Togo Apr 8 to 22, ‘01
Upon our return to Ouagadougou from Niamey, Marie and I spent two more days in that capital. In my case I caught up on my e-mail, writing the trip report on Niger, and working out the money situation to prepare for the next phase, our stay in Togo. This money involvement is different in the developing countries in that even with prior research, one rarely knows what he will have to do to convert dollars, use a credit card, or perhaps even use the black market to survive.
There was a convenient bank a block away from our hotel, with three ATM’s. The first time I attempted to obtain money this way, I tried all three machines three times each, and then entered the bank seeking help. I was directed to the office of the Visa representative, who, accompanied me downstairs, told me to insert my card without him touching anything, and of course, I got my money. A week later, with the same dilemma, an Australian gentleman assisted me, and afterward stated that he had become quite adept at manipulating the card, my thought was, “Hey, I have been trained with locks, why ain’t this working for me.” On the third opportunity to excel, I again attempted to use all three machines, and manipulated my Visa in every direction and every way I could think of. Finally, an African- gentleman entered the area. I handed him my card without comment, and he without comment slipped it into the slot without even looking at what he was doing. He gave me a gesture to the effect that I could then precede without seeking further help, which was the case. Yes, besides former President Nixon there is one other major klutz in the world.
On our second day, Marie and I boarded a bus and headed for Togo. In that I have already covered bus trips in Africa rather heavily, I will just say here that this trip was more crowded than the others in that there were two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other side; in between another seat folded down and then to the right of that a removable three-inch wooden stool was placed for the fifth person. How did I fit? Ya got me! This trip lasted 22 hours, which included border stops for immigration and unloading the piled-high goods on the top of the bus for a customs check. It was dirty, very hot, and uncomfortable; however, for The Wanderer the experience was most rewarding.
Reaching the Togo border, I was asked for my passport with the two-day visa I had obtained from the French Embassy, which served Togo because Togo did not have an embassy in Ouagadougou. I was to be charged $28 for a 30-day visa. I did not argue, but quickly handed over the money. However after about 15 minutes, my passport with the money was returned and I was told to see the appropriate government agency in Lome, the capital. The total expense was $2 beer money for the immigration officials. The next day, Monday, because my two-day visa would have run out soon, I went to the government building, filled out the forms, and was then advised that it would be ready in five days. This was my first experience where I was totally settled in a new country and then went about taking action to obtain a visa. By the way, this second try cost $14.
Diane continued sending me copies from The Lonely Planet book. I did not even have a map since the previous three countries; however, I will provide a few items about Togo. First mentioned is that the country would probably win a popularity contest in Africa, if it were not for the political turmoil during the past few decades. The population was a little over five million; the area only 22,075 square miles; had 37 ethnic groups, the official language was French, the religions at the time were: 20%, Christian; 10 %, Moslem; with the remainder being indigenous beliefs, mostly animists. There was a considerable difference between the ethnic groups living in the north and the south. The Ewe in the south ate cat but considered those eating dog to be heathens. In the north the opposite was the case. If Diane and I were living there, she would refuse to go to an Ewe restaurant because she loves cats. She would be okay in the dog restaurant as long as I did not tell her what she was eating. From my standpoint, I would have no problem eating cat, knowing about it or not. Obviously, the problem would occur if we desired to go to the same restaurant and eat together. But again, if I told her that the cat was actually a monkey, she would not be bothered, I don’t think.
If one were to ignore the people, and just look at buildings, the restaurants (even a MacDonald’s with a golden arch, the very beautiful beaches, the wide and extremely clean streets, the many Internet sites) one would conclude that Lome, was one of the better tourist areas in Africa, and as of this writing I had visited 22 countries. However, tourists seemed almost non-existent. In addition, I did not even observe any backpackers, also tourists, of course, but usually without much money. Later, I learned that the government was military and considered oppressive, although I did not see any outward signs of that during my stay there.
The prices were generally in line with the rest of Africa: dollar a night campgrounds to luxury hotels, and food varying from too large a meal on the street for one dollar to $10 or more at a good hotel. One morning while waiting for an Internet cafe to open, I ate a breakfast of Akassa (I later learned it was a corn cereal) and a small loaf of bread for 14 cents, and the following morning a most adequate American breakfast buffet at the best hotel for $8.
Following the $8 breakfast, I went looking for a cigar, but none was to be had in the bar. However, a quite elderly gentleman motioned me over, offered me a cigar, and then bought me a cup of espresso. We talked at length while I smoked the delicious cigar, which really tastes good when one has not had one in two months. I guessed correctly that he was the owner of this most lavish hotel, and also that he was from Lebanon. He was 64 years old.
While getting a haircut one morning, the barber initially wanted $2, but after telling him that I was part African, he agreed to one dollar. The haircut lasted over one hour, with the barber sharing his views about religion. I initially concluded that he was Pentecostal, but then probably Charismatic Catholic. I was correct the second time. I obtained directions, so Marie and I were able to attend Christmas Mass. I had planned to remain in Lome for at least ten days, and then to return to that city after spending some time in Ghana, which I had been told was one of the easier stopovers in the continent. In addition I knew that English was the primary Western language. Lastly, a fellow-traveler had indicated that one could buy hot fudge sundaes there.