BootsnAll Travel Network

September 2: First Night in Lome

Arrival and immigration

When the plane arrived from Paris at Eyadema airport in Lome at 6:30 p.m, it was already dark. Nevertheless, I could make out palm trees around the airport. My UCR colleague Carol, who spent 3 years as a Peace Corps volunteer in nearby Burkina Faso and
visited Lome many times, had raved to me about the palm trees. I didn’t see how palm trees could be exotic coming from California, but the palm trees in Togo really are different. There are two kinds: one with tall thin trunks and short thin palm fronds, and
the other short with long, broad fronds. Both sway easily in the warm gentle breeze.

I got off the plane and walked to the terminal. My “expediter” was waiting just inside the entrance. It was the first time I’d ever had assistance BEFORE going through immigration and customs. He took me to the front of the line and the officer stamped my
passport without saying a word or checking my yellow fever vaccination. I put my bags through the x-ray machine, and then I was out.

First haggle

In the airport there were a couple of men playing drums. They had a series of paintings on the ground in front of them. My expediter asked me to sit down at the café near these men while he went to check on another American who was still getting his visa. I ordered a Sprite. The price was 900 CFA (a central African currency, pronounced “Sefa”), which I calculated should have been about $1.50. I didn’t have CFA, only dollars, so the waiter asked me for $2. I gave the waiter the two dollars, but when he came back with the Sprite he informed me it was $3. I was ripped off.

As I was drinking a Sprite, one of the men playing drums came up to me and smiled. He talked to me in English
with a heavy accent. He laid a painting and some shells on the table. He asked if I was interested in buying it. The one on the table was nice but it was dark brown and not my style. I asked to see a light blue one instead, which turned out to be a group of
women carrying baskets on their heads. I had to admit it was beautiful.

Then the bargaining began. He said it would be 20,000 CFAs (about $40). I told him I didn’t have CFAs, and asked how much it would be in dollars. He said it would be $100! I said in French that was crazy. He asked how much I wanted to pay, and I said $10. I knew that was a ridiculously low price, but I really wanted to pay $20 or $25 so I knew I had to start at $10 to get to $25.

In the meantime, my expediter came and looked over the painting. It was through his inspection that I realized it had been painted on the back of a cutout from a large canvas bag that had been used to carry other goods such as rice or flour. It wasn’t framed
in any way and I started to wonder how to hang something so soft. But I still liked it, so I gave the drummer a final price of $25, and he took the money. Then he said it would be $25 times two. I don’t like having a price accepted and then raised. I
said $25 yes or no; he gave me the money back. But he gave me the shells for free, and his phone number so I could call him in the morning before he went to the beach. I’m still not sure what that was about. Then he went to the bar. When he came back, he said he talked to his friend and found out the right exchange rate. (That was probably a ruse to save face.) Then
he agreed to sell me the painting for $25. Ironically, I probably would have gone up to $40 or $45, and was now feeling like I had fleeced him instead of the other way around. I even thought about buying a second painting, but was barely sure what I’d
do with the first one and didn’t feel like bargaining again.

The Hotel Ibis

Finally, I got in the car with the program driver to the hotel. The driver, Jacques, was a university student during the day and he spoke English very well. He pointed out how many motorbikes there were on the road, and said that I might be surprised to see women carrying things on their heads. I did see women carrying things like large baskets and plastic jugs, and even with the painting I’d just bought I was surprised at the sight. I also saw many people selling goods on the street, with a homemade kerosene lamp for light.

Jacques dropped me off at the Hotel Ibis. As I got into my room, I heard African music in the distance. I asked the porter what it was from; he said from the beach. But like my guidebook and Jacques, he informed me that the beach was dangerous at night and I
shouldn’t go there. Since it wasn’t safe to walk around, I decided to go to the hotel restaurant. Although I’d had an excellent dinner and lunch courtesy of Air France, I needed another big meal to take my anti-malarial pills with.

The restaurant turned out to be an outdoor grill near the pool, covered with a large hutlike roof. It was very relaxing. In the morning though, I found several bug bites because I’d failed to put on my DEET. So far I have no symptoms of malaria.

I ordered the grilled chicken legs and a large (1.5 L) bottle of water to take my pill with. I watched the cook over the grill as she fanned the smoke and flames with a fan that appeared to be made from woven palm leaves. I watched the other chef cook omlettes in a castiron skillet, steam vegetables and boil fresh spaghetti in a steel pot, and fry French fries in a Western-style basket.

The food was surprisingly good. The legs were grilled and seasoned with salt, garlic, and one or two other spices I couldn’t identify. It was delicious. The vegetables were merely two slices of cucumber, but I could forgive that given the quality of the chicken. There were two sauces on the side: one that was mayonnaise-based but had extra seasoning in it, and a second which was a tomato-flavored chutney; it tasted like a thick spaghetti sauce. The total for this was 6700 CFAs (at the hotel’s exchange rate, $14.25). A bit pricey, but worth the convenience and ambience.

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-2 responses to “September 2: First Night in Lome”

  1. don says:

    Hi there,

    LOL…I guess what I wrote, previously, about bargaining, was obvious!

    Nice account of your arrival. I’m glad the “expeditor” wasn’t extortionate.

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