The Voodoo Trail
Day 1 Lomé
Arrive in Lome at any time, an arrival transfer is included. There are no planned activities today, so check into to the hotel (check-in time is approx 3pm) and enjoy the city. At the hotel, you will meet your CEO and fellow group members to review the details of your trip. Look for a note at the reception (or ask reception) to see the exact time your CEO has arranged this meeting (this could be in the evening of Day 1, or in the morning of Day 2, depending on everyone’s arrival schedules). If you arrive late, no worries, the CEO will leave you a message at the front desk as to the plan for Day 2. Lome has been the capital city of Togo since 1897, when the German colonial rulers of the time moved the capital from Aneho, as coastal Lome was in the middle of their then territory. After WWI the Germans lost the colony, and Togo was shared between France and Britain. Borders here have changed significantly: the border of the Gold Coast was moved by the British to the periphery of Lome, and today Lome is located on the border with Ghana. Lome has a population of 900 000, and is divided into two main areas: the business area, with the central market and many other shops, and the administrative area, with some old colonial houses, government buildings and embassies. Two parts of town in particular are of interest to the visitor: the fetish market and the central market.
Days 2 Kpalime (1B)
Approximate Distance: 140 km Estimated Travel time (with Lome tour, travel time, and afternoon activities): 9 hours Today we explore the vibrant capital of Togo, Lome. The only African town to have been colonized by Germans, British and French, and one of only a few capital cities on a border with another country, Lome is a crossroads for trade and people from many cultures, cosmopolitan despite its small size. Visit the central market with its famous “Nana Benz,” and their near-monopoly on expensive European pagne (cloth), sold all over West Africa. The colonial buildings in the administrative quarter are a photographer’s dream, and retain a flavour of earlier times. Of course, not to be missed is the “fetish market,” with its eclectic assortment of ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions. Locals head here to buy ingredients for amulets, sacrifices or treatments of diseases; we visit with a guide to help us understand the use of the various goods in traditional African religions. It’s wise to be cautious when buying in the market, as merchants tend to take advantage of tourists with inflated prices! Be careful to avoid being cheated. Later we travel to the Kpalime region, where we join a Voodoo ceremony in one of the local villages. The compelling rhythm of the percussion and the chants of the participants help to invoke the voodoo spirit, which takes possession of some of the dancers who fall into a deep trance. The traditional religion on the Gulf of Guinea coast, all along the coast of Benin and Togo, Voodoo is an animist religion, passed down through generations and still practiced today. The religious experience is richer and more complex than most westerners realize. Voodoo practices are not a form of black magic; to millions both here and abroad, Voodoo represents a religion that gives meaning and order to their lives. Kpalimé is a city in Plateaux Region near the Ghanaian border, with an economy focussed on weaving and farming, including coffee, cocoa and various products of the forest. Notable features include the Roman Catholic Church, built in 1913, and Kloto Hill (meaning “turtle”), famous for butterflies, where we spend the night at a simple hotel (enjoy the cooler, fresh air this night, because of the altitude).
Day 3 Ouidah (1B)
Approximate Distance: 280 km Estimated Travel time: 8 hours With its lush green vegetation, the Kloto forest is the perfect place for a short hike to start our day. Start near a small village with a local ethnologist guide, and continue on some paths in search of some of the many types of butterflies, while learning a bit about the region’s flora. Continue back towards Lome for a stop for lunch, then in the afternoon we cross the border into Benin, and on to Ouidah for the evening. The small city of Ouidah was developed by the Portuguese as slave-trading post in the 16th century, and is now know as the spiritual Voodoo center of Benin.
Day 4 Porto-Novo (1B)
Approximate Distance: 75 km Estimated Travel time (including boat ride and stops): 10 hours Learn about the Slave Route in Ouidah, a town where it is believed that thousands of slaves passed through en route to the Caribbean and the Americas. You will also visit the Temple of the Python, as Ouidah is an important centre for voodoo activity. En route to Porto Novo, we take an excursion on Lake Nokwe to the intriguing stilt village of Ganvié. A local guide from the village will show us around, and give us a bit of perspective as to what life is like for the villagers. After lunch, we cross Lake Nokwe eastwards toward the capital of Benin, Porto Novo, where we meet up with our vehicle(s) and luggage, and check in to our hotel for the evening. Ganvié is the largest and most beautiful stilt village in Africa. The approximately 18 000 inhabitants of the Tofinou (“water people”) ethnic group build their huts on teak stilts over the water and cover the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. The entire community is situated in the middle of Lake Nokwe for various reasons: as the inhabitants live exclusively on fishing, this puts them closer to the deepest parts of the lake where fish are plentiful. Access to Ganvié is possible only by boat; there is no bridge, or land access to the shore—one reason why the village has been able to preserve its unique customs, traditions, crafts and modes of building. Fishermen continue to build their houses as their ancestors did, with beams and ribs of palm leaves, and traditional costume is still the norm. The men, women and children guide their canoes using brightly coloured poles, and use these same canoes to farm and fish, deliver goods to the market, and take children to school. A port on an inlet of the Gulf of Guinea, Porto Novo is Benin's second largest city, with a population of over 200 000. Even though it is the official capital of the West African nation of Benin, Porto Novo (also known as Hogbonou and Adjacé) is second in importance to the city of Cotonou, both culturally and politically. Porto Novo was probably founded in the late 16th century by the legendary King Te-Agdanlin of Allada. The city received its name from the Portuguese for "New Port;" it was originally developed as a port for the slave trade.
In 1863, the British, who were active in nearby Nigeria, bombarded the city. This convinced the Kingdom of Porto Novo to accept French "protection;" the neighbouring Kingdom of Abomey objected to French involvement in the region, and war broke out between the two states. In 1883, Porto Novo was incorporated into the French "colony of Dahomey and its dependencies," and in 1900 it became Dahomey's capital city.
Day 5-6 Bohicon/Dassa (2B)
Approximate Distance: 190 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 10 hours Enjoy a city tour of Porto Novo, when the tour comes to the end we will then travel to Ketou. Ketou is said to have been founded by Ede, son of Sopasan and grandson of Oduduwa, who ruled the Yoruba kingdom of Ile-Ife. The dynasty in Ketou is directly tied to the Ife Kingdom. The present king of Ketou is the 50th Oba and he has been in power since 2005. He will receive us at his royal palace, surrounded by his court. We will be granted the honour to talk to him and get to know a little more about his role of traditional chief in a modern state. We will reach Bohicon in the afternoon to finish the day with a visit to Abomey Royal Palace. The walls of the palace are decorated with bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the palace displays the items belonging to the ancient kings: thrones, ancient cult alters, statues, costumes and arms. Learn about this Kingdom whose economy was based on the slave trade for many years. A perpetual status of war enabled the Kings to capture and sell thousands slaves. In the middle of the royal courtyard is a temple built with a mixture of clay and human blood. At the height of their power there were up to 4,000 women in the palace harem. As travellers walk amongst the buildings the previous splendor of the court is very apparent. In town, in a separate area, we meet with ancient community of blacksmiths. For centuries they have been at the service of Dahomey Kings and their army. See how they have preserved their traditions and enjoy a demonstration.
Day 7-8 Natitingou/Atakora (2B)
Approximate Distance: 415 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 9 hours Dassa was the capital of an ancient kingdom founded by Olofin in 1385. We will visit some remains of this long-lasting dynasty. First we will stop at the wooden horse, given by Portuguese merchants in 1903 to the chief who was complaining that four of his horses had died from a mysterious disease. Continue walking up the Royal Hill, where the kings used to be buried. As we are now in the voodoo world, we will not fail to notice how the site is “protected” by many statues and the remains of recent rituals. Attend a performance of Egun masks, this is a traditional celebration of the Fon and Yoruba of South Benin. Egun masks represent the spirits of the deceased, and according to the local population, they “are” the deceased. The men wearing the masks representing Egun are initiates of the cult. Dressed in brightly multi-coloured clothing they emerge from the forest and form a procession through the village streets, leaping towards any foolish spectator who dares to get too close. You don’t want the Egun to touch you because if he does there is danger of death, so watch out! Some people touched by the Egun immediately collapse into a heap on the ground but fortunately they recover quickly. On arrival the masks perform a kind of bull fight which is designed to create fear but is greeted with peels of laughter by many. Overnight in Dassa.
Day 9-10 Dapaong/Gurunsi Region (2B)
Approximate Distance: 50 km Estimated Travel time: 1-2 hours drive We then transfer to the northern region. On the way, we stop at the fetish of Dankoli, the gateway to the Voodoo world. Pilgrims plant thousands of wood sticks to testify their prayers to the fetish priest. When they are satisfied, they come to sacrifice the promised ransom: a goat, a chicken, a cow. A mound of blood, palm oil and sodabi (local liquor) are presented to the long line of pilgrims, all looking for a solution to their existential problems. Transfer to a Fulani encampment to spend time with locals and learn about their traditions. The Fulani people are one of the largest nomadic groups in the world and are known for being the first group to covert to Islam in Western Africa. The word fulani means beauty. Beautiful tattooing on the face sends a message to people who understand the language. Beautiful bodies standing as a dot on the horizon looking at their herds; beautiful eyes able to contain so many landscapes contemplated during the migrations to find grazing. These nomadic people have learned how to tame time and space, history and geography. In the afternoon transfer to Natitingou.
Day 11-12 Gaoua (2B)
Approximate Distance: 80 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 9 hours Today we will be walking in Somba land. Somba in the local language means nude. In certain isolated villages people still dress in a simple cloth and the women are covered with only amulets. These traditions, due to the geographic isolation of the tribe, have not yet been contaminated by outsiders. The Somba architecture is characterized by small castles three stories high that serve as the families' dwellings. These beautiful fortified dwellings are separated from the others for reasons of ownership determined in accordance with the size of the cultivable land and also to guarantee the privacy of a group of people who are, by nature, individualists. We will walk from this village to the next, through a hilly landscape. Our day will be enriched by friendly meetings with locals along the path.
Day 13 Banfora (1B,1L)
Approximate Distance: Day 9 : 200 km ; Day 10 : 250 km Estimated Travel time: Day 9 : 4 hours ; Day 10 : 9 hrs As we travel further north-west in Togo, we encounter the region of the Moba people, the most populous tribe of the Savanes region, the northernmost of the five Regions of Togo. After lunch, we visit small villages spread over the desolate landscape, which, depending on the season, can be lush green or the color of earth. We will see what agricultural products these communities farm, and perhaps try some of their produce, and learn a bit about the Moba's round clay homesteads, which are topped with a conical straw roof typical of the area. On Day 10, we continue our journey and cross into Burkina Faso and after lunch, meet the Gurunsi people, who live in colourfully decorated fortified houses. Learn how they live as we stay with a local family in their compound (enclosed area), where we sleep on their roof in tents! We of course don’t just sleep there, but rather have the chance to interact with the family (and their animals who are always nearby) – a cultural exchange where we can learn from them, and they from us. Gurunsi society is organized around gender: In this society men do the building, while women are in charge of painting and decorating the home. Homes are constructed by layering clay over support pillars and arches; walls and terraces are waterproofed by coating them with zebu (cattle) dung. Over the dung, the woman paint intricate frescoes that flow over the homes and slope down to the surrounding walls; colours are natural, sometimes using black and white patterns, other times red and white. These beautifully patterned designs are an excellent example of African art and architecture merging into a fluid masterpiece of style and substance. One cannot truly appreciate the intense beauty of these works of art without seeing them first hand. Gurunsi (or Kasena) architecture is not only elaborate in terms of function and building technology; it also represents a reflection of the people and their spirit of independence. Writings of European explorers repeatedly described these compounds as "fortresses," "castles," and "citadels," evidence of their highly defensive aspect, in addition to their aesthetic beauty. Gurunsi compounds consist of related individuals from several generations and vary in size. The smallest can house a single family (2-6 people) while the largest can hold many dozen distinct but related families (up to 180+), with walled-off indoor and outdoor structures surrounding a common yard. Average population of a compound is 12 people.
Day 14-15 Bobo/Ouagadougou (2B)
Approximate Distance: 360 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 10 hours Wake to the sounds of the Gurunsi village as the women start painting and the village starts to stir. Travel west through southern Burkina Faso, and after lunch, we stop at the villages of the Dagarti peoples, made in a fortified style similar but distinct to the Lobi style we see on Day 12. Here we may take a walk through a number of villages, viewing many aspects of the culture and agriculture. On Day 12, we head out to visit the shy, traditional Lobi people of Burkina Faso: men still carry bows and arrows, and old women wear lip disks, while wooden statues are carved for an ancestor cult. Visit their unique villages with a Lobi translator. The Lobi of Burkina Faso are perhaps the most shy people of this region. Spread throughout Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ivory Coast, the Lobi also have the most characteristic villages; thanks in part to their shyness they have maintained their traditions intact. Each family lives in a large, clay fortified building. During our visits we are accompanied by a local Lobi dialect guide and translator, a necessity to allow us to overcome the innate distrust of these people.
Day 16 Ouagadougou (1B)
Approximate Distance: 220 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 10 hours On the way to Banfora, our first stop will be at Loropeni, at the UNESCO World Heritage Centre of Loropeni Ruins. The ruins are surrounded by mystery. The 11,130m squared property is made up of an array of stone walls, one of the best preserved examples of fortified settlements in West Africa. The area is linked to the tradition of gold mining, which seems to have persisted for at least seven centuries. Close to Loropeni we will meet the chief of Obire, the 29th of his dynasty. This long lasting kingdom is deep-rooted in West African history. This is the location where the Guen settled centuries ago. The meeting will be a great opportunity to know more about the traditions of these people. We continue to Banfora, stoping to meet gold diggers along the way. Men dig deep holes and bring out clay which is washed and filtered by the local women to turn into gold dust. This reminds us of the times when caravans were carrying gold to the north, only to return later with caravans of salt.