We landed in Accra slightly behind schedule but otherwise in good spirits. We experienced some fruity turbulence as we passed through a heavy band of thunder and lightening when crossing into northern Ghana – proof of some of the hostile weather conditions we could face! There was a lot of genuine screaming from passengers which was thankfully short lived. I always enjoy following the flight route map on long haul flights and the weather was clear enough to look down and enjoy the changing topographies – I was especially glued when we crossed over Algeria and flew right across the Sahara desert – what an incredible landscape it is. The flight path was almost a straight line down and this is also reflected in the fact that we only had to put our clocks back one hour despite being in the air for 6. In fact the Greenwich meridian line passes through Ghana.
Stepping off the plane we were greeted with the humidity for the first time – it wasn’t as engulfing as I thought it might be. We were greeted with a 2 hour passport control queue before finally being reunited with all our bags and bike box (phew!). Despite the delays the friendly hotel owner Margaret and a guy called clement were waiting for us outside the airport to transfer us to our final destination.
After checking in, despite the time, were keen to stretch our legs and start getting our bearings so we strolled out towards ‘Oxford Street’. We can hear and smell the crashing waves of the sea nearby. It is very quiet with most of the shops and bars closing up for the night but we did find a street corner bar where we were able to taste our first local beer – Club.
English is the official language of Ghana and this, along with the familiar street names, are indications of its British ‘Gold Coast’ colonial past. Ghana as we know it today certainly didn’t exist before the nineteenth century with the northern and central regions annexed in 1902 and the eastern Volta regions ‘passing’ to the Brits from German Togoland in the League of Nations after World War 1. The country was the first colonised country to gain independence which they did in 1957 but the country only had their first legitimate election win (e.g. without a coup taking place) in 2000.
We spent the morning setting up the bike which always takes longer than we think. But once we had him all ready we had the afternoon to explore the city. We head down to the coast and the old town of Jamestown. Here we find the two remaining buildings of the city’s colonial past – the fort and Jamestown Lighthouse. There’s lots of people living right on the beach and we pass an industrious very smelly fish smoking factory.
It’s fun meandering through the small streets on the tandem again. Janestown is bustling with people going about their business. We see a tiny lady steering a huge pot of porridge on a charcoal stove pounding it with what can only be described as a huge oar shaped wooden utensil. We have to try not to stare (in complete awe) at the head carrying skills of the women on the street. No rain today which was great and during the afternoon the sun even came out and Paddy got burnt in 10 minutes.
Our first impressions of Accra is that is a very chilled for a capital city. People are very friendly. The weather is humid but the sea provides a fresh breeze most of the day which makes the city feel a lot more comfortable. A lot of the houses and market stalls are homemade and there is an organised chaos to the place which is quite captivating. All children over 4 go to school as we noticed their absence until 4pm when they all suddenly appear in their smart uniforms and greet us with ‘how are you?!’. English is spoken widely but we also hear a lot of local dialects and languages too. We get a lot of calls of ‘white lady’ and ‘white man’ from market traders!
We are getting to grips with the local currency (cedi) and sample a few of the snacks from the market. These are tiger nuts which are dried slightly and eaten whole or ground to make a very sweet, coconut/almond milk. The husks are apparently good for diabetes and high colestoral and locally are said to be a strong aphrodisiac! There is also lots of baked plantain, dried fish and fried yam snacks as well as mangos and pineapples and of course amazing cloth everywhere you look.
After a lunch of rice, fried fish and plantain chips we head off to find a Ghanaian flag to display on our travels. We meet some lovely guys at a more touristy market who are keen to have a go on the tandem. Mouhammad also gives us a lesson on the kashaka – a small handheld percussion instrument.