Ghana: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

   
     
 

Dispatch 1 - Accra

 
 

Arrive in Accra.  In too many ways Accra seems to be a city of missed opportunities; it has turned its back on the ocean, the land use and infrastructure is neither pedestrian-friendly or bicycle-friendly, the architecture is generally plain and utilitarian and a Accra cultural identity seems to be lacking, but it is friendly, hard working and a comfortable place to be.
Points of interest: economic activity and division of labor by gender and age.
Cycling conditions: paved and flat.

 
     
 

Ghana: Accra: head-carrying sellerArriving at the airport, immigration procedures went smoothly.  In contrast to some other West African countries there were NO shakedowns for money and things.  Inspections seemed to be more dependent the amount of baggage and the possibility of contraband than how much the official perceived the passenger might pay.  Akwaba - Welcome to Ghana.

Outside of customs a few men approach offering taxis and when I declined they offered to help me find my friend -- this was in fact a bit of a hustle because they would later want "a little something" for what amounted to an unneeded offer of assistance.

Accra building under construction using bamboo supportsOut and about in Accra, most things are at least a  little different than you would expect something similar to be in the West.  For starters, construction techniques are different:  The support posts holding the cement forms are bamboo.  Around the city, small, medium and large buildings were under constructions -- probably a reflection of the general health of Ghana economy -- gold is at historic highs and they pump their own oil.  For the first decade of the century Ghana annual economic growth rate has consistently been about 4% and sometimes about 7%.

Along with the healthy economy comes a lot of vehicle traffic, road congestions and fumes.  It doesn't quite inspire photography, so no pictures.  Because of the gridlock, bicycles have a nice advantage for many trips in Accra.  There are some alternative routes that work great for bicycles and escape the fumes, but they aren't terrible popular, yet.

Accra pocket park and drink stand. A lot of the old downtown of Accra is official government buildings and commercial. On a Sunday afternoon the streets and sidewalks are pretty empty. The older sections of Accra have some street trees along the roads, which create a respite from the intense midday sun.  Generally there are not many parks, but there is a pocket park, which creates a nice oasis, near the bus station.  Hopefully, as the trees age there is a plan for replacing them and maintaining the green leafy canopy. It could be a new meaning of "green roof."

Accra barber shopOld downtown is ringed by the low-rise commercial-residential neighborhoods.  It is a much better balance for finding activity seven days a week. These neighborhoods are dotted with kiosks and sheds that house small businesses.  Often, the more main streets are lined with kiosks and storefronts of a wide assortment of enterprises.  One of the more common categories is personal grooming (barber and beauty shops) but there are also proprietors specializing in all kinds of specific products (i.e. shoes, purses, clothes, beverages, dry goods, beauty products, household electronics, pastries, etc.)

 Accra: sign for a fast food restaurant  Accra purse shop 

Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - clothAccra, Ghana: Makola Market - bicyclesThe biggest market district in Accra is Makola Market.  On the Sunday is can be an ash colored ghost town, but by Monday morning it is humming with multiple stories of activity and color.  If there is one of an item there is likely to be at lease a thousand.  In the bicycle sections there are what is most reasonably described as mountains of bicycles parts -- often wheels and frames.  It is not obvious how fast the stock turns over, but from the casual observer it would seem very, very slowly.

 Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - bicycles Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - bicycles  Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - clothAccra, Ghana: Makola Market - plastic goods  Accra, Ghana: Makola Market- assorted seller Accra: Shoes for sale Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - drink seller Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - cloth Accra, Ghana: Makola Market - carrying merchandise

Even so new stock seems to arrive daily and after initially being stacked on the streets it is eventually squirreled away in the bowels of the buildings.

Away from Makola Market the town generally has less vitality, but the is also more breathing space.  Modern commercial buildings frequently have a bank, mobile phone store or retail and the ground floor and "white collar" business and offices on the upper floors.  Some of these buildings could be plunked down along a urban-fringe arterial in Europe or North America and not look out of place.

Accra, Methodist Book Depot

Accra doesn't highlight much of its old physical heritage.  The colonizers started building on some of the fort-sites in the 1600's.  The best of these is Osu Castle, which is out-of-bounds to the public.  The oldest of the modern buildings is the Methodist Book Depot, which datesAccra, High Courts back to 1881 (left).  The Central Police building, which is on the opposite of Makola Market is was built in about 1905.  Next on the list is the Old Parliament Building and the Supreme Court Building (right) are dated as 1935.  [Note: If anyone has more information on heritage buildings in Ghana we would love to hear from you.]

Accra, Ghana School of LawConveniently located not far from the Supreme Court is the Ghana School of Law.  It has not been blessed with as distinguished architecture and the fence and surrounding building make it harder to compose in a photo so we have to settle for a picture of the roadside sign here.

Independence Square, mostly a huge bare asphalt parade ground with viewing stands, was build in the 1960's, after independence in 1957.  The square is used for many national celebrations, but is empty and lifeless most of the time. Accra, Independence Square

Adjacent to the square is the Accra Sport Stadium, host to 1978 and 2008 World Cup qualifying matches.  In May, 2001, it was the site of a tragic stadium stampede that killed 126 sports fans.  It was renovated in 2007 to meet FIFA standards.

Accra: "Don't Mind Your Wife Chop Bar" (a restaurant)The sign in front of the "Don't Mind Your Wife Chop Bar" (a restaurant) seemed worthy of a picture, but no particular commentary.  You can decide for yourself the significance of the name.  Feel free to send us the conclusions of your deliberations.Accra: The National Theatre

 The somewhat pagoda-like National Theatre, built with the help of the Chinese was opened in 1992.  In addition to large interior spaces there is a FolksPlace outdoor theatre and a Chinese Garden for receptions.

Along the coast, on the road to La Beach, is the Artists' Alliance Building.  It is three stories of traditional West Africa artsAccra: Artists' Alliance coffin / casket - shoe funerary and crafts and contemporary Ghanaian arts and crafts.  Perhaps the most unique items in the collection, and associated only with a small section of the Ghana coast, is a display of personalized coffins: If you are a runner you might want to be buried in a running shoe.  If you are a fisherman your might want to be buried in a fish or a crab.  Generally it would be someone who thought they were powerful that would choose to be buried in a leopard.  All of the caskets open and are large enough to lay a body inside.

 Accra: Artists' Alliance coffin / casket - fish funerary Accra: Artists' Alliance coffin / casket - crab funerary Accra: Artists' Alliance coffin / casket - leopard funerary 

 

Addendum:

500 kilometers of one of our Ghana bike tours was ridden on a Ghanaian made bamboo bike.  The frame functioned flawlessly.  It is a soft enough ride that vibrations are transferred from the road to the riders body, and the frame is stiff enough to be very efficient. The photo above is the bicycle loaded near the end of the tour.

It was a conversation piece every day of the tour with the Ghanaians we met.  When we explained that the frames were manufactured in Ghana the first reaction was generally, "No way!" It took some persuading to erode the doubt and skepticism but when that was done there was a lot of pride and smiles.

 

 Next dispatch.

 
 

 
     
 

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