The ride to Tamale was about 166 kilometres which would mean camping in the bush or finding a hostel to stay in on the way. We cycled steadily along on the first day and found ourselves a few kilometres short of Tamale to make it in the daylight but in a small town on the way.
The town was lacking in two things we needed, a hostel and a camp site. After asking around, we realised there was nothing nearby. However, a friendly local said we could stay at his place. We would have to sleep on the floor (we were used to that after a few months on the road). We accepted. He looked like a decent enough fellow.
He led us to his house which was pretty basic but it had flooring (compared to the sandy floors in the desert a few weeks earlier. It was pretty hot and humid and there was no electric lighting. Just paraffin lamps. We laid out our roll mats and got ready for a night on the floor.
I don't know what time it was but I couldn't sleep and I could hear Dan, next to me on the floor was awake. Suddenly, Dan made a sudden move, followed by a slapping noise and a sound of disgust. A cockroach had crawled across his neck and he had slapped it. In doing so, he squashed it and, if you know anything about cockroaches, they stink. He now had the fetid smell of 'eau de roach' on his neck. I don't think he got any more sleep that night.
The next morning, we got, thanked the kind owner of the house, and made our way onto the road, getting a bite to eat before pedalling off.
We made it to Tamale fairly early on in the day and found a hostel to stay. Tamale was a nice enough town and we spent some time walking about and getting a haircut before having a good wash of ourselves and some of our clothes back at the hostel.
We were noticing the increasingly humid air the further south we cycled. There was a hazy sunshine and plenty of dust in the atmosphere.
After a night in Tamale, we went to the east side of Lake Volta down a smaller road towards Yeji, a small town on the opposite shore of the northern finger of the lake which we would need to reach by ferry.
The road was, considerably more pot-holed than the main road through Tamale although there was less traffic. The ride down was fairly uneventful until we approached the lake. A few kilometres before we came to the water was checkpoint which was manned by what we assumed was some sort of local militia or security force. They were young, dressed in light orange-brown fatigues and berets.
They stopped us and asked for ID plus the usual questions bored security people want to know. The one thing we particularly noticed about them was that they were drunk. I thought I could see some local beer inside their little, brick post house.
At times like this, we were learning that we had to judge people pretty quickly to see how we were going to handle these people without getting ourselves into trouble. We were in the middle of a backwater in Ghana and it was easy to feel vulnerable.
The militiamen started their routine sounding serious and it looked like they were going to ask for money. They were building up to it and were sounding tough. Being drunk, however, meant that they more malleable than you would expect. Our tactic to deal with their approach was humour and to smile at their increasingly outrageous suggestions about bribing them to get past the checkpoint.
They soon got the joke and started to laugh with us. Another good tactic was the camera. They like having their picture taken. We did a few poses with them in the heat of the day with them toting their weapons like characters in a war film.
We moved on after taking four or five photos and headed towards the end of the road where there was a ferry to Yeji. We were, finally, at Lake Volta.
Our passage into Ghana at the Paga border was unremarkable bar the drunken policeman on the road into leading away from the border offices. He was harmless enough but you never knew whether they were going to be 'friendly-drunk' or 'vindictive-dunk'.
The roads were noticeably busy as we head through Navrongo and on towards Bolgatanga. What was noticeable was that neither of us was feeling great. For me, it was another stomach problem. What had we eaten this time and which bug had we picked up?
The heat and humidity was becoming increasingly oppressive and added to the dehydration we were already suffering as a result of our illnesses. Dan and I limped into Bolgatanga and found a hostal to stay in. We had a large room with space enough for our bikes and kit. The hostal was clean enough and had a 'wriggly-tin' roof and surrounded a small courtyard.
My guts were so bad that the morning after arriving we made our way down to the local hospital to get checked out. It was another embarrassing moment as we registered ourselves with the receptionist and were told to join the queue of men and women with their babies. Quite naturally, we joined the end of the line, but quite quickly, an orderly came to us and said we should go to the front. We swallowed our British queuing ethics and obliged.
The probable reason for us being bumped into the 'fast track' was that we could pay for our treatment and that we were likely to pay more than the going, local rate.
I was first in to see the doctor who was a well-spoken Ghanian with a focused manner (I wasn't surprised after seeing the size of the queue outside his office). Soon, he had listened to my explanation, provided me with a test tube and a cork for it, and said I needed to supply him with a stool sample. I agreed, paid and left, feeling slightly perturbed by the challenge of getting my sample into the tiny test tube in my hand.
My instructions were to provide my sample straight away. So, I left the main hospital building and found a secluded area to carry out the 'operation'. It was not easy but I managed it and went back into the hospital and handed over the evidence.
By now, I was feeling drained and the heat was building. Dan joined me and we made our way back up the dusty main road of Bolgatanga to our hostal passing lots of brightly coloured stalls selling fruit, sandals made out of old tyres, fried food, and the local barbecue stall selling all types of grilled offal.
I can't remember much of the rest of that day, which probably means I collapsed on my bed and slept.
The following day, I returned to the hospital to hear the diagnosis from the doctor after having been moved up to the front of the queue again (There would have been a riot in the UK had that happened). He told me I had salmonella. No wonder I was feeling so crap. He prescribed me the appropriate drugs, I paid, thanked him and made my way back, eager to get that stuff down.
The next couple of days was a routine of sleeping a lot, eating a little and walking into town to take in the sights and sounds of northern Ghana. Bolgatanga had a certain energy about it and the shop signs were brightly coloured and proclaimed divine connections whether they were selling batteries or plastic trays.
One stall holder sold us some fruit and was friendly. We got chatting with her and the next day she dropped into the hostal with a friend to say hello. It was lovely to see her but it was a bit awkward. Neither of us was feeling great and we were looking pretty wrecked. They had dressed nicely to see us and we were in grubby shorts and threadbare T-shirts, and I was still getting over the salmonella.
After a couple of days of rest, I was ready. The drugs had done their bit and we hit the road, heading towards Tamale.
Dan on the road south into Ghana
Making our way south from Ouagadougou, we could sense that the atmosphere was changing as we neared Ghana. The countryside was becoming greener and the temperature was rising as we headed towards the sea, which was still a long way to our south. We were heading out of the Sahel and crossing into tropical Africa.
We made our way down the main N5 road towards Po, where we aimed to be by 9th January. We stopped in Kombissiri to drink tea and catch up on some writing, buying handmade cards of local children.
The people were friendly and many of them carried tribal scars on their faces. Some of the scars looked horrific but other people's scars had a certain style to them.
A particular aspect of Burkina Faso we were enjoying was the yoghurt sold in many places we cycled through. It was a dream after the plain food of Algeria and northern Niger. Ouagadougou was a nice enough, dusty old place, full of mopeds running you down and 'overlanders' complaining that “There's not much to buy here”.
Our plan was to continue on the main road into Ghana, crossing the border at Paga, and then heading along the main road through Navrongo and towards Bolgatanga. From there, we planned to head south and onto the northern shores of Lake Volta.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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