The Great Ghana Border Expedition

Ghana-Togo, part 1

 

We started out where we thought it would be easy; the Ghana-Togo border at Aflao-Lomé. Togo's capital is right up along the line, and is clearly visible on Google Maps. Equipped with the Aflao 1:50.000 topographic maps from Survey of Ghana, IBS 126, a 4x4 with a driver and an appointment with an immigration officer we felt well prepared.

Unfortunately this day the skies were wide open and we had heavy rain, which turns the red ground of Africa into red mud.

As we approached the crossing at Aflao the intensity began; the road became muddier and was filled up with street vendors, crossers and money traders.

 

We followed signs for immigration, parked the car and rang our contact. He was unable to meet us, but sent a younger colleague, Forrester.

Forrester was prepared to give us a guided tour of the border crossing, which was like a scene of a movie. The customs was loud and chaotic- there were people everywhere. Immigrations were likewise.

Forrester led us to the actual crossing which had two sets of gates. We asked for the location of the actual border line, but were told that the area between the gates was a "no man' s land." We certainly do not believe in such legal entity, other than as a popular word for the land between the two border posts.

 

Looking towards Togo

 

 

Forrester took us behind the second fence and we were surely in Togo. However, we could not see border pillar #1.

 

1:50.000 Survey of Ghana map of the Aflao-Lomé border (Ghana-Togo)

 

 

Forrester then took us to the beach. The fence continued towards the ocean, but the last 20 metres of the barrier was nothing more than a pile of rubble. Nobody seemed to be bothering the locals that were freely crossing the boundary at this point. A small hut was staffed with two Ghana Immigration officials who kept an eye on this unofficial crossing.

With three officers handy we pulled out our topo map and asked for the location of border pillar 1. None of them had no idea what a border pillar was nor where it might be located. We discovered a small sign on the Togo side of the fence, which just said "1". Was this pillar 1?

We thanked our new immigration friends for the tour and headed for lunch before officially crossing into Togo.

Ghana-Togo at the ocean

 

 

 

 

After a delicious meal of rice and goat meat, we returned to the crossing where our driver cleared the vehicle. We planned to cross on foot and headed to the pedestrian crossing for our stamp -- but it wasn't meant to be so easy. A young man with an umbrella stopped us and guided us to the immigration office. Six young immigration women sat behind computer screens scattered around the room, and one handed us the immigration/emigration card. Of course there were nowhere to fill it in and no pens available. Luckily one of us had a pen and we headed outside trying to use the walls as support for filling out forms. The young umbrella man handed me a pen and after completing the form, we headed inside again.

After getting the attention of one of the young officers, we handed them our forms and passport, and we were checked out. After this process, we were asked to go to her boss' office where we lined up for the stamp. We were anxious to leave Ghana.

 

Border fence at Lome, looking towards Ghana

 

 

 

Umbrella man walked across the border and nobody took notice of him. On the Togo side, umbrella man helped us through the long process of getting a visa, which included filling out more forms, paying the standard fee plus a little bribe to grease the wheels. After we finished with the visa process, we asked umbrella man to take us back to the beach fence. We wanted to see it from the Togo side and wave to our Ghana Immigration friends.

Afterwards, we paid our helper, hopped in the car and drove 10 meters to Lomé, the capital of Togo.

The plan was now to look for border pillar 2. This should be straight forward as the border runs north and makes a sharp turn west. We wasted a large amount of time in Lomé's peak hour traffic, and the poor roads near the border.

Our plan was to look for border pillar 2. It should have been straight forward as the border runs north and before making a sharp turn west. We wasted a significant amount of time stuck in Lomé's peak hour traffic and on the poor roads near the border. Our driver was also quite confused why we wanted to look at the border since we just there. During the next days he quickly learned that border does not necessary mean crossing.

As the sun began to set, we finally spotted the fence and drove towards it. The end of the road was blocked so we parked and hopped out of the car to have a closer look. We were quickly approached by the Togolese guards. They didn't seem very friendly however this was mostly due to a severe language barrier. Togolese people speak French. We don't.

We noticed that there were many people at the fence engaged in conversations with people on the other side. The boundary divides an ethnic group in this part of Africa and many people use this method to chat, rather than making the long drive back to the official crossing.

Fortunately, one guard knew some English and was very friendly. We asked if there were any "borne frontiere" around and he showed us a large concrete block. It looked nothing like a border marker and had no inscriptions.

On each side of the block were two signs, similar to the one that we had seen at the beach. One was labelled 9 and the other 10 and we assumed the numbers referred to sections of the line.

The Togolese guard showed us a point in the fence where locals had cut a large hole in the wire to make illegal crossings. He also pointed to a wide strip on the Ghanaian side of the fence that he called "no man's land."

By this time the sun was down and we weren't able to see much more. We decided to return the following day.

 

 

Ghana-Togo gallery

 

 

Togo-Benin

 

 

Because Togo is very narrow we decided to cross the entire nation in order to have a look at the boundary between Togo and it's eastern neighbour Benin.

The crossing was surprisingly quieter than Ghana-Togo at Aflao-Lome.

After the Togolese officials confirmed that our Togo visa was valid for multiple entries and we could return from a quick trip to Benin, we headed east. Although our vehicle and driver were approved for entry to Benin, we thought it would be easier for us to secure a visa at the border if we were on foot.

Leaving Togo we again found two sets of gates. The Togolese officers told us the middle was yet another "no man's land."

On the far side of the mysterious patch of land, a friendly Beninoise official welcomed us to Benin. He said that we could get a visa at a nearby office and pointed us in the right direction.

Our driver walking into Benin

 

 

 

Unfortunately, the folks at the visa office didn't agree. They told us we couldn't get a visa at the border and told us to go back to the Benin embassy in Lomé. We weren't about to do that, and really, it didn't matter that much. We were on Beninoise soil and were able to count it as a border crossing and country visit.

When we walked back to the vehicle, our driver told us he wanted to take us to the border beach. We walked about 100 metres south and discovered a path though a small rubbish dump. The driver walked east towards a farmer in a nearby field. We didn't follow as we were worried about getting caught crossing illegally into Benin after having just been refused entry. Our driver asked the farmer his nationality and he replied that he was Beninoise and his field was in the "no man's land" .

 

 

 

Benin-Togo at the ocean

 

 

Benin-Togo gallery

 

After snapping some pictures we walked down towards the sea. It was hard to determine the location of the border here, and our poor French was no help. There were two small settlements at the beach and we thought they could lie on opposite sides of the border. However, flooded lagoons made it impossible to get any closer from the Togolese side.

The driver returned to the official road crossing to fetch the car. After he picked us up we stopped to speak with a group of Togolese border guards sitting under a tree. We tried to get them to explain the border beach situation, but, even though they were helpful, we never got a clear picture. We should have learned more French!

We headed back to Lomé, regretting that we didn't ask the Togolese guards to show us the beach border.

 

Ghana-Togo, part 2

 

 

 

We stayed near Lomé and in the morning we decided to look for the Ghana-Togo border fence at a point further north of our first visit. We also wanted to look for pillar 2, the point where the border bends westward. We easily found the fence and drove north along it. We took a few pictures and continued until the road became impassable.

Our plan was to cross back into Ghana at a small crossing near Kpalime, 120 km north of Lomé. The highway to Kpalime took us very close to the bend in the border. We were able to determine the bend, but didn't go for a close look. Everything was very wet, densely overgrown and we were wary of getting in trouble. We also realized attacking the bend from Ghanaian side would be better and easier.

After a short break at a fine restaurant in Kpalime we headed for the crossing at Kametou. The road cuts through a stunning valley of mountainous rainforest.

 

Crossing from Togo into Ghana

 

 

 

After a long and twisting drive through the hills, we arrived at the Kometonou, Togo crossing. Checking out of Togo was easy and we were told it was OK to take photos. I asked for the exact line, and instead of the usual no man's land, we were told the boundary was the bridge over the River Tsi.

We walked across the bridge, but found no evidence of a border line, and could also not see border pillar 51, which our topomap indicated would be south of the road.

 

 

1:50.000 Survey of Ghana maps of the Ghana-Togo border

 

On the Ghanaian side, one border official had no luck in trying take our shoes as bribes, but our Ghanaian driver had to pay a little extra for not having a yellow fever certificate to enter his own country.

Further south the topomap showed several interesting features. One was a dry crossing, with and angle and two pillars. Also it looked like the road would cross in and out of Togo. It was a remote area and we only had our 1:500.000 Canadian made road map to get us there. After much driving and asking we reached our little crossing.

We quickly got hold of the officer in charge and introduced ourselves and our business. He was very helpful and quite knowledgeable. He had some boys run down the road and dig up the border marker from the bushes. The border was easy to spot on the road itself; roads surface changed from tar on Togolese side to dirt in Ghana. A small French-type road mileage marker stood beside the road proclaiming Frontiere Ghana. Border pillar 33 stood 5 meters south of the road. On one side it said TF, the other side BT. French and British Togoland our man in charge told us.

 

Doug photographing border pillar 33 on Ghana-Togo

 

 

 

 

 

We showed him our topomap and asked if we would be allowed to drive on the road which goes in and out of Togo. He explained that the map was wrong as the river stays north of the road before the bridge. He also told us that a border pillar had fallen into the river by the bridge.

We drove the transit road, and stopped and took some pictures. We were unable to locale the border pillar.

 

 

Bridge by transit road, looking towards Togo

 

 

Ghana - Cote d'Ivorie

 

 

Our first target was the main crossing at Elubo. Once again we had a contact person at immigration and asked for him.

He initially told us that we needed special permission from immigration headquarters in Accra before we could go look at the border. But after 2 minutes he changed his mind and said we could just go.

Even though we were not escorted, we were allowed to pass the Ghanian controls freely and simply walk up the line -- which, in this case, is the Tano River. We knew that we needed a visa to enter Cote d'Ivoire and that we could not get one at the border. Instead, we crossed the bridge and hung out on Ivorian territory for a while. We figured there was little point going further just to get refused. Plus, you never know what might happen in such an unstable country.

 

 

Locals walking from Cote d'Ivorie to Ghana

 

Elubo gallery

 

We looked for some markings on the bridge and halfway there was a spray painted cross and the letters G-P-S. We took some photos and a very local guy came up to us and said "no photos". We claimed we had permission and asked if the GPS cross marked the border. We paid him about US$1 to confirm our theory. He was likely ready to confirm the opposite for the same amount. Walking back we cruised all checkpoints and thanked our contact.

Our roadmap showed a smaller road going into Cote d'Ivoire further north, but we had failed to acquire a 1:50.000 map of the area. In our experience any road across the line would mean a crossing. We asked a young border officer if we could find another crossing there. She was unsure, and some locals said no. We had cross checked with the old Soviet 1:200.000 topomaps from Berkeley and it was likely we could find border pillar 53 here, so we headed north. Our only help here was the town Tanaso on our roadmap near the road. After some asking around, our driver found a dirt road leading north - at least it was the right direction.

 

 

Eventually we reached a small village where the road crossed the river. We asked for the location of the border and told it was a little down stream. The people of the village offered to take us to the boundary. They scrounged up an outboard engine and bailed out a fishing boat.

Soon we were motoring down the river with the lush jungle on both sides. After landing on the north side of the river, a village leader and his men took us deeper into the bush.

"Here is the border", he proclaimed. But all we could see was rainforest.

"How do you know?" we asked.

He pointed to us two big trees and suddenly we could see we were standing in a rather overgrown vista. The trees stood on each side of the border.

 

Our team (in Ghana) with border pillar TANO

 

 

As we were wondering about the border pillars, our young companions starting cutting through the vista with their machetes. After a little while the small pillar was located. The inscriptions were below the surface and we had to dig it out.

It was not border pillar 53, as we'd assumed, but a new pillar erected in 1973 called BP TANO, named after the river. It was a big moment. To the amusement of the locals, we took lots of pictures. And then, thanking them, we hopped back in the fishing boat and which was now in Cote d'Ivoire waters and motored back to Ghana.

 

 

Tano gallery

 

 

The next morning we headed back to the Ghana-Ivorian border for our last adventure. Our target was Newtown, the border village right at the Atlantic Coast. It was a long drive, and the further west we got, the more remote got the villages.

When we reached a road fork, we decided to go for the better road. The road ended at a small harbour, where boats would leave for Cote d'Ivoire. We were allowed to walk past immigration to the water. Several resources suggest that the border goes at the water edge, leaving the body of water in Cote d'Ivoire, but nobody we asked could confirm it.

We headed back to the fork and took the bad road. Actually, the road was awful, and we felt sorry for the drivers of the tro-tros (mini bus taxis) that we passed.

After a bone-jarring ride, we finally we reached Newtown. There is no electricity or telephone service in this small and very remote town and the buildings were mostly wooden huts. But the people were very friendly.

 

Last pillar Cote d'Ivorie-Ghana before the ocean

 

 

Initially it seemed like we'd made the journey in vain. We didn't have official permission to be there and the officer in charge had left for the day. Luckily, the second in command liked geography as well. He told us we could walk up a sign marking the boundary but no further.

 

1:50.000 Survey of Ghana on Cote d'Ivorie border

 

That's all we needed. It was an incredible beautiful setting: white beaches, palm trees, kids playing, farm animals, people making palm oil.

Our driver was the first to spot the sign: "CEPS PROPERTY KEEP OFF" and the little border pillar -- number 55 -- next to it. CEPS stands for Customs, Excise and Preventative Service.

Once again there was a vista cut in the coconut trees. A little inland stood another sign and another little marker. We were met our immigration man, who showed us a third marker he claimed was placed on Ghana soil by the Ivorians. He also wanted us to take pictures of him by the marker. We complied and suggested a small (liquid) gift.

We celebrated the end of our border expedition in a small palapa hut bar on the shores of the Atlantic. We looked through pictures from previous expeditions and toasted with warm beer. Perfect!

 

Ivorian pillar in Ghana. What does it mean?

 

 

 

Newtown gallery