For all who didn’t know yet, Patrick Martin Schröder cycles one of our bamboo bicycles, a My Densu - road bike, 5000 km through West Africa. This is the third travel report of his adventurous tour. He is already in Togo, which borders directly to Ghana. The previous report from Ghana can be found here.
This is not Patricks first journey, because he has been traveling for 10 years with the aim to visit every country of the world. He mainly cycles on his journeys, so he is always close to nature, human and culture. No one can tell you about Patricks experiences and adventures as fascinating as he can, so Patrick tells:
“Togo. One of the smallest countries in Africa, a tiny sliver just 100 km wide and 550 km high. A former German colony, given to France till it became independent once the colonial times slowly waned. Since then a new ruler sits firmly in Togo: The Family Eyadéma. General Gnassingbé Eyadéma ruled for 40 years, until, after his death, his son took over as the next president. While presidential seats are usually not hereditary, this problem is endemic to some African country. A massive nation-wide election fraud made sure that Eyadéma would become president, even if it meant 400 deaths due to riots and over 40.000 refugees that leave the country. Togo is one of the less stable countries on my route.
I slowly rode to the border from Ghana, an easy day of riding, until a great confusion overcame the border official. I happened to have two visas for Togo, one valid, one seemingly invalid. Unsure which one is more important, my entry to Togo was delayed an hour or two; luckily a bit of confusion is business as usual on African border crossings.
Lome, the capital, is right at the border, which meant a rather short day of riding for me. Lome is also home to a regular institution for overlander tourists: Le Gallion. A swiss-french run hotel cum bar. A surpremely out of this world view for me, since it looked like a small pub in France or England. Full of white people, football on the telly, a pint of Paulaner on the table. A menu (a written menu is rare as it gets in restaurants) with Steak, sausages and fries.
A small piece of home for those determined to spend their lives in West Africa, or at the very least to work there for a couple of years. This should also become my home for the next three days.
Lome itself is a curious city with three distinct areas: The diplomatic quarters, the beach area and... the rest. While the blocks around the presidential palace, embassies and expensive, foreign hotels looks like a ghost town with wide open roads and a lack of pedestrians, the beach and city are full of people. The beach is not only for swimming and tanning, but rather a place for all the homeless to live; cook; eat and sleep.
Unfortunately, it's also the most dangerous area of the country, practically everyone told me never to go there. Especially not alone and not at night. Even the door on my room had a nice little warning about "Don't go to the beach, you'll get robbed"
Therefore, I spend most of my time in the inner city, walking through small alleys, markets; changing money and talking to the people. And with a visit to the fetish market. Lome is home to the largest fetish market in the world, Voodoo is taken very seriously here and you can buy any dried animal part you can think of. Toad skin, bat wings, buffalo skull, no problem, coming right up. These are used to make fetishes to protect yourself, curse someone, or as a luck charm.
In Togo I had to make a decision: Will I go north here, or wait till Benin? Since I was still hoping to get my Nigerian visa in Benin, I decided to stick to the coast line in Togo and head into the continent proper in Benin.
That meant that I'd only had 100 km to ride till I reach the next country. But even that small section was enough for one of the highlights of the trip: I met another cyclist! The only other person that I met on the entire journey who was crazy enough to also travel by bicycle. A Spaniard who rode down from Europe, through Morocco, Mauretania and Senegal. Just having cured his malaria infection from the Ivory Coast, he had the same problem I had: No visa for Nigeria. His solution was a plane ticket to skip that country, while I'll ride north into Niger instead.
We did travel half a day together, till he stopped at a hotel shortly before the border. I crossed into Benin. Even if the meeting was a short one, it was good to know that there are more of us around; bicycle tourers in Africa.”
We are happy for you Patrick, that you met a crazy, like-minded cyclist so far away from your hometown and had a great time together.
In the next travel report, Patrick describes his experiences in Benin. Here he will leave the coast and enter the continent, how exciting!