Togo - January 2011

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Africa » Togo
January 23rd 2011
Published: February 8th 2011
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We were warned the border crossing from Ghana to Togo could be quite time consuming, but in reality it wasn’t too bad! It took about 2.5 hours all up and we managed to pass that time eating “Fan-Ice” and a hearty hour or so of Four Square which, yes, in this humidity and heat was pretty damn hot but we played in the shade of a building and thought all up we were probably the same heat as had we been sitting still sweltering in the truck.

The capital, Lome, is really, really close to the border, well – guess it would have to be - this thin finger of a country is only about 56km wide on the golden sand coast. We were staying at Chez Alice, 12km east of the city and we were there in about half an hour. Chez Alice has a pretty nice feel to it, the rooms were ok and we decided to upgrade to one for the stay here (ridiculously cheap) but more about that later. The outdoor area is rather pleasant except for the two tied up monkeys you feel a bit sorry for. The huge restaurant and bar area has a distinct African feel with quite cool masks, statues and paintings decorating the interior with a really high pointed thatch roof and, most importantly, fans!! Woohoo! Spent the arvo chilling in the restaurant.

The following day we had to wait at Chez Alice until ‘released’. Basically the truck is applying for DRC visas here for the first time; Andi, Hasty, Ian and Nicole headed off to fill in the forms and find out if anything else was needed from us before we dispersed into the local areas. It took a while but finally we got notice that we could leave about midday, but by then we were comfortably ensconced under fans in the huge restaurant area playing cards and the level of heat and humidity outside was a bit extreme ... so most people had a lazy day and decided not to move for the rest of the day – which included us! That night we lasted in our room 2 hours before we realised the fan was just stirring hot air and something yet unidentified was biting us.... so we moved out and set up our tent at 1am in the morning.

Up on our third day in Lome, we decided to head into the Fetish market, for a look at the animist, fetish and voodoo artefacts. There were about 7 of us, it took us a while to get two taxis on the main road that would agree to our 500CFA price – already more than the locals pay but what is expected of foreigners. Finally we were on our way, taxi drivers both emphatically saying they knew where we were going. Along with Lindi, we were in one taxi and as we neared the city we feared that in fact our driver didn’t know where he was going. We’d lost track of the others and knew the fetish market was North East of the central city. Mmmmmm. Finally the guy pulls up IN the central city, by now we’re positive we’re in the wrong place; there’s a bank on the left and we manage to locate it on the map – we’re not at all near the Fetish Market. Instead we’re on Rue du Commerce, right near the Grand Market. We argue with him we’re in the wrong place, we’d showed him the name in writing already several times but he was grumpy because we’d finally haggled the correct taxi fare and he wouldn’t budge. We’d already paid him when we were negotiating the fare (stupid error we don’t usually make – we’d been trying to show him in hard currency how much we were going to pay him). So out we hopped, slamming doors and kicking tyres - so he knew how angry we were at his slight. Yes, slightly childish but sometimes you feel a bit helpless! We wandered off through the streets and passed various souvenir and handicraft stalls – quite cool actually, though the store holders do tend to converge on you and hassle you quite a bit. The roads actually have quite a nice feel to them, and are often lined with trees and quite green – not very common in the West African cities we’ve encountered so far. We were strolling along one of the roads when who should we see – the others from the taxi in front of us – also duped into coming here instead!! We laughed when we realised what had happened, none of us were that fussed about walking around the city more and were keen to get to the Fetish market instead. So after a Fan-Ice stop for us all we eventually negotiated a taxi fare again, 1000CFA per taxi to the Fetish Market.

On arriving at the Fetish market, we were greeted with tables of dried, assorted animal parts. Not for the faint hearted, at least it smelt a lot better than we were expecting. The place is not that big, maybe 20 or so stalls, 10 on each side and taking up a space about 75m by 25m. We paid up the guide, entrance and camera fee of 5000CFA each and were led around the stalls, told the various ways the animists use the goods on display and what their beliefs are. The guide was ok but I’m not sure everything he said was entirely accurate.... this belief enforced when he told us a dried (spotted!) skin was a ‘tiger skin’. We pointed out that tigers come from India but he said ‘yes, tiger’ so we tried with ‘Uh, tigers have stripes’ but he just pointed to it again and said ‘yes, tiger’. Maybe something was just lost in translation..... Anyway, the guide aside, it was grim but interesting to see all the goods on display – mostly heads of assorted animals from monkeys to lizards to domestic dogs and crocodiles. Plus, it’s important to remember that whatever your own animal beliefs, the animist religion is still retained by a vast majority of Togolese and that these fetishes are therefore an important part of their culture. After being led past several stalls we were taken into a room to meet a ‘Fetish Man’ who ‘blessed’ our names and showed us various individual fetishes. After which, they asked us if we wanted to buy anything and those who didn’t were asked to leave and walk around the market. The age old (annoying) selling technique then began of separating us one by one into a different room and starting at EXHORBITANT prices for these tiny fetish items. Really, really ridiculous – like starting about 50 Euros!!! Bunny managed to escape the room and find out from Cynthia who was first in, what the process was and went back and told the others, though little kids tried to stop her both ways. Lindi and Martin gave up and left pretty quickly. Cynthia and Amalie finally got their trinkets down from 30,000CFA to 2,000CFA (50 Euro to about 3 Euro)! Nice work. After this it was time for a few more photos and a look around the remaining stalls. We were kind of tempted to get this ugly fetish doll but decided against it in the end – the cow hair was pretty manky and freaked Bunny out a bit!!

We had a stop for more Fan-Ice icecream after this and a bit of a wander around, Martin managed to get another pair of shorts which he was quite happy about – delays clothes washing a bit longer :-) Bunny managed to get a photo pushing a Fan-Ice trolley – since they’ve become an important part of our travels of late :-)

Togo has definitely fallen by the tourism wayside in the last few decades and is now most commonly used as just a transit country rather than visitors stopping to see it. Because of this, the locals don’t seem particularly helpful to the few tourists that do come along, like us, and were not the friendliest people we’ve ever met. It was an interesting place to visit though and we’d recommend a few days at least!

Back to campsite, where – while the afternoons were not too bad under the fans in the restaurant/sitting area playing cards etc - we had some of the most humid nights of the trip so far, that combined with screeching bats in the trees all night long made sleeping a bit of a nightmare whilst staying in Lome.

Woke up the next day and decided we needed to get out of the campsite/auberge and decided that we should go to Lake Togo. First up though, we realised Sheepy was still in Martin’s new ‘goat bag’ and had missed out on having his photo taken at the Fetish Market. As you can imagine, he was quite distraught about this! – so ‘Uncle’ Michael babysat and took him back for the day to get some great shots! So Martin, Lindi and Bunny headed off in a taxi asking for ‘Auberge du Lac’ as a centre point to start from. It was about a half hour drive, during which Martin was sure he saw a sign for said Auberge. We checked again with taxi driver who said we had to keep driving. Eventually we were dropped at ‘Hotel du Lac’ – several kilometres away. We wandered down to the lake edge through the nice hotel, which was in pristine condition, complete with music on the stereo and a security guard – but surrealist in that there wasn’t a guest in sight. We got to the water’s edge with no real agenda and decided to have a walk around the lake edge. 200m to the right and we hit a wire fence, we turned back to find a local walking from the other direction to say we couldn’t get around that way either and then showed us two crocs in a tank – and he also thought it was a good idea to prod them with sticks – we quickly made our exit and headed back down the sandy track to the main road. We decided we’d walk to the Auberge - just for something to do really – we still had no real itinerary in mind for the day! Off we set, soon finding out that it was quite a lot further away than we originally thought. We wandered down the main road under the baking sun, it was nice to be out and walking and chatting with the locals who passed by. However, after a fair few kilometres, we were pretty hot and sticky and pretty sure we were turning a nice shade of beetroot – gone are the hazy skies of Ghana. We kept walking and then saw a sign for ‘Mystic Lakes Bar and Restaurant’ and a sign pointing back to the lake. Keen as for cold drinks, off we went - but on arrival found a chain across the entrance. We could hear a tv playing in a nearby guard shack so called out several times which elicited no response. Desperate for cold drinks and figuring the thin chain was more to keep out vehicles than people, we stepped over it and headed in. It was deserted and closed up. We continued on to the lake however to at least paddle our feet. The water was warm but a lot cooler than the air temperature so felt like bliss. It was also perfectly clear and only seemed to be knee deep as far as we walked. We’d read it was a shallow lake. We could see a nice looking beach and what looked like the Auberge out on a point maybe 2km away as the crow flies so we came up with the clever idea of walking through the water around the lake to get to the beach we could see. Off we set, and instantly started to cool our body temperatures down – awesome. However, after about 500m the water started to get a little deeper.... then murky.... before long we were stepping over fishing nets and there was a green seaweed/slime type substance in the water. Looking back, by this time it looked too far to retrace our steps so we doggedly kept walking. At some stage during our walk all three of us individually wondered where those crocs we’d seen had come from.... but no one wanted to voice it to the others so we all freaked out individually.

Eventually we saw a boat pulled up on a narrow finger of sand and decided to give up and head out of the lake. We strolled up, only to encounter a large stretch of thick dark swampy mud, covered in a weird film of a shiny oily substance - nice. Seeing no other option Martin headed in and made it across. Lindi and Bunny started the walk across too – it was gross, for starters the mud was HOT – really HOT! And it was so thick and slimy Bunny couldn’t help calling out “this is making me sad” to which poor Lindi replied “go to your happy place” ha ha. We made it across and looked at our feet and shins covered all over in mud an inch thick. Nothing for it, we walked a few more metres... to find that we’d walked on to a property that appeared to be just a bare plot of land but walled with high brick walls on all three sides not bordered by the lake. Mmmmmm interesting predicament as we look back to the lake.... Just then a local guy strolls towards us, walking towards the lake. We all stopped in surprise, we think him even more so as he looked at us and around to try and figure out where on earth we’d come from. We all kind of randomly pointed at the lake which had him very surprised – strange whities wandering up out of the lake! Then he saw our disgusting feet!!! He started saying “not good, not good” and motioned for us to come with him. We followed lamely behind to have him lead us to a well where he pulled up a bucket and the poor guy started washing the mud off our feet for us!! By then we were a strange mix of exhaustion, shock and hysterics. The guy was so kind, he cleaned our feet though we protested we could do it ourselves. Then he lead us to a gate in the wall and let us out on to the dusty track outside, pointing towards the Auberge. So off we headed, wandering along once again baking hot, asking every local we saw along the way to check that we were still going in the right direction. We finally came out on another dusty road that we could see was the one leading to the auberge. Even with end in sight, the road seemed to take us forever to walk, looking back we think we were all pretty exhausted after our morning’s adventures! We finally arrived at the Auberge (again, deserted) and.... well, to be honest, we don’t really know what we expected ... we’d been told to go there as a starting point and through our exhaustion we somehow turned it into some magical mirage. Hot cokes in a fridge that was turned off for 1000CFA ($2USD) (usually 300CFA (60c)) weren’t quite what we had in mind! We eventually talked the lady down to 700CFA and she said she’d give them to us in a bucket of ice. We’re not sure why they had ice but not cold drinks.... go figure. Anyway, bucket arrived and since it was deserted there, we were completely uncouth and rubbed ice cubes all over our skin in an attempt to lower our body temperatures. As soon as the cokes were bearable we guzzled them down and finally started to come around a bit. We strolled down to the beach, randomly which had become our whole destination for the trip rather than starting point! It was ok, but nothing too much to write about! The walk back to the main road we found was only ¾ of a km!!!! And took about 3 seconds to walk – considering it had felt like an hour on the way down we realised just how dehydrated and exhausted we actually must have been!

We didn’t walk far before a taxi picked us up though, and we were soon back in our ‘hood’ – finding Ryan on the street and going for massive COLD cokes at a street stall and Lindi and Bunny getting Fan-ice ice cream and making homemade ‘Spiders’ (Coke Floats) - they were AWESOME! We finally felt much better and were soon back under the fans of Chez Alice telling the tale of our crazy day. It was crazy, there were lots of adventures that probably don’t sound like much here but under the baking hot sun that leached all moisture and energy from our bodies, became that much more of an adventure!! In hindsight though, it was all ‘fun and games’ and was much better than had we got to the Auberge originally – we think in that case we would’ve just turned around and gone home – there was nothing exciting there! Instead we had a day of interesting tales and a last day in Lome we’ll remember for some time!!

The next day it was an earlyish start and a short drive to the border of Benin.

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