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December 22, 2012 / samwilson60

Border day, oh dear

As we headed off from Ada in search of the Togolese border, we were somewhat reassured by the lack of check points. The few police that did stop us were genuine and borderline disinterested (not sure why they stopped us to be honest), but all this was just the calm before the storm.

The border town was clearly a border town – chaotic with zero road maintenance – and even busier than any we’d crossed before. This didn’t bode well. Anyone living/working round here had to be grumpy at best. At the border they were indeed less than chatty but this was the least of our problems. We almost ended up in Togo without doing any of the Ghana formalities but in the nick of time consented to follow a tout round what looked like a dead-end alley. This was by far the most confusing, convoluted border to date, and that is saying something.

We had idea who was who, what was what and in what order they wanted visiting, let alone what they wanted when we got there. And to the time of writing we still don’t. It seemed deliberately orchestrated to give the odd tout a bit of pocket money and confuse the shit out of anyone passing through, and yet on the Ghana side at least, there was no corruption apparent. Just complete ineptitude. The corruption was on the Togolese side.

We were so confused and worn out by the exit from Ghana – and the endless but fruitless fight to rid ourselves of our self-appointed fixer – we didn’t even realise we’d entered Togo until we noticed the forms we’d been given were in French and asked for our visa details. We didn’t have visas, as we knew we could get them on the border. Neither this basic truth nor the fact that he had a list of visa prices behind his head stopped the guy behind the desk (who was in the process of stamping about 20 visas when we turned up) from asking on what basis we thought we could turn up unstamped. Startled and rather taken aback, it took a few minutes’ jibbering to remember we were in the right and he was taking the piss. Thankfully he didn’t drag out the charade too long and charged us the right amount – which is more than can be said for his colleagues. The next stop was phase one of the vehicle registration process. At this and the next, they boldly demanded 10,000 CFA each for writing out names in a book (the second guy didn’t even pretend to do that much, he just used the now oh so tiresome “Right-hand drive is not legal here” line). Some local guy passing through actually tried to justify the corruption (they’d be the first to come looking if our car went missing, was the best explanation he could give), but enough stalling got us through without paying and we continued, fairly reluctantly and dispiritedly, to customs we presume, where we’d been told they’d force a laisser-passer on us despite our highly valuable carnet. And yet, if only to confuse us further still, we were presented with a woman (a rarity), who took one look at the carnet, stamped it as if it were the most normal thing on earth and sent us on our way – and away we sped, without speeding mind. The only thing we wanted from the rest of the day was zero officialdom and a nice, safe place to stay. And possibly an ice-cold shower or two.

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