Friday, 12 February 2016

Benin

The drive to the Benin boarder was very simple and didn't take very long. Getting our documents stamped was easy, as well as getting the passe vant... They still looked blankly at the carnet.We had decided to head to Cotonou straight away because we wanted to attempt to apply for some (more) visas. We arrived in Cotonou late and there was little in the way of campsites or cheap hotels with rooms! We ended up at Hotel Du Port which was an ok hotel but high up in our budget. Unfortunately (and I won't rant on too much) it was not the best of stays... Having told us they had no basic rooms we paid for a more expensive one to find out when we got there it had not been cleaned. The cleaner then took us to a clean basic room.. they lied to us to get more money out of us. After all this we managed to down grade, settled in, went for a swim in the most amazing pool, and made the most of their wifi. Morning came and we went for another swim, but Charles was told he could not swim in his swimming shorts (I genuinely thought this rule went out long ago!). Unamused we checked out to find we had been charged too much the night before, but when I tried to get a refund the man behind the counter, who was about as useful as a chocolate tea pot, had no recollection of the transaction made in front of his eyes the night before and despite arguing for half hour it was fruitless.. 

Cotonou seems to be one of the most Western capitals we have come to so far, so much so it had an actual supermarket - Super U! It was very strange going into a supermarket and we were shocked by the variety of items as well as the price! I don't think it was much more expensive than the UK however we have been living and shopping cheap for the last few weeks so it probably made the difference more exaggerated. We stocked up on some essentials (wraps, saussison..) and headed off for the camp site we had found on the Internet the previous day!


Chez Rada was a little piece of heaven again along the beach (Route des Pecheurs). It had a swimming pool and was a lot cheaper than the hotel the night before! We talked business with the owner and jumped into the pool! We were joined by some local boys who were very forward and wanted to practise their English! 

Getting up early we went for a drive back into the centre to find the DRC embassy. This was a mission because the map was wrong, and the sat nav wouldn't even register Cotonou (useless!). We asked a lot of people, other embassies and finally a police man who got in his car to escort us there.. Getting to this embassy it turned out to be Congo Brazzaville, not the embassy we wanted, however we managed to get directions. It was completely the other side of the city and for anyone looking for it near the Livingstone hotel! We got there after taking a 3 hour tour of the city and found Andi already there (he had rolled out of his hotel and got there in minutes!). We were called in and the man asked us what we wanted and our route, whether we had an Angolan visa.. We didn't but luckily we told him we were getting it in Abuja, one phone call later he gave us the papers to fill in and told us to come back at 3.30pm. We got back out at 1pm and went to Livingstone for lunch with Andi. It was decided at this point we would come back the next day to watch the rugby. At 3pm we headed back to the embassy to pick up the visa... After waiting, waiting and more waiting (with a Fan-ice) we got our 8 day transit visa for 15000CFA. 

Returning to the camp site we took a went the wrong way to get onto a road and were pulled over by the police. They were very aggressive and asked us for our paper work, kept it and told us to follow them. We were taken to the police chief's hut by the road where he said we would have to go back on Monday to pick up our papers and to be fined. We never disputed we had done wrong however he was so aggrressive. I was struggling to understand him, he couldn't speak English.. But luckily for us a guy who spoke both fluently came to our rescue and spoke to the officer calmly and managed to get our fine down to 10000CFA. He explained to us that he had just been to South Africa so was good with the police - we will get better at staying calm and playing them at their own game I am sure!

We had a lazy Saturday morning, swimming and food, and waited for Andi to join us at the camp site. The camp site was about 8km from the centre so we decided we would get a taxi to the Livingstone so everyone could drink. Getting a taxi was easier said than done.. Firstly the camp site couldn't order us one (not sure why), and they offered us a chauffeur for 12000CFA. This, according to Andi, was a joke, and even after the negotiating we could only get him down to 10000CFA. We decided it was still too much and walked onto the road. We walked about 15 minutes in the heat until a three wheeler came past and we managed to get him to take us to the end of the beach for 2000CFA, leg one sorted. The journey was hilarious, the boys kept having to get out to push it through the sand, it rattled like crazy and we were all squashed together. Locals kept laughing at us and taking photos.. I think 5 white people in a truck is a rare sight around here! 



Getting to the end of the beach we paid another 3 wheeler 1500CFA to take us to the hotel Livingstone! The rugby was good, the boys were drinking beer from a tube that kept it cool and by the end of the evening we were all rather merry! We had the dilemma of getting home.. I made a vow never to take a motor taxi (mainly because I have never been on a motor bike in my life) however after a few glasses of wine and some peer pressure we all got on a motor taxi to get back to the camp site. It was actually fun and the driver was obviously competent! Charles and Andi were having a ball, telling their drivers to go faster! We got back and decided drunk swimming was the best idea so we all jumped in the pool, swigging gin and Sprite from the bottle! Hard core!! I am not sure what time we finally got to bed but it was a cracking night.. Topped off by England winning! 

With 5 days left of our visas were wanted a change of scenery, heading up North we stopped at Grand Popo. Finding somewhere to stay we ended up at the Lion Bar, a Bob Marley inspired Auberge. Again we were camping by the sea however the rubbish on the beach was horrid. Despite being in Africa for this length of time I am still shocked by the amount of rubbish everywhere! The bar was nice, the served good cocktails and the facilities were pretty decent! Walking around the next day we stopped for Foufou - a yam pulp - and fish stew which was lovely. 

Moving further up North we found Abomey.. This a small town known for its history. There are lots of palaces and a museum. Stopping for the night, Lena and Olly (who we met in Togo) arrived which was great to see them again - they had had a nightmare day travelling from the North including a hospital stop! Being pounced on by a 'guide' was not their top priority. Guides are normally locals who are sometimes official and sometimes just people trying their luck.. They pounce on you when arrive places and are often very persistent. Annoyingly so! This one wanted to take us to the palaces and museum, with a voodoo ceremony included.. For 15000CFA Per person.. A lot! We told him to come back tomorrow and luckily he went! Next morning we sorted out the cars and in the afternoon walked to the museum. Walking past the palaces we realised they were not traditional fairy tale palaces, mainly mud huts and red walls. The museum itself was good however the guide (paid for in the entrance price) could only speak French, luckily Lena translated (and then another guy on the tour) but it meant it was difficult to ask questions and find out lots about it (I did Wikipedia the place afterwards!). The museum was solely French, even the placards, and we did suggest that even having an English translation may help visitors! The museum showed the different relics from the palaces and different kings.. They told us a story about how one of the princesses created a child with a panther so all of the Kings had panther blood.. We were unsure where these panthers came from.. There are none in Benin now!! All in all it was good, something different, and we didn't need a guide to charge us 15000 per person - it all came to 5000CFA for both of us! 

We are now moving back to the south and the Nigerian boarder which we will cross over into on Monday! I have not enjoyed Benin as much as I had hoped. There are some possibilities why.. There seems less to see here compared to Togo or Burkina, and where there is (Abomey), they are run down and full of people taking advantage.. Take the museum.. It was a UNESCO site but the signs were rusty, it was only French friendly and you always had to be on your guard for 'guides' hassling you. It seems that in touristy areas people are only there to take advantage.. This goes for food prices as well.. We bought some drinks one day and paid one price, the next day they tried to charge us more! The hassle from locals has been more here as well, we cleaned out our car in Abomey and had some things we didn't want so we gave them to one of the workers there who subsequently came back 3 times asking for more! It was unreal! Perhaps it was our fault to begin with but still saddening. 

Perhaps we took the wrong route throug Benin, Lena and Olly came down from the north where they said it was beautiful, the parks and wildlife stunning - however again they said the hassle was just unreal. Perhaps if we had spent some time up there we would have seen landscapes other than beach and city. It could also be because we knew we had to cross into Nigeria on 15th so we could not explore without time limits, meaning we are always worrying about how far from the East side we travel. It could be many factors leading my to my conclusions, however I am definitely ready to move on! 

#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #benin #songhai