The First Visit to Lomé - Togo




Andy and I arrived in Lomé in late July. It was the middle of the rainy season and the city was hot, humid and very hectic. Most of the side streets were just rough dirt roads, riddled with water-filled potholes, and the city was surrounded by a lagoon. The city is situated at 1 degree east and 6 degrees north, 400 miles (550 KM) north of the equator, on the coast of the Gulf of Benin.

Arriving from up north, we drove straight to the beach. We hung out there for a while, then we drove around town, checked out the bars along the Boulevard Circulaire - the big, circular boulevard that surrounds downtown - and the Grand Marché, which was truly impressive. Lomé had a pretty relaxed atmosphere, there was very little hustling and every neighborhood buvette had an ice-cold BB Grand Lager or even an Awoyo on tap. There was virtually no crime, no pickpockets, few con artists or thieves. Instead, there were stories of kids frantically pursuing some tourist at the marché, in order to return a lost wallet.

In the evening, we ate a cheap street-food dinner and had a beer at a buvette, when we got talking with a kid, who wanted to hook us up with a buyer for our truck. He said he knew someone who might be interested, and he could introduce us for just a minor percentage of the price. We figured there's no loss in trying, so we let him show us the way, deep into the Bé neighborhood. We stopped in front of a very nice house with a huge wall around it. The kid hopped off, and slipped into the house. We waited for a very long time. Eventually, he came out with a well-dressed gentleman. We were introduced, and the man proceeded to poke around the truck, kicking the tires. Eventually, he asked us if we cared to talk about the price over a beer at the buvette. We agreed, and followed him down the street to the corner bar. We took a quiet table in the corner and started chatting. After a short while, our host broached the subject of the price for the truck. After the usual back-and-forth we rather quickly came up with a pretty good price, and we agreed to meet tomorrow at the bar of the Hotel Palm Beach to finalize the deal.


Sacre Coeur Cathedral in Lomé

Fishermen on the beach


After Andy and I had made our way back to the Boulevard Circulaire, we high-fived each other. This seemed to look really good. The price was nowhere near what he originally had hoped to get, but it was in line with his lowered expectations. So we had another couple of beers and then it had gotten pretty late, and we had to find a place to sleep. We had not seen a lot of cheap hotels, and so we decided to just drive outside the city limits and sleep somewhere on the beach. We took the highway toward Aneho, and drove for short while, as the lights of the city dimmed behind us. We had a hard time finding a quiet spot, as the coast is rather densely populated. Eventually, we spotted a sandy dirt road and veered off the highway. The road led us to the beach, and we stopped the truck under a grove of palms. He climbed into the back and had a couple of cigarettes, while we enjoyed the view of the gorgeous, moonlit ocean.

After a couple of hours of sleep, the dog's growling woke me up. Quietly I woke up Andy, because the dog only did this when something unusual was going on. Carefully we peeked over the sides of the truck bed. We saw some dark figures under the trees. Now we were alarmed! I unleashed Quattro, the dog, and held him at the collar, ready to let him go. Andy and I crouched behind the cab, each armed wit a big stick, the dog was ready and Andy held a big flashlight. We heard these guys closing in on us, very quietly. Suddenly, the tailgate of the truck moved a bit, the dog started barking like crazy, Andy turned on the flashlight and we were banging the sides of the truck with our sticks.

Our "adversaries" ran a few feet away, turned around and turned on their flashlights. They had a couple of very strong lights, so we really could not see them very well, but it seemed that there were about ten of them, and the seemed to be armed. "What do you want?" I yelled at them - "What are you doing here?" they replied. "Nothing!" I snapped back - "What do you want?" They started discussing among them, and Andy ordered the dog "Gib laut!" and the dog started barking furiously again, pulling like crazy, as if ready to tear up all ten of them.

In most of Africa, German Shepherds are not only frightfully big dogs, compared to the African dogs, but they are also primarily used by the military and the police as attack dogs. And so Quattro's effect on most civilian Africans was usually extremely intimidating under the friendliest of circumstances. Furiously barking in the middle of the night and in the light of a couple of flashlights, he was a terrifying sight.

After some back-and-forth we agreed to see the chief of the village nearby. They escorted us to the village and we stopped in front of a large house, parked the car and waited. Andy said there was no way he was going in there, and the chief had us informed that we were to come inside. Finally, I hopped off the truck, fed up with all this nonsense. I was led into the house, where an old man, decked out in a variety of regalia, sat on a small, decorated chair. My "guards" walked up to the old man, fell to their knees and kissed his bony hand. I walked up to him, shook his outstretched hand and bowed as a minimal gesture of respect. Everyone sat down, and I was asked to explain who we were and what our business was. I explained that were tired travelers who were minding our own business, when these thugs woke us up in the middle of the night like robbers. The spokesman of the chief explained that the "thugs" were in fact vigilantes who were on the lookout for CHICKEN THIEVES from a neighboring village. I assured them that we had no interest in their chicken and that we would like to be excused now, so we could go on and find another place to catch some shuteye.

"No way" grumbled the old man. "They have to stay here - we'll discuss the rest tomorrow." I insisted that we were going to be leaving right away, and got ready to raise hell, when the door was flung open, and a bare-chested man, roughly in his forties, entered the room, greeted the old man and sat down right next to him. He was wearing a pair of shorts and flip-flops, nothing else. He demanded to know what was going on - in French. And when one of the guys began to explain in local language, he admonished him to switch to French: "Don't you see there is a foreigner here - we need to discuss this business in a way so he can understand us! Where are your manners?" After he was brought up to date, he looked at the chief and said "OK - so if he wishes to leave, he should leave!" The chief protested, and the others chimed in. He stood up and shook his head, and they all fell silent. "They have done nothing wrong - we cannot arrest them. What if we keep them against their will? Eventually they will leave, they will stop at the next police station or military checkpoint and report us for kidnapping!" There was more commotion, the protests were mostly about us trespassing on their property."Yes they did trespass, but they explained what they were doing, and now it's time to let them go. C'est tout!" He stood up, I stood up and left the room, got into the truck, where Andy was waiting anxiously. The bare-chested man came up to the truck: "sorry about the inconvenience." "That's alright" I replied, "thanks a lot for your help!"

We left this village and continued on for about 10 Minutes, stopped on the side of the road, as it was almost morning, and just crashed for a couple of hours, until the sun came up, and it got hot. Tired and worn out from this bizarre night, we turned around and drove back into Lomé to get some breakfast.



Downtown Lomé


That morning, we found a nice, cheap hotel, right on the beach near the German embassy. We figured that if we were going to sell the truck, we needed a place to stay. So we checked into the Hotel, took a shower, and went to the Hotel Palm Beach, a luxury hotel on the beach in downtown. We get some beers and waited for our customer. When he did not show up one hour after the appointed time, we were thoroughly pissed off and left.

Next, we were going to check out this place Toganim, to hawk the remaining snakes. We drove out to the Toqoin neighborhood, and found the place near the main hospital. Toganim is a sprawling complex with rows and rows of cages and enclosures, full of rare and fascinating Togolese wildlife: Snakes and lizards, birds and some small mammals. We explained to guy who showed us around, that we were interested in going into business with them, and so he showed us the vipers they were interested in: Bitis gabonica - the Gabon viper, and Bitis nasicornis the Rhinoceros viper. Both are extremely dangerous, but easy to find. The trick is, he explained, to get to the snake BEFORE the villagers kill it, then to bag it, without killing it yourself, and finally, not to get killed by the snake, while trying to bag it! Otherwise, any other snakes would be fine, too, like spitting cobras or green mambas. He recommended we drive up towards the mountains. In the forests and narrow valleys of the plateaux region we'd be sure to find plenty of snakes.

The Hotel Palm Beach


The next day we left Lomé and headed north on the toward Kpalimé (pron. Paleemeh). We stayed in Kpalimé for a couple of days, and took a couple of short trips to look for snakes, but most of the time we were just hanging out in bars, drinking beers and enjoying this cool town. Kpalimé is at a higher altitude than most cities in Togo, and there is a lot of colonial architecture left. OK - so it doesn't have a s many great bars as Dapaong, but it's also a lot less dusty. And it doesn't have Kara's nightlife, but Kpalimé has the best fufu in Togo! The fufu bars around the taxi station in Kpalimé are famous, especially for the fufu with agouti (cane rat, grasscutter) sauce. The fast, rhythmic pounding of the pilers can be heard from far away.

When we continued on, we took the road for Atakpamé, following a tip that there was a spectacular waterfall in the northern plateau. After a short drive, we stopped in the small market town of Adéta and asked for the waterfalls. We were directed to take the small road that turned off to the left, into the mountains.