ANYTogo Quick Facts:
Togo: Means –“Upon the Hill” in Ewe (local Language)
57,000 square kilometers (Half the size of England)
French Speaking West Africa’s smallest nation
Used to be a part of the Slave Coast
Portuguese landed first in Togo where they set up trade posts
Chantal and I left for our vacation on a Sunday, a really early Sunday. As usual the bus showed up two hours late, and full. We barely found seat and had to sit with most of our stuff in our laps. We made it about 5 hours into our trip with our bus tried to pass a semi, but failed. Our bus hit side of the Semi, ripping off our door and breaking the front two windows onto passengers. Luckily no one was hurt, but it did cause us to stop for a few hours while the driver decided what to do.
We finally arrived in Lomé around 5am. We were traveling with other volunteers and decided to go ahead a find our hotel and check in. We got to our hostel before the guard was even up. Good thing it isn’t tourist season, because it would have been a pain to search for a room in the rain and 6 am, after 24hours traveling on a bus, but we didn’t have a problem so we checked in and slept until noon. After finally making ourselves get up, we went to the beach. We laid around the rest of the day.
Founded by the Ewe people
End of the 19th Century the Germans came and relocated the capital to present day Lome
10km from the Ghanaian Border
The next day we went into Lomé. We picked a bad day because it was holiday, so everything was closed!! The first thing we did was hit up the Grande Market. It is set up really weird, so we spent a long time going in circles. Since Lomé is one of the major ports in West Africa, everything is really cheap. Most Burkinabé make trips here to buy stuff really cheap, in bulk and return to Burkina to re-sell it to us. In the morning we shopped, after lunch we went to the Fetish market. This is a traditional market, where you can find anything you want for you aliments. We first took a tour of the market learning what each different object does, then after that we met with the Chief of the market and he took us into a tiny room where he further explained some small objects, there was one for health, love, travel, family, etc. After that he blessed us and we were free to explore the market on our own. We also walked around the Port, but didn’t see much due to all the security, went to the Beach, which was not really pretty, and found a few nice supermarkets to hang in.
The next day started a week long rain fest. We spent all morning in the hotel reading, playing uno, or in the restaurant. We hoped the rain would let up after a while, but it went all day and didn’t stop, so we decided to just go out anyways to the beach. It was a bum day, but ended up being nice and relaxing. The next day we left really early to head to Benin, which isn’t far, but stinks if you have to ride in a crowded taxi with the windows up while it is raining.
Passing through the border was really easy. We got dropped off in Togo, got stamped out, then walked 3 feet and got stamped in to Benin. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Benin Quick Facts:
Used to be called Dahomey during the colonial period, adopted its current name from an old West African Kingdom located in present day Nigeria.
113,000 Square miles (size of Louisiana)
Capital: Port Novo
Portuguese also landed in Benin to set up ports
We arrived in Grand Popo around 9am along with the rain. We stayed at this little hostel on the beach run by some Rastafarian men. It was nice and if the sun ever came out it had a nice section of beach. That day we also spent in the hotel, but there were other tourists there, so we hung out with them for a while. The next day rained just in the morning, so in the afternoon we were able to go out on a canoe. 5km from Grand Popo there is a huge lake, that connects to another lake in Togo, by a river. This section of the lake connects to the ocean. We took a canoe ride to see some mangrove trees, ran into a fisherman who was picking up his daily catch, and then landed on this little island. We took a tour of it, learned about it’s history, voodoo, saw a few different style colonial houses, and had a man climb a tree for us and cut us down some fresh coconut.
During the years of the Slave Trade, Grand Popo was one of the major ports, after the fall of slavery, this town become nothing more than a relaxing beach town.
The Next day we headed East to Ouidah. We arrived by mid morning, with no rain this time, found a place after searching for a long time. The city was a lot bigger than we expected. There were actual roads, with traffic. The afternoon turned into a nice day, so we made a picnic in the park, did a nice walking tour of the area. We took a tour of this old Portuguese fort, that they turned into the history museum for Ouidah. This fort once occupied 5 different countries, the Portuguese being the first and the French being the last. It’s a small, but well preserved. The next day we met up with some other volunteers and went to the Python Temple, Sacred Forest, and Point of no return, and Door of return. The python temple was fun, we were the first people of the day, so the building wasn’t crowded, and we got plenty of time to play with pythons. In this building they breed pythons, and will rent them to families for protection. Then we headed over to the forest, where we learned about all the different vodu Gods, and other sacred things. After this it started to rain really hard again, so we holed up in a restaurant for a while.
The Point of no Return is referring to the slave trade that used to happen. There is a 4km stretch of road that you can take a tour of to learn about the final days/final walk of slaves in Africa. The Point of no return is the last stop on the beach, where a port used to be. Once a slave got onto a boat they would never be coming back. A few years ago a body of a slave was found and returned to the port where it was shipped from. The body returned to Ghana, and since then most other slave ports now have a door of return. It is in hopes that one day people will discover where their ancestors came from and they will return to learn about their heritage. Both places are funded by UNESCO, and worth seeing if you are ever in Benin.
We planned to have a whole beach day in Ouidah, since this was our last place to see beach, but of course it didn’t happen because of rain. We planned 3 days here but since we couldn’t do a beach day, we saw everything we wanted to see in a day and a half, so the rest of the time was spent relaxing or wandering around the city when it wasn’t pouring.
Voodoo and slave trading
Voodoo is believed to be started in Western Africa- Benin or Nigeria(depending on who you ask). In Benin Voodoo became a national religion in the 90’s, but the people that practice it use voodoo consider it a spirit, demigod or intermediary. They use this to interact with other spirits, ancestors or their supreme God Mawu. Voodoo is only white magic (good stuff) but can be used badly by sorceresses. In this case people will other offer offering, or buy a fetish (a regular object infused with a sacred power) to counter act the black magic, protect the home, or help a sick person. Normally each village has a vodu to protect their village. They build a shrine to this vodu and each year villagers make offerings, sacrifices for their protection.
When slaves were traded they took this religion to North and South America. When the Brazilians returned to Benin between the 17th -19th century they brought back voodoo mixed with their local traditions introducing different parts of that into the voodoo tradition in Benin (like voodoo dolls).
Since we saw everything we wanted to see, we decided to leave early for Cotonou. We arrived in this port city and immediately disliked it. There are mottos everywhere, we spent most of our time in traffic. We found the first hotel we came across, which was a bad choice since it was dirty and near the Grande market, so it never quitted down. Since we didn’t like our hotel we spent the whole day outside. We went to the Grande Marché, where I bought a lot of shoes. Then we found a few other places to hang out just to pass the time.
Economic Capital and Port City
West Africa’s least enticing cities
The next day we headed to Natitingou. It’s a 12 hours bus ride north. It was really nice, a lot better than the ride down. We got a hotel room and called it a night. The next day we went 17km to a village where there is a waterfall and hiking. We spent the whole day playing in the waterfall and finally got some sun. Later that day we did some final shopping, in the rain of course!
Home of the President Mathieu Kerekou
We left Benin really early. Since we are so close to the Burkina border we took a bush taxi the whole way. It were so happy to be back in Burkina, where we understand the local language and prices for everything. Overall we had a good vacation, despite the rain. We still got to do everything we wanted and we got to relax, which was probably the best part. We are both 3rd year volunteers, and with all the problems Burkina was having the last few months, it was nice to be able to just get away.
*All the facts were found in the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet Guide books
**On the Map, cities highlighted in purple are the places we visited.
Now I am back at site and planning some conferences. It’s also rainy season, which I love!!!! Well that’s all for now. Update later this month…..
I also updated Photos of the trip(the link is on the right of the screen)