed over one of my own shirts for replication?
I finally made up my mind to have a cycling jersey made - something that I could wear to the store without looking like I just took a detour from Tour de France. Something similar to the coffee table - neither trendy nor traditional, but functional. I picked a rather plain jersey from my closet - one that fits me well. Then, with a few hundred thousand cedis, I headed off to Ester's shop. I pointed out a few of the details like the rear zippered pleated pocket, side slit, slightly longer tail and narrow collar. She smiled and told me to come back in one or two days. Price? The equivelant of about $5.00. That was easy enough.
She did a really nice job picking up all the details. Unfortunately, the shoulders are a wee bit snug when I reach forward for the handlebars. That's right - too many muscles ;-) We suspect the control sample shirt made of synthetic material stretches a bit more in ways the batik does not.
I modeled for SJD and Patience. Both agreed that it could be fixed. Patience felt a bit more strongly that I overpaid ($5.42), and should really just go to her secret tailor. When I explained that Ester is super-conveniently located, she just shook her head.
So, back I go...
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Rexford remembered me from four months earlier. Understandably so, this part of town is not on the tourist route, so any foreigner really sticks out . It does take a bit of patience and desire to get to his work shop. The road is narrow, filthy and clogged with taxis and pedestrians.
Rexford was surprised to see me return, and seemed amazed that I brought SJD with me. I mostly wanted to snoop for random odd parts, but also intended to learn a bit more about the bicycle business here in West Africa - one of a few odd jobs that seems prevalent. We got an earful.
Rexford's bikes number in the thousands. He admits that he has no idea exactly how many bikes are piled on his property. Where he gets them from is still somewhat of a mystery to us. Some bikes are purchased at Makola Market;others must arrive by dump truck. Everything is used, battered and covered in dust.
Ghana has some odd tariffs on bikes. New complete bikes are taxed. Used complete bikes are not taxed. Import of bike parts, pieces and accessories ARE taxed though. Odd, I say, because Ghana does not produce a single raw material or finished product for bikes that would explain the mix of tariffs imposed on imported goods from around the globe. Everything is imported.
So, lots of old donated junker bikes from the US end up in Ghana through various channels. Many Ghanaians have set up a nice little businesses of buying, refurbishing and reselling bikes. Small scale bike vendors with 20 or so bikes are like Starbucks in the US - everywhere. A used, but functioning ten-speed or mountainbike seems to cost between $30-$45 without much haggling - a pretty large sum of money to most Ghanaians. It is good to see.
It goes beyond resale though. Bikes that arrive in Ghana, but are considered to be beyond repair, are stripped for parts. Not just seat, wheels, and forks. Try bearings, cables, grips, tires, spokes, chain links down to the random nuts and bolts. This enables them to avoid paying the import duty on parts. I think they take the disassembly a bit too far at times. In any case, parts then become available on the local market at a much more reasonable price. Smart eh?
So, what happens to the frame? Well, Burkina Faso has import taxes on frames, but not on parts. Just the opposite, more or less. So, anyone from BF willing to purchase and transport frames up north can buy from Ghana. Anything left over in Ghana is simply sold to the scrap metal smelters once the heap reaches certain proportions or value according to Mr. Rexford. Beats a landfill I guess.
In fact, looking around Rexford's shop, it does seem a bit different. Rexford seems to be in the business of redistribution of bikes. Young boys provide the bulk of labor, grabbing a bike from the heap and proceeding with disassembly. Tools and methods are rather crude. Most disassembly is done with a hammer and screw driver. Proper tools and a bit of education on proper use would go a long way in extending the usefulness of the some of the bikes and parts. The much smaller scale repair/resale kiosks appear to have proper tools. I left the compound thinking to myself, "well, good for them...but I really hope I never need to leave my bike in their hands for repair."
For sharing his time and insite, we bought a large and solid stainless steel rear rack for a future bike project.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
We didn't want to give up on Kaneshie Market so easily though. SJD read that there were some nice bead vendors hidden someplace inside. It was a good enough reason for the two of us to wave down a taxi for a trip across town.
Makola seems to be an series of alleys with storefronts that swing open spilling all sorts of merchandise onto the sidewalk, across the gutter and into streets. I would not say that there is much, if any, logic to the layout. It seems as though you simply keep walking until you find what ever it is you need. Flip-flops, drill bits, tupperware, car batteries, children's clothes, mud flaps, cassava, computer cables, belts, dried fish, transistor radios, cookies, picture frames, DVDs, socks. In fact, it seems, that you could simply grab a seat and wait for a vendor to approach you selling something. For some reason it also seems that we attract a lot of attention at the markets. Not the other thousands of people wandering about - the two of us, plain and simple, but fair skinned.
Kaneshie Market on the other hand seems almost entirely manageable by comparison. Sure, we still were grossed out by fresh pig parts on a platter and jostled in narrow passages. SJD was even run over by a man pushing a overflowing wheel barrow of cassava. Luckly she only stumbled onto a display of plantains causing a momentary chuckle by the women vendors - and an offer to make a deal. For the most part, there is room to move in the aisles without walking sideways of stepping over sleeping children or smoldering cooking fires. There is some semblance of logic too. Ground floor - food. First floor - housewares and beads, hairdressers. Second floor - tailors, lots of tailors. Less chaotic, but still exciting.
We continued to wander the upper floors. The third floor houses hundreds of individual tailoring kiosks. By kiosk, I mean 8'x8' wood box just large enough for one person, a sewing machine and perhaps a radio - not necessarily a comfortable work space. Inexpensive though - apparently rented at C50,000 ($5.42 ) per month. African dresses and shirts. More dresses and shirts. In fact, after a few minutes it became apparent that everyone was, more or less, offering pretty much the same twenty or thirty styles, but in different fabrics. It reminded us that we needed to use some of the fabric that we purchased a couple of months ago.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Tombstone miles from any village - What was this guy's record?
Miles of deserted sandy beaches and warm water (low tide). Where is everyone? Is the rip-tide really as bad as they say it is? We didn't check.
Miles of deserted littered beaches (above high tide line). I think I understand some the factors that result in beaches looking like this. It is quite a complicated problem to address. Way more complicated than an abundance of litter bugs.
What is the meaning of this symbol, and why is it on every plastic chair?
Bold and daring means of moving goods. This is nuthin' too.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Australia is covered with all sorts of interesting critters. We were fortunate to catch a glimpses in the wild of killer whales, cassowary, crocs, stingray, piranha, clown fish, many more fish, even more birds, lizards of all sizes, 'roos, wallabees, a snake or two, and, my favorite, the shower frog. No dingos.
In Washington State we were able to get close enough to this guy returning from our Alpine Lake wilderness hiking trip.
So far in Ghana, we've had modest success with our limited travel. Baboons, vultures, eagles, bats (lots of bats), grass cutters, strange insects. On two occasions now, the hired guide killed the critter much to our alarm, even though it did not appear to present any immediate danger. The snake pictured in an earlier post - crushed buy a rock. The guide initially said he was just scaring it away, but "accidentally" hit it. The second tossed boulder did him in for good. It seemed unnecessary.
This past weekend at Xofa, I noticed something moving past my shoe in the dark while eating dinner. We grabbed a flashlight and spotted a 4" long black scorpion scurrying past. We gave it distance and notified the adjacent guests and wait staff so they could look at it. The immediate reaction of the wait staff was to drop a heavy rock on it. Seemed a bit extreme.
So much for eco-tourism...
The short drive up and over the hills that leads down to Xofa would be quite pretty on a clear day. The harmattan is quite noticeable though. We can see the outline of the near mountain ridges, but have difficulty making out much detail. In general though, the surroundings are quite lush even if most of the natural forests have been replaced by agricultural plots. Xofa lies at the end of the winding dirt track.
We are greeted and lea to our stone and thatch hut where we drop our duffle. The single room includes a double bed, hammock and dresser. No electricity. Screened and shuttered windows provide enough light and ventilation. I get the sense that the plants are a bit stressed in due in part to the dry season as well as the water pump being broken.
With a few more hours of day light remaining we make our way to the shore to watch the fishing boats gather their nets for the day. Or maybe they're simply dropping nets for the next day. In any case, while we're waiting, two boys probably eight years old hop into the two boats rather quickly and shove off. A minute later, one of the Xofa staff follows speaking somewhat sternly to get the boys' attention. They keep paddling. We're not really sure what words were exchanged, but SJD seems to think the boys snatched some mangoes from the Xofa trees, perhaps without permission. Later we find out that Xofa actually encourages the other lakeside villages to plant fruit trees in order to provide the fisherman convenient food. Minutes later, the boats disappear into a cove hiding the next village. We can hear the drumming and singing though.
Around 5pm, the cook finds us on the shore to ask what we would like to eat that for dinner. We followed him up the eating area and ordered drinks - warm beer and warm water - and watched the sun set and moon rise as we waited for dinner. We waited and waited. We reminded ourselves to be patient. Waited some more. At last, around 7:15 food arrived. The meal was simple and tasty - rice, tilapia and tomato sauce.
1/1/07 - We were woken shortly after 6am by the rooster cocka-doodle-doing and staff sweeping the dirt outside our hut. Breakfast had been prearranged for 8am so we could get out and about. Waited until 9am for coffee, omelette and white bread to be served. As well, we had prearranged for a canoe ride across Lake Volta to Dodi Island departing at 10am. Ready to go at 10am, we were asked again to be patient while the canoes were fetched. Rolling our eyes we returned to the beach to read our books and wait. Around 11:15 two canoes arrive around the bend. We ask if they are for us, and how long it will take, and when we'll return and where we're going, and if they understand us or our pointing. They reply yes, but we're clearly not communicating with enough assurance. Soon, one of the Xofa staff, a rastafarian who liked to sing while working, appears to sort matters out. The three grab paddles and tell us to jump in. We're off...to someplace...presumably with a decent swimming beach...presumably a round trip.
The flat bottom wood canoe journey takes roughly 45 minutes to the Dodi Island. Nearer the shore lines, remnants of the submerged forests poke out above the water line. More dangerous are the stumps that lurk just below the water surface. We scraped a few, but were merely jostled slightly. The larger passenger ferries are not always so fortunate.
SJD had a article from a 1961 business journal detailing some of the decisions and lobbying that led to the creation of Lake Volta. It is an interesting piece of history.
The stay on Dodi Island was brief. Just long enough for a mini-hike, a quick swim and to watch a seemingly overloaded passenger ferry drop passengers. Forty-five minutes later we were back at Xofa.
Perhaps more on Xofa later...
Happy New Year!
January 8, 2007
Celebrity chef and tv host Anthony Bourdain is at it again, this time heading to Ghana. The old Ghana, a land of forts and slavery, is a strong contrast to the modern-era Ghana, a culture filled with food and music.
For the 12/31 ride we plotted a route north about 25KM on dirt road and trail. Transportation was arranged to pick us up at the 25KM point three hours later in order to return us to Aburi. Sounded like a solid plan. Off we went. A younger guide led us out of town and down a few rather steep descents into the neighboring valley. Once at the bottom SJD, Chris and I were somewhat disappointed that we had already covered 5KM on pavement, bypassing forests that surely hid trails. Any mountain biker will tell you that they much prefer dirt to pavement. Oh well. Eventually pavement gave way to dirt to double track to singletrack. What was missed was soon forgotten.
Ghana is heading into the hot/dry season, and the harmattan is obscuring views of the hill peaks. The sky is hazy but the air is neither humid nor breezy. The dust blocks just enough sun light to make mid-day exposure tolerable. The dirt roads are left to bake solid as concrete. There are huge tire ruts and gullies that must be remnants of the rainy season. They are completely dry this time of year. It is hard to imagine how the local farmers and school children make any progress during the rainy season. I don't recall any vehicles moving, parked, stuck or broken down.
As we pass through a few small villages, several children playfully chase us on foot shouting obruni, obruni... I get a kick out of seeing just how far any one of them will run in flip flops or bare feet before calling off the chase. Without varying my speed at all, two minutes seems to be the record - and that was against a slight up hill!
The riding progressed without too much drama. In fact, the pace seemed a bit light as if the profile was slightly down hill. We arrived at the 25KM rendevous point in just 90 minutes - or 90 minutes ahead of schedule. Chris, SJD and I quizzed our guide whether to tack on additional KMs, skip the return transport, back track, or simply wait. As quite a crowd had gathered to watch us plan our next move, we decided to peddle on back to Aburi. I had a vague recollection of our location on a map. The ride, from this point, was all pavement and mostly uphill. Not exactly fun, but a good workout and much better than waiting indefinitely. We were a bit miffed about mis-calculation of time/distance, having anticipated a much longer ride. The guides were not entirely certain what kind of vehicle would pick us up either. I wanted to assume pick-up truck or van, but thought I overheard Opel Astra - the common taxi. We agreed to make the most of the ride, and set out up the road knowing that whomever was tasked with scooping us up would certainly spot three red-in-the-face obrunis followed by one Ghanaian on bikes riding up one of the steepest hills around. Fifteen minutes later....
Honking his horn repeatedly and smiling widely, the taxi driver in the Opel pulls over in front of me already with one bike and rider inside. Somewhat out of defiance, but mostly questioning just how we'll fit three more bikes AND riders into this little car, we wave and tell them we'll ride to the top - probably another fifteen minutes of sustained climbing to Mamfe.
We eventually top out and pull over to meet the taxi. Discussion starts about how we'll get back to Aburi. Certainly there must be a second taxi, right? Nah... Just for the record - we managed to squeeze five people and three complete bikes INTO the car. The fourth bike, mine, is being tethered to the roof with twine (cringe). The taxi driver and guide think nothing of being packed in like sardines. And yes, we see all sorts of overloaded vehicles all the time. This taxi didn't even have the ubiquitous overly reassuring window stickers proclaiming "All shall Pass" or similar combinations including of "brother", "father", "riseth", "mighty", or "hath shame".
Well, all ended soon enough. The young boy at pictured at the top was still waiting by our car to greet us as he was two weeks earlier. The guides offered fresh pineapple as we cleaned up and packed our belongings. Chris headed back to Accra. SJD and I headed further north into Volta Region for the long new year's weekend.