Saturday, May 5

Togo - come for the hospitality, stay for the incredible views (of the inside of the police station)

Brett: I am sure there is a lot more to see in Togo, but in the few days we were there, all we really experienced was the Togolese Police. Coming in to Lome, the checkpoints all waved us through with no interest, but the traffic started getting a bit crazy – not totally jammed, but motorbikes everywhere. There were cops everywhere, at each big traffic light and major roundabout. We were following the traffic flowing steadily through one traffic light when we were pulled over, along with several other cars, as it turned out that the entire stream of 10 or so cars was running the red light. We didn’t see it and had assumed that if everyone was going it must be green.  We were offered the choice of waiting til the end of the working day to accompany the guy to the police station, or paying a “no-receipt fine”, which we did and went on our way.
We needed to get DRC visas but had no waypoint for the embassy, so we headed towards one of the other embassies we did have a waypoint for and asked directions from there. We finally met a really helpful guy at the Gabon embassy who knew where the DRC embassy was and organised a motorbike to lead us to the DRC Embassy (N6 08.768 E1 12.687). We arrived there at 2:30pm and were worried it would be too late to submit our application, but they were open til 3pm and very helpful. The visa was $80pp and we paid another $25pp to get a certificate of residence in Togo (issued by the police – obviously the Embassy has some kind of deal with them) to get around the stupid residency rules on the visas. We were told to keep the residence certificates  in our passports when in DRC. The visa was ready the next morning I wish we could get around the residence issue that easily for all the tricky visas!
We stopped for a quick coke at a cafe that doubled as a hair salon before driving through the industrial coastal area to Chez Alice ($2pp). We weren’t that impressed with Chez Alice when we first arrived – there is a nice garden (not accessible with a roof tent) and restaurant in the main property but we were led round to a fairly depressing looking & very quiet second compound a block or two away. We didn’t fancy the walk in the dark so we asked if we could just park in the main car park next to the restaurant and they were fine with that (if it was full or you were in a bigger truck you would probably be stuck with the second compound). We settled in for a lovely dinner of wiener schnitzel at the restaurant and caught up on internet – such a treat when campsites have wifi – the place really grew on us! We spent the evening chatting to a lovely African Grey parrot in a cage and trying to reassure it that we were ok (it kept saying “ca va? ca va?” every few minutes, to which Mary would dutifuly reply, “ca va bien, merci”). 
Mary: On our way back to the DRC Embassy the next morning, we got lost on some dirt roads in a kind of deserted-looking shanty area. We turned around and backtracked to the tar, but suddenly someone started shouting at us. At first we thought it was just some dodgy person so we kept going, but the shouting got more aggressive and just as we turned back onto the tar a guy pulled up next to us on a motorbike, shrieking at us in French and banging on the car. We decided to get out of there but suddenly there were about 10 motorbikes following us, bashing on the car and trying to hem us in with their bikes. It was turning into a bit of a mob scene. We were pretty sure we were going to get robbed but fortunately we soon got to one of the traffic lights where, of course, there was a policeman, so we screamed at him to come and help us. The policeman didn’t speak much English but eventually told us that the guys on the bikes were accusing us of running over a child. Our hearts just sank into our stomachs, since we knew we hadn’t hit anyone, in fact nobody had really been near the car besides the guy who had tried to stop us, but there was a massive mob of people around us at that point yelling at us and the policeman. We were escorted away from the crowd a few blocks away where we waited with a couple of the bike guys, two of whom seemed particularly aggressive. Eventually a family turned up with a little girl, whose foot we were supposed to have run over, which is at least a lot better accusation than having run over the whole child. The parents of the kid were totally calm, but the guy who had chased us on his bike was trying to agitate the situation and mysteriously it was first the right foot then the left foot that was run over. The little girl just sat there looking calm, and when one of the cops came and wiggled her feet, asking if it hurt, she shook her head.
We were all taken to the police station and had a chance to put our case to the Police Chief, who seemed a fair sort of guy, and spoke pretty good English. He listened to the main agitator, then our version that there had simply been nobody around us, before calling the child to come over to him. She hopped up and walked across to him, clearly unhurt, but he suggested we go along to the nearby hospital for a doctor’s opinion.  The doctor confirmed there was nothing wrong, and that the child hadn’t been knocked over, but we think he saw the family’s concern and prescribed something. It turned out that the child’s parents hadn’t been around, but the guy who chased us had told them he had seen our car disappearing up the road and the kid sitting on the floor crying, and since we were “fleeing the scene” we had obviously run her over. The parents, who seemed actually really nice and reasonable, were just happy she was unhurt. We handed over $2 for the prescription shook our hands and wished us well for our travels, before heading home. Only the chief agitator seemed unhappy, and headed off grumbling, probably hoping we would be told to hand over some kind of massive fee. We were kept on at the police station while the Big Cheese decided we should get confirmation from our Carte Brune insurers that they would cover any future claim by the family – clearly that wasn’t going to happen since we hadn’t actually hit her, and in any case, insurance companies tend not to be willing to shell out money on disputed claims in which there is no evidence, but I think they were just trying to cover themselves. After a fair bit of reasoning, they saw our point, and called the father back in so we could all sign a statement they had written up in French, saying probably something to the effect that they wouldn’t be filing any further claims against us or the police. We handed over another $2 to the father for his transport costs back and forth to the police station – I don’t think he expected that and he was really chuffed. Five stressful hours at the police station had left us a bit frayed, so we limped back to Chez Alice for a beer and a bit of a sit down.
Brett: Since we were now officially residents of Togo, we decided we would give the Angolan Embassy a try, but they told us it would be a huge mission to apply there, taking three weeks minimum to process and probably involving an interview (although whether this was true or they just couldn’t be arsed is anyone’s guess). They advised we should try the Abuja Embassy instead, and we certainly didn’t feel like hanging out in Togo for three weeks, (we just wanted Togo ;-), so we headed off towards Benin.


  1. OMG. What a story!

    When in India be wary of the cows :) and the Big Cheeses :)

    Michael, Claudia and Nick van Esch

  2. Scarying, such a story, but not the first in this direction i had read.

    You have reacted well! To look for army or police is the way to go - or to leave the scenery completely if you can.

    Maybe future travellers have to calculate with this cases, and that they start to prepare their "victims" :-(


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