Koutammakou, Land of the Batammariba

Having spent the evening munching on steak and frites and washing it down with near enough every beer on the menu, we had a lazy morning. On today’s list of things to do was to go to Koutammakou. We’d read a lot about Koutammakou before setting off and wanted to visit, we’d also read that you need patients of a saint to get to Northern Togo where it was… Based on yesterdays antics, that much was true.

Koutammakou is home to the Batammariba people whose unusual Takienta (basically mud castles) are now used on every tourism poster you’ll ever see of Togo.. EVER! To say they are proud of their UNESCO heritage site may be somewhat of an understatement but we had proven we had unflappable patience, were in Northern Togo, and so we were going to see what all the fuss was about.

We walked to the bush taxi rank and braced ourselves for the “you’re the only white people here so we’re all going to fight over you” moment, once that was out of the way and sorted we set off. We’d chosen to hire Michael, Michael Schumacher, he looked nothing like the German F1 ace, but he drove that car like he’d stolen it – perhaps he had? A short drive later and we were pulling down a rather bumpy red dirt road toward a little wooden shack.. Just like Disneyland, even this place had a small gift shop at the ticket booth! Tickets purchased, gift shop avoided, and (amazingly) English guide sorted we set off again in the car.

When I first caught sight of one of this Takienta I was pretty taken a back, surely these weren’t real? they didn’t look it, why would anyone build a small hamlet of castles unless, maybe, you were a family of Arab Sheikhs sat on an abundant oil wealth! The closer we got the more intrigued I was, How old were they? Do people still live in them? We pulled up at the edge of one of the small hamlets and went to visit the chief, we asked his permission to take a look around and after a lot of nodding, hand shaking, smiling and the exchanging of a little amount of CFA we were duly shown around. They were pretty incredible, the Batammariba are said to have travelled south and settled in this part of Togo from Burkina Faso sometime between the 16th and 18th century, it is at this point that they are believed to have built these mud houses which resemble castles. As we entered one of these Takienta we were shown the look out holes where once their ancestors would have stood protecting their hamlets. We were led through the dark smokey room and shown the small, they’d probably argue, cosy, sleeping area before being led upstairs and onto the roof. Up on the roof they’d built granaries, more sleeping areas and even a toilet. It was really quite ingenious engineering for its time. By the time we’d had a good look around we’d formed a crowd and were soon being followed around by the families children who were trying to sell us different things that they’d made. We politely declined their offers of various bits of carved wood that we really didn’t have room to be lugging around and headed off again.
Last stop before leaving Koutammakou, no doubt via the ‘gift shack’ was another slightly smaller hamlet. As soon as we got out the car these guys were gathered around us talking to us in their local dialect and laughing at us when we clearly didn’t understand anything they just said. Moments later they broke into song and dance in front of us and our guide who had disappeared off somewhere to have a cigarette returned. He explained to us that this was a traditional welcome dance performed to visitors and that although at times it looked kind of intimidating it was perfectly normal. Whilst all this was going on, some cheery old lady with her boobs out wandered over and started showing me how she was making cotton thread… I don’t know if I looked disinterested or whether she was just in the mood for a giggle but the she gestured for me to look at her and as I did she sucked in her lip piercing and stuck her tongue straight through the gap where the piercing was, naturally I found this hysterical and laughed as did the old lady before doing it again and again, we had bonded!

It was time to say our goodbyes, the mid afternoon heat was unbearable and we wanted to get back to Kara and have a cold beer and a wander around before we left tomorrow. Pretty much the whole village came to see us off and we shook hands and waved like mad folk as we drove off down the dirt track leaving a plume of red dust in our wake. Operation: Avoid shop seemed to be going well, the guy was lifting the barrier, we were free. No, no we weren’t, his boss shouted and beckoned us over, we walked over and played dumb, “you have receipt?” I explained we didn’t get one on the way in but that it was ok we didn’t need one, “come, receipt”. We waited patiently for our receipt and then were free to go again, we’d noticed this a lot so far in Africa, they loved their receipts, we seemingly got them everywhere!

The journey back was equally as action packed as the way there however this time our driver decided to literally drive a chap on a motorbike clean off the road. There were sharp intakes of breath from everyone in the car (bar the driver) as we watched a guy career off the road and down into a field on his bike clinging on for dear life, I have no idea how he didn’t fall off but somehow he managed to keep the bike, and himself, upright.

Once we made it back to Kara we decided we definitely needed that beer so went in search of a suitable drinking establishment. I’m not usually easily distracted when looking for such a place however, this was a special moment, I had just managed to walk back in time. Positioned right next to a shop selling second hand ghetto blasters was THE greatest shop I’ve seen in all my years of travel.. A used shell suit shop! “People of Kara, it’s the phone for you, yea, the 1980’s just called and said they want their stuff back!”. Fantastic!

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