The Road Chose Me – Small and Mighty Togo
By: Dan Grec
Easily missed when skimming over a map of Africa, Togo is definitely not to be missed.
As one of the smallest countries in West Africa people often assume Togo does not have a lot to offer, and does not have much variety. That assumption is wrong on both counts. Togo is tall and thin, stretching from the semi-desert Northern regions bordering Burkina Faso to the beautiful white-sand beaches in the South. On the Western side mountains rise and form the border with Ghana, giving rise to lush rainforest, waterfalls and extremely friendly mountain villages where visitors are warmly welcomed.
The mountains around Kpalimé are listed as highlight of Togo in every guide book ever written – and for very good reason. Kpalimé itself is a beautiful city nestled among the highest peaks of Togo that boasts a bustling market bursting with color and smiling faces. Roads here have been impressively carved into the side of mountains, and many switchbacks later the three hundred and sixty degree vistas are stunning.
Here in the mountains the famously friendless of the Togolese is on display more than ever. I am immediately bid welcome and see many people waiving enthusiastically, even when simply driving through a small village. When I do stop to buy produce or or other road-side snacks I inevitably find myself sitting down to a conversation about many wide and varied topics. People are very curious about where I come from, and they are equally happy about my enquires about their country and way of live. There is lots of laughter and joy here.
High in the mountains past Badou I find a small road leading to Akloa, and the waterfalls there known as Tomégbé or Cascade d’Akloa. About 40 minutes of hiking through the thick jungle leads to the enormous and impressive falls, a literal paradise in the midday heat. The huge pool at the bottom is begging me to swim, and the locals gathered there get a real kick out of me going into the deep water and jumping off the lower falls.
They are all so friendly and happy to meet me they insist of multiple rounds of photos. When I continue taking photos of the falls everyone present wants to pose and then see their photo on the screen of my camera. Of course, they all have cell phones and take multiple pictures of their own.
In the evening the owner of the Guesthouse and I wander through town, chatting to locals and talking in depth about life in Togo vs. life in Canada. It is really great to go into such detail, and he is interested to hear that virtually everyone works 40 hours a week, 48 weeks a year, more or less for their entire life. In Togo most people work like mad to grow food, but when there is no rain there is nothing to do. So they work hard for three months, then do basically nothing for the other nine. During those nine months virtually everyone has plenty of food and water, and with no way to earn money, they focus on enjoying their lives by spending time with friends and family.
In the capital of Lomé, I find my way to ‘Chez Alice’, a Guesthouse that is famous across West Africa. Alice, originally from Switzerland, moved to Togo some 40 years ago and started this hotel / restaurant / campground / everything establishment, and has been running it full-time ever since. Now aged 92, Alice is still there every day, and I throughly enjoy talking to her about anything and everything she has seen change over the last 40 years. Her happiness and huge smile are contagious, making it very hard to leave.
Alice’s collection of African masks and wood carvings could easily fill a museum.
I am in Lomé to apply for more visas for my onward journey, and throughly enjoy the downtime at Alice’s beautiful paradise, a stone’s throw from the beach.
When all necessary visas are issued, I bid goodbye to Togo.
A tiny and mighty country, well worth a visit!
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