The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Monday, August 09, 2010

We Go to Togo, part 2

Germany-Togo Monument in Togoville

Sometimes I think we place too much importance on safety.  That too much adventure is sacrificed on the altar safety.  Even making such a statement reveals an American bias, that safety is our choice, where as in most of the world it never has a choice.  I just know I feel more alive than I have in years, and that our life is an adventure worth living.  

child's drawing on a home compound wall
What I notice about Togoville is that the people do not seem happy.  I don’t know if this speaks to the rest of the country, but here the children do not smile or laugh. If we see them they are not playing but have a frightened, beaten down look about them.  Driving back from to Lome, I see only Catholic church buildings, and they are large, imposing empty structures.  I don’t see the Pentecostal home churches, nor the Presby or Methodist schools which are so prevalent in Ghana. There is no doubt that there is a Catholic presence in this part of Togo, but I don’t see evidence of much other religious influences other than the occasional mosque.   I long to travel north, to see how that part of the country differs. 

Downtown Lome, see all the moto-bike taxis
We stay in Lome for the rest of our trip, and it is wonderful, fun, and very tasty.  I wish Suzanne and I had discovered this when we lived in Ghana.  It would have been a nice and inexpensive week-end away.  The food in Lome is spectacular.  We see museums, visit art stores, hear music, eat delicious more French inspired food and buy Togolese cloth and clothes.  The art we see look much like the art in Ghana, only older and higher quality.  There are historic pieces I wish I could buy and much colonial era furniture that I dream about outfitting a house with. 

On our last night we come out from the restaurant and its raining.  It took us an hour to walk to this place, and now that it is getting dark, and the tour books sternly warn you not to walk at night; we look for a Taxi.
Now Lome has taxis but mostly its moto-bikes which serve as single person taxis that you see one driver, and one rider zipping around the city.  There is a thriving small business selling petro out of green bottles by the side of the road on small tables.  A moto-bike can fill its tank anywhere.

Petro for sale, by the litre 
If we were one, then I would catch one of the moto-bikes, but the last thing I want is to put my 15-year-old blond longhaired daughter on one and watch her buzz away out of my protection.  We wait, we try to flag a taxi and the rain really comes.  We start walking, and then a young man pulls in front of us on a moto-bike, motions for us to hop on.  I make the number 2 with my fingers and motion to both of us.  He nods, and motions with his head for both of us to get on. 

“Mom would never allow us to do this,” Anna says as we pull away.

“But Mom’s not here right now, is she?” I say.  People are cheering the man on, like either to say good for you, or maybe its against the law to carry two, but be brave. 

The driver is cautious, but still it is raining, the streets are slick, we are three people on a two wheeled machine, and I’m thinking, so where did I put that medical emergency evacuation card?  And then when I remember, and just how am I going to explain this to Mrs. Buchele? 

Now imagine Anna & Steve on back of moto-bike, and its after dark, and raining.
We direct him as best we can to the hotel which he doesn’t know, and of course, we don’t know Lome,  and when we get within a few block of where we think the hotel is, that is the streets have turned to sand, we motion for him to stop, getting off laughing, relieved, excited , and glad to be on solid ground again.  I give the guy twice what it should be and we’re all happy.  He rides away and the street seems to cheer with him. 

“WOW, that was fun,” Anna said, later posting a more descriptive account on Facebook. 

The hotel we stayed in had hot water, air conditioning, WiFi, and they took VISA, which sort of is the answer to the question: name four things we haven’t seen since the US.  It also happened to house one of the highly-rated French restaurants which we enjoyed lunch and breakfast at, especially the coffee. 

I think if we had not had such a bad experience in Togoville, we would have toured more, visiting the famous voodoo and fetish markets, but being pretty badly spooked, we stuck to what we could do well. 
In general we experienced the people of Lome to be good caring people, and their hospitality factor was as welcoming as the Ghanaians. 

Downtown Lome is home to another cathedral, and market places, and these push-carts that sell coffee and tea (with lime & sugar).  Their product is good, I only wish we had discovered it earlier.

Coffee & Tea by cart.

Then it’s a four hour ride back to Accra via TroTro, and when we get there, I have a hankering for some Ghanaian fried chicken and rice street food.  It is good to be back.  

Tasty Ghanaian Fried Rice & Chicken

Thursday, August 05, 2010

We Go to Togo, part 1

After Suzanne left to return to the states, Anna and I took a few days to visit Togo. 

Good-bye pictures with Natalie before Suzanne leaves 
The Togolese Republic, or Togo is the French speaking sliver of a country to the east of Ghana, accessible through the border town Aflao, where we spent the night after taking the TroTro from Tema.  What is it about border towns that make them such armpits, that seem to attract the worst in people?  We arrive near and the town is frantic busy with people grabbing at us everywhere.  Money changers, taxi drivers, scouts.

The first hotel we try is an upscale (for Aflao) hotel that we decided would be nice, but not exactly what we are looking for.  The next hotel turns out to be the kind you rent by the hour, and the men at “reception,”, turned us away suggesting we try to Thanks Hotel.  Thanks Hotel is the kind of place that was once really nice, thoughtfully designed and still maintained, to some extent, but the staff working there, obviously the manager was away.  Maybe they are used to having a different kind of clientele, ones from the micro-culture of NGOs that our friend Natalie writes about [click here], but we found it difficult to get change from our bill even when the restaurant was full and everyone else seemed to be receiving change.  It also had a funny set of notice to lodgers, including: 


As soon as we crossed the border the food changed, most noticeably the bread.  In Ghana the bread selection is T Bread, Sweet Bread, or Brown Bread each which have a unique to Ghana taste and pretty universal availability throughout Ghana.  Ten feet across the border and all we see are crusty baguettes. They are wonderful.

Togo, a former French Colony, and before WWI, German colony, was once known as the Pearl of West Africa.  In its capital Lome,  we see its former beauty in pristine (but empty) beaches, sweeping boulevards, and crumbling colonial infrastructure. 

This trip we have become much more adventurous in our trying of street food; Anna and I have eaten more these four weeks in Ghana than we did as a family for two years.  In Lome the new street food we tried was called JonBo, or so said the rasta man who cleared a place for us to sit.

JonBo – a deep fried sausage in a french roll topped with grilled onions and tomatoes.

A Visit to Togoville

We visited the old capital Togoville, on the northern side of Lake Togo.  Accessible by Taxi (2 hours) or by prough (20 minutes).  In 1884 Togoville's chief signed a treaty with Germany giving them ownership over the present day Togo (and part of modern day Ghana) in return for her protection.   Some years later, the Germans built a magnificent cathedral.  

In the 1970s, the Blessed Virgin was reportedly seen on Lake Togo, an event that attracted a visit from Pope John Paul II in the 1985.  We looked for Mary, but all we saw was the rain as we crossed the lake.  Look at brave Anna watching the boat being bailed out before we get in it. 

The German Cathedral, as seen from the boat.

The German Cathedral, outside with bell tower.
Inside the Cathedral 

Notice the Lion and Eagle at the top of the stained glass window.

These Bishop's seats reminded me of Ashanti Stools

The Viewing Platform built for Pope John Paul II
Shrine to the Virgin Mary

Togoville Town Tour

Well dug by the German's in 1910
Steps to a compound
Fetish, notice the offering on RHS of picture in baskets. 

Fetish Trees, LHS is the male. 
Fetish to the Fetish Trees
I guess our visit to Togoville really soured us to exploring any more of Togo.  It was a dreadful place where everyone’s focus seemed on ripping us off.  When the boat landed, they wanted to charge us 20 Euro each to tour the town.  Both in Ghana and Togo, people assumed we were German.  $46 to tour the town, I said, “lets get back in the boat.”  “Oh no, my friend. You stay.”  Some tense moments followed, “Your price is too much, I will not pay,” I say. “Lets go.”   It was misting outside, and soon the real rain would follow.  I’m thinking about the boat ride back, the waves, and this town which feels so unsafe to me.  I don’t know how you are, but when I get in unsafe places, or ones that feel unsafe, the fun, easy going Mr. Steve goes away, and the pain in the __________, ugly Steve comes out.  

Anna hates that person, and so I’ve got these hustlers keen on ripping the very last CFA from our pockets, I got the rain, and soon it will be an out and out downpour, we’re in a town far away, one we don’t speak the language of, I’ve got the 15 year old I’m trying to protect, who is doing her best to turn this situation around by being positive and upbeat, and these guys who set of the same alarm bells as a mugger.  I can’t see a way out of the situation, so I take a path of least resistance.

We take the town tour, but I only tip the guy, and really seemingly everyone else in the town, just to get out of that place.  If you are reading this blog and think that Togoville sounds like a fun place to go, think again.  It is an awful, terrible, evil place. 

On our way back, Anna and I process what went so terribly wrong, contrasting it with Ghana.  We’re also looking to exchange more money since this little trip cleans us out.  In Accra, there are those who very good naturedly try to separate you from your Cedis, but they do so in a more or less fun way, so even if it does happen, you don’t feel so bad about it.  But the further you get from Accra, the cheaper prices are and more easy-going people and prices seem to be.  Our Togo experience was just the opposite, the further we get from Lome, the more it felt like extortion, where the price we pay is for our safety.