Ghana Cycle Challenge 2011

GHANA 2011

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Day One.

Oh my god what have I signed up for.  Utterly utterly shattered.  We are cycling from Elmina Slave Fortress north and east into the bush, and eventually to the town of Kwahu-Tafo. We have raised sponsorship from friends. We are going to sink boreholes and new wells for fresh water in this small Ghanaian town with the proceeds. But first we have to get there, cross-country on local bikes in tropical heat, dust, mud, sand and sweat.

And this is not at all what I was expecting. “The first two days will be mainly flat cycling”.  Er, no.  It’s very hilly, up and down, red dirt road almost all day with huge potholes at the bottom of each hill so that you can’t just freewheel down the slope in joy because then you’d be going WAY too fast to negociate the ruts and puddles at the bottom.  Which is exactly what happens to me on the 17th hill of the day – splat, handlebar in the nuts, scrape arm, ow, people watching, get back on, carry on.  Gears are unpredictable.  Back wheel wobbles.   If you get too close to another cyclist their mud spits into your face from the back tyre.  Then :  two punctures in 40 minutes; and the bike doesn’t have high enough handlebars, so pressure bearing down on my right hand and elbow becomes unbearable.  At least the punctures are handled brilliantly – proper mobile pitstop service by the local chaps following us in the van. Sore throat turns challenge into ordeal, and right hand and elbow are a constant source of pain due to previous training injuries.  So it’s either muscles on strike as yet another uphill slope appears and you crunch the gears down to minus one and grit your teeth, or its whizzy downhill avoiding potholes and skids with both hands gripping the brakes.  On one of these downhill suicide runs KM (Kien Mien from Malaysia) comes off his bike braking too hard in a far worse accident than mine, and we all stop to wait for the Jeff the Doc who cycles at the back of the pack, meanwhile cleaning KM’s wounds with wet-wipes gently on his arms, legs and body which is scratched punctured and bleeding, and scores of children have gathered round with curious women to see the strangely clad yellow visitors and their stricken companion.

crash spectators

Dr Jeff arrives and we converge on the local bamboo church (which is more like a small stockade with a palm leaf roof, a drum kit and a bottle of schnapps) and convert it into a hospital and food stop. Prince and team provide pineapple and peanuts for sugar and salt, and there is water.  We are all exhausted but pumped with adrenalin. KM is patched up and cycles on.  Other highlights of day one include the Golden Weaver birds building and re-building their nests a few feet away from us at Hans Cottage , a large crocodile, the kites flying overhead and the huge variety of butterflies, none of which stop anywhere long enough to be identified. My hand aches and Gideon the Classic Tours team leader kindly finds me ice as we finish, shattered beyond imagining, at 78 kilometres. “I’m fucked “ I announced to the group as I finally join them (I wasn’t the last). It was a discourteous but accurate assessment.


Slave River

The final coach trip to the hotel was long (3 hours) and included a stop at the Slave River exhibit which became sadly part of the ordeal – we are all spaced out and exhausted (and wet); then back we get onto the coach and back down round the houses via the Cape Coast road almost where we had started that morning (due to road works) thus a sense of futility descends over the weary bikers, sitting in our wet sweaty gear as the AC blasts us with it’s cool breath. The endless judders of the sleeping policemen merely add to the sense of misery, and terminate any thought of sleeping.

our bus is blessed

But we made it.  Experienced bikers Tim and Jim who’ve done ten each of these trips around the world said that it was the toughest “Day One” either of them had ever experienced.  Some solace.  That and the fact that it was cloudy all day long, a blessed relief.  But what will it be like when the sun comes out ?

Day Two

We are in a hotel in the town of Agona-Swedru and leave in convoy – or rather they all leave in convoy and I am left standing by my bike as Kofi unscrews the front gear frantically, finally telling me not to use it.  I have lost a long minute or two and become the way-back marker as we cycle through this bustling community at 7.30am,

all the shops are open, traffic is heavy: animals, motorcycles, taxis and lorries, and women….women carrying things on their heads – women with unfeasibly large bundles, trays, buckets, dustbins, or simply whole enclosed transparent boxes like shop windows with glass frontages and a variety of different things on sale. At one break a few days later we try to lift one of these giant baskets without even getting it off the floor, then watch as two women together lift it onto one of their heads, balanced on a cloth.

As I take it all in and try to snap a few shots the yellow line of bicycles disappears and Doctor Jeff gets annoyed and anxious. “Keep moving, stay in convoy!” His hand appears in my shot of Paulina directing cycle traffic at a busy junction.

And then on, through small villages and kids running to the roadside to see us whizz by, the sun starts to beat down and alongside us are gorgeous green butterflies, yellow butterflies like Brimstones, orange butterflies – Monarchs included, blue butterflies, white butterflies.  Banana trees, cassava, rich red soil and more curious villagers.  Slightly frustrating is the lack of interaction when we stop for a break – bananas, nuts, pineapple and water, beneath some shady spot in someone’s village, and they all just stare at us and we take pictures of them.  Sometimes it’s warm and fun, other times it’s frankly odd.

‘Allah is good’ sandal shop

Lunch is in a school which goes on around us as we wait for over an hour for the food to be cooked. People get tired and ratty. The muscles are really complaining and we’re hungry.  The food arrives and is good, but I notice that the Africans don’t eat with us, and mention it next day to Humphrey, whose crazy idea this all was, and thankfully people start to mix more on Day Three.

Then back on the Evolve Saddle which is a new design which all the pro bikers are curious about but no-one wants to try. By the end of the week I’ll be laughing at their nappy rash because it’s brand-new concept is “comfort”.

We cycle on, kilometre after kilometre, hill after hill, the front pack hanging onto Kobi’s every acceleration, the back markers puffing panting, walking up the hills and cycling down them. It is far far harder than I could ever have imagined.  The bike is uncomfortable and there is so much pressure on my hands. The heat is amazing, 90+ degrees. The hills are relentless. The schedule of kilometres per day seems absurd in these conditions, especially the off-road sections when you can’t go fast at all, can’t ever get into anything resembling middle gear let alone top gear, even if your bike would let you.  Patricia suffers 5 punctures today, 5 mobile pitstops, and lags farther and farther behind.  A gang of us at the back are beaten and climb into a car for the last section of the day.

get off and milk it

Annoying, since the car trails the back marker at 5 miles an hour but if the muscles won’t obey commands from the willpower what can you do? My heart is burtsting out of my chest on some of the hills and I’m not about to have a mid-life crisis African heart attack just for pride.  The final section of the day is a stupidly steep dirt track which we are invited to decline, and half the group do. The other half, lead valiantly by Kobi and including Fraser, assault the incline  in bottom gear, sinews straining, and are clapped into the hotel at the top by the car-riders. We are in Aburi, a hilltop town overlooking Accra with a pleasant climate, where most of our crew come from. No time to explore though, as tomorrow we start to cycle at 7.00am.  Once again Fraser and I are sharing a hotel room, but this time, in a rare development, we are sharing a bed. A “large bed.”

Day Three.

The morning routine – up, shower, pack – three bags : one suitcase (back of the truck), one handluggage (back of the truck) and one day bag (back seat of 4×4). Day bag has Things You May Need Which Cannot Be Carried On A Bike. Then breakfast, then Fraser reminds me to take malaria tablet, then warm up and stretch, check the bike, spray on Deet and factor 50 sunblock, and then, get on your bike, take your protein pills and put your helmet on….

Feel up for it today after that little rest in the car, and we head off back through Aburi by 4×4 – a few mad ones deciding to cycle down the aforementioned Very Steep Dirt Track. This means braking constantly for fifteen minutes – but not too much because you’ll skid. Tricky. Mark comes a cropper after announcing at a porridge-less breakfast that “even I’m feeling nervous about this hill”. He is cut and bleeds all over the red dirt.

Sometimes it’s harder going downhill

We rejoin the group at the bottom of Very Steep Hill, Mark bandanged, and head off behind Kobi northwards towards Koforidua on another red dirt road fringed by tropical green. I am full of life today and start with the leaders, arriving after a couple of stupid hills at the first break, once again in a village school. We refresh and move on.

Jim Carter valiantly cycles up another long hill in bottom gear

This is a glorious day – hot sun beating down, glorious red bishop birds just in eyesight, butterflies everywhere, vultures cicrling at times. I feel I can do this relentless cycling thing, my body has acclimatised, I don’t mind the heat and I can manage the cranky bike… I can even cycle uphill.

And the smiling children in every village shouting “Oborooni!” in glee as they see the white people on the bikes is pretty special too, waving, smiling, running alongside us, their mothers waving, guys giving us thumbs up or just laughing at our foolishness.  Special mention for the crew looking after us – Boat, Prince, Kofi, Kobi, Lovelace, Ben, Efori, Cassava, Lydia, Paulina and Irene, handing us water, fixing our bikes , showing directions at all the junctions with their yellow Go Ghana T-shirts. All the cyclists are in yellow too (if we remember to wash them overnight) provided by secret hero Gary, they are very cool, especially when modelled by the ladies :

Alison, Mel, Lou, Tricia

We come into a bustling market town and push the bikes through, being offered yams, drinks, toothpaste, shoes, everything under the african sun. At the next stop Boat explains palm wine to us and Fraser and I as representatives of Brighton obviously volunteer to try it with chilli, pepper and onion. Delicious !

Palm wine is sweeter the earlier in the day you drink it…

Fearing it will slow me down I head off in the middle of the group but palm wine is rather like rocket fuel and the day glides by til lunch, when the whole group finally start to mix and talk together. Kobi gives us each beautiful glass bracelets and we are touched and thank him. The entire village watches us take a lunch hour like a captive audience watching every move, fascinated.


The afternoon is tough as we re-join the tarmac and battle into Koforidua, capital of the Eastern Region, with the rest of the traffic. Real mental stress as hill after hill appears round each corner and the muscles are not responding.  A regroup on the edge of town breaks down quickly as riders are posted on junctions to signal the next corner. I stand at one corner exhausted for half an hour before Hans from Sweden turns up, and we head off together to find the hotel.   We eventually arrive in a rage as no markers have been left for us but dinner is good, there is wifi, and Fraser and I have separate beds again.

Day Four.

The exit from Koforidua is slick and organised with yellow T-shirted crew on every conceivable corner to direct us out of town. Then the hills start again. On tarmac now, possibly more of a grind, long snaking hills going UP, relentless, merciless, strength-sapping and in the case of my hand, physically painful. The Doc gives me paracetamol every morning to take the edge off the hand issue. People cycle alongside and start to talk about stuff but I have no energy for chat, only for pedalling ever onwards. We hit lush green countryside, really beautiful scenery and suddenly there’s a village school and a long snaking line of kids –  it’s a demonstration of schoolchildren, protesting in their blue school uniforms about money and needing support from their parents.  Today I feel I will stop a little more often – just to take pictures – because it’s all flashing by me too quickly, I’m not taking it in, Ghana has become a blur. Too much cycling, not enough Ghana !  becomes my bumper sticker headline, as 21st century folk can only think in tabloid.  I think we all feel the same way – but there are two distinct groups emerging among the cyclists – those who choose these kinds of trips to challenge themselves, and can often be found at the head of the pack following local hero Kobi (previous representative of Ghana at 400, 800 and 1500 metres) who is always at the front – we’re not allowed to overtake him (did you hear that Mark ??) and these include brothers Neil and Gary, Mark, Fraser and Suzi with others from time to time taking a spell at the front – Claire, Gideon, Colin, myself for one glorious morning. A quick word about Colin – he is 70 years young and regularly overtakes my cycling uphill. He is not a cyclist. He is however a horse-rider, so perhaps he is made of leather and has thighs of steel. He is my new hero.

Ben leaps from a tree into the cascading waters of Boti Falls

But now there is a regular group at the back of proceedings which includes my weedy self, struggling with yet another hill, Louella, who also has an Evolve saddle and thus does NOT have nappy rash of any kind, Mel who has a bad back, Tricia who cycles along with a buddhist incantation of ‘cold beer cold beer’ like a carrot dangling in front of her,  and David, London lawyer rather like myself who has under-prepared for this physical assault.  Behind all of these is Doctor Jeff from Classic Tours and then local ball of energy Lovelace, the back marker, who always cycles behind the last cyclist, then behind him is the 4×4, behind them the truck with all our luggage and the spare bicycles. Somewhere between these two loose groups are the 3 personable Swedes : Frederick, Hans and Anders who rarely are seen beyond talking distance from each other, and even more rarely seen pushing the bicycle up the hill;  Georgina, Humphrey’s neice and Colin’s daughter who has calves of iron, and the sweetest disposition;  Alison from London who has done this before and has quiet determination;  Tim and Kien Mien lovely London gents who often but not always cycle together;  Dr Robert Spring, fit as a fiddle and attempting to record frogs in ponds etc, and finally but not finally Mr Jim Carter whose fitness, while not visible to the naked eye, is quite exemplary and who is an excellent actor and cyclist of ten previous “challenges”.

Mark, Anders, Hans, Neil, Frederick

My fitness by contrast with Jim’s is not visible.  I can often be seen in the standard defeated position of walking along pushing my bike because by today I am taking each hill as a personal insult, an adversary which has already beaten me to a quivering pulp simply by existing in my eyeline. Tim, an experienced cyclist advises me “don’t look up” but then why be here at all ?   It’s hard enough concentrating my overheated mind on ten yards of road immediately in front of me, searching for potholes, rocks and other distractions, but I do like to look up now and again and see where I am in the world.  And the views today are stunning.  After one immense downhill run which must have  gone on for over 2 kilometres (there is a god) the payment becomes immediately obvious – a hill going UP for at least 2 kilometres.  I get off and push.  Lou joins me and we find the breath to talk about our dead pets, both recently bereaved, and we walk uphill in 100 degrees weeping quietly.  My beautiful boy cat Chester died two weeks before I came on this trip and I’m still not ready to let him go.  I had a tattoo made of his actual pawprint just before I left Brighton.

the mark of Chester’s paw on my left arm

At the top of Endless Hill – a waterfall – Boti Falls, which is spectacular and a welcome cool relief from the overhead sun which beats down all morning.  Lovelace and Ben from the crew dive in and splash around, the rest of us take pictures and enjoy the sight of a river running over a cliff into a large pool.  There’s something about waterfalls – (is it the ions ? What are these ?) which is very pleasing.

Then, sadly it’s back on those bikes and off we go again with only a couple of bananas (small local ones) and a bag of peanuts for salt. Weariness sets in again, and the afternoon is a blur of small villages where the people have nothing, ragged shirts and dresses hang on lines, as Stevie Wonder sings “their clothes are torn but never are they dirty” and my abiding memory of the afternoon is putting my bike up onto the lorry and climbing into the 4×4 for a slow drive watching people push their bikes up yet another long long hill through a monsoon-esque downpour to the KitKat Club in Begoro and thence to St Monica’s Guest House, which has no electricity in the room and cold water shower only.  Remarkably though, we see no mosquitos, dinner is good, Star beer is better and I feel like we are truly bedding down in the African bush.

Day Five

Earliest start yet today – we are in the saddle by 7am and cycling down the hills of Begoro and down towards Lake Volta. It’s not all downhill by any means here, and after Fraser breaks his chain on the road out of town and we’ve all gone up half a dozen more red dirt hills we are ready for our first water- break, this time surrounded by centipedes.  Back on the road again and – come on Brown, you can do this without having a heart attack, just ask your muscles to OBEY (in the words of Shepherd Fairey) and then suddenly we’re going downhill and we can see in the distance the waters of Lake Volta – dammed in 1965 and the inhabitants of the valley relocated further up the hills – it is the largest reservoir in the world.  Despite that, we can see the other side, and half-way down the hill we stop en masse for an all-too-rare photo opportunity.  Here’s our leader Humphrey Barclay with some of his team :

Kobi, Pauline, Humphrey (Nana Gyearbour), Efori with Lake Volta below

Our hard-working chefs, Peter and Jessica, Ghanaian rastas

Then it’s a proper freewheel downhill at frightening speeds – if you came off on one of these corners it would certainly be broken bones at least – but that’s part of the thrill (isn’t it?).  Down at lakeside the track becomes sandy which is almost impossible to cycle through and Humphrey, who is recording the whole trip on his camcorder, takes great delight in watching us one by one founder in the sand.   On to a small town where one of the Tafo Chiefs – Chief of Drums, has come to greet us and the village elders of Mpaam, so before lunch is served we troop off to the Chief’s Palace ( a few mud dwellings around a mud square) and witness the ceremony of welcome, the linguist to the Chief’s incantation over the libation and the sharing of a few sips of…Schnapps.  Yes that’s right. Don’t ask.  A sacred drink in these parts.  Lunch is tremendous as ever, cooked by Peter and Jessica our local Ghanaian rastafarians from Aburi (Rita Marley has a presence in that estimable town).   After a brief rest surrounded by local children and once again with what seems like most of the townsfolk treating our presence as a show which is not to be missed, we continue past chillis baking in the sun, through sand, rocks, glimpses of the lake, and more sand.  But this is my kind of cycling – reminding me somewhat of the South Downs Way (hotter obviously and with more sand) but the terrain and the grit and gravel and the warmth of the afternoon is making me feel familiar feelings.  I’ve volunteered to represent the cyclists at the upcoming football match in Tafo the day after we arrive – and asked for volunteers, ie people who would like to play.  Only a handful have come forward, many have declined and so I ask the locals to join us – Kobi, Lovelace, Efori, Ewusu the policeman and Ben all agree to play alongside us at the exhibition game the day after tomorrow.   I will captain in the centre of defence alongside the three Swedes, Fraser is up front and Claire will play right midfield.  Do we have a chance ?   I’m afraid not in hell – I rather suspect we will lose 27-1, and I’m not entirely sure where the 1 is going to come from, but I’ve put all the Ghanaian youth up front to score us some goals.

Back on the bike my right hand is now wrapped in a bandage fashioned by Peter and Jessica, underneath my cycling glove, but the pains shooting through my hand like lightening strikes are causing me huge concern.  Dr Robert thinks I may have carpal tunnel syndrome and may require an operation when I return to the UK “basically you have to stop cycling”.  Er…thanks Doc !   Second opinion Doctor Jeff reckons I have a bruise on my hand which is constricting the nerves and making the palm of my hand numb. He’s not fancying the electric shock needles anymore than I am but hey – one more day and we’re there.  We all stop at a bridge and take on water, and the three women carrying chillis stop and bathe (fully clothed!) and then place the unfeasibly heavy baskets back onto their heads.  Baskets which we cannot even budge let alone lift.  Clearly we have all led soft lives.

Weedy European cyclists rest as African women walk past carrying things on their heads

Once again I feel I have no choice but to get into Humphrey’s car for the last two hours of the day – my hand is killing me, and the bike’s handlebars won’t raise to take the strain back onto the saddle.  The road is incredibly rough here, and the sand takes all power out of your legs, but up to this point I was enjoying it.  Maybe I should just have taken a couple of paracetamol.   We drive on and finally reach the beautiful lakeside village of Asubone, which has a campsite set up for us on a hillside, one small tent each, cold-water bucket-wash in a stand-up enclosure (male and female) and camp fire with singing.   Deet is applied, and local teacher Steven generously allows me to charge up my iphone/camera (all pix on this blog taken by iphone4) on his three-pin plug socket for a couple of hours and I meet some other teachers including Evans Osei (hi Evans!).   Steven has been at the school for six years and just been made headmaster.  Not his choice – education is government-run and centralised, and teachers are posted out to where they are needed.  But the local kids are a credit to him and his staff, they surround Fraser and I sitting by the fire and ask me questions about Chelsea, school, England, anything they can think of, so gentle,  some touching my leg because it is exotically white, all wanting to be close, all really sweet teenagers of about fifteen or sixteen.  So very unlike our local youth here in England.  The tent is small and slopes gently downhill.  I am exhausted and despite the excitable crew members talking until fuck-o’clock I fall asleep as my head hits the towel-made pillow.

Asubone campsite on the shore of Lake Volta

Day 6

Three mosquitos get in at 5am and two die – the other bites me twice. We wander down to the lake after breakfast (oh porridge I love you) and it’s such a strange feeling – a group of cyclists in yellow jerseys walking through mud huts, chickens with red ribbons tied onto their wings (so people can’t steal them), goats and kids climbing up mud walls, and there’s the lake with long canoes, and here we are on the water now, bailing out frantically before we sink and contract bilharzia in the waters of Lake Volta.  I walk back through the village making friends and chatting to villagers.  Lovely people.

Asubone village, Volta lakeside

Dawn, Lake Volta

She puts red ribbons on her chickens so they can’t be stolen

And from here to Tafo – the last day of cycling I can scarcely believe it – it’s all uphill.  All morning.  But I’m going to do this regardless of my legs, my hand or any other excuses my body is trying to throw into my path, I’m going to cycle up that damned hill into Tafo.  And off we go – first more sand, rocks, mud, puddles, red dirt, then tarmac uphill.  Uphill baby.  We sing :

“we are going, heaven knows where we are going, we know we will;

we will get there, heaven knows how we will get there, we know we will….

…….it will be hard we know, and the road will be muddy and rough

but we’ll get there, heaven knows how we will get there, we know we will”

Osibisa 1974, a Ghanaian/Caribbean UK band whom I saw at Sussex University when I was at school.   The circle turns, the cycle wheels turn, the earth turns, we push on.

Delegation of Tafo Elders greet the cyclists below the rock God Bruku on the last day of cycling

Then delegations start to appear to meet us on the road, Tafo cyclists, local schoolkids, some elders below the towering fetish rock Bruku, more hills more long hills.  I have to get off and push then get back on and get into low gear. And one more water stop before we stop – halfway up another hill.  Kofi the motorbiker starts to give people a push with his right foot on the back gear of their bike, a little rush of speed which lasts fifteen seconds.  We see an aerial which surely now MUST be the top of the hill ? Despair and hope mix.  The plan is we will re-group at Humphrey’s house take on water, then triumphantly ride into town.  Humphrey Barclay is a chief in Tafo – since his friend Christopher Gyearbour Asante (Matthew in C4’s Desmonds) died, Humphrey was made Chief of Development by Kwahu-Tafo and he has run the charity Friends Of Tafo for the last ten years, raising money for a library, a high school, an internet cafe, a musical college.  And this year for fresh water boreholes.  His offical title is Nana Gyearbour (Nana=Chief) since they gave him Christopher’s name as a title.  And Humphrey has a house on the edge of town.  As we round the corner at the top of the hill, my eyes fill with water and my heart is in my throat – hundreds of schoolkids line the street, cheering, holding hand-painted banners reading “Cyclists We Salute You”, “Your Pain, Our Gain”, “We Love You Sweden and UK”, “Leave Your Hearts in Tafo” and more, there are TV crews, a brass band, Humphrey is recording it all as ever on his camera, children run alongside, I start giving high fives to those on my right with my injured hand, no pain now just a swollen feeling in my throat, a swelling in my chest and I am overwhelmed with a brand new feeling which I have no name for.  All that pain all that effort all that whingeing all those moments of excruciation disappear in a second and are replaced by a surge of – what shall I call it ?  Pride ? Not quite. Relief ? Certainly. But something else I think.  Something to do with doing a thing which actually matters. Which Actually Matters. Quite extraordinary.  The brass band walks into Humphrey’s garden and plays on, the students come and dance, we drink water and shake hands with each other, congratulations, and a Ghana flag appears, dancing on the lawn, Colin’s wife Rebecca is here – Humphreys’ sister. We are all weeping, although perhaps not visibly…

Arrival in Tafo – Paulina and Lovelace dance with flag of Ghana

Nana’s lawn with welcome banners for the cyclists

And then we regroup and ride three abreast into town – behind the brass band who are walking and the schoolkids and students and other cyclists and anyone who wants to join in.  Which means we have to cycle at less than 5 mph which is very very hard all over again.  But no injuries occur and we arrive at the Chief’s Palace, park our bicycles and go inside.  There is Humphrey, (now Nana Gyearbour) seated at the head of the room alongside Nana Tafohene the Chief of Tafo resplendent in robes and gold jewellry, and other elders.

Nana Gyearbour resplendent in robes, Chief Tafohene and the linguist and fetish priestess

Boat, the Chief’s son, is now robed and playing the talking drums. There is a man on the horn of a cow blowing it like a bugle, and whenever the Chief speaks the drum and the horn accompany him – or rather translate for all those outside the yard who cannot hear his voice. Once again we are greeted and we drink beer, shake hands and the formalities done we troop out to ride our bicycles one more time round the corner to the Durbar – after lunch I should not neglect to mention.

drumming at the durbar

Durbar is one of those colonial words – it meant a court in the Raj, here it is the town square, set aside for a ceremonial occasion and we cycle in and round the square past the packed seats, the dancing girls, the royal family seated opposite us and the drummers, and then take our seats in the stand.

The choir from the royal college of music, Kwahu-Tafo

This particular ceremony is in our honour and there are speeches, musical interludes from the magnificent choir, drumming and a fetish priest who drips hot boiling water onto my head (and everyone else’s!) in the centre of the durbar, more speeches from Humphrey, more dancing girls, more speeches from the Chief, and collection of a certificate of thanks from the town council.

Nana Gyearbour walks with retinue to the microphone

The ceremony was supposed to last for six hours, with far far longer speeches – they like a speech here I gather, but thankfully it’s all been cut “short” and we’re still in our cycling gear from that hill-climb.  It’s a welcome reserved for royalty one imagines and we feel the warmth, the gratitude and the honour bestowed upon us.

fetish priest is possessed by the drumming at the durbar ceremony of welcome

It’s an honour that half of the group wish had extended to the hotel rooms which are at the bottom end of the african scale, but frankly, the reasons why we are here in the first place far outweigh any feelings I have about the comforts of my room. There is a toilet a dustbin of water in the shower a bed and a lightswitch. And no mosquitos. We walk back through town, a local child pushes my bike for me and the feeling is grand.

It was his honour, and mine too

Then it’s back onto the Evolve saddle for a few hundred more yards – all uphill naturally – to the hotel.  Guest house.  Whatever. That evening we eat nearby and drink a great deal of beer for we have cycled across Ghana on behalf of a town full of people that we know little or nothing about and who have greeted us as heroes.  My sleep is deep.

Day 7

We are shown the results of our efforts after breakfast and the rains – walked round the town in groups by local teachers and kids, we end up at the one borehole well which has been built so far with money we have raised – the bulk of the sponsorship had to be in by the end of June – and take it in turns to pump clean fresh water and yes – drink it.  I am proud of this effort, proud of this concrete achievement, both on behalf of myself and my sponsors, but also for all of us who cycled those gruelling miles.  All worth it.  All worth it.

Fresh water for Kwahu-Tafo from a bore-hole well

We walk on through the town, visit another, older well by the mosque, buy some oranges for half-time at the football match, visit the library, meet Grace the headmistress of the High School, a local film director who demands and gets my email address, we visit the local Butuase Waterfall where the local teenagers frolic, then walk back to the High School for lunch and the football match.

Girl in the Butuase Waterfall, Kwahu-Tafo

I talk with a gentleman and note that Ghana, to me, is very reminiscent of St Lucia in the Caribbean where my wife’s family come from and which I know well.  The same vegetation, the same food on offer – yam, plantain, chicken, fish, rice, the same faces, the same colours on the buildings, the same weather, the same tradition of spilling some alcohol on the ground ‘for the ancestors’ before you drink, the same red earth.  The only notable differences – the language and the music.  The music in St Lucia has been quadrille & Calypso which becomes Soca – the music in Ghana has been palm wine guitar and highlife, now Hip-Life the 21st century version. The main language in Ghana is Twi.  Having visited the Slave Fortress on Day one before we started cycling and hearing how many millions of Africans passed through the Gate Of No Return on the way to the dreaded Middle Passage which if they survived would become a slave plantation in the Caribbean and separation from their tribe, I was curious as to how many links remained between Africa and the Caribbean. I speak the St Lucian language french creole patois rather badly, which is a mixture of french, english and african words (apparently) so I tested one of the words (which wasn’t french or english) on my host. “Bodiyeh” means God in St Lucian dialect I said. What is it in Twi ? “Obadiyeh” he said, it means Creator.  I had a moment.  A big sacred word had survived the crossing and the division of tribes.   It made everything seem so close, so recent, so terrible.  Here I was in Africa hearing where my wife’s family had come from, quite recently.  A few generations ago.

Kwahu-Tafo, Ghana, Nr St. Lucia

The other great thing Ghana and the Caribbean have in common is religion – notably Christianity. It’s not the whole story – see the fetish priests above, but Catholicism is very strong in St Lucia and here in Ghana it’s Presbyterianism, Methodism and 7th-Day Adventists.  Many of the shops and businesses are named after religious catchphrases – such as Jesus Blood Is Sacred Hairdresser, or God Is On Your Side shoe shop.  Had no time to take pictures of any of these except this one in Tafo :

God’s Time Is Best fashion & decoration centre, Tafo

We walked on up to the High School where the TV was on and groups of students watched Sudan 0 Ghana 2.  I remembered last summer’s World Cup in South Africa and watching the Ghana team lose on penalties to Uruguay in Soccer City Soweto, the calabash stadium after one of the worst pieces of cheating ever witnessed in a football match – Suarez handball on the line, Gyan missing the subsequent penalty. Talking about this famous incident with the locals it still rankles, still hurts and will do so for many many many years to come. The cheats prospered and Suarez now plays for Liverpool and earns millions.

Tafo supermarket

And then it’s time for the game. Half my players haven’t turned up yet but the ref wants me in the centre circle. I’ve pulled an important muscle in the pre-match warm-up in classic Brown style, but decide to play on. Have little choice frankly.  We hold out valiantly for most of the first half and our offside trap is working a dream as four old Europeans step up in time to catch a gang of marauding 20-something Ghanaians who ought to be thrashing the pants off us. But Dr Jeff is finally beaten by a perfect through ball which springs the trap and we are one-nil down at half time. For some reason the referee plays 20 minutes for the first half (agreed) and 40 minute for the second, by which time we are all broken with exhaustion not surprisingly. I have already limped off as has Hans, but we score a goal through Owusu the policeman and finish the match losing 3-1 which frankly is a valiant effort. Special mentions to Suzi and Claire for sterling work on the right wing, and Fred, Anders and Hans in the defence, Gary in midfield, Fraser up front and Jeff in goal. Pictures, teddy-bear trophies, shaking hands, and we limp home for a shower and a final party at Humphrey’s house tonight, where we are presented with medals made from coconut, handwoven local scarves with our names on and a calabash. The choir sing the national anthem with us in four -part harmony and then provide us with one more tingle moment when they sing for us on the steps. After all the aches and pains, the electric shocks in my hand, the heat, the hills, the stresses and strains, it’s been one of the finest things I’ve ever done.

Thanks for reading. To donate to Friends Of Tafo, go to or go to my Virgin Moneygiving Page at

Colin and Ben, heroic cyclists

October 2011

Painting I bought in Accra the day we arrived.

23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lovethybike
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 14:55:00

    Wow! what a journey!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Baya
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 16:16:31

    A very nice adventure, This adventure needs a video, don’t you think, shall we watch it somewhere ?

    Liked by 1 person


  3. evans osei
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 18:36:20

    we thank you very much



  4. Gwen Wynne
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 03:37:39

    Oh unbelievable red dirt roads riding bikes all day breathless. I am breathless by the spirit and wonderment of physical exertion, love, and vision in seeing and supporting a group of people to participate in a life that is less difficult. Bless you for writing your travels and impressions and inspiring more to contribute in the future. We live through your words. Xx Gwen



  5. Hereward
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 18:23:10

    Fantastic and life-changing – and that was just the blog! Heroic stuff Ralph, well done doesn’t quite cover it.



  6. Paul
    Oct 16, 2011 @ 13:37:59

    Fab Ralphy – very well done. You must be fit! So sorry to hear about Chester.

    Let’s chat soon…x



  7. Suzi
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 06:38:40

    Fantastic Ralph. Sums it up perfectly….have tingles down my spine after reading it. Was it really only a week ago we came home? Suzi x

    Liked by 1 person


  8. Claire Unwin (@clu2life)
    Oct 17, 2011 @ 21:13:51

    Ralph, you’ve captured it all and so much more besides. Thanks for sharing it so eloquently. Reading about our arrival in Tafo still gets me all emotional … Claire x

    Liked by 1 person


  9. Maria Andrews
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 12:32:45

    Ralph – an amazing achievement!! – well done as reading your story – this was tough! Love Maria & Ian x

    Liked by 1 person


  10. Andrew Brown
    Oct 19, 2011 @ 13:03:57


    what an amazing trip and it read like ‘on the road’, i really got a feeling for what you went through, and as I can remember the heat of the tropics could almost fel the burning!! I really liked the way you told the story, not just of your trip but everyone’s, it’s funny you said that that the whole thing was like a blur, but you painted the pictures, and iphone’s not bad at taking pics!

    Fantastic thing to have done, and yes I agree these things actually matter!!

    Godrib xxx

    Liked by 1 person


  11. stevie
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 14:34:40

    It is so wonderful a cause and that you did this Ralph.It is inspiring and the letter is brilliant.
    I too believe these things matter and aiding and helping your fellow human beings is a worthwhile endeavor.You express in such a visual way that i feel i was there .
    Many blessings.

    Liked by 1 person


  12. paul
    Oct 20, 2011 @ 15:27:27

    My heart pounds with hope and love. Thank you for your spirit and effort Ralphie,
    What a ride.

    Liked by 1 person


  13. amanda ooms
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 19:29:40


    what a trip…. wow… bet you are strong as a mountain now!
    love amanda

    Liked by 1 person


  14. magicman
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 14:41:57

    Extraordinary footage from South Africa of a hartebeest knocking a cyclist off his bike



  15. Millie
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 11:36:21

    What a Masive Acheivement! You are truly amazing! i’d be very very proud of yourself if i was you and i am also very proud and in awe at what you have accomplished.. Massive congratulations and please count me in for a small donation. Absolutely amazing. Well done Ralphy.
    Nuff Love.

    Mills and Delilah-Rose.x x x x x

    Liked by 1 person


  16. Trackback: Ralph Brown’s 350 mile Ghana Ride « mantasphere
  17. lovelace affum
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 19:59:08

    hi mr Ralph Brown all the pic are very nice good work dan, it has been a long time is me you boy lovelace

    Liked by 1 person


  18. Trackback: NEWS | MANTA.DESiGN

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