Riding along the coast of Benin, Togo, and Ghana was everything I was looking for. The road is in fairly good condition, the traffic is manageable (most truck traffic is North/South and not East/West along the coast), and the palm tree lined beaches seem to go on endlessly.
I actually rode through Togo without realising it and had to turn back at the Ghanaian border to get my visa- don’t laugh, at only about 60km wide it’s not that hard to do! Lome, the Togolese Capital, doesn’t really have much going for it- the standard crumbling infrastructure along with the gorgeous beach cum public restroom hold no particular interest. Admittedly, I would have missed some great coffee and croissants if I hadn’t needed to wait for a Ghanaian visa, but despite this, it was simply a pitstop that ably reflected its nature as a political creation more than a cultural/ethinc one.
Ghana looks a lot like it’s eastern neighbours, so the differences didn’t really hit until my first petrol stop where I had to remember how to speak English again and rediscover that while the UK has left many traditions to its former colonies, culinary excellence is not one of them. Instead of spiced brochettes slow cooked over coals, the street vendors were selling BBQed rat. Worse, the handpressed coffee had been replaced by Nescafe and the crusty bread with soft white loaf bread.
Funny how fast the memory of a pitstop can become something requiring orchestral accompaniment!
Despite this setback, the day kept getting better along with the riding. It wasn’t getting more challenging- if anything, the road was in better condition and sunk beneath my conscious notice. No, it was the forts, both ruined and restored, that started to dot the coast along with the perfect sand and proud palms.
There is no denying why these forts were built, or at least expanded. There is equally no question as to the professions of those who lived in the wonderful colonial buildings dotting most every coastal town. This inhuman history makes enjoying the buildings hard, but it can’t be denied that our image of the quintessential West African coastline includes them. So, while some colonial leavings seem almost hilariously incongruous despite their historical place…
Others seamlessly match history to our view of it, even sending our thoughts across the waves to the Caribbean where mirror image forts still sit.