I just got done with a week of In-Service Training at the Peace Corps' center in central Togo. It was fun. I learned about cool stuff like how to make a salt block and how to make charcoal powder into usable briquettes.
Anyway, getting there necessitated a lot of travel. Traveling in Togo, the act of getting from point A to point B, is an interesting experience. The main mode of long distance travel is the bush taxi. this is a toyota, or mazda, van that has been extensively modified with a cargo rack, beefed up suspension, and extra seats. Many of them have also been patched back together. Depending on the number of babies, the bush taxi carries about 21 people when fully loaded. Seating requires negotiation and a willingness to swap a lot of sweat.
The plus side is that Togolese take traveling seriously; most of them dress in their best clothes. It makes me feel bad since I am more interested in which Tshirt that I only want to wear once.
In addition to being stuffed with people, bush taxis carry a lot of cargo. It is not unusual to see a bush taxi whose height is doubled, or more, by the amount of cargo stacked on top. I saw one today with a moto strapped upright over the driver's seat.
The Route National is the main road that runs north/south through Togo. The remoteness of one's village is directly proportional to distance to the Route.
At its best, the Route is roughly equivalent to a state highway back in the States. At its worst, the Route, well, doesnt have any asphalt where it washed out. Most of the time it is a pothole infested obstacle course.
Massive lorries use this road, their size determined by how much stuff can be crammed on them, as opposed to a weight limit. The Route through the passes in Togo's diminutive mountains is littered with the hulks of crashed, broken down, and turned over trucks. Alisha has trouble getting back to her village from the regional capitol because the Route is often blocked by wrecks in this certain pass.
Today, for example, i saw this one lorry being driven up a mountain. It had obviously just wrecked. The cab was crushed, the roof caved in, and the pieces tossed in the trailer. But the engine still worked, so some guys were driving it off.
Bush taxi hulks are somewhat less common.
Driving in Togo requires a lot of skill, luck, and optimism. For example, "my brakes are burning going down this mountain, but Im sure they wont fail." Lanes are more of an idea than an actuality. Drivers treat potholes as obstacles to be avoided, even in the face of an oncoming overloaded lorry. I dont blame them. Some of the potholes are big enough to gut the underside of any vehicle. It is kind of fun careening through towns with the horn blaring and watching people, goats, dogs, and the odd chicken diving out of the way.
The Route is also a footpath. Crowds of school kids use it to walk home. There are no shoulders. Use your imagination.