Day 98-101: Enjoying the Lome expat life
Luckily Vivian was in town and happy to invite us to stay at her place. We still had to get there though and it was already 2.30 PM. Tomas read in the LP that they would stop issuing visas at the border at 5 so we were cutting it close. As Tomas has somehow injured his right foot all the driving is up to me now, which is all for the better as I have a more rally style of driving. The road is quite OK and we reach the border just half an hour past five. Tomas and I have made some car rules along the way and one of them is that the co-driver has to do all the entry/exit paperwork at the border. So while I kick back and relax I see Tomas going from one booth to the other trying to cope in his non-existent French. In the end that meant he had to bribe every single official to get us to the other side. Luckily it was only Ghanian money which we wouldn’t be needing anymore anyway. We found Vivian place, which is in a secured compound organized by the EU for which she works, easy enough with our GPS and met her at the gate as the guards would’t let us through. How nice to be in a real house again. It is so nice to see a familiar face and we can’t believe she actually has a whole villa with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with 5 toilets, a personal chef/housekeeper and a gardener/driver all to herself. The next morning we go to the Mercure hotel which has a 50 meter swimming pool. It costs about 10 euro’s each to swim, but we are living the expat life now so we cannot complain! That night we go out for dinner with Vivian’s friends Hakim and Nils at Greenfields and we’re immediately invited to spend Christmas with them if we would be still around. We’re actually supposed to be in Nigeria before the 23rd, but maybe we could reconsider, a three is easily made into an eight don’t you think..? The next two days we don’t do more then playing tennis, sitting by the pool and enjoying the home cooked breakfasts and lunches by Dodgi, Vivian’s chef. Our clothes are washed and our car’s been cleaned; it feels like we’re in heaven! After long deliberation we have decided to forge the visas to stay in Lome over Christmas and spending Christmas with Vivian’s friends. She going back to Holland to celebrate Christmas with the family and offers us he house while we’re here, so generous! As we’re staying in Togo a while longer we should make an effort and see a bit of the country as well. Vivian recommends us to go to Kpalime, a village in the mountainous area 2 hours north of Lome were you can hike and visit waterfalls. But first we have to hand in our passport at the immigration office to extend the 7 day visa. Vivian’s flight has been delayed to friday evening so at least we have the opportunity to say goodbye and merry Chistmas before she leaves!
Day 102,103: Kpalime and around
The drive to Kpalime is only two hours, so after all the hussling at the immigration office we are there around 2 o’clock. Kpalime itself isn’t that much of tourist hotspot and we’re not able to camp there anyway, so we drive up mount Klouto where all the hiking is supposed to be going on. At ‘le campement’ we’re allowed to camp in front of the managers house under the hughest mango tree. The place is once again deserted besides and old Belgian with a thick Flemish accent. He’s is very talkative and keeps us from our chores (sewing up holes in clothes and car maintenance) for over half an hour, not that we mind. He invites us over for a drink at the restaurant/bar around 7, but after we finally finished cooking and eating it is 8.30, every thing is already shut for the night and everyone has gone to bed!? We met a guy yesterday down the road who was offering a guided walk. There are ‘guides’ like this all over Africa and normally we take their number, with no intention to call, to get rid of them. The next morning however we did want to get into contact with this specific guy as we came here especially for hiking and we had no clue where to go. But of course, the only time you actually need to call somebody there is no reception. It was either telepathy or his eagerness to make a buck that guided him up the mountain to see if we were still interested in a ‘balade’. We walk for a good 4 hours though villages, jungle and plantations and the guy knew all the medicinal aspects of every single plant we pointed at. At the end he takes us to a small waterfall to relax and cool off. It was the first guide where we didn’t end up in his friends’ souvenir shops so he definitely comes recommended! A bit further up north there is a Benedict monastery which is supposed to be gorgeous and open for public. The entrance gate is surrounded by jack fruit trees and we hear chanting coming from the nearby chapel. Immediately we feel serene and relaxed; why not spend a night here for a change? It costs 5000 CFA per person for full board (around 8 euro’s)! And we spend the day reading and contemplating in silence. At dusk there is mass where we do more chanting with the monks. At dinner time we eat in silence with some other guests and some nuns who are here for a religious experience. We feel a bit like peeping Toms but appear to be very religious indeed ourselves. Everyone has to do their share and we clean and dry the dishes together, again in silence. Curfew is 9 PM and lights out half an hour later! We skip the morning mass at 6 AM and sleep in for breakfast, imagine these monks are doing this every day for the rest of their lives!! On the way back we stop at a road side stall to buy some pineapples. We were told that Kpalime grows the best fruit of Togo and we buy 3 of them for less then 80 euro cents! We have to be back at immigration at three before the passport ritual begins. Apparently they have a picking order with whom to start first. On the top of the ladder are the other African countries (to our surprise and of the guy holding the passport Tunisia was not in this group..), there after the French, the US citizens, Chinese, Arabian and at the bottom of the ladder other European countries. This strange system was going on for over 45 minutes and after your name was called you had to come forward and wait for a second time until guy nr. 2 was ready for you to sign the register. Finally it was my turn to come forward but as I got was about to sign, 2 police officers had to be squeezed before me because they were evidently above me on the ladder. Normally you would think I would be next in line but somehow my passport was put on the bottom of the pile again!!! I tried to protest but people were only laughing: “Welcome to Africa!”
Day 104-106: Christmas
We join Vivian for the last swim of the year at the Sarakawah hotel and wave her goodbye as she leaves for the airport. We can’t believe she allows us to stay at her place while she’s back in Holland for Christmas. Nils, Vivian’s friend, is organizing a Danish dinner with his colleague at their place on Christmas eave and we’re welcome to join (as long as we bring a kladkaka; Tomas’ signature chocolate cake). We spend the day visiting Togoville, a voodoo stronghold east of Lome. It lies on the other side of lake Togo and we have to take a boat across. We find a friendly boatman who charges 10.000 CFA for a return trip. We haggle it down to 7.000 and he hoists the sails (more like an old ripped bedsheet). It is a very pleasant trip and Togoville looks promising from the water. As soon as we come out we are appointed a guide. The price is set: 5 euro’s per person, but apparently goes straight back into the community. Our guide is supposed to speak English but changes after 5 minutes into super fast French which is even not understandable to me. He takes us to the cathedral where Pope John Paul II has made an appearance in 1985. I tell him that we’re not Christians and we’re more interested in voodoo culture. The next stop is the local fetish: a stone with a head and penis where people come to make offerings. After this we come to two big trees which are said to be there to protect twins (twins are sacred in voodoo culture and a sign of good luck). In stead of offering a deeper explanation a small round bellied kid is put forward and we’re asked for money to pay for his hospital costs. We’re starting to get a bit annoyed with this tour which has obviously has nothing to do with the town traditions what so ever. We end the tour by visiting his friends shops and houses and of course a trip to the local souvenirs shop: What a rip off! The only thing we want to do is leave the place as soon as possible and as we’re walking towards the jetty to find our boatsman the awful guide even has the nerve to come and ask for a tip! Lake Togo is free from crocodiles and bugs so it seemed like a great idea to go for a swim. The boatsman directs us to place where it is safe, but when I get into the water it is only knee deep. He didn’t really get what we meant as most Africans cannot swim and only venture into undeep water.
That night, us and two chocolate cakes walk around the corner to meet Nils and the rest for Christmas. We have a lovely Danish dinner of roast pork, stuffed duck and caramelized potatoes. It’s a bit strange to have your Christmas meal with the airco on and still sweating but it beats bushcamping somewhere in Nigeria. At 3 o’clock we retire home; a bit drunk and happy we were invited to spend this evening with (new) friends. We have trouble getting up the next day, not accustomed to drinking (that much) wine anymore. Tomas replaces a broken tail light (you don’t want to give the Nigerian police ANY reason to pull you over) while I talk to my sister on Skype in South Africa. We meet Hakim, an Egyptian diplomat and also one of Vivian’s friends, for some swimming at the pool and while we’re about to leave we run into Dominiek, Stephanie and Colby (more expats) and hook up for a boxing day dinner. Tomas has regular paranoia episodes (hearing noises outside the tent, thinking people are following us, etc) and is now under the assumption that Colby is a CIA agent: “He’s an inconspicuous American, doing obscure work for the UN and talking about tracking weapon trafficking in Africa; totally CIA!”. After dinner Hakim invites us over to his place to have some Egyptian sweet as desert. Too bad we are leaving Lome tomorrow, we could definitely get used to this!
Day 107: Benin
On the way out of Lome, Tomas tries to get in contact with Horace. He’s a colleague of Tomas at ABN and originally from Togo. He, his wife and two daughters are spending the holidays with his parents just outside Lome. He invited us over before but it is very hard to reach him as there is no reception. Luckily we’re able to reach his father and Horace comes and picks us up to visit his family’s home. Great to finally meet up with some real Togolese after just hanging out with expats. As soon as we get in there is hot food on the table and our glasses are being filled. Horace is currently converting his family’s house to holiday apartments with his hard earned European income and gives us the grand tour, super proud! Unfortunately we cannot stay too long as we are on the way to the Benin border and on to Nigeria before our visas expires. Border formalities are relatively quick and no one is bothered about the missing stamp in our carnet. We drive another 20 minutes to Grand Popo, a calm beach town recommended by Hakim. At auberge Grand Popo we camp right on the beach and catch the last hour of sun lying in hammocks. We have dinner at the seaside restaurant and we bring the map to decide our route into Nigeria. The first idea was to drive up north in Benin as far as we can as to avoid the police controls roads in Nigeria. yesterday however we found out that the ball joints of the steering system are dangerously worn: not the best when you’re planning to drive on bad roads and you only have 1 day to get into the next country.. So we decide to go for the safe option and cross into Nigeria just a bit north from Lagos. On the way we make a stop over at Ouidah, another old colonial slave capital. This time we take a guided tour of the local fort where the history of slave trade and voodoo is explained. At 2PM we reach the border but cannot find the Benin emigration office. There are only some shacks on the side of the road but nothing that resembles an official building. Locals don’t seem to know (or reluctant to do so) and so we give up and just go over to the Nigerian side without an exit stamp; let’s just hope they won’t notice on the other side!!