In Lome Lingers The Smell of Dictatorship

Wake up at 6.20sh, yoga with Tony Horton or do laundry, fix breakfast, say hello in Ewe to a gazillion people on our alley (all too familiar with our life story), negotiate the mad traffic to Lome (sandy deviation and bribes for the barrier people included), go to meetings, lunch at Maman’s or at fufu bar, crash in our tent, repeat. This was our routine for the long 3 weeks we spend in the capital city of Togo. Lome is now like home. We have become familiar with life in this sprawling African city, most of which is under construction: streets are being paved or redesigned, sky-scraping bank HQs built, parks delimited. The major infrastructure operations are controlled by the Chinese, but the underpaid workers are Togolese, with wages starting at 800 CFA/day (1,20 Euro).

Street workers are fancy

Similar wages for the military personnel, a very conspicuous presence all over town, especially when the largely hated president passes through, stopping all traffic at very irregular and unpredictable hours. The president is the son of the former defunct chief of state who was a feared dictator and who messed up big time. Even if some reform has been implemented, the past is still part of the present. The president is serving for his second mandate, but it is likely that at the last minute the constitution will be altered so he can hold on to power for as long as he wishes, despite voters’ choice. We witnessed one presidential escort crossing through downtown and the strong reaction it generated among the infuriated residents of Lome, who had to stop and wait at gun point for the shiny limousines to pass. Also while we were in Lome one of the many siblings of the president went on trial for conspiracy to organize a military coup about a year back. That again stopped all Lome for two days and tied people to their radios, but one can’t help but wonder about a positive outcome. As our long stay allowed us to be close with a few locals, whom we spent time cooking, sharing our life and chatting till night would fall, we learnt some worrying details about what it means to live in a modern African dictatorship, something that us, Romanians, have almost forgotten. For example, if you would buy a nice car in Lome you might be asked to pledge it as a gift to the president and if you would open a new business you might get yourself arrested and held for inquiries about the source of your money. And I could go on.

Lome infrastructure developed and financed by the Chinese

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The suburbs of the Togolese capital are organized by districts or neighborhoods, controlled by a local chief who is elected during an elaborated ceremony from the “royal” family”. People rely on their chief for all social matters, which makes them less aware of their power to elect and change governments they don’t approve of and is allowing dictatorship to flourish. Preserving the tradition whilst living in a modern society is not easy.

Initially we were not planning to come to Togo at all, but here is Tony Togo, the only KTM dealer in the area where we could properly service the bike and repair our topcase, which had fallen off after kms of bumpy driving.

Our Tenere next to its older avatar. Meanwhile our ITW motorbike tour of Africa got featured in the Togolese media!

We are staying at a well known overlander’s joint, Chez Alice. As this blog is sharing our honest opinion, we are forced to badmouth the place. In a word, it stinks. Literally. The decaying huts smell and the communal toilets reeking of piss are unbearable; the monkeys, imprisoned in the name of love, are embarrassing to watch. Due to the ongoing street works, we were far from anything of interest and wasted a lot of time on dusty and sandy detours to Lome. First morning of our arrival one of the dogs bit me and teared my only trousers, Alice didn’t care. To conclude this rant, if you are like us, and decide to stay for the cheap camping (1000 CFA each), ask the lovely Yawo to let you pitch your tent in the second compound, which is quiet, clean and pleasant.

Prices are higher in Lome than elsewhere in Togo, but street food is spectacular. The Togolese are passionate foodies, with countless variations of sweet and savory treats widely available. We had superb lunches at this central street-restaurant, where a family serves on weekdays from 1 pm rice, beans, pasta and pate with various proteins in chili sauce. To find this gem, get in line with the business people on Av. 24 Janvier, opposite Boston Pub, near the French Institute. Also you will find here excellent homemade lemonade and bissap juice.

Preturile in capitala Lome sunt ceva mai mari decat in restul Togo, insa mancarea pe straza este senzationala. Togolezii sunt obsedati de mancare si peste tot am gasit nenumarate variantii de delicatese locale, sarate si dulci. Pontul urmator e gratis, dar nepretuit: cel mai bun lunch in Lome se gaseste pe Bulevardul 24 Janvier la maman Victorine, vizavi de Boston Pub. Atat!

With Maman Victorine, the queen of Lome lunches, cooking some of the best rice we’ve had in years.

Ana with Beauty, the lovely daughter of the lunch lady and our new friend. She is beninoise/ togolese, spending holidays in Togo helping her mum

Another popular street food: pate rouge (millet flour, corn flour, tomato paste, tomato sauce, onion, peppers, Maggi cube) with chicken wings and yam wedges

Fufu bars serve a tasty West African staple, now in season: yam fufu with sauces (peanut and mackerel, tomatoes with onion or spinach and beef)

Bouille, a millet porridge, is served with sweet bread for breakfast. We don’t care so much for it (preferring to prepare our own guacamole with vegetable salad, or to eat chili beans with eggs in the morning).

African Cola – a popular corn and caramel soft drink

Togolese cheese is a delicacy made from cow’s milk and wrapped in a leafy plant that gives it a reddish hue; is usual sold in the north and also at the Benin border

Few days into our stay we settled for this hearty breakfast: beans with chili oil and cornflour.

And the inescapable sugar cane for who’s got a sweet tooth

We were happy to see again the ocean after weeks of riding through desert or landlocked savannah. The beach is nice, but not unspoiled, whith houses and bars lining the ocean. The waves were too strong for swimming or for fishing and the seafloor is quite steep. When the sea got calmer we found great fish and seafood at local fishermen.

In Lome many locals grab a picnic or catch a game of foot on the beach that lines the Atlantic coast.

We would have stayed in Chez Alice only as long as we needed to wash our stuff, but in Lome we faced the troubles of getting the Nigeria visa. After being rejected once, we thought we should attempt to obtain a letter of invitation and try again. The Sallah holiday pushed our next attempt at the visa one week later, as the whole Nigeria stopped to celebrate the end of Ramadan. This extra time allowed us to meet the mini Romanian community in Togo and the honorary consul, Mr. Alin Roman, head of Togolese Dacia/Renault subsidiary, and who very graciously assisted us with the visa. As always, the expats from our country who chose to live in Africa are not ordinary people. We were invited for a delish fusion dinner at Virginia’s and enjoyed yummy traditional Romanian dinners at Stefan and Nicoleta’s. Romanian cheese is nothing like its French, British or Swiss counterparts (we had smoked cow cheese and sheep cheese in fir tree bark); it is rustic, but still handmade in mountainous areas from fresh unpasteurized milk; quite tasty, goes nicely with a dry red wine. Eating this simple cheese in Togo suddenly felt exotic and we wondered again why the Romanians don’t cherish their heritage more, while being more fair about our flaws.

Impreuna cu dl. consul Alin Roman si cu Dl. Mitica la showroom-ul Dacia

Inside Togo Bois, a teak factory headed by Stefan

Lome was the place to fix another small disaster that hindered our travels since Ouaga. Our GPS – the one that we had to buy back from the thief in Morocco – broke there and proved impossible to repair. This time we decided we cannot be cheap again and went for the expensive but hopefully more sturdy Garmin Zumo, that we bought online, had it shipped to Paris, had a friend carry it to the airport where a contact of our consul brought it in Lome by airplane. Let’s hope that we won’t have to dig again this deep in our pockets or we may have to go home sooner than planned.

I am ecstatic for the new GPS

We were lucky to find many lovely people in Togo. They (Gaspard, Devine, Blondine, baby Lea nicknamed Chocolate, Nesto, Epiphany) were our daily buddies, happy to share a laugh, taste our cuisine, watch us exercise and listen to our travel stories spiced with pics and videos.

After 3 weeks we were settled into our own rhythm, eating and fruit shopping at the same ladies, moving about like locals, when we finally got the Nigeria visa. We happily packed our stuff and set off to Benin, not before ditching the very used tires that took us over 15000 km and after mounting the knobbies (fingers crossed that they’ll last till Namibia!).

Ready to make a move and gulping our last beans’n cornflour breakfast.

Exit Togo via a serene road that lines the turquoise ocean after the fetish center of Aneho