Friday, January 21, 2011

Café cacao

Despite our good intentions it's nine o'clock when we say goodbye to Boni and hit the road to Kpalimé. We reach there something before noon. After the climb to Mt. Klouto, we ask around for Blifou and get directed instantly to the right track. It's recently been reconstructed in cooperation with the EU and looks pretty nice and even. It's part of a network of dirt roads through the coffee and cacao region, the so called "pistes zone café cacao". A formerly prosperous region, but not so much anymore… hence the need for road rehabilitation!

Guillaume of "Le Pavillion Vert" in Ouagadougou, promised there wouldn't be anything as beautiful as this road in Togo. The hilly landscape provides some pleasant views, but the forest is nothing like we've seen in some parts of Ghana. There's a lot of logging and burning going on and nature's obviously aching. After Blifou the track branches and we're to follow a slightly smaller but still well kept trail, occasionally eroded. But with every branching the track gets smaller and more poorly maintained, until there's only a single trace left. It's only a matter of time before the jungle swallows the remnants.


I've never been so nervous in my life! Imagine riding a 20 to 30cm wide track with raised edges, which is winding its way downhill on the rim of a steep slope, in hairpin bends and surfaced with loose boulders. F***! I study the turns intently and let my bike go in first gear, pushing the inner foot peg hard to keep it on track. The rear tire spins several times, but it helps to make the turn. I'm practically peeing my pants, but what a rush! We come to the bottom of the valley, but have to get up another hill before we reach the village of Ndigbé. Equally sharp turns, same underground but steeply uphill. Altogether, it's been the most difficult thing I've had to do on a motorbike yet. The sort of thing you wonder if you'll ever dare to do it again…

In Ndigbé, we're surprised to find a piece of tarred road. I'm glad to be able to relax for a while. But we learn that shortly after Dzogbegan it's unpaved again. We're tired and it's 4 o'clock. Better call it a day and look for a place to sleep. The sisters of the nearby monastery are happy to accommodate us with a warm smile, home-made cookies and bissap juice. What a day!

Nicolaas buying a pile of pineapples along the road.
For more pics, see album "Café cacao".
Next day we skip mass to have an early breakfast. But when the other guests arrive the discussion turns to travelling and politics. Interesting delay... Only a few minutes after departure we have to break up the ride already. The sound Nicolaas heard yesterday and tried to look after last night is back with increased intensity. Better stop and check it. It takes half an hour to discover why the caliper grates the brake disc and to fix it. Only to unload all the tools again later that day, because he forgot to tighten some screws… Sigh! It seems like we're constantly fixing something on the motorbike or caring for it, or maintaining, or cleaning or replacing, or… In this perspective our cycling trips were a lot less tiresome!

We switch dirt for tarmac and soon find out that Togo's entire road network could do with some rehabilitation! Riding it feels like being in a giant slalom for mixed categories of vehicles ranging from 30 to 30 000 kilos. Luckily the Togolese are welcoming - the "Bonne arrivée"'s and "Bienvenue!"'s are never far away - and helpful, whether you meet them on the road while fixing your bike, in the local bar or as a waiter in your hotel. They have this relaxed and cheerful air about them; inviting and attentive but not pushy. Despite the shitty roads and bad driving, we've just decided that we rather like it here.


  1. "Imagine riding a 20 to 30cm wide track with raised edges, which is winding its way downhill on the rim of a steep slope, in hairpin bends and surfaced with loose boulders. F***!"
    Yes i can imagine... Ik zou meegevloekt hebben... Goed om lezen. Dat deel sla ik over volgend jaar :-)

  2. klinkt alsof we daar met onze fietsjes wel op een goede plek gaan zijn.
    En zoals jullie aangeven: it's not the road, but the people that make it worth the ride!