Greetings from Feldkirch, Austria! Taking a rainy Sunday off with my host Helene from Couchsurf.com (great website!) and life is good! Taking you way back in time here to Togo in West Africa. Many of the photos are up for Africa in the journals section, FYI.
So enjoy a trip back in time to Togo!
Turbulance in Togo
Suggestion : Print this out in draft form, on scrap paper, and use it for some bedtime, bathroom or weekend reading. Our journals are more like a chapter of a book and this is 7 pages. So relax and enjoy!
Exciting Photos: Just click the link below. Big thanks to Panasonic for the Lumix cameras:
I was actually in Togo twice while hopping around W. Africa so here ya go. Enjoy Togo!
Togo 1: July 2007. Quick trip through...(1 Page)
I first landed in Lome, Togo from France in July, 2007. It was my entry point into West Africa since I had to get over the Congo from East Africa. I would have been lucky to make it through the Congo with all my equipment so I took at flight to France from East Africa for a 7 day break then another flight down to Lome, the capital of Togo.
I had actually planned to stop for about a month in the Togolese town of Aneho to crash course French, get some repairs done to my equipment, and start a small surf club for the community. I had no idea what to expect, it was just one of my crazy ideas. I visualized a cool oceanside village with palm trees and kids out learning to surf and cleaning up the beach. I was optomisic, as always, and ready to pedal the 55KM from Lome to Aneho to start my 1 month escape.
On the road from Lome to Aneho I stopped for some shade and water and this is where I met my best Afircan friend Kwame. Kwame was with his father, brothers and friends visiting his home country from Accra, Ghana, where he currently lived. We hit it off right away and he invited me to come stay with him in Accra when I finally landed there. I knew I would be there one day so we stayed in touch and the rest is history.
I finally arrived in Aneho after a hot ride around sunset and it was nothing like what I envisioned. It was run down, in shambles and I could not find a smiling face anywhere. I decided to get a room for the night and investigate further. I checked in, showered up, then hit the beach to check out the waves I heard were quite good and try to meet some locals.
As I left the budget hotel the staff gave me a firm warning not to bring any valuables as thieves were all over the beach, even in daylight. Also, I was warned to bring shoes as there was glass and even needles around. My optimism was fading fast. I made the walk to the beach and the first thing I noticed is that it was not only the beach, but also the local dump. Trash, mattresses, plastic and piles of junk were mixed in with the dunes. As I walked closer to the water I saw three people taking a crap on the beach, and noticed dozens of dried and fresh logs lining the beach.
It would take far more than a month to change the cultural habits of the locals. This is just the way it is there. I let my head hang low walking back to my room and I felt the sadness of my vision of living in an African beach paradise not being realized in Aneho. I knew in my heart that I needed to head east to Benin, where I had heard there was a small surf community already established and it was the start of my expedition anyway. I opted to change plans and head east the next morning.
This was the last time I was in Togo until my recent visit in February, 2008.
Togo 2: February 2008
I crossed the boarder from Ghana just as the searing sun was starting to cool down, about 4PM. I traded the last of my cash from Ghana for the familiar CFA notes and off I rode through the busy border crossing. As always, I rode confidently to the front of all the cars and foot traffic and was given a hardy welcome to both the Ghanaian exit post and the Togolese entry post. Border crossings are a cinch on the tandem train, I tell ya!
I noticed an immediate difference once in Togo. The people moved slower, there were far fewer cars and trucks, and I actually felt safe on my bike—something I forgot while riding the jam packed roads in Ghana. I had a short 15km ride to a live music venue and guesthouse that was famous for Wednesday night concerts of traditional Togolese performers. I put on the ipod and spun along the coastline with the ocean and small farms to my right and the capital of Lome to my left. It was good to be back in Togo!
The traffic thickened as the 5PM rush hour arrived in full force on the only main road on the coast out of Lome, but the Ipod and a short ride made it relatively painless. I arrived at the guesthouse feeling a bit tired so took a nap and woke up just before the performance started, which was not good planning on my part as I needed to set up lights and cameras. But I managed to get one camera and the field recorder out in time to catch some amazing talent.
That night I met a new friend Bridget at the restaurant, a local Togolese woman. She’s 26 years old and is a professional dancer doing regular performances in Lome and throughout the country. She spoke decent French and we hacked through some conversations with my dictionary, including my inviting her to ride with me up to Vogan the following day. I suggested she take a bus up about 45km to Aneho, and join me for the last 20km to Vogan. She wanted nothing to do with that suggestion, and assured me she had strong legs and could make it the entire 65km.
I met her for breakfast the next morning and we made our way to her house to grab some clothes and meet her family. He lived in a very modest building that appeared to be under construction in the sand. It was quite a sight when I arrived as her sister was almost naked and doing her hair with her friend. This sent her running and laughter erupted among the other family members.
Bridget packed a huge bag for a day trip, as I told her I would take her to dinner when we got to Vogan. So she had a massive bag including a big mirror, makeup, and all sorts of girly stuff. I was praying that her legs were as strong as they said they were. I was feeling tired and weak for some reason we did some filming and get her all dressed up and the bike packed. At the time, I figured the tiredness was due to the heat or the shorter than normal night sleep the night before.
We made our first pedal strokes out of her village at 9:30AM, quite a late start, but we were feeling optimistic and excited. I did notice that she had much stronger legs than the average African woman, but they were still not really pushing her and her luggage so I knew I would be taking up the excess weight myself. After about 12km we stopped for some water and it was here where I realized something was not right with me. I was feeling weak and very overheated.
We had some nice chats on the bike and she shared with me her desire to go to the USA and Europe to perform. She dropped out of school at 15 to pursuer her passion for dance, but complained that there were not many venues or opportunities in Togo for her. After about 25km it became clear that she was hoping I might be her ticket to get out of Togo. She was asking me when we would meet again if we would stay together through the weekend in Lome, and how we were going to stay in touch.
It also became clear at about the 30KM mark that I was running out of steam, and so was Bridget. “Tu a Fatigue?” I would ask her (are you tired). For the first 30km she said no, but after 30km I knew by her dwindling pedal power that she was done and she finally admitted it. So we had about 10km to go to Aneho, a town I knew well from my last trip in July, and I suggested we call it a day there.
We stopped for some food and I knew something was up with my body when I had lost my appetite while Bridget mowed down mounds of food. We finally made it to Aneho and tried to do a rolling interview with the cameras but I was totally whipped out and had no energy to lead a meaningful chat. I was burning up, had chills, and was quivering and shaking. Something was wrong.
I got a cheap room and told Bridget that I was down for the count and had to hit the sheets early. I hoped it was just mild heat stroke from pedaling hard in the midday sun, and after a shower and 20 minutes in front of a powerful fan time I felt strong enough to go grab some real food. We hung out at a roadside café eating barbeque brochettes in the shade, which I had to force down as I knew I needed fuel but had no appetite. I started to become almost delirious after one Guiness beer and knew I needed to hit the bed. I offered Bridget some money to head home, but she insisted on staying with me to make sure I was okay.
After one more shower at 6:30PM I was in the sheets and Bridget just sat there, wondering what to do. I left a few bucks for a bus in case she wanted to bolt, and fell asleep early. But the sleep did not last for long. I woke up dozens of times in sheets drenched in sweat, moving between freezing cold to boiling hot. My dreams were pure pandemonium and it was the worst night since being on the continent by far. Bridget somehow slept through all my tossing and turning and the next morning it was clear our ride was over.
I was craving a dip in the sea the next morning so we took some cameras, mics and towels to the beach to see what kind of filming we could muster up. I gave the mic to Bridget to explain what was happening and I’m not really sure what she said, but she was not shy. I took a swim, rested in the shade, and eventually we grabbed a small bite then caught a taxi towards Lome where I planned to meet Kwame for a weekend on the town. Kwame, with the biggest heart in all Africa, was on his way from Accra to show me his home country of Togo and take me out to meet his friends for the weekend. I was so bummed out I would not be in form to enjoy some great times with him.
I dropped off Bridget at her village and told her we’d be in touch about plans for the weekend and we were both sad to say goodbye. We had built a very nice friendship and I cursed my body for allowing me to get to this awful state. I hit Lome, built up my bike and pedaled to a cheap guesthouse where I hit the sheets early with a massive fever, aches and zero energy.
Kwame called and I gave him the news. We both hoped I would be better on Saturday night but no dice. I spent all day Saturday in bed, but I was grateful for the support from so many people. Kwame, his bro Louis and other came by to check on me all the way from Ghana.. A guy Isaac who emailed me from the Facebook website came by as well. Finally, my “Togolese Mom”, a woman Philippine I met on the street went shopping for mangos, papayas and bananas and gave me a rubdown with some magic potion. I was suffering, but not scared or too lonely.
I finally reached for my deadly weapon against the nasty stuff—Cipro. I had to take that such a strong anti-biotic as it’s pretty hard core, but I had my first few pills at 4PM and by 7PM I was temped to go out on the town! Stuff works! I got a great night sleep on Saturday night and by Sunday I was ready to step into civilization again!
Kwame came by with Louis and they told me it was a 3km ride to his fathers house. No sweat, I can handle that. Louis hopped on the back and Kwame led with this motorcycle. 10km later I told the boys they need to get a BLEEPIN clue on mileage and to get me a taxi since I was still tender and the roads were getting sandy as we headed into the rural sections of Lome. Louis happily pedaled the empty tandem, me in a taxi and Kwame leading the brigade to his father’s house.
I was welcomed like family and Kwame’s dad became my Togolese father in no time. We sat in the shade while one of his four wives cooked us up an amazing meal of typical Togolese delights, maize and fish sauce eaten by hand. Kwame and Louis had to get back to Ghana for work the next day so I was left with his brother BoBo and a bunch of other friendly folks. I was feeling about 86% well, so all was good.
Now enter Isaac once again. This 26 year old young man found me on Facebook after a relative of his on the newsletter list tracing my progress told him about me. He was eager to meet up and spend some time showing me his country and I needed a riding partner for the next day so I invited him over to the family house. It did not take long for him to accept the invitation and he even decided to spend the night so we could be ready to rock early in the morning before the heat set in.
Bobo and a crew of family and friends were eager to take me out to see a traditional Voodoo animist ceremony that was going on that evening in his town. We brought a video camera and some mics and off we went. It was a pretty amazing event, but it was so loud and confusing I was not sure what was going on.
Basically, one side of the event was dressed in fancy white robes, including the head of this particular animist faith and his main posse. On the other side were the followers of the faith. There was a huge procession, a really graphic sacrifice of a cow with heavy drumming, and people doing a funky chicken dance all over. It was pretty nuts. Speaking of nuts, they were selling, eating and offering the sacred Kola nuts as well. They are said to bring strength and wellness, but taste awful. I offered mine up after the first bite.
After I had enough of the crazy ceremony I took the guys out for a beer and sat chatting about music, girls, business and so forth. Bobo spoke decent English and I got a good chance to work on my French as well. It felt good to feel healthy again, and especially good to be part of this crew of cool guys who were so friendly and caring.
That night Isaac came over with small bag of clothes and we all had a nice meal together. I invited Bobo to meet Isaac and I at the final destination of our short next days ride together. I decided not to push it and choose a few days of lower distance rides to ease back into life in the saddle and maintain my recovery to good health. Bobo was in, so we were all super excited. The plan was that Isaac would find a bike when Bobo joined on and we’d be a threesome. This section of the Togo adventure was off to a great start!
That night it became clear that the 5 bedroom house was pretty full, and if I did decide to take one of the rooms I would have issues with mosquitoes. So I opted to pull out the Sierra Designs tent right there and then and figured I’d sleep better in there What I did not plan on was sleeping with Kwame’s dad! He saw the tent go up and was so excited to give it a try I just had to invite him in.
I was happy to have him at first, but two people in a tent with no breeze flowing and temperatures reaching 90 plus degrees was not the best situation, especially after 2 days of sweating from my sickness! It was a very tough nights sleep. In fact, I don’t know if I slept more than a few hours. I woke up several times drenched in sweat and had to get a bucket of water to soak my sarong in to try to stay cool. I tried to get up at the 5AM alarm but I had just fallen to sleep so had to bag a few hours of sleep if I expected to ride that day. Needless to say, we got a late start.
We chowed down a few bananas and bread, did some filming, and were off and riding at about 8AM. The heat was already pretty darn hot and the traffic heavy as ever as we pedaled our way out of the capital of Lome. Actually, we had to ride into Lome to get the road out of Lome, and that was NOT fun. We were sharing the road with hundreds of motorcycles, cars and trucks driving with no order whatsoever. It was every man for himself, no rules. Chaos.
We finally made it out of Lome and the traffic slowly died down as we made our way north out of the city. Big Boabab trees, tranquil farms and smiling faces waving as we passed made the tough morning commute worth the effort. The backroads of southern Togo are nothing short of perfect for bike touring with gentle hills, no cars and amazing scenery.
Isaac and I were got along great from the start and, although he was not much of a cyclist, he was pushing as hard as he could and was eager to earn his seat on the bike the next day in case Bobo did not show up to join us. There was something special between us and he felt more like a brother than a stranger, and we both felt it. We did a nice rolling interview on the way to our stop for the night called Hahotoe where we planned to meet Bobo but some mean hills and the afternoon heat made the going quite tough.
We found some shade in Hahatoe to wait for Bobo, who said he knew people in the village and he would line up a place for us to sleep and eat. Turns out Bobo got called into work back in Accra, Ghana so Issac and I rode to the only guesthouse in town. On the way met a lovely woman Dabona who had the biggest smile I’d seen in a while and a positive spirit like no other. She had a broken foot but hopped her way across the road to stop the bike and ask for a ride.
Dabona and I went for a spin and she was grinning ear to ear. After the ride I asked her if she would make us some local food for dinner if we bought the ingredients. Her face beamed with excitement as she took the 1000CFA and darted off with her friends to buy the fixins for a meal that I’ll never forget. We ate under the almost full moon and hit the room where we shared at full size bed for the night. I’m still surprised how I have grown to accept sharing a bed with a total stranger as normal in my life ;)
We got a super early start to avoid the heat for the day’s ride to Sevangan and Togoville. Sevagan is the home town of my Togolese friend from Ghana Kwame and it was a cool, lovely ride to his village where we enjoyed a nice meal and met the locals. We carried on to Togoville through charming small villages as the afternoon heat began to simmer. We spent the afternoon together in the shade chatting, swimming in the lake and napping next to Togolese families picnicking with their families.
Our goal was to connect with my good friend Gina’s mom Akouvi in the town of Vogan where I had originally planned to ride with Bridget before I become violently ill. I had some money to deliver to Akovi from Gina and I was eager to meet the woman who taught Gina all those amazing cooking skills and shaped her positive attitude and spirit. But for some reason she was not answering her phone and we had no idea how to find her. We decided to adventure the last 20km to Vogan without any plans and arrived at dusk at a local restaurant.
After over ten failed attempts to call Akouvi I remembered that Gina also had a cousin named Felix and they had given me his number as well. We called Felix and within five minutes he arrived at the restaurant smiling and eager to help. Turns out Felix is the son of the former king of the region and had a super nice house just 250 meters from where we happened to stop that night! We got our own room with a huge bed, fan, shower and bathroom and were just across the street from Akouvi’s house so it was too good to be true! We showered up and made our way over there where we found Akouvi cooking away and ecstatic that we finally made it to visit her.
Just like her daughter Gina, Akouvi has a bright smile that rarely leaves her face extends into her eyes. When she found out how much I loved Gina’s cooking she lined up the meals for the next few days, lunch and dinner, so I could try all her famous grub. We took us around the village to meet her parents, friends and neighbors who all treated us like royalty and made us feel very special. Issac, who had never been a tourist in his own country before, was also treated with total trust and respect, which I was very grateful for.
I was eager to understand the voodoo traditions so Felix found a friend to show me a few voodoo shrines and offering areas. I discovered that there are numerous offerings for all sorts of purposes, from fertility, to finances, to relationships and more. I checked out a shrine for twins, where people who are twins can come and pray and ask for help in their lives. Mostly the shrines are for protection and are at the entrances to each village where the locals bring offerings of food or money to the statues. I did not see any voodoo dolls or pins, and was told that practice is not really used anymore and has been blown out of proportion by all the movies and TV shows.
After several great meals, drinks, gifts and long chats with new friends in Vogan it was time for me to start making my way back to Benin. I was eager to ride with Felix and he accepted the invitation to ride down to Togoville where we would catch a boat over the lake to the main highway to Benin. On the bike Felix shared with me why he was still not married at 34 years old and some frustrations with love, “I liked to have many girlfriends for many years and lots of options. But just this last year I think I have fallen in love. But now she is not ready and wants to keep her options open”. Classic! I hope this does not happen to me!
Felix made his way to Lome and Isaac and I did our last few kilometers to the border of Benin where I’d return once again to my “West African Home”. Isaac and I shared several days together and our bond was very strong. It was hard to say goodbye as we hugged at the border and I sent him home on a bus back to Lome. But the road was calling me onwards, and so were the waves. Off to Benin I go...
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