At the border between Benin and Togo, I got out of the car and walked across the border on foot. There were no problems, just a little bit of a wait. My driver, who had some sort of laissez-passer travel document, went across in his car and met me on the other side.
From there it was about an hour and a half to Lomé, where we parted ways. I had a day and a half to wander around the city before I was due to cross the border into Ghana and head to Accra.
First I walked towards the grand market and went inside a Catholic Church that towered above it.
It wasn’t very interesting on the inside, at least not after being spoiled by the cathedrals in Paris.
I quickly left that part of town since crowded markets are nice for about five seconds before they feel suffocating. I walked for twenty minutes or so until I came to the part of town filled with government buildings and a few high rises. I imagine the neighborhood buzzes during the weekdays, but it was quiet as a mouse on this particular Saturday.
Independence Monument, below.
Around the monument is a big traffic circle surrounded by government buildings, ministries, embassies, and hotels. A group of kids were roller-blading in front of the Congressional Palace, doing loops while their coach shouted encouragement. They were basically the only people around, and the coach’s voice and the sound of wheels were the only thing breaking the stillness of the air. It felt really peaceful. But also sort of boring, to be honest.
I went to the Radisson Blu just next door to use their bathroom, and while I was there I checked out the rooftop pool, bar, and restaurant. It was also nearly empty. I felt like Goldilocks, overwhelmed by the crowds downtown and underwhelmed by the lack of anything going on anywhere else.
Same story when I went to dinner.
Granted, I got there on the early side, but I was the only guest when I arrived, and the only people who came in while I was eating were an older couple and a wedding party of four – the bride in her wedding gown, the groom in his suit, and parents of one or the other.
The next day was Sunday, and I had been warned that everything is closed that day. I hadn’t really planned to do much beyond hang out in Lomé, but considering what Saturday had been like, I was kind of worried that just hanging out would bore me silly. I was right.
First I went back to the Radisson Blu, which was still empty, to eat lunch. I finished the only book I had brought along with me and felt a pang of panic.
Maybe I should get into a bathing suit and take a taxi to the nice beaches just outside of town, I thought. But I’m really not that much of a beach person, I was already hot and sticky sitting under a fan in the shade, and I just didn’t feel like making the effort to go to the beach only to get sweaty and oily with sunscreen. (Just in case I sound too ridiculous I should also remind you that I knew in a few days I’d be heading back to Dakar, where it’s a twenty minute walk to the beach from my house.)
I did have one more place to visit before running out of things to do in Lomé, and that was the Akodessewa Fetish Market, which is open seven days a week and which Atlas Obscura calls the Voodoo Superstore of the world. In fact, it’s a small market with maybe twenty stalls piled high with animal skulls, skins and bones; the fetish market section of Cotonou’s central market is about the same size. (I didn’t take photos of either market because you have to pay extra to do so and I don’t mind not taking photos of grisly things.)
After having had my mind blown by everything Voodoo-related in Benin, and also after having had my fill of dead animals, and also after having felt like a voyeur one too many times, I was much less interested in gawking at fetish markets by the time I got to Togo. My general malaise also made me wonder whether I was going through some adult version of the post-birthday depression I used to get as a kid, when I would sink into the realization I’d have to wait a whole ‘nother year until my next party. Compared to Abomey and Allada and Ouidah, Lomé just didn’t stand a chance, unfortunately.
It was only 3pm when I finished my tour of the fetish market, so I decided to go to the beach directly across the street from my hotel instead of the ones further out of town.
And that’s where all the people were! It was like solving a giant mystery. They were gathered in enormous groups, eating, playing soccer or volleyball, goofing around in the sand, relaxing. This humongous stretch of sand was like all of Lomé’s back yard.
I spent awhile walking along the beach, enjoying other people’s enjoyment, and then I headed back across the road to check out my favorite thing in Lomé – the gorgeous abandoned mid-century structure below.
I’m not sure what it used to be, but I’m so glad it’s still standing.
So there you have it, my very quiet 36 hours in Lomé. In retrospect, I think it was exactly what I needed in between the energy and excitement of Benin and Ghana.
I am heading out on a shoot in the Casamance region of Senegal for about a week on Sunday, so I won’t get around to posting again for awhile… But I’ll pick back up with Ghana when I get back. Until then, have a lovely time on and off the Internet!