Atlantic Breeze Hotel, located in the Volta Region of Ghana, is sandwiched by the Atlantic Ocean and Aflao Lagoon. Built a stone’s throw away from the Ghana - Togo border post, the said hotel is a popular weekend getaway spot for both Ghanaian and Togolese patrons.
After crossing the border, I find myself in Lomé, the capital of Togo. Yes, Lomé is squeezed at the tip of Togo’s southwestern corner. Gleams of sunshine on the smooth surface of Mono Boulevard warmly welcomes visitors from Ghana.
Before embarking on a road trip to Benin, let me mention one or two things about Aflao, the vibrant border town connecting Ghana and Togo. This border is closed until further notice but the Covid-induced temporary closure doesn’t apply to individuals who depend on cross-border trade. From the look of things, Lomé-based revelers frequenting Atlantic Breeze Hotel every weekend find a way to sneak in and out of Ghana regularly.
Aflao’s position as a major trading center dates back to the 18th Century when the settlement was a small slave market. Slave trade left permanent scars in this part of Africa. Sites linked to this illegitimate undertaking and traces of the darkest chapter in history of mankind are scattered across the former Slave Coast.
From Aflao, I board a taxi to Aného. The latter is located at the border with Benin — the exit of my trans-Togo voyage. After occupying a front passenger seat, I roll down the window and enjoy the cool breeze from the ocean. I am not the only passenger in the 4-seater, worn out Renault. Every seat of the not-so-roadworthy shared cab is occupied.
I am terrified by the size and the sheer power of the waves in the Atlantic. As the driver switches gears, I cancel swimming plans in the west coast of Africa. Before I return to my land-locked country, I will go to the beach to kick back, relax and sip beverages prescribed for holidaymakers vacationing in exotic destinations. However, swimming is no longer on my to-do-list. These waves are too violent to mess with. When raging nature unleashes its fury, I stay out of the way.
The Aflao - Aného highway spans the distance of about 50 kilometers along Togo’s stunning coastline. Has anyone else noticed that the sand on this side of Africa looks like brown sugar?
Scenes of young people playing soccer on the beach are common in Lomé. Across the continent, soccer games take place with or without designated pitches. From sandy shores and dusty streets to abandoned airstrips and unleveled livestock grazing fields, the love of the game is undeniable. In most cases, goal posts are improvised.
Public beaches, palm trees and splashy waves create a sight to behold. Shortly after leaving Aflao, I see ruins of the abandoned bridge of Lomé. Built by the Germans in 1904, the collapsing structure looks like a death trap to me but it shelters a handful of homeless families.
Farther ahead, I marvel at the headquarters of Eco Bank. From humble beginnings, the Togolese financial institution has grown into a Pan-African banking powerhouse with a myriad of branches in 36 countries across the continent.
While trying to put a name to every flag raised at Eco Bank’s headquarters, my attention shifts to the port. Rows of cranes soaring above piles and piles of containers and a network of pipelines connected to massive oil reservoirs, not to mention a long line of gigantic vessels in the process of docking, are enough to show a casual observer the magnitude of operations conducted in the premises of the biggest port in West Africa.
The eastern part of Lomé’s coastal strip is known for its private beach clubs, resorts and affluent estates. Beyond the outskirts of the capital, small shacks of local fishermen and signposts advertising pieces of land for sale are all over the place.
From Agbodrafo to Aného, the highway slashes between the ocean and Lake Togo. Togoville lies on the other side of the lake. Both Togoville and Aného boast rich historical and cultural heritage but that’s a story for another day. At Aného, Lake Togo empties into the ocean beneath the bridge that links the two towns to Lomé. The two-lane bridge is a product of the Corridor Project implemented to stimulate trade between Togo and Benin.
Despite being temporarily closed, the border with Benin is a hive of activity. As I said, traders whose livelihoods depend on traversing these borders are not grounded. As the pandemic becomes an endemic, it’s business as usual.