Backpacking to Benin

After our time in Togo, we started to head to Benin, another French country on the eastern border of Togo.

Before we left, we got one more ‘shake-down’ from some local cops. At least we learned our lesson last time… right? Raquel ended up getting extremely mad at them as they were holding my passport hostage until we paid them a bribe or what they called “an official fine”. When Raquel asked them what the fine was for or how much it was, they asked how much we wanted to pay. That’s when Raquel got mad.

Raquel just stood there the whole time, screaming at them in french “PASSPORT, s’il vous plait! Maintenant!” It was great. I have never seen her so forceful before, and at Togo Police – who knew?

Lesson learned: never hand over your passport. NEVER!

PS. Going to Africa? We found a ‘How to Get Out of Bribes‘ list that would have been handy three weeks ago.

From there, we went to the market to get a shared taxi to Benin. It was a regular ride: you know, one that should take two hours but takes five with two extra people crammed into the taxi…

Crossing the border, we didn’t actually get any entry stamps from Benin so we were technically in the country legally, but entered illegally. Borders are just so confusing and have no signs on where to go. This was also the first time I was asked for my Immunization Card. I luckily had mine but Raquel didn’t. We just simply explained that mine was good for both of us and they let us through.

Welcome to Cotonou

We arrived in Cotonou without a name of a hotel or a plan. We got dropped off in city central and walked to the nearest Internet cafe. After it took half-an-hour for our page to NOT load and the sun began to set, we went to find ANOTHER Internet Cafe.

In the end, we found the place we had heard about  from the people who made that bribe list. (they have a blog about backpacking in Africa that was useful.) We ended up staying at a German Volunteer Hostel – called GIZ (haha).

Where we stayed - GIZ

All the cab drivers – and when I say ‘cab’, I mean ‘motorbike cab’ in Benin – had no clue where it was. They just told us they would take us to a restaurant ‘where white people like to go” to ask someone there. The hostel ended up being less than a block away. Figures.

And yes. There are no car taxis here. So Raquel finally had to take motorbike taxis everywhere. And motorbikes were everywhere.

The big difference between the motorbike taxi culture in Togo and Benin was the recognition. In Togo, people wearing ordinary clothes picked you up from the side of the road. In Benin, taxi drivers wore yellow shirt/vests.

Traffic

That night, I ended up hanging out with German volunteers who were leaving the next day from a year in Benin. They told me a lot about the culture and I even tried local food – which was like maize gelatin.

The next day, we went exploring Benin, which is the home/origin of Voodoo. We tried to find the Voodoo market but failed after an hour of wandering in this mess:

Large Marketplace

There are a couple famous voodoo tours to go on: one which involved going into a temple full of snakes and the other one where you look at sacred trees. We decided to pass both of them up for walking around Benin. That might also have been because we saw a motorcycle accident and decided to walk an 1 1/2 home from the market instead of a 5 minute motorcycle ride.

But on the way back, we ran into a girl selling Pashminas who taught Raquel how to put her hair up in a scarf.

Raquel and her new friend & hair-do

We also explored the nightlife which featured good music and Rihanna videos in rotation.

Local Brew

Overall, Benin was fun for the weekend but we pretty much stayed to our area of the city.

I was looking forward to going back to a place that understood English. No one understood anything I was saying in Benin and Togo, especially Benin. But it was kind of nice to say that you didn’t speak French then listen to a guy confess his love for you. Or, in Togo, when a man followed me down the street calling me a witch.

I would just look, smile and say “Je ne parle pas francias”. And I don’t even know if that is correct.

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