We got lucky again with our cab drive to the Togolese border with Benin. The driver was willing to negotiate a very reasonable rate for us to continue driving on to Lomé. We had opted not to visit Togoville after getting a warning from some of the truck members who’d visited previously – plus it was easily one of the hottest, most humid days we’d experienced on the southern coast of West Africa – probably 38 degrees centigrade.
We got through the border without any degree of difficulty except for our clothes being soaked through and clinging to us as we sweated profusely. Arriving in Lomé, we did our typical last-minute search for a reasonable hotel and opted for a cheap option after we had been living it up in Benin. Our cab dropped us off and we entered the rather ran down facility only to discover that the rooms did not have functioning showers. Luckily, the manager was kind enough to point out that there was another hotel, Le Galion, that was walking distance away that might offer a slight upgrade in terms of standards.
She was certainly correct – Le Galion was exactly what we were looking for and had a rather English looking pub/bar attached to it with a number of “randoms” sitting and drinking beer – it had a nice welcoming ambiance. Plus, it was only a few blocks away from the ocean-facing main road and city beach that stretches along the length of the city.
After getting organized and taking a much needed cold shower, we walked to the beach to take in the sights and sounds of Togo’s capital. The first thing we noticed was that unlike Accra or Freetown, there was less garbage strewn on this city beach, however, there was one element of garbage that we hadn’t observed anywhere else on West Africa’s coastline – dead puffer fish. I know, bizarre, right? There were probably over a hundred dead puffer fish that I counted on our hour-long stroll that afternoon and more than a few remnants of what was clearly human excrement (we had heard that many Lomé residents, unfortunately, use the beach as a toilet first thing in the morning)
On the plus side, there was a lot of activity – from crowds of young men playing soccer, to beach front bars and cafes with tables and chairs spilling out and filled with folks enjoying their Thursday afternoon sunset.
Despite the fact that we would only be in Togo for two days – we opted to purchase sim cards and some credit because it was so cheap – and since we didn’t know how fast or reliable our internet would be back at the hotel. It was at one of these mobile phone kiosks that we noticed that we had walked almost far enough west that we were staring at the actual border crossing into Ghana. People were buying things along the street in CFA and Cedis alike. We realized that when it came time to cross the border the day after next – we could opt to do it on foot which would be a novel way to experience a land border.
We ate dinner at our hotel and the food was exceptionally good! I had a Nicoise salad which I regretted because Mike got a fish Brochette that was absolutely delicious – a fish called Lotte, I believe. He got it served with Creamed Spinach, which he generously shared with me.
After dinner, we watched “Ex Machina” in our room and fell asleep half way through. The heat was so exhausting and draining.
On our full day in Lomé, I’m sorry to report that we spent the vast majority of the early part of the day making arrangements for Ethiopia. We booked flights to Addis from Accra using Mike’s airmiles (which he so generously gave to me as well!) I found super cheap one-way tickets from Addis to London, so I could visit family and have a slower re-introduction to the West (much like I did two years ago when returning from Kilimanjaro) and then, even more surprisingly, a one-way direct ticket for only $300 on Norwegian Airlines from London to Seattle! In all, it only cost about $130 more to buy new tickets that allowed me to go to the UK first, compared to what it was going to cost to re-book my United flight back to the US straight from Addis. So that made much more sense to me.
I also received a lovely letter from a former boss of mine that morning who’d been reading this blog – and he had a wonderful idea that could well result in a wonderful employment opportunity upon my return to the States. I cried with joy and felt so grateful that I told Mike we would have to celebrate later that evening.
After agreeing on a rough itinerary in Ethiopia – Mike set out to spend what was left of the daylight hours checking out the Fetish market and downtown. We hopped on Mototaxis that took the beach road to the market. On arriving, we realized that it was a tiny affair that was way too expensive to go inside. We weren’t going to pay 3000 CFA each just to see a few horsetails and feathers for sale. We had out moto drivers take us to the center of the city from where we could walk past the majority of the city monuments and then proceed back to Le Galion on foot.
There really wasn’t too much that was impressive about the city of Lomé. However, Mike pointed out a beautiful new hotel across the main city plaza that was named “The Second of February”. I looked, and remarked, “Wait. Isn’t today the 2nd of February?!”
As it turned out, the road we were walking along was also called the 2nd of February and I began stopping random Lomé citizens and enquiring, in my best French, what the significance of this date might be to have a hotel and a street named after it? Not surprising, nobody knew the answer, so I dragged Mike over to the new hotel, believing that surely someone who worked there would know the answer, and weren’t going to say it was named after the street it was built on.
As it turned out, a security guard told us that February 2nd was a day that the Togo President returned to power after getting involved in an accident during some civil conflict that had occurred a few decades back. I haven’t as yet verified this information with a thorough internet search since internet in Africa doesn’t afford one the kind of speed to spend time searching for this kind of Wikipedia information. But since we found ourselves at sunset in the lobby of this nice hotel – I suggested that we go to the rooftop bar for cocktails to celebrate my good news from the morning – on my tab. We did, thankful that our nasty flip flop and t-shirt attire didn’t bar our entry from the fancy establishment where we gleefully ordered mojitos, pina coladas and…wait for it…actual fresh sushi!!!
It was so good and well worth the cost.
We walked back to Le Galion, determined to both get the same fish dish as Mike had enjoyed the prior evening. As an added bonus, the hotel was showcasing live music that evening that we thoroughly enjoyed with our delicious meal.
The next day we had a lazy morning and got to the border around 1pm – timed for the purpose of our flight’s time leaving Addis on that Monday – since Mike’s transit visa would only be valid for a maximum of 48 hours. Since we walked, we were drenched with sweat when we arrived at immigration, and because we had been hassled non-stop to get a cab to the border by at least twenty drivers – we were each in foul moods and snapping at the other. Ahhh…the joys of traveling with a friend, 24/7.
The border and negotiating Mike’s transit visa was a total nightmare. They moved at a glacially slow pace, which is the opposite to the ambient air temperature we had to sit/stand in while we waited. They demanded a printed copy of our flight reservation to Addis – of course we had been unable to find someone to print this information, especially since we had mobiles that allowed for online boarding passes. Eventually, I was able to get an officer to let me email him our flight information and get him to print it himself. This took time and determination. By the time we were stamped and allowed on our way, we were too irritated to stop and eat before heading to Accra.
Getting in a four person-cab, we did get out at a gas station and buy 2 “yogurt-with-wheat in a bottle” to tie us over before getting to the city. The journey wasn’t that long or uncomfortable, bar the grotesque body odor that emanated from the disgusting man on my right side in the back of the car. Each time he lifted him arm I thought I would pass out. It was so bad, I almost told him to keep his arm firmly pressed to his side, choosing instead to bury my face in my hair bandana each time he shifted in his seat.
Our last big night in Accra with the truck folks turned out to be quite epic, and well worth our return to Ghana. It was actually the first time Mike and I had partied on a Saturday night since we started this West African adventure. We began with amazing burgers/cocktails at Burger and Relish and followed it with large and rather high-alcohol content beers in the reception area of Niagara Hotel. Mike, the Dragoman driver, was in rare form and making us laugh hysterically. The alcohol continued to flow and we ended up going dancing at the Shisha bar next door, where I continued drinking and found myself quite drunk by 1 in the morning. I danced with a group of locals until around 2 – when I got invited to go to the beach with them the next day at Krokrobite and enjoy all-I-could-eat lobster and fish that they’d ordered. Since a number of us were up for going – I gladly accepted the offer, excited to hang out with some locals on my last day in Ghana.
That night was a bit rough and I spent much of it puking and trying to re-hydrate. The following morning was a bad hangover, but I managed to get enough coffee and pastry into my face to dampen the headache and nausea enough that I was ready for my pick-up to Krokrobite. Mike and the others were too hungover to join me, so I said my goodbyes to Sinead and Mike and headed out. Hanging out at the beach with some cool Ghanaians was about all I had energy for during the day, and it was a lovely and relaxing time.
On the way back to the city, my friend Chris was kind enough to drop me off in Jamestown where I’d be meeting back up with Mike and taking a walking tour with our “Fixer” Isaac. It was really cool to finally see this historic part of Accra and we walked during the sunset amongst the fishing village down by the water and then later up in the actual neighborhoods that were literally bursting with life, music so loud it would damage your hearing within a few hours, and people everywhere – socializing, watching soccer crowded around shared TV’s, talking and drinking in the street. The only thing that was missing from Jamestown, especially if you were a resident, would be peace or privacy.
Isaac also took us to the famous Black Star Square and past Kwame Nkrumah’s mausoleum before finishing off our night at a bar perched precipitously on a cliff overlooking the beach and the old slave fort known as Osu. The location was truly magnificent, the only reason we were in a hurry to leave was, again, the music being played was at such a volume as to make it not only impossible to have a normal conversation without screaming, it really hurt your eardrums.
Heading back to our accommodation, Isaac invited us to his place for a final smoke goodbye and we couldn’t refuse – especially given the fact that this was to be our last night in West Africa.
In the morning, we got up and did a final pack of our bags before heading to the airport in an Uber. I was proud of the fact that I finally did some souvenir shopping – buying a skirt on the way back from picking up coffee in under five minutes flat.
I had very mixed feelings about leaving Ghana and flying to Ethiopia. As is so often the case, I longed for a few more days to enjoy Accra a little more. To get a deeper sense of what it might be like to live here – because of all the places we had visited in West Africa – this would be by and far the easiest place for a westerner to move to. I didn’t want to go. Not just yet.
And so, it was with a heavy heart that I boarded our Ethiopian Airlines flight bound for Addis, connecting to Gonder the next morning.