I ran off a mountain this week. With a parachute and paragliding expert attached behind me, we literally ran off the side of the mountains in the Plateau region of Togo this past Tuesday. It was surreal. We were literally floating in the sky with the birds. The wind was blowing a decent clip so we were able to climb higher and higher. My guide, a very kind woman from France and flying enthusiast, guided us up and up and the view was incredible. Unfortunately, I had been having stomach issues a few days prior and after only 15 minutes (felt like an hour) I told her we better head down or I was going to be sick. I’ve never gotten altitude or motion sickness so I was pretty bummed. More than that, I felt really bad for my guide who could have spent all day up there. We landed in an actual mowed grass landing strip next to small elementary school. Even though it was noon and the sun was blazing, I sat there like a child panting and focusing on keeping my breakfast down. Then school let out and I hid under a tree while the little screamers ran from their classrooms to greet the Frenchwomen.
My friend Kate, a health PCV, lives in these mountains and I was lucky enough to visit her for a few days. The view from this mountain side village had its price: three hours on one of Togo’s worst known roads. Over a dozen bodies smooshed into less than 10 places in a small van that looked like it belonged in a demolition derby at the county fair moved along at about a snails pace (from the road’s extreme potholes or the van’s crappiness-I’m not sure) as we sat in a trance of survival; soaked in sweat (of course traveling at the hottest time of the day) with the only relief a light breeze which happened to be coating us in a layer of the road that resembles the surface of the moon more than any real road. ‘This is physical hell,” I told myself. One or two travel elements of this kind of travel are bearable- heat and being packed in like a sardine has become normal- but when you add the extreme slow pace, the dirt, and the inability to rest your legs and arms in more than one positions for over three hours, and the result is a lot of mental screaming and trying to find your ‘happy place.’ Planning ahead, this wasn’t my first trip down this infamously bad road, I had my baby wipes handy and Kate and I came back to life after jumping out of the ‘car’ (the side door literally came off its hinges and was only held together with a fat bungee cord during our trip) and wiping the top layer of filth from our faces, necks, and arms. The craziest part about all this: my friends have to make this trip EVERY TIME they want to leave village to get to a bigger city. INSANE. There is a reason God put me where he did in Togo; I wouldn’t have lasted a month enduring such repeated torture!
As we searched for motorcycle taxi’s to take us up the mountain to Kate’s I was wondering what the heck this was all for. And then, not five minutes into the ride up, I realized why; the view from the road was enough to convince me to do it all over again. I noticed right away how much cooler the air was, lacking humidity and so very fresh. Plus, her village is quite quaint. Small enough for everyone to know her and her work there but big enough to get lost on a walk and enjoy plenty of vegetables (not so, chez moi). I don’t know what I liked better, the cool air, using a BLANKET for the first time ever in Togo on the night it rained, the abundance of green peppers and cabbage available, the mountains and the majestic views, or the fact that a mama was making and selling fufu for lunch everyday! Wow, what a great place…once you pay that entry fee.
Kate and I had a great time; she is a great cook and has a cute and comfortable house. I went for a run on the first night, exhilarating up and down the hills in mountain air. The next day we took moto’s to Kpalime (considered a ‘resort’ town by Togo standards) to enjoy a day at one of three pools in the town. We bought junk food (Pringles and chocolate chip cookies) and ordered pizza poolside! It was the perfect place to be in the noon sun!
My last day in Danyi (the village name) I had the chance of a lifetime; to experience flying. There is a French woman who owns a paragliding company and who spends a few weeks a year flying in Togo- just happening to be Kate’s village. A group of paragliding enthusiasts from Toulouse, France were visiting and with the right weather and wind conditions in place, they let us tag along that morning.
It was an unforgettable couple of days on Kate’s mountain. It reminded me of the beauty that exists here in Togo and the vastness and power of nature in its purest form.