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.)

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