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Togo

21 – 23 May

Crossing Into Togo
As we had decided to be different and cross from Ghana into central Togo and so approach the Atlantic coast and the Togo capital, Lome, from the north travelling through the scenic, mountainous terrain of the Danyi Plateau, we had to pick from the map what appeared to be an unnamed border crossing point on a small road and hope that it was still open. Heading north on a main road on the Ghanaian side we knew we were in the right area, but there was an alarming lack of any signs for, or roads leading to the border. Fortunately we came across a police post and stopped to ask for help; the official, with an ‘are you blind or stupid’ expression, pointed to a near invisible opening in the trees opposite, telling us that the ‘Menuso’ crossing point was that way. Well, ‘Menuso’ was not a place name on our map but it might just be the crossing point we wanted, so we set off down the little used track and after about 5 minutes came to a couple of dilapidated huts that crouched either side of the road and between them was a fraying, sagging piece of twine .. we were at the border!

We left Boris in the middle of the track and, despite waking the officer from a deep sleep, had in no time completed the customs documentation. Our next port of call, the immigration ‘building’, was packed full with 3 alert immigration officials, all trying to impress a senior officer who was giving instruction on how to check this, that and the other; our passports became ‘the other’ and we the training aids. It was all quite amusing as at least two of those under instruction were obviously, and much to the officer’s increasing despair, one slice short of sandwich. Liz was called Madam Elizabeth and was asked by the officer if she had any daughters of marriageable age. She had to tell him that her last marriageable daughter had just been spoken for and so he had missed the boat; he was most upset. (For those of you, who don’t already know, Louisa was proposed to by the lovely Nick in the middle of May and they are already planning a November wedding. Yippee! Well done guys!) The instruction over, the twine duly lowered, we left this hotbed of border activity with smiles all round and continued along the rough track into Togo.

The Togolese officials, once over their surprise, were very courteous and provided us with chairs to sit on whilst they peered at our documents and began laboriously to write down our details in a large, dog eared, water stained ledger. The gloom of the unlit office proved too great and we all then decamped, tables, chairs and all into the road to complete the process! More smiles and a wave of the hand and we were free to carry on into Togo.

Akloa
Our intention was to get to the village of Akloa and its nearby waterfall. It was such a pretty route and we noticed immediately how different everything looked; normally these differences are initially minute, if noticeable at all. Here, however, it was instantaneous; there was virtually no deforestation and we were travelling through forest packed with the rich green, arching umbrellas of old growth reaching more than 30 metres into the Togo sky. Another, but less pleasant difference was a return to the screeched demands for ‘cadeaux’ from the children we passed.

We made Badou, a small chaotic hillside border town a few kilometres before Akloa, as tropical storm clouds gathered overhead and it began to spit huge gobbets of rain. We feared that the weather might prevent us from trekking to the Akloa waterfall, but hoping that this was a very localised storm, we carried on. Our hopes were realised as we drove through the rain to arrive in Akloa to sunny skies. Akloa was a pretty village in the heart of the mountains and surrounded by forested peaks. We parked Boris outside a small office, picked up the compulsory guide, paid the fee and set off along a steep forest track, trying hard to keep up with our youthful escort. Peter, fast running out of breath and in an attempt to slow our mountain goat of a guide down, started to ask him details of what we were passing; it proved an effective and informative ploy. Growing underneath the trees in tiny plots scattered amongst the undergrowth was a fascinating mix of crops; including cocoa, coffee, avocado, pineapple, plantain, banana, cassava, and sweet potato.

We eventually reached the falls covered in a sheet of white water falling 30 metres into a large pool at the bottom. Peter, with the guide in tow, waded trouserless into the middle to get photos of the water as it cascaded down; honestly, what a sight! The descent was certainly less demanding; however once back in the village the sky darkened dramatically, the clouds changing from white to rusty orange and then to black as another tropical storm suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, hurtled towards us. It was to be the most amazing storm we had experienced so far.

When there is about to be storm, a strong wind comes quite suddenly; in this case it was a fierce gale that whipped through the village streets picking up sand and debris that flew around our heads. Ducking anything bigger than a tin can we climbed into Boris and, before the rain arrived, were able to move to the auberge in the village where we were to spend the night; its white walls providing a dramatic backdrop to the inky black sky. Unending and deafening claps of thunder rolled around the hills and mountains, accompanied overhead by searing flashes of horizontal lightning. After a few tentative splats, the rain came down in stair rods, cloaking everything around us in a dark grey opaque fog that was every so often illuminated by lightning. As with all storms, once over, steam rose from every surface touched by its passage and within a matter of minutes the village was beginning to dry out.

Having already checked with our guide that it would be shown somewhere in the village, that night Peter went to watch the Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United. Collected from the auberge by the guide, Peter was taken to a long unlit hut where, seated in rows, were about 200 villagers watching the action on a 26” television on a table at the far end and about 25 feet from where Peter had his seat! An enterprising young man had provided the TV and the car battery to power it; he also collected the 200cfa (20p) entry fee. The atmosphere was electric; on the left Chelsea supporters including one white face, on the right an equally vocal showing for Manchester United. The Togolese love their football! The result? ...well, best forgotten, eh Carlo!

On To Lome
On 22 May we awoke to a calm, cool morning and a typical ‘B&B’ breakfast offering of bread, margarine and jam, accompanied by a tin of evaporated milk, hot water in a thermos, Nescafe sachets and Lipton’s tea bags. We then left our lovely little auberge and began a long Boris testing climb up into the lush green mountains of the spectacular Danyi Plateau. Although not rain forest, this was the first time we had driven through relatively untouched jungle clad mountains and it exceeded our best imaginings. Disappointingly we didn’t see Tarzan swinging through the trees or even a monkey or two! We continued on through this fabulous area with its stunning views and scenery, eventually coming to an escarpment that marked the end of the Plateau and the beginning of our descent to the fertile plain below. We were now right in the middle of this thin strip of a country (it takes less than 3 hours to cross it) and, once down on the plain, drove south west beneath the escarpment back towards the Ghanaian border and the town of Kpalime. With few, if any, sign posts in Africa we often stop at junctions to get confirmation from the men gathered there of the direction we should be going; in the case of Kpalime, we were met with bewilderment, but once we realised that the ‘k’ was silent, we stopped asking for the unheard of place ‘Kaplimeh’ and were safely en route to ‘Palimeh’. Ah, the joys of language!

The Germans realised the agricultural potential of the combination of the mild climate and rich soil around Kpalime and it became the centre of Togoland’s fruit, coffee and cocoa growing region, it is still referred to as the capital of the ‘Pays Cocoa’. We drove into the centre of the town to visit the huge and very Bavarian, Catholic church; its steeple can be seen from miles away and the Germans completed construction of the church in 1913, just in time for the allies to take possession of it and the whole of Togoland a year later! Before leaving Kpalime we toured the town’s cramped market; although there were yams, dried beans and chillies a plenty, the expected feast of local grown fruits never materialised. So, somewhat deflated, we carried on south towards Lome.

It was whilst we were on the main road to Lome that we came across a long open sided hut, within it six weavers were hard at work and on the side facing the road was a lean-to, which had for sale strips of Kente cloth. Here was a reminder of the arbitrary colonial division of Africa; the Ewe people of the Volta region in Ghana were noted for making Kente cloth and the dominant tribe here in south west Togo consisted of the same Ewe people.

Lome
Arriving in time for the Lome rush hour, we were greeted by roads packed with queues of over laden, mainly decrepit, vehicles through which buzzing streams of ‘moto’s’ (small Chinese made scooters and motorbikes), with never less than 4 people squashed sardine like on board, wove their way with absolutely no regard for the conventions of road safety or traffic flow; above and around it all was a grey, noxious blanket of exhaust fumes. Navigating through all this, we drove to the shore road and then slowly made our way past the docks to Chez Alice, a cold beer, a good meal and a bed for the night. It was all very Swiss; Alice was a Swiss lady who had left Zurich for Africa 12 years ago and never returned, whilst in the car park was the white Landrover belonging to Philippe and Susanne, fellow overlanders from Switzerland whom we had last seen at Safari Beach Lodge in Ghana. Kathy and Ernesto, you would have felt very much at home! At dinner that night, and between bouts of Swiss German, we agreed to meet up with Philippe and Susanne in Benin and cross Nigeria and the Cameroun together.

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