Togo

TOGO 2011

OFF ROAD TO TOGO

We are going off-road to try and reach the Togo border. What a day it was, with no tracks in our GPS and no road on our Russian maps we got lost more than we wanted. We crossed into Togo and back four or five times, but never at the border post. And we needed to reach a border post, so we could get stamped out of Benin. At last we did get there but unfortunately the officer had no stamp, so he could not stamp our carnet! “Mate just sign here and that will do me, I said.” From here it was off to find the Togo border post. We found it. A brand-new building in the middle of nowhere and there was no one around.

NORTH EAST TOGO

We continued off- road and we were trying to find the small town of Kande, but not before we visited the Koutammakou Valley. The sky opened that night and we had a thunderstorm that lasted till 6am this morning. Out of all our days traveling, this would be the day we would most like to have dry weather. MUD MUD and more MUD!!! This area is in north-eastern Togo and extends into neighbouring Benin It is home to the Batammariba people whose remarkable Takienta mud tower-houses have come to be seen as a symbol of Togo.

They are also a reflection of social structure and are known to blend uniquely with the natural environment of farmland and forest. Many of the buildings are two storeys high and those with granaries feature an almost spherical form above a cylindrical base. Some of the buildings have flat roofs, others have conical thatched roofs. They are grouped in villages, which also include ceremonial spaces, springs, rocks and sites reserved for initiation ceremonies. Not only do the sun’s rays bathe the earthen core of a building, making it hard and resilient, but they also continually redefine the structure’s surface and interior features with patterns of light and shade as they pass overhead through the course of each day. Many of these edifices, especially the tall ones, boast rows of timbers bristling from their exteriors, on which the sun’s shadows play particularly dramatically. These spiky elements serve both to solidify the structure, and to help alleviate moisture, but also to offer supportive scaffolding during yearly plastering. Building roofs, which have wooden or pottery drain spouts to channel seasonal rains, are made from thatch or earth, the latter either domed or flat. On the interior, multiple levels of space often are articulated through a combination of pole and beam flooring/terrace articulation supported by the adjacent earthen joining walls. Upper levels, which are reached by earthen steps or ladders, serve a variety of functions as both open-air spaces and enclosed chambers. There is a great value in the ‘associations between people and landscape’ in the hilly landscape of the Togo-Benin border, where nature is strongly associated with the rituals and beliefs of society. It took a lot of low range and mud to negotiate the tracks before we reached the main track to Kande. Once on the main track we were stopped after 2km and were made to pay 3000CFA as we crossed the World Heritage area listed by UNESCO in 2004. We were told it is the closest thing Togo has to a tourist hotspot. We found that out very quickly as suddenly people were asking for money and cadeaux again! We were told there was a Police station in town where they would stamp our passports. Fortunately, we came across another security post and stopped to ask for help. The official, with an ‘are you blind or stupid’ expression, pointed to a just about invisible opening in the trees opposite, telling us that the ‘police station was that way on the left. So, we set off down the very bad track (donkey trail) and after about 5 minutes we came to a couple of derelict huts on either side of the road and between them stood a drum stating gendarmerie. We just parked our truck in the middle of the track to ensure we receive fast service and walked to the huts. While waking the officer from a deep sleep, he completed the customs documentation. Our next port of call, the immigration ‘building’, to get our carnet signed but after 15 minutes of looking we gave up and continued to find a camp spot for the night. Despite having to visit the local toilets on a very regular basis (perfect way to lose weight) we decided to have another local dinner tonight, because our food supply was getting very low. Chicken and a few beers for $6.60 for the two of us. They were not the chickens we are used to in the western world! Feral chooks where be close to the mark. With no carnet signed we are wondering how we can leave Togo? With no one around we just left Togo and entered Benin. We are starting to wonder how effective the carnet is?

SOUTHERN TOGO

This part of Togo we visited over 30 years ago. The weather is miserable, and all the roads are flooded. We decided to turn as traffic had come to a standstill just before Lome due to the flooding and stop at Chez Alice. Chez Alice is around 20km east of Lome in a small village. While we walked around we saw little shops where you can watch TV. It being Saturday the Togolese pay money to watch a game of football on a TV which is powered by a car battery. Tonight, was the Champions League Final Barcelona vs Manchester United and business was booming and with dual car batteries two TV’s were blasting out the commentary in French. An amazing atmosphere with all those black Africans going bananas over the game. we visited Lome and did the shopping. Lucky for us Alice also went to Lome, so we could get a lift with her. This way we could assess the road because last night the place was flooded. The road was a mess, but it was good enough for our truck to get through. So once the shopping was done we left Chez Alice and made our way to the border. Our initial plan to go north and visit the coffee growing regions of Togo where cancelled because of the floods and landslides. The road was also blocked with bogged trucks everywhere. A great reason to spend a week in and around Lome. After the usual paperwork, and many stamps, we entered Ghana. For the first time since we left Morocco we had to deal with computers and passport scanners again. For us, that was unusual. The language changed to English and everything was much more formal, organized and official. They even had fans and air-conditioning and there were no officers asleep under desks or on top of desks or outside with a large antique ledger under a tree. This was professional. Except for the carnet. No-one seems to know what to do with it, and after 20 minutes we found some-one who wanted to sign the carnet. The professionalism also means less approachable and no way do you pass the border without all the stamps, including the carnet. By the way in Togo we left without getting the carnet signed because we became sick and tired being sent from one office to the next. No-one knew, customs said police and police said customs etc. The currency also changed. Since Mali we have been using CFA in the last four countries and today we changed over to Ghana Cedi.