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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 6.3505, 2.4332
Outside of a quick visit to the huge Dantokpa Market including yet another walk through a Fetish Market (we saw a complete hippopotamus head drying on one of the stands!) our day in Cotonou was largely a day to clean-up, repack, and rest in preparation for the long journey home (which kicked off with a red-eye flight from Cotonou to Paris). Just to ensure
Standing in an airport lineup where movement was barely perceptible served to ensure that we would not soon forget the heat of coastal West Africa (despite arriving back to an Ontario winter season). One only has to imagine standing in the middle of a fully operational wet sauna with a full backpack on, accompanied by a couple hundred of your closest friends to get a sense of the slightly warm Cotonou airport. We were even reminded of officialdom in West Africa as no less than 5 attempts were made to secure a monetary 'gift' as we departed- being seasoned WA travelers by this point we were able to dance around these requests but a slightly naïve Californian we met in line and who was going to be working in Benin for months to come, had his pockets thoroughly emptied by the time he hit the departure lounge (I trust that the bribes will be harder to come by the next time he runs the gauntlet).
That said, both DH and myself thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and rewards of West Africa. Visiting 5 countries in a month made for some very hard traveling but the people and sites we encountered along the way were simply outstanding. Having read the accounts of others as well as assorted Gov't warnings, we had fully expected a limited hospitality in French West Africa and that simply wasn't the case- people were more than tolerant of my high school French and seemed very interested in making sure we had a good time in their country. The problems with touts, crime, begging children, and wanna-be guides were similarly overstated. Even the official corruption that is much talked about in the region was only an issue in Ghana (Ghana, as a whole, was probably the one country that failed to exceed expectations especially when compared to the French speaking neighbors we had visited).
Next to such minor difficulties, the adventure of the Niger River trip to Timbuktu, the exploration of Dogon culture, the fascinations of time-capsuled village life in Burkina and northern Ghana, the emotionally draining exposure to the West African slave trade, and, of course the mysteries and intrigue of the Voodoo religion, all served to ensure we had one of our most memorable trips ever. The mash-up of all these experiences is one I would highly recommend.
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