During our stay in Ghana, we had three weekends to take whatever trips we wanted. The first weekend was spent exploring Ada Foah and our (temporary) home turf of Accra, and the second was at Cape Coast. The third weekend — well, the subject of Togo cropped up quite a bit. Togo, a sliver of a country nestled between Ghana and Benin (the birthplace of voodoo), was within reasonable driving distance from Ghana, and a good number of us had multi-entry Ghanaian visas, so why not?
Saturday was spent at Ho, the major city of Ghana’s Volta region. Drained and pretty darn sleep-deprived that day as we had to leave Accra at 6am and Halloween had been the night before, I didn’t quite have the energy to climb nearby Mt. Adaklu, especially not under the blistering sun at noon, or much else, so I chilled out at the hotel and managed to live on the edge by falling asleep at an impressive time of 8pm that day.
Which was probably a good thing, because we left for Togo bright and early the next day. This was my first land border crossing, excluding European train rides because Schengen eliminates all that hassle, since the time I crossed the Seattle-Vancouver border when I was like, 9. But lucky for you, I’ve compiled a quick and easy guide of my own experience crossing the Togo border so that if you ever have the desire to go from Accra to Lomé, this might make things a bit easier.
Ghana Go to Togo: The 9-Step Program
1. Get passport photos, because the visa application says they’re required.
If you’re that type of prepared traveler who carries these by the dozen, skip this step (and probably this entire guide, because you likely won’t need it anyway). Otherwise, HAHAHAHAHA good luck finding a photo studio that’s open on a weekend morning, let alone a morning on Sunday in a heavily religious part of a predominantly Christian country where you have no business not being in church at that time. In the meantime, drive around to find a functional ATM to withdraw cash to buy your passport photos. An hour later, go to the one photo studio in Ho that offers instant passport photos (thanks Sinbad!).
2. Drive to the Ghana-Togo border.
You’ll have the van door opened by a border guard with a fever gun ready to examine your temperature. As you wonder how effective those things really are, you’re suddenly whisked outside the van, where you’re supposed to present your yellow fever immunization card. Breathe a sigh of relief that you were smart (and lucky) enough to bring it with you to the trip. Fill out embarkation forms.
3. Drive between no-man’s land.
Don’t take pictures, even if they’ll make a good Facebook profile photo for later. Border guards hate that shit.
4. Arrive at the Togo border.
Realize that nobody here, not even the border guards who live only a few meters away from an English-speaking country and are pretty much responsible for communicating with people who are 97% likely to speak English, speaks a lick of English. Use the last remnants of your French skills, which have rapidly deteriorated since you left high school. Attempt to communicate with the border guard’s Togolese French using your basic-ass French and get deets on how to get a visa. Fill out visa forms.
5. Pay for the visa.
Fair enough, right? The details of how much you need to pay for a visa seem particularly hazy when a border guard is telling you this in Not-English, but you manage to communicate to the rest of your group that Americans need to pay slightly more CFAs (the Togolese currency) than the non-Americans. Sounds like every other passport control pricing, but then you run into the snag: nobody here has CFAs.
6. Exchange your cedis for CFAs.
Arithmetic is difficult. Arithmetic in French is fucking difficult. Arithmetic in French and then back in English and then back in French is a nonstop round trip to hell and back again. You have 7 people, 3 of them non-American, who need visas, and all 7 of these people apparently need to exchange their cedis for CFAs, because the Togo border refuses to take anything else. Convince the border guard to exchange everybody’s cedis (6 cedis = 1,000 CFAs, because this new currency is unthinkably hyperinflated), but realize exactly how difficult arithmetic is in a foreign language. Get all 7 people to chip in their cedis. Receive CFAs, only to give them back to the border guard almost immediately to pay for your visas. Realize that last step was incredibly superfluous and made approximately zero sense (because why couldn’t the border guard just take your cedis and be done with it???), but roll with it anyway because of all the things that have a place on the Ghana-Togo border, logic is not one of them.
7. Wait in your van.
Get ordered by the border guard (in French) to wait in the van, which is aptly parked near the middle of the road. Stare at the border guard through your van window as he completes a stack of 7 passports. Continue staring for 45 minutes.
8. Receive visas.
Scratch head and wonder why it took so long. Think about what it would be like if you had to wait 45 minutes at the US border and shudder instinctively. Open your passport. Find a wet speck on top of your Togo stamps that you suspect might be somebody’s saliva, and that somebody is not you. Count the number of components that make up a Togolese passport stamp (eight). Stare at the handwritten part (congratulations, you are the 599th person to cross this Togo border! DING DING DING.), at the two old-school stamps that require you to manually lick them (and also realize where that saliva came from), at the fact that this whole thing took up an entire page of your passport. Realize why it took so long, even thought you’re Very Confused about the absurdity of it all. Realize that you never used your passport photos from Step #1.
9. Félicitations, bienvenue à Togo.
If there was one thing that really made the Togo trip what it was, it was this. Togo itself is a low-key country, made even more low-key by the fact that it was Sunday and nothing was open. Everything, from the writing on the storefronts and billboards to the street signs to the overheard conversations, is French. Lomé (the capital) lacks the hustle and bustle that I had gotten used to in Accra, and the only foreigners we had even seen were the ones we saw at Alt München, the German restaurant where we had gotten lunch. Palm trees are a dime a dozen here, and the entire coast is all beach, with nobody actually swimming and everybody chilling out drinking Club beers on plastic chairs at the roadside beach bars. We could have browsed the Fetish Market (the voodoo market that Lomé is particularly known for) or stuck around for the last day of Togo’s Bierfest, but sometimes you just really need a break from “obligatory” sightseeing and there’s no better antidote for that than a hilariously absurd border control story.
P.S. That said, going back to Ghana from Togo was so much easier.
P.P.S. I still haven’t used those passport photos.