Before the land mass of Pangea succumbed to the insistence of gravity, the full extent of terra firma on Planet Earth hunkered down in solidarity, surrounded by a pounding and ferocious ocean. Laurasia was first to yield to the temptations of wanderlust, creeping away along the tectonic plates to toy with renaissance and industrial revolution and a veneer of social order.
Gondwanaland hung around in a fecund and bountiful sulk, indecisive throughout the Triassic until Africa gave a bold and gumptious shrug, sending Australia, South America, India and various islands onwards to their respective destinies. The mother of all continents remained in a pondering mood, anticipating the return of the progeny that came forth from her soil, offering her lush forests and arid plains and jagged peaks as enticement.
Nearly five thousand eight hundred kilometres to the north of Cape Point, this colossal mainland surges out towards the west in a huge pregnant bulk. If you should decide to travel along this bulge, your journey would take you from Cameroon and roughly trace the 10 degree latitudinal line through Lagos, Benin and Togo before crossing into the Volta region of Ghana.
To the west of this country (formerly known as the Gold Coast) lies Côte d’Ivoire, while Burkina Faso crowds in from the north. Accra, the burgeoning capital city, squats down centrally on the coast with a combination of tropical vegetation and urban sprawl radiating inland towards the drier savanna regions north of Kumasi and Tamale.
Originally the seat of the Ga monarchy, Accra can lay claim to a history shared with Portugal, Holland and Denmark before reluctantly consenting to British colonialism in 1902. This schizophrenic past is blatantly obvious in the cacophony of personalities displayed by the capital city to first time visitors - lush gardens and green spaces sprawl in close proximity to shanty towns; communist era architecture glare alongside dilapidated colonial mansions and the smell of open sewers mix with that of coral trees in full bloom.
Like most other African cities I have been to, Accra is totally unpredictable, but there is an unexpected boon it offers to those who chose to scratch through the chaos - you will not find more smiles per square kilometre anywhere else in the world.
3rd and 4th of June Surreality kicks in at around 4am, when a combination of equatorial bird calls, oppressive humidity and a Star Beer wake-up call force me out of bed. Accra slowly shrugs out of its lethargy to join in an early celebration of June 4th under the watchful eye of President Jerry Rawlings, who leads the commemoration of the revolution. Military personnel with automatic weapons and thoughts of breakfast see me retrace my steps to the Coconut Grove - the tropics seems to have boosted my appetite and I am eating like a forest hog.
Our first priority of the day is to get the Xtracycle up to speed and this necessitates an audacious excursion to one of Accra’s deliriously frantic markets. Elaborate bargaining and lots of smiling eventually secure us a length of gear cable, additional tyres and other spares necessary for the journey along the coast to Elmina. Tim, an AFRIBIKE intern hailing from Darwin will take on responsibility for the mechanical well-being of the Xtracycle on the trip and he enters into his role with typical Aussie charm, misplacing the occasional tool but swearing with disciplined regularity.
Suffice to say that despite his best efforts, work does manage to progress. Soon the Beast begins to take shape - basically your stock standard MTB with 18 gears up to where you would expect the rear wheel to be and then some. An additional three feet of bike frame with drop-down carrier shelves slots in here, ending off with a sturdy 20 inch wheel. (I decide to add a perky little whip antennae on which to fly a flag in order to up the visibility factor after getting inside info on road fatality figures in Ghana).
During our first test run with the bike we are forced to take shelter from the midday heat at one of Accra’s less dodgy chop bars (you don’t eat in Ghana, you “chop”). Here we manage to devour excessive quantities of fu-fu, a plantain and cassava mash drowned in fish head soup, while further acquainting ourselves with the produce of Ghana Breweries. Enters Premium Quality GULDER Beer, cold filtered and “critically examined” by the Ghana Standards Board, whatever that may mean.