Published: November 10th 2011November 4th 2011
When I flew into the airport in Accra, it was the normal type of chaos that I expected. Tons of people waiting at the belts for luggage, none of the bank machines worked and of course one of my pieces of luggage was half unzipped by the time I took it off the belt. I'd read before I travelled not to pack anything electronic, or worth stealing because it would be gone so I put all of my laptops and electronics in my carry on bags - a good thing apparently. I bought a sim card, exchanged some American money into Ghanian cedis and grabbed a taxi to my hotel. Initially Ghana looked like a typical Caribbean city - very hot, and very dry with terrible drivers. The one thing that made Ghana different were the people on the side of the road, and in the middle of the road, trying to sell things to vehicles passing by. When I say in the middle of the road I don't mean when traffic is stopped, they walk right down the middle of the road in moving traffic waving things at hour window. Here's a quick list of what I saw - food,
drinks, mops, brooms, t-shirts, shorts, car floor mats, puppies, and even chickens. The other interesting thing was the ability of people to carry things on top of their heads, it was really amazing. It was mostly women who did this but their ability to balance things, like a huge basket with over 100 bananas inside, was unbelievable. I was only in Accra for a day and a half but did manage to do some walking around, and my first impressions were that most people were very friendly and very willing to help where they could. Everybody I encountered spoke English, but you could also hear the local African dialects being spoken as well.
I was only in Ghana for a couple days when I heard that I would be traveling to Lome, Togo. Togo borders Ghana to the east and I heard that it was very poor and underdeveloped, compared to Ghana. It's a former French colony so they speak mostly French, some local African dialects and some English. I packed what I needed, got picked up by my driver and started the approximately 3.5 hour drive.
The first hour or so was mostly on a highway and
was pretty uneventful. As we got further towards Togo we passed through some very small towns and that's when you realized how poor most of the country really was. There were lots of roadside stands selling the usual items including fuel for the hordes of motorcycles that are on the streets, lots of kids just running around and many more people just sleeping and laying around on the side of the road. It was around this point that I encountered my first scary moment in Africa. As we passed through one of these small towns we noticed the traffic stopped up ahead and there were about 200 guys in the middle of the road, all wearing some type of red clothing, who were banging on the windows and doors of every car that drove by. Of course my first thought was - this is it, it's the African version of the Bloods and I'm going to get kidnapped for ransom. As we got closer we could see lots of them walking from out of the bushes at the side of the road, and they seemed to be very agitated. What they did to one car driving the other way is
pour water on the windshield so they couldn't see, and they had to slow down. The driver eventually opened the window, passed them some money, and all the guys cheered and yelled. As we drove through they started banging on the windows and doors and yelling at us, but they eventually let us go. I asked my driver what it was all about and he said it was a funeral and they were burying someone at the side of the road. They also use it as an excuse to get drunk and act stupid, but we made it through safely in the end.
Another hour later and we came were at another small village I think was called Tema, and the roads were just crammed with thousands of people walking through the streets. The traffic came to a dead stop and my driver started to get upset, because he just remembered that there was some type of national celebration going on that day in that area and people travelled from all over Ghana to participate. We tried ducking down some side streets but nothing worked, so we were just stuck there until the cars decided to move. I took
the opportunity to take lots of photos of the local people dressed in their traditional outfits, and I even saw the odd tourist. It took about an hour but we eventually started moving and continued our drive towards Togo. The roads we used passed right beside the ocean, which is the Gulf of Guinea, and the beaches and scenery in general were beautiful. It's too bad that the countries in Africa were so poor and under developed because the natural landscape looks just like any Caribbean country where you could have a 5 star resort right on the water.
As we got closer to the border my driver said the road would get very bad, and a drive that should take about 5 minutes would take about 20. It's a good thing we had a 4 wheel drive because the road went from paved to basically something you would see on a dirt bike track. Some of these pot holes were so big I was amazed that even a 4 wheel drive SUV would get through it. I was told that the border was something I'd never seen before and boy was that ever true. There is a fair
amount of trade between Ghana and Togo, so I saw quite a few commercial trucks but I also saw all kinds of other things - motorcycles with chickens on the back, people walking and balancing all kinds of things on their heads, and guys walking through the border with goats in tow. I needed to change some money and my driver recommended I do it there because the rate is better than the hotel. I had Ghanian cedis and the currency that they use in Togo is the French franc, or CFA for short. We stopped and my driver told me to follow him into a currency exchange. Now, the African version of a currency exchange is basically a hut with a guy sitting at a booth with a stack of money in his hand. My driver negotiated the rate and he left me there to collect my money. As I left I had guys just walking up to me with stacks of money in their hands, offering to exchange it for me. As we got closer to the border it really was something right out of a movie, basically a dirt road, tons of vehicles and loads of people
just walking around. No lineups, no booths, and no idea really where the border actually was. We stopped at Ghanian customs first, then immigration, and then we were in Lome. My driver took care of the paperwork so I didn't even have to get out of the car, and the same went for Lome immigration. He took my passport and said he would speak to them and obtain my visa on arrival. It took about 30 minutes and I saw the two immigration officers making all kinds of calls on their cell phones but eventually I was granted a 7 day visa. While I was sitting there waiting I noticed that I was the only person that was actually getting any paperwork prepared, everyone else was just walking through this gate with an officer standing there, which I assumed was the border. When my driver came back I asked him about that, and he just started laughing. He said that if you're West African you don't even need a passport, or any paperwork to cross into Lome. All you need to do is show up, pay your money to the immigration officer and you're in. There's no documentation of any
of these people entering the country, and all of that money goes straight into the officer's pockets. Welcome to Africa.
Well, after all that I made it safely to Lome, Togo. Stay tuned for my next entry as I experience this area of the world. Bye for now.
There are more photos below