Togothon day 3, part II

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
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Trip End Dec 13, 2009


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Flag of Togo  ,
Saturday, October 3, 2009

  we left from Gboto's breakfast feeling astonished that we had already traveled 8k. It went by really quickly this morning, so we took it as a good sign. 

Along the road, tons of motorbikes passed us (togo's main taxi-system is on motorbikes/motorcycles) and only one car. the car was an SUV and the man inside rolled down his window to offer us a ride. We got this a lot and came to know that usually people who traveled in cars in this area were way upper-class. This guy told us he had a place in Gboto and a place in Lome and also offered us a ride after we reached Tokpli in the afternoon, gave us his number and said to call him if we needed him or wanted to return to Gboto. 
In the US i would never trust a man like this--but my view of hospitality in Togo is that it is much more genuine than in the US. and despite warnings from guidebooks, i trusted most strangers that crossed my path and offered a ride or a meal or a place to stay. The men in the SUV drove off down the orange dirt road in a cloud of dust and we kept on walking in the blazing sun. 

We got to another town which seemed deserted, until we rounded a curve and heard a lot of loud drumming--realizing we were crossing some sort of celebration, ceremony, or maybe a funeral. I felt guilty passing through, like we were stealing all of the focus away from the ceremony: just by being white and being there. people turned, dancing, and waved to us. The kids ran out from under the tent and sang "yovo yovo bon soir" and waved to us as we walked away. 

We kept going. 

We didn't pass any place for water the entire day, but luckily we had packed extra from the hotel: 3 litres worth. 

But, 3 litres wasn't enough once the sun really came out. The sun was absolutely scorching by about 11 am and there weren't clouds like there had been the previous two days. Kayleigh was being bothered by the sun--not burned, but her skin felt fiery and stung. Matt's feet were essentially 2 throbbing blisters wrapped in bandanas, secured by the straps of chacos. i was feeling okay--and really just wanted to be finished. my body was actually handling the hike impressively well: i figure i am just built for walking. 

We were on a long orange dirt path, and searched out shade for a break. We came upon a church with a large tree in front of the cleared dry dirt lawn. We sat there, ate peanut candy, groundnuts, cookies, and oranges. Through a thin line of trees there was another clearing--a lawn for a small set of huts--where two small children were playing and another smaller child was sleeping. 

The two children that were awake were visibly curious about our presence next door. They crawled on the ground, playfully daring each other to get closer and closer. They snuck from tree to shrub, peaking out and giggling--and when each one got closer, they'd turn to the other, snicker and run back far away again. 
Eventually, in the time we sat there, they got courageous enough to cross the line of trees that served as a border between our yards. The boy was the first to approach. His first visit was quick. he walked us slowly, until we smiled and waved--gasped and ran back snickering to the girl in the other yard. 
Then they crept up together--and just stood. Preoccupied with snacking, we didn't exactly notice...so they just stood there. They watched us finish our food. We said 'bonjour, ca va?' and they just giggled--impressed that we noticed them i guess. 
We finished the rest of our snack while they were there...in retrospect, i realize we could have offered them some, but that thought didn't even cross my mind at the time. But they seemed to have fun just laughing with each other while we ate. We hung around to relax for a while, and they ran back to their yard...returning with the boy who had been asleep-who couldn't be more than 2 years old. 
He wailed louder and louder the closer they brought him. He was terrified of us. When they got to our yard, they set him down and he stood behind the older girl. we waved and he hollered again. Eventually they carried him back and this time when they returned they laid flat on their bellies inside the church- staring at us through the open hole that served as the entrance. 
We stood up and waved goodbye to them, telling them "nous devrons partir!" and continued to tokpli without stopping again until we reached town

On the very edge of the town, we were parched and needed water desperately. We stopped at a group of men all dressed in uniform on the side of the road around a lot of bowls--maybe bowls used for cooking, i really wasnt sure. We asked them for pure water and after scrambling through the bowls for a minute, handed us a silver bowl of water.
Beyond the point of caring or questioning, we just drank it. Though i definitely took much less than the others, being overly cautious as usual i guess. 
Where we stood we could clearly see another festival going on. 

there were drums and people walking around an open area, shaking the hands of people standing around a circle---as we have seen with processions involving chiefs in the past. We asked at this gathering for pure water, and a woman told us there was none there. we saw a man handing out cold bags of foggy, frozen liquid from a cooler, but decided to pass on it--scared it might contain water that our stomach's couldn't tolerate: but it was such a tease to see him!
We decided that now we would have to search out fruit: anything that'd give us liquid of any description.

we walked on and came to a small store. on our left--a store inside a hut, which was impressive. I walked in and asked the man for pure water. the store appeared to be more of a bar, in actuality. He responded telling me there was none. I asked if he knew where we could get some nearby--he said there was a hospital and a school about 2k back where we had come from where we could get food and water. He then told me something about the town, which i struggled to understand: it sounded like he called it "faim" hungry...? I didn't understand the exact meaning, but i got the point: that we were not close to water at the moment, and would need to walk 2k before we would be. I thanked him and walked out. 
Across the way there were women with tables sitting and arranging produce: we saw tomatoes, hot peppers, dried fish....and we asked about fruit. The first woman didn't understand us so she called another. We figured we try our chances and asked for fruit AND water.
she told us they had none. "biere et bons bons" she offered....nice, but not what our bodies needed now. we thanked them, and asked for "la frontiere entre Togo et Benin" and they pointed us beyond some more huts.
We started to feel like we were walking through people's yards--getting into some brush behind houses so we asked an elderly woman on the path the same question. she called a younger boy, maybe 16, who was walking toward us. she told him in ewe what we wanted and he walked us there---after about 100 yards we were stopped by water. 

water!

apparently we couldn't touch Benin. we felt like idiots--we completely failed to notice the river on the map. but there it was staring us in the face. woops! 
I talked with the guy who led us there, told him our story and he was very impressed. He told me that there were canoes that cross the river---and waved one over to us, but they turned too late and got carried off with the current, unable to pick us up. 
We were too tired to wait for them, so we went back toward town. I asked the guy with us about getting water or oranges, coconut, or pineapple. He told me the same thing as the guy from the store--none here, maybe 2k down the road. I told him, exasperated, that there just was no way for us to continue an extra 2k right now. He took us back to where the women had been setting up tables where we first asked for food. Now a woman there had oranges out!
we each got one---and as we ate, more younger-looking guys walked up and asked us our story. the guy with us told him in ewe that we were americans from Legon walking across togo. The guy seemed impressed and delighted, and gave money to the woman for our oranges, and 4 more and handed them to us: it was like sharing a celebratory cigar, for extreme-hikers like us haha
This guy who bought the oranges (Joseph) actually goes to a university in Legos, but was visiting Tokpli, his hometown, for the weekend. He told us there was a chief visiting which was why they had a ceremony. We exchanged numbers with Joseph and he and the other guy (and a third guy, whose name i never caught) offered to walk us back to the hospital. 
On the way, Kayleigh remembered we had passed some people sitting outside their house with coconuts on the ground and urged me to ask if we could buy them. When we came past these people again, I reluctantly did (these were just townspeople, they weren't selling anything--these were their coconuts, and i felt bad. but at the same time, i felt thirsty and was dehydrated).
Joseph offered the money. The woman called another person from inside the house who came out with a machete. The first guy took it and started chopping. He handed me the coconut when he finished and we passed it in a circle, sharing the nectar. 
Then the women offered water. We took up the offer, and again found ourselves drinking water from a large silver bowl. They even filled the bowl 2-3 times and used the water to refill our water bottles! When the coconut milk was gone, we passed the coconut back to the guy with the machete and he cut it for us to eat. We finished both coconuts and handed more money to the woman (not knowing Joseph had already paid her). She looked very confused and gave it back. honestly...I don't know many people good hearted enough to give so much and not take advantage of a second payment. But it was nice of her and nice of Joseph. I love the Togolese. 

 So, we finally reached the big festival-where the chief presumably was. we had talked to joseph and the other guys enough to where they now knew we were desperate for a way back to Kouve that didn't involve walking another twenty-two kilometers back. We told them about the man we passed on the road this morning, who so generously offered us his help and his number. We gave the number to joseph and he went to a hut where a man came out with a corded home phone. 
He got on it, dialed the number, and quickly began speaking ewe--kind of frustrating since we didn't understand what he was saying. As we stood waiting, i got the first intimidated feeling i had gotten the whole time in Togo. A lot of men--probably 15 or so--came to circle behind us, in addition to the 5 or so that were in front of us manning the phone. no one was saying anything--just standing uncomfortably close and staring. 
Joseph got off the phone and broke the bad news: our friend from the road was in Lome- he runs a taxi service from Tabligbo to Kouve and from Tabligbo to Lome, but not to Tokpli--if we got to Tabligbo he could help, but not otherwise. 
We were stuck. Joseph pushed past the group of men and led us through asking us to wait for him--he thought he could get us a ride to Kouve. We stood in awkward silence as the men re-assembled around us. At this point the festival was ending and our crowd multiplied---mostly filled in by children, but also by women and men. an older man was brave enough to speak to us: asked us what we were doing, where we were from, etc. we told him--and i felt like we were telling the story of Jack and the Beanstock. Or, maybe more fitting: the story of Jesus walking across the desert. People were amazed. He turned and re-told the story in ewe to people who didnt speak french and you could follow the points of the story, based solely on the timing of each wave of gasps and laughter--followed by glances shot up and down in our direction, measuring up if we should be believed or not. 
This same old man asked us if we liked oranges (yes!) and told us to follow him. by this time the festival was cleared out. Joseph returned at this moment to tell me the guy he knew with a car wasn't around. Our first friend had to leave and so here we were again: stranded. 
The older man took us to where the festival had been and pulled out 4 plastic chairs. we sat in them and our onlookers quickly closed us in, gawking. 
Now i noticed the crowd was almost entirely women and children. I figure this must be what it is like to be a chief--surrounded by people in awe at your very presence. Except we didn't do anything that would make us expect it, so it was a little more peculiar. Anyway, we got a kick out of how strange it felt. we laughed and joked at how miserably awkward it was to be revered like this. kids even reached out and poked us, then giggled with their friends--like they had just escaped the immortal danger of having our whiteness spread to their hands by touch haha

The man brought us our oranges, shooing away the crowd and clearing condemning them in ewe. people hung their heads and backed up. As we ate, we explained our predicament to him--how we were stuck without a ride home and didn't know how to get a taxi to kouve. he walked off and our crowd tightened in again. we kept eating our oranges and talking about how we were going to get out of there when joseph returned. He told us we should really just stay in tokpli and acted very insulted that we wouldnt (though we told him we had plans for dinner in Kouve and absolutely had to be back around 4). He left and came back again in a few minutes with the older man--saying he had a ride for us! we got up, passed through a narrow clearing in the wall of people to reveal a motorcycle waiting. Then another pulled up. two motorcycles and two drivers need to carry 4 sweaty americans and 4 backpacks filled with 4 days worth of traveling supplies to Kouve. They told us they'd be taking us to Tabligbo then we could get another ride to Kouve from there because no one goes directly to Kouve. do-able, we thought. so we climbed on. 3 people per bike.
I thought i would be nervous, literally fearing for my life as we rumbled down the orange dirt road, over crevices from streams of water, and clumps of dirt and rock. The terrain was hard to keep stable footing on--let along to drive through, i though.
but, once we got started, i felt invigorated and forgot all about fear (granted i still kept a death grip on the drivers shoulders, and wouldve put a choke-hold on his stomach, if i didn't feel like that wouldve been inappropriately touchy). Leslie was terrified. i could feel her tense up every time our driver leaned gently to the side to swerve the motorbike around some obstacle or another. 
It probably didn't help her fear that our engine overheated about 5 times before we reached Tabligbo, either. 
It's amazing how much quicker things pass when you travel this way and not by foot. But it was every bit as pretty. Maybe moreso, because i didn't feel miserable--the wind was really uplifting and my stomach was full and content :)

We reached Tabligbo and Leslie and i switched bikes because our current one was overheating. as i got my money from my moneybelt to pay, kayleigh laughed and said "i know what youre thinking" to the driver. apparently (i hadnt realized up to this point) i had put my moneybelt awkwardly low---so it looked like i was reaching in my underwear to grab the money. haha. she said the driver looked shocked and averted his eyes when i went to pay....oops. so much for not being offensive, i guess.

We finished our drive and were back in kouve by 4, as planned. it was such a perfect finish to the walk: motorcycles back home. A first for me, but probably not a last. I had so much fun.
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