Togo - Benin: People-to-People
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 1 - Lome


Arrive in Lome.  Lome has the look of a third world port city, which it is.
Points of interest: economic activity and division of labor by gender and age.
Cycling conditions: paved, flat, 10km if you ride in from the airport.


Lome, Togo, relief mural with bicycleArriving at the airport, immigration procedures went smoothly.  Custom on the other hand was a gauntlet of blatant shakedowns for money and things.  Inspections seemed to be more dependent upon how much the official perceived the passenger might pay than having anything to do with the security or contraband.  It begs the question why would someone who is being irritated feel compelled to dump money on their antagonizer.  The pleas for help weren't even compelling: One rather large, health and smartly dressed customs woman put on a mournfully sorrowful face and begged that she need money for food.

I remind myself that airports have nothing to do with countries.  Forget about it and move on.

Lome, Togo, street scene with potholes and liter
At the moment "moving on" meant Lome, which isn't exactly a beacon of light either, but it is a city so my expectations aren't too high.  It might need even less than that:  There is a veneer of plastic garbage throughout the downtown, potholes stretched the entire width of the streets, man-holes that drop into the obis have no covers, a search of about 50 square blocks in the downtown turned up four sit-down restaurants, Internet cafes were even more scarce, numerous motorcycles make it noisy, and car parking on the sidewalks blocks the path for pedestrians so they walk in the street leaping potholes, dodging manholes and evading @ssholes (on motorcycles).  Chatting with people is engaging but most of the cityscape around them is unremarkable.

Lome, Togo, Cathedral Lome, Togo, Cathedral Lome, Togo, Cathedral

The one building in central Lome that seemed to have any shine to it was the Cathedral.

Lome, Togo, Fan Milk ice cream bicyclistOnce there were a number of modest African-cuisine restaurants in the center of town, but they have now disappeared without a trace. Similar restaurants can now be found in clusters along the circular boulevard (Lome's version of strip mall).  These are a couple of kilometers from the old heart of the city. 

Lome, Togo, eating breakfast at omelet tableLacking any other viable option for breakfast we ate at a sidewalk table, with locals on their way to work.  At our table the chef was preparing Lome, Togo, bread sellermade to order, onion and tomato omelets, with special seasoning, accompanied by a baguette and your choice of black coffee, café au lait, tea or cocoa. The recipe for cafe au lait is 3/4 cup of boiling water, 1/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk and a couple of scoops of rich instant coffee.  All-in-all it is a tasty combination and interesting ambiance.

Lome, Togo, high rise buildings On the fringes of the center are newer modern buildings, mostly with the name of such-and-such bank on them.  As the focus of economic activity has moved outward the center of the city seems to be economically imploding.  The tale-tell signs of shuttered and padlocked buildings in the center give clues to past business activity.

Lome, Togo, street sceen Except for the banks and a few isolated modernesque commercial buildings, the building and businesses on the Lome, Togo, street sceenperiphery are typical one and two-story, cement block, zinc roomed structures, which are owner operated and handle a limited inventory in a specific line.  These are quintessential "ma and pa" businesses, where most employees are members of the  immediate or extended family.

Lome, Togo, hotel gardenWhile our hotel in the town center was worn, it was in comparativelyLome, Togo, lizard better conditions than the city outside its walls.  Within it walls it offered a bit of an oasis with a tree shaded courtyard garden and quiet ambiance.  Patient visitors could get a visit from several multi-colored, head-bobbing lizards that patrolled the garden for insects.

Lome, Togo, traditional medicine market, animal headsLome, Togo, traditional medicine market, animal headsLome is also know for its traditional medicine market, which is towards the outskirts of town.  It is free for locals to visit.  There is a charge for foreigners -- but you can take all the photos that you want.  The primary subject of photographs is a large volume of dead animals.  The Lome, Togo, traditional medicine market, animal headscollection is largely mammal, bird and amphibian sculls, but there are also some skins, feathers, bones, shells, quills, eggs, minerals and assorted other parts of the natural world.  If you are ailing you can visit one of the traditional healers that is on site, they will provide you with a list of ingredients for the potion that will heal you.  You can then buy the ingredients, the potion would be prepared and then you would be instructed on how to use the it.  Depend upon the malady and the potion, it might be rubbed on, prepared as a tea and drunk, or ingested as it is, etc. 

My airport problems weren't the worst this weekend: People coming from Ghana were frozen in there tracks when the international border closed for three days for a general election.  But elections are the exceptions not the rule. Procedures at the airport, which haven't changed for decades are unlikely to change soon.



 Next dispatch.



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