Monday, November 10, 2014


Day Three Akosmbo to Asikuma

Like our previous days the temperature and humidity are high.  Today’s route takes us to a peninsula which juts into Lake Volta.  We’ll take a boat from the end of the peninsula across to Doti and then 21 km to our hotel.  Today is the day we really needed he mountain bikes.  Our road surfaces varied from smooth pavement (in the Volta River Authority area) to chi/seal to potholes to dirt to rutted sand with a few mud holes thrown in.  We also managed to find 2,900 feet of climbing today.
The beauty of the country is undeniable.  The green hills are true to the travel posters and movies you’ve seen.  The people of Ghana are polite and resourceful.  They are always ready with a helping hand or with some product or device that you must have.  The desire to provide you with products reflects their desire to succeed.  The markets are warrens of small booths with the same brands of almost anything you could want.  Prices for commodities are virtually identical.  An example of a market that works.

As we rode north, we climbed and the area became more and more rural.  The roads deteriorated into potholes or dirt roads.  When we reached Agayikit we stopped for lunch and started asking for directions to the dock where we would catch the boat to Doti.  We reached the boat captain on the cell phone.  He assured us he was on his way.  We couldn’t determine the name of the town with the dock or its location.  After we finished lunch we got directions to a fishing village, Kuti, which turned out to be nine kilometers further.  When we reached Kuti, we had a delightful interchange with the people of the village.  We waited and waited and eventually the boat did show, we loaded and crossed Lake Volta.  Another climb waited for us at Doti.  Finally we had a nice ten km downhill into Asikuma.

Vivian and Toka

School kids


Tour riders


Accra to Koforidua

We are a small group, six Americans and five Ghanaians.  One of the purposes of our trip is to promote women’s cycling in Ghana. The head of the women’s cycling group, Vida, is riding with us as are Toka and Vivian, the youngest members of our group.  Ben is our local tour guide and Charles is our driver.  Lon Haldeman is running the tour.  I’ve ridden on rides in the past with Susan Rosenblatt and Len Zawodniak.  Susan Wells and Charles Breer are veterans of other PacTours.
We sent measurements of our bikes ahead of our arrival so Lon and Ben could coordinate buying used bikes for us to ride on this tour.  Today we tested these machines on our first ride.  It turned out that two bikes had problems with crank arms and another couple with tire problems.  First day glitches let’s call it.  At the end of the ride the idea is that we will donate our bikes to the women’s program. 
The riding conditions were pretty much what we expected: temperatures in the 80’s, humid and sunny most of the day.  We’re not used to the heat and humidity this time of the year.  So we use electrolyte tablets and drink plenty of water.  And sweat a lot. 
When we started riding, the reality of where we are and what we’re doing begins to sink in.  The plethora of stimuli is immense.  Odd vegetation, vendors all along the roads, people calling out in various languages (there are 77 in Ghana), unfamiliar driving habits, drivers unfamiliar with sharing the road, unique food, new smells, and riding a bike you’re not familiar with.  Lots of sensory load. 
Much more on some of those stimuli later.  I have to tell you about my faux pas.  When I reached the rotary at kilometer 47 on today’s ride I read the route card, which said, “Adaso…traffic…no shoulder”.  I stopped and thought about the directive.  My interpretation was that since there was no turn suggested, I should proceed straight ahead.  There were two choices, a right turn and straight ahead.  Using my male directional superiority gene, I decided not to ask directions, but to trust my “gut”.   Three miles later I was looking for the next landmark, blue roof house on the left.  Sure enough, it was there.  More of a shack really, but definitely a blue roof.  I rode on.  After the market landmarked at km 49 failed to materialize, I rode another kilometer then seeing no sign of a market, succumbed to asking for directions.  Luckily, most Ghanaians speak some English.  After speaking with a group of 5 or 6 locals who seemed to appear out of nowhere I was convinced that there was no road to my destination other than that one back at the rotary.  So, chalk up another twelve kilometers in the cost of the directional superiority gene.  Lesson learned?  Maybe temporarily.

Pictures from today:

Front: Toka, Vida, Lon, Susan
Rear: Charles,Charles, Ben,Len,Susan,BenVivian, Ron

The climb of the day

Looking back

Roadside rest

Vivian, Toka and Susan

Thursday, November 6, 2014



So yes, I signed up for PacTour’s trip to Ghana.  Yes, in West Africa.  Yes I know there is Ebola in the “neighborhood.  Cote de Ivorie to the East and Togo to the West as well as Ghana have had no reported cases of Ebola.  I’d be at more risk by visiting Dallas, New York City or Maine than I am here.  So why Ghana, why now?

I’ve never been to Africa.  Ghana was the first African nation to declare its independence from colonial rule – 1957 you can look it up.  Ghana is a very peaceful nation, more Christian than Muslim making it unique in Africa.  And it’s a chance to ride a bike and see new places.  Adventure on the Dark Continent.  I’ll admit it wasn’t an easy decision.  Somehow I had a lot more trepidation about making this trip than going to Peru. 

It was a long trip to get here.  Seven hours to London a four hour layover and a seven hour flight to Accra.  Already in the gate at O’Hare I began getting hints of adventure.  Accents and languages were not what you would find on a domestic flight.  Once on the British Air flight to Accra the soup of accents and languages excited me.  The adventure begins.

I was met at the airport in Accra and brought to the hotel to begin recovery from travel and the time change.  In an hour I was showered and asleep.  In the morning the group met for breakfast and I met the crew.  I had met the two riders I didn’t know from earlier rides at the hotel last night.  So familiar faces to help with the acclimation.  Much of what I see here I relate to Peru, the other third world country I’ve spent time in (besides Azerbaijan which deserves its own blog page). 

After breakfast of an omelet and bread and Nescafe, we visited the local market.  Lots and lots of stalls with vendors competing for your attention, and money.  We did see a few crafts, but rest assured they are mostly manufactured for the tourist market.  No great native art artifacts or traditions were anywhere to be found. 

Tomorrow we ride.  Four local riders will be joining us for the ride.  I’m sure that will add a lot of color to our experience.  Here are a few pictures from today’s walks:

Hotel grounds
West Africa Coast
Hotel Art
Local markets

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial

I never knew where to get a
"car fire protector"
National Sculpture Gallery


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Peru 2013
Nauta to Iquitos          64 miles     2,300 feet of climbing
We arrived in Nauta around 11:15 pm and took a bit of time to dock.  We grabbed out gear bags and off-loaded them, then the bikes.  We walked with two bikes each to our hotel a mile or so from the port, leaving Nayda with our gear bags, extra gear, and chairs we had purchased for use on the boat.  Once we found the hotel, we were glad to leave our sea legs and sleep in real beds.  The next morning we breakfasted at 7:00, loaded Nayda up with all the gear, the extra bikes and the chairs and sent her off in a taxi to Iquitos.  We were to enjoy one more day of riding in Northern Peru.
The road between Nauta and Iquitos was a dirt road ten years ago that has been paved.  It is the only road of any length out of either Nauta or Iquitos.  The trip by bike is an easy five or six hours, by boat the trip is a hundred miles or so and takes about eight hours.  Had we taken the boat we would have arrived in Iquitos at 8:00 am tired and weary with less than full enthusiasm for the day ahead.
The ride into Iquitos is surprisingly hilly, a stream of pleasant rollers traveling through the countryside away from the river.  We know we are in the jungle because of the heat and humidity.  We also know it could be a lot worse.  The weather god has been kind to us gringos.  We see Fundos (farms), resorts, and thatched huts all along the way to Iquitos.  The closer we get to Iquitos the more resort type properties we see.  Most are pretty rustic and some are actually quite attractive.  Somehow the farms, homesteads and dwellings along the way just seem more purposeful than what we saw earlier in the ride.  See if you agree that the pictures tell that story.

The centaur and the mermaid  Art in hotels has some interesting themes

A resort along the way

The road along the way

More thatched roofs in this part of the country  Thatch lasts 7 -10 years

Need some help?

A farming compound?

This is the jungle.  It rains most days in the rainy season

The road ahead

A condo development

Jaguar at the zoo

Our group for the last few days of the tour
Lon, Ron, Araceley, Alessandra, Art, & Bob

Riding through town

Moving right along

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peru 2013

On the riverboat Bruno    333 miles         2 days          Yurimaguas to Nauta

We had been on the riverboat “Bruno” yesterday to survey the landscape and see that Walter, a local that Lon has known for years, had set up our hammocks and also to help anticipate the experience.  We have cabins and hammocks on the upper deck (premium space).    
After eating breakfast, we addressed the usual question:  “is the boat leaving at the latest announced time, or will it be later?”  We were told the boat would indeed leave a 10:00 so we loaded Nayda with gear bags and extra bicycles into a moto-taxi, hopped on our bikes and rode to the docks, all of a mile or two, but crowded with moto-taxis all seemingly in a rush and headed for the docks.  Once at the boat we carried bikes, gear bags and other assorted bags up to the third deck and were ready for departure.  10:00 came and went and the boat was still loading.  Finally the boat did leave right on time at 11:30 sharp.  Of course I’m being factitious, but the rule is: the boat leaves no earlier than the last announced departure time and when all of the cargo is loaded.

While commonly referred to as an Amazon River cruise the river at Yurimaguas is the Rio Huallagua and it is joined by the Paranapura in Yurimaguas.  The river carries lots of silt and as a consequence is muddy.  There is also a lot of debris in the river, mostly trees and vegetation that has fallen into the river as a result of the banks falling in.  The boat flows downstream with the current at 10-12 miles per hour.  As we watch the scenery go by, we see some activity on the river, often a small peke-pekes carrying local people or harvested vegetation.  The accommodations are somewhat rustic on the Bruno.  The restrooms are on the second deck and flushed with river water.  The overhead showers are in the same compartments as the toilets.  Needless to say, some of us opted to remain au natural throughout the voyage.  We are settling in, watching the jungle go by.  An occasional settlement attracts attention, but otherwise we’re in hammocks reading and passing time.  We will not be using the cabins except to securely stow our gear bags.  Then the rain began.  As the storm increased in intensity and the wind blew across the deck, our hammocks were no longer comfortable and we sought shelter in our cabins.  The cabins have a double bunk and about 24 inches of space from the door to the back of the cabin to access the bunks.  We crawled into the bunks and stowed our gear bags under the lower bunk.  The rain on the roof was enjoyable because we were no longer getting wet.
The boat we are on makes frequent stops in the middle third of its journey with either end of the route served by smaller boats delivering harvests and supplies to nearby villages.  Our first stop was at 3:15 in the morning after nearly 15 hours of travel in Lagunas.  The village is the site of a world famous wild-life preserve.  People and cargo embarked and disembarked as the boat grounded itself on the shoreline.  Meeting the boat is a big deal in the villages and seemingly everyone turns out. 

We delivered school books to children in jungle villages along the way.  We would hop off the boat when it docked, ask the captain how much time we had, ascertain the location of the school and find the principal of the school, explain what we wanted to do, be introduced in a classroom, and pass out books individually to children, inevitably to great appreciation with wide smiles.  For one delivery the captain let us take the speed boat.  We hoped into the speedboat and sped ahead to the village.  We delivered the books, collected the smiles and appreciation of the principal and teachers, ran back to the speed boat and caught up with the Bruno and embarked “on the fly”.  For some locales, this is how the locals connect with the Bruno, pulling up alongside and loading or unloading cargo or passengers. 
Loading "dock"

On the river

Leaving Yurimaguas

River village


Senor Bob

River village where we delivered school books

School children

School children with new books

Oil production facility

River front

Schoolhouse delivery

Our bikes with boat docked

River village square 

Catching the Bruno after book delivery in the speed boat

Village turnout for the Bruno

Sunset on the river