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Published: August 8th 2006
Crossing the border from Ghana into Togo felt like getting back to genuine Africa.
Away from modern conveniences and into overcrowded bush-taxis, driving like there’s no tomorrow (which more than once got close to true).
We had entered the hilly Danyi Plateau
and were travelling on twisting roads through jungle-covered hills, to get to the Benedictine monastery outside the small village of Dzogbégan
. The monks at the monastery are famous for their huge orchard, attracting people from faraway to come and enjoy their produce.
Things like carambola-jam, home-processed cheese, honey vinegar and freshly baked baguettes are just a few of the products they sell.
The call of the sirens for me was the homegrown coffee, served at breakfast with the full board offered at the monastery.
As we arrived all the rooms were taken, but the friendly monks directed us to a convent only two kilometres away. The nuns at the convent where more than happy to accommodate us - offering the same full board - so I fell asleep dreaming about freshly brewed Arabica and Robusta beans.
To my disappointment the nuns served (just like everywhere else in West Africa) instant Nescafé.
disappointment of the Nestlé-breakfast was by far overwhelmed by the beauty of the nuns chanting.
In the early morning hours the nuns gather in the small (but very airy) teak and bamboo-church at the convent, and create a sacred atmosphere.
To join in as a spectator was a memorable experience.
The priest at the monastery took us around the premises, explaining the coffee growing, storing and grinding process, then showing us a documentary about his favourite group ABBA
After that we left for Atakpamé
via the scenic road from Adéta
We drove along the base of the plateau, passing small villages with smiling market women and sleepy old men gossipping in groups. American hip-hop wear hasn’t reached the regions young male crowd yet, instead eye-shadow and flat-top haircuts along with colourful African fabrics, is the latest fashion.
The reason for going to Atakpamé was to find an A.T.M., but as we’d expected there was none to be found (Asking nuns in a foreign language about visa-card issues is bound to be unsuccessful.).
Nevertheless, the town was hectic and charming, and we got some good directions by the local fetisheur about where to find
Purchased by some hectic Aussies in Abomey
some proper voodoo.
Drove the two hours back to Adéta and then further south to Kpalimé
, arriving on the weekly market day.
Kpalimé being the centre of the fruit and cacao growing region, and a stronghold for the rubberstamp governments’ opposition, from here many demonstrations and strikes have started against the late dictator Eyadéma, the proud holder of two great records:
Being part of the first coup in African history and being the African dictator to rule for the longest time, 38 years of suppression until he finally died last year - only to be replaced by his son!
Hopefully not as skillful as the father was in vote-riggings, threats, intimidations and killing of opposition leaders.
We crammed ourselves into another vehicle on the blink and climbed the winding road up to the village of Konda
, close to the summit of Mount Klouto
. We had been told by friends in Ghana that a butterfly expert lived and worked in Konda, and that he would lodge us - as well as take us out on “butterfly safaris” in the surrounding dense forest - for a small fee.
It sounded well off the
At the market, Abomey
beaten track for us, so judge by our surprise when we got swarmed by potential “butterfly guides” as we arrived. The little village was a typical tourist attraction, arriving simultaneously as us did two minibuses full of middle-aged French women, handing out sweets to the kids and flashing their cameras.
The butterfly expert we were looking forward to meet, only showed up briefly to let us know that he - with his expertise - had chosen a guide just for us. A young kid knowing as much about butterflies and moths as my grandmother knows about computer software. -No thanks!
Stayed for the night enjoying the beautiful setting and then went back down the mountain to Kpalimé.
The town was very quite compared to the day before and we spent the evening at the German built church at another cheerful African mass. The next morning we boarded a minibus and went to the capital Lomé
, accompanied by a man in a pink and purple, zebra patterned cowboy hat, and a monkey in chains.
Before arrival we’d received mixed reviews (mostly negative) about Lomé, but we found the city excellent, with a lot of things
the former church at Porto Novo, after transformed into a Mosque in the early 20:th century, it's now in decline.
to offer. Staying in a colonial building close to the beach and the Ghanaian border (The western part of the capital is abruptly cropped by the border with Ghana.). The house had a charismatic French countryside touch.
I spent eight days on the hotel balcony overlooking the restaurant below, writing poor prose while drinking too much espresso and watching the prostitutes lure the drunk French sailors - who wanted nothing else than to be allured.
It felt like I was watching a theatre, at times military vehicles drove past with mounted machineguns and smile-less soldiers, market women walked back and forth with heavy loads on their heads, men on horses rode past, and every evening some new French sailors or businessmen had dinner in the restaurant, then rented rooms by the hour.
At times Aili managed to pull me away from my small “commando-bridge” and we ventured out in town to find friendly faces wherever we went. In the evenings the bustling border area in the west got ablaze by rows of kerosene lanterns, which was just as magic and atmospheric as Djeema El-Fna
,(the so called “soul of Morocco”
, attracting hordes of tourists) but
Market girl selling weird food, at the border with Ghana, Danyi Plateau region.
with no other tourist in sight.
At the weekend we went to the eastern side of town where there was a cluster of jam-packed outdoor bars, at where we danced until the morning hours.
We left for Aného
on our continued search for some real voodoo. But the fetisheurs at the fetish-market were more interested in begging me for gifts than to confide me anything useful on the subject. Since I wasn’t in the mood of purchasing neither his dried aardvark (anteater), nor his live chameleon, we walked out of the smelly market and into neighbouring Benin.
Although the two countries share cultural affinities, have similar people, languages and social institutions - the two countries made very different impact on us. While we felt very welcomed in Togo, that wasn’t always the case in Benin.
In Togo as in the rest of West Africa there’s a fixed price on every journey (you haggle over the small fee of your luggage at times), but in Benin we had to bargain hard on every journey not to be completely ripped-off. So we found the people a lot more tricky, the taxi-drivers and salesmen
The old colonial houses in Ouidah contain Vooodoo symbols, to make the locals fear and respect the slave-traders eaven more.
especially, but also the street-food vendors repeatedly gave us the wrong change back.
We stopped for the night at Grand Popo
- Benin’s only beach resort. Stayed with some rastas in their beach-house, but didn’t dare to swim as the undertow was too strong.
So we continued to Ouidah
- the centre of voodoo belief in Africa. Walked around town for a couple of hours trying to soak up some voodoo atmosphere, but there was none to be found. Neither at the fetish market - with its cat and chameleon carcasses out to dry in the sun - nor at the sleepy python-tourist-gimmick-temple.
The more spellbinding were all the old Brazilian houses and the brightly painted cafés that dotted the friendly town centre. Already as we left the town we regretted not staying for a night or more.
we only stopped to change transport, fill our lungs with some first-rate pollution, and gaze at the grand mosque’s high minarets - as they managed to penetrate the smog.
Then off we went for Porto Novo
- the capital, a small city of no special character.
Mosques seem to mushroom along the main
Any random object could be infused with magic by a fetisheur, and then sold for a much higher price. Grand Popo
market area, and the streets are full of honking mopeds, motorbikes and scooters. We paid a tiresome visit to the ethnographical museum, receiving some more information about voodoo deities and tribal life.
Then we stopped by the local fetish market to smell the regional variety of dried animals, no voodoo priest to be found here either, only the usual hustlers keeping their bizarre hodge-podge of “voodoo objects” out on display for the tourists cameras.
No black magic in the world could keep us in the characterless capital and we went north to Abomey
, the old capital of the once great Dan-Homey
kingdom. The kingdom remained the last hindrance for the French as they gradually gained power over the region in the nineteenth century. The kingdom - being famous for its female “Amazon” warriors - fought brave before they inevitably got squashed and subdued.
Nowadays, the town hosts an UNESCO funded museum, and we realised that Abomey would be our last chance to find a voodoo priest that actually knows how to merge the Hocus with the Pocus and create some black magic.
Alas, that was not to be found, maybe my expectations were to high
The nomands of West Africa, the Fulani people are spread across the region and easily recognized by their typical clothes, silver armlaces and heavy tribal tattoos in their faces, Northwestern Benin.
or my patience to low - but I doubt that the local fetisheurs (a bunch of tourist-oriented benign lunatics) would have any real magical powers.
Nevertheless, the town was fine and the palace museum held some interesting objects (as well as a decapitative history): A throne mounted on four human skulls, a beautifully decorated umbrella and a fan created by a human skull and a horse tail.
We gave up on our search for a Voodoo priest and continued our journey up to the Muslim north and the town of Djougou
. The preoccupied Peacecorp that we shared a pint with that evening told us that it would be masochism to take the dirt-tracks heading further north to Banikoara
. However, taking that road was the only reason for visiting Djougou in the first place.
So early the next morning we played some body-part-Tetris, squeezing ten adults into a small bush-taxi. Four in the front (yes, the drivers seat is perfect for an extra passenger
) and six in the back (having an old strange man in your lap is at least an unforgettable experience
). The 150 kilometres took us about ten hours to drive, passing through interesting market-towns
Highrise in Lome
In illusions of Grandeur the Crazy old Eyadema built triumphant monuments and highrises in Lome, while the population starved under his fashist rule.
wide a wide mix of West African tribes.
Another arduous journey from Banikoara on washboard and potholed roads(craters would be a more accurate description of the holes), took us to Kandi
Back on the main north-south highway again we headed north towards the border with Niger.
On our way north we faced the second crashed lorry in four days - this one also blocking the whole highway. Our journey was complete with the compulsory smell of petrol that accompany every bushtaxi in Togo and benin; ranging from mild headache provoking to altering ones consciousness.
Eventually we reached the border-town Malanville
where we found the worst (and the cheapest) rooms in the country - in a bar renting rooms by the hour.
It was Independence day and the bar were running the celebrations - A talent show among the men, and a beauty contest among the women - the yearly coronation of Miss Malanville.
A multi-coloured experience with the loud male crowd getting extra ecstatic as the pageants flashed kitchen- and hunting utensils.
The next morning I felt sick, lost my balance while trying to stand up and felt so weak. We called
At the Pehunco market. The Fulani always has something wild in their glance, something that tells you: We've got nothing in common!
it a hangover and went for the Nigérien border post.
Heading back to the dust and the heat, back to Islam, back to the desert.
But the “hangover” worsened as we crossed the border, with shivers, increased headache and malaise. -Finally!
My first very personal rendezvous
with mademoiselle Malaria
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