The Road to Lome, the Capital of Togo
After a short few minutes on a bike from the Ghana side, I reached the Togo side of the Wli border. There was no power in the small room where the immigration formalities were to take place, so the officer was checking my passport by torchlight. Once they realised there was no visa in my passport, because I was expecting to get a visa on arrival, they said they couldn’t issue the visa on arrival at that time, but the bigger border a little way down the road could help me.
Another officer came out from a room behind where we were and the 2 officers spoke to each other in French for a bit. I presume they were discussing the situation because they eventually told me that they would give me permission to enter Togo and I could get the visa in Lome. Well, that was totally unexpected! I’d never heard of anything like that happening before but was glad that it did, as it saved me some back-tracking.
I then got back on the bike again to climb up a windy, broken up road. I’m sure there would’ve been a lovely view had my trip been during daylight hours. The hill seemed to go on forever, but that could’ve been because it was completely dark and there was nothing more interesting to focus on. I was so glad when the road finally started leveling off because after that point, it was all downhill and I was able to catch glimpses of the lights from far off towns through the trees. I’m not sure exactly how long it took to get the 25 kilometres to Adeta, but it was probably about 40 minutes.
Once in Adeta, the motorbike guy found me a van to Lome that was ready to go, for 1500CFA, (€2.3). That was incidentally the same price that my Ghanaian friend George had told me to pay for the motorbike. The motorbike guy had either forgotten the set price, or thought that he could get more money out of me, so let’s just say there was some banter back and forth about the amount I would pay. The van driver ended up moderating and getting the motorbike rider to agree to the set price, because he wanted to leave.
Crawling to the Capital of Togo
The van didn’t look too bad from the outside. It was loaded up with stuff, so there was only room for 4 people. The driver didn’t speak too much English, but he was very nice and kept checking if I wanted anything. Once the van started moving, it became obvious that this trip was going to take a long time as the van struggled to gain speed. It seemed that the highest speed it could manage was about 60km/h. Mind you that’s an estimate based on my offline map app, because none of the meters on the dash of the van worked. It’s a good bet that the van wasn’t very mechanically sound, but hey, it’s Africa, so that sounds about normal! I’m not sure if the slow speed was because of all the weight or the mechanical problems. It was probably a bit of both, to be honest. Luckily, Lome was only 140km away, so it took just under 3 hours to get there.
Once I got to Lome, I had to take 2 bikes to get to Tsevie, the town where I was staying, which was 35km from Lome. Of course they charged extra because it was night time. The price during the day would’ve been 500CFA (€0.8), but they were trying to charge 2000CFA (€3). I found a guy who was willing to take me for 800CFA (€1.2) because he was going that way anyway. So about 40 minutes and 2 almost swallowed bugs later, I finally made to it Tsevie and met my host Anoumou. We stayed in his office for the night, where he repaired and sold electrical goods, because it was quite late by the time I got in.
Tsevie, pronounced kind of like che-vee, was quite a small town. It had only one sealed road, which was the main road through the town. All other roads in the town were dirt roads that seemed to be arranged in perfect grids. Many places, including my host’s place, had outdoor amenities including long drop toilets and open-air showers with only walls, but no roof.
In the morning, Anoumou woke me up at about 6:30 to walk to the family home to meet everyone. We sat around in a sheltered outdoor area in the front yard of the property and chatted about many things. They were very interested to know more about what I’d seen and done on my travels through Western Africa and what my thoughts were on the place. As Anoumou was busy with work, his older brother Edem was tasked with taking me around.
Edem gave me a bit of a history lesson on the area, which included a chalk representation of a map of the area. Historically, Togo was a much bigger state, but a huge division of the western part was ceded to the Dutch during the second world war, then eventually taken over by Ghana years later. This is why Togo is now only around 100km wide. He also bestowed an African name upon me, which was somehow worked out from my day of birth and gender. You may all now call me Akou.
Getting The Visa
We made our way to the police station, where another adventure in corruption began. I was a bit taken aback by this, because my initial impression of Togo had made me think it was less corrupt than it’s neighbour to the west.
Firstly, they charged 500CFA (€0.8) for a badly copied fiche, or information form. The form was stamped with the date, so it couldn’t be copied and used on another day. If you made a mistake on the form, or if they weren’t happy with how you’d filled it out, they’d make you pay for another. Then after lining up for an hour, they said they wouldn’t accept the application because it was almost their break time. They told us to return at 14:30. It was only 11:30.
After getting some WiFi and something to eat at a nearby hotel, we returned before 14:30 to a line outside the complex, which of course meant more waiting inside. An officer finally came out and took us to an office upstairs, but when he knocked on the door there was no one there, so he took us back outside to wait.
The visa was only 10,000CFA (€15), but they wanted to charge me a penalty (ie: bribe) of 100,000CFA (€150) on top of that. I think I almost had a heart attack when that figure came up. There was no way in hell I was paying a bribe that was 10 times more than the cost of the visa!
The first officer, who had informed us of the price, wouldn’t budge and said we had to go see the guy issuing the visa and negotiate with him. We somehow got him down to 20,000CFA (€30), which was still way too much! The problem was, they had my passport and weren’t going to give it back until I paid them something, so I was once again forced to participate in African bribe culture. It was demoralising.
Once the negotiation was over, despite the fact that he had my passport right in front of him, the officer told us to come back at 10am the next day, because it wasn’t like they’d already wasted enough of my time. It was 4pm by that point and we’d gotten there at 10am. On the way out, the first officer inquired about the outcome of the negotiation. When told, he said, “We’re too nice to you”. Hmm, I would’ve used other words.
Kez = 4, African Corruption = 3
With the closing of another corruption ordeal, I was feeling relieved, but also very hungry. I met my friend Taotao, who bought along his rasta friend, at a restaurant across the road from the police station. Taotao had planned to take me to a local club, to listen to some local music and see how the natives spent their nights. I was looking very forward to this, until Edem decided that he couldn’t let me go off with someone else because I was his responsibility.
You could say that I was seriously annoyed by that. Nevermind that I’d travelled to 64 countries around the world, plus 13 countries in West Africa by myself. This dude that I’d only just met, had decided that I needed him to take care of me. I wish I could say it was the first time I’d encountered this attitude in Africa, but alas, it was not. It was the first time that it had affected my plans though.
Luckily, Taotao was very understanding about it and organised to meet me again the next day after I had picked up my passport. So when I woke up in the morning, I packed all my things up and made it clear to Edem that he should just drop me off at the police station and I would go my own way from there, as I didn’t want to miss out on seeing anything else because of someones misguided sense of duty.
The City and the Road to the Border
At the police station, I finally got my passport back after waiting an hour for who knows what. Once that was done, I met Taotao who then took me on a tour of the city, with a couple of stops at places I’d said I wouldn’t mind seeing. He also helped me find a small Togo flag from a roadside seller, who seemed to be the flag guy. He grabbed a bag from underneath a shelf and seemed to have flags in there from almost all of the surrounding countries and a couple of European countries. I’m guessing he was the main supplier for people wanting to show which team they were supporting for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
As the capital city, Lome is the largest city in Togo, but it’s also much smaller than the capital cities I’d passed through in other West African countries. The central district has a population of less than 1 million, which makes it feel a lot less crowded and congested than some other cities. This gives it an almost cosy feel.
It’s also a coastal city, so you can see the beach from quite a few places within it, but apparently the beach that is the most popular, is also not the easiest to access. That didn’t really present a problem for me as I knew I’d see a lot more beach on the way to the border because the road follows the coast.
Taotao said that there wasn’t really too much of the stuff I wanted to see in the city, so we continued towards the border, again with a few stops on the way. The first stop was Lake Togo, which was not far from the coast. On the opposite side of the lake was a settlement called Togoville. Togoville relies heavily on fishing and trading. Small ferries regularly cross from there to the side that I was on. There must’ve been news that one of these ferries was due soon, as some men on my side had lined up some things near the shore for quick loading when the boat arrives.
A short distance away on the coast side of the road was the UNESCO listed Maison Wood, or Wood House. Despite its delightful sounding name, the place was used for a sinister purpose; illegally trafficking slaves for almost 20 years around the mid 19th century. The house was not made of wood, but instead named after the slave trader who owned it and kept slaves in a cramped cellar underneath it while they awaited the journey to their new masters across the sea.
The third and final stop before the border was an area buzzing with activity. Just after a bridge, the river flowing underneath it went out to greet the nearby sea. Small local fishing boats sat docked in the calm water near the river bank, whilst people on the dock sold freshly caught fish from wicker baskets placed on small concrete pylons.
Further along the pier, people sipped drinks under blue marquees at the waterside. Even with all the activity in the area, it seemed like a pretty peaceful and reflective place. It was interesting watching the ocean waves break at the mouth of the river. I honestly could’ve watched it all day, had the time being available to me.
A short while later I was at the border, where I had to get off the bike and walk through so that my passport could be checked. Taotao said he would meet me behind the building to take me through to the Benin side. This immigration area was a little confusing, even though they had signs to indicate where to go, all the signs were in French. I walked to the closest window I could see, hoping that it was the right one.
I think the immigration guy went through and looked at every single stamped page in my passport, cause he seemed to take a while to stamp it. After receiving the stamp, I had to walk through another area, which I think is where they were checking people’s bags, but the man just waved me through. I found Taotao and got back on the bike for the short ride to the final West African country I would visit, for now.
In a few words – wait me, I’m coming
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – ???
It may require a short walk, but it is possible to find semi-decent WiFi.
Transport – ????
? Bikes, bikes and more bikes! They were generally the locals’ transport choice.
? Shared taxis were also quite prevalent, but were slighty more expensive than the mototaxis.
? Minivans seemed to be exclusively available for intercity trips and were relatively cheap.
Roads – ????
Aside from the terrible road near the border, roads in Togo seemed to be fairly smooth and acceptably maintained.
Scenery – ?⛰???
Togo has mountains, waterfalls, trees, lakes, rivers meeting the sea, dusty towns and beaches. Something for everyone really.
Prices – ??
Great for the budget conscious traveller.
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Togo.
Border efficiency – ??
Despite the fact that there were no queues at either border I passed through, I spent about 30 minutes at each one while officers chatted and looked at my passport.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠
Although not at Guinea level, corruption is alive and well in Togo.
Overall – ???
Check out more of the overland adventures from North to West Africa:
The Port of Tanger
Southern Morocco and Western Sahara
Mauritanian Coast to Capital on the Iron Train
The Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott and Beyond
Super Social Senegal
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