When I decided I was coming to Ghana, I knew that I would want to travel to another country once I got here.
I planned that my fall break would be dedicated to experiencing another country on the continent and since Togo is right next door—why not? As the break approached, my excitement weaned. I had to apply for a visa? And pay? And what about transportation? Travelling in between countries in Africa is not as easy as one would like to think. Since you’re already on the continent, one would assume that airfare would be cheaper or crossing borders might be relatively easy process as compared to travelling from outside the continent. However, this is not 100 percent true.
19th Oct., Martina and I set out with only our weekend bags and a couple hundred Ghana cedis. That’s all we had. We had no clue how we were getting to the country. We had no visa, no place to stay, no hotel reservation, and most importantly, no knowledge of French!
The rain drenched us. For the two months that I have been in Ghana, it has never rained that hard or that long. We thought it was an omen—one we didn’t take heed to.
Onward we went. Took a taxi for 8 GH¢. Got to the the bus station. Paid another 9 GH¢
for the three and a half hour tro-tro ride to the Ghanaian border. It was smooth sailing. We got to the border around 8:30pm and were greeted by cheery Ghanaian officers who assisted us in acquiring a Togolese visa.
Now this is where things got tricky. CFA or West African CFA Franc is the currency used by many French colonized countries in West Africa. In Central Francophone countries, Central African CFA Franc is used.
The visa was about $30 USD, 60 GH¢ or 15,000 CFA. The conversion to CFA became a bit complicated, and even more so because Martina and I were totally unprepared.
However, crossing the border felt like such a liberating experience. We finally reached our destination and immediately saw a difference. We even met a Nigerian friend, who stuck with us the entire trip.
Lomé breathed differently than Accra. A long strip of highway ran alongside the coastline, which was beautifully lit with an island of street lamps that divided the road. Although it was dark, I could see the beach was not covered in trash heaps and EverPure satchet water bags. Instead of gutters like in Accra, there were run-offs, where the sidewalk sloped downward.
We spent about 2,500 CFA picking taxis so that we could find a decent hotel/hostel to rest our heads after being rain drenched and sitting in a long and cramped tro-tro ride to Lomé. She and I were miserable, and honestly, we were not fully receptive to the experience. We were crying to come back to Accra, although Lomé was such a beautiful city. The language barrier had us feeling stranded. We didn’t even know if we were being cheated by the taxi-men because of the US to GH¢ to CFA rate. We didn’t get it. Frustrated. Flustered. And Tired. At one point, after getting out of a taxi with our Nigerian accomplice, the driver refused to give us change and simply drove off after a 2-minute altercation.
We checked about 6-7 hostels and decided on the first one we checked! At first the woman at the hostel showed us a room with Simpson bed sheets and a toilet bowl—no shower, no sink. However, the room Martina and I settled in though had a shower, toilet and sink in one undivided space and we paid 8,000 CFA. The bed was hard and the door didn’t lock properly, so that the next morning, the Nigerian man we met night before barged in under the premise of offering us his iron. Luckily, we were fully dressed.
The next day, we went to the market, where we bought some cloth, some bronze art among other things. A fight almost ensued between our Nigerian friend and the vendor at the market. The vendor was evidently insulted by the price that our Nigerian friend had quoted. He and about 4 of his friends gathered around our friend and continued to taunt him, calling him a woman and threatening to beat him.
After that escapade, Martina and I spent a few hours at the beach and hurriedly decided we needed to get back to Accra. I couldn’t believe it; we had such high, high hopes for Lomé, yet there was some strange gravitational pull towards Ghana. We missed it. We missed being able to pick a taxi and know a sensible price. We missed paying 1 cedi for a Sprite, instead of 1000-1500 CFA! Let’s just say we realized how Ghanaian we were. We were pledging allegiance to a new flag and we ready to come back home!
After leaving the beach, we hailed two motor taxis, which are motorcycle taxis that are relatively cheaper than car taxis, and headed to the back to the Togo/Ghana border. It was an enriching adventure, to say the least. But it was time to say au revoir.
Someone once told me the grass was much greener on the other side. I think they lied.