ADVENTURER Alan Whelan is an expert at travelling light – as he will explain to an audience of would-be world travellers at the Adventure Travel Show at London’s Olympia later this month.
In fact, so long as he remembers to pack the tea bags ... nothing else much matters.
For Alan, of St Annes, has a thirst for adventure – and tea – in equal measure.
He combined both to take the motorcycle diary writing market by storm with African Brew HA-HA – and has just followed up with The Black Stars of Ghana, another one man and his bike epic solo odyssey.
Overland Magazine, one of the bikers’ bibles, hailed his first lone venture “one of the stand out books in recent motorcycle travel writing” and has hailed his second book too. Online biker bible Visordown calls it a must read for “any biker with a sense of adventure.”
Alan’s an inveterate adventurer. When he goes off on a motorbike ride he doesn’t just head to Devil’s Bridge for a bacon butty and a cuppa with others of similar age in the Honda Goldwing mobile armchairs brigade.
He meets women branded as witches and living as outcasts, fetish priests, custodians of the slave traders, ancient 4m long crocodiles, dodges corrupt police taking potshots at machine gun toting motos after dark, and meets the last of the great white chieftains in the heart of West Africa.
After having a few close shaves in his first solo trip Alan rode on the back of Ghana’s Black Stars’ thrilling performance in the 2010 World Cup.
Ghana nearly became the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals but, after being awarded a penalty with the score with Uruguay at 1-1, Asamoah Gyan hit the bar from the spot with the last kick of extra-time.
Agonisingly for an entire continent, Ghana then lost a penalty shoot-out 4-2. Spain went on to win an ill-tempered final with Holland but the competition emphasised all of Africa’s talent for integration and reconciliation.
Alan explains: “What attracted me to Ghana was the desire to spend more time in West Africa, a region exploding with possibilities, where my senses seem to work overtime.
“I was curious to visit a country whose ethos, customs and style of life were significantly different to mine, yet which also has a close affinity with Britain.”
He nailed his own colours to the mast of his bike – his family’s Irish tricolour flag and the Ghanaian flag on the handlebars, and his wife’s native South African flag on the mudguard.
His plan was to visit all 10 regions of Ghana from the Atlantic coast up through the centre of the country to the famed trading Ashanti capital of Kumasi, once so dominant an influence the British empire attempted to crush it through four wars.
The Brits razed the city to the ground in 1873, seized their hoard of gold, and 23 years later crushed the confederacy.
Alan went on to visit the more sparsely populated northern region, once the hotbed of the brutally efficient slave trade, to the upper east and west regions, then down the western region alongside the border with the Ivory Coast and back to the coast through central and eastern regions.
Alan admits: “I travel more in ignorance than in knowledge.
“Africa has always seemed to be more an instinct than a plan.”
He was born the year Ghana gained independence – in 1957. It was the first African country to do so. “I was curious to see what had happened to the country after two generations of independent rule with in my lifespan.’”
Last time Alan went it alone his beast of transport was an “unwieldy and heavy” Triumph Tiger. “I vowed if I ever did another motorbike trip through uncertain and potholed terrain I would aim low and buy the sort of bike people use to buzz through the streets of most African cities.”
He opted on arrival in Accra, not far from the Cape of Good Hope, to buy a bright blue single cylinder engine Royal RYGY 150, pushing out eight brake horsepower, made in China, brand new, so it not only had to be run in at around 30mph but started to judder if he nudged up the speed.
Alan said: “Travel by bike encourages me to see the country in a series of unique snapshots, each second of the trip like a moment longed for.
“To paraphrase the writer Maya Angelou: you may forget what people say and do, but you never forget how someone makes you feel. And Ghana made me feel like a better version of myself.
“What’s different in Ghana is the irresistible blend of warmth, kindness and intelligence. People there assume everyone else in the world is just as good hearted as they are.”
As for the bike?
More than 4,150km later, it made it back to the original vendor – after a last minute flurry of nerves which saw it failing to start .. and then failing to stop ...to be sold for just £100 less than what Alan had bought it for.
In conclusion, Alan added: “Ghana seems to have developed the confidence to look back on its colonial years as a kind of long weekend which got out of hand with house guests who overstayed their welcome by a few hundred years.”
He’s now writing up his third solo journey, Empire Road, which tells of his trip around Lake Victoria in East Africa, through Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya.
The book will be published later this year.