And, we’re back

It’s been a long time since I last updated this blog – almost exactly four months.

There’s no real reason this happened beyond de-prioritizing it over the other work that I’ve been doing, but I’ve been recently reminded of the importance of messaging that same work back to colleagues and friends across Africa and in Canada and decided to start writing some posts again (on a schedule even).

This week marks six months of me being in Ghana. The time has flown by and looking back, I’m slightly perturbed by how little I’ve seemed to accomplish. That’s not to say I haven’t been busy with work, because I have. It’s more a statement on the time periods involved in actually seeing processes or attitudes change – time periods that I’m not even sure are feasible to think about for people who will only be around for one or two years. Everyone in development will tell you that real change takes time, even Ghanaians will tell you that (Biela biela in Dagbani or Kakra kakra in Twi – meaning small small or slowly slowly), but its glacial pace can sometimes take its toll on someone in-country working towards it.

You can understand why I might have been feeling a little down on myself a few weeks ago when thinking of my upcoming six month anniversary. Fortunately, with the help of some awesome EWB staff (Mina, Wayne, and Romesh), a plan was devised to refocus and rejuvenate – a cross Ghana motorcycle trip!

I was hesitant at first when I heard of the idea since the first time I got on a motorcycle was after I arrived in Ghana five short months ago, but the opportunity was there and the people were willing and it seemed like a great way to see the country in a new way. One of the reasons I wanted to take this placement was to really understand what it was like to live in a developing country. I’ve travelled through them before, but there’s a stark difference between being a tourist and a resident in a foreign country and to be honest, I’ve missed being a tourist and wanted to experience it again, if only for a short while.

As my moto skills weren’t necessarily the best in the big cities, I decided to forego the first leg of the trip with the rest of the guys, which saw them travel from Tamale, through Kumasi and down to the capital of Ghana, Accra. Instead, I met them in the southern part of the Volta Region, near a city called Ho. It meant two days of long rides by myself in a part of the country I never really knew about, beyond constantly hearing how beautiful it was from people that have been (it’s the part of the country that most tourists stick to).

Leaving Kpandai Crossing the Oti River

I set out at dawn on from Kpandai with the call to prayers at my back and the open road ahead of me. I was racing to catch a ferry a few hours away which I’d been told only ran three times a day. Got there and found out there were small boats that can take motorcycles across any time of the day – should have realized Ghanaians wouldn’t leave an entrepreneurial opportunity like that wide open.

After crossing the Oti river, it was another few hundred kilometres to Hohoe, where I’d decided I would spend my first night. I got caught in a sudden torrential downpour on this part of the ride and was soaked in less than two minutes. This made for an uncomfortable few hours riding before I actually got to a guesthouse and settled down for the night.

The next morning, I took off again for the ride to Ho. This was a spectacular part of the country, with small villages lining the roads and mountain vistas in the background. I had all day to get to Ho and made the most of it, stopping often to take pictures and meet people – probably important since I didn’t have a map and needed to make sure I wasn’t going to the wrong way. The highlight of this part was taking the switchbacks to cross the mountains.  When I finally did get to Ho in the early afternoon, I couldn’t find the guesthouse I was looking for and got lost. Ended up taking a wrong turn and riding through the Ho market on market day, which was an intense experience. One of the reasons I didn’t want to make the first part of the journey with the rest of the guys was because I didn’t feel I had enough stop-and-go experience in the bigger cities. My trials in Ho definitely gave me that, and burned any doubts out of my system.

Through the mountain passes

The next day I actually met up with the guys at the Akosombo Dam – the hydroelectric system that provides power to Ghana and parts of Togo. We rode to a community renowned for their kente weavers and spent a lot of money before heading to a guesthouse up in the mountains. Riding in a group is a completely different dynamic than solo-riding, but it was great to get pushed by some more experienced riders in some tricky situations.

We stayed in the mountains the next day, checking out Wli Falls – west Africa’s highest waterfall. I somehow got turned around on the trek up to the high falls but eventually made it to where the guys were waiting. Amazing scenery that not many people were taking advantage of (at least when we were there).

Lower Wli falls Upper Wli falls

The next few days were all long rides. The first night saw us travel for about seven hours back to Kpandai and the day after was a similar ride back to Tamale. Both had stretches of terrible roads that I’m not interested in travelling over again, but I’m glad I got some experience on them. I really could have stayed back in Kpandai instead of following the group to Tamale, but at that point in the trip, I just wasn’t ready to stop. Arriving in Tamale was a really great feeling – no nerves about the craziness of the big city (people, traffic, goats, etc.), just a peaceful ride and a great way to end the short vacation.

All in all, over 1200 kilometres over seven days through some of West Africa’s most scenic landscapes. I learned a lot about myself and riding and can’t stop thinking about when and where the next trip will be. There’s already been some talk of an Accra to Amsterdam excursion in the future, but we’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

Riding through the Volta Region

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2 Responses to And, we’re back

  1. Looks AMAZING Don! Nice pics!

  2. Pingback: Development Digest – 23/09/11 « What am I doing here?

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