Four Canoes in Four Days: Travels in Togo and Benin

Over Thanksgiving, we took a break to visit rural villages and scenic beaches in Togo and Benin.  What a wonderful chance to see more of the countryside and practice our French (and Ewe!)

We traveled with James, an excellent and highly experienced Ghanaian driver, and Germaine, a Togolese French-speaking guide. The chaotic process of getting through immigration and customs to enter Togo, and later Benin, reflected positively on the fine customer service on typically gets in Miami when coming from Latin America.

James and Germaine

Shortly after we entered Togo we crossed a bridge over an estuary where a branch of the Volta meets the sea. The line where sea meets river was incredibly clear.

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Our first stop in Togo was the fetish market in Lome, where you can buy body parts from every animal imaginable.  Alligator skull?  Cougar heads? No Problem!

IMG_5726 Fetish Market

Our private visit with the voodoo priest provided us with customized voodoo dolls to keep our home safe from evil spirits.  This type of voodoo is only positive – the “white magic”, as opposed to the evil voodoo that wishes ill upon others. The voodoo priest gave us his business card in case we needed to call in to get more “white magic” to meet future life needs.

Fetish President


In Benin we visited Possotome, where we drank fresh coconut water (just harvested with a machete) and dined in a private thatched nook on stilts over Lake Aheme.

IMG_5730 IMG_5733 The Harvester

Later we took a canoe (#1) which had seats and was propelled by a pole pushing against the lake bottom and watched the locals demonstrating their prowess with the fishing net.

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Jan was not as successful, as her net only brought up a few sticks.

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We visited another voodoo priest, where he offered to cure us of any problems – with potions from his medicine box or a spell or two as an offering to the various fetish gods around his village.

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We couldn’t escape town without a visit to the local gift shop/training center where Ed modeled the new fashion he will be unveiling shortly in SF.

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Sunset at the Casa del Papa resort along the beach at Ouidah was breathtaking.  We loved the refreshing pools. Rum-based punch with freshly squeezed fruit juices at the beach hut was fantastic as was the fresh seafood that followed.  The warm breezes and casual ambiance reminded us of our first visit to Phuket in the early 80s.

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Ouidah was a major exit point for slaves.  The moving “Gate of No Return” is a sobering site, as was the tree which slaves were forced to walk around seven times to try to forget everything about Africa before boarding the boat. There were many interesting sculptures and reliefs along path from the slave marketplace in Ouidah to the sea. Twelve Million slaves took this walk over three centuries.

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At the Sacred Python Temple, Jan was the only visitor willing to wear the python around her neck. She claims… “When he put the python around my neck, I thought this was just part of the tour. Later when I saw everyone else  (including an entire group of engineering students from Penn State) refuse the python’s embrace, I started to wonder… ‘what was I thinking?’”

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Later she saw a python “gently” embrace the neck of a sculptural head.

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A motor powered our next canoe ride (#2). We visited the stilt village of Ganvie, home to over 35,000 people.  We especially enjoyed the Saturday noon ritual where the village children brought their family’s water barrels to the water pipe via canoe. Some children magically transformed their barrels into drums, so they could serenade while they waited for their turn for the water.

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Since this is a water-based village in the middle of a lake, the local market women were especially adept at paddling while selling their wares.

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Others used innovative sails to give them extra speed returning to the village after checking the catch in their nets or fish enclosures.

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We traveled to another beach resort (Grand Popo… not Papa this time) for more fresh seafood and rum cocktails.

For our next voyage, the canoe (#3) had no seats, so we sat along the edge.  The driver was adept at maneuvering in the current, so no one fell off!  We saw lush mangrove bushes growing in the water and visited a small village where the voodoo queen welcomed us with schnapps.

While we were there a fisherman mixed styrofoam and petrol in a metal bowl to create caulk to close a leak in his boat. Creative recycling and further evidence that in West Africa there is little waste, people find ways to get value from nearly everything. We didn’t realize until later that mixing Styrofoam with gasoline creates napalm, which is highly volatile until it solidifies.

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Back in Togo, our final canoe (#4) took us to Togoville, the village that gave Togo its name.  (Apparently the proposed name had been “Slavery Coast”… next to Ivory Coast and Gold Coast, but this was objectionable to the King who offered up the name of his village for the country’s name.  Good thinking!)

We met with a representative of the King of Togo and saw artifacts from the King’s life, and learned that “TogoLand” was the only self-supporting German colony and it remained under German control until after the First World War.  The Germans had excellent relations with the locals until the 1940’s.

After visiting the Catholic Church, we stumbled upon a voodoo festival, where we witnessed several voodoo priestesses in a trance.  They were channeling spirits and spoke in special language, which the guides did not understand. Jan’s name badge indicated her voodoo association status.

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Our final stop was Davedi village in Togo, where villagers harvest pineapple and palm wine.  The village has their own moonshine distillery where they turn fermented palm wine into 43% proof Gin!  We bought a bottle and some pineapples.

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Issac, the guide at the village, carried the “loot” back to our car.


Back in Accra, we shared the pineapple and gin with our fellow coaches, as well as James, our driver, who lives in Accra.  At this “Togo Party”, we toasted our good fortune for the safe travels and interesting adventures!









3 thoughts on “Four Canoes in Four Days: Travels in Togo and Benin

  1. Diana

    Absolutely fantastic. Now that you have good white voodoo status, can you bring good fortune to Wally and me? Wally is so jealous of Ed's outfit. May your travels home be as smooth.


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