Published: June 3rd 2010May 10th 2010
May 10, 2010
Hotel: Auberge Le Galion, Lome, Togo, 8000 XOF
I woke up about 4AM to the sounds of rain.. this is the rainy season in West Africa and I had been worried how that would affect our travel plans. Luckily it stopped soon and we had our breakfast of toasted Wonderbread and tea.
Our plans today were to get our Benin visa, then possibly a little sightseeing in Accra before heading east to Togo. Togo issues a 7-day visa at the border but Benin only issues a 48-hr transit visa on arrival; we needed 5 days and so needed to get a visa ahead of time. The first trick was actually finding the embassy, apparently it has moved since the last guidebooks have been published. I found a map supposedly showing the new location, setting off in the taxi we drove around for ages in the embassy district just west of the airport. Nearly every embassy was there but no one knew where the Benin embassy was, or they directed us to the old location. Finally after over an hour of driving around, I had the taxi driver call the embassy (the number had changed too), which
turned out to be in a completely different location. It was now around 9 AM but already quite hot. We get to the embassy and fill out our forms, only to find out they won't take dollars or cedis as payment for the visa, only 10000 CFA (West African franc, about $20). The CFA (XOF) is a common currency used throughout West Africa. There is also a Central African CFA but they are not interchangeable. Yet more time wasted, driving to 4 or 5 different forex bureaux before finding one that had CFA. We changed $60, enough for the Benin and Togo visas. Back to the embassy again, now about 10:30 and are told we can come back at 2PM to pick up the visa.
We next head with our trusty taxi driver to Independence Square, where we snap a few photos before going to the Osu district for lunch. We paid our taxi driver here, had lunch at Frankie's then went in search of a taxi that could take us to the Togo border. The first few quoted a huge rate, then one suggested we get a shared taxi. More wasted time going back to the hotel, picking
up bags, then to the embassy where we picked up our visas (they were ready at 1:30!). At the embassy I walked down the road to get a drink from some women selling Fantas out of a cooler. Back in the taxi again and 6 miles and 30 minutes later (Accra traffic is atrocious) we were at the shared taxi station. Chaos abounded and our taxi driver was able to find us a (private) shared taxi that could take us to the Ghana border for 80 Cedis. We head out of town, past the area where the Benin embassy was again (we should have just gotten the shared taxi driver to take us there)... though mostly sitting in traffic for over an hour trying to get out of town. Vendors were walking through traffic, selling nearly everything imaginable, food, superglue, and huge clocks. Overall though Accra seemed like a very clean and safe city; ATMs were plentiful and out in the open, usually a good sign.
We finally reached the expressway and headed off to the east, doing 90mph after crawling through Accra traffic this was a huge change. It took about 2.5-3 hrs to reach the Ghana border after taking a somewhat longish detour to the south once we crossed the Volta river. The main road was under construction and our driver usually takes this longer but paved route every day! The road did change a bit here, more potholes and less traffic. This part of Ghana had once been part of German Togoland colony that was split between England/France after WWI. The border was a chaos of trucks and cars, but it was very efficient in getting stamped out. Our taxi driver left us here and we walked the short distance across the border into Togo. Immediately it was possible to tell the difference between the two countries; Ghana had actual buildings for their immigration staff; the Togo officers were housed in a shack built of driftwood and plywood. The border is right on the beach but it was getting dark at the time and we couldn't see much of it. Luckily we were still able to get a visa on arrival for 15000CFA (the book says arrive at the border before 5PM.. we got there at 6).
There were some moneychangers at the border, but offering a horrendous rate of 400:1 for CFA/US$. The CFA is tied to the Euro and the Euro had taken a nosedive with the financial problems lately; when we first started researching our trip the CFA was about 450:$1.. now it was over 510:$1. Likewise the taxi drivers there were trying to rip us off; wanting to charge $16 (8000CFA) for the 1km (or less!) distance to our hotel. I know gas here was about $4/gallon but come on. Finding an honest taxi driver at a border is pretty rare. We talked one down to $4 (2000 CFA), saying we needed to go to an ATM as well (best exchange rate). We went to the hotel, down a sandy side street. It looks pretty nice, good bar area, pretty garden and popular with expats. We got a couple rooms, then took the taxi to an ATM.. seemed he took us a fair distance across town although I knew there was one ATM pretty close to the hotel. When we got back to the hotel, we had offered him $10 (still a a lot of money for the distance) and he wouldn't take it! He wanted the original 8000 (the guidebook book says you can rent one for an HOUR for 2500). We kept offering him 5000 CFA, he kept saying no.. finally we said fine we won't pay you anything and walked back into the hotel (yeah a lame move, but he was being a real dick). He came in and after few more minutes of arguing he finally accepted the amount and left.
Finally we settle in for dinner; Togo was formerly a French colony and we weren't disappointed by the food.. I had the sole meuniere and chocolate mousse and it was delicious! We settle into our rooms, mine being little more than bare concrete walls, a ceiling fan and a bare lightbulb.