Saturday, July 14, 2007

from the "Togo-Benin Chapter 3" dept.

Saturday July 7, 2007:

The noise from the Coco Beach Hotel's kitchen served as our alarm for the second morning in a row. My sleep was decent, although I woke up a couple of times thanks to heavy rains over Lome, Togo.

Around 7 a.m. Jesper and I headed to the outdoor restaurant for breakfast. It was a huge improvement over the previous day's continental breakfast. And the price was the same.

We both ordered double espressos. I had a cheese and ham omelet, fresh mango cubes and some toast and orange marmalade. Total: $5.

The first item on our agenda was gifts.

Back to central Lome we went, in search of something -- anything -- to take back for gifts. Smiler took us to the Ramco Supermarche where we found lots of amazing food and a crazy-big selection of French wine. But the gifts available were limited to Ghana-made chocolate and overpriced woodcarvings. And we just didn't have the time to search the local market for gifts.

Now, had these gifts not been for Ghanaians, there were a number of things I could have bought, like imported cheese or local coffee. But these wouldn't fit the bill for the folks I was thinking of.

I also picked up some deodorant and coffee filters at the Supermarche, neither of which would make good gifts for my friends back home.

Back to our expedition: Jesper and I tried to find where the Ghana-Togo border changes direction from north-south to east-west. Our maps showed a marker at the turning point.

By the time we got close to the border the skies had opened up. We could see the border fence in the distance, but missed the turning point. In retrospect we likely could have found it while clambering through the tall grass, but we would have emerged looking like bushmen. And I don't mean the Republican kind.

Our route would take us about 120 km north of Lome to Kpalime. The roads were good and we made good time. We were still close to the border as there were many signs pointing to various crossings west of the highway.

At one small town we decided to follow a dirt road west towards a small crossing. However, we only got as far as a Togolese customs stop. The frontier was still several kilometres down the road, and we didn't feel like dealing with all the paperwork to see something that might be nothing. We turned around.

Unlike Ghana, there are few police checkpoints (revenue generators for crooked cops) and we sped along at a decent clip. The terrain changed from low-lying jungle to spectacular mountainous scenery.

Smiler indicated that we needed some petrol. This was our first stop for fuel since we'd left Accra several days earlier.

After gassing up we sped north. The Land Cruiser's radio could tune in the shortwave band and we were able to listen to BBC World Service on the way to Togo's third largest burgh, Kpalime.

Kpalime (the K is not pronounced) is a small and orderly town nestled in the mountains. In fact, it sits below Togo's highest peak.

Back at the Coco Beach Hotel, Patrick had recommended taking lunch at Chez Fanny. We asked some locals for directions and soon I was digging to a plate of garlic shrimp ($8) and a tomato salad ($2). Both were excellent. For the three of us, the total was roughly $40. Expensive by African standards, cheap by ours.

The road from Kpalime to border with Ghana twists and turns through the Akwapim Togo Range. So much so that it qualifies as an amusement park ride -- especially when a gatekeeper appeared in the middle of nowhere asking Smiler where we were coming from. His answer "Togo" was technically correct but evasive enough that the gatekeeper launched into a verbal barrage about how we should know where we came from. Our mother's wombs?

By 3 p.m. we were preparing to cross back into Ghana.

Our first stop was the Togolese customs house. We had to get out of the car and complete yet another form. This went quickly and after paying a "tip" of about $4 we were free to go. The official even let us take pictures.

The border in this part of the country follows the Todze River. Smiler drove across the bridge while we walked, taking more pictures. We couldn't see any border markers, however.

On the Ghana side, the first stop was immigration. Two women sat outside a small hut. One had a pile of fruits and vegetables in front of her. These were likely "tips" as well.

One of the women was very pleasant and laughed along with us. The other one wanted me to give her my shoes. I considered her request and then refused when they wouldn't let us take any pictures. We escaped without paying any tips and walked to the customs hut where three men sat before a long table.

We got hung up when they discovered some problem with Smiler's yellow fever certificate. He didn't have one and hadn't needed one up to this point. After much arguing in traditional languages, we were free to go, no tipping required.

Once back in Ghana, we set about finding yet another crossing. This one was interesting as it looked like we could actually find and hopefully photograph some official border pillars or stones.

At Hornuta we met Ben from the Ghana Immigration Service. He was very kind toured us around the tiny border crossing. One of his men took us to the actual frontier. Another used a machete to clear the weeds around a border marker (#33).

The stone was interesting in that it was marked BT for British Togoland on one side and TF for Togoland Francais on the other.

This part of Africa was called German Togoland until just after World War I. After the Germans lost the war, the territory was divided into French and British Togoland.

Eventually French Togoland became Togo and British Togoland joined Gold Coast, which we now know as Ghana.

It was getting dark so we pointed our vehicle south. We passed through Ho, seeing nothing in the darkness. We passed over the Adome suspension bridge and we would have had a spectacular view of the Akosombo dam, had it been daylight.

In Accra, Smiler took us to the Date Hotel -- which was full. Then down the road to the Ghasom Hotel where we overpaid by about 1000 per cent.

After a shitty sleep in a noisy room, we realized the money error before checking out. We got back most, but not all, of the overpayment. We still hope to get the rest of the cash but who knows. We might have to call 1-800-JUJU-MAN for assistance in the matter.

We snagged a taxi and arrived at the STC Station in the nick of time to catch a bus leaving for Takoradi. We paid $6 for our tickets and we were on our way.

In Takoradi, we took a small hiatus from our border expedition to hang out, eat and see the sights, which included the former slave castle in Cape Coast.

We're now ready to embark on the next stage of our journey -- to the western edge of Ghana and the border with Cote d'Ivoire. Stay tuned...


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