May 15 and May 16
We had considered ending the trip in Ghana, and selling the car there, but we didn’t, instead opting to see Togo and Benin. In so doing, we will leave just three out of seventeen countries generally considered part of the geopolitical region known as West Africa – Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon – for another time. If we hardly got to know Cote D’Ivoire, we gave tiny Togo short shrift too. I could have enjoyed more time in Togo; at the same time, in a somewhat homogenous region, the experiences were becoming to some extent unavoidably repetitive.
Although we had just a couple of days, they were superb. This was in large part because I met up with my buddy Andy from Burkina Faso; just by coincidence, he happened to be chilling solo on the couch at a guest house we rolled up on, in the capital of Lome. (In a testament to just how few travelers there are in the region, Lee and Nate ran into Alex in Ghana, who along with his girlfriend entailed the other overlander group we met in Burkina Faso. Post-rally, this means that we met all the other overlander groups we saw in West Africa twice.)
Togo was one of the few countries – in Africa or otherwise – successfully colonized by Germany; the influence in Lome is palpable. We had an awesome German meal our first night out. The guest house was run by an elderly German woman who over the years had seen all manners of overlanding groups come through. She shared several stories of co-adventuring overlanders not being able to stand each other by the time they had reached Lome.
Since I had seen Andy last, he had bid adieu to his travel partner, spent a month in neighboring Benin (mostly in villages), acquired a motorbike in Benin without a license plate, and somehow managed to get it across the border to Togo. How small is the Togolese coastline? On my second and last day in Togo, Lee, Nate, and I had to get Benin visas from the the Beninese embassy, which was just a kilometer from the Ghana border. After returning, Andy and I then took his motorbike to the Vogan Friday Market, and on the way back passed just a few kilometers from the Benin border. We rode back to the guest house where I said goodbye to Andy and jumped in the Cruiser with Lee and Nate, and crossed the Benin border around 8pm that night. Essentially, in a few hours, I crossed Togo three times – and then left the country.
The market trip was memorable; this might have been my favorite of the inevitably countless West African market experiences we’ve had. The unusually relaxed layout in the late afternoon setting was worthy of many pictures, the vendors were lively and sassy, the fufu sauce arashide (yam paste served with a ground nut and peanut sauce) was delicious, and – more than anywhere since Carnival in Guinea Bissau – we heard the local word for white person, yovo, (Though as I write this I recall a particular stretch in Ghana, between Dixcove and Green Turtle, where almost 100% of kids and a fairly high percentage of adults, we passed in the Cruiser said “Ubruni, how are you?”, ubruni meaning “white foreigner”.)
Togo and Benin are well known for yovo greetings. I sometimes enjoy being greeted like this, as it often signifies that Western travelers aren’t too common in the locale. It surely displays a lack of worldliness and tact, but I guess it’s better to be provincially called out as different than to be just one more Western traveler in the midst of a completely blasé local population. It gives one the feeling of successfully having gotten off the beaten track, and usually people saying yovo and the like are less jaded than the average bear. On the flip side, I will admit that it does occasionally get annoying, especially if it is kept up all day long, day after day.
In any event, everyone was cool here, and Togo is good value for money. A few more days would almost certainly have been a lot of fun.