Archive for the 'Togo' Category

Weekending in Togo with Seth Bennett

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Shortly after I sent out the email announcing this site, a friend from my days in Peace Corps Namibia replied saying he was in Lomé, Togo. (Togo is that really thin country next to Ghana in West Africa, and taking public transportation from Accra, takes about 3 hours, US$4.) He was working for the embassy, had a car, and said I was welcome to visit. I was basically like “hell yeah!” 2-3 hours north of Lomé, there’s a rainforest and a small mountain to climb, so we planned to drive up there and see what we could find.

After obtaining a visa for Togo (took about 5 hours to process, US$21 = 6 months, multiple entry), I took a trotro over to the border town between Ghana and Togo. Border towns are always hectic, and full of people trying to rip you off in any way, but usually there are people who will help you if you put on a helpless face. A kind woman also going to Togo decided to help escort me through the border-crossing process, and within 20 minutes I was happily taking a taxi to Lomé’s center. From there, a motorcycle taxi took me to the new US Embassy building.

Seth came out and we had our reunion greetings. We got in his car and left. First stop – the DCM’s home (Deputy Chief of Mission, the guy immediately under the Ambassador). Far from thinking himself too important to mingle with underlings, Jack was a very friendly guy! We went to use his air compressor to pump up Seth’s tires for a couple days of driving, and we ended up spending a few hours just drinking a few beers and chatting how the family structures in Africa don’t lend themselves to capitalism. He also had a few tips on where to visit the next day, and provided what is becoming his specialty – a hand-drawn map of things to see while we were up there. Two other embassy guys came over around 7, and we all went out to dinner at a German restaurant that had excellent Weinerschnitzel (sp?) and great wheat beer. That stuff’s hard to find in these parts.

After dinner, we went to Seth’s house (provided by the Gov’t), and crashed. The next day, I got to see the generosity of the US Government to its foreign service staff. They’ve provided Seth with a beautiful and large house in which to stay, full of American appliances and things that made it more like home. When you’re inside, you have no idea that you’re still in a developing country.He has satellite TV that gets AFN (Armed Forces Network) which is a series of channels that shows all the up-to-date American shows we get at home. A massive generator automatically kicks in 15 seconds after the power cuts out (which happens often), and a good-sized backyard is ready for picnics and football.

We left in the morning for Kpalimé, where the mountains are. It was a pleasant drive (once we were out of town) through large expanses of green fields and by small towns. We picked up some FanMilk on the way (US$0.30 for delicious icecream in a bag), and made it in a couple hours. After some lunch, we decided to drive up Mount Klouto (video).

It wasn’t too high, but it was a beautiful area, and anyone used to a dry climate would have loved it. The top was nice and green, with a cellphone tower (video). I had heard that it was supposed to be rainforest, but it wasn’t quite, since it was just before the rainy season. (But then again, the definition of rainforest is that it’s rainy all the time, so lets call it a “wet semi-equitorial” region.) But once the rain hit, it’d be almost indistinguishable from rainforest. The locals said we missed the rainy season by a few days or weeks. The views were pretty – we could see the village of Klouto down below, and across a valley there was a holiday house for the President of Togo on the next peak.

Next, we wanted to find an old German cemetery labelled on Jack’s map to which he had never been. We drove in the right direction until the car wouldn’t fit on the road anymore, and from there we were hassled by some locals who wanted to escort us to the cemetary. All we wanted were directions, but these locals wouldn’t be helpful without receiving something. (People in Togo speak French, mind you, so our ability to negociate was limitied.) It turned out that directions wouldn’t have helped in this case, because after a 20 minute hike down a thin dirt path taking several forks in the path, we arrived at the cemetary. It was a simple place, having around 8 gravesites. It seemed strange that most of the people had only lived for about 30 years.

After the cemetary, we got a hotel for the night, and went out to get some dinner. Upon starting the car, the starter didn’t stop, and after shutting the engine off and locating the problem, the started started to smoke a lot. We pulled out various wires, and tried to cut the battery, but we didn’t do it in time, as the starter had burned itself to death. Awesome.

We wondered what to do. A crazy woman stood by talking to someone who wasn’t there, and a couple other locals came by to ask “having problems?” This was one of those African questions that don’t really need to be asked… the hood was up and two guys were standing around looking inside, and there was smoke coming from a place near the engine. Africans will also ask you things like “Are you there?” as a greeting, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear the seemingly rhetorical question.

A phone call to the DCM gave us the knowledge that if the glowplug was still hot (diesel engine), and we pushed the car, we could pop the clutch and drive back to Lomé that night, rather than having it towed the next day 2 hours back to Lomé. A guy named Wisdom helped push, and the engine purred to life on the first try. We got back after dark with no problems, got some pizza, and went out for a few beers.

The next day we spent going through the Lomé market, watching a soccer game between Togo and Nigeria (Africans love their soccer teams), and eating and drinking well. One place in particular had great burgers, and we also found a place with a hookah later on. Late dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and back home to bed (it was a work-night afterall!)

Inevitably Monday came, and I wished I could have stayed for some months, but the lack of internet would have made me a little crazy. Seth called for a driver to pick him up for work (because his starter was broken), and I packed my stuff. 4 hours later we were still waiting for that driver to come, and Seth’s housekeeper surprised us with a meal of spaghetti bolognaise. We were about to just take a taxi out of there, but after 4 hours, what’s another 30 minutes? The lunch was delicious, and the driver still hadn’t come, so we said goodbye to Kristine and walked to get a taxi. Seth went to the embassy, and I took a moto to the border. Sad to say goodbye, it was a great weekend!