Lomé – City of Disappointment

I have to say, I really haven’t been impressed by Lomé. In principle it should be really pretty – a pleasant location directly on the beach, fairly flat, with a mix of native African and colonial architecture; similar to Cotonou but more touristy.
In reality it gives the impression of being a dirty, ugly, city with some lonely long boulevards linking run-down half-built suburbs with dirt-tracks for streets. More than just a spring-clean, bits of it look like they could do with re-zoning. Although the large beach stretches out along the whole width of the city, and the promenade also serving as the main through-road between Ghana and Benin with big hotels, the old presidential palace, and most of the minibus and shared taxi stations, it’s somehow not a terribly appealing place, cluttered with litter and suspicious characters – even at my hotel, which lay no more than 200m from the beach, was a sign saying ‘don’t go to the beach at night’.

The promenade/main street to Ghana.
The promenade/main street to Ghana.

To the East of the city centre, on the way towards Benin, the beach gives way to the major port, whilst to the West, it crosses the Ghanaian border with nothing more than a handful of security guards in the way, before disappearing into the distance.
The centre of Lomé is nothing more than a mishmash of busy streets, broken pavements, slums with people living in shacks in rubbish-strewn car-parks, people suspicious as to my motives about taking pictures, and very little charm. Even at the publicly-accessible Independence Monument I was harassed by a gentleman who insisted I give him food before I could take a picture. Even barefoot I could walk quicker than him though, so I ended up ignoring him.

Togo independence monument; annoying local not pictured.
Togo independence monument; annoying local not pictured.

The other aspect to Lomé I’ve noticed is that the people seem quite ‘grumpy’, much more so than anywhere else I’ve been in West Africa. No-one seems to smile, no-one seems pleased to see me. I’ve hardly been accosted by people wanting me to buy my wares, except for a handful of shoe salesmen who seemed to think that I need to buy their sandals. Even in my hotel, the staff have been mostly austere and grim; one member of staff who did have the audacity to smile at me was given an icy stare by the other person behind the bar.

Le Galion hotel, close to the beach.
Le Galion hotel, close to the beach.

It is a nice hotel (Le Galion), relatively speaking – a large room with fan and bathroom, above the large bar area. Outside, on the road, is the patio/terrace where one can eat fairly decent food. The Internet connection’s very dodgy and temperamental, but I guess I’m pretty used to that in West Africa now.

That my guidebook is five years old is particularly awkward here, as a couple of the main sights listed no longer exist, and one of the museums is much less grand than the book made out, which made it not really worth the hassle getting to – the ‘musee international du golfe de guinee’. That said, it was a quite interesting three/four rooms of masks and trinkets from native African kingdoms and tribes across the region (and beyond, stretching down to the Congo River). Although similar to stuff I’d seen elsewhere on the trip it was a nice reconfirmation that I was starting to be able to tell the difference between different cultures.

After my ‘issues’ crossing the border into Togo, it didn’t take that long to reach Lomé. From Benin to Ghana, the distance is about 50km, and since my hotel is only a couple of km from the Ghanaian frontier, I pretty much crossed the whole width of the country in about an hour and a half, including time to walk from the shared taxi stop. I’ll admit that I never really had any pressing desire to come to Togo, and was merely using it as a pass-through back into Ghana, but it’s really not even living up to these low expectations so far.

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