To Go To Togo

Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal… and then what? Until Nouakchott (Mauritania’s capital city, built out of nothing 50 years ago), we don’t know. We know that we have to be in Togo before Guillaume’s birthday on 5 October 2012, and that we want to pass through Cote d’Ivoire to visit a relative. The rest of what happens between Senegal and Togo depends on time, country situations, and visas.

Each arrival in a capital city involves searching out information and embassies in order to smooth the road ahead. West Africa is a collection of many countries, some very small, some within others, most with a complex web of borders and passable roads, and every country with its own visa. Confusingly, each visa issuance point also has its own price and procedure. Visas make the journey complicated. Can we get a visa? How long will we be allowed to stay? When will it start running? How long will it take to process? And (the often painful question) how much will it cost?

After about a week in remote areas, our arrival in Nouakchott sees us checking into a comfortable guesthouse (with wifi) and entering marathon internet search mode. On the side, we have our calendar to count the days, ensure that we arrive in cities with embassies on weekdays, and plan our itinerary. We learn that out of the countries that interest us, there is diplomatic representation in Nouakchott for Mali and Cote d’Ivoire. It may be possible to get a visa for Mali, but sadly, the country is still suffering through its tragedy. Given the impossibility of visiting Mali at the moment, we will have to go elsewhere. We have enough days before October to travel through the myriad of countries on the coast.

We read up and learn that visas are available for Guinea-Bissau in Ziguinchor, for Guinea in Bissau, for Sierra Leone in Dakar or through an online agency, for Liberia in Freetown, and for Ghana and Togo in Abidjan. We also keep a precious nugget of information in the back of our minds: we have heard, in Kampala from a Dutch cyclist, that it is surprisingly inexpensive and quick to get the usually difficult Nigeria visa in Bissau.

The next day, we visit the honourary consul of Cote d’Ivoire – who, to our delight, issues us 3-month visas on the spot. Toward evening, we make a trip out to the fish market on the edge of the city. The colourful pirogues and ocean spray bring back memories of the West African coast. In a sense, we are heading toward home.

Thus, the road to Togo gradually becomes clear: Morocco – Mauritania – Senegal – Guinea Bissau – Guinea – Sierra Leone – Liberia – Cote d’Ivoire – Ghana – Togo. The road thereafter, to our ultimate destination of South Africa, we’ll plan later.

Seven countries in six weeks. Here we go!