10th of September – 25th of September 2019:
Abrupt, the asphalt road changed into a narrow, dirty road and only after some kilometers, we reached the immigration office on the Togolese side. Togo is the first country since a long time, where we got the visa on the border. The visa is only valid for seven days, but at least we did not have to go to an embassy in Accra and therefore save a lot of money. Therefore, we skipped Accra and all the stress in the capital.
With the new visa in our passports, we cycled the remaining distance until Kpalimé. The road looked like a patchwork rug and we had to go around the pieces of asphalt using slalom. In the city, we searched for the “Cycling Project” and the people welcomed us warmly. We met Abdou, the founder of the club, with the help of Warmshowers.
During our search for a restaurant, we met a Togolese man who lived 25 years in Germany and has a family there. For two years, he is back in Togo and therefore fled from the stressful work life in Europe.
The recommended restaurant was excellent and apart from breakfast, we ate all meals there. The different sauces were delicious and therefore we could not eat somewhere else.
Abdou’s Cycling Project supports kids with bicycles, schoolbooks and even pays for the school fee, if they achieve good grades in school. In addition, he shows them how to ride a bike and organizes races in the region.
Mahdi, a Tunisian traveler, who travels through Africa since more than a year, stayed at the same time at Abdous place and we exchanged our experiences.
To buy data from the Togolese provider, one must dig deep into his pocket. Randomly, we heard about a family who got a router. There, we could use the internet for the whole day paying only 20 Eurocents. Therefore, we sat several hours on water canisters in a dark, stuffy room.
Since more than a year, we are in contact with an Italian touring cyclist. He started in Italy and had South Africa as his destination too. In Togo, our paths finally crossed and we had nice conversations about our experiences in the region and our further plans. In addition, we discussed possible solutions for the problem with the Nigerian Visa.
We left Ivan, Abdou and the relaxed atmosphere of the cycling club and continued towards the capital. On the way down into the lowlands, we passed the highest mountain of Togo, which hardly reaches 1’000 m. Due to the high fees to visit the summit; we just cycled to the first village, to see the view from there. The terrain got extremely flat in comparison to the last days in Ghana and many times, we spotted car wracks next to the road.
The narrow road led us quickly into Lomé, the largest city in Togo. Close to the center, Noah and his family welcomed us warmly. Mehdi, whom we met in Kpalimé gave us the contact of Noah. Since not that long, he is a member of Couchsurfing and received us as his second guests only.
Firstly, we urgently had to prolong our visa, since it was already our last day. With the bicycle, we reached the office quickly and had to fill out the application form, together with dozens of other people. Several times, we had to stand in line to get everything right. Finally, they told us that we could pick up the passport the next day.
Without any problems, we got our visa and were therefore more relaxed. The visa for Benin was rather easy and one can apply online and pay by credit card. For once, it was easy and without a lot of hassle.
In addition, we wanted to visit the embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo; to see if fit was possible to obtain the visa there. An official employee told us immediately it was not possible to apply for the visa without a residence permit. Luckily, the ambassador entered the room during our discussion and said he would like to help us. The next obstacle was that he had to state our exact date of arrival, since we had to fix a date for the one-month visa to start.
The next day, we organized all necessary copies, thought about an ideal date and went back to the embassy. We wanted to pay the official fees, when the employee who made the visas suddenly said that he needs some more money, since it normally takes much longer to finish the visa and we do not have all required documents. We bargained in a typical African way until we arrived at an express fee (bribe) of 15 Euros. When we went back to pick up the visa the next day, he informed us that there is a small problem. Apparently, the visa is only valid three months after the date of issue and our planned arrival was only in five months. Therefore, he wrote a date of issue in November and hoped for us that nobody at the border would check according to our passport when we were in Togo.
The predominantly friendly official gave us the recommendation to apply for a residence permit, so there would be less questions at the border and to increase our chances for the successful border crossing. In the last weeks, we read that border police rejected travelers at exactly this border, since they did not issue the visa in their home country. It is obligatory to issue all the visas for DRC in the home country. Because of the length of our journey, this was not possible and to fly home only for the visa would be excessively expensive.
Next, we cycled to the police headquarters with the copy of our passports and the Togolese visa. A helpful woman assisted us when filling out the forms. The process was short and the officers told us to pick up the documents the next day.
The initial plan was to relax a bit in Lomé, but the various visits to all the embassies, distributed all over town, made us exhaustingly fall into bed in the evenings. Our biggest problem was still Nigeria. Our already third visit at the Nigerian embassy in Lomé did not result in anything. They did not accept our residence certificate, since there was apparently another one. We gave everything and spoke to half of the staff at the embassy, but it did not help at all. At the end, the security threw us out of the embassy, due to our shorts and everybody was amused because we complained loudly that we only have shorts with us.
On the way back, we visited the unspectacular city center, the lively «grande marché» and the beautiful city beach. Lomé seems more like a small town is rather quiet and decent, in comparison to previous African cities with more than one million inhabitants.
Abdou gave us the phone number of his cycling friend and we met him at his house. He could replace Fabians broken bottle holder and Adrian’s impeller. It took more than two hours tedious work to replace all the spokes. Luckily, Edem was the captain of the Togolese national cycling team and therefore knew exactly what he was doing.
Noah showed us a barbecue place, where we ate a piece of meat for the first time in weeks. Normally, we happily abstained from eating meat, since one must search for quite some time to find meat besides all the bones.
Besides, our host family owned a little restaurant since a couple of weeks and there we ate some French fries, salad and spaghetti for a change.
Unfortunately, we realized only after we picked up the residence certificate that the signature of the commandant was missing on Adrian’s document. Therefore, Adrian went to the police station again, to get the signature. Sadly, the chief was even after two hours waiting time not around, so he left his phone number and went home. In the next morning, before we said goodbye to the cute family of Noah, Adrian did his bonus round of 15 km to the station and got his signature.
We took some pictures in front of the restaurant and said thank you for the awesome hospitality. A road like a highway led us out of Lomé. Soon, the road got narrower and the first potholes appeared. In a small village, we tried our first African cow-cheese. The white, large chunk of cheese tasted extremely fresh; the flavor was rather boring though.
Our plan was to cycle northwards from Lomé, to cross the border into Benin. This was certainly not the direct route, but that is not why we do this journey. The high humidity due to the regular rain, made us sweat and the clothes did not dry at all.
Already from far away, we saw many people looking from a narrow bridge into the river. We assumed the worst and when we arrived there, we saw that a truck loaded with rice did not catch the turn and landed in the riverbed. Some bystanders told us that two people died in the accident. Everywhere, we saw children and teenagers, who grabbed the rice bags out of the river and proudly carried them home.
Behind a high school, we found a nice spot for our tent under some mango trees. When we installed the tent, we met the German teacher who was interested about our trip and asked a couple of questions in proper German. He told us that there are 80 kids in one class. To the question if the teachers beat the children, he said that the government officially banned it, but if they do not beat them, they do whatever they want. Understandable, since the parents beat the kids all over Africa, so if the teachers do not follow the parents lead, the conditions in the classroom would be chaotic.
In addition, he said that he did not have a salary during the first three years as a teacher and just this year he got an official contract from the government. Unfortunately, this salary is still not enough, so he must work as a farmer on weekends.
For one week, the summer vacation is finished and we see hundreds of kids on their way to school wearing their cute uniforms. Most of the time, they great us in a friendly way and sometimes they sadly ask for a “cadeau”.
Everywhere, children and women spread out their harvest on the side of the road to dry. We saw maize, chili, okra and cassava. In addition, since Ghana there are teak plantations everywhere.
The traffic on the only main road towards the north is not that bad and there are many motorbikes as everywhere in Togo. Travelers who have visited Vietnam know this phenomenon, although there are many bicycles as well, which makes us feel more welcome.
After more than 340 km in three days, we reached Sokodé, the third largest town in Togo and were exhausted. Our Couchsurfing host Tatchein met us on the main road and led us to his house. His mother insisted on us trying her food and we were very happy about that.
Since the Sahara, we never cycled more than 100 km in three consecutive days and therefore we rested in Sokodé a bit. Together with Tatchein, we visited the “grande marché”, ate a rice meal called “wathie” in a typical, simple restaurant. Afterwards, we walked on top of a small hill to have a nice view across the city.
Before leaving the house including the great hospitality, we had to tell the forthcoming mother of Tatchein that we decided to continue our journey. The further north we came in Togo, the friendlier and more enthusiastic is the reaction of people when they see us. The kids on their way to school scream most of the time something in our direction, greet friendly or today, we were even welcomed with applause arriving in a village. By now, it is normal to be the focus of attention, but this reaction was even extreme for us.
We cycled along a mountain pass road sideways up a slope and enjoyed the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. Trucks on their way to Burkina Faso pass the same mountain pass. Because they were overloaded, they fought themselves huffing and puffing up and we could easily overtake them. After the downhill, we immediately realized that the climate got tropical and humid again and the whole body felt sticky.
In Kara, we finally wanted to taste dog meat, since it was a specialty in Togo. Somehow, the Togolese we asked where to find a barbecue place did not know what we were looking for. We pointed at a dog and made gestures of eating. He understood and explained us where to find dog meat. Unfortunately, the meat in the recommended market was already finished and we had to settle for the local brew called “Tchoukoutou”, which is made from fermented millet.
After we gained altitude for some time, we suddenly saw a road cyclist approaching us. Both parties were surprised at first and it took a while before we stopped. Karim was originally from Lomé, a member of a cycling club and complained that he was the only road cyclist in this area.
When we reached a mountain pass after another climb, the landscape changed surprisingly fast and we found ourselves in a lush overgrown steppe landscape, since it was still rainy season. Memories from our time in Senegal surfaced and we were happy about this welcome alternation.
In Kandé, we left the tarred road and cycled towards the border. This region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes traditional houses, called “Tata”. Due to the horrendous prices for a visit, we decided to do it on the Beninese side, since we had some information that it would be cheaper over there.
Suddenly, a 4×4 vehicle approached us with a military convoy and a white man screamed «cape2cape» out of the window. First, we were shocked and did not know how to react. When two women and Essaddi came out of the car, we realized that we were in contact via Instagram. Essaddi told us that he follows us since a couple of months and cycled through Togo himself.
In Naboda, we visited the extremely lively weekday market. We strengthened ourselves with a huge portion of rice and drank a local millet brew with a group of locals out of a bowl made from a hollowed calabash inside a cute round hut. Afterwards, it was not far to the customs and we were already in Benin.
With Togo, we left a country with extremely friendly inhabitants, who always welcomed us with “bon arrivé” and asked surprised where we come from. For the first time since months, we crossed a country without enjoying a warm shower and no white hosts accommodated us. Therefore, Togo is truly a place TO-GO.