28/5/05. Lome, Togo
Let joy be unconfined! At only the second time of asking (if you count the first six-day attempt as one) I am allowed into Togo. The icing on the tin hat is that my Togo visa actually expired five days ago.
I approach passport control, knowing my papers are far from being in order, and try to adopt an air of nonchalance as I hand over my passport. The officer in charge begins to copy the details of my visa into his vast ledger. Luckily, the visa expiry date column is towards the end. From the corner of my eye , as I pretend to study the posters advertising the glory of the new dodgy Prez, I think I see him hesitate as he reaches the critical information. To act now will result in a terribly messy page in the ledger. I catch my breath. He continues. The stamp is raised and *THUNK* I'm in.
Normally this would not be a particularly tense scenario - after all it is possible to buy a Togo visa at the border - but -
a) I bought one in Ghana and I'm sodding well buggered if I'm buying another. Not my fault the sodding border was closed etc etc.
b) I've never tried to enter an African country on an expired visa before.
c) The government of this particular country recently provoked 30,000 of its citizens to flee after an appallingly undemocratic election (featuring violence).
Ghana is improbably difficult to get out of. I feel like yelling "I ONLY WANT TO LEAVE" by the fourth sweaty office. All the while I'm thinking "white people have been attacked in Togo for being (or seeming) French".
Suddenly I'm through the gate (Lome is on the border) and - hello! - it's simply delightful old boy. It's one kilometre from the border to the hotel I've chosen from the guidebook (because it says they do a great steak-frites), and it's palm tree-lined beach boulevard all the way. It's also moped mayhem; at least 20 two-wheelers to every car.
Not Hotel Le Galion
Hotel le Galion ($15 a night) is one of the best places I've stayed in Africa. The food and wine are good, like a good French restaurant in a good part of France. The hotel is maybe 200 yards (that's 200 metres) from the sea, and Togolese people, who I had feared would stab me for being French, are universally friendly, including the police. Lome also has the best-stocked supermarket I've seen since Morocco (malt whisky, camembert, proper gin and camping equipment). No downside so far - apart from trying to remember how to speak French.
Do you have any meaningful conception of how good a song "True" by Spandau Ballet is? Particularly if your iPod allows you to precede it with "The Oxford Girl" by Shirley and Dolly Collins (a woman sings in the voice of a man about murdering a woman), and follow it with "Get Out Of My House" by The Streets?
And what in the name of red-faced sodomy are "seaside arms"? Or have I misheard the words for 20 years?
Disgusting smells of our time #2:
My trainers (which, to be fair, didn't smell that pretty before) after an inadvertent dip in one of Accra's many open sewers. Hooray for typhoid vaccine!
Dropped me bike off at Toni's amazing KTM shop for new tyres, chain, hand-grips (mine had melted into a sticky and frankly dangerous sludge, only slightly improved by my bodge-job of a household duster zip-tied round the left one, and some duct tape round the throttle), and an oil change.
"Pick it up at 2pm" they said.
"Um-hum" I thought, and sidled in at three to find the job only just over the start-line. Left at 6pm. A good job well done though.
Great. What do I owe you?
I took a moped-taxi to Toni's. White-knuckle ride into terror county. Never again.
* "Seaside Arms" would have been a good pun if I could have photographed the massive machine-gun on the beach, but I couldn't.
Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at 11:49 AM