Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

vendredi, avril 20, 2007

Border Crossing: Ghana to Togo (April 4, 2007)

“Where are you going?” the border guard yelled at us as we walked past his small office.

Not realizing that we were getting off to a bad start with the person in control of our immediate future, one of us replied, “To the canteen to buy some water,” as we continued walking along. Minutes later, after drinking ice-cold water as refreshment after hiking out to the bat home of Wli Falls, we returned to the guardhouse.

“Where did you go?” the guard grunted.

“We were thirsty and needed water,” I began to explain.

“Passports,” the guard interrupted.

We handed over our passports. For me, this period is always a bit trying. Will the guard want some sort of bribe? Are there any problems with the documentation? In this case, will the passport juggle performed weeks ago in Ouagadougou become a problem? I became more nervous as the guard kept flipping back and forth through my stamped pages.

“Do you have a Togolese visa?” he asked.

I pointed to the page containing the Visa Entente, a five-country, two-month visa good for Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin and Niger. This visa had been hard to get with some embassies saying that it no longer exists. Fortunately, passport officials in Ouagadougou issued one but this was the first test using it.

Satisfied with the Visa Entente, the guard continued leafing through my passport. “Just stamp it and let me through,” I wanted to say knowing that the longer he took the higher the probability for trouble.

“I don’t see your Ghana visa and entry stamp,” he finally says and I readied myself for trouble. This man was not friendly and regularly rudely belittled Ghanaians and Togolese who had stopped in.

In my case, his simple statement opened up a wide array of confusion. I had hoped he would lose interest hunting through my visas and stamps and not look hard for the Ghana stamps. After all, I was leaving the country.

“Well, that’s because the visa and stamps are not in that passport,” I unhappily replied. “They are in this one,” I continued holding up a second US passport. The look on his face indicated that he was none to happy with the sudden appearance of a second passport for one Francis James McGowan.

The procurement of a visa takes time and embassies can hold a passport for several days so while in Ouagadougou, Patrick and I needed to obtain both the Visa Entente and a visa for Ghana. Hoping to save time, my Peace Corps passport was given to the Burkinabe office and my personal passport to the Ghanaian Embassy. This resulted in the problem that I was now facing.

The Ghanaian official obviously did not like the explanation. “This is a problem. A big problem,” he stated shaking his head.

“Well, your counterparts at the Burkinabe-Ghanaian border let us in, so you should now let us leave,” Patrick pointed out.

The man looked blankly at us. This problem was one he did not know how to handle, but it was slowly starting to look like he would relent. Stamping our passport and letting us pass through would get us out of his way and allow him to return to his Parcheesi game.

“We’re very sorry. It has been a problem for us as well,” I nudged.

“Fine, I will stamp it but you only have a single entry visa. This means that if you are not allowed in Togo, I will not let you return to Ghana,” the guard said.

“Great. Thank you,” we replied only wanting to get the precious stamp and pass the gate.

A few minutes later, our passports were stamped and we were walking in the no-man’s land between Ghana and Togo. So far each border crossing has been similar. Here, a 5 – 10 minute walk separated the two outposts. The walk was a nice one through a lush, green-forested area and up a small hill. What would we do if we were turned away from Togo?

When we reached the Togolese side, a man came out of a building with a big smile on his friendly face. “Bonjour et bien venue en Togo, ” he exclaimed. It was so nice to again be in a francophone country. I have had a much easier time conversing in francophone countries than in Anglophone ones. This man was incredibly nice. He stamped my passport and when the lack of a Ghanaian visa/stamp was brought up he said, “No problem, and we were soon off into Togo.