You may be crossing a modest border, where a rusty sign barely reads "La Republique Tolgolaise", but this is not a country you can miss. The diminutive Togo is loud and proud and it was to become one of our trip's highlights. At the border the police are half men, half con artists, half stand-up comedians and there is that joyful somewhat slimy feel of a route people place. A transit visa can be issued at the border (and later extended in Lome). We've got the Visa de l'Entente valid for 2 months for Togo, Benin, Niger and Cote d'Ivoire, issued at the Surete office in Ouagadougou. To apply go from 7.30 to 11.30 am to the building on Av. Kadiogo with your passport, 2 photos and 25000 CFA; the visa is issued within 8-48 hours. The Laissez Passer for Togo is processed in the pink building on the right, just behind the police station, and it costs 6000 CFA (5000 the laissez and 1000 laissez registration or the beer for the officer… we'll never know). The good news is that gas is cheaper in Togo, at 595 CFA/l.
The 650 km long Route Internationale in the Togolese Autobahn, connecting West Africa to the Atlantic coast and the duty-free shipping hub that is the Lome port. This very important artery is heavily transited by innumerable hyper-loaded trucks, wearing off the poorly sealed tarmac. The first 50 km have huge potholes that could swallow a car, putting to shame the untarred section of Route de l'Espoir. After Dapaong, a dusty little town where we stopped for the first togolese lunch of pate and sheep head, the road is very good, so we were able to ride safely to Kara.
Pate - a corn based sticky polenta (the staple food in West Africa) with sheep brains and meat in a very hot sauce and a local beer
En route to Kara we crossed the scenic Mt. Kabye area, covered in lush banana, millet and rice plantations dotted with karite trees.
Arriving late in the evening in the town where the incumbent president poured significant cash into was a paranoia inducing experience. By nighttime the Togolese get their groove on: cars and scooters zoom by chaotically (many with no lights on), streets are buzzing with food vendors and smoking grills, fluorescent lit pubs are loudly broadcasting the local taste in music. To us, coming from the tranquil rice paddies of southern Burkina and after crossing muslim countries during the Ramadan, it felt like being swept into a very piney beach party. Togo is divided between two dominant tribes: the muslim Kabye control the north, while the christian Ewe inhabit the south. We decided to get a room to wash some stuff and dry our soaking wet tent and boots and on the way we grabbed a yummy street dinner: rice with beans, hot sauce, eggs and corn on a cob. The Togolese nights are long and extremely noisy, with people engaging in onomatopoeic conversations. Mornings though kick off with innumerable roosters giving a very loud wakeup call, so we barely got a few hours of good night sleep. In the early hours of the day Kara market is a lively beast. Breakfast joints sell rice and beans with sauce, meat, bread and hard-boiled eggs. Women carry boxes with doughnuts and bread on their heads like some kind of eccentric colorful hats. We bought a huge sweet pineapple and some uneventful grapefruit and later checked out the local dancing talents at a Maggi cubes sponsored contest next to the market.
Pate is sold wrapped in plastic or in banana leaves - 25 CFA
The price of a Lipton Tea includes a bread roll; you can add scrambled eggs
A local landmark
African beauty (left) vs. a Moroccan depiction of a woman
The grass is as tall as a man along the road that crosses six geographic zones, from the Sahel in the north, to central rolling hills and dry savannah, stretching further to the plains that border the ocean
We continued south to Bafilo, passing through the diminutive and postcard perfect Aledjo Fault and the many trucks and car wrecks that are sometimes left to rot in the middle of a turn. We rolled into Sokode - the second largest city of Togo - in time to stubble upon a group of girls selling freshly cut coconuts and to have lunch.
Lunch in Sokode: corn pate, okra, Guineea fowl with sauce and some mysterious bushmeat stew, gamey and delish. We cannot help but feel a little weird, as poaching is serious business in Togo
Atakpame was our target for the night, en route we passed the village of Yomaboua, in Sotouba district. This was the first slave trading base from where people were herded to the river for washing, then hot iron marking and shipping by train to Lome. Every year African countries observe the world slavery day, to find out more visit
We spent two nights in Atakpame at Auberge de l'Amitie, a chilled out place at an unbeatable price, where we took a shower and streched our bones. The auberge was a much welcomed rest, especially the second night, when we returned here after more than 200 km of potholed tracks, up on the coffee and cocoa planted hills beyond Badou. We arrived too late in the afternoon in Akloa to hike to the waterfall, but the ride was beautiful, if tiresome. The route passes with twists and hairpin bends through sleepy villages with hardly more than 10 mud houses with straw roofs, where the occasional local dj is blasting loudly some engaging african beats. As it's the rainy season, there are big water puddles and many muddy patches which are a bit of a hassle to cross. The beautiful panorama from uphill reveals rural fruit plantations and wild tropical forests, but also the heavily forested savanna below, where poaching and overpopulation are serious environmental concerns. That is correlated with the governmental lack of commitment for conservation; there is a swiss foundation working to repopulate with wildlife a small park in central Togo, but hunting is still allowed (we even saw a dead monkey carried by 2 men).
We are amazed at how different this country is from its neighbors: people have distinct, more rounded features; they are very easy going and many don't even notice us, too involved in their daily chores to care about becoming impromptu guides. The few who interacted with us were genuinely nice and never asked for money or stuff. Maybe in Lome things will change. As we are in the month of Ramadan (Careme), the predominantly muslim northern half starts grilling it's spicy brochettes only after dark, so breakfast and lunch can be find only at street stalls: pate, rice, chicken, bushmeat, sauces, boiled eggs, avocado, corn on a cob. Beware of the local favorite sandwich: bread with mayo. Bread can be salty or sweet, almost like a cake, eaten with a millet porridge (boui) for breakfast. Weirdly, the ubiquitous unappetizing fried doughnuts are preferred by africans to the amazing fruit they have lying around.
Breakfast in Atakpame: avocado salad, rice & Guineea fowl in tomato sauce
The breakfast joint where the girls have quickly become pals. As always, we are asked for our phone number and to help them come to Romania or Europe.
Up on the mountain on the way to Badou
We found one tasty treat, loved by kids: sweet peanut paste with a dash of chili (Klo-kluoi)