Togo Jan 29-31, 2017
For those fond of travelling off the beaten track, Togo will prove a rewarding destination. It offers a great diversity of landscapes, from the lakes and palm-fringed beaches along the Atlantic coastline to the rolling forested hills in the centre. As you head further north, the landscape leaves its mantle of lush forest green for the light green and yellowy tinges of savannah land. The cherry on top is Lomé, the low-key yet elegant capital, with its large avenues, restaurants and nightlife – not to mention the splendid beaches on its doorstep. Togo is also an excellent playground for hikers – there’s no better ecofriendly way to experience the country’s savage beauty than on foot.
Another highlight is the culture. Togo is a melting pot. The fortified compounds of Koutammakou are a reminder that the country’s ethnically diverse population didn’t always get along. Nowadays, however, voodoo, Muslim, Christian and traditional festivals crowd the calendar and are often colourful celebrations for all.
Official Name. Togolese Republic
Capital and largest city. Lomé 6°7′N 1°13′E
Languages. Official: French; Vernacular: Gbe languagesa, Kotocoli, Kabiyé
Ethnic groups. 99% African (37 tribes). Ewe, Kabye, Tem, Gourma
Government. Presidential republic. President Faure Gnassingbé
Independence from France 27 April 1960
Area. Total 56,785 km2 (125th)
Population. 2015 estimate 7,552,318 (100th); 2010 census 5,337,000. Density. 125.9/km2 (93rd)
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate Total $11.558 billion (150th). Per capita $1,567
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate Total $4.499 billion. Per capita $610
When to Go. “Nov–Feb The best time to visit, with pleasant temperatures. Perfect for outdoor activities.
Mid-Jul–mid-Sep – There’s a dry spell in the south, which makes transport less challenging.
Mar & Apr – The hottest period throughout the country is best avoided.
MONEY. CFA franc (XOF). The best foreign currency to carry is euros, easily exchanged at any bank or hotel.
Travellers cheques cannot be changed in Togo. You’ll find Visa ATMs in major towns. Only Banque Atlantique in Lomé accepts MasterCard. Credit cards are accepted at a few upmarket hotels.
VISAS. Everyone except nationals of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) countries needs a visa. One-week extendable visas (CFA10,000) are issued at major border crossings with Ghana (Aflao/Lomé), Benin (Hilakondji) and Burkina Faso (Sinkasse), and upon arrival at the airport.
Extensions costs 500 for up to three months, more likely to give you a 30 day multiple entry extension.
Visas for Onward TravelVisas for onward Travel:
Gabon. 65,000 CFA. Obtained same day with yellow fever vaccination and photocopy of passport. We had to all be present at the embassy but were not required to go into the embassy.
Congo. 90,000 CFA (up from 60,000 the year before).
Togo is a country in West Africa bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea, where its capital Lomé is located. Togo covers 57,000 square kilometres, making it one of the smallest countries in Africa, with a population of approximately 7.5 million.
Togo is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture, with a climate that provides good growing seasons. The official language is French, with many other languages spoken in Togo, particularly those of the Gbe family. The largest religious group in Togo consists of those with indigenous beliefs, and there are significant Christian and Muslim minorities. Togo is a member of the United Nations, African Union, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, La Francophonie and Economic Community of West African States.
From the 11th to the 16th century, various tribes entered the region from all directions. From the 16th century to the 18th century, the coastal region was a major trading centre for Europeans in search of slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name “The Slave Coast”. In 1884, Germany declared Togoland a protectorate. After World War I, rule over Togo was transferred to France. Togo gained its independence from France in 1960.
In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma led a successful military coup d’état after which he became president. At the time of his death in 2005, Gnassingbé was the longest-serving leader in modern African history, after having been president for 38 years. In 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was elected president.
We crossed into Togo east of Hohoe with absolutely no other traffic and had our fastest border crossing of the trip. Togo took only about 30 minutes to give us our entry stamp. We are back in a French speaking country that uses the Central African Franc for its currency.
The road was initially very rough and only improved to good pavement at Kpalime (pop 101.000). Only 120kms from Lome, it sits in forested hills amid cocoa and coffee plantations.
CASCADE DE WOME. 12kms from Kpalime, we stopped here and several went on a two-hour walk to the top of the falls, only a trickle at this time of the year.
MT. AGOU. Togo’s highest peak at 966m, thirteen of us were up at 5:30 to drive to the village of Nyogbo, about 20kms SE of Kpalime. We hired a guide for 10,000 CFA to negotiate the multiple trails up the mountain. It was a nice 3-hour walk to the top. After about an hour, we passed through a village near the top sitting across the high ridge line. After 30 minutes walking up and down, we walked up through a second village and crossed the road the ends on the summit with it multiple radio, telephone and TV towers. They charged 5000 CFA to cross the barricade and see the views, but we had a tour of the large control room with all its switching equipment. Three got a motorcycle ride down and the rest of us took about 2 hours from the top to return to Nyogbo. We had a relaxing time relating to the all the kids hanging around until Steve and the truck came to pick us up for the drive into Lome on the Atlantic coast.
Togo looks like every other West African country we have driven through. Deforestation looks more extreme with a few big trees but little bush. Agriculture with palm oil, banana and cassava dominates the view out the window. Extensive burning has cleared most of the ground. Homes and schools are surrounded by packed dirt swept clean and bamboo fences surround homes and fields. Christian fundamentalist and Catholic churches are common but without all the signage of revivalist meetings. Mosques are present in most towns.
LOME (pop 750,000)
Once dubbed the “pearl of West Africa”, Togo’s capital is a shadow of its former self. The highway entering the city was bounded by a 10-40m packed dirt area between it and the shops.
We stopped at the Ghana border on the west side of the city to change money and then drove along the ocean with its deep beach planted with palm trees. After passing the large port, we arrived at Coco Beach, on the east side of the city. We were here for three nights while obtaining the Gabon and Congo visas. The coast is much hotter than where we had been, but the strong breeze made it all tolerable. The great bar had modest wi-fi and excellent food. Togo has Youki, a carbonated fruit drink in apple and fruit cocktail flavours. I have been drinking a lot of it.
One of the nicest things about Togo are the numerous market/vegetable gardens that line the highway and take up any available space. They are watered by sprinklers or hoses and it appears the ready availability of water makes all this vegetable production possible.
Grande Marche. This huge market is across from the beach. It mostly has a great selection of vegetables including some we haven’t seen like beets. But you can buy anything else here or in the surrounding streets. A money changer offered great rates for small denomination euros: 650CFA.
Marche des Feticheurs. 4km NE of the center, it stocks all the ingredients for traditional fetishes. All a bit grisly but a vast majority of Togolese retain animist beliefs and fetishes are an integral part of the ceremonies done by local culture. I didn’ go here but instead went to the market in Aneho where fetishes are also sold. Our second day in Lome was a welcome day off from travel.
ANEHO (pop 49,000).
All that remains of Aneho’s days as colonial capital in the late 19th cnetury are crumbling pastel buildings. About 50kms east of Lome near the Benin border, I visited on Tuesday, the day of the weekly market. A share taxi was 1000CFA. It was a buzz of activity and anything could be purchased – dried and fresh fish, vegetables and fruit, clothes, chickens and everything else. Housed in a large low building with multiple aisles, it mushroomed out the back. It is famous for its voodoo fetishes, basically the remains of all manner of animals from alligators, monkeys, all reptiles, birds and animal skins. These are used in voodoo ceremonies and border on the gross side. Only about 5 small stalls outside had fetishes.
I purchased lots of great stuff at bargain basement prices: two hats (the thing I lose the most often when travelling), a shirt, black thread and drink mix. I also had my toe nails painted – watched by 5 other women waiting for their weekly nail painting, I had great fun – and she did a much superior job than I could ever do. She didn’t have my favourite color, indian red, so I opted for black. She cut my nails, cleaned under them, filed them, and pushed back my cuticles and for about 50¢ but I gave her 75¢.
I then got a motorcycle taxi back towards Lome to Agbodrafo and the Hotel du Lac to take a pirogue (traditional canoe) over to Togoville.
TOGOVILLE. This was the traditional seat of the Miapa dynasty and is Togo’s historical center of voodoo. The pirogue cost 1500CFA each way. He put up an ingenious sail made from old flour sacks for the kilometer trip to the north side of the shallow lake (generally about a meter deep and incredibly warm). We passed many fish wiers constructed of two sets of sticks stuck in the mud holding a net widely open that funnels into a trap at the end. Guys were standing simply line fishing.
The tour of the village was expensive at 5000CFA ($8) but it is divided between the Togo government, the village, the school and the guide. I first visited the 1910 Catholic church famous for a visit by Pope Jean Paul II in 1985 because of sighting of the Virgin Mary in a canoe on the lake in 1940. The canoe has been preserved in cement beside the church. The inside has about 12 African saints painted on the walls between the windows and a special glass image of the Virgin donated by the pope.
A 1984 monument commemorates the 100th anniversary of the German arrival in the town and depicts a European and African woman. Next to the market is voodoo image in a small cement enclosure that is opened on market day. With a slightly grotesque human look, the top of the head was covered in beeswax and dried chicken and goat blood covered the head. There were several sacred trees all with white cloth draped around the bottom: one to rain, another in the square where the voodoo priests make judgements and two trees with massive roots devoted to children (one male and one female). Another voodoo image was in a side street and was devoted to female fertility. A dead chicken hung on its front. Any child born because of the ceremony is raised by the local 5 voodoo priests in the voodoo temple until he is 10 years old (his parents visit daily). A third image was devoted to the protection of women and children and was covered in sharp spikes. The voodoo temple looked like a simple house with a courtyard and had 10 small distorted heads outside the door. Some homes are “voodoo homes” designated by a white, black and blue flag and are homes to “fetishers” (not priests but procure fetishes for ceremonies). Most everyone in the town practices a combination of Roman Catholicism and voodoo. Look at the post on West African vodun that follow this post.
The trip back across the lake was poled as it was against the wind. I walked back from the hotel to the highway and got a share taxi back to Coco Beach. I have become addicted to Fan Milk, frozen milk in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavours for 25¢. They are wonderful in the humid, suffocating heat. I treated myself to a burger and fries.