Benin

Pobe to Ouidah

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The night watchman’s acid house Benin style music finally drove us out of bed at daybreak, and after repacking the car, we set off in search of Customs. Pobe is a typical border village, full of trucks parked overnight, restaurants and bars to cater to the passing trade, and not much else. Stopping to ask for directions every 100 metres or so, we debated whether 630 am on a Sunday morning was the best time to try and get through Customs.  We really had no alternative, however, and so followed the locals’ directions down a  twisty sandy track, seemingly heading nowhere. When we were just about to turn around we saw an official board and a closed gate. The locals gleefully banged on the gate to wake up the Customs official, who despite the early hour, quickly and efficiently filled in the Carnet for the car, and cheerfully sent us on our way.

 Benin traffic and the road to the Customs

We had worked out that we only had about 150 km or so to go to the tiny seaside town of Ouidah, but we had to pass through 2 cities, Porto Novo and Cotonou, to get there. As we were low on diesel, and by this time had no local money, we needed to find somewhere to change money and to fill up with diesel.

 Taxis Benin style

We drove south, and at Porto Novo managed to exchange the last of our Nigerian money to a few local CFA’s, ( pronounced ceefas). Although  the same name and worth the same as the CFAs used in Cameroon, Gabon and Congo, these were West African CFAs, and  were not interchangeable with Central African CFAs.  We then drove on towards Cotonou, the biggest city in Benin, where once again we encountered the fickleness of Africa.

 

Approaching Cotonou on a double lane highway, we encountered an MTN branded toll gate. Although there were no signs, there were height and weight restrictions , with vehicles over 3 tonnes or over 2.5 metres in height paying 10 times more than lighter and smaller cars. As we passed under the height restriction bar, a flap of the canvass covering the contents of the roofrack touched the bar. Immediately we were surrounded by guards ordering us to pay the higher fee. Stewart climbed out the car to show them that the height was indeed (just) under 2,5 metres, but they were not interested, and insisted on the higher fee being paid. We then refused, and an argument, complicated by the French/English language divide, ensued. As we in any event did not have enough money for the higher toll, we had to win the argument, and eventually the guards let us through. After the events in Nigeria, our confidence levels were still low, so this incident shook us up more than it probably should have.

 

Cotonou’s road system soon degenerated, and we found ourselves driving through the city with no idea where to go. We desperately needed to change some money, and eventually stopped at a smart looking hotel, and asked the receptionist if he could assist. He said he could, but that we would have to hand over the dollars to him first, and he would then  return with the CFAs.  Having no choice but to trust him ,we did so, and settled down to a very welcome cup of coffee in the lobby to await his return. And return he did, with  a bundle of CFAs  and directions as to how to get out of the city.

 

We were assured there were many petrol/diesel stations on the way out of town, and so there were. We stopped at the first one, but they had no diesel. Not thinking it would be a problem, we stopped again at the next one, and the next, and the next … all telling us they had no diesel! By now we had about 40 km to go to Ouidah, and about 70km of diesel left.  We kept stopping at every filling station on the way out of the city, until eventually we found one that had a supply of diesel – but selling it  at 20% above the official price. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we bought as much as they would give us (80 litres), hoping that this would  last us.

 Ouidah and the resort A Voodoo symbol

We then drove onwards to Ouidah,  a small town famous for its beaches, being a voodoo stronghold, and the monuments built to commemorate the 100s of thousands of slaves that left here for the Americas. We found our way to Le Jardin Bresilien, about 4km out of town, a beachfront complex of chalets, restaurant, Olympic size swimming pool, and checked in. What an amazing place this is. We just love the laid back attitude of the locals, and this truly is a place to sooth the soul. Every other traveler we meet just rushes through Benin, but we have now discovered a little piece of paradise and in our minds a compulsory stop after having experienced the WILD WEST Nigerian style if you are coming from the South or to relax and build up strength for the bad roads and people ahead if you come from the north. A true tropical paradise with palm trees, blue skies, white sand beaches and friendly locals.

 A monument celebrating the end to SlaveryThe gate of no return. The slaves entered the boats here and were sent into slavery to USA and Brazil.

The complex was overrun by an MTN promotion, and Stewart joined in the swimming races and volleyball tournament, whilst Annaliese acted as unofficial photographer. We met Hussain, who took a great interest in Stanruza, being the local Landrover dealer!! Of all people.When we told him of our woes, he offered to assist, but advised us all he could  do was “take a look” , as if anything needed repairing, he would have to order parts….  Here we go again!!  We also met Hugo, from the Netherlands but working in Benin, who had traveled to many of the places west and north of Benin we were  going to. He gave us much useful information for the future.

The star starting his race!!!!!And the volleyball game

It was great to relax around the pool for the rest of the day. Later on we took a drive into town, and found a “cyber” ( internet) café to catch up on emails and update the website. Thanks to everyone for their emails and news, it was great to get  them.

 

(Lester, and others, if you are reading this, please send us your emails  to info@rootsinafrica.co.za,  so we can get back to you. If you send us an email from our website, we do not get your address, so cannot reply.).

 

 

 

 

From Ouidah to Grand Popo

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We have fallen in love with the tiny Republic of Benin, our 12th country on the trip and 28th one overall. And what is there not to love if the people are laid back, the beaches have golden sand, the sea is blue and the food is good. Added to that the fact that wine is available (no matter that I have tasted better in my student days in the Dros) the accommodation right on the beach and viola! All happy. Never mind the fact that every now and then the water disappears out of the taps and you get caught with soap all over!!!

 No WATER HELP!!The beach and the "Chateau"

As you can see, laid back Benin was the perfect antidote to stressful Nigeria. This is in fact the first country since Namibia that has started a sprinkling of tourism. Here was the first time we saw local trinkets being sold and even guided tours offered. How refreshing and innovative and we do hope that it will pay off as they deserve their place in the sun. We most certainly will promote is as much as we can.

 Local boy.."SSAnd local granny!!

We decided to spend an extra night in beautiful Grand Popo and unfortunately due to this, we will be unable to stay a night in Togo. We have come to realize that we do not cope well with cities and as there is enough stresses to deal with on a daily basis, so sorry Togo, we will just have to get to know you from the inside of Stanruza, who by the way is still moving, not brilliantly but we will at least get to the long awaited Ghana and Mr Adeli!

 Thomas our guide and in themangrove swamps

We got to know the history of Benin a bit better today on a guided walking tour with Thomas, a local from the fishing village next door. The lack of French on our side is still a problem, but with his “small small” English and our “petite petite” French we got at least some information. We went for a walk through 2 villages, one mainly a fishing village and the other the local Voodoo stronghold. We saw some of the temples and sacrifices of this fascinating belief system. The best part was a leisurely “mokoro like trip on the local Mono river. We got to interact with the locals a bit, saw how they grind the coconuts into a flour with a machine that must be at least a 100 years old and got to taste their version of “palm wine” Stew thought it tasted a bit like Grappa just a bit stronger, I just loved it……obviously getting acclimatized!

 Coconut machinePalm wine.                                                                                                Look who made it to Benin! And finally one of the Voodoo sacrifice statues

As we are leaving a the crack of dawn tomorrow for Togo and Ghana, we will miss the last ‘Les petit dejeuners and bought some baguette from one of the local girls. That for sure in one thing that we will miss …. The overall availability of the fresh baguettes.

To all of you out there that keep us entertained and in tears of joy and thankfulness with your e mails, thank you so much. You guys have no idea how special you all are. And always know, that we will come home if we truly cannot continue or if we feel in our souls that this is not the right thing. At the moment, it seems that Africa has a habit of redeeming herself all the time and no matter how bad it gets, there is always goodness and sunshine.We miss our friends and family so much, but it is good to know we carry you close to us in our hearts all the time.

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