Everything is rush rush except when it’s not. Traffic jams crop up like bad pop songs. Two stroke fumes, burning tires, open sewage flowing in deep uncovered trenches along the side of the street and a general haze of exhaust add to the toxic stew otherwise referred to as fresh air.
Adding a bicycle to this mix is, in a word, risky. Risky that is to a foreigner. The locals glide through it all on their old pig iron Phoenix bikes as if protected by an aura of invincibility. I found it incredibly lucky to make it from my friend Sammy’s bike shop to the restaurant we were having lunch at without shitting myself or dying. Apparently it takes a particularly steely form of Zen confidence to pedal around this vast labyrinth of a city – a confidence I did not particularly care to acquire.
Once out of the city, the whole cycling experience changes. Vast swaths of tarmac gain you access to warrens of dirt and mud tracks that lead to all manner of other towns, villages and communities. Once on the dirt and salt roads of Songorinya, often the only obstacles were sheep sleeping in the road. The people of Ghana are amazing; using a bicycle to get around ensures that you can pause to greet and converse with all manner of peers, elders, workers and students.
Our friend David Pekham, who founded the Village Bicycle Project, often cycles for weeks all over the region, starting in Accra and pedaling as far as Burkina Faso, pausing in friendly villages along the way. The folks in the communities who receive bicycles from VBP tend to sprout many other converts to the cycling lifestyle. One can see the frustration in the eyes of taxi men as more folks find two-wheeled human power as a means to get themselves and their goods from point to point.
Apparently there are some cycling clubs and even races cropping up in Ghana, particularly around Accra. Watch out ProTour racers; these kids won’t need ‘roids or EPO to kick some ass if they ever make it to the European peloton. As a visitor, cycling opens up such a beautiful world in a place like Africa that would otherwise be blocked by a bus window or a car seat. Using a bicycle allows one to truly experience a culture and a country in ways that more familiar, traditional methods of transport simply cannot.
For more on cycling in Ghana, check out the Village Bicycle Project at www.pcei.org/vbp