Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ghana - part one

Entering Ghana was another easy border-crossings or maybe I got used to the procedures already? For the first time we were asked to show our yellow-fever cards to a nurse at the health check. A “friendly” helper approached and showed me which building to go next (well that was clear even without him). Anyway he advised to go straight to the big boss. He pointed at the person and stayed suddenly clearly back like he would be in the room with me by accident. Big boss is always a good advise, so I went to the boss and the boss started to fill out the carnets. When I told him that we also have dogs he instantly asked whether I import a gun. WTF? Well it took me a moment to think and realize that other people might have come here with guns and hunting dogs.

Suddenly my new friend appeared again and he was so eager to call the Vet! Yes, for the first time on our travels a Vet was called to see the dogs and read their papers. Ok – West African style. I took out one dog at the time from the sidecar and presented her to the Vet. He looked at each girl with a respectful distance of about 1 meter, nodded and was obviously happy to see our dogs. After that we went inside his office on the opposite side of the street from the customs building and he looked at the three passports. Some minutes later he said “thank you” and I could go on with the customs issues. I think he was a muslim due to the praying carpet on the floor. I really would like to know what went through his head that moment. Customs was done, carnets stamped and my friend was hoping that I change some money – sorry my friend, I had already done that and I started my bike.

We stayed in the first bigger village after the border-crossing. We found a nice looking and cheap lodge – only 20 GHS (about 6 EUR). It was quite comfortable and lucky us the electricity came back when it got dark. Water was from the big barrel in the room and drinking water from another dwell some 50m away from the hotel. The owner was nice and we had a small talk until he asked that we give him one dog. “F*** OFF GUY” I thought! There were at least 3 stray dogs around the house. Take on of them and provide that dog with love and care. After that I simply ignored him and his blablabla...
A typical boutique - just like that - in the village.
It was Saturday we were in Tamale and the clock showed it was 1300. We rode only about 200km but we were ready to escape from the heat. We headed towards a lodge with free Wifi which advertisement signs we had seen at the main street. The room had air-conditioning and costed already 20 EUR, but seemed like a fair price for one night to cool down. Once more when we asked about the dogs, they said no problem, they can sleep inside the yard. We answered “No, they come with us inside the room”. He was not very pleased but accepted us anyway. When I took girls out for their evening business, he sat there and here are the highlights of our following dialogue:

Manager: Now you take them out for shit?
  Me: Yes.
Manager: And now they will not poo or pee in the room until morning.
  Me: No, they won't.
Manager: Aaaaahhh ... and they have eaten?
  Me: Yes, they have.

Discussion went on about Ulpu's age and where is her mother and so on, then I had enough and said friendly goodnight. I could not say for sure, but it appeared that none of the locals had their dogs inside the house and the plain idea of letting dogs inside sounded like an alien idea. They also seemed to be astonished that we took our dogs for a walk several times a day.   This is of course also the case in many homes in Europe, dogs are only kept outside, never inside and kept as guardian dogs. Even then dog owners walk their dogs at least once in a while.

The road to Kintampo was boring as the days before and with the usual potholes. I noticed that up to now, we had trouble to find “what-I-call-nice” streets. The majority of the roads we rode in Africa so far were either major roads (red in “Reise-know-how” map) with the corresponding traffic in sometimes good and sometimes bad conditions or the roads are more like trials (white or dashed grey) and by far not enjoyable for us at all. Those trial roads are maybe fun with a lightweight solo bike (like the Chinese Super-K or so) but not for my rather heavy sidecar and Skippy with her Suzi. The “golden middle” has been missing (yellow roads) most of the time.

We stayed two nights in St. Michael's hotel. It was a sweet set-up of rooms, our room had air-conditioning and things were working most of the time. Since I had enough of those internet problems, I finally bought me a USB modem. Yeah – internet, here we come back :D
What an enjoyment to browse internet when I want and with speed!
Parking in front of the room.
Chicken everywhere!
The place also had its own plantain tree...
as well as cocoa tree.
Where there are chicken there are roosters.
A typical truck with a lot of pollution. The downside of using very old vehicles and no inspections.

Please charge my battery too :)
Shopping street with boutiques for oils and car parts,
and grills.
 Between Kintampo and Kumasi was the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary. I felt like seeing some monkeys and we decided to visit this place on our way to Kumasi. The road towards the sanctuary was rather ok (white road) with one really bad spot. I made it, Skippy fell. The mirror came off from the gas-handle (not where it should come off!), the helmet-camera holder was breaking the plastic cover on its fixing point and such. Skippy was pissed because it was my fault since I wanted to go to the sanctuary – I rest my case.

The sanctuary was ok-ish. First they were very keen on getting our money. The guided tour takes 45+ minutes and takes you through some very nice pieces of forest and most likely the village. The guide picked me up from the registration office and he told me the story as we walked along. They had two kinds of monkeys there. They were both very cute and the one kind was coming closer to us whereas the other stayed away in the trees. We were lucky to see the latter one at all as it might be that they hide very well from the tourists. The guide dragged me to a souvenir shop in the village – sorry no souvenirs for me. It was nice to see those little fellows bouncing around without cages around them. According to the story, the monkeys come every day in the morning and evening to the village to feast and you better hide your food or it will be gone ;)

Cute little monkey - not shy at all.
White man in the forest.
Amazing ficus - it surrounds the host tree until...
the host tree is dead, and once it rotted away it looks like this.
Those were the shy monkeys with a super-long tail.
After the sanctuary we rode to the northern suburbs of Kumasi and found a decent hotel. On the next day Kumasi city became a ride of hell. My GPS guided me straight through the central city and whether it was a special or a normal market day, the traffic in this street did not move anywhere. It took us almost two hours to move a few hundreds meters forward. It was +38C in shade my bike was running hot and so did Skippy's. The Suzi has developed this feature that when the engine runs hot it stalls due to low battery. For some unknown-to-me reason the Lithium battery in the Suzi does not like heat and seems to loose its capacity. Or the generator does not charge enough when riding stop-and-go traffic compared to the consumption of the bike with lights on, fan running etc.

In the middle of this crowd and surrounded by dozens of nosy people, we jumpstarted Skippy's bike and were able to move 10 meters. Finally one of the major trouble spots was passed and then I saw in the mirror that Skippy's bike was off again. I left the sidecar where it was now in addition to the peoples cars surrounded the bike honking wildly. On my way to Skippy three policemen showed up and told me I could not park my bike there. I told them that I did not park there, but stop in order to help my wife.

I just left them thinking about whatever they wanted to think about and walked away (I really could not care less at that moment). Now the stalling bikes, the heat and ALL those people around us staring, talking, yelling “hey white man”, poking, leaning and annoying Hertta. I do not like Zoo-life and especially when I am “inside the cage”. My nerves started to surface as my stress tolerance level reached its critical point. We pushed Skippy's bike forward and needed to let my bike a bit down the hill so we could jumpstart Skippy's bike again.

Some 20 meters later, finally I saw an opportunity to make a U-turn over the lane divider. We did that and got the hell out of there!
Zoo time again ...
We arrived at Lake Bosumtwi– the only natural lake in Ghana, which was formed by a meteor some millions of years ago. We almost found paradise when we settled at the Lake Point Guest house for a decent price of 15 EUR/night. Plenty of green grass as well as mango, palm and other trees providing plenty of shade. The room was big, clean and had own WC and shower. The only negative issue was that the tap water was feeling slimy and instead of a fresh feeling after shower, we both got a slimy and sticky feeling. Drinking water was not available in near distance and the lake water was really hot and looked rather dirty. Yet, we all enjoyed our short stay there and girls could play a little bit before the heat calmed them down :)
Parking at the reception.
Beautiful garden
Skippy is thinking, searching and not happy at all.
Ant in a flower.
If that water would have been drinkable (when we left I saw that there was a pump for water where the gravel roads starts – tough luck), I guess we would have stayed for longer at that place. Lately we started to wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning and be on the road latest by 8. At least the first two hours provided some kind of only-warm air instead of the hot-air fan blowing into our faces after midday. It was a longer riding day and we made it all the way to Accra. We headed towards Kokrobite and started our search for an accommodation.

Water, electricity and petrol.
Ever since we set foot onto African soil we realized that supply on water and electricity was often interrupted. Ghana had been the worst of all the countries we had been so far. Electricity cut-offs of up to 12 hours, day after a day were normal. Typically water was pumped from the supply tanks into our room and the electricity cut also meant no water. If there came water from the city, this service also had heavy interruptions. Then we heard people complaining about significant price increases in order to build up service quality.

Electricity and water tariffs went up 79 and 52 percent by Oct 1st 2013 (source at VibeGhana.com). Now that is heavy for people and businesses!

I asked myself why am I complaining so much about that, where I claim I feel like being a Finn? I remembered some summer-cottage 4 weeks holiday period where there was no running water and no electricity at all. We had lake water in buckets to wash and needed to carry drinking water from the mainland. Well it's quite ok for some time and it's even fun to escape the modern world. It's just not fun to be in a hotel that isn't prepared with bucket water! So when there is no electricity there is also no water at all! You have to remember yourself to fill all possible water bottles in case of emergency. Maintaining girls' cleanlinesses is also much more difficult.

Getting things like flights, shipping, visa and dog papers organized in the modern world without the tools of a modern world is on the other hand cumbersome and not fun anymore!

The filling stations indicated whatever prices from 1.79 to 2.55 GHS and wherever we went the price was the same 2.55GHS (0.72EUR/l). When riding this post, the price has risen again now to 2.73GHS and the signs are still the same. I guess the filling station owners gave up to maintain a correct price level at the street sign as the prices seems to go up so frequently.

I also saw many people in Ghana cooking on wooden-coal stoves (see picture above). We need a stove mostly to make food for girls since we eat mostly fruits and salads. For our next cooker we will try this one BioLite campstove and then we avoid the trouble of gas or petrol!

Enjoy another travelogue “Made by Skippy” :)

~ Wolfi

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Burkina Faso

The road was full of diverts on the last kilometers before the border to Burkina Faso and the last one was at the border crossing itself. The different offices appeared to be somewhat scattered around. Plenty of friendly people were pointing where to go next. Getting all the stamps was no problem. The police guy at the BF side spoke even English and maybe that's why he asked for 4000CFA for his efforts. I made no attempt to pay this and I guess it was more of a joke.
Cashew apple - the nut  (actually a seed!) is the little thing below the fruit. Raw cashew nuts are poisonous for humans!
Delightful flowers.
Bizarre looking plants and fruits.
... another one.

Shortly after Orodara we turned towards Banfora. The asphalt turned into decent gravel and it was in quite good condition. At least the road was better then many of the asphalt roads we rode earlier thus I had great fun when riding those. We wanted to stay for a few days in Banfora to visit some of the local attractions nearby. Unfortunately our timing was more than bad. The city celebrated “International Women's Day” and a big 3-day festival was starting. I asked from five different hotels and they were all fully booked. We tried to find a camping place and ended up in the  Campement Baobab.
Bike parking besides our hut at Campement Baobab.
They had besides camping also some huts for almost the same price and we went for the hut. It was a nice place and they offered excellent food. Unfortunately without running water, no electricity and thus no internet either. That made planning the next days and taking care of our affairs quite difficult. We stayed only one night, skipped also the cascades (they wanted some entrance fee for it and the water levels were low). The drinking water was coming from a French-sponsored well nearby. The water was tasting good and we filled all our canisters. Then we took off to go to FINLANDE!

For a microsecond we felt home :)
Maybe it was that good feeling as somehow I totally forgot to visit the famous mosque in Bobo-D. Skippy had no interest in visiting there so this was fully up to me to remember. None can do. The street offered its usual variety of potholes, donkey carriages, scooters, kids etc.

We were looking for a rest place with good shade and I thought I found one on a trail and indicated Skippy to go there. I rode on a few meters to find a turning spot, found another entry to the trail, went to the spot and when I arrived there I saw Skippy rushing off on the main street. She was gone. I hurried after her and maybe 20 kilometers later she turned, came back and we were together again (obviously not so bad to be with me after all) ;)

We continued until På where we found a luxury and (in-the-end) bloody expensive hotel. My mistake or the owner's sales trick – I am not sure. Instead of paying 6000 CFA (so I understood when we arrived) for a room, he demanded 15000 CFA the next morning – a normal price for an air-conditioned room with TV (stuff which I did not ask for!). The surrounding presented itself with just some minor trash here and there and a little forest with goats, sheep, pigs and many birds. It would have been nice to stay there a little longer, but this money stuff made us decide to leave and ride towards Ouagadougou.

We went to Pension Sarah and the lady at the reception hesitated for quite a while before she was ok with the dogs. During our first night we were entertained by the neighbor disco until 02 in the morning. Followed by the wake-up call of other guests and house personal around 0600 which meant we were both dead tired the next morning. I found a park in northern Ouaga as well as a hotel nearby that park and we went for a ride to explore that area. The Women's Day was an ever bigger celebration in this city! The traffic was enormously more stuck than usually, the park was hulled in a cloud of dusk from all the people moving in there. We turned back without finding the hotel and somewhat disappointed that the park was such a dusty place. To add up to this neither did we find the one and only vegan restaurant in the city, where we could get an address from.

Looking for the right tools...
Bikes were parked safely besides the potatoes, which were exported to Togo after two days in sun! Delicious :D

Electrical connection - BF style.
BF mangoes - they were great and cheap!
Ulpu is totally exhausted!

Scary spikes...

all around the tree.
Street sales guy - obviously enough for the day.
A green-marked park in the middle of Ouaga - as expected full of trash!
The place was full of lizards.
Interesting birds visiting us.
The turtles at the pension feasted on our bio left-overs, but other vice their life looked very sad :(
Market place just besides the pension.
I got some extension to my gloves - no more sunburned wrists :)
I visited the Grand Marche ...
... and saw this little girl playing with the plastic pots.
We looked back on our journey so far through West-Africa and what was ahead of us. We did expect that we will be an attraction, the traffic will be bad and it will be hot. What came as a shock to us was this huge amount of trash everywhere and that was the “last straw that broke the camel's back” (der letzte Tropfen der das Faß zum überlaufen brachte). In addition we met many friendly people and several extremely rude ones. The enjoyment to travel together with our dogs, the delicious fruits and the experience as such were on the positive side and those were the things which kept us going.

We got serious doubts on whether this trip to Africa was worth it. We also thought the RTW journey was still our plan and the question remained where to go next? Should we go instantly to US and Canada? Should we go even to South America or skip that? Should we give South Africa a chance? Let's not even start discussing anything beyond the next step yet. As it happened neither did Skippy have her “usual” compensative activities like Karate or running, which would increase her mood.

After reading the latest news and once more some selected ride reports, we decided that we would go to Ghana and from there to either Namibia or South Africa, depending on what is possible, feasible and affordable. We would skip Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, both of the Congos and Angola. Whether we would visit other countries in Africa needed to be seen.

Anyway, Ghana would be next and we went on the following morning to the embassy and applied for our visa to Ghana. This was an important step in our journey if we wanted to get the bikes shipped from Ghana. Especially Skippy was looking forward to visit Ghana as there were plenty of vegan/vegetarian places supposed to be in the area of Accra. Always good to have something to look forward to.

The next days went by with Skippy making travelogues, I was doing some stuff on the bikes, fighting with internet connectivity, waiting for electricity to come back and waiting that water is running again. Luckily the kitchen made a good couscous with some tomato-veggie sauce for 1000 CFA (about 1.50 EUR/portion).
Vultures feasting on a roadkill.
Skippy liked those mango flowers.
A few minutes after we stopped. Yes, we are white people...
... we are  fine and just having a break. Believe it or not! If we could turn that staring into revenue, we could fully sponsor our trip!
Magnificent and huge termite hill.
Break in the middle of nowhere away from the street and in shade.
We got our visa to Ghana without any problems and next day we left Ouagadougou towards the border. Ghana, here we come!


Then I wanted to share some other issues which do not really fit to any specific country and yet it seemed time to write about those.

Who am I?
People asked from where we are. Well, with Skippy that is clear and what about me? Am I a German or a Finn? After living in Finland for about 20 years and considering that I chose to live there, I consider myself more a Finn than a German (or at best 50/50). So my typical answer is I am a Finn. However that does not work very well when I need to show my passport – my German passport :D

Who consumes more – the bikes or us?
I have been seriously worried about the distances I can ride with the sidecar before filling again. I have “only” the 30l tank and thus I added 2 x 10l jerry cans for spare. On the other hand, besides my 1.5l SIGG water bottle I strapped one 10l proper water canister somewhere and we had a 5l plastic canister on a designated place. Our experiences were that petrol has up to now never been an issue! The shortest distance I rode with one tank was 370 km (that were 390 BMW-km, with the 17” front wheel and BMW error adjust that by 0.95 and you get real km). On the other hand, in the heat faced in Mali and BF we consumed about 5l water/person/day plus the water required for cooking and personal hygiene. On a typical hot road day and wild camping, we consume up to 20l/day (with the dogs). Our water consumption is higher then the petrol consumption of the bikes and water is right now the limiting factor!

The thousand and one control points.
What did we do on those uncountable police, customs and whatsoever stop points. My tactic had been to approach those points with slightly lower speed. Only if there was a person present on the street and clearly indicating to stop and pull-over I did that. If officials were hanging lazily in their hammocks and waving somehow towards us (that were the usual situations), I occasionally waved back and continued without stopping. Also mild waving when standing besides the street was typically ignored by me. Whenever we stopped the officials were only interested in a small talk, to watch the sidecar and to take pictures of it. WTF – not my problem and thus I seriously lost my interest in stopping! Only a firm wink to stop or pull-over by an officer on the street were registered by me and made me stop. I saw maybe once or twice that an official did not agree with my decision (tough luck) and then the person came jumping and waving on the street.

A short time out for a reflection - Don't we have a great adventure?
I would say that some things are guaranteed when you travel through Africa. You will have an adventure, experience plenty of things and you will collect stories to tell. So far Africa did not disappoint in having an adventure and collecting stories to tell. Why are we then overall not so happy about Africa. Isn't this what we wanted - an adventure? The answer to this is yes and no. Since we left home behind - and maybe differently then many other world travelers - we did not plan to return to Finland or Europe, instead looking for a new home somewhere else. In this way West-Africa has been on the other end of our scale of "future home", mostly due to the trash and the way things are overall in those countries which we visited. I think these facts have also significantly influenced what we wrote so far, maybe even without being clear to ourselves all the time. Besides this, Skippy had (or has) her own ideas, definition and degree of adventure, expectations, hopes and dreams and I have mine. Mostly they are aligned, often enough they do not fully match or sometimes not at all. Those are then extra difficult times to find joy in this riding. Maybe that is one reason that many globetrotters do travel alone?

Why is there seldom litter and trash in people's holiday pictures?
We found the answer in The BetterPhoto Guide to Digital Nature Photography by Jim Miotke p. 1733
“...before you shoot, scan the scene for the following distracting elements and eliminate them:
  • Telephone or power lines
  • Buildings
  • Street signs
  • Natural "litter " (such as dead leaves or twigs)”

And here is another travelogue “Made by Skippy”.

Here are the links related to the travelogue.

Toilet paper (wc-paperi asiaa):
(^ good article about toilet paper, I just don't agree with the food stuff in this blog!)

Menstrual cup (kuukuppi asiaa):

~ Wolfi