Friday, February 18, 2005

To Go Or Not To Go

To Togo, that is.

Whether to begin the Benin, as it were.

After all, there I was in Accra, surrounded by delicious food and all, and the only real justification I could give for re-exerting myself and completing my adventure was adding two more countries to my list. Isn't that a little silly?

Well... Look at it this way: All my life I've been looking at maps of places like Togo and Benin, especially weird little places like Togo and Benin, and wondering what exactly was there. I actually think it would be silly to be this close and NOT go check it out.

So Thursday morning I headed east from Accra, this time in an extremely comfortable shared taxi. We first passed through about 20 miles of eastern Accra, on a freeway to boot, surrounded by the type of big time construction you see in Asia. I was once again astounded by how much Ghana has gotten its act together, especially when you consider all the crap and chaos which surrounds it.

Then it was a couple of hours of Sahel by the Sea, replete with baobab trees. This was the famous (to geographers at least) Dahomey Gap that separates West African forest ecology from the rest of the continent. On the way we passed a moderate house right by the road, and my fellow passengers pointed out that that was the weekend home of former President Jerry Rawlings, the guy who 'saved' Ghana about twenty years ago. And he travels with only the smallest of security details, they proudly added.

We got to the Togo border, I went through the formalities, and all of a sudden I was in Lome, the country's capital. Speaking of crap and chaos... Actually, it was better then some of the places I'd been, but I was still glad to get myself squahed into a minivan for the ride to Benin.

Togo is only 30 miles ride, plus a half an hour or so to go through the Benin border, and by 4:30 I was in Ouidah, a town of about 100,000, and the place where voodoo comes from.

But you couldn't tell it from the town vibe, which was simply barebones poverty and not much else happening. The place was too poor for cabs, so I took a motorbike down to the ocean, where there is a big monument to all the slaves taken from here to Brazil. (Here's a Slavery fun fact: Of the 7 million people transported, about half went to Brazil, about half to the Caribbean, and only about 5 percent to the United States.)

I was immediately longing for the much, much more upscale poverty of a small city in Ghana. For food I was back to bad bread and La Vache Qui Rit.

Friday I awoke bright and early and got an air conditioned ride back to Lome. There I got a tight fitting share taxi up to Kpilame, a town up in the Togo hills where I was planning to spend the night. But I was so overwhelmed by the heat and humidity once I arrived that I started having second thoughts.

The Harmattan haze clinched it. For although it hadn't really been a factor since northern Ghana, today it was effectively screening all those beautiful Togo hills(and I could sort of tell that they were) from my eyesight. And breathing the haze was making me (for the first time of the trip) start to feel very faint.

And Ghana, civilized Ghana, Ghana of the ice and fresh orange juice, was right across the border...

So I went down to the car park and sat around for an hour and a half while a small car slowly filled with passengers for Ho. And while I was there I saw my first bunch of African hippies.

Man, were these guys tripped out. Apparently they were from somewhere in the middle of Niger, which, if so, has got to be a destination for me some time. Africans are known for their colorful dress, but let's just say that if these guys had shown up in 1969 they would have stolen the show. I surreptitiously took a couple of pictures, but basically you would have just had to experience how seriously though positively weird they were.

Anyhow, my car finally filled up, and then it was over the hills and through the borders to Ghana. Where I am right now, and where, for only the second time so far on the whole trip, my hotel room doesn't have at least one thing really crapped out about it.


At 4:02 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hey man.How did you get a share taxi from Lome to Kpilame? And how much did it cost?

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