Atakora Mountains

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September 4, 2022: Meeting the Tribes

After a day in Lome, it was time to head out on my two-day tour of southwestern Togo. After a stunning multi-course hotel breakfast of pineapple, crepe, egg soufflé and freshly made French bread, I was ready to go. 

Loic from 1001 Pistes and his wife arrived at 8:30 in the morning in a rental 4×4 van and we drove 2 hours north. I napped along the way. In a very un-African fashion, there were zero police checkpoints along the way. 

We stopped for tea and coffee. We also tried to get breakfast. The waitress said that the chicken laid 4 eggs this morning, so we order up to 4 eggs. However, it took so long to make, that we had to leave before it was ready. 

From here, we left the pavement and took the dirt road (piste) west. 

Our first stop was an enormous 6-meter-tall termite mound. I have seen termite mounds before but nothing like this. Loic said the mound is so sturdy that even with a hammer you could barely damage it. 

Soon after we arrived at a village. The village is inhabited by both Kabele and Ewe tribes, the two largest tribes in coastal Togo and southeastern Ghana. Having two tribes in a single village is quite unusual. The Kabele lived along the road and the Ewe to the north. From a normal passerby, the two sections were indistinguishable, but each section had its own chief. 

The houses were mostly made of mudbricks with corrugated steel roofs. Some huts had thatched roofs. 

It shouldn´t be a surprise, but all the villagers could speak French and that Loic was able to communicate perfectly with everybody.

We started visiting the Kabele section. As soon as Loic arrived, the villagers swarmed him. He then took out printed photos of some of the tribespeople and gave them photos of themselves. Given that these tribespeople mostly don´t have camera phones or mirrors, this is a big deal. 

The tribespeople kept asking for us to take their photo in the hope that they will be able to get a photo on Loic´s next visit. 

We witnessed a very strange bout of domestic violence. A man was beating his wife in public, and she was screaming. Loic asked the tribespeople, and they said it was show fighting and she was not actually being hurt. This is apparently a very common thing that people do here. Why? I´m not sure, but maybe to draw attention. 

While the adults enjoyed our presence, the children were obsessed with us. Crowds of children posed for pictures at every opportunity and held our hands whenever possible. 

The nicest house in the village belonged to the Ewe chief. The tiny house made of concrete had a living room and bedroom. In the living room there was a leopard-print throne topped with a wooden crown and an ancient computer that probably did not work. On the aquamarine wall were twin photos of the President of Togo and the chief himself. We sat down on a couch and chatted with the chief and his seemingly much younger wife. 

The chief was a short man no more than 5´5¨. He carried an intricately carved and painted cane and wore a rounded hat. 

After posing for pictures, the chief took out a bottle of locally made palm tree liquor of questionable quality. He explained (in French translated by Loic) that is it customary for visitors to take a shot. Before taking the shot, I poured half of it on the ground to respect the ancestors. I flashed back to doing this when I stayed in the village in Congo. 

After taking the shot, the chief insisted I take a second shot because I have two legs. Again, I poured half of it on the ground for the ancestors and took the shot. 

We then talked about the gossip that we saw on our walk around the village. After 20 minutes of chatting, the chief gave us permission to leave, and we headed back to the car. 

Just 5 minutes later, we stopped at a Fulani village. Despite being so close to the Ewe, the two villages could not have been more different. The Fulani one of the largest tribes in Africa stretching across the Sahel from Somalia to Senegal. However, they generally do not have a strong presence in Togo.  

The Fulani are nomadic. Their huts are all moveable. They are also Muslim; every woman and girl had her head covered. The men were all out tending to the cattle so there were only women and children in the village at this moment. 

Just like in the Ewe/Kabele village, the French-speaking Fulani nomads were excited to both receive photos from Loic and pose for photos. Women dragged me into their house so they could pose solo, with their friends, and with their children. Taking the photos allowed me to see the unique face markings up close. The face markings are done for beauty and involve both tattoos and scarring with a knife. 

After 30 minutes in the village, it was time to leave. The children tried to block our car so they could pose for more pictures. 

20 minutes further down the road we stopped for lunch. Instead of ordering food at the bar, we all got beers while Loic and his wife prepared a salad: ham, rice, cucumber, tomato, and skinned cucumber. While not the most delicious meal, it was healthy and quick. 

We continued further west in the jungled mountains. We continued down a dirt path just wide enough for the car. “Is this even a road?” I asked Loic. He responded by saying that his company is named 1001 Pistes (tracks) because finding that last track is a constant challenge. 

Then drove into jungle mountains. Down “is this even a road” dirt track. After unloading the car, Loic and I set off on foot. Loic´s wife drove away and would meet us in 2.5 hours. 

We hiked along footpath stopping in villages along the way. Loic charmed them all. One guy led us through for about 45 minutes. In the end, I decided to give him a hat as a gift (per Loic´s suggestion, I brought a few random items as gifts for the villagers).  

Then we started to climb in earnest. While we could have climbed on either side of the valley, Loic opted to climb on left side of the valley, as the other side had sinkholes. 200 years ago, the same sinkholes killed an army of Ashanti warriors in a battle against the Ewe and just 2 years ago the same sinkholes killed a German lady traveling solo through the region. 

Eventually we reached the top of the ridge, where we were met by the car and could soak up the views. The sun was setting but Loic´s wife wanted to do some walking. So, the two of us continues along the path for another 30 minutes using the GPS. Eventually it got too dark to walk. Loic picked us up and drove us 15 minutes through a village to the only hotel in the region. The paragliding lodge was founded by Gerard Bosson, the founder of paragliding. Monsieur Bosson lived here for 20 years and is buried nearby. I was surprised that my room had electricity! Bathing was in the form of a bucket shower, which luckily was hot. 

After settling in, Loic and his wife gave me a shot of anise liquor. Then they made dinner underneath a gazebo. 

We got into a long conversation, and I soon learned that I was touring with a living legend. Loic and his wife met in university and have always had African dreams. On Loic´s first trip to Africa, he spent 9 months walking from Ouagadougou to Dakar staying with tribes all along the way. He recently was the first person to ever kayak a river in the east of Togo. He has crossed the Sahara by car or foot 31 times. 

Loic and his wife raised their kids in Africa and homeschooled them on the road. He crossed the Sahara with them when they were just 15 days old. His children are also very adventurous. One of his sons is walking along the perimeter of France over a 6-month period. 

Loic´s mentality is to go where other people don’t go. He has guided the Lonely Planet and French travel writers around. When asked for restaurant recommendations, he would only give recommendations if the writers did not put it in the guide. 

Despite being a guide himself, Loic does not like to hire guides. He said the only reasons to hire guides are when his life depends on it or if you’re short on time. One example of this was the border between Mauritania and Moroccan Western Sahara. The 10-mile no-man´s land was littered with land mines that only local guides knew how to navigate around. The trip took only 2 1 hour but was well worth the $300 to Loic. 

While meeting tribes is now Loic´s forte, it was not always like this. His first meetings with most of the tribes we visited in Togo were not so good. Loic said building rapport takes time. The best way to build rapport is to stay with them for a few days. 

When the candle burned out. It was 23:00 and we had talked for 4 hours. Where did the time go?!  

September 5, 2022: La Cascade

I woke up at 7:00 the next morning. After taking bucket showers and eating breakfast, we headed out in our car along some rough 4WD roads. The road skirts the mountain top. 

As we passed through villages, Loic would stop to chat with the people and pick up on gossip. In one village, a man told us people were dying after they started using pesticides on food. 

After 90 minutes in the car, we reached our spot, the end of a dirt road. Loic gave me a photo of a man and said we needed to find him, as only he could issue us the permits needed for the hike. We walked over to his house and down to a watering hole, but he was not around. We asked some other villagers and they did not know where he was. As there is no cell coverage here, neither he nor anybody else has a cell phone. 

A local teenage girl named Edinam stumbled on our group and decided to take us on the trail herself along with a younger boy. We decided to figure out the permits later, but since we had the local, we thought we would be okay. 

We hiked down a steep gorge along some insanely steep cliffs for about an hour. Then all of a sudden, we saw it: the ENORMOUS Wli Falls. 

The falls, located on the border of Togo and Ghana, are supposed to be the tallest in all of West Africa. 

The falls were so powerful they created a massive mist. We stayed there for about an hour in complete peace. The Ghana side was very accessible and I wandered over there briefly. 

The border seemed irrelevant for the locals as both sides were inhabited by the Ewe. Yes, they spoke different European languages, but they both speak the Ewe language and are the same people. 

The walk back uphill was unsurprisingly not as fun as the descent. Along the way, we found the permit guy. It turns out that he has a phone but doesn’t know his number. Also, there’s no cell coverage here so there really is no point to having a phone. 

Before leaving, Edinam took us to her village for some palm liquor shots. Thankfully, I had learned a bit from yesterday and correctly poured some out for the ancestors and took 2 shots. 

On the way back to Lome, we stopped in a village for lunch in a similar fashion to yesterday. Actually, we ate the exact same meal as yesterday. The kids of the village were very interested in us and we ended up doing a photoshoot. 

Then, it was time for the long 6 hour drive back to Lome. The road went right along the Ghana border. 

At Kpalime, road became paved. The road was mostly in good shape but there were at least 5 “deviations” onto rough dirt. 

Just outside of Lome, we thought we had a flat, but the car ended up being okay. However, just 10 minutes later, the car´s electrical system malfunctioned. I suggested we restart the car, which fixed the issue. Its scary if your car breaks down in Africa because there is no roadside assistance. 

At 20:20, we finally made it to Lome, where I got dinner with my friend Allegra, who I met in Congo. Now she has a husband and child! Wow time flies!

Final Thoughts:

My trip with Loic and 1001 Pistes was traveling at its purest and finest. We set out from Lome and met with real tribes and locals in an authentic setting. We saw spectacular landscapes in the jungled green mountains. I also found it so interesting talking with Loic and learning about his incredible life. I really could not have asked for much more. 


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