West Africa with a French flair

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November 18th 2008
Published: November 8th 2009
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Riding Day 8 - 95km (total 895km)

What was suppose to be a nice short ride to Lome quickly turned out to be a nightmare. I had chartered a boat to take us across the river, so we could continue our trip to Lome along a little strip of land in-between the ocean and a Lagoon. It promised to be a very picturesque ride. However, before we could even get going a dog that had been hanging around our guest house bit us both just above the ankle within a couple of minutes of each other. The bite on me had broken skin, but not on Shauna. We quickly went into our room and cleaned the wound. We then finished loading up and headed across the river. It was then that things started to sink in -- RABIES! I quickly got out our African health book and the little information sheet on the rabies vaccination that we took before the trip. Ironically, I have never had a rabies immunization until this trip. It is expensive at close to $500, but I remember talking to the nurse about this and she said explained to me what would happen if I was bit and I didn't have an immunization beforehand. Basically, the trip would be over, and we would have to rush home to start taking shots. Rabies can start kicking in within five days and once things set in death (a painful one at that) is evident. Even though we had the immunization beforehand, we knew that we weren't totally void of any problems, as we still need two more boosters. Since we couldn't do anything about it at the time, we decided to continue our ride to Lome and then figure out what we needed to do.

The ride across the river was gorgeous. This area hasn't changed much in a thousand years. After about thirty minutes, we arrived at a small fishing village, where our cycling would begin. Given that this was a dead-end, I knew that there would be very little traffic from this point to the border -- we weren't disappointed. Things were so remote out here, that I actually saw topless native women... I thought that was just reserved for the pages of National Geographic. We were really enjoying the ride with the ocean on one side and the Keta Lagoon on the other. As well, there was village after village to pass through. The road didn't have a shoulder, but since the traffic wasn't bad, it wasn't an issue. This was by far our nicest ride of the trip, and, at 95km, it was to Shauna's approval.

The border crossing was chaotic to say the least. There were hundreds of people and dozens of trucks and vehicles crossing. My policy, at this time, is to continue to ride slowly until someone starts yelling at us or flagging us down -- it always works. Actually, here we had someone help direct us through the different steps, which was nice. We were even cursed by a witch doctor! Go figure... A strange man approached us after entering Togo and tapped us on the shoulder with his cane. According to Shauna, he was looking for money to take off the curse! After the border, we entered a very different world. The French definitely put their stamp on Lome, which is the capital of Togo. Boulevards where large and all pointed to a central location. There was also a complete lack of cars -- lots of motorbikes, though. Many of the side streets in town were still dirt! I have never seen that in a capital city in the world, but then again this is Africa. The dirt roads were difficult to navigate with a loaded touring bike, and we had to push our bikes at times. We focused our hotel search on Boulevard Circulaire, as it had the most to offer for hotels, restaurants, and nightlife.

We were planning on spending three nights here, but with the dog bite on our mind, we weren't sure what was going to happen. Once we got set up at a hotel, we started to try contacting Capital Health back in Edmonton. This was very frustrating because we started using an internet phone, but we disconnected a number of times. When we did get through it always took a few minutes to get through all the automated options. We were also put on hold or sent to voice mail. Finally, I was able to talk to a young nurse there and she seemed to think we were going to be okay until we got back, but we still needed booster shots. She needed to check with a specialist, though, so I would have to follow-up once more that evening or the next day. With the time difference (seven hours), I ended getting back in touch with the nurse on Tuesday afternoon a full 36 hours after the bite. We were okay until we got back. That took a lot of stress off us. You have no idea what it is like to be figuratively a million miles away from home in a country that doesn't speak English and a doggy health care system at best.

I walked around town the first night, as Shauna stayed in the hotel room because our guidebook said not to go out at night. The city is very dark. There were very few street lights working. Most of the lights came from homes, candles, and vehicle lights. The side streets were very spooky, as they were nearly pitch black. I stuck to the main drag and walked around for about an hour. There were lots of new street food to observe.

The next morning I got up early and started to explore the city further. We were definitely in the poorer part of the town. The west side of town had all the embassies, but it was void of life most of the day. I knew we were in the right part of town, but perhaps not the right hotel, as it was quite noisy the previous night. We decided to look for another hotel for the last two nights, and we stumbled across a little French hotel called Cote Sud. It was run by an older Frenchmen, who had put a definite European touch on the place. The rooms were big and nice decorated. We even had an inviting balcony to watch the world pass by. The only downside was the shared bathroom, but as it turned out we never did have to share it with anyone else. The shower was the best of the trip from a heat and pressure standpoint (you have to travel through this part of the world to appreciate that point). The real surprise was the restaurant. The menu and wine list looked like something right of Paris. Since we were a couple of blocks off the main street, we decided to have dinner there that night and the complete meal was fabulous. I even tried pigeon that was about as tough as, I'm sure, its stomach was. It was still delicious meal, so we decided to do the same again the next night.

I tired using the internet, but that continued to be a frustrating process. The internet tends to be very slow, and Internet Explorer doesn't seem to work well with Ball of Dirt. We have moved to Firefox, if it is available, to avoid some of the problems. The other issues are working in a sauna (33c with 75% humidity) with a quirky keyboard and no ergonomics to speak of.

The two sites that we did take in were the central market and the voodoo market. Nothing too out of the ordinary at the main market, but the voodoo market was right out of this world. There was a touristy side to this (we paid $25), but it was authentic. It looked like one big taxidermy shop, but with that dead animal smell. Many of the animals used for voodoo would be classified as endangered species in my books. Our guide said that none of the animals were killed, but found dead. That I find hard to believe given how poor this country is and how much some of these animals can capture in this market. The animal parts are grinded in with herbs and turned into a drink, which will be drunk by the individual. For example, if someone came to the voodoo priest wanting to run faster, he would prescribe some part of a horse with the herbs and drink! We saw a number of people come to the market to buy some parts. We stuck to souveniers, though.


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