Published: April 6th 2005April 6th 2005
I've just returned to Cotonou, the capital of Benin from Ouidah. Ouidah is the centre of Voodoo. It was also a place from which slaves were sent to the Americas taking the Voodoo religion with them.
I'm back in Cotonou in order to sort out a Visa for Niger. I'm watching the situation in Niger, as there has been considerable political unrest in Niger in recent weeks. A General Strike had been called for the 5th of April but it was called off by the political opposition at the last minute.
At the end of the last blog I had just arrived in Cotonou. So, on April 1st when I wrote the last blog I was in Cotonou the capital of Benin.
FRIDAY APRIL 1st
First thing I had breakfast of Pain au Chocolat and coffee in the Petit Fours Patisserie. Then I changed hotel to a slightly cheaper place, 18000 CFA's for a tiny room with air conditioning and TV. Next, I walked to the Immigration Office in order to extend my transit visa. The Transit Visa I had got at the border was only good for 48 hours.
View from the Hotel Detente
I paid 12000 CFA's for the 30 day extension. The woman said to return at 6.40pm to pick up my passport. I returned to my hotel for a siesta after lunch.
Later in the afternoon walking down the street I met a French traveller I had seen a few weeks before. We went for a couple of beers in a local bar. Maybe, I've been lucky; he told me a couple of horror stories. In Lome in a share taxi he was robbed by the other passengers with the help of the driver. He also had problems with the police and military in Guinea (Conakry). I had no problems when I was there, but he had several run ins with greedy and corrupt officials.
At 6pm I said goodbye and caught a zemi-john (the local name for a motorcycle taxi) to the immigration office where I picked up my passport and visa. After that I had dinner in my favourite Patisserie.
SATURDAY APRIL 2nd
I took breakfast again in the Petit Fours Patisserie, booked out of my hotel and took a bush taxi to Porto Novo.
Novo is the official capital of Benin. It is though a small town, 30 km further down the coast from Cotonou. I booked into the Hotel Detente, which cost just 6300 CFA's. It had no air conditioning for that price. It also had the most horrible colour scheme - dirty turquoise walls and purple sheets. That though was worth it for the stunning views from the hotels' restaurant terrace. The views of the lagoon, the stilt houses and the fishermen are gorgeous. I had a very cheap lunch and took a siesta.
Later in the afternoon I went to the Musee Ethnographic de Porto Novo. For 1000 CFA's I got a well informed tour of the museum from a guide, who knew his stuff. He gave a full explanation of the various ethnic groups of Benin, how they live and die, customs and cultures. The museum had artefacts and masks of various ethnic groups, some dating from the 17th Century.
In the evening I went out to the Casa Danza restaurant which produced a reasonably priced but delicious meal.
SUNDAY APRIL 3rd
After breakfast in my hotel, and a walk
around Porto Novo, I took a share taxi back to Cotonou arriving about 11.30am.
I tried various hotels. Most of them were either full, too expensive or didn't have air conditioning. I had decided I had to have air conditioning. It really is too difficult to sleep at night in this climate without it. I have no idea why the hotels were all so full, they were all empty on Thursday and Friday, and all the hotels in Porto Novo had also been empty.
Staggering around with a backpack in the tropical heat my clothes were drenched with sweat.
Eventually at 12.30pm I saw an unpromising looking hotel. It's exterior was unpainted and it looked run down, but he had lots of rooms! He showed me 4 rooms. I took the last one he showed me because it was the only one he'd shown me with it's own bathroom and air conditioning unit. I tested the air conditioning and the plumbing with him there - it all worked! The room had hideous dirty walls but it was only 9000 CFA's. It was I think his most expensive room. Some of his rooms were as
little as 4000 CFA's, but for that you got a hot concrete cell, with shared toilet and bathroom.
MONDAY APRIL 4th
After breakfast at Petit Four, I did some shopping and then booked out of the hotel. I took a zemi-john (motorcycle taxi) to the gare routiere for Ouidah. At the gare routiere I caught a bush taxi straight away.
In Ouidah I booked into the Hotel Oasis for 12000 CFA. Again I checked the air conditioning, in the first room he showed me it was broken, so he showed me another. The unit was old, battered and noisy but it worked. Then I had lunch and a long siesta.
Late in the afternoon I visited the Musee d'histoire de Ouidah. Ouidah is very important culturally and historically. It is the centre of Voodoo, and was an exit point for slaves to Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti. The museum of Ouidah focuses particularly on the cultural links with Brazil. The slaves who left from the fort (which is now the museum), took their music, religion and culture with them. The cultural and Voodoo links are particularly interesting.
that I returned to the hotel. In the evening I had a long chat with a French couple over dinner. They had been travelling for 7 months, so of course we swapped travel stories and discussed the situation in Niger.
TUESDAY 5th APRIL
After breakfast I visited the Point of No Return memorial. This is on the beach, 4km's from the town and the slave fort. I had intended to walk the 4 km of the Route des Esclaves but at 8.30am in the morning it was already too hot. So, instead I got a ride on the back of a zemi-john. Back in town, I visited the Casa do Brasil, which focuses on the role of women in Africa. My next stop was the Temple des Pythones, pythons are considered deities in Voodoo. They do not feed the snakes in the Temple, they allow them to roam the town and catch their own food, such as mice. The Temple of Pythons is next door to the Catholic Cathedral. When the Portuguese missionaries tried to convert the locals they continued worshiping the Voodoo spirits right under the nose of the Catholic priests. Hence a Voodoo Temple
next to a Catholic Church, or a Voodoo fetish being placed under a table, on top of which is a Catholic saint.
Having spent the morning on tourist attractions I returned to the hotel for lunch and a siesta.
Late in the afternoon I went out again to visit the Sacred Forest, which is full of statues of Voodoo gods and spirits.
WEDNESDAY 6th APRIL
I returned to Cotonou in order to sort out my Visa for Niger. There are a number of other things that I have yet to see in Benin... so watch this space!
There are more photos below