Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ride for Polio, Day 13 – The last 70km back home

It was raining throughout the whole night and while I felt well rested I did not sleep a lot. It was time to get up and go. With less than 80km I thought it could only be an easy ride back into Lagos. Little did I know that today was going to be as difficult and challenging as every other day where we cycled over 100km.
The first 25km of the day went by without much happening. The skies were overcast and dark clouds were looming bringing with it the promise of certain rain later on. We reached Agbara, the last big town before we will reach the outskirts of Lagos. After stopping for two ice cold malt drinks (just to keep the wolves at bay) we were off going further east and getting ever closer to our end goal.
From here the road became increasingly busy and the traffic picked up at a significant rate. It started to rain and by now the road was a filthy muddy mess. This last 40km of the entire ride was by far the most challenging, technical and required the most concentration. It was characterised by lots of stopping and going, road side bus stops, weaving through traffic, potholes (some of which were invisible due to the rain and mud), poor and reckless driving and more rain. Fortunately for me, the wind was still pushing me from behind so even though it was impossible to settle into a comfortable rhythm I was able to achieve good speed during the short sections where our progress was not halted by road side bus stops.
Eventually we reached the Lagos State University Campus and by now I knew that it would only be a matter of a few minutes before we reach the real hustle and bustle of the city I have gotten so used to over the last few years. The Mile 2 junction followed very soon after that and before I knew it I reached the bridge at Orile from where I had a clear view of the National Theatre Complex, the Nigerian Breweries Head office (our friends from Heineken) and the highest cranes from the Lagos port. Here I had to wait for Friday and Uzo to catch up with me since they had to fight and work a little harder than me to beat the traffic.
In no time they caught up. A few minutes later a small camera crew joined us (the same crew who accompanied us from Lagos to the Seme border on Day 1) and after witnessing a truck and a smaller sedan crash right in front of us (fortunately no one got hurt, except of course for the inevitable bruised egos of the drivers) apparently because they haven’t seen a white man on a bicycle in that part of town before, we were off to complete the final 10.4km home.
Twenty minutes later and with tears of joy (or was it perhaps the rain drops rolling down my cheeks) I hit my brakes, sat on the stairs right in front of our block of flats and took off my helmet one last time. It is done! We have made! I have just lived through one of my dreams! How amazing! What a privilege!
It was time to reflect on the adventure that came to an end. I was thinking of the Giants (and heroes) who inspired me to take the first step into this adventure:
·         Dervla Murphy, the Irish lady who, amongst various other crazy adventures, cycled from Dublin to Dehli in 1963 (unaided)
·          Mark Beaumont, the Scottish man who broke the record for pedalling around the world and who cycled the length of the Rockies and Andes (mostly unaided)
·         Riaan Manser, the South African guy who circumvented Africa on his bicycle (unaided) and Madagaskar on his kayak (unaided)
I was thinking of people with polio. We see them almost every day on their hands and feet, in deficient wheelchairs, on little make shift skateboards weaving between the traffic to try and make a living. They are the brave “War Horses” who have all the odds stacked against them. Now at least 101 of these "War Horses" will have an opportunity for a better life thanks to all the heroes who pledged so generously in support of this event.
I was thinking of all my friends, family and colleagues who were supporting me all the way.
Most of all I was thinking of the real hero of this two week adventure. Daleen Haarhoff, the South African chick who married me almost 13 years ago and who made the biggest sacrifice of all by sticking with me through all these years and for taking care of our two children (unaided) during these last two weeks. Without this sacrifice the Ride for Polio would have remained only a dream. How does one truly say thank you?
There were so many highs and some lows during the last two weeks. This experience will truly remain with me for the rest of my life! While there is no basis to compare this adventure to the awesome achievements of the Giants listed above, I am just grateful that, by the grace of God, I continue to be a healthy person and to have all my body parts in good working order. There is no excuse – this body needs to stay active and all its parts, so long as possible, must be utilised 100%. We have to live life everyday as if it is the last.
I am truly grateful to be alive and for life itself!

Ride for Polio Day 12 - D crazy hour, losing Willem in Badagry

Ever since I tagged along on this journey I had acted more like the unofficial photographer, taking and inspiring multiple photographs at every opportunity along the way. I had mostly accomplished this using my camera and black berry, using the camera more on Monday and the early part of Tuesday since there was no MTN service in Togo and I would therefore be unable to update my black berry contacts with the photographs and proceedings. Thankfully MTN was very much available once we crossed into Benin Republic late Tuesday morning and I promptly switched to using the BB as my paparazzi tool with less frequent use of the camera.
Having taken quite a number of photographs over the past few days and engaging in an endless series of feed-back sessions on BB with my friends back in Lagos who were eager to find out what was going on at every moment, I settled more and more into my role and was even confident enough to take a few dodgy shots with my BB at some border crossings and check points (very much against the law o, although I still can’t comprehend the rationale for this obnoxious law).
So just after crossing the Seme border and approaching Badagry at steady pace, I had my camera focused on Willem and shooting away. Just then he pulled up behind a truck and another vehicle and there was a pedestrian standing right in the middle of the road and talking to him obviously thrilled by his quest. I pressed my camera shutter button to capture this interesting sight and just then I looked up and realised we were right in the middle of a Customs check point. An officer who had noticed this ‘impudent’ act promptly walked up to my side of the vehicle and asked to see the camera. I reluctantly gave him at Friday’s urging and proceeded to step out of the car. Friday screamed out to Willem to get him to stop but the great protector had moved on as the traffic cleared. I asked Friday to move on and catch up with Willem while I deal with the situation but he was having none of it so we parked and came out of the car.
The officials then proceeded to give us the story about how it was offensive to use a camera at checkpoints and that they were going to at the minimum seize the memory card and give us the camera. I panicked at the thought of losing all my wonderful photographs from the last few days and   fervently explained to them how we were on a quest for Polio and had to capture several strategic moments on celluloid. We also swore to them that there were no shots capturing the officers or indicating a check point and one of the reasonable officers decided to put this to the test by scanning through all the photographs. As he pressed through picture after picture, I did a double take in my head to reassure myself that I didn’t have any such contraband images on my camera and I was so thankful that I had used my BB more throughout the trip because I would have definitely been sure to have some defaulting pictures if I had used the camera more. Needless to say I intuitively and discreetly reached for my BB in my pocket to navigate it from picture folder to home screen just in case they decided they wanted to search us.
I was even more terrified because I was sure that if the officers had found even one photograph of any border or checkpoint from Ghana to Lagos, they would not only detain the camera but us as well which would most certainly delay or deter Willem from achieving his cycling quest at this 11th hour.
After viewing every single photograph from Ghana through Togo and Benin, the officer was convinced we were clean and handed the camera back to us with a touching sermon about how we must not do this again. Friday was obviously flustered by this time as he had vainly tried to explain to an officer who asked us what Polio was and what exactly we were doing only to receive more stick from another officer when he informed them we had raised over 100 wheelchairs for polio victims. He just couldn’t understand how law enforcement officers could be so impervious to reason. Thank God for the one reasonable officer who had decided to give us a chance.
We promptly set off to catch up with Willem as Friday hit full throttle in no time. He went into this angry tirade about how the law enforcement officers were a bunch of ‘no-goods’, even daring to challenge him as he politely tried to explain our position and purpose. I just silently listened and nodded in agreement. The truth is I was half expecting him to have a go at me for being so stupid to have a camera up at a checkpoint considering he had once warned me about this at the Togo/Benin border. He was so angry in his tirade on the officers and I was quite surprised that nothing had been said about the root cause of the delay.
Soon enough we discovered that Willem was still nowhere in sight even after driving about 3 minutes at full speed to catch up with him. We were suddenly at a round-about with the option of either turning right off the express road or going straight on. We asked some Okada riders if they had seen any white man on a bicycle to which they answered in the negative. We then asked for directions to Whispering Palms which was our final destination for the day and they indicated that while we could go both ways, we would be better off turning right and away from the express.
 Friday was however more than convinced we had not passed Willem yet and decided to do a u-turn and head back for the check point only to change his mind half way through and make another u-turn at a filling station half way up the road. He drove into the station and asked the patron if he had seen Willem. Apparently they had stopped to say hi to the attendants at that station on their way to Ghana and we were therefore trusting that they would have noticed if Willem had passed since he had picked up a habit of giving a shout out at all such familiar places throughout the return ride from Ghana. They told us they hadn’t seen him but promised to let him know that we were on the look-out for him in the event that he came by.
Friday and I were therefore faced with some critical decision making. We could either drive back to the check point and face those terrorists again or proceed to catch up with Willem who might be so far ahead by this time and worried sick about what had happened to us, especially as his phone was with us. We considered the fact that the distance from the check point to the filling station was too short for Willem to not have come by after all this time and that meant he had somehow passed the station without their notice and had proceeded far ahead. With this in mind, we hit the express and sped to the round-about again and this time turned right off the express after reconfirming the directions from the locals.
Thus began our long and never ending torturous journey into the heart of Badagry on the search for both Willem and Whispering Palms, whichever came first. But as we moved deeper and deeper, requiring directions from the locals at regular intervals, we realised that Willem couldn’t have taken this route and may have gone straight on the express at the round-about. It was too late to turn back and our only hope was to try to get to the Whispering Palms early enough and if we didn’t find Willem, we’d then work our way back to the express through the alternate  route and hopefully catch him on the way.
By this time, we had lost touch with Willem for about 30 minutes, perhaps the longest time he had cycled without his support vehicle and I couldn’t help but blame my paparazzi self for everything. I had come in to ruin this adventure and a man’s historical quest right on the verge of its completion, needless to say both camera and BB were sitting idly like scourges in between my laps and never to be used till further notice. My head was filled with conflicting emotions and my tummy churned with acid. The optimistic adventurer in me told me Willem was okay and probably excited to be alone for a while and that we would eventually be laughing about this whole thing at day’s end and including it in his daily blog as another interesting highlight of his trip. After all what was the worst that could happen? It wasn’t like he didn’t know where whispering palm was, he had chosen the place before hand, worst case we would go back the alternate route and find him, that is if he wasn’t already in the hotel having a cold beer and waiting for us. On the other hand I couldn’t shake away the nagging feeling of dread that something had hopelessly gone wrong or was about to. What if he had gotten fed up of cycling on without us or waiting for us on the express and decided to turn back to the check point and then not finding us anywhere on the route since we had diverted, became too tired to make it back (bear in mind he had been cycling about 6 hours already and clearly exhausted), or that he had been hit by a motorist signalling the end of the dream, or had somehow taken the same route we took and got lost......hell we could be going round and round in circles, chasing each others’ tails till nightfall. And all the while I couldn’t help but think it was all my fault and the whole world was going to blame for being the Judas of our band.
The longer our journey was, the more agitated Friday got with the whole thing; the check point officers, the long distance between Whispering Palms and the express road and every other thing that is wrong with Nigeria...everything except me, thankfully. Friday is a very cheerful and exciting guy to be with but trust me I didn’t fancy being at the receiving end of his angst.
We finally got to Whispering Palms and I can’t remember being happier at arriving at any other destination in my life. The time was almost 1.30pm, over an hour after we lost contact with Willem and the sinking feeling promptly returned once we were told that no white rider had been sighted.
We had just commenced the long journey back to the express and were already contemplating the alternative route ahead of us when Friday exclaimed...’See Willem!’ I looked ahead and could only see an Okada man with a passenger and for a fleeting moment I feared the worst – Willem on Okada, what had happened? – But then I realised it wasn’t him. Friday again said the words ’Its Willem!’ and though I still couldn’t see him, I can tell you those were the sweetest two words I had heard all day. After squinting and squinting and being accused by Friday of being half-blind, I finally saw the great protector in all his glory cycling up and down the rough muddy road towards us. It was my Eureka moment and I had to restrain myself from jumping out the car to give him a hug, instead Friday made a U-turn and followed him slowly like he had always done through the past 12 days. It was as if nothing had even happened, business as usual. Ha!
Willem stopped to ask if the place was still very far as he was obviously on his last legs. We encouraged him with the sweet words ‘not much longer’ and it was with great relief that we all bundled at the Whispering palms gate less than a minute later. As they opened and we drove in, I could feel a twinkle in my eye and tickle in my mind....all’s well that ends well and I would indeed be writing an interesting story with a happy ending later that day. And of course it wasn’t until one hour later when we were having cold beer and delicious Suya that I was confident enough to bring out my paparazzi tools and resume photographic duties.
P.S. It turns out that Willem cycled only a few metres ahead of the check point and stopped by the waters just after the bridge to wait for us. It was no more than 500 metres away but we missed him because we drove by with such ferocious angry speed after the ordeal with the officers and were in too much of a hurry to catch up with our friend. After a while, he got tired of waiting and cycled back to the post and they told him we had been long gone. He decided to cycle on, got to the filling station where he was told that we had come to look for him and had gone ahead up the express on our quest to find him. He moved on to the roundabout and went straight up the express, not taking the right turn like we did. His was a much straight forward albeit comparably long route and he quite enjoyed the ride without the support vehicle save for a few testy moments where he was in danger of being hit off the road. He couldn’t imagine that we had gotten so worried about him being lost when we finally met again. I guess the optimistic adventurer in me had been quite right after all.                                       

Ride for Polio, Day 12 – From Ouidah (Benin) to Badagry (Nigeria)

I was full of anticipation and excitement for today’s ride. Even though I felt sad that this trip was about to come to an end I was eager to get going again – 45 km before we hit the centre of Cotonou, another 30km from there to the Seme border post and then another 40km before we reach the Whispering Palms resort in Badagry for our last night on the Ride for Polio.
After leaving Ouidah at first light we reached the outskirts of Cotonou in good time. The closer we got to the centre of Cotonou the more the traffic started to build up. It turned out to be a pretty noisy and crazy affair. Small motor cycles came out by the thousands to add the countless un-road worthy trucks and taxis. Noise pollution taken to a whole new level.
Eventually we reached the centre of Cotonou and I was now starting to have some serious hunger pains. The hunger however was soon forgotten when all of a sudden I saw two small motorbikes collide and people being flung in different directions. While no one seemed to be seriously injured (other than some bruised egos), what followed wasn’t pretty. A big argument (all in French) ensued and then the policeman on duty decided it was his turn to show that he was in charge. The next moment he started hitting the cyclist who seemed to have been at fault while everybody else stood by watching the punishment being dished out to the poor bloke making a living by transporting people on his bike. I could hardly believe my eyes. I wonder how this would go down in other parts of the world...
My hunger pains may have disappeared temporarily with all the early morning action but I was soon reminded that I had not yet eaten anything by the lack of energy I was having at that point in time. The next challenge was to find a suitable spot to stuff my face with food. After 2 hours of solid cycling since we left Ouidah and 50km on the clock we eventually found a shabby looking road side “breakfast” spot that had a big lipton sign. I just realised that I hadn’t had any tea since leaving Lagos 12 days ago and figured that if they sell tea that they must surely sell food also. And right I was...the owner made us a lovely 3-egg omelette on a bed of petit pois and tamato mix on his small gas stove (the fact that my food was too hot to eat when I got it made me comfortable about the hygiene factor – the environment was certainly not clean and by no means pretty by any stretch of the imagination). The food and the tea (with condensed milk) was great and was exactly what I needed to maintain a strong and consistent cadence until we reached the border.
After a relatively straight forward and effortless border crossing (my first ever at this border) we were back in Nigeria. I could hardly believe it. After so much cycling we had only 90km left before reaching Ikoyi but that would not happen until the following day. The next stretch of road was littered with police, immigration and custom check points. It became pretty frustrating after a few stops because it made it difficult for me to get into any sort of rhythm.
Our last few km for the day did not go without any drama. At one of the last custom check points I was duly acknowledged and waved through by the officials while “earning” their “income” for the day. About 1km later I noticed that Friday and Uzo were nowhere to be seen. They were probably stopped at the previous checkpoint I figured so I stopped cycling, sat down next to the road and waited for them to catch up with me. After about 20 minutes of waiting I became concerned that something may have happened that might require my intervention (would probably have made the situation worse than it already was). Thus I decided to cycle back to where I thought they may been held up. They were nowhere to be seen. After inquiring about their whereabouts, the officials told me that they had long since left in the same directions I was just coming from.
I was all alone with no money and no cell phone and I had no idea where my support vehicle was. The only thing I could think of doing was to continue cycling until I reach the Whispering Palms. This was no comfortable task –by now the traffic picked up and I was seriously concerned about my own safety judging by the way the big trucks and busses were flying past me from behind. I cringed every time I heard a big vehicle coming from behind hoping that it won’t be the last time I see daylight. Fortunately however I am still here to tell the tale.
Over an hour and half later and after cycling most of the remaining part of the day’s route all by myself on the busy Badagry-Lagos expressway, I eventually found my support vehicle with two occupants looking extremely pale, concerned but relieved that I was in one piece and still safe. What happened and how was it possible that we could have lost each other? I would not find out the answer until much later in the evening because by now I was too tired to be asking questions. All I wanted to do was to reach our final destination, have a cold drink and take a shower (Maslow was a clever guy!).
Given that I had no first-hand knowledge of the events which transpired during the 90 minutes ordeal experienced by Friday and Uzo, I have asked Uzo to make a guest appearance on my blog to tell his side of the story. Pretty funny! Check out the next blog!
Anyway, we eventually reached Whispering Palms and after taking a longer than usual time to check in to our room we settled down to shake off the dust from the day’s journey and muse over the last 12 days’ adventure.
What a privilege we have to be alive and well!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ride for Polio, Day 11 – From Lome (Togo) to Ouidah (Benin)

Unlike my expectations of yesterday we had a fun filled and relatively comfortable day. We left Lome shortly after 6am (local time) and covered the nearly 120km in good time with enough to spare for other recreational activities once in Ouidah. Except for the last two hours of the day’s ride, we had relatively comfortable weather conditions with the wind pushing us from behind. The highlight of the day was definitely our early lunch at Grand Popo...
Leaving the comfort of our hotel we hit the road and very soon made it to the first of the two gravel roads in Togo that caused me such discomfort on the way to Accra. Fortunately there was a lot less traffic and with the wind now coming from behind also a lot less dust blowing into my eyes, mouth and nostrils. Then suddenly I heard a big bang. As I looked back over my shoulder I saw two cars rammed into one another with a lot of people standing around waving and shouting in French (based on their body language I guessed that they were not greeting each other in a friendly manner).
Since we had a long road to cover, we did not stay to watch the end of it all but Friday told me later on that an over eager motorist tried to overtake us when perhaps most of us would not have. Friday, with his tried and tested driving skills, did not allow this guy to overtake us fearing that he might hit me off my bike. Apparently, the accident occurred when this guy swerved to the left in one last feeble attempt to overtake Friday and then slammed head on into oncoming traffic. Failure!
Eventually we reached the final “DEVIATION” sign board and we were back onto the main road and I had settled into a nice and comfortable rhythm. About 15 km later I looked to my left and saw someone waving at me with all his might. It was one of Mr Aloegavi’s sons who recognised me on my bicycle.
Mr Aloegavi, who did not feature on day 3 of my blog, is a local village chief who speaks perfect English and owns a road side motor vehicle repair shop. One of his wives also runs a small road side beauty salon and they will definitely be the wrong people you would try to sell coconuts to. On day 3 of our trip (from Grand Popo, Benin to Keta, Ghana) we stopped over at Mr Aloegavi’s for a quick breakfast. While we were eating, he had one of his sons carting a wheelbarrow filled with coconuts over to our vehicle. After about 4 coconuts I had to ask them to stop otherwise they would have cracked open all of them.
Even though this was an unscheduled stop for the morning, I did start to feel some hunger pains. Besides, it would have been improper of us not to stop at Mr Aloegavi’s again after the great hospitality shown to us a week earlier. Within minutes another wheelbarrow filled with coconuts made its appearance and we were once again treated to industrial quantities of coconut juice. After repaying for their hospitality in kind (we gave them some t-shirts, dried fruit, cheese and salti crack biscuits), we waved them goodbye and headed off to the next border crossing which was now only about 25km away.
The rest of our Togo experience passed by relatively quickly and before long we reached the border. Crossing it was pretty straightforward. We were now back in the Republic of Benin, crossed the time zone losing one hour in the process and the sun started to rear its head from its deep slumber of the last few days.
By now the sun started to take its toll on me and the rehydration juices were flowing at a steady rate. My yearning for an ice cold coke also started to get the better of me and most importantly of all I was getting really, really hungry. It was time to eat. Fortunately our next pit stop was only about 9km away so I made it a small goal to achieve before the promise of some food and drink.
About 20 minutes later we reached Grand Popo, the same settlement that served as our overnight location at the end of Day 2. It did not take us a long time to find the first Coca cola sign which prompted me to hit the brakes and dash for the first available open table ready to be served. The location of this little road side “restaurant” was perfect. It provided nice shade from the angry sun and we had a nice view of the ocean. There was also a nice breeze coming from the west and I was happy with our decision to stop.
When the waiter brought my coke to our table I could hardly believe my eyes – an ice, ice cold 60cl glass bottle of coke. I have never seen coke being served in such denominations before – it reminded me of the 1 litre coke bottles they used to sell in South Africa when I was a child (not sure if they still do?) I was so happy. Before Friday and Uzo could settle down and order their drinks I had already ordered my second 60cl bottle of coke. Awesome!
After enjoying a nice plate of Grand Popo’s version of spaghetti bolognaise and my 1.2 litres of coke we set off to complete the remaining 40km of our day’s journey. By now I was feeling pretty confident seeing that we had completed about 80km for the day and my energy levels were still pretty high notwithstanding the effects of the sun. I soon settled back into a good rhythm and was enjoying the ride. Approximately 20km later we reached the same fishing village where I was denied the opportunity to have a well deserved swim in the lake on Day 2. This time however my camera’s batteries were fully charged and I was able to take a few snapshots.
After arriving in Ouidah about 45 minutes later our next task was to find suitable and reasonably priced accommodation for the night. My family and I have stayed over at Casa del Papa (a lovely and relatively well known beach resort in the area, about 20km off the main road) at least 4 or 5 times before. However, we simply needed a cheap place to wash and sleep for the night and I was certainly not in the mood to add another 40km to our overall mileage. We eventually found a “hotel” almost 1km off the main road that provided very basic accommodation. Perfect!
Given the good time within which we polished the day’s distance (less than 5 hours of cycle time) we had enough time left to explore the town. Friday decided to stay behind to do some washing so Uzo and I took the car and drove down towards the beach. Along the way we stopped over at the local python temple – I kid you not! The locals worship pythons (amongst other things) and also seem to be taking out some time to go to church every now and again. For only FCFA1,000 per person (a little over USD2) we were allowed access to the python temple. I was amazed to see the number of pythons casually lying around the “rondawel” like structure (“rondawel” is an Afrikaans word for a small house built in the shape of a circle). Since I do not really like snakes we did not overstay our welcome and soon left for our next stop which is the “Door of no return” memorial site in remembrance of the survivors and victims of the North Atlantic Slave Trade.
As the sun started to set over the horizon we headed back to our “hotel” picked up Friday and went down the road to a local “pub” to have a few drinks and allow Friday to have a proper meal – local style. He was not to be disappointed and after he polished a man sized portion of spaghetti and fish, we went back to the hotel where I cooked a quick meal for Uzo and I before we all went to bed ready to tackle the last two days of our journey.
As I was getting ready to fall into a deep slumber, I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of sadness realising that our long journey was about to reach its end. Even though I was very tired I did not want to fall asleep and was recounting all the wonderful experiences we have had thus far. Only two more days and one night and then all of this will be over! Unfortunate!
I was also starting to miss my family a lot more than I had since the start of this journey. Wishing we could all be together again I switched off the lights and closed for the day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ride for Polio, Day 10 – From Sogakope (Ghana) to Lome (Togo)

Today we started a little later than usual (just before 7am local time) given that our overall distance for the day would not exceed 90km. An easy day overall when compared to the other days but certainly not void of its own interesting challenges.
The main objectives for the day: (1) crossing the border between Ghana and Togo; (2) hook up with my 12 work colleagues somewhere along the road from Sogakope to Lome. Uzo and the gang was scheduled to leave Accra at 6am local time this morning so it would have taken them about 1 hour to reach Sogakope. Therefore I figured that if I leave Sogakope at 7am we should more or less “bump” into one another not too long after I leave Sogakope.
Unlike any of the other days I felt somewhat lethargic this morning and really struggled to get into a comfortable rhythm. Our pace however was not too bad as we managed to maintain about 25km per hour which was good enough for me. The weather also played along as it remained overcast and relatively cool throughout.
Most of the roads we travelled in Ghana thus far were in very good shape and I found the cycling relatively easy (except for the wind when going west). However, the closer we got to Aflao (the border town on the Ghanaian side) the more road works we encountered. On the one hand this is a good thing because the Ghanaian government is doing something good with its money. On the other hand it made the cycling a little more challenging.
Shortly before we reached our first scheduled stop for the morning (after about 40km), we hit a stretch where they (some Chinese company who has a government concession to upgrade Ghana’s road network) were busy resurfacing a stretch of road. Before I knew it, I was cycling on a section where the tar was still wet and within a few metres was covered with little black tar spots all over my body. What a mess! My bike was also covered so it was a real sticky situation. As if that was not enough, we went around the next corner, and there was a truck spraying fresh tar on to the road. We had no choice but to go through this tar shower. Not funny at all. I was completely covered in tar from head to toe. There was no way out!
After being sprayed with tar, we continued for another km or so until we reached a spot where it seemed certain the truck won’t pass by. I was really upset about this little “bump” in the road that we had encountered. Thank goodness for Wet Wipes. While in Ghana I bought Wet Wipes in case we needed it on the way back and this could not have come in more handy. After finishing almost half of the Wet Wipes I managed to clean most of my face (especially around my eyes, nose and mouth). My arms, neck and legs (pretty much all of my body not covered by clothing) was dark brown and it looked like I had just woken up from an extended sun bed spa treatment gone all wrong.
After having a few salti crack biscuits, cheese, dried peaches and chocolate milk I was ready to take on the remaining 40km before we reached the border. From here on the road became increasingly bad with lots of potholes. With 18km to go we hit a gravel road and from here all the way to the border it was very dusty (again) and bumpy. No time to sit down and ease into a comfortable cycle. This was all concentration and continuously looking for the best part of the road to cycle on.
By now we still haven’t bumped into my work colleagues and I figured that they must have missed me somehow and be at the border busy getting their passports stamped. At this point we stopped for a quick drinks break when a text message came through from Uzo. They were already clearing the border and will be waiting for me until I arrive. This was a welcome message and gave me some added motivation to cover the last 11km in record speed. 30 minutes later and with weary legs I reached the border and were now just hoping that we could jump through all the necessary hoops in quick time.
Fortunately for us this is exactly what had happened and 45 minutes later we cleared the border both on the Ghanaian and Togolese sides. All the border officials we met as we came into Ghana a week before were there and were happy to see us again. It was nice to be recognised by them and also to see the amount of goodwill they extended to us.
Five minutes later I eventually caught up with my work colleagues. All 12 of them waiting over an hour just to say goodbye as they were heading back to Lagos. Amazing and truly an inspiring moment for me. After posing for some pictures with them we hugged and waved goodbye except for Uzo.
Uzo promptly unloaded his luggage from the bus and asked whether he could hitch a ride with us back to Lagos. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Really? Cool! Our party has just grown by one person for the remainder of the journey. I was very surprised but also very happy about this development.
Now that we have reached Lome our next objective was to find a cheap hotel where we could stay for the night. Upon our third attempt (off the main road) we found Hotel Aurore, a quaint little compound hidden behind the line of properties facing the main beach boulevard in Lome. Definitely off the beaten track but well worth the decision to try it out. Clean rooms with air conditioner and a shower all 3 rooms for the incredible prize of CFA35,000 (approximately USD75). They also offer free internet access! This was a lot cheaper than what I had anticipated and definitely value for money. Owned by a French expatriate, I also thought that we hit the jackpot as far as food was concerned. The French really knows how to cook and I can’t wait to have dinner.
Another good example of why it was a good thing that we did not book any accommodation in advance!
After a few ice cold beers with Uzo spinning a few yarns, I headed to my room for a marathon 45 minute shower. Tar really sticks and takes lots of patience and focus to get off your body. Now I understand why cyclists shave their legs – LOL!
Tomorrow promises to be a hard slog: (1) it will most likely be the longest of the 5 days going back to Lagos; (2) bad roads in Togo; and (3) looks like the weather is changing and therefore I expect it to be a sunny, hot and humid day. The destination, hopefully, would be Ouidah, a historical little town in Benin and a place I have visited on a number of occasions before. Looking forward to it!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ride for Polio, Day 7 to 9 – Recharging the batteries and start of the return leg to Lagos

Upon our arrival at the Fiesta Royal Hotel shortly after we arrived in Accra, we were told that the hotel was fully booked. Not even place for a mouse. This was somewhat surprising to me since I would expect 100% occupancy rates for weekends and not on Thursday evenings. Not wanting to cycle much more, we were directed to another hotel just around the corner. Sure enough they had a double room available for Friday and me and within minutes were busy unpacking our stuff in our room. After a quick shower and a beef burger and chips we were off to the Accra Mall which is just opposite the road to go and stretch our legs.
The next morning we were off to meet up with Amanor Dodoo, one of my work colleagues who spent 4 years working in our Lagos office before returning to his hometown about a year ago. No visit to Accra is complete without catching up with Amanor. We were also going to catch up with some of my work colleagues from Lagos. During the weeks running up to the Ride for Polio, one of my work colleagues (Uzo Nwankwo) told me about his plans to visit Accra for a few days in August. We soon discovered that the timing of his planned visit more or less coincided with the few days I planned to spend in Accra. What I did not expect was that it was going to be a group of no less than about 12 of my colleagues. It was such a nice surprise to see them all when we finally hooked up at the Accra Mall on Friday evening – Uzo Nwankwo, Rotimi Adegunloye, Afeez Awowole, Seun Dawodu, Seun Okanlawon, Ogaga Ologe, Ayokunle Owoniyi, Saidi Adebimpe, Osas Atonhegbe, Chika Okoye, Lolade Ajayi, Ayoola Adojutelejan
On Saturday Amanor invited us all to his house and spoilt us with a lovely lunch. There was too much to choose from and I had my first ever taste of proper Ghanaian pepper soup. While I’m not too fond of food that is too spicy I do enjoy the occasional spicy dish. However, the pepper soup was so hot I needed to down a bottle of Nando’s Very Peri-Peri sause just to cool down my lips and mouth from the burning sensation that was making me sweat like a pig and cry like a baby. Friday just laughed at me – apparently Ghanaian pepper soup has nothing on the Nigerian version. I would not like to be the one adjudicating whether or not that is true.
After lunch we returned to our hotel to pack and get an early night’s rest in preparation for the start of the return leg to Lagos early the next morning. Admittedly I did feel somewhat anxious about having to go back but with the thought of knowing that I should have the wind I have faced all the way from Lagos to Accra at my back I fell into a deep sleep.
Early this morning (around 6:30 local time) we left our hotel. The weather, unlike what we have experienced thus far, was near perfect. Cool with light rain. With the wind pushing me from behind I was flying out of Accra and before I knew it I had covered 25km. From Lagos to Accra I stopped every 20km to rest and rehydrate. This morning I did not feel like stopping and even though my left leg was hurting somewhat I had a good rhythm going and did not want it to stop. Eventually after 1 hour 39 minutes and 40 km later, we stopped for breakfast under my umbrella.
We stopped for about 20 minutes after continuing our journey eastwards. Before I knew it we had covered 86km in total and I had not yet even finished the first of my daily three water bottles with hydration mix. That is how perfect the weather was and this gave me a huge confidence boost. I guess now I was reaping the rewards of all the hard work I had done coming into Accra.
After another stop (approximately 30 minutes), we headed off further east to complete the remaining 22km planned for the day. One thought that kept on nagging at me all the way from Accra this morning was that we should just head straight for the border with Lome – total distance from Accra to the border is approximately 190km. This certainly seemed to be an achievable task given the pace we were going. After reminding myself that this is not the Race for Polio, I eventually decided that we would spend the night in Sogakope, approximately 105km outside of Accra, which we reached in a little over 4 hours of cycling time.
What a good decision this turned out to be. After trying two small guest houses, we eventually found an absolute gem of a place right on the bank of the Volta River. This place is another one of those well preserved secrets that I would not want too many other people to know about. Off the beaten track, friendly and warm people, a comfortable room with airconditioner, a panoramic view of the river from the terrace where we would be having our dinner, Wi-Fi internet access, ice cold drinks and a cool breeze all at the incredible prize of USD55. I am so glad that I did not make any arrangements for accommodation before we left Lagos. Apart from the higher than expected hotel costs in Cotonou and Accra, it has served us well to have flexibility built into our overall travel plan.
Once again I realised how blessed and fortunate I am to be alive and well!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ride for Polio, Day 5 and 6 – Heading for Accra after a well deserved rest

On day 5 I woke up from my 13 hour marathon slumber refreshed and somewhat relieved at the thought that there was not going to be any cycling for the day. In as much as I was eager to get to Accra within 5 days the following thoughts assured me that it was fine to take one day off:
·         Having trained for various endurance events before, I have learnt about the importance of listening when your body tells you to stop
·         I have 14 days in total to make it from Lagos to Accra and back. I have covered almost half of the entire journey in only four days
·         I will have the wind at my back from Accra to Lagos which should make the return trip a lot easier
·         This is the “Ride for Polio” and not the “Race for Polio”
Most of the day was spent reading, sleeping, eating and sitting on the beach missing my family and dreaming dreams about future adventures. For dinner I had the same as the previous night simply because it was so good. For some reason my Ghanaian brothers and sisters cooks jollof rice and chicken better than anyone else (no offence intended to any non-Ghanaian brother or sister).
Just like we did at Grand Popo, we settled our bill the night before we left for Accra. The next morning we were up bright and early and left the Dreamland Beach Resort at 5:30am local time. We reached the main junction that would lead us to Accra a little over an hour after leaving the beach resort with 25km on the clock. It then struck me that we inadvertently added 50km to our entire journey simply because I wanted to sleep over at a beach resort – and I’ll do it again if I get the opportunity.
One thing that bothered me already was the niggles I felt in the tendon area of both my knees. I had the same niggles on day 4 (just ten times worse) so much so that I could hardly gather forward momentum which is the main reason why we decided to rest a day before heading out to Accra. This did not auger well for the remaining 90km we still had to cover for the day especially with the headwind and lots of little rolling hills waiting to be conquered.
After downing two cokes and a fresh pineapple we continued with our journey. We stopped for breakfast after completing 50km. By now the sun was out in full force and the road was filling up with traffic. From here on our main goal was to reach Tema (the main port city of the greater Accra region), another 40km , and then Accra, another 20km after reaching Tema. By now the niggles in my knees were playing up and my bum got increasingly sore. Suffice to say that I was very uncomfortable and had exhausted all my “comfy” sitting positions on the bicycle. Like I’m sure Scott (a good friend I met in Lagos) would’ve said, it felt like I was sitting on a razor blade.
I started making small goals like taking a few sips from my water bottle every 5km and aiming for the top of each hill before I change my seating position. Every 10km for instance I would stop for 1 minute take a quick stretch and then get going again. Every 20km for instance I would stop for 10-20 minutes to eat and drink something. All of this to try and get the kms ticking over.
With 5km before we reached Tema my legs all of a sudden just gave in and I found it extremely painful to get forward motion. I found this to be incredibly frustrating. I wasn’t tired and did not feel dehydrated at all. In fact, I passed urine fairly regularly and it had a good colour which meant that my hydration strategy for the day worked well (apologies for all the graphics). It was only my legs that did not want to cooperate.
Even though I felt like it, giving up was never going to be an option. After having a moment with myself, I “crawled” into Tema and stopped at the first street side vendor I could find. There also happened to be a big tree that gave plenty of shade which was exactly what I needed. At this point I felt very sorry for myself so I sent my wife a text message hoping she would do the same. She simply told me (like any good wife should), to rest for a few minutes and get on with it. I laid down on a small wooden bench and dozed off for about 45 minutes.
She was right! Surprisingly, most of the pain had gone away when I got going again and we made good progress towards our end goal. With 10km to go I made a quick stop to have another snack and a drink. Once we went over the next hill I saw a familiar site – it was the control tower of the Kotoko International Airport. YES! YES! YES! I raised my arms into the air (almost coming off my bike in the process) with the realisation that we have made it. Another 115km for the day in a little over 6 hours in the saddle. Total distance from Lagos to Accra, including the two detours, amounting to 549km.
I was overcome with joy! I have made it! Finally!
Ten minutes later we arrived at our hotel, checked in and ordered a double cheese burger with chips. Twelve minutes later it arrived at our room and I think it took me about 3 or 4 minutes to wolf it down.
I am so relieved and happy!