Oct 18, 2018

My Togo Experience: Road-tripping and more

There is no better way to explore a new country than doing so with a friend who is a local. Traveling to Togo had been on my list for quite some time.  When I learned that my friend was returning to her homeland for the holidays, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to visit. After a few weeks in Ghana, I set out to Lome’, Togo by road.  This time around I did not have to take a bus or a ‘Sept Places’ (shared taxi) because my friend’s dad made the 3 hours road journey to collect us in Accra. I used my St. Vincent passport to apply for a visa upon arrival since US citizens are required to arrange a visa in advance.

The ride from the Togo border to Lome’ City Center was stunning. Lome’ is a coastal city so coconut trees lined the main road along the sea shore for miles.  One noticeable difference between Accra and Lome was the number of motorbikes or ‘Zmen’ on the roads. These ‘Zmen’ carry passengers around for a fee. I was fascinated by the way they moved in unison and by how they zipped between the flow of cars. For years, my poor excuse for not learning another language was that a smile is the universal language. 🙂 Speaking French would have been a plus since Togo is a French-speaking country. However, do not let language barriers deter you from visiting francophone countries. Togo was the first of 8 French-speaking countries I visited while traveling across West Africa and I managed to navigate just fine while speaking only English. My friends in Togo spoke French & English but throughout my solo travels, I was able to communicate because I met so many people who were eager to practice their English.

I have spent the holiday season in a new country for the last 10 years so I was excited to compare Togolese Christmas traditions to those I had previously experienced. My friend’s mom threw an epic Christmas Eve party where we ate local dishes and danced the night away. This is where I was introduced to sodabi. No, sodabi is not a guy! 🙂 It is the local liquor I fell in love with. I had sodabi punch made by Neho Likors, and I must say it was the most delicious drink I have had in LIFE! Nothing can compare to this local concoction of aged fruit liquor mixed with bissap (sorrel), baobab, and other juices. I took back more than a few bottles and even had some delivered to me in Accra after I left. You don’t have to take my word for it. Head to Togo and give it a try.

Most of my 10 days in Lome was spent moving from home to home overeating and enjoying the holiday season. Therefore, I did not explore their beautiful beaches and did not check off many of the must-see places on my list. It was great to have a slower pace but I had to make time to explore the local markets. I made it to Le Centre Artisanal twice during my stay and found some beautiful leather bags, fabric, and local crafts. I also went to the lovely Sarakawa Hotel (pictured below) for drinks and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. One of my fondest memories of Lome is having an outdoor dinner and a movie experience. I visited Greenfields, where each Tuesday at 7:30 pm you can enjoy dinner in a beautiful outdoor space while viewing a movie. Don’t worry, there are English subtitles for you non-French speakers. 🙂

At this point, I was a novice at road-tripping across West Africa so I hired a personal driver for my door to door commute from Togo to Ghana for around 40,000 CFA ~ USD$70 (Balling on a budget). 🙂 I now know that there are shared taxis and minivans frequently traveling between the two capital cities for as low as 5,000 CFA ~ USD$9. There is also a low cost bus company called STC that travels between Cotonou, Lome, Accra, and Abidjan a few times per week.  I chose to take the bus from Lome to Accra later in my trip after my visit to Benin. You should note that unlike some other bus services, the STC Coach Bus weighs your luggage so you may have to pay for excess luggage if you are a shopper like me. The other downside of taking the bus versus a taxi is that your border crossings are longer due to the number of passports that has to be processed. If you have time on your hands, it is a safe and affordable way to transit from one country to the next.  If you are living in or visiting neighboring countries I would highly recommend a road trip to Lome. I will provide details on commuting further East to Benin later in the series. Ghana to Ivory Coast is up next in my Africa Travel Series. Stay tuned for more road journeys to come.

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