Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Burkina Faso to Togo

The border was once again an easy affair after figuring out what we needed to do and where we needed to go. We were told we had come through the wrong entrance, so the police officer directed to the correct building. An orange large building with zero signs. Very useful of course. But we went inside and into a small room to the left where two officers were sat. He stamped our passports out of Burkina after some confusion with our passport validity dates and the visa validity dates, somehow getting the two confused?! Quite amusing actually as he thought we had a 10year long tourist visa!?
Then around the corner and across the parking lot, where we got our vehicles checked by either a fixer or an official (wearing no uniform) who soon asked for a CADEAU... We just pretended like we didn't know what he was saying and moved inside to a police officer who was in a uniform that took our vehicle details down. Then to the gates to get a post control ticket for the vehicles to exit Burkina for 2000CFA (£2.30) per car. This was legit and we got a printed receipt which was stamped. No bribes and no hassle from the police.
Then we drove to the end of the road and parked the cars behind the barrier. Here we had to go to a pre-fab building on the left. It was absolutely packed with people waiting and we could only imagine how long this would take, but we got ushered straight past them and into the air conditioned room (heaven!!) and here we bought our Togo visa for 10000CFA (£11.50) each and got our passports stamped. We left with hand shakes and even a smile from the grumpy looking official. They told us to go across the road to get our vehicle papers sorted. Here the official told us we didn't need it and we could continue... What?? How could that be possible? So we continued to ask until eventually, with a less than interested response, he told us he couldn't do our carnet but we would need a Laissez-Passer for 5000CFA (£5.70). That was lucky, if we had continued and got stopped by a police check, how would we explain that one! But once again, no bribes! Brilliant! 
We were now starving so we made some lunch before setting off into Togo. 
Another country, another flag! Yay!! 

We arrived into Dapaong and made our way to Hotel de Campement in hope they would allow us to camp. Togo was already different to Burkina with perfectly tarred roads and proper buildings with proper bricks and roofs. There were still extensions made of the normal clay bricks and grass roofing, but definitely different. The cars on the road seem a lot more roadworthy. We can definitely sense that there is more money in this country.
We arrived at the hotel and it looked lovely. They would allow us to camp for 3500CFA (£4) per person. Great news, so we sat down and enjoyed a well deserved Pils beer after our border crossing day. For some reason, on the days we have to cross a border, it totally takes it out of us and we become very tired and quite unsociable.
But this place had a wifi connection, so we wanted to touch base with the folks and call them to say hi. It was a pity we were so knackered as we must have sounded so unenthusiastic, but it's really great to hear their voices. Our little nephew even asked when we were coming home and followed with "you've been gone for AGES!" ... It's little things like that which really touch you! We are having such an awesome time and wouldn't swap this for the world. But it is always family that make you miss home!
We made vegetable slop with sweet potato mash which was actually very tasty! And called it a night. 

We woke up feeling rested and ready for the day. So we had a quick shower and some brekkie while Charles battled with his tent zip. It started separating while pulling the zip and becoming a real pain in the ass! After battling with the zip for a little while, he tried clamping the zip tighter together and it seemed to do the job! 
We were told about some caves that were not too far away and definitely worth a visit. So we headed off through the villages, waving and greeting them. Some waving back with big smiles and shouting bonjour, but still there were some shouting CADEAU (present)... Shouting cadeau back is always amusing as you watch their confused faces. 

We arrived at the caves but there was a locked door to get down to them. So we spent some time taking in the sight of Togo. Unfortunately this country is very hazy this time of year, which hinders the view, but luckily it wasn't too bad and we could see the beautiful landscape with scattered trees and brown grassland. We thought if we hung around long enough someone would eventually come, they always did... And true enough there was a man that came wondering out of the bushes. 
He told us it would cost 2000CFA per person and a small contribution for him as our guide. So we offered him 2000CFA and he said this was too little. So we settled on 4000CFA. As we got burned previously we agreed a price and paid. Just then there was another guy that arrived and he tried to tell us that we now needed two guides. Nope, we weren't having any of it! So we made our way down the rickety metal ladder with the original price we agreed. 

These steps were crazy and once again England's health and safety would have a heart attack. But we decended down till we got to the small caves. There were old mud containers and evidence that people once lived here. The guide told us in the war the village would decend down into these caves by climbing down exposed tree roots and would hide there. These caves were not very tall and not very big, and we were shocked to hear over 300 people stayed here to hide from the war for up to 4months at a time. Some places we had to almost crawl to get through to the other side, it was spectacular to see! And we could understand why this was dubbed a world heritage sight by Unesco. Absolutely stunning and well worth it. 

It is, however, some of the people that ruin excursions like this, with the guide constantly asking for a cadeau. He then tried to tell Cat that his solar panel was broken and if we could give him anything to help. This was getting tiring! So we decided to cut our visit short and head back to the cars. He then again was asking for gifts and said we should come to his village to look at his shop and get a drink. No, we were fed up of him begging, so we left and headed to the next village where we would enjoy a drink in peace!
Well, as peaceful as it gets in Africa. With some of the guys taking photos of us while we sat in this pub. We could imagine him showing all his friends in shock that 4 white people were sat enjoying a drink in their town. I ended up having a selfie with him and I suppose we fuelled the town gossip for the week. These are the people we love! 

With a long drive ahead of us we made our way to Mango. We arrived at Campement de Mango and were told once again that they wouldn't allow us to camp but needed to take a room. As there were no other options and only being 4000CFA per night per room(£4.60), we couldn't really complain, even if the room didn't come with a blanket. He said the rooms needed to be cleaned so we head into town to grab some lupper (lunch and dinner).

We saw a street food stall with loads of people around it. As our last street food was less than desirable, we were so hoping this would be good as we were now all starving. 
We got to the stall and when the lady saw us white people stood in front of her, she was shocked! Almost taking a couple of steps backwards. All the people that were there were now all staring at us and watching us intently. The food looked good so we were hoping it would be a winner. We had couscous, thin spaghetti, a tomato and barbecue sauce with dried bits of beef. It was flippen amazing and we ended up getting another bowl to share. One of the kids had a ball in his hand and I asked him to throw it to me. Reluctantly he eventually threw it to me after confirmation from one of the adults that it would be fine. Then the other boys joined and we had a swarm of kids around us. It was great fun playing with these kids, and getting to know them and they were lapping it up. I had one girl that decided it was way more fun hanging onto me and almost climbed into the car to come with us. Fantastic food, fantastic people, fantastic fun.

We headed back to the hotel where we dropped off the cars and headed into town for a couple of drinks. That night turned out to be very drunken as we made friends with the pub owner. We watched the world go by with its lorries speeding through town, children walking back from school in their perfectly pressed brown and blue uniforms, goats following their owners as if well trained dogs and woman carrying all name of loads on their heads. 

We certainly had one too many, and emotions began to run high. After a conversation about our behaviours as couples in general on this trip and spending 24hours together, I passed a comment about Rob and I having issues, just like every other couple. At that moment Rob got up and left the table. Cat ran after him, but he was gone. I think we had reached breaking point, as although we had chatted before about working on our new relationship (totally different when you spend 24hours together). It never really materialised.
Cat and Charles sat with me while I sobbed, telling me how they saw our relationship from the outside. We were both at fault and I needed to realise that. I felt awful as although this was mine and Robs issue, Charles and Cat had to live with it along side us every day. 
After a few tears and a really good heart to heart. Rob and myself both don't want us to end, or our adventure, so we lay it all on the table. In the morning, we told Cat and Charles that we would both do our best to not only work on our relationship, but in turn make life better for them. 
I say it again... This trip continues to throw good and bad at us. But it's funny how you learn to turn the bad into good and look at it not as an end, but as a hurdle you learn to overcome and grow from.
It's only been a few days, but we have both made some serious changes to our attitude and behaviour towards each other. We just need to continue to be mindful and work together. 

We were up early with very fragile heads and headed into town to get some coffee before heading off. Sadly, Mango had no cafes and therefore we decided to head off to the next town. Eventually we stopped at a cafe but they had no coffee, so we had a few soft drinks called Youki which was absolutely divine. It's our new favourite drink.

As we were only given a 6 day visa for Togo, we had until Monday, so we needed to reach Lomé (the capital) by Friday so that we could get our visas extended and hopefully apply for our Benin visa in the next week. This meant we had to motor through the country and sadly miss the sights on the way down. 
We arrived into Atakpame and came to Hotel Le Sahelian. They would allow us to camp, but for £3 more we could have a room. Well, after our very long day of driving, we couldn't bear putting up the tent in the sweltering heat, so we ended up taking the room (8800CFA per room - £10) and even had a lovely dinner there.
The rooms had a shower, aircon and a blanket! That was enough for me and it was lights out within seconds of putting our heads on the pillows.

The alarm went off at 6:30, ready to enjoy a quick brekkie in the morning so we would be ready to drive the last 4 hours before reaching Lomé. Driving on the main roads of Togo is interesting. There are parts of the roads that are magnificent with beautiful, perfectly laid tar that even England would be jealous of. But I t then just ends and becomes ridden with pot holes or just simply turns into piste for a few kilometres, then back to perfect tar. Why wouldn't they just join them together? 
It's still great fun driving through the villages when everyone pretty much stops what they are doing to look at us drive past and give us a wave. So welcoming, with only a few begging us to stop in hope to get a cadeau. It was getting incredibly hot the further south we went. Sitting in our un-air conditioned vehicles was a killer. We had all the windows open, but yet we still had sweat dripping down our faces with our clothing drenched. I had forgotten what this felt like having lived in England for the past 8 years. 

We drove around trying to find the immigration office getting directions from locals this way and that, with no real success. Eventually we found it on the sat nav and drove back the way we had come from, to find out they had closed for a really long lunch and would open at 3pm. We decided to head to camp and we would return in the morning to extend our visa. 
We arrived at Chez Alice and were treated with shade and a cold drink and it would be 1000CFA (£1.15) per person per night. Perfect! We stayed the night, but it was so stuffy and sticky as there was no wind that we decided to move on to Chez Antoine on Coco Beach where there was a great view and wind to cool us off.

This place was amazing and what seemed like the overlanders meeting point. We met some pretty awesome people; that while on a trip like this, you seem to really bond with immediately. We spent the next week getting know everyone while chilling out on the beach, and shot gunning coconuts as they fell around us. The boys got pretty good at prying them open with a machete west African style after being shown by the local guard. We spent most afternoons swimming in the warm, but violently strong currents, that proved to be one hell of a workout! Such fun! 
We couldn't have asked to be stuck on a better campsite while we waited for our Togo visa extension (500CFA per person), the Benin Visa (10000CFA per person - £11) and the Congolese visa (70000CFA per person - £80). The Benin visa was very easy and applied on Tuesday, they needed a hotel booking, 2 passport photos and 1 passport copy for a 15day visa, but only possible for collection on Fridays. The Congolese visa was easy as well, but the embassy was a little unassuming and therefore difficult to find; they needed a hotel booking, 1 passport photo and 1 passport copy for a 1month visa. It was 60000 for a 3day wait or 70000 to receive it as we waited. So we decided the quicker the better as the embassy was on the other side of town.

While in Lomé we visited the Grande Marche which was much like the other markets in west Africa, the only difference being that all the mannequins had Obama heads... Very entertaining! That afternoon we stopped off and had more street food, but were shocked to see three skinned animals dragged in and butchered right in front of us. Not your normal restaurant etiquette! Lol. But the food was good at least!

We went to the voodoo fetish market, which is the largest in the world. It was equally fascinating and revolting! You needed to look past the gruesomeness of the rotting dead animals and carcasses and try to understand their animist and voodoo beliefs. All these animals are sacrificed for medical purposes or good luck charms. Still not something I can get my head around, but interesting to see.
It did however feel a bit like a tourist trap and I wonder if these traditions are still actively practiced in this day and age; even if we were ensured they were and people travelled from miles away to buy these things. 

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