Two days in Togo – Travel Blog. The whistle-stop Togo leg of our Oasis Overland ‘Accra to Cape Town’ trip. Beach time, beers and Voodoo in the capital, Lomé.
We left Ghana for the Togo border at 8 am. The border was only a few minutes from where we were staying in the Volta Region. After a relatively easy border crossing, we continued down a ridiculously broken up and windy road for about an hour, stopping to collect firewood en-route. The scenery was quite different from Ghana. The villages were less hectic and the houses looked a bit tidier. The sand was darker and we passed through some hazy valleys before stopping at a town called Kpalime for a quick market shop. The vegetables in the markets were substantially cheaper than the supermarkets in Accra, so that night’s dinner was plentiful!
The Togolese were really friendly people and everywhere we travelled children and adults alike waved at us saying hello. We travelled right through to a campsite just outside of Lomé, where we camped at Coco Beach on the Atlantic coastline. Our visit to Togo was a flying one. In fact, we spent only three nights and two days in Togo, on the outskirts of its coastal capital city.
The following day, we went to the Gabon Embassy to apply for our visas. This didn’t take too long and we weren’t even required to go inside. After a supermarket stop and a quick truck lunch in the supermarket carpark, we had a free afternoon in Lomé.
The majority of Togo’s population follow their traditional ethnic religions and beliefs which generally involves spirits, fetishism and Voodoo (Vodoun/Vodun.) The Voodoo religion is practiced throughout West Africa. Though predominantly both here in Togo and in its country of origin, Benin. We were intrigued by Lomé’s Akodessawa Fetish market. As the largest Voodoo market in the world, this is one of the main attractions in the capital. Keen to see and learn more about this mysterious religion we caught a taxi out the Akodessawa district about 4km from the city centre to explore Le Marché aux Fétiches (Marché des Féticheurs.) Taxi’s cost about 1000CFA (less than USD$2) to get there.
Entrance is 3000CFA p/p (USD$5) for a guided tour and there is an extra 2000CFA (USD$3.50) camera fee for those wanting to take photo’s. Despite the ‘tourist entrance fee’ this is an active and authentic market. Many locals visit the market to purchase their potions and products to use as cures for all sorts of illnesses and ailments.
Voodoo is a widely misunderstood religion that often conjures up thoughts of black magic, rituals, hypnotic trances and the poking of voodoo dolls. And, to be honest we knew very little about this ancient religion and really didn’t know what to expect from the Akodessawa Fetish market .
First things first, don’t get confused with what this ‘fetish’ market is. If you’re coming here for erotic fetishism and some kinky sexual bondage you’re in for a nasty surprise! In Voodun a ‘fetish’ refers to ‘an inanimate object worshipped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit‘. And, when you enter the market there are ‘fetishes’ everywhere, with the vast majority in the form of dried animals. These are often ground to dust, then combined with plants and liquids to form medicinal/healing pastes.
For example, many of the Togolese people believe that by mixing ground up the bones of bats, hedgehogs and horse penis and mixing them with rum or whiskey to drink, serves as a good aphrodisiac. Likewise, a bit of ground up horse, elephant and hippo bones added to your bath, would cure you of a stroke. And if you were after a bit of good luck in your life, you would scrub yourself in a bath with some parrot’s feather, ground up horse and chameleon bones, honey and perfume.
The market is effectively a giant traditional pharmacy for believers in the power of the dead. For us it was really quite distressing seeing the number of dried animals on display. Something we weren’t prepared for. ‘Apparently’ these animals died of natural causes and it is forbidden to kill animals to sell at the market. Well, thats what they tell you. We really wished this was true, but the sheer volume of dead animals strongly suggests otherwise!
As well as the aforementioned, they also use and sold trinkets to ward off evil, along with horse tails for rituals and dances.
Our guide led us round to a Voodoo Priest to explain more about charms and fetishes. He both communicates with Voodoo gods in order to prevent and cure. He practices ‘white magic’ for health and prosperity, prescribing charms to ward off evils sprits or to protect your home and creates healing pastes to cure those already afflicted.
By then end of our visit we were quite emotionally drained. We couldn’t believe the amount and variety of animals on display, some even classed as ‘endangered’!!! We wished we hadn’t visited the market at all. As wildlife lovers, we felt very conflicted as we had wanted to learn about traditions and beliefs, but certainly weren’t wanting to promote these kinds of practices. We ignorantly went there knowing next to nothing about the fetish markets and Voodoo and came out shocked and upset.
As naive tourists it may not be fair to criticise and condemn a traditional way of life and religion of which we have little understanding. It’s often all too easy to judge them based on our beliefs and values. But having seen what we saw our minds were made up. If we took anything from the experience, it was certainly a wider understanding of the wildlife trade in Africa and where many of its beautiful creatures end up.
TIP: If you’re planning on visiting Togo’s, Benin’s or any of the Fetish markets throughout West Africa ‘Responsible Travel’ have written a really well-informed piece about these markets. Click HERE for a read. We strongly recommend you do before visiting, we wish we had!
Back at Coco Beach it was hot and humid and we found ourselves dripping with sweat. So we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, sampling the local beer and chasing the colourful Rainbow Agama around with our camera. They were certainly far more picturesque alive and well, compared to dead and dried Agama’s we’d earlier seen at the market.
We had one more full free day in Lomé and had planned on seeing more in and around the capital. Once regarded as the ‘pearl of west Africa’ Lomé had a nice feel to it and we were keen to explore it further. A morning visit to the Grand Market followed by a visit out to Lake Togo were our plans.
However these quickly changed, when we were warned that there were political protests throughout the city all day. Causing roadblocks and potential security risks we were strongly advised not to venture too far from Coco Beach. With that in mind, we decided to stay around the campsite. Sadly, there were no excuses not to hand-wash our clothes with lovely hot weather. But, we made sure we kept well hydrated, with plenty of local beer.
After our brief two days in Togo we were much looking forward to our next destination, Benin. And, we couldn’t wait to see more of West Africa.
Our Oasis Overland Expedition
We travelled with Oasis Overland on the 12 week Accra-Cape Town section of their 42 Week UK-Cairo Trans Africa expedition. Doing an Overland expedition was an epic way to travel through this big and beautiful continent. It took the hassle out of travelling independently through some of most remote parts of the world. Yet, it still provided the challenges and adventures that we as well-travelled backpackers wanted. From free-camping under the stars to sweltering in the dense jungles and driving for days along dusty desolate tracks to haggling in the busy and bustling markets, this expedition had it all. We really did get a little off track!