Day 15 |
Apr 08, 2011

Lome, Benin

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 06 08 5 N, 001 17 E
Weather: Hot and mostly sunny with some occasional clouds, light breeze during afternoon
Air Temperature: 31 C
Sea Temperature: 30 C
Pressure: 1013,7

The day began with a local dance troupe greeting us on the quay shortly after we had tied up at Lome, the capital of Togo. From Deck 5 of the Prince Albert II the dancer on stilts seemed tall and even more so a little later when the ship was cleared and we were allowed to go ashore. The band for the group made an amazing sound to accompany the dancers in their colourful costumes.

Today I was with Jarda on Bus 1 for the tour with Noah as our local guide. He was full of information and entertainment as we left the port with our police outriders clearing the way. Noah began the day by teaching us some words in one of his many languages, as well as covering subjects as diverse as the economy of Togo, its history as well as how the Togan’s clean their teeth!

Having left the bustling city, we went through many areas of lush vegetation and farmed land. Some of the larger trees were festooned with weaver bird’s nests, with a few of the owners nearby on occasion. Noah told us that some of the larger trees were Kapok trees and that the fluffy seeds were used for making pillows. We also saw a lot of Teak, which he said they used the leaves to wrap their food. There were also large groves of Eucalyptus trees in the wetter areas. Noah explained that we were in his country at the end of the dry season with the prospect of four months of the wet season to come. We learnt that each year there were two wet season lasting two months each.

A good many Yellow-billed Kites were gliding over most towns and villages with our first Hooded Vultures over the larger towns further inland. There were plenty of Swallows swooping around low down with Little Swifts feeding higher up.

Having passed through the large town of Kpalime, we climbed the hill to the site of an old hospital that had been set up as our lunch venue. Before we had lunch we had a walk around the local area of farmland and woodland, the Kloto forest. Noah explained how the voodoo fetish near an Avocado tree was to make sure that no one stole the fruit. We also looked at many of the other plants used in the area that were grown here, from Teak with its top leaves that were used as a dye to those used for food such as Mango, a very nice tasting Cocoa as well as a Quinine tree used for treatment for Malaria. A large Mantis caused a bit of a stir when it appeared but was soon the subject of many photos.

We had a stop in the small town where the local scout group was on hand to give us a drink from a Coconut and a fresh Banana. There was also the chance to buy some of the local artifacts before we set off again. We had a look at one of the kitchens nearby with one of the local women showing us what she was doing. Walking away from the town Noah told us how just about all the parts of an oil plant were used from making fuel to plaiting the leaves to make brooms.

After our interesting morning, lunch was taken in the shade of the open-sided hall and under the big trees and was very pleasant in the light breeze. The food was an excellent buffet with a performance of traditional song and dance that was enjoyed by all guests. There were many artisans nearby who were soon busy with many of the guests walking away with an amazing array of batik materials, masks and other carvings. Before we left, we made a presentation to Prosper, the town’s main man, of some educational material and footballs (and pumps) that the guests had very kindly brought with them.

It was only a short drive down the hill, again with our police outriders, to the Centre Artisanal de Kpalime where an ever-larger selection of arts and crafts was on offer. Some of the carvings were enormous and rather spectacular but too large for us to get home. Although it must be said there were some quite large masks and statues coming back on board the busses as we left. Just as I got back on our bus, one of the guests showed me a photo of a bird he had just taken. It turned out to be an African Pied Wagtail. It then popped up again in the same site and we could then see that it was taking food into a nearby nest.

The last stop of the day was not much further down the road at a small Ewa school, a short walk from the road. The two buildings were split into three classes and were hard at work as we arrived. Our group went to one of the classes where Noah talked to the teacher and then interpreted what he said. They went on to talk about how education was run here and what they were learning today. At the ringing of the bell everyone gathered in the schoolyard for a presentation. As earlier in the day, two of the guests made short speeches before giving over several bags of school equipment generously donated by many guests as well as some more footballs. I could see the kids’ eyes light up at the sight of the footballs. The kids then gave us an example of their singing with many of their families also joining in as they had come to school to watch what was going on. Many of them joined an informal conga that led away to the nearby village and our awaiting buses.

Just before we left, my eye was drawn by one of the guests to some birds perched on the wires over the fields behind the school. These proved to be four White-cheeked Bee-eaters and a Yellow-billed Shrike with a Grey Hornbill flying by as we watched.

It was then time to head for the Prince Albert II back in Lome. We had a brief stop so our outriders could refuel and were entering the docks as the light faded. Many Fruit Bats were flying out of roost to scatter all over the city by the look of things as they were going in every direction.

Our day was not quite finished, as after a quick shower and change we gathered in The Theatre where Robin introduced us to our guests of honour for the night. We met the Minister for Tourism for Togo and his wife plus the Director for Tourism for Togo and his advisor who both gave short speeches. The Minister then presented the Captain with a local carving and in turn was presented with a Prince Albert II plaque to thank him for making us so welcome in his country. We were also joined at this gala dinner by the Trans Africa team who had made such sterling efforts on our behalf over the last two days.

This was followed by a performance by the dance troupe that had been on the quay in the morning. They gave examples of many different dances with our Geologist Juan, and gave us some interpretation of what the dances meant and where in Togo they originated.

Robin finished the display by thanking all concerned but not after several of the guests joined the dancers on stage for a finale before it was time for dinner at the end of an amazing day.