Arrive in Lome at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into to the hotel (check-in time is approx 3pm) and enjoy the city. At the hotel, you will meet your tour leader and fellow group members to review the details of your trip and for the leader to collect your local payment (if applicable). Look for a note from your tour leader at the reception (or ask reception) to see the exact time your leader 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 leader 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.
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).
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.
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.
Approximate Distance: 190 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 10 hours A former Portuguese colony, Porto Novo still retains much of its colonial architecture, and is known for its colourful markets, including a large traditional herbal market. With a stop there, we continue to old palace of King Toffa, now a museum. We also visit the ethnographic museum with its collection of tribal masks and statues, and the city’s baroque mosque. A short drive takes us to the Yoruba kingdom of Ketou, in southern Benin, where with a little luck we have the honour of being received by His Majesty the Oba (king). If his majesty is available, he receives us in his royal palace, surrounded by his court, and with a rare chance to speak with him and learn about his role of traditional chief in a modern state. Next, en route to Bohicon, witness the Dancing Masks of Egun, a traditional celebration of the Fon and Yoruba of the region.
The exact village or location in the village where these local celebrations take place varies, and as such, we search out where a community for this intriguing tradition. Egun masks represent the spirits of the deceased, but as far as the local population is concerned, they actually ARE the deceased. Initiates of the cult wear the masks—representing Egun—and, 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.
The belief is that if the Egun touches you, he brings the danger of death! Believers touched by the Egun immediately collapse into a heap on the ground. The masks then perform a kind of bull-fight, which is designed to create fear…although whether or not it does depends on you! Bohicon was the French colonial city built alongside Abomey, formerly the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, established about 1625. We stay at a hotel in Bohicon – our last night in a hotel before several nights camping further north.
Approximate Distance: 415 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 9 hours This morning visit the Royal Palace in Abomey to see its famous walls of bas-reliefs representing symbols of the ancient Dahomey kings; their power and economy was based on the slave trade, fuelled by a perpetual status of war. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace is actually a group of earthen structures built by the Fon people between the mid-17th and late 19th centuries. The palaces form one of the most famous and historically significant traditional sites in West Africa. The palace displays items belonging to the ancient kings: thrones, ancient cult altars, statues, costumes and arms. Walk among the buildings to get a sense of the past splendour of the court, one that resisted the Western colonial armies as they spread over the continent. We may also meet with members of the ancient community of blacksmiths, for centuries in the service of Dahomey Kings and their army.
Abomey was originally surrounded by a mud wall six miles long, pierced by six gates and protected by a ditch five feet deep filled with a dense growth of prickly acacia, the usual defense of West African strongholds. Within the walls were villages separated by fields, several royal palaces, a market-place and a large square containing the barracks. The royal palaces of Abomey are a unique reminder of the power—and brutality—of this vanished kingdom: in the middle of the royal courtyard is a temple build with a mixture of clay and human blood. Since 1993, 50 of the 56 bas-reliefs that formerly decorated the walls of King Glèlè (now termed the 'Salle des Bijoux') have been located and replaced on the rebuilt structure. The bas-reliefs represent an iconographic history of the power of the Fon people. After a guided tour of the palace, we begin our long travel day ahead of us, as we travel north to the fetish of Dankoli. Here, pilgrims plant thousands of wood sticks signifying their prayers to the voodoo. When they are satisfied, they return to sacrifice the promised ransom: a goat, a chicken, a perhaps a cow. A mound of blood, palm oil and sodabi (local liquor) testifies to the large number of pilgrims who have found here a solution to their existential problems. After this short visit, we continue to one of the local towns for a lunch stop, where you will be able to try the local cuisine (note that variety of choice will be limited). Further northwest, past a number of regional towns, we head into the Taneka region for our first night of bush camping. Your tour leader will show you the simple process for setting up the tents, while our cook begins to prepare our first meal under the stars.
Approximate Distance: 50 km Estimated Travel time: 1-2 hours drive After taking down our tents and leaving our packed luggage with the crew, we start our trek in the area, to discover the ancient villages of the Yom, situated on Taneka Mountain. The villages are composed of round huts covered with conical roofs protected at the top by terracotta vases. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the fetish priests, dressed in goatskin, along with their young initiates. This population has for centuries lived on an archaeological site: the first inhabitants, Kabye from Togo, occupied the mountain in the 9th century A.D. Gradually other populations joined the Kabye to form a kind of melting pot; each group has maintained its own culture and its own rites of initiation, while at the same time sharing common institutions of power and cult practices. After visiting one village, we continue our walk through the region on to another village, where, after some time, we will be met by our crew, and will continue on to a place to stop for our lunch. We then continue with our vans to explore the region, inhabited by many groups of Fulani, or nomads, and set up our camp for the evening.
Approximate Distance: 80 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 9 hours Today we may have the unique experience of meeting some Fulani people them in their encampment (remember, they are nomads!). And then we continue to the Atakora region to explore on foot the villages in the Atakora mountains (4 to 5 hours along an easy path). While on foot, we will see the fortified dwellings of Tamberma peoples. Their villages are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. In additional, as the Tamberma people are farmers, you will get an idea of the local agricultural products and techniques as well. Later we cross the border into Togo and continue with village visits of the Somba people, in a continuous region where the people, culture, history, architecture, and landscapes ignore the international frontiers. Similar in form to medieval castles, these villages’ style impressed Le Corbusier, who referred to their "sculptural architecture," an equal mix of strength and aesthetic. The houses are built by hand, layer-by-layer, starting with round balls of mud and then shaping them following the design of the house.
The strength of the region’s traditional beliefs is evident in the presence of phallic shrines at the entrance to their homes. With permission, we get a privileged look inside a home or two, so as to better understand their way of life. Here, the home is more than just a dwelling; it is a projection of the collective anthropology and cosmology: the ground floor, with its darkness, represents the death; it is the place of the ancestors. The second floor, open to the sky, represents life.
The entire family, all food and animals are kept inside the house to ensure survival of the family group in case of attack by enemies; the remote and rugged Atakora Mountains themselves also offer protection and freedom from outside influence. After a full day, we find a place to set up our camp for the evening, and then share our impressions of the homes and lives of the people we have met.
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. As a well-deserved break from camping, we'll spend the night of Day 9 in a simple hotel in the northern town of Dapaong. 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.
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. We've left our camping experiences behind us, and in Gaoua you will even have a chance to be in the same bed for 2 nights! Being back in a bit more developed town, you will also have a small choice as to what to eat for dinner, be able to wash a few needed pieces of clothing, and take a shower. 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.
Approximate Distance: 220 km Estimated Travel time (including day's activities): 10 hours We move further west, stopping at the market town of Loropeni to see some pre-European stone ruins. Upon arrival, Obire the King of Guen village will welcome us into the village (if he’s available!) and he or the village elders will explain the life and customs of the Guen people. Venturing still west, we come to Senoufo, where we will visit the village before checking into our hotel in the town of Banfora.