Verdant Gardens – Ghana to Burkina Faso Return – by Abdi Zeila (Part 1)

Trip report (Accra-Kumasi-Tamale, 660 kms so far)

I have a 200cc Chinese-made ‘Royal’ brand motorbike. This brand is the most popular in Ghana, with the majority of okada men in Accra riding the 125 and 150cc variants. It is very cheap to maintain and rides well. The only downside is the high fuel consumption whilst on the highway.

That is me, leaving Accra. A friend of mine, Jo, escorted me for the first 10 km.

I left Accra on Saturday at 6.00 am, thinking that this is the right time to exit and avoid traffic. Accra traffic never sleeps – there were just too many cars even as early as 6.00 am. The highway out towards Kumasi is dual carriageway for the first 40 or so kilometres, but it quickly gets rutted and full of potholes for the remainder of the journey (200 km). I made good progress, however, except for two occasions when I had to stop and tie my load again. Ilikuwa inaegemea upande mmoja. Still using bladda to tie my stuff.

Obligatory visit to the palace of the Asantehene, king of the Ashanti people

There is absolutely no respect for motorcyclists by motorists – they try to force you off the road and many of them came to within inches of my handlebars as they overtook me. I only noted them at the last time by the whoosh of their slipstream as they zoomed past, extremely close. There was not a single motorbike on the highway to Kumasi – I was the only one, it seemed to me. I battled rain on most of the way.

I got stopped by policemen twice in Ashanti region. The first time I had no trouble, and they checked my papers and DL and released me with a smile once they realised I am a Kenyan. The policemen crowded around me and asked me if I run marathons. I did not mention my north-eastern roots in Kenya, and indeed confirmed to them that I can out-run any Ghanaian.

The second stop was a lot more difficult. This happened because I went past a police barrier without stopping (I saw the sign announcing the barrier, and I did not stop, my mistake), and their shouts made me to turn back. The cop who stopped me was shaking with rage. I took my time to dismount, removed my helmet, and when he saw my facial features, he knew immediately I was a foreigner, and he cooled down. I spoke easily with him, and he asked for my papers. On seeing my Kenyan DL, he immediately went to converse with his boss, and he said I have just committed an offence.

He pulled out a yellowing, weather-beaten book, titled “Offences” and pointed out to the right clause – this is an innovation our Kenyan police need to adopt, seriously. Of course, I read through and thoroughly agreed with him. He was surprised to see me concurring. Anyway, after a few minutes, and noting that I remained calm all through, they told me to go on since I am just a tourist. I scrammed and disappeared.

Kumasi is always jam-packed. I could not believe the extent of the congestion caused by cars (especially the tro-tros, aka matatus) in this city, Ghana’s second largest. Like Accra, this city’s traffic is mostly controlled by signalised intersections – there only a few roundabouts. The traffic control is efficient but the cars are just too many for the city – helped also by the low fuel prices (lower than Kenya).

I spent the whole of Sunday relaxing and visiting places of interest – especially the palace of the Ashanti kingdom. Here, there are artefacts highlighting the kingdom’s 324-year reign. I saw muskets (old guns) that the kingdom’s fighting men used in 1690s, throne seats, clothes worn by their fighters and kings, and so much stuff that left me impressed. The city has incredible history.

Ghanaian food

Of course, I have been gorging on Ghanaian food – great diversity, unlike home, liberally prepared with pepper. Even the water here I believe has pepper. Fufu. Yam. Different types of soup (some called “light” soup). Fish, lots of it. Jollof rice.

Yesterday, I set out for a 380-kilometre run from Kumasi to Tamale, the northern-most city in Ghana. It took me six hours to get to Tamale. The entire stretch is like a verdant garden – green and rich agricultural zone. I am in Tamale now, and the city is a bikers’ paradise – there are more motos here than anywhere else in Ghana, and there is therefore more respect for bikers.

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I am off to evaluate projects supported by my organisation. I will be visiting smallholder farmers in this region today and tomorrow. Then on Thursday, I will do a 370-kilometre trip across the border and into Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou.

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