Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cotonou, Benin

From Lome we caught a couple of motorbikes, zemi johns, to the shared taxi station. We waited 40 minutes for our car to fill and with four of us and had a pretty comfortable ride to the Benin border. There was a young student from Benin in the taxi and he had been six months in Ghana improving his English. He had studied accounting and wanted to get a good job for which he needed good English. It was great to chat with him about his life. All along the highways are stalls like this selling fuel for motorbikes and cars. Here our taxi is filling up in Benin where it is cheaper than Togo and the fuel comes from Nigeria. The funnels are lined with cloth to filter the rubbish from the fuel. Sadly many of the big petrol stations with their huge concrete forecourts are deserted as these stalls surround them and take their business. We had no problems crossing the Togo-Benin border and had a comfortable trip to Cotonou with our very careful driver. He dropped us off at the Catholic Guest House that we wanted to stay in. The guesthouse reminded us of the Soviet style residential building of grey concrete. It was four floors high and had a great view over the area. Our room was spotless with tiled floors, mosquito nets, a fan, a balcony and free Wifi. We had to do a bit of swatting of our French as the receptionists were difficult to communicate with and no one speaks English. We walked around by the beach and looked for somewhere to eat but only spent one night in the city as there was little of interest for us here too. We found a Lebanese restaurant selling shwarma and were happy to have a change from rice, chicken or pastas. During our walk into the city centre we noticed lots of beggars in wheelchairs at the traffic lights. A couple noticed us and chased us in their chairs. We have never been chased by wheelchair beggars before and it was a very uncomfortable feeling as they were a long way from us and we were crossing a median strip that they would not have been able to get over so they couldn't have caught up to us. During the night we were woken by a heavy downpour that sounded like a jet engine on the roof. John slept through most of it but I woke up as I felt raindrops on my body. The wind driven rain was pouring in the open louvres and the floor was flooded so I had to get up and close everything. It went on for about two hours and cooled the place nicely. This coast was formerly dubbed the 'slave coast', because the Dahomey kings pillaged their neighbours for slaves and land. For more than 100 years, 10,000 slaves a year were transported to Brazil and Haiti in the Caribbean. Benin is famous for voodoo, slavery, the Kings of Dahomey, and adopting Marxism.