Monday, 30 April 2012


After that short "aside" in Jirapa.......back to the travels.

Togo’s name comes from an Ewe word and means “behind the lake”. We were punted across Lake Togo to Togoville in a dug out canoe one day. I don’t know how many times a day the ferryman made this journey, but it was a long way and the currents meant he needed to be skilful as well as strong.

The village itself has huge historical significance as it was here that a treaty was signed in 1884 that gave the Germans rights over all Togoland until they surrendered to the British & French at the beginning of World War1, the Allies first victory.

There didn’t seem to be much activity in this village. Although true to form, we arrived in the midday heat.

 However, when we came to the large and very prominent cathedral it was busy with nuns preparing for the Easter Sunday celebrations the following day. This was a vast site with an outdoor shrine and seating commemorating the reported appearance of the Virgin Mary to sailors on the lake. This attracted a visit from Pope John Paul 11. 

The decoration in the cathedral was beautiful and it was so cool and welcoming we sat there for some time watching the preparations and admiring the windows and frescos.

On our return to Lome we found the well that marked the Last Bath of slaves in Togo which here was situated close to the beach, in contrast to the location in Ghana many miles inland, where slaves were sold a great distance from their final detention in coastal castles.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bong Ngo Festival

Yesterday was the Cultural Day of the Bong Ngo Festival in Jirapa, the next town north of Nadowli. The arena was set up on the Chief’s land with awnings and seating and I watched the place come to life as people gathered to prepare food and make preparations. The arrival, seating and welcome for invited guests and numerous chiefs took some time. Each chief was escorted and sheltered under a large, bright parasol whilst the Regional Minister for the Upper West of Ghana swept into the arena in one of a fleet of 9 large SUVs carrying his entourage. 

The chiefs sat opposite the Regional Minister and walked across the arena to welcome him once he was seated on a rostrum. The programme listed a host of Introductory Speeches, Exchanges of Welcome, Addresses and Replies. 

Prayers were said and a libation was poured on the ground by village elders in respect of the ancestors. 

A group of Hunters appeared with a fine collection of skulls with antlers and horns as well as a pair of dried elephants ears. They livened up the proceedings by firing loud gunshots and explosions which made us all jump out of our seats.

Fortunately in amongst all these formalities there were some fantastic displays of traditional dancing. Music came from drums & wooden xylophones with gourds suspended underneath to deepen and enrich the tone. They were played enthusiastically as the dancers showed their amazing agility and stamina. I am so glad I took my long lens to capture images I can be proud of.

I discovered that the main reason for the festival being held at this time is connected with the harvesting of fruit from the Dawadawa tree. This fruit, which is like a bright yellow powder that comes in long pods and requires a lot of boiling, pounding etc before it can be used, is very precious due to its nutritional properties. In Jirapa, a town ban is placed on the harvesting until the pods are brown and ripe as early picking of green pods makes the fruit useless and a waste. This substance is high in protein in an area where many people cannot afford meat and fish. A spoonful of Dawadawa in their food benefits the children particularly. At this festival, the ban is lifted and the harvest can begin.

The spectators were many of all ages and their patience during the formalities in searing heat at the height of this hot, dry season is to be admired. They are used to it but I struggled!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Voodoo Market

I heard before I left Ghana that the Friday Voodoo Market in Togo was worth a visit and so we embarked on a journey to Vogan that I hadn’t anticipated to be so long and uncomfortable. It is a huge general market but has areas devoted to fetishes and articles used in Voodoo celebrations, worship & sacrifices. Voodoo is one of the main religions in Togo.

As expected, the stallholders, most of whom were Traditional Priests, were not happy to pose for photos, but a few CFAs made a difference and we could snap whatever we liked. 

These are dead birds, cleaned and dried.
The round trip took three and a half hours but was worth the dreadful road surfaces and the dust! I am still trying to imagine what they do with all this stuff. I don’t think there is any danger of my conversion to Voodoo practices in the near future but it was all rather fascinating.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Flip-Flop Money Changer

The first morning in Togo we discovered we had acquired another guide! We now had a guide for the guide for the driver. Jacques was needed to show us the Creative Arts College and our way up the mountain to an Eco-village. I wondered what Germaine’s role was….besides flirting uncontrollably with Francis, the driver. At least they didn’t all try to sit on each others’ laps in the car. Already, Jeny, Gaynor and I were squashed in the back seat. Jacques appeared to have his own moto, on which he performed gymnastics, until it developed a puncture, as he led us for a few kilometres up the winding roads through forest. This is the other side of the Volta Region Mountains.

We reached the Creative Arts College having made it clear that we didn’t have any CFAs, (Communaute Financiere Africaine – currency used by 8 French speaking West African countries), and needed to change some Ghana Cedis. Having discovered there were items we wanted to buy, we processed back into Kpalime to the ATM and bank. Of course, the ATM didn’t like our cards and the Foreign Exchange was closed. Never mind someone knew a trader who would change some cash for us and we followed him down the road and into a flip-flop shop. Seriously, that is all he sold, watched over by large poster images of Osama Bin Laden and Yasser Arafat. He changed Cedis and Sterling at a reasonable rate and we left happily with well worn notes that all of our guides recognised as genuine CFAs – (approximately 700 to the £, by the way). Back at the college I was showing interest in buying a djembe (African drum) and Jacques offered his assistance. I was treated to a different intricate solo performance on each of the 6 djembe available before he pronounced one of them as being the best. Naturally, I bought it, knowing it would never be played as well as that again in its existence.
The waterfall was as beautiful as those on the Ghanaian side of these mountains and we continued on to the Eco-village.

Kola Nuts
 Having enjoyed fresh pineapple and calabashes of Tchoukoutou (Togo’s pito) we were ready for a short walk to admire and learn about the variety of trees there. We saw coco, coffee, kola nut, mustard nut, grapefruit and others all in small area of dense, lush forest. 

Many of the houses in this village had beautifully painted shutters and doors.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

To go to Togo

I am back in Nadowli after another round of travelling experiences. This time, I shared them in the Volta Region & Togo with friends and various places on the way up north & home with my sister and nephew. Some were re-visits but others came as new experiences. It is just as wonderful to return to favourite places with new people as I learned more through fresh pairs of eyes and a different season of the year. I am grateful to Francis who has driven me and a variety of visitors all around Ghana on a few trips since last August. It is extremely reassuring to be driven so safely and not to need to worry about anything. I should never have seen so much of the country by public transport, although I daresay there would have been plenty of tales to tell of hours waiting for buses in locations full of the sights, sounds and smells of Africa. However, my backpacking days are long gone and my guests and I deserve a little luxury. As Ghana feels increasingly like “home”, I wonder how much of everyday life I take for granted now and am I not appreciating them enough. Anyway, on with the travels……..

The first few days were not without incident, but as so often happens, problems can be closely followed by enormous doses of good luck. “Fitters” fix bicycles, motos and cars with almost no machinery but a handful of spanners. There are plenty of them and they operate from a small lean-to at intervals along any road. It is impossible to tell whether they know what they are doing but when your head gasket goes right beside a “fitter” you have to rely on somebody. In this case the diagnosis was good but the car needed to be back in Accra for surgery. Needless to say you can’t phone the AA or RAC in this situation. How lucky that a Land Rover with a tow bar came past….. already towing someone else but happy to pull tandem! Meanwhile, taxis took us to Atimpoku and on to Amedzofe, where we were the only guests in the highest hotel in Ghana with fantastic views for miles across Lake Volta and from where we spotted some beautiful little birds.

 We had a cursory tour of the Teacher Training College there before the heavens opened and we needed to shelter in the local spot.

Finally, with a healthy car, we started out for the Togo border. There is something about “shortcuts” that makes me nervous and this one proved to be true to form. Despite reassurances from a young tro driver that we were on the Togo road and that it was in good condition, it took some hours to reach the remote and rarely used border post and the poor car had slalom conditions around craters the whole way along the rough sandy roads. At each junction devoid of signposts, we made the wrong decision and kept retracing our steps and at a few places we needed to get out of the car to avoid it grounding itself.

I say the border post was rarely used but in fact local people were coming and going all the time on motos, seemingly without the need for any papers or passports. When we pulled up it was an altogether different matter. I didn’t total the number of officials that appeared from all around to deal with our documents but there were plenty! Firstly, there was the issue of Gaynor’s single entry visa to Ghana! By crossing to Togo she would need another to allow her back into Ghana. Whoops, none of us had thought that one through. Never mind, we would cross that bridge…….or border…. the following week! This crossing consisted of many barriers. At each there were checks on the car, us, our documents and our luggage. How lucky that Francis knew a few people who worked for the immigration service otherwise we could still be there 3 weeks later. The fact that his tribal language of Ewe (pronounced Ay way) is spoken across Togo and into Benin, also helped to smooth things at various points.

The entry visas, when we got them were rather beautiful with postage stamps attached for authenticity. We needed to provide photos and these were all mixed up as the guards couldn’t find any difference between us……well, except for Francis who didn’t need one anyway, being Ghanaian.

We were expecting to meet a guide from the Togo Tourist Board who Francis had contacted on Facebook to show us around and find decent hotels. Germaine’s moto had broken down and it was pure luck that he recognised her from her Facebook photo as she shot past us in the opposite direction on a moto taxi. At this point we had a border policeman in the front seat escorting us to the next barrier. There followed an almost slap-stick moment when Germaine climbed in and sat on his lap. It wasn’t long before they sorted themselves out and the policeman called the moto taxi back to take him to the next barrier and we never saw him again!!! It was with some relief that we made it into Kpalime and the Geyser Hotel. Suddenly everything was French. Although I was expecting that, it was so very French it came as rather more of a surprise…….more bread as baguettes, a meal with courses and crepes on the menu. How refreshing!

(There will be photos but they are not permitted at border crossings and anyway I was too busy to think of taking any.)