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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by mrwwwhite, Jul 27, 2011.
Nice photos! Keep going!
your photos rock!!!
its amazing that you went for the tough....
keep then coming...the RR are few from that side of Africa....
Thanks for the positive thoughts that definitely keep us going. (although we're a little bit stuck in Lome without Nigerian visa... refused once, end of Ramadam vacation... we're trying to figure the best way for us starting on monday)
Soon after our visas were ready we were off to Po, through arguably the wettest region of Burkina. As this is the wet season and august is the wettest month of the year, the combo yielded some endless downpours that soaked us for days. Pitching a tent under the rain is a bit of a hassle, but it was nice to be cold for a change. As depressing as grey skies might normally be, they are still breathtaking beautiful in Burkina.
Breakfast in Po: omelet, tea, mutton soup.
The commune of Tiebele is reached via an offtrack piste. Over 100000 people live here in 67 villages. The area is famous for its mud architecture, that remains to be admired only within the small "royal" compound.
The compound is home to 300 people, the 54 families forming the extended "royal" family. The Kasena people who are part of the Gourounsi, have created some of the most beautiful examples of vernacular architecture. Their traditional houses are built in bank (mud mixed with cow poo) and have smooth shiny facaded decorated with unique frescoes. The married women use nere oil as a veneer to polish the outside walls, then apply different designs using all natural colors: laterite for red, basalt for black and kaolin for white. Unfortunately the traditional ways are still alive only within the compound, outside it s wall only a handful of homes bare the intricate frescoes that are modernized with black bitumen brought in from Ghana.
The entrance is the also the divination area, where the elders congregate and where animals are sacrificed for the benefit of the entire community. After this sacred area there is small field where the animists are buried in 15 people vertical graves. The closed graves are leveled and marked with a stone, the small
are still "in use" with the pot serving as symbolic door.
There are two types of houses: rectangular (for unmarried young men) and figure 8-shaped (with an entrance salon, a room for the woman and a winter kitchen). There are no windows, only indirect lighting. The entrance door is so low that you must bend to get in and it is followed by a 60cm wall that would cause any intruder to stumble and be easily killed. The darkness inside and the nere veneered walls also support the defensive nature of the Gourounsi homes, which have karite wood roofing and terraces for drying the spices and grains.
The buildings with straw roofing are granaries.
Huge clay pots handmade by women in the neighboring village of Boudou are used for cooking or storing
A display of typical Gourounsi symbols. From right to left: the fishing net; tribal signs (traditionally used as identity cards, now used as beauty marks by some women); macrame for the calabash pots.
Handmade mill for millet (white stone) and for peanut paste
This Kasena woman is 82
From Tiebele we continued east on the 18km piste, then turned left and rode 20km more to Zabre, where the massive downpours and the river had made the road impassable. We took again a left turn and 25km later we were in Dondeou, still far from the sealed road, and too tired and too wet to continue riding through slippery mud and puddles.
We set camp under a karite tree that offered us a tasty snack in the morning. The rain kept on going through the night, stopping miraculously for a brief while, allowing us to pack everything and hit the road again. This area of Burkina is beautiful and hardly travelled, filling our hearts with nostalgia about a very improbable future return.
Truly spectacular. Amazing exploration. Your control of photographic composition, lighting and DOF is supurb. Thank you for the time and effor tthat you put into sharing these experiences with us.
That rear tire is kinda scary looking.
Fantastic, thank you for sharing your story and photos with us.
Thanks for sharing your ride!
What an amazing trip!:huh
Some fantastic pictures...!
Have you got a map of your journey so far?
I'm with you guys. I wish you best luck !
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)
Great pics...keep 'em coming...great to see local culture and friendly faces...
How is the moto doing??...Any fuel consumption figures?
With experience now,and reference your kit,is there anything you should have left at home or brought with you?
Thanks for any info and ride safe..
Thanks for the nice words!!!
The moto is just brilliant with no problems so far. Like I said before for us is the perfect bike for the budget but to be honest this can be done with anything so the idea is to do this and worry less about the "machine" (like the nigerians call it) Overall fuel consumption is around 5l/100km which gave as a range of more than 400-450km. That is way enough in west Africa, will see in central. Anyway with the 5l jerrycan that we carry with us should suffice in any place.
About the kit we also learned the hard way that we should have followed the rule pack as light as possible and we've sent home some of the gear shaving more than 7kg of stuff (the tripod but we've kept the head, some spares like brake pads, dna stage 3 filter - I love the extra power but you cannot use it in sandy places ... aka all places in africa so ... better without it and other small bits). We should have brought an extra cheap chinese PNA as a backup for the GPS as in Ouaga our Mio510 converted to a Garmin GPS just gave up and we had to wait to reach Lome to buy a new one. In the end we've made no compromise and bought a Garmin Zumo 220 (waterproof) which I hope will last for more than 3 years (like the last Mio) as it has a detachable battery.
Wake up at 6.20sh, yoga with Tony Horton or do laundry, fix breakfast, say hello in Ewe to a gazillion people on our alley (all too familiar with our life story), negotiate the mad traffic to Lome (sandy deviation and bribes for the barrier people included), go to meetings, lunch at Maman's or at fufu bar, crash in our tent, repeat. This was our routine for the long 3 weeks we spend in the capital city of Togo. Lome is now like home. We have become familiar with life in this sprawling African city, most of which is under construction: streets are being paved or redesigned, sky-scraping bank HQs built, parks delimited. The major infrastructure operations are controlled by the Chinese, but the underpaid workers are Togolese, with wages starting at 800 CFA/day (1,20 Euro).
Street workers are fancy
Similar wages for the military personnel, a very conspicuous presence all over town, especially when the largely hated president passes through, stopping all traffic at very irregular and unpredictable hours. The president is the son of the former defunct chief of state who was a feared dictator and who messed up big time. Even if some reform has been implemented, the past is still part of the present. The president is serving for his second mandate, but it is likely that at the last minute the constitution will be altered so he can hold on to power for as long as he wishes, despite voters' choice. We witnessed one presidential escort crossing through downtown and the strong reaction it generated among the infuriated residents of Lome, who had to stop and wait at gun point for the shiny limousines to pass. Also while we were in Lome one of the many siblings of the president went on trial for conspiracy to organize a military coup about a year back. That again stopped all Lome for two days and tied people to their radios, but one can't help but wonder about a positive outcome. As our long stay allowed us to be close with a few locals, whom we spent time cooking, sharing our life and chatting till night would fall, we learnt some worrying details about what it means to live in a modern African dictatorship, something that us, Romanians, have almost forgotten. For example, if you would buy a nice car in Lome you might be asked to pledge it as a gift to the president and if you would open a new business you might get yourself arrested and held for inquiries about the source of your money. And I could go on.
Lome infrastructure developed and financed by the Chinese
The suburbs are organized by districts or neighborhoods, controlled by a local chief who is elected during an elaborated ceremony from the "royal" family". People rely on their chief for all social matters, which makes them less aware of their power to elect and change governments they don't approve of and is allowing dictatorship to flourish. Preserving the tradition whilst living in a modern society is not easy.
Initially we were not planning to come to Togo at all, but here is Tony Togo, the only KTM dealer in the are where we could service the bike and repair our topcase, which had fallen off after kms of bumpy driving. .
Our Tenere next to its older avatar
We are staying at a well known overlander's joint, Chez Alice. As this blog is sharing our honest opinion, we are forced to badmouth the place. In a word, it stinks. Literally. The decaying huts smell and the communal toilets reeking of piss are unbearable; the monkeys, imprisoned in the name of love, are embarrassing to watch. Due to the ongoing street works, we were far from anything of interest and wasted a lot of time on dusty and sandy detours to Lome. First morning of our arrival one of the dogs bit me and teared my only trousers, Alice didn't care. But if you are like us, and decide to stay for the cheap camping (1000 CFA each), ask the lovely Yawo to let you pitch your tent in the second compound, which is quiet, clean and pleasant.
Now let's stop ranting about and focus on the food again. Prices are higher in Lome than elsewhere in Togo, but street food is spectacular. The Togolese are passionate foodies, with countless variations of sweet and savory treats widely available. We had superb lunches at this central street-restaurant, where a family serves on weekdays from 1 pm rice, beans, pasta and pate with various proteins in chili sauce. To find this gem, get in line with the business people on Av. 24 Janvier, opposite Boston Pub, near the French Institute. Also you will find here excellent homemade lemonade and bissap juice.
With Maman Victorine, the queen of Lome lunches, cooking some of the best rice we've had in years.
Ana with Beauty, the lovely daughter of the lunch lady and our new friend. She is beninoise/ togolese, spending holidays in Togo helping her mum
Another popular street food: pate rouge (millet flour, corn flour, tomato paste, tomato sauce, onion, peppers, Maggi cube) with chicken wings and yam wedges
Fufu bars serve a tasty West African staple, now in season: yam fufu with sauces (peanut and mackerel, tomatoes with onion or spinach and beef)
Boui, a millet porridge, is served with sweet bread for breakfast. We don't care so much for it (preferring to prepare our own guacamole with vegetable salad, or to eat chili beans with eggs in the morning)
African Cola - a popular corn and caramel soft drink
Togolese cheese is a delicacy made from cow's milk and wrapped in a leafy plant that gives it a reddish hue; is usual sold in the north and also at the Benin border
Few days into our stay we settled for this hearty breakfast: beans with chili oil and cornflour.
And the inescapable African food fetish: sugar cane
We were happy to see again the ocean after weeks of riding through desert or landlocked savannah. The beach is nice, but not unspoiled, whith houses and bars lining the ocean. The waves were too strong for swimming or for fishing and the seafloor is quite steep. When the sea got calmer we found great fish and seafood at local fishermen.
In Lome many locals grab a picnic or catch a game of foot on the beach that lines the Atlantic coast.
We would have stayed in Chez Alice only as long as we needed to wash our stuff, but in Lome we faced the troubles of getting the Nigeria visa. After being rejected once, we thought we should attempt to obtain a letter of invitation and try again. The Sallah holiday pushed our next attempt at the visa one week later, as the whole Nigeria stopped to celebrate the end of Ramadan. This extra time allowed us to meet the mini Romanian community in Togo and the honorary consul, Mr. Alin Roman, head of Togolese Dacia/Renault subsidiary, and who very graciously assisted us with the visa. As always, the expats from our country who chose to live in Africa are not ordinary people. We were invited for a delish fusion dinner at Virginia's and enjoyed yummy traditional Romanian dinners at Stefan and Nicoleta's. Romanian cheese is nothing like its French, British or Swiss counterparts (we had smoked cow cheese and sheep cheese in fir tree bark); it is rustic, but still handmade in mountainous areas from fresh unpasteurized milk; quite tasty, goes nicely with a dry red wine. Eating this simple cheese in Togo suddenly felt exotic and we wondered again why the Romanians don't cherish their heritage more, while being more fair about our flaws.
Together with Alin Roman and Mr. Dumitru at Dacia showroom
Images taken inside Togo Bois, a teak factory headed by Stefan
Lome was the place to fix another small disaster that hindered our travels since Ouaga. Our GPS - the one that we had to buy back from the thief in Morocco - broke there and proved impossible to repair. This time we decided we cannot be cheap again and went for the expensive but hopefully more sturdy Garmin Zumo, that we bought online, had it shipped to Paris, had a friend carry it to the airport where a contact of our consul brought it in Lome by airplane. Let's hope that we won't have to dig again this deep in our pockets or we may have to go home sooner than planned.
I am ecstatic for the new GPS
We were lucky to find many like-minded people in Togo. They (Gaspard, Devine, Blondine, baby Lea nicknamed Chocolate, Nesto, Epiphany) were our daily buddies, happy to share a laugh, taste our cuisine, watch us exercise and listen to our travel stories spiced with pics and videos.
After 3 weeks we were settled into our own rhythm, eating and fruit shopping at the same ladies, moving about like locals, when we finally got the Nigeria visa. We happily packed our stuff and set off to Benin, not before ditching the very used tires that took us over 14000 km and after mounting the knobbies (fingers crossed that they'll last till Namibia!).
Ready to make a move and gulping our last beans'n cornflour breakfast.
Exit Togo via a serene road that lines the turquoise ocean after the fetish center of Aneho
This wasn't at all what we expected. We chose to stop in Togo to service the bike and got stuck there for over 3 weeks for the Nigerian visa, so had less than 3 days left to see what we could from Benin. We created quite a sensation when we showed up at the border, where Togolese and Beninese crowds cross over on foot and where street-side stalls with brochettes and fried yam are catered for by Nigerian refugees arrived here at the end of the 90s. We already had a visa so we asked for a cheaper Laissez Passer that would allow us to transit the country. As there was no such thing, we took the custom officer's advice and set off without, only to regret the decision 3 days later, when we had to negotiate the price down from 20000 CFA to the original 5000 CFA. Gas is 540 CFA/l and roads are in poorer condition. We stopped over for a fufu after the dusty resort of Grand Popo, and rolled cheerfully towards Ouidah.
In the XVII-th century Benin was still split into several principalities, but eventually one chief prevailed and started in Dahomey (present day Abomey) a bloody dynasty of ruthless kings. Their leisure consisted in frequent invasions of the neighboring Yorubas in Nigeria and building bank palaces rumored to owe their red color to the blood of defeated enemies. Also they eagerly cashed in the gold from the very lucrative slave trade based in Ouidah and Porto Novo and run by the Portuguese, the French, the British and the Dutch. Between 1800 and 1900 over 10000 slaves were shipped by boat from the so dubbed Slave Coast to Brazil and the Caribbean, particularly Haiti. The slaves brought along a robust gastronomy, lively folklore and the voodoo tradition, which was formally recognized as religion only as recent as 1996.
It's hard not to get emotional along the 4km that were the last walked by the slaves on their way to meet their destiny. Ouidah is today a sleepy resort with largely paved roads, but this lonely route lined with palm trees, fetishes and monuments was symbolically left untouched. The sandy piste passes by the monument of the Tree of Forgetfulness, the tree that once stood here was circled by the slaves to induce eternal oblivion upon their previous life in Africa and erase their home memories. At the end of the line we found ourselves in front of the Point of No Return, a monument that recalls the 1970's marxist regime rather than the emotional life of the African slaves. We gaze for minutes into the abyss of the horizon, beyond the forever blue that was once that last image on the retina of many people, before descending into the darkness of their implacable fate.
Not far from the Point of No Return we enjoy a lovely chat with a bunch of youngsters who sell some meaty and fragrant coconuts. We choose to roll towards Cotonou on the beautiful Route des Peches. 42 of sandy piste, and the knubbies make the difference. Barely ten fishing villages are quietly lining one of the most romantic routes we drove on in Africa. Traditional vegetal huts, old boats carved from a whole tree trunk, we ride alone while digesting the heavy emotions from earlier. In the magically warm and long light of the sunset, the clouds of sand our Tenere leaves behind are shimmering like gold.
We find drinking water at some generous shy fishermen and later we look for a camping spot in the beach. We end up near the compound of a local chief, a very well spoken and dressed man, who welcomes us happily. We stay up late chatting life and food and in the background the capital lights up the night. In the morning we brew black Sri Lankan tea with milk for everybody, and they feed us the best coconuts ever. On the beach the fishermen have already formed a line and are sweating over the full nets.
Cotonou makes quite an impression on us: solid infrastructure, modern office buildings, a maze of a market, good street food but an insane traffic and kamikaze zemi-johns (motorcycle taxis) zooming from very direction. Benin was dubbed The West African Latin Quarter because of its people: loud, energetic and very chatty, always glad to start an intellectual or political debate.
We were meant to be heading for Abomey, in the heart of the Fon country. The 140 km of bad potholed tarmac proved a boring ride, along which we met just dilapidated trucks with hysterical drivers. This was the main road, so we decided to drop the idea of going back to Cotonou the next day on a secondary road, but we cringed at the thought of having to ride on this road not once, but twice. The historical capital of the bloody kingdom that shattered the peace over a huge chunk of Africa didn't impress us as much. UNESCO has pomped some money to establish the Dahomey Trail, along which the former palaces are scattered. But the buildings are either abandoned to ruin or so neatly restored that they appear brand new, and that doesn't help with the overall charm. The locals can't be bothered to cater for the old sites but are eager to collect any money they can squeeze from the tourists. We forfeit the pricey museum ticket and head to the market, to browse the voodoo merchandise on sale.
Voodoo comes from the Fon and Ewe word vodun, which means hidden or mistery. The present set of beliefs are an amalgam of traditional and catholic ideas that formed in the Caribbean. Voodoo is a daily aspect of life in both Togo and Benin. The fetish market is like a voodoo pharmacy, where the wood dolls and dead animals' parts (gri-gris) can be purchased at the indication of a juju man. The ceremonies usually revolve around the consultation of spirits of dead ancestors, who are offered the gift of certain aliments or domesticated animals. Unfortunatelly the voodoo religion has been harmed by the policy of the marxist government that abandoned it to the exploit of Hollywood. We let you enjoy the pics of dead gri-gris and of an unfortunate but very much alive chameleon that un unscrupulous fellow would have liked to sell to us for less than 4 Euros.
In less than 24 hrs we were to roll for the first time into the dreaded Nigeria we'd heard so much about, and nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
Thany you for sharing, fantatstic
I love those places
Great report... more please!
Wow! What a fantastic report. Thank you very much for sharing your expedition.
I looked in to see something of Romania and have been hooked by your amazing pictures and the story of your adventure.
I cannot wait to see more!
This is so cool!
Thanks for sharing.
You make us very proud!
Radu - Piatra Neamt