Once in West Africa, there was a comforting shift to green lushness, the odd elephant and unlimited advocados. It was invigorating and the sleeping bags in the back of the truck disappeared as we sat up, enjoying the journey again. We stopped at Lome, the capital of Togo with the largest fetish/voodoo market in the world and spent an afternoon, browsing bones and skulls – many still decomposing – blood, wood, carvings, figurines, ringing bells, smells and strangeness.
Togo was also the space for a bizarre, near-encounter with something possibly sinister. GDeb told me last week her friend still has the six page letter she wrote about this incident, but I’ll have to rely on my dusty old memory. To provide a bit more context; during the journey, we met other overland groups, often heading the other way and there were a selection of urban myths circulating about overland groups that had met sticky ends in various ways. Possibly part of the folklore to relieve the tedium.
So here’s the gig. Brad, bless him, was quite poorly. (To follow Brad’s journey so far, click here). He’d come down off the cab roof and lay on the floor between the rows of seats for a couple of days, groaning. We had two new hitchhikers (without a goat this time). A Dutch bloke and a guy from Mali. That evening, we’d parked up, off road, in a forest clearing, lit the fire and cooked the evening meal. For once, we weren’t joined by local villagers which was very unusual. Their absence seemed to bother Mali Guy.
After the meal, we hung out for a bit then people started spreading their sleeping mats around the truck. A few of us decided to sleep in the truck and stayed awake chatting. After an hour or so, Mali Guy, who had remained on edge all evening, jumped up and leapt off the back of the truck. He got on his hands and knees near the chassis and put his ear to the ground.
“Listen! Listen”, he hissed. We leant over the side of the truck, tried to listen but could hear nothing.
“Bad sounds!” he hissed, “bad sounds”.
“Nah, can’t hear anything, mate”, Sparkle said, cheerfully.
“This is NOT Mali, this is Togo. BAD SOUNDS!” Mali Guy replied, becoming more frantic.
He turned, looked through the trees, yelped and ran for the nearest tree which he tried to climb. All of a sudden, it became a serious, nightmarishly freaky (though in retrospect scooby-doo type) situation. In the distance, we could see tiny flames, getting bigger as they moved towards us, and the sound of drumming. Not the sort of wonderful, atmospheric, joyfully rhythmic drumming that had accompanied our journey since North Africa, but a more menacing, slow, methodic, terrifying sound.
“YIKES!” those of us on truck screeched in unison, “Ring the pesky alarm, we gotta get outta here NOW!!!” There was much shouting as people scattered around the clearing, roused, bewildered and soon freaked out.
“Hurry up!!!!!”, screamed everyone on board. “Get a fucking move on!”
They clambered up the tiny step ladder at the back, lobbing sleeping bags and carry mats over the sides. Brad was completely trampled in the fear of the moment as the flames grew larger and closer. Mali Guy who had given up on the tree, joined the scrum and hunched in a ball, muttering something over and over again.
Mike-A put his foot down and barrelled the old truck out of the clearing as fast as he could, crashing over troughs, through branches and shrubs, breaking all the rules of overland travel. It was pitch black and I can remember feeling part terrified but also a bit fascinated by the approaching torches and drums.
We reached the road and a sense of relief came over everyone as we bounced around in the back of the truck leaving whatever it was behind. Once we reached the lighted streets of the next town, we all began to have a bit of a chuckle about the experience.
“Zoinks! Scary times, eh?”
Mike-A drove round till he found the police station and parked next to it. Most of us stayed on board that night, awake. Just in case.