Waking up to the sound of Gen’s phone going off trying to arrange a Skype interview was never going to be the best way to wake up, especially when you’ve got a bit of a thick head from the beers the night before. I left her to it, got up and headed out in search of a bank. Wandering down the sandy street, it started to rain so I took shelter in a shop front, a young guy called Rudolph came out to speak to me, I made a red nosed reindeer joke, but not knowing the French for reindeer he didn’t really seem to get it. We both laughed though, mine from embarrassment, his most likely a nervous laugh! It gave me chance to brush up on some French though and after a few minutes of chatting he had offered to lend me his motorbike to go to the bank. Explaining that I didn’t know where the banks were he gestured for me to get on, which I did, he then took me to the ATM, waited, then brought me back… top boy! I’d gotten used to the Ghanaian’s shouting “Obruni” (white man) at me every time I walked by, but in Lomé they just pointed, waved and shouted “Bonjour” it seemed less aggressive, I’d heard the Togolese were friendly, it seemed to be the case too, Rudolph hadn’t wanted any money for the journey to the ATM.
After a quick breakfast we decided to move on, we’d planned to stay in Togo a few days and go to a beach resort, but seeing as how it actually rains quite hard in the rainy season here, we thought that was a bit of a stupid idea to stay. Instead we packed up and went to the Bush Taxi rank, now, if we thought Tro-Tro’s were bad, we’d not seen anything! Bush Taxi’s are shared taxi’s that look like they’ve been in at least three serious accidents where normally a car would have been written off. Instead of this they’ve turned them the right way up, bolted the wheels back on, hit them hard enough with a hammer until they are moderately straight and then what do you know, its a perfectly road worthy vehicle! Regardless of how shit these vehicles were this was the way to get to Benin, and this was our first real taste of African aggression/desperation. I hadn’t had chance to cross the road to ask them before they’d surrounded us both separating us and pulling at our backpacks to get us to go in their taxi, I could just about understand French with an African accent, but not when there are 10 people all shouting each other. Grabbing hold of Gen I managed to get back next to her and told them all to shut up and speak slowly. We were a good fare, we knew this, they knew this, but still we didn’t want to get ripped off, as we got the price down little by little, drivers would start screaming at each other, visibly upset and angry that someone had potentially stolen their fare. Togo is one of the worlds most impoverished countries and at that moment I kind of found myself feeling sorry for these guys, ripping us off for a few more CFA would inevitably make one driver live a comfortable life for a few days, but in the end we had to choose and we obviously went for the cheapest. Three in the front, three in the back and we were ready to go, we headed east again out of Lomé on a terrible road in a car whose suspension had broken easily a hundred thousand miles previously. As we bumped along, my head hitting the mouldy roof lining, I saw the cars mileage, 364,742 miles and the speedo had broken god knows how many thousand miles before today!
Typically, I managed to draw the short straw and ended up sat next to a rather large Togolese gentleman who insisted on sleeping all the way to the border and slumping over onto my half a seat every time we went over a bump, which was coincidently every few seconds! A few hours passed by and we arrived at the rather muddy border with Benin, piling out and stretching my legs had never felt so good, we wobbled over to the immigration shack and sat down and waited our turn to go through the rigmarole of filling in all the forms, explaining why we were there and where we were going blah blah blah. Once it was our turn to step up to desk we sat down and filled in all the forms and explained that Gen was a student travelling and that I worked for the Police… big mistake, he did not like this and was asking for my papers, I explained that I didn’t have or need papers, but he didn’t understand English and I didn’t know the right words in French. Thankfully some American guy heading the opposite direction interrupted and explained to the man I didn’t need papers or something like that anyway, either way, he seemed satisfied now and stamped our passports and let us go. Phew, that could’ve thrown a spanner in the works, from now on I will be a ‘étudiant’ for the benefit of all border officials.
Packed back in the bush taxi like sardines I got reacquainted with my Togolese friend and settled in for a few more hours driving to Cotonou. I think I must have managed to fall asleep, because it didn’t seem long before we were booted out at a roundabout in the middle of a city and told we were in Cotonou. We’d no idea where we were, no one spoke a word of the Queens and the map in our guide book didn’t seem to relate to anywhere we were.. balls! I found a couple of Beninoise Police Officers and went over to ask them directions. I pointed at the map in our Lonely Planet only to be met by bemused faces, they did however understand what I was on about and pointed us in the right direction. They then asked us why we were in Benin, in the same sort of way I ask tourists what on earth they are doing in Blackpool! We set off walking but it was unbearably hot and the road did not look like the sort of area which would have hotels in so we gave in and flagged down a couple of Zemi drivers. They tried to rip us off but then once I named a price which I’d read was the fair price they agreed with no extra arguing or bargaining, that was a refreshing change. Now, I should point out that when you are on a Zemi and you’ve a 20kg pack on your back you have to have abs of steel, every time they accelerate your backpack wants to drag you straight off the back of the motorbike, there were a few moments when both legs went up in the air but I managed to stay holding on. The guys dropped us off at a Catholic hostel which although was a lot more than we wanted to pay we settled on because it involved no more walking about, it had air con and there was a restaurant. We showered and went for dinner and ordered the plat de la journée and was asked if we wanted half rice half chips, “oui merci” was our response, I think what he actually asked was would you like rice or chips, our yes please had meant we had enough food to feed about 6 people. It was delicious though so we saw the lot off and got ourselves a nice cold beer to wash it down with and retired to bed early as I was getting eaten alive by the mosquito’s.