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Published: February 8th 2011
The next place on our itinerary was the small club-shaped nation of Benin, birthplace of voodoo and stretching only 120km along its coastline at the southern end of the country. The Benin border was great, talk about a quick exit from Togo, quick entry into Benin and a border upon which you can buy everything you could possibly need at the time (at very cheap prices!). Between the two of us we bought ice cream, cold drinks, meat snacks from street vendors, new shorts and scarves - it was a really easy border and a great little shopping stop!
We headed for our destination of the day – Ouidah, and were pleasantly surprised how lush and green the landscape is. It really seems a lot more green than previous countries! Palm tree plantations stretched along beside us as we made our way along the sandy coastline. The people are very friendly, our day is filled by waving at the local children from the truck and listening to the African music pumping out of stereos in the various small villages. Ouidah was a relaxed town, with the cheapest beers of the trip so far – 300CFA or approximately 40p – per
beer and that’s in a bar! Happy days! On arrival we ate lunch and then headed to such a bar with Big G and Tim, great to have such cold drinks for so cheap, under a thatched roof in the baking sun. At 3pm the ‘Musee D’Histoire De Ouidah’ or History Museum re-opened and Martin and Bunny trooped off there to be lead around the rooms of the ex-Portuguese fort by a guide. Since there is both a strong following of voodoo and history of slave trading in the area we imagined there would be a mix of each in the museum but it was heavily dominated by the slave trading history of the town. As usual, the facts are horrifying and defy belief. Particularly disturbing pictures were of the amount and way that the huge amount of slaves were fitted and slotted into the boats. Another one that stuck with you was a picture of how the slave traders, sailors and merchants would make the women all lie naked or very scantily clad on their backs while men were made to lie face down with hands over their eyes. In this way, the women could be raped at will
by the men with as little effort as possible, whenever the mood took them. Ugh. You get the picture, not a happy visit but informative. We stopped at a handicraft centre afterwards and picked up a few nice metal bracelets before heading back into town for more cold drinks – gotta indulge while we have access!! ;-)
Instead of taking the truck down to the beach where we were staying, we walked the ‘Route Des Esclaves’ – the 4km journey the slaves were made to walk from the old auction square to the coast once sold, before being boarded on to boats to the Americas (largely Haiti and Brazil). This sandy stretch of road is now the main road to the beach and dotted with fetishes and monuments. It was a hot day but not too humid for walking so a fairly pleasant walk down. At the end is a memorial for the ‘Point of No Return’ with bas-relief depicting slaves in chains. It’s estimated that 12 million slaves were deported from this shore. All in stark relief to the pretty palm tree lined beach. We camped at a lovely camp site on the beach, which boasted a massive
swimming pool to boot – wicked – clean again!
The following day we headed to Ganvie stilt village, where approx 30,000 people live in bamboo huts on ebony stilts several kilometres out on Lake Nokoue. The Tofinu people fled to the swampy region in the 17th century to avoid the slave hunters who were banned by a religious custom from entering the water. Clever. Bunny headed out on a motorised boat with most of the others to check out the village close up. We passed loads of ‘fish farms’. The Tofinu people live largely from fishing. They plant branches on the lagoon bottom, which, when the branches start to decompose, draw fish to them who congregate there to feed. The lagoon was heavy with traffic, the villagers coming and going in their wooden pirogues, some motorised and some the traditional slow boats. On arriving at the village we were shown several places selling pictures and handicrafts then we delved into the ‘village proper’ which was interesting to see, all the houses clustered together, villagers visiting each other by boat, and also the floating market near the centre. The stilts are made from ebony and have to be replaced every
20 years so some structures, particularly communal buildings like churches or schools, are now on concrete pillars. There are two wells which are sunk about 150m in the village and these have queues of people waiting in their boats for fresh water. One was built by the Americans and one by the Spanish several decades ago (Bunny forgot the exact dates!). It was a very interesting and surreal place to visit – what a different way to live!!! Bunny was really glad she made the trip out there. You have to take a guide with you and pay for them separately, but these were not very forth-coming, more a bit of a tourist trap really but no getting around it. Our guide was very quiet so Emma started plying him with questions and as he started to open up, she would helpfully feed the answers back to us on the boat as we went. On the other boat apparently their guide didn’t utter a single word, though Bunny believes they didn’t try the route of plying the guy with questions either. None-the-less it was one of the most interesting things we have visited in West Africa so far. After this
we headed back to the shore where we find FanIce men everywhere and we were about to leave our last West African CFA country so we all bought colossal amounts of Fan-Ice and FanDango (icecreams/iceblocks) which were sublime in the heat!! Hasty hit a record with 9 consumed!
On we went, heading north to the border we wanted to take into Nigeria. As we drove that afternoon we couldn’t help but notice a more definite lack of clothing - the sheer number of topless women wandering around and many more naked children than previously sighted.
That evening we had planned on stopping at a large open area that Andi and Hasty had stopped at to bush camp previously - imagine our surprise when we topped a hill and found UNICEF had set up a giant tent refugee camp there! Fail. How rude of them eh?! However we did find a nice spot a bit further on in a church yard, so all was well. Dinner that night involved trying to consume the toughest racing chickens in Africa (racing chickens is what we call them as they are much smaller and more streamlined than regular chickens – that is,
no meat and tough as nails!)
We crossed into Nigeria at the border town of Ketou. The town was very deserted indeed, and didn’t take us long to get through, though Bunny was on cook group and found virtually nothing – came back with bread, tomatoes and eggs and that was it – all at extortionate over-priced prices. They still managed to wrangle up a tasty pasta dish that night though :-) A few people changed money at the border to get rid of their CFA and get some Nigerian Naira, amusingly there was some confusion about how the rates worked and a few people managed to negotiate furiously to get a WORSE rate then the changer originally offered – classic stuff – one has to wonder what the money-changers thought about these crazy Yovo (white people) arguing to get a worse rate.
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