Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Traffic and visa jams

Doing a visa application on the same day we leave Cape Coast isn’t easy. Accra is much larger than we’d expected. Ghana’s capital is rapidly growing and the roads are no measure for the constantly growing number of cars and tro tro’s (shared taxi buses). My radiator fan is doing overtime in this omnipresent rush hour, which results in an overheated bike. Better have the mud and oil (always screw the engine oil plug tightly after checking the oil level!) washed off the radiator asap. To our surprise, the Nigerian embassy has moved to another part of town. Once we find it, they claim only to issue visa to Ghanaian residents. “Maybe they can organize something”, but they are going to need a hell of a lot of information: copies and proof of about every personal document that we can think of, then idem ditto for the motorbikes. No way can we deliver this before closing time. We’ll be back on Monday. The Benin embassy has moved as well. (Has this Lonely Planet team even come out of their office to research the 2010 edition of their book?) No visa there for us today, but we do find Boni’s bike parked in front of the embassy. He’s come to collect his final visa. It’s nice to have him recommend us a few things in Accra, such as the superfast internet at the Apple Store in Accra Mall or a clean and cozy bed ‘n breakfast at a Dutch-Ghanaian couple’s home, before he leaves for Togo.

We swear not to leave Accra without having our blog updated: we’re lagging about 5 or 6 weeks behind... In addition, the bikes need to be cared for – we have been on the road for 3 months and nearly 15.000 km now – to start by having them cleaned thoroughly. We make up a to-do list for the following days: apply for a visa for Nigeria and Benin, wash and clean everything, replace the chain set of Isabel’s bike, find out why the GPS doesn’t function properly, catch up with our blog posts, get Isabel’s tank bag repaired, find another pair of Veeta’s (as I call my now torn Gambian Teva-like sandals), plan our further trip, ,… eat well and sleep well. As we should have known, ordinary things are never easy in Africa. It takes us a week to prepare all documents for the Nigerian visa – the proof of hotel reservation will prove particularly difficult to come by –, we spend hours looking for leather wax for the boots and gloves, we can’t find a good replacement for the laptop adaptor cable (first one stopped working, second one burned – made in China of course), shoe repairs men are hidden in small rooms behind corners and between houses, Travellers’ Cheques can be a pain to cash, even the wifi at the Apple Store is sometimes down and the street food in Ghana doesn’t always taste as expected.
What’s worse, the news comes to our ears that Boni has been admitted at a hospital in Lomé, the capital of Togo, with a serious malaria attack. We’d like to visit him, but for the time being we’re stuck here. Luckily, we feel ourselves at home with Eelco, Hannah and the kids and they help us out with whatever we need, be it internet connection or workshop tools – Eelco’s been travelling by motorcycle as well. It offers yet another view on life in Ghana. 

The servicing of the motorbikes proves to be a challenge all in its own. The torque of the front sprocket nut is so tight that Eelco’s tools can’t do the job, the official Yamaha dealer bends his and I have no choice but to hit the city center for an impact wrench, which does the job in less than 1 second. Since the replacement chain set we have is an OE endless Yamaha set, I have to remove the swing arm. Nice mechanic’s course and a chance to clean and lubricate the bearings. We decide that it’s best to change the chain set of my bike too, albeit that it’s not worn out yet after 23.000 km (first set!). Only, we expect not to find so many impact wrenches anymore, besides maybe Abuja (Nigeria) or Yaoundé (Cameroon)
For more pics see album "Traffic and visa jams"

Finally, I look again for an explanation for the bad steering of my bike: since Ouagadougou I am experiencing a counterforce at low speed cornering. At first, I thought my squared-off rear tire accounted for this, but to my dismay the problem appears to be at the steering head. In my next advanced mechanic’s class I open and clean the upper and lower bearings. The lower set in particular is in bad shape. I must admit my bike has not exactly lived a Western European dust- and mud-free life, but this should not be a problem yet at its kilometrage!!! Anyhow, after cleaning and lubricating, the bearings function frictionless again. I treat both bikes with a new spark plug, which makes them run smoother and with less back-firing. And for the fourth time on this trip I clean the air filters – and it is damn necessary, again.
After all this care giving, we’re anxious to get moving again, though we didn’t finish the entire to do list yet…

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