West African Memories – Benin

Monday, January 30, 2006

Snakes alive…

hey everyone
I just lost my post so here goes. Again. Yesterday took share taxi from Lome to Cotonou, Benin. If you are interested in these countries I thoroughly recommend the destination guide at www.lonelyplanet.com
Anyways I have a damn nice room which I am pretty happy about, but I was even more happy to have lived through the taxi ride. Firstly i have to share the back seat with a girl and a man who took up half the back seat by himself. He then insisted on closing his window making breathing even harder, and seating even easier. The window was kinda broken, and an electric one, so the driver (who was involved in a shouting match with this man) pulled over in the middle of nowhere and some men fixed a battery up to the switch and the window whirred up. of course it didn’t open again.
Passing at breakneck speed featured highly in this journey, and was not an easy feeling. Especially when we passed an accident scene where a van was completely crumpled. The man said ìts thank god everyday you survive on this road`or something to that effect.
We had two power outtages lasting a total of two hours last night, and today i visited Ouidah, where the history revolves both around slavery and voodoo. The museum was very interesting, one guy even spoke English. Barely coping with all the French here. Anyways, travel is on the back of a motorcycle here, and the drivers we had around town kept trying to up the price after it was agreed upon. This is often very exhausting, especially with no set prices.
The beach, where the slaves left from, is actually quite beautiful. Statues in the voodoo tradition line the road out to it.
Back in town is the python temple, where you get a very short tour and have to pay three times as much to take photographs. So you won`t see a picture with me holding a python round my neck (I was assured the teeth had been removed) so you`ll have to take my word that it happened…..

Monument to the slaves on the Beach, Ouidah.
Monument to the slaves on the Beach, Ouidah.
Beach near Ouidah
Beach near Ouidah

THOUGHTS: Ummm despite the lack of grammar, good spelling and punctuation I really enjoyed re-reading this post after a few years. Crossing borders is always an adventure except in Europe where you don’t even realise you’ve moved into another country. Without my diaries anymore this is really the only record I have of the trip as it happened barring photos. I remember that I had a decent cheap hotel room, but the power cuts were really annoying. I remember reading Harry Potter on the bed. I remember finding chicken for dinner being cooked on the roadside just up from the hotel. And I also remember not having much idea about the layout of Cotonou, where the centre was etc.

Streets of Cotonou.
Streets of Cotonou.
Cotonou rooftops.
Cotonou rooftops.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

spreading the guilt around

well im feeling like shit
today i went out to this village on stilts out in the middle of a lagoon called Ganvie around 20 kilometres from Cotonou. You get charged around fifteen Australian dollars to get taken around in a pirogue, which is a rather high price. No-one in the village is even vaguely hapy to see you… well hello! apparently their lives are a tourist attraction. But the people sailing and paddling the boat were nice.
I was hot, a little sunburnt and feeling a little ripped off so when I got off the boat I ignored the calls for a `cadeux`and just walked away. But those guys, I expect, don`t get a tenth of what I paid (neither, i expect, does Ganvie itself) someone else pockets most of it. I just shook the receipt saying i already paid and didnt look back. What an arsehole. And now Im using this blog to try and disperse my guilt. sigh. will resist the urge to publish several swear words.
Tomorrow its a train to Parakou, then bush taxi the next day to Niger.

On the pirogue Lake Ganvie.
On the pirogue Lake Ganvie.
Houses on Lake Ganvie
Houses on Lake Ganvie

THOUGHTS: Yep. I knew this one was coming up and my actions on this day still make me feel bad about myself. The who shebang at Ganvie was run by a pretty rotund guy in a shed who no doubt was taking 95% of the money for himself and exploiting the guys on the boats. I was obviously in a bad headspace, I remember it was one of the occasions (which are plentiful) when the guide book says it should cost $X – but it costs like double or more so before getting on the boat I was pissed off. Nevertheless, I should have been able to realise that the people deserving money – i.e. doing the work, deserved something decent in a way of a tip.


Friday 3/2/2006

The Cotonou train station.
The Cotonou train station.

A long trek Indeed

Back again. I have just completed two days of travel and I can tell you all that I`m a little bit hacked. Of course that may not surprise.
How can I describe the last two days?? Well I learnt one thing – time is a relative thing here in Africa, no-one seems to care about delays, the only time people move fast is actually on the road. I took the train to Parakou. It was no deluxe train, but it is the most comfortable transport I have had. It was due to leave at 8.30 AM, and left just after nine. Fine, not too bad. Half an hour of waiting is NOTHING. The coach was full of colour and friendly people chatting away the whole journey, yes it was quite fun. Outside remained green all the way; though there were lots of undergrowth fires for some reason. Controlled burning I believe.
People sold things at every little station, mostly off the top of their heads. However the scheduled arrival time of 5.25 was not met. We arrived just before 9PM, after scrambling some diary i tried to sleep.
The next day bang! up before 7, quick shower and at the share taxi station by 7.30AM. There was a taxi for Malanville at the ready. However it doesn’t leave until it’s full, which was around 10.30AM. I was told 4 hours. Five and a half later we are at Malanville, my right leg almost dead from cramp. The road was bad at first, but improved for the second half of the journey was much better, though I was the smallest of four in the back and was never comfortable.
At the border there were no problems, it was a pretty scene over a river, one border post at each end of the bridge. I was in Niger!! Tired and hungry but I had made it!
A moto took me to the taxi station there, a bus to the capital (mini bus) was waiting and half full!! I was sure we’d be away within the hour. More waiting ensued, three hours later we transfered to another mini bus, still at the same place and by 7PM we were on our way. Five minutes later we stopped for prayer. Ten minutes later on our way. Fifteen minutes later we stopped to help another minibus with a flat, ten minutes finally moving towards Niamey. All day I revised my expected arrival time. I left hopeful of 6PM, It kept getting later and later..
12.30 in the morning the next day We pulled into Niamey, I took a taxi to a hotel and fell asleep. What’s amazing is the way that almost no one gets annoyed at the constant delays, the police checks; people demanding to stop for food, the cows in the middle of the road, the hideous music… everyone seems to enjoy themselves. I was as tired as could be, but I accepted it… besides the frequent stops meant I could stretch my leg that was quite cramped….
Now I am in Niamey; already been to the Mali embassy where I will pick my visa up tomorrow. The weather is hot but dry which makes such a difference. The city is quite pleasant, nicest so far with wide boulevards. Big place bit not so many people…. had a hamburger for lunch, my first proper meal since I left Cotonou….

THOUGHTS: Yeah, not sure on reflection I’d call Niamey ‘pleasant’. I think I was just happy to be in dry country rather than humid country to be honest! But the post, though clunky certainly details one of the most mammoth days of travel I have ever undertaken. Everything just got later and later. Border formalities were really easy though. Ahhh so next time I will be looking at my time in Niger. Until then, may the journey never end!

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