Friday, August 26, 2011
Written by Chad
These are my California buddies Luis and Doug. Two weeks ago we left our villages in the dust and made off to greener- well, sandier- pastures along the coastlines of Togo, Benin, and Ghana. We hit up Lome, Togo then Vogan, Togo then Ouidah, Benin then Grand Popo, Benin and onward to Ghana. Here's what that looks like:
After securing visas and all that red tape nonsense, we boarded a bus from Burkina to Lome. Luis befriended a shoe salesman who guided us amateurs through the border station.
It was nearly a twenty-hour trek and we passengers endured the same in-bus movie two and a half times. The road in northern Togo was so pothole-laden that at times I wondered why our bus didn't just plow on through the cornfields instead. Despite its bumpy highways, Northern Togo is gorgeous. The road follows a valley between a range of picturesque cliffs. At sunset our resilient bus scaled a mountain range and then careened wildly back down to sea level, seemingly without a foot being laid on the brakes.
Kind of like my college campus, Togo's capital Lome appears to be a city perpetually under construction, never quite ready for its postcard photo. On the boulevard you see three especially colossal bank complexes, shrines to the fiscal gods, that make all other buildings seem Lilliputian.
On our way out of town, our bush taxi slowly waded through an enormous puddle. While the children remained calm, I scrambled frantically to survive our imminent puddly demise. One hand prepared to pry open the window and the other hand searching my perimeter for a bucket to bail out our capsizing vessel. Despite my preparations, our taxi inexplicably drove through this watery grave. I may have missed the exact moment when Mrs. Frizzle swooped in and transformed the vehicle into a boat.
When we found the "fetish market" section where exotic animals are sold for voodoo spells, a kid immediately offered up a squirming chameleon. The selection was impressive: discounts on monkey heads and porcupine spines, rebates on jaguar pelts and warthog tusks, and money-back guarantees on alligator teeth. Nervously, I scanned the vicinity for a voodoo doll resembling myself, but fortunately no Togolese witchdoctors have made an enemy of me yet.
Walking across the Benin border was a breeze, but don't tell any criminal masterminds you may know. And then we caught three motos from the highway, shuttling us to Ouidah, self-proclaimed city of the slave trade. We arose bright and early to walk the 4k beachbound road where slaves were escorted in chains onto ships. Symbolic African animal statues now line the walk along with other attractions. We passed the site of the nation's annual twin festival. We saw an abandoned stilt village on the marsh (the preferred architectural style in Benin). Finally we reached the Point of No Return where slaves, many of whom seeing the ocean for the first time, were whisked away to colonies spanning New England to Brazil.
Ouidah also happened to be celebrating some sort of festival in which spirits of the dead roam the streets in a parade, accompanied by drummers and giggling children. A local assured me these are "good" spirits of the dead. Whenever the music crescendos, the spirits chase after the kids as all the little ones scream and disperse like in a game of tag.
Next we braved the perilous Python Temple, home to approximately twenty heavily drugged pythons. The curator showed us some broken bike parts in a hole with ground corn grain sprinkled over it. I couldn't understand what he said this represents, but apparently it keeps enemies away. Under normal circumstances the pythons hung on our necks might have regarded Doug, Luis, and me as tasty desserts. But whatever cocktail of sedatives and tranquilizers they laced the snakes' lunches with, these sleepy guys were barely able to slither.
I grew emotionally attached to one particular python over the course of our five minutes there, nicknamed him Severus, and briefly envisioned an elaborate escape plan. Were I only to liberate Severus from his oppressors and this Clockwork Orange-esque prison, he could once again realize his snakey dreams. But then as I stuffed him into my shirt, I considered Severus' drug rehab fees and the costs of separation anxiety therapy. Not to mention a curse would befall me due to the protective magic of the corn-grain-covered bike parts.
Next up after Ouidah, we arrived at Awale Plage in Grand Popo, something that easily belongs in Disney World. The staff all dresses like pirates with red bandannas and the grounds have bizarre topiaries, trellises, ornamental vegetation, and giant chess boards that give it the distinct feel of Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately a group of Cotonou high schoolers had booked the very last room, so rage welled up inside our hearts as we watched them check in. The resort referred us to the new apartment complex next door. We arrived at a building that cannot be called anything but a castle. We waited at a wooden table in a huge empty room until the proprietor arrived. He sat down with us as if us staying one night was some kind of important business ordeal requiring mountains of signatures and paperwork. We were the only guests that night so we slept at the top of the castle, ready to defend it from invaders. The next day Luis and Doug used bathrooms in other unlocked rooms, only to be walked in on by touring guests.
The next night we dined and dormed at the Auberge which to me resembled a beachside plantation house from Forrest Gump. There we chanced upon a fellow countryman, a Burkina-based director of photography who has had a hand in some of Burkina's most celebrated films. Our time in Benin taught us that Obama Beer tastes bad- maybe Tea Partiers can sell it during the upcoming campaign.
The next day we hitchhiked back to the border of Togo. There at the border we stood at our second Point of No Return- this time because our visas, unbeknownst to us, were marked "single entry." Would Doug, Luis, and Chad gain re-entry into Togo? Would they continue onward to Ghana? Find out in the second and final installment of this two-part vacation series. Actually if you've had the patience to read this, you've probably already read part two, since it appears above this post on the webpage. Just sayin.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
Table of Contents
- ► 2012 (13)
- ▼ 2011 (27)