This miniscule western African country measures only 56 kilometers across, and is easily navigable on its well paved roads. We crossed the border from Ghana into Togo via the border town of Aflao, which is only a few kilometers to the west of Togo’s capital city of Lomé. Whilst in Lomé, we explored the fascinating fetish market of Akodessewa which is west Africa’s largest fetish market containing hundreds of carcasses and body parts of animals such as chimpanzees, sea turtles, snakes, gorillas, monkeys, porcupines, elephants, antelopes, wild dogs, rhinos, vultures, crocodiles, chameleons, etc. We learned that voodoo is heavily practiced here by the majority of Togolese, while both the Christian and Muslim minorities also incorporate some animalist beliefs into their worship practices. After learning more than we ever expected to about voodoo at the fetish market, we headed back into Lomé to have some cheap eats and explore its colorful Grand Marche, the focal point of the city. Our refuge in Togo was the excellent Hotel Alize, (not to be confused with Chez Alice) complete with a wonderful swimming pool, and a short walk away from a nearby beach.
18 Jan: After a quick breakfast, we zipped on over to Aflao, the busy border crossing from Ghana to Togo. We were there by 9 am, and had a surprisingly easy crossing, clearing Ghana and entering Togo by 11 am. We are now back into CFA country, and the first thing we noticed were the Fan Ice was priced at a reasonable 2 for 100 CFAs. Everyone bought icecream to celebrate the border crossing, and since we were way early, Nancy and Chris decided to give us free time in Lome to explore. We had from 11 am to 4 pm to check out the city on our own, and since we did truck guard yesterday, we were exempted from duty today. A group of Bree, Lucky, Luke, Dowelly and us decided to check out the Fetish market, which is about 4 KM outside of the city center. Bree’s guidebook mentioned that it cost 1000 CFA for a taxi to the Akodessewa fetish market (Marche des Feticheurs) but after flagging down several taxis, we finally found someone willing to take us for 1500 CFA. Once there, it was an immediate negotiation for how much it would cost to visit west Africa’s largest fetish market, and we had to negotiate hard to get everyone in for 2,500 CFA including one free camera to take all the photos. The initial prices quoted were a bit outrageous (3500 CFA entry and 5000 CFA camera fee) so we were happy that the price came down. The fetish market was actually quite interesting, with a vast display of animal parts, bird and reptile carcasses, voodoo dolls, and miscellaneous other trinkets out in a u-shaped market. The traditional medicine/religion section is actually carried out in curtained rooms behind the market stalls, but our guide first led us around the market to look at the various animal parts (hippos, chimpanzees, gorilla, turtles, snakes, buffaloes, puffer fish, ostriches, cheetahs…nothing escaped the fetish market). Our guide explained that the practitioners were actually from Benin, but made their home here in Togo, passing on their spiritual gifts from generation to generation. The culmination of the tour included a behind the curtain view of talismans blessed to enable the traveler a safe journey, or “natural Viagra” for all night long pleasure, or a love potion to win the mate of your dreams…complete with an animist leader explaining what each of the potions or statues could do for us. As soon as our guide bid us farewell, we were swarmed by the previously distance-free vendors, who kept pestering us to buy voodoo dolls or animal bits that were on sale. Bree and Lucky ended up with some cool looking voodoo dolls and we had to walk back a bit to eventually flag down a taxi for 1000 CFA back to the Grande Marche. Our first order of business was to find a place for lunch, and the Sultan Restaurant more than satisfied with cheap burgers and shwarmas (1500 and 1000 CFAs respectively) coupled with super quick and friendly service. A man named Francis latched onto our group and told us he was from Ghana and worked at the Chez Alice (where we thought we would be staying tonight, but it ended up being at the Hotel Alize instead) and he mentioned that he’d like to earn some extra money by doing our laundry and facilitating any needs we might have in the city. We tried to ditch him but he was a relatively nice guy who wasn’t too pushy so we eventually allowed him to tag along as we walked around the Grande Marche and Robby exchanged his extra Cedis into Nigerian currency. Our last stop in the city was at a supermarket where we stocked up on some sardines (325 CFA each) and tonic before rushing to catch our ride out towards Hotel Alize (about 12 KM outside of Lome). While sitting up on the beach, Frans and Becky had been taking some street scene photos, and a policeman pulled Chris over and demanded to know what we were doing. Since he spoke zero English and Chris didn’t speak any French, it was quite an interesting discussion, resulting in Chris pulling out his passport and showing him that we were all tourists who had just entered the city today and were headed onward to Benin and Nigeria in the future. The policeman didn’t quite understand the concept of tourism but eventually allowed us to continue…quite a bizarre experience. A border crossing truck party kicked off with Lar’s nasty Senegal Rum being passed around. Thankfully it was a short ride out to our campsite so the bottle only made two rounds through the truck. Chris had a hell of a time pulling into the parking lot of the campsite as the tree branches had overgrown and our truck kept running into them. Eventually, a machete was produced and the poor tree limbs were hacked away and we were able to park. The Hotel Alize looked amazing, complete with a beautiful swimming pool, nice looking bar and sandy courtyard for camping. We immediately hopped into the pool and cooled down before taking a quick shower and having some yummy sweet and sour chicken for dinner (cooked by Nancy, Matt and Ruth). Although we wanted to have a truck party tonight, it ended up fizzling out early as folks played pool out behind the hotel or got lured into chess, so it was an early night for the majority, while the rest got involved with a late night pool party close to midnight.
19 Jan: Today breakfast was at 8 am and we had a full free day. We had planned to go into the city for a little sightseeing and lunch, but after breakfast we downloaded photos and decided that we really didn’t need to go into the city. We saw the main highlights yesterday and figured we could just hang out at the campsite and relax. We washed our laundry and went for a swim in the pool, which was really refreshing. Becky checked food prices at the campsite and they were well out of our budget so we opted for some tuna and sardine sandwiches with chips. Only the two of us and Mad Dawg were here for lunch. After lunch we took a walk down to the beach. Seeing huge piles of trash all along the sides of the path leading to the beach was a real turn off, but the beach itself was actually fairly clean and nice looking. It appeared that the water is eroding away the shore as there was about a 4 foot drop from the path down to the beach. The water must have been at high tide because it was coming up to about 10 feet from the head of the path. There were visible rocks along a reef line about 40 feet from the shore. The water looked nice, but it also appeared to be quite dangerous to swim as you would risk getting banged against the rocks along the edge of the reef. We just took a few photos and headed back to the camp. Since we had hit the 2 month mark of the trip and today was such a nice sunny day, we figured that it was time to wash our sleeping bags. It was shocking to see how much dirt had accumulated in our sleep sheets and sleeping bags! It was difficult wringing all the water out, and after all of our sleeping gear was drenched, we contemplated for the first time that everything might not dry in time before our early morning departure tomorrow. Around 16:00 everyone else started returning from the city. We gathered up a few people (Bree, Dowelly, Ruth, Luke, Matt & Michael) to do a workout next to the pool. Sean, Sara & Michael arrived in a taxi and we heard a heated discussion. Apparently the driver agreed to 2000 CFA for the ride but tried to charge them extra because it was further than he thought it would be. The driver would not accept the money so Sean just sat the money down and walked away. The driver continued to argue and eventually climbed the stairs to the back of the truck. Then Nancy and Chris had to get involved. They all argued for a while and the driver left saying he would call the police. After about 15 minutes, the driver returned and started at it again. Since he was getting nowhere with his antics, he finally gave up but did tell us that he was going to report this incident to the police. Our workout was pretty intense and we were all drenched with sweat. Immediately afterwards we all took a dip in the pool. Hoff was showing us some good water exercise but we couldn’t do them very well after just completing a workout. Dinner was ready just a little after 19:30 and we had a great meal of minced meat in sauce, mashed potatoes, and cabbage with green beans. It was an early night for all since last night’s partiers were keen on catching up on some lost sleep time.
20 Jan: We had breakfast at 7 am and prepared for departure from Hotel Alize at 8 am. Our sleeping bags and fleece liners were still a little damp from washing so we had pack them in plastic until they could be dried. We drove until the border crossing at Hilakondji, Benin around noon.