In January/February 2012 I visited West Africa for a second time. This time I had booked a private three-week tour through Ghana, Togo, and Benin. The tour was organized by Blastours, a tour company in Ghana. They put together a really great itinerary, organized the driver with 4WD vehicle, and booked all the hotels. All the visits to the attractions were included in the tour package. They also helped with getting the visas for Ghana, Togo, and Benin. I enthusiastically endorse Blastours, they did a fantastic job in preparing and running the tour.
My tour guide and driver was Samuel Ametenwee. He was a great guide, very good at organizing things. For instance he managed to get our bumper welded and our air conditioner fixed on a Sunday afternoon. You can reach him through Elisamtours.
I entered Togo near Natchamba from Ghana. The border officials extorted 5000 CFA from my guide, in order to let us through. That was a regular experience in Togo. In one of the first villages we came through I walked through the local market. From there we continued to Kara for one of my two overnight stays in Togo. That afternoon we drove north to Sara Kawa to an animal park. According to my guide, this is the only park in Togo that has animals left. It belonged to the president of Togo and was therefore spared. All the animals in the other parks were killed during the political turmoil in the 1990's and early 2000's. As in Benin, the local guide in the park (and all the other local guides in Togo as well) spoke only French. That was a problem, since my French is very rudimentary, as was the French of my guide.
In Kara I tried to get money from an ATM, but none of them would accept my MasterCard. If you want to use an ATM in Togo, you need to have a Visa card. This was the same everywhere in West Africa (see Ghana).
The next morning we continued north towards the border with Benin. We had to do the border formalities in Kande, about one hour from the border. Again, the officials extorted money from us.
On the way to Benin we visited a Tata Somba village. The houses there have a distinct architecture. On the ground floor is a large room that holds livestock, etc. Part-way up the stairs is the kitchen. On the top of the house are rooms for sleeping. There are no regular windows, just small openings for shooting at enemies.
On the way back from Benin to Ghana we entered Togo near Aneho on the coastal road. Again, the border officials extorted money, this time even more than during the other border crossings.
From the border we drove a little inland to Togoville, with a nice church. Back to the coast roads, we then drove along the coast to Lomé, basically all the way across Togo. From Lomé we headed north to Kpalimé, where we stayed overnight.
The next day we headed west towards Ghana. On the way we stopped at a local village for a walking tour. The tour ended up being almost four hours long. It was interesting to see the local plant life, produce, etc.
Crossing the border into Ghana was the only time that the border officials didn't extort money. They were obviously very young and inexperienced, and not used to seeing tourists.
The hotel in Kara was very nice, including air conditioning and hot water. The food there was pretty good. The hotel in Kpalimé was a bit simpler, without hot water, but with air conditioning.
In Kpalimé I ate in a small local eatery. The food there was very inexpensive ($1.00). The local food is usually palm nut soup with some meat (beef, goat, chicken,or fish) and fufu or banku, eaten with your fingers. Fufu and banku are a sticky paste, served in a fist sized ball. They are made from manioc and plantain (fufu) or maize and millet (banku) by pounding the raw material in a big wooden mortar with a big wooden pole for what seems like hours.
To eat, you pinch off a small piece and use it to pick some meat out of the soup or to dunk it in the soup. My biggest problem with eating like that was that I always get the red sauce all over my beard . They always have a bowl of water on the table and a liquid soap dispenser to wash up before and after you eat.
The beer is (as in most parts of the world) German style lager beer. It is sold in 0.62 liter (1.31 pints) bottles. It is inexpensive, about $1 - $1.50 per bottle.
Along the coastal road, the road was very bad, and so was the traffic. In Lomé the traffic was also pretty heavy, but not as bad as in Accra or Kumasi. The road north from Lomé was paved. Large parts of it had been recently fixed, but the unfixed sections had really bad potholes. In the north, the roads around Kara were paved and in fairly good condition. The road from Kande to Benin was a dirt road. On that road the mounting brackets for the big cattle-guard bumper on our 4WD broke again. It was finally fixed in Natittingou in Benin.
The weather was the same as in Ghana and Benin. It was warm, around 30°C (90°F). It was very hazy, sometimes you could hardly see the sun because of haze, even though there were no clouds. This affected my pictures a lot, many of them seem to be very grayish. This is not a problem with the camera, it is a problem of the very strong haze that grays out everything. It did not rain while I was in Togo.
I was not long enough in Togo to have much contact with the local people. During the walk around the market on the first day, people seemed to be quite friendly.
As mentioned above, there was not much wildlife to see in Togo. Only one National Park seems to have anything of significance left. The African Buffaloes (Syncerus caffer, german: Kaffernbüffel, french: Buffle d'Afrique) in that park were interesting. We drove towards a group of buffalo. Buffalo always stare at visitors. I have seen that on many occasions in Africa. In this case, one of the buffaloes did more than stare, he started advancing towards us and looked kind of threatening. We decided that it was best to back up the car, a charging buffalo can do quite some damage. The buffalo stopped advancing, but kept staring at us. The zebra, wildebeest, and ostriches in the park were imported, there were none left. The Kob (Kobus kob, german: Senegal-Grasantilope, french: Cobe de Buffon) are a small antelope that is frequently seen in the parks in the region. But they are frequently hunted for bush meat, so they are becoming rarer.
I was in Togo only briefly, so my experience was somewhat limited. Unfortunately, the most lasting impression was the corruption on the borders. This really gave me a very bad opinion of the country.
See the separate page with birds:
Nature in Togo
Birds in Togo