Togo - Off the beaten track
Fazao-Malfacassa National Park
The Forêt de Fazao lies in the beautiful Malfacassa mountains of central Togo, an area of thickly wooded savannah with a variety of waterfalls, cliffs and rocky hills. Most people come for the wildlife, but the park's been so poorly managed that your chances of seeing anything other than birds and monkeys are slim. If you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a waterbuck, duiker, hippo, oribi, buffalo, bush pig, wart hog, hyena, vervet, baboon and - if you're very lucky - maybe an elephant or lion.
The town of Kara, some 420km (260mi) north of Lomé in Kabyé country, enjoys its degree of prosperity mainly because President Eyadéma hails from Pya, a Kabyé village not far off. As a result of his nepotistic financing, the town now maintains his party's headquarters, two breweries and a modern radio station, plus some 40,000 people there to enjoy the fruits of favouritism. Originally laid out by Germans, it's a pleasant place to visit, but far more interesting is the area immediately north of town.
Northwest of Kara by 25km (15mi), the village of Sarakawa doesn't much warrant a special visit, but if you're passing through, stop to check out the statue of President Eyadéma pointing to the spot where his plane went down in 1974. The inscription - and his expression - say, 'They almost killed me here'.
Try not to miss the Mont Kabyé region, roughly 15km (10mi) northeast of Kara as the crow flies. The area's one of Togo's most scenic spots, and beyond that there are several villages where traditional crafts are still practiced - look into Landa and Kétao for their craft markets, Farendé for its metalwork and Pagouda for its music. Kara and environs are roughly eight hours' drive from Lomé.
Kéran National Park
Togo's second major natural attraction during the dry season is the Parc National de la Kéran, about 530km (330mi) north of Lomé. Be prepared to do some hoop-jumping, though: it's crazy with restrictions.
Park officials will probably insist you take a guide during your drive through, and even then you are forbidden to stop your vehicle, speed or take pictures of the international highway cutting through the park (like you'd want to). In the past, rangers were known for giving steep fines frequently and arbitrarily. Taking more than 92 minutes to complete your 'tour' could be seen as evidence that you stopped along the way, while taking more than 92 minutes might mean you were speeding! Fortunately, they're not so ticket-happy now as they used to be.
Unless you're very lucky, you won't see many animals. If you happen to come during a brushfire, you may catch site of an antelope or two and maybe a couple of monkeys bounding out of its path. If your karma's really shining, look for elephant, giraffe, hippo and various birds such as storks, cranes and marabous. Lions are extremely scarce, if not nonexistent.
Malfacassa Zone de Chasse
Next to the Fazao-Malfacassa National Park, the Malfacassa Zone de Chassse is an excellent area for hiking. From the mountain tops, you can see the countryside roll away for kilometres, and there's a better chance of seeing elephants, especially during the dry season. Two things to watch out for: hungry lions and hunters in the dry season. In the rainy season you won't get shot, but slogging through the muddy forests can be a challenge to your patience. Fazao-Malfacassa lies some 330km (205mi) north of Lomé, a seven-hour trip by bus.
Valley of the Tamberma
About 30km (20mi) south of Kéran on the international route, the village of Kandé marks the northern end of the most scenic stretch of that highway. More importantly, it's also the jumping off point for visits to the valley of the Tamberma people, some 30km (20mi) to the east. Most travellers without vehicles end up walking the dirt-track distance to the Tamberma villages, which is not only more interesting, but tends to afford them a warmer reception once they arrive.
A typical Tamberma compound, called a tata, consists of a series of towers connected by a thick wall with only one doorway to the outside. In days past, the castle-like nature of the structures helped ward off invasions by neighbouring tribes and, in the late-19th century, Germans. Inside, there's a huge elevated terrace of clay-covered logs where the inhabitants cook, dry their millet and corn, and spend most of their leisure time. They use the cone-topped towers for storing grains and other rooms for sleeping, bathing and, during the rainy season, cooking; animals are kept downstairs, also protected from the rain. Built of clay, wood and straw, the structures stay fairly cool all day long, unlike the modern cement dwellings in less traditional villages.
Many Tamberma, who are usually scantily clad, get irritated at tourists gawking at them, but if you keep this in mind and play your cards right, you may be invited into one of their compounds. You'll find the interior very dark, with just enough light to find your way around. Look for fetish animal skulls on the walls and ceilings and a tiny altar for sacrificing small animals.