Lomé, Togo 2021

The coast off the Avepozo neighborhood in Lomé, East of the Hotel Madiba

This year, in the month of June, some of my family members and friends traveled to Togo from the United States, Germany and France. Many of us had planned to travel in April 2020 but were not able to because of the pandemic. Some members of the group stayed for a month in Lomé and others, like my wife and I, stayed for 15 days.

Although some of us in the U.S. traveled from Newark to Lomé nonstop, my wife and I took a flight from Chicago to Brussels, Brussels to Accra, Ghana; and then to Lomé (total trip time 19h and 10 min). We booked the flight in April 2021 with Brussels Airlines through a third party website and we paid a little less than $1200 each.

Like many people who travel to non-industrialized countries, our suitcases were completely packed and some weighed more than 45 pounds. A very patient and slim lady at the American Airlines counter helped us reweigh our luggage after we had removed some of the items and put them in our carry on luggage. It was surprising to see such a thin person lift our very heavy luggage and put it on the belt. We did purposefully take an extra suitcase and we paid $200 to check it in.

American airlines handled the flight from Chicago to Belgium and Brussels Airlines the rest of the way. Our experience with the latter is also very positive because last year they refunded our 2020 trip without much of a problem. I also found their staff to be extremely helpful since they were able to retrieve a hand luggage in Brussels which we had been asked to check in in Chicago at the gate, right before boarding. The hand luggage contained important medication my wife needed from the last stretch of the trip, which we later realized we needed.

Togo Tourist Visa

Unlike in my last trip to Togo, instead of getting the one week entrance visa at the Lomé airport, I applied for it through the Togolese embassy in the U.S. Although it is much more expensive to do it this way, the visa is good for 3 months, which means not having to apply for an extension in the town of Agoé, an ordeal I describe in my last trip. I didn’t get credit for the three month visa I obtained for 2020, which I never used due to the pandemic. I believe the visa cost about $150. If you want to apply for the visa, download the forms from the Togolese embassy.

COVID testing

To enter Togo we were required to fill out an on-line questionnaire and pay a fee of 40,000 CFA for a mandatory COVID test everyone had to take to enter Togo. After filling it out, I was issued a scannable bar code sent to my email address, which I was required to present in the Lomé aiport. Once at the airport, however, I noticed my code was not scanned and instead my information was taken by hand at 2 different places and then, like everyone else, I took the COVID PCR test. I believe I signed a form indicating if I tested positive I would voluntarily quarantine. The result was sent to me via email some days later and I tested negative.

To return to the U.S. the Togolese authorities required we take the PCR Covid test again at the airport. When we showed up for the test, we were informed we could preregister online so we wouldn’t have to stand and wait. The test price had decreased to 25,000 CFA. I took the test on July 10th, Saturday, two days before my departure and received the results on Sunday afternoon. Although my wife tested negative, I tested “probable,” meaning it was probable I had the virus, but technically the result was inconclusive. The instructions on the form I received by email were to wait 72 hours before retaking it. I couldn’t have taken the test again on that Sunday anyway because the airport testing site was only open for 4 hours on weekend mornings. However, some of my wife’s relatives said nothing prevented me from taking it again on Monday, July 12th at seven in the morning at the Institut National d’Hygiene and pay the rush fee, which ended up being 20,000 CFA. The Institut said the results would take 18 hours but a couple of in-laws who knew some people were able to get the results by six pm the same day so I was able to leave on my scheduled flight at eight pm on that Monday.

Some of my in-laws said I did not test negative or positive because I am white and the government just wanted to make money from me. However, I’m not so sure because there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the people at the Institut National d’Hygiene and the airport. I called the U.S. embassy on Monday morning and they said they had never heard of a “probable” test result and they could place a call on my behalf to see if they could get more information. I told them it wasn’t necessary but I would call them again on Tuesday if my new PCR test did not come out negative. Luckily I never had to call the U.S. Embassy again.

Needless to say my last Sunday afternoon in Lomé was ruined and I had to wake up at 6:00 am the next day, the same day of my return flight to the US, to catch a taxi on the N2 from the Baguida neigborhood to the city center. We were on the N2 at about 6:45 am and I was surprised to see a lot of traffic of many hundreds of people traveling on motorbikes and cars to undoubtedly go to work. I enjoyed seeing so many young people early in the morning. We also waited for some time outside and inside the Institut National d’Hygiene. It is in an interesting neighborhood. There are several pleasant outdoor restaurants. My wife had some Akasan, a corn type drink, and botokoin, a type of African donut hole, for breakfast. The latter are also referred to as bofrot in Ghana and Burkina Faso and there are plenty of recipes on youtube.

Quartier Baguida

In this trip we rented a house for a month in the Baguida neighborhood in Lomé. The house was quite spacious, having 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms, with outside servant’s quarters consisting of an additional room with a full bathroom. But the house was not clean and overall in bad condition. Many of the window screens were either broken or had holes, and the refrigerator did not work well for the first 9 days. There were several broken appliances in the backyard along with dog poop. The front yard had one broken sink up against a hedge, another sign which showed a complete lack of care from the owner. Unfortunately we rented the house through a relative, and not through one of the house rental websites, so we could not write up a review. The house was located in a gated area about, half a block from the N2, not far from the Hotel Porte Baguida.

A dirt road off the N2 in Lomé’s Baguida Neighborhood. There’s a lack of sidewalks and they’re often blocked. The observable ditches on the road become filled with water when it rains making it very difficult to walk and drive.

Outside of the gated area there were no sidewalks and no traffic lights so taking a walk or going to buy something at the local stores by foot was very uncomfortable. In addition, summer in Togo is the rainy season and the dirt road in front of our gated community often had huge puddles so at times there was only one foot of dry space to walk on, which we had to share with the cars and incessant motorbikes.

Other people in our group who rented a house or apartment had a much better experience. I think being a large party in a house makes it harder to manage the living conditions. Next time my wife and I will rent a place by ourselves.

Back in 2017, we stayed for two weeks at a relative’s house in the Avepozo quartier, or neighborhood. This year 2021, I found Avepozo to have grown, have a good nightlife, more variety of shops and better sidewalks. It’s also, unlike Baguida, at a walking distance from the beach.

Zemidjans and traffic

The zemidjans or motorbikes are a cheap and popular way to commute. A ride from Baguida to the Avepozo neighborhood, for example, almost 2 miles away, cost 300 CFA. My experience is that a lot of car drivers dislike the zemidjans, which seem to be the majority of vehicles in Lomé, because drivers say they do not follow traffic rules. Should they have their own traffic lanes?

Two traffic rules that I noticed are very different in Lomé from Europe and the US: In Lomé vehicles inside a roundabout have to yield to incoming traffic and motorbikes always have to yield to cars.

Mosquitoes and Flies

I think the living conditions you choose in Togo will determine what experience you have with these insects. Unfortunately the house we rented had an indoor kitchen and the live-in cook we hired left the kitchen door open at all times due to the high heat. This meant we had dozens and dozens of insects coming into the house all day. The mosquitoes are excellent at hiding inside drapes and everywhere and when I would go downstairs in the morning, I would easily get stung numerous times. The first couple of days I had 10-15 mosquito bites until I bought a fan, which I put in my room to sleep at night and this stopped mosquitoes from stinging me. A deet mosquito repellent I purchased in the U.S. also worked well and my experience is that it’s best to spray it in your hand and then onto your body. I did not put any on my clothes and I never was stung through them. Togolese mosquitoes liked my ankles and ear lobes a lot. Some of the members of our household reported vaseline was very effective as a repellent but apparently it can make you very hot with the sun. Vaseline also worked for me, which I used in the evenings.

Port de Pêche de Lomé (Port Fish Market in Lomé)

In Togo fish is plentiful and if you are in the Baguida neighborhood you are very close to the Fish market (Port de Pêche). Be ready for some serious negotiations and haggling, which can be quite aggressive with certain merchants.

Koliko avec akpavi poisson entouré avec yebessé
Grilled Red Snapper with fried yams and hot tomato sauce (Koliko avec akpavi poisson entouré avec yebessé)

Assigame Market

Once again this year we spent a lot of time in Assigame, the biggest market in Lomé. One could say it is like a huge open air Wal-Mart because they sell everything there. Many natives say one has to watch out for pickpockets and thieves but from having traveled to many big cities in different parts of the world, I can usually distinguish petty criminals and Togo still felt like a very safe place to me. In fact, we exchanged dollars in the market several times and never had a problem. Speaking of dollars, I didn’t find the exchange rate from withdrawing money in a bank any worse than exchanging it in the street, which is the natives’ preferred way of exchanging US dollars to CFAs.

Assigame is of course full of stands and shops but there are also hundreds if not thousands of walking vendors, who usually are quite aggressive. My experience is that the most pushy salespeople are those who sell shoes, belts and dress shirts. If you don’t want to be forced into buying something, don’t take anything in your hand, even when a walking vendor hands it to you, walk away and ignore the salesperson. You may be followed by an in-your-face salesman but you have to move along and be firm.

Natives say there are no jobs in Togo and people have no choice but to sell for a living and that perhaps this is why many walking vendors cannot take no for an answer.

The Hotel Madiba in Lomé

We spent a lot of time in this hotel because the owners are my wife’s in-laws. The staff is very friendly, the food, excellent and it is right on the beach. The Wi-Fi works very well too.

Sickle Cell Anemia

In this last trip my wife, who suffers from sickle cell anemia, started using Drepanostat, an easy to find medication in Togolese pharmacies. According to my wife it has the same positive effect on her as the Burkina Faso medicine FA-CA, which we know is made from extracts from the Senegalese Prickly Ash tree and the Apple of Sodom plant. FA stands for Fagara Jaune, which is Prickly Ash in English, and CA stands for the Calotropis procera, Latin for the Apple of Sodom, Pommier de Sodome in French.

Last year my wife discovered this article, which basically states that certain plants have produced positive effects in the anti-sickling of red blood cells, and she started taking the above medicine, FA-CA from Burkina Faso.

Disclaimer: Although my wife has experienced positive effects with the above West African medicines, I don’t know if they would be effective with other people who suffer from sickle cell anemia and I am not promoting them. I am simply describing that my wife’s experience with them has been positive. There’s a lot of information on the internet regarding different medicines and/or plants which are used in West Africa to treat sickle cell anemia. Some of the information I have found is in French, from France, Benin and other Francophone countries but there’s a lot of information on the web in English from Nigeria as well. Please consult with a doctor before taking anything. Do not rely on this article or my wife’s experience.

Poverty

Togo is in European and American standards considered a poor country. The natives say there is a lack of jobs there and many people with college degrees are forced to work either driving the zemidjans or as walking street vendors. While I was in Togo, I was only in Lomé, and I did not see anyone who appeared under nourished. The great majority of children I saw wore shoes. I also didn’t see any children with swollen bellies which would indicate Kwashiorkor. However when I travel to Spain or Togo it pains me to see African walking vendors who one can notice are often struggling under the hot sun. Sometimes I have given some street salespeople a little bit of money like 100CFA or even 500CFA (approx. $1 USD). However some of them get offended and would rather sell you something. When I’m in Togo I’m basically never in need to buy anything from a walking vendor, who often sell items for the local population, I prefer to give them a bottle of water, which is always very well received.

Copyright © 2021 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

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