Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wli Falls

Arg! I deleted this entry by accident.

Last week we broke with tradition of the last seven years and did not race the 100 bike race. Instead, we swapped Shenandoah mountain laurel for West African palms and headed back up to the Volta Region for some riding and relaxing.

Rain was threatening more or less the entire time we were driving up. The drive is getting to be quite routine, but the rainy season has taken a toll on the road surface. Potholes riddle already uneven surfaces. Every now and then a volunteer road crew appears over the crest of a hill, mobilized to extort a few pesewas from passing motorists while presumably filling the potholes with sand and gravel 50m at a time. It beats simply begging, but is also a bit unnerving as we scramble for loose change while the guys block the road with their shovels. One has to imagine that the activity repeats itself after every rain or perhaps only whenever a car passes.

Up at the Mountain Paradise we headed out on the bikes again to map out a new section of trail from Biakpa to Gbedzieme through the forest bypassing Amedzofe. A cadre of small boys followed us through the village and into the bush curious why we wouldn’t just take the road like everyone else. We tried to explain our intended destination. The oldest boy – perhaps 8 years old – insisted we follow him although his directions seemed a bit suspect. Eventually after four or five confusing trail-junction discussions they simply deemed us hopelessly lost (or perhaps just stubborn) and went back to fishing in a nearby stream. They were half right.

All was going well enough for twenty minutes or so. We could guestimate our location using the landmarks of the lodge on one ridge and Mt. Gemi high up on the other. Soon, we topped out on a low knoll. From such a vantage point we would normally see over to Lake Volta and distant mountains. The dark clouds heavy with rain were rolling in and obscuring the view. As well, the trail ahead disappeared into the tall grass. At this point we decided to retreat past the small boys and back to the lodge. We arrived back at the BMP, once again, minutes before the skies opened up for the next few hours.

The following morning we ate breakfast and headed up to Wli Falls on the border with Togo for a short hike. Not bike.

It seems that most of the few – okay tourist attractions – require some sort of formal log book and “foreigner“ fee to keep tabs on who is visiting. As well, we are usually expected to hire a guide. Wli Falls is no different. Somehow, after paying the requisite “foreigner” fee we convinced the rangers that we did not want a guide. Trust me – if you can find your way from Hohoe to the Wli Falls parking lot in the first place, the very flat and well maintained path should not pose much difficulty either. I suppose a guide might mention other facts about the area as well. Assuming you can restrain yourself from jumping into the pool at the bottom of the falls, all should turn out just fine.

Several types of butterflies flutter about along the path, although they’re difficult to photograph.

An common millipede sneaking up on SJD.

The glossy photos hanging on the walls of the ranger station indicated a nice cascading falls that you might want to cool off in on a hot west African day. Well, let me tell you this. That must have been snapped during a drought. The falls today were full on, no doubt fed by the overnight rains. As we approached the falls, the wind picked up and a heavy cool mist was blowing hard through the air as we approached. We couldn't see much of anything, even when we tried hiding behind a big tree for protection from the wind and wet but SJD managed to get a snap of BP pretending not to notice how wet he was getting. On our way to the falls, we had seen a few other families walking back from the falls, but none appeared to get nearly as soaked to the core as SJD and I did. Guess that would get kind of old for the guides after a few trips.

Apparently it is possible to hike all the way to the top of the falls and across the border into neighboring Togo. We clambered a little way up a very steep trail in order to get a look at the falls away from the "storm" at its base (photo on the right). We'll be back.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Emmanuel's new bike

Emmanuel the gardner has been dutifully sprucing up our yard for the past year. Since he relies on tro- tros or walking to get to and from work we don't really keep close tabs on his coming and going. Tro-tros seem to be the cheapest way to travel, but at the expense of being slow and unreliable.
Every now and then I see a bleary eyed Emmanuel around 7am stepping out of a tro-tro or walking down our street as I'm returning home from an early morning ride. A few weeks ago he commented that the tro-tro operators were increasing fares to offset the rise in fuel costs. (The federally set price for a gallon (US) of standard petrol currently runs about $4.08.) The additional cost was being passed onto the the passengers.
We had planned to go give Emmanuel a raise anyways to account for inflation, transportation and being a generally pleasant fellow. Instead we were able to work a deal with Emmanuel to incorporate the cost of a new (to him) bicycle into a portion of his annual pay raise. It was actually his idea in order to offset his transportation costs. Since I ride almost everywhere already, I thought his idea was brilliant. Sort of a green version of a car allowance. So off I went on my bike Monday afternoon to the Nsawam Road bike markets in search of something maintainable, reliable, safe and used.
The markets are sprawling with all sorts of bikes standing in perfect rows ready for inspection. The selection ranges from tri-cycles to mock-mountainbikes to Chinese farm bikes to road racers, to BMX to Dutch folding city bikes. I have yet to see a tandem in the collection.
The men that clean and repair the bikes used to be helpful, if not a bit pushy at times. Since I've never actually purchased anything in the past - just looked, yesterday they barely showed any interest in me - which was actually fine by me. I was able to inspect the repairs and components closely without being asked if I wanted to buy everything I touched. Sometimes the guys will do such a good job cleaning the bikes that broken bits can be overlooked easily.
When it came time to make a deal, the prices were just too high at the first vendor, so I carried on down the road to three more vendors. I was about to call it a day when I saw a 15 year old fully stock Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike. No rust or dents to the purple to blue fade paint scheme. Original tires. Everthing worked. By far the nicest bike I had seen all day. I haggled the price to fit within my budget. Paid in full, we loaded both bikes into a taxi and headed for home.

[SJD and I both owned the same circa 1992 Specialized Rockhopper as our first mountain bikes even before we knew each other (coincidence?). It is one solid machine. In fact, SJD has been riding her's almost daily ever since. Mine was long ago passed along to a friend and then sold in DC. It was last spotted a few years later at an anti-war rally on Constitution Avenue a few years ago. Good bike! So, we're a bit partial towards the Rockhopper...]
Emmanuel was finishing up the sweeping when I arrived home with the two bikes. I explained to him that he had to wait two more days before he could ride it home so I could make a few minor tuning adjustments. But I let him test ride it briefly. He hiked up his coveralls, swung a leg over the saddle and rolled away towards the corner narrowly missing the trash barrels and bushes. It was a bit amusing to watch the expression on his face. Sort of joy and terror. It hadn't really crossed my mind to ask if he had actually ridden a bike with hand brakes and freewheel, or even any kind of bike for that matter. Ooops.

So here he is this morning with his new ride.