Friday, 22 December 06

 

I reach the Togoleese border after 290km and approximately three hours of travel.

The completion of the formalities runs down normally and I take a deep breath as the border official gives me the entry stamp.

I am happy that I could leave Burkina Faso without problems and naturally I still donít know what happened there. In the first town I stop at the gas station and fill up my bike.

As I want to start the engine again, something unbelievable happens.

The starter revs up and for some inexplicable reason doesnít stop starting. Shortly after that it begins to stink and smoke comes out under my tank!

I can just prevent the service-station guy from spraying me and the motorcycle with the fire extinguisher.

After the first shock I take off the tank and check the damage.

A probably faulty starter grilled my electrics from the starting relay to the battery and back to the starter. That is already one of the more improbable damages you can have and for sure not easy to repair!

If I have very bad luck, besides the starter and the wiring harness also the starting relay, the diode board and the generator are in the bucket.

That would cost a lot and probably could not be repaired without spare parts from Europe as well as expert assistance in a proper repairshop. Actually shit!

As I sit next to my machine thinking about all these things, suddenly my mood betters. Who knows what it was good for. When fate stops you in such a way it mustactually have a reason.

Who knows, perhaps some kilometers down the road the man with the scythe would have waited for me, in whatever kind of danger.

In addition my electrics could have choosen substantially more unfavorable places for burning down. I think of the lonely Westsahara or the uncertain situation in Burkina Faso just before.

What happens now is going so fast that I do not have a possibility to affect anything.

The owner of the gas station and a policeman have just stopped the traffic in order to find a truck that would take me and the motorbike to Lome.

The men lift my heavy machine on the truck within seconds. There it is put next to bags with bulbs and tomatoes as well as some goats.

 

 

 

From here the distance is approximately 600km to Lome. In the capital there is the only modern bike repairshop in whole West Africa. It has been operated for nearly 20 years by a man called Tony Togo, an Austrian.

My original plan was to go to this shop for a set of new tires. Now I must hope that they get my motorcycle working again.

 

The following truck travel is going to be an adventure and I hope that we get through without an accident.

I sit down next to the driver, together with the owner of the truck, who does not drive himself but kind of supervises the driver. Between them, sort of squeezed in another friend of the owner takes place who doesnít have any other recognizable task except polluting the air with cigarette smoke. 

The journey begins around 6 o'clock in the evening.

As it gets dark the driver cranks up the radio. The volume is so high that the engine sounds of the MAN Diesel can not be heard anymore. That is really something else.

Between other trucks, pedestrians and bicycles we move on with a speed between 20 and 50 km/h.

Again and again we must stop at the numerous custom and police controls where the driver normally has to pay for all sorts of not comprehensible things.

At one of these controls I stand directly next to it. That does not seem to disturb the police in any way.  The policeman lies in a sunchair besides the road and calls the driver. He snaps with his fingers and says money, now.How much money he does not say. Asthe man gives him 1000 CFA he snaps for money again. With the next 1000CFA he is content, the cash disappears in his breast pocket and without leaving hie sunchair he signals us to drive on.

These encounters normally remain hidden for the normal tourist, if you experience them they however say very much about a country and the arbitrariness of the authorities.

 

 

  

Saturday, 23 December 06

 

In the break of dawn the driver suddenly falls asleep. We drive through the morning mist and suddenly his head sinks forward. I immediately seize the steering wheel and hold straightforward, but he laughs and says that this is normal in the night. Sometimes he is just very tired but he has everything under control. That Iíve just protected us from an accident doesnít seem to come to his mind.

The truck wrecks along the road speak a clear language, so do I mean.

Shortly thereafter the owner of the truck awakes from his sleep as well. He tells the driver to stop. I assume, he will continue driving now and tell the man that he must stop when he is too tired.

Far been missing, the sun comes up in the east and that is the time for the morning prayer.

The men are Muslims. They unroll their carpets, wash their feet and begin to pray. In the middle of the road, with trucks passing by only a few centimeters besides them.

Ten minutes later the journey continues. As we arrive in the next village we take another passenger on board. With three dead chickens we now sit in the cabin and there hardly remains any air for breathing.

The truck suddenly does a strange curve and the steering wheel begins to run jerkily. The driver is brightly awake this time and as it looks our right front wheel did not survive one of the sharp tarmac edges at the roadside.

 

 

So we have to change the tires. With little technical support, but with African Power! It is amazing to see with how much energy the men sort out the problem.

 

 

After approximately 22 hours and 600 kilometers we reach Lome in the late afternoon. Arrived there we naturally sell the goats first.

 

A customer is addressed, a taxi is called and the goats are immediately shipped into the trunk.

 

 

 

Soon the truck ride is also over for me. We unload my motorcycle in front of Tony Togoís repair shop.

Unfortunately his flight to Europe goes this evening. Like every year, Tony will crew a KTM team at the Rallye Dakar and therefore will not be in Togo for approximately 4 weeks.

So we do not have the possibility to talk. Actually a shame, for Iím the first Austrian who has ever driven a motorcycle down to his place.

 

To repair my bike could become more difficult now. In Lome there is hardly another mechanic than Tony who really knows how to repair the electrics of a vehicle so well that he could rebuild a burned down wiring.

In Europe that would not be so important but if the machine burns down in Nigeria or Angola due to badly repaired electrics I would have a serious problem.

There I have substantially less possibilities than here.

If no time as well as cost justifiable repair can be made, the machine would have to be flown to Namibia and repaired by BMW. That would not correspond to my original plan but my goal is to get around the whole world and time and money must be calculated accordingly. 

The parts from Europe plus their dispatch over DHL could already be far over 1000 Euros. Sending the parts by postal service would be cheaper, but take approx. three weeks and I would have problems with the customs, who would then ask me for import taxes.

I will first try to repair the existing starter and the wiring and see if I can possibly get any spare parts here.

If that should not be possible, I will weigh the cost and time factors of the other possibilities against each other and decide what to do.

However, tomorrow is Christmas, and I look forward to spend the holidays at Chez Alice. Actually one of the best known travelerís lodges in whole Africa.

Meanwhile, Alice is already over 70 and has been in Togo for nearly 30 years. When you come to her lodge you immediately feel at home.

In the evening I would gladly talk to her a bit longer but after two sleepless nights I tiredly fall into the bed.

 

Sunday, 24 December 06

 

Today I ask what happened in Burkina Faso when I was there. Folks here are totally surprised that I donít know what was going on. In Togo the television was full of reports about the situation.

In any case what happened was that a policeman shot a soldier wherupon the military started a mobilization towards Ouagadougou and attacked the police.

The armed forces attacked and burnt down 20 police stations in their own capital city! and additionally opened the prisons and released over 60 dangerous criminals! These men could also take weapons , as it was as Ągift ďfor the police to make it harder for them to catch the gangsters again. Even in West Africa such a crazy situation does not happen every day.

Not wrongly people are now seriously concerned about the security of the country, the conflict between military and police has calmed down again, the criminals and traitors are still free and dangerous.

This story clearly shows me that it is highly interesting to travel through Africa to experience the different cultures and aspects of life, but that there is no form of rules and collateral security, on which you can rely.

Thomas Bernhard once said that us modern Europeans think geometrically and see no order in a form, which misses any regularity.

This chaos without recognizable forms however determines the life in Africa and this should never be forgotten on a journey. If one accepts this rule within the irregularity and if one is also aware of the associated dangers, then many interesting encounters and impressions are to be expected. And perhaps there is also a better chance to understand the people.

After these philosophical considerations I go for a run.

It is a special experience to do your christmas run among palm trees on lovely beaches.

In the evening we celebrate Christmas and have a big party. A band plays some traditional music and even one of the approximately 78 sons of the president is part of them. He is the bass man and only the bodyguard behind him points out his origin.

 

 

 

Today I meet another Austrian, the famous ethnologist, Africa researcher and journalist, professor Gert Chesi.

Apart from his friendship and cooperation with Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene the professor is an internationally recognized capacity of the African Voodooculture. He is the author of many well known publications and lives in Lome. Togo is one of the places in West Africa, where the tradition of the Voodoo is particularly strong. In february an Austrian TV-team will come and make a report about him.

In Schwarz in Tirol/Austria Gert Chesi has a museum that shows a broad cross section of his work.

I am glad that I could meet him personally and have a chance to speak to him this evening.

All in all I spend a great christmas time. Unfortunately not with my family at home, butwith many new friends here in Lome.

 

 

 

Monday, 25. 12. 2006

 

In the morning I go for a run and later on the beach.

I spend the evening with interesting conversations again.

Professor Chesi comes to visit and tells us about his earlier journeys through Africa.

40 years ago he drove an old Volkswagen bus through the Sahara and probably got a completely different impression of the culture and people than we do today.

We speak about the problems coming with the lack of self coordination of today's West African states and the development since the colonial age.

Frantz Vanon, one of the ideological fathers of Che Guevara tried to explain such development processes and changes of cultures and countries in one of his books.

Due to long cultural submission by the Europeans, as well as the arbitrary allocation of the countries without consideration of peoples and habitats, many African tribes lost their origin and their cultural background. First worldís and European ideals were pervasive and therefore regarded as good and worthwhile.

This process can easily be understood if one considers that it was always necessary to think collectively in the original culture of Africa. The individuals themselves were of little importance, in most cases the whole tribe and/or the whole village had to decide as one. A village chief would have sacrificed his daughter, if he meant that the blood of the victim would make the gods benevolent to his people and give them a rich harvest.

It was also normal for most tribes to see their wealth and reputation in the possessions of their kings. If a king was rich and decorated with gold, also his people felt so. Each individual was ready to live in poverty and work hard in order to support this process.

Self coordination and selfinitiative were not demanded at all.

By the introduction of the colonies, all the dominating became westernised.

A basic law of nature is the law of the adjustment of organisms to new circumstances of life. And that was exactly what happened, the people tried to live up to the expectations of their new ideals. Unfortunately very often by giving up their own identity, values and skin color.

That goes so far, that it is natural today that an African Head of State readily cashes economic allowances from international companies while he makes prestigious business in order to enrich himself with little to no benefit for his country or his kinsmen. It works out good for him, it works out better for the international economy and it doesnít work out at all for the people who end up suffering. However, in Africa there is rarely anyone to question that because hardly anybody judges a leadercritically and independently.

That is an interesting theory and helps to understand things here much better.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

 

Today I need to go to the office of immigration. I only have a transit visa for 7 days and I must change it into a tourist visa for my stay will be longer than expected.

I spend the day in Lome and learn what real sweating is like.

When the sun disappears behind the clouds and the humidity rises to 95%, I believe to be in a sauna.

That doesnít seem to disturb the people here too much, wherever they can they rest and sleep.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

 

Today I go to the immigration in order to collect my passport again. I arrive there at 4 o'clock and find total chaos.

There are still approximately 100 passports on the table and per hour maximally4 of them get stamped.

Obviously there is no way to fetch the passport today, things are stuck.

After approximately one hour all of us are sent out of the building to wait outside to be called.

When the official comes out to call some Russian sounding name, I wait a bit and as nobody answers I simply raise my arm and say Karaschow.

Once in the office of the immigration secretary again, I claim that I was called and say my correct name. Since the man inside has no idea what is happening outside they donít notice the gag.

No problem says the official, takes out my stamped passport and returns it to me.

It is sad, but without insolence really nothing can be reached here and in addition I nearly spent two whole days in order to get a stamp into my passport. That is what you call African bureaucracy then.

In the evening I drive back to the lodge and become a witness of a terrible accident. A family father, his two children and his wife ride on a moped down the main street towards Lome. The woman carries her baby in a cloth wound to her back. Naturally nobody has a helmet.

The moped can hardly be seen from behind as it has no lights and everybody on the road gets blinded by the upcoming traffic.

Loaded with 4 persons the speed of the two-wheeler is probably not higher than 30 km/h.

From behind a bus with approximately three times that speed rolls up and it comes to a tragic collision.

The moped and the family are hurled through the air.

The father and the older son donít move anymore, the woman and the baby got thrown off the road. 

The guilty bus driver doesnít reduce his speed at all but continues with full power. Since he has no readable numberplate on his vehicle he manages to escape, whether and/or how often he became a murderer doesnít seem to make any difference for him.

If people would think about their actions first and also try to see possible consequences a lot could be avoided.

Sole responsibility in thinking seems to be missing everywhere.

The traffic is like children playing robber and gendarme with real guns. Russian Roulett.

I spend a sad evening.

 

 

Thursday, 28 December 2006

 

This morning I go for a run and then I meet up with Sean.

Sean is a car electrician and together we will try to repair my bike.

He is one of the few craftsmen in Africa who received training on European level and he was recommended to me by Ruediger, a German car dealer in Lome who specialized for the import of offroad and luxury cars.

So Sean and I go shopping. We need to replace the old wiring harness with new cables.

In the city there are some Lebanese shops that cannibalize all sorts of damaged cars. We simply cut out the wiring of an old Toyota Starlet and start replacing one cable after the other.

 

After seven hours of work we are finished and also know the source of the problem. A faulty starting relay caused the electrics to burn off. Stupid enough but quite easy to understand. If 30 amperes of battery power fully run into the cables without going through the relays first it works like a welding set.

For us the exciting moment comes as we want to start the bike. Battery power flows again and the engine starts without problems at the first attempt.

We are all quite surprised as suddenly one of the other mechanics shouts Stop.

I press the emergency stop immediately and already see myself wiring up the whole thing again. But itís something else this time. One of the inlets of the oil cooler became leaky and I lose engine oil.

On my truck travel the men lashed the goats to the motorcycle. Apparently one of the animals worked too badly on my radiator and it became leaky.

Now we need a new inlet for the oil cooler and that will have to be manufactured.

But not today, it meanwhile became night and we will continue tomorrow.

 

 

 

Friday, 29 December 2006

 

Sean fetches me at 7 o'clock and we drive to the industrial area. For rebuilding the radiator inlet we need to see a specialist. The company of this so-called Lebanese specialist is in the port of Lome. The heat and sultriness extremely press on us and the inevitable mixture of oil, waste and scrap metal which is typical for African industrial areas, pave the sandy roads.

In front of some rusty Royce Royce marine engines we stop and enter a sheet metal hut. Here all kinds of pressure-resistant hoses are manufactured. Mostly for ships and trucks. As expected the patron ask for far too much money so I want to turn around and leave again. By the intervention of Jean we finally get an acceptable deal. As we replace the inlet the machine starts and everything works fine.

Only the left cylinder suddenly rings badly.

I wait until the engine has cooled down and check the valve play. As I open one of the adjusting screws I see that the thread revved itself up and I will need a new one. Thatís crazy, already the third breakdown within one week.

Odds are that I will have to use DHL to get a screw from Austria.

 

 

 

Saturday, 30 December 06

 

As I go for a morning run some people are already expecting me along the route. It apparently got around that a sporty tourist is in the area and some dealers run after me and want to sell me their goods.

As I come to some more remote place, suddenly a man runs next to me and grabs my arm. Then he shouts at me: White man give me money! As we both try to decide whether that is going to be an assault or fun it turns out to be fun for me. I simply increase my speed and he can not follow me in the sand. Sorry for him! Tomorrow I will probably run somewhere else, I donít want to find out what he plans next. Else, the coming days will be rather silent for me.

During the next three days nothing is going to happen here. People already start celebrating new year and the Muslims have their Tabaski.

They start fires in the backyards and traditionally slaughter the sheep.

The blood runs into a pit in the ground and the children joyfully jump around.

Different countries, different customs!

 

 

Sunday, 31 December 06

 

Most people have already been drinking since Christmas without a break and this evening is the big party. La Fete.

Cheap liquor is sold at the beach and the business with the alcohol is booming. A bottle of Whiskey costs 1000CFA, 1,80 Euros! In the morning I already see passed out people on the streets.

No matter what religion people have, when it comes to drinking all are united. The traffic becomes even more crazy and street crime increases for people need money to buy alcohol. Actually it is very sad. 

I spend New Year's Eve at Chez Alize having a nice party.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, 1 January 2007

 

I traditionally start 2007 with a New Yearís run. I run around town and wish everyone I meet a happy new year.

Some of the people are still very drunk and shaking their hands can sometimes be quite challenging.

In many places parties are not over yet as it is considered as a status symbol to still have money and be able to get drunk. I prefer to spend the afternoon in the garden and play with the monkeys.

 

 

 

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

 

This morning I drive to the repairshop to find out whether someone could find a screw for me.

Unfortunately there is no suitable part available and I must order one over DHL.

My mechanic has such a part in his workshop and I should get it within 2 days. Then I will be able to completely repair the motorbike and continue my journey.

Later today I take a taxi to the Embassy of Gabon. The visa can be obtained without problems and if luck is on my side, I might get the Angolan visa in Lome as well.

There is an embassy and the Ambassador will be back from holidays after the 5th of january.

 

Now the situation on my planned route looks like this.

At the moment Angola represents the actual breaking point of each motorized Africa crossing over the western route. The embassies in Libreville/Gabon and Point Noire/Congo have not issued any touristvisas for approximately one month.

If I should not be able to get the Angolan visa here in Lome/Togo or then in Abuja/Nigeria, I have a problem.

That would mean that the way overland to Namibia through Angola would be closed then.

As an alternative option there still is the possibility to cross the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the north to the east in order to get to Uganda and then to East Africa. This option is definitely not to be favoured for over 2000km of bad pistes await and the country has not yet calmed down after their elections.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

 

Today I drive to the best hotel of the city hoping to find a working internet connection.

For crazy 2500CFA you buy one hour of Internet surfing and the moment I want to log in the net breaks down.

As I get up to ask what happened I already hear the loud complaints of the Lebanese businessmen.

So I will have to come tomorrow and can only hope that the internet is working then. In the evening a group is performing at Chez Alice and life looks good again.

 

 

Fortunately my parts arrive during the next days and I can repair my motorbike.

Getting the Angolan visa turns out to be more diffcult than expected. The Angolan Ambassador of Lome is willing to issue me the visa but would have to send my application and my passport to Abuja/Nigeria. As one might easily understand there are more desireable things than sending your passport to Nigeria while staying in another West African country without proper ID for two weeks.

So I get a letter of recommendation from the embassy to make it easy for me to collect the visa in Abuja. Let us hope it will be like that.

I spend some more days in Togo before I leave the country going to Benin.