Lome

Picture of rural Togo is a long narrow slice of Africa that is nearly impossible to click successfully on any website with a clickable world map because it's roughly one pixel wide. The practical translation of that is that you can zip from Benin to Ghana, or vice versa in less than an hour depending upon exactly how much faith your cab driver has in higher powers. When going eastbound across Togo, our driver was a really really faithful man. Dedeme is the Fon word for 'careful' or 'slow down', but it didn't seem to work. Later we discovered that was because our driver didn't actually speak any Fon. Oh well. So this is how coastal Togo looks at relatively high speeds from inside a taxi. At the Benin border there is the beautiful town of Aneho which has a fantastic setting between a lagoon and the ocean along a narrow strip of golden sand. There doesn't appear to be much to do in Aneho, but it sure is pretty. We didn't take any pictures going west across Togo, and eastbound a picture of Aneho would have been just a turquoise blur. The western bit along the Ghanaian border is the capital city of Lome. Lome literally goes right up to the border with Ghana and the financial district in the center of town is only about 2 km from Ghana.
Picture of lome_street I have to assume that Lome would be a bit of a culture shock to travelers who had only spent time in Ghana and were now entering French west Africa. For us it was the reverse and Lome seemed very cosmopolitan compared to Cotonou. Notice the western style of dress (for many at least), actual paved roads with actual street signs (which are actually obeyed sometimes). We spent a day and a night in Lome and generally enjoyed it. Togo has better beer than its neighbours do for instance, a vestige of German colonial times (which came before the French colonial times). The political situation in Togo was substantially less stable than neighboring countries as well which makes the city after dark a bit of a challenge. Taxis and zemidjans are fairly easy to come by though. There is a whole district of banks which don't go as far as having ATMs but are open fairly normal hours and actually accept traveler's checks. Don't rely too much on traveler's checks in Benin. This is also a good place for us to extol the virtues of Securite General Bank (SSG) which we used with varying degrees of difficulty, but always with success in Ghana, Togo and Benin. The same cannot be said about Barclays (oh we don't take THAT visa card), Ecobank (we only cash travelers checks on alternate Tuesdays) and Royal Bank (we have lots of ATMs but none of them work). There is also a thriving black market for currency in the financial district of Lome. It's noticeable because people are shouting words like 'CFA', 'Cedi', 'Euro', 'Dollar' and 'Pounds' at you everywhere you go. Soon we learned not to walk through this area unless we wanted to partake of the currency exchange. Probably it is not entirely acceptable to endorse the black market as a means of changing currencies. Certainly the staff of our hotel in Lome didn't think it was wise. Despite all that, if you're good at math and know the rates you can do far far better on the black market than you can in a bank. If you're really good at math, you can actually make money by doing double exchanges simultaneously but we'll leave the details as an exercise to the reader.
Picture of baskets Hooray for our hotel balcony which allowed us to take surreptitious photos of the streets in downtown Lome. This is a top view of women with baskets on their heads. Not an unusual sight in west Africa, but we found it fascinating and impressive. This is clearly an acquired skill. If you're wondering that would be baguettes on the right and flip-flops (sandals) on the left. Flip-flops are the official footwear of west Africa (the runner-up would be no footwear at all). It seems at times that there are entire towns whose economy depends solely on the thriving trade in flip-flops. Also we have to mention that if you're passing through Lome (and who doesn't pass through Lome from time to time), go to the Disco Prestige (yes it has disco in the title), and order the dessert that involves pineapple, raisins, coconut, vanilla and lime soaked in rum. If nothing else it will make the border crossing process more fun.

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