For a detailed trip itinerary, click here or for more info on the company that runs it (African Trails) visit:

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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Togo & Benin: Lome, Grand Popo, Ouidah and "The Door of No Return" & The Lake Ganvie stilt village.

Togo and Benin are going to be lumped together for this entry as we only spent one night in Togo but 6 in Benin...Had a pretty cool bush camp on the beach outside Lome in Togo, although the rains came half way through cooking dinner so everyone mad rushes around to get the canopies up before the fires are rained out. This is a nightly occurrence now as the rain season is well and truly upon us.

Preparing dinner before the rains came. As AK would say, 'Food Togo.' LOL

All the local children came to watch us prepare dinner - they got so excited when the cameras came out.

The fishermen hauling in the night's nets - it took all the men in the villager to pull in one net.

Benin was somewhat more exciting - actually a really awesome place albeit being the 2nd smallest country after Togo that we'll visit. We kept to the coast for most of the time stopping in various camp sites. The sand flies aside the beaches are all so picture perfect, but the sea was too scary for me to swim in. Those who risked it were eventually washed in 7 miles down shore from where they started!

We did a couple of organised tour days. The first starting in a town called Grand Popo where we got a flavour of the voodoo life. We went to see a 'python temple' which turned out to be a dark 4 metre room with what looked like 200 snakes all curled up around each other and climbing everywhere. The brave few had photos with pythons around their necks until they slowly started to constrict themselves around their wind pipes and had to be pryed off.

Ian squares up to a python. (One of the smallest ones....!!)

In general the voodoo aspect of life was a bit of an anticlimax. We expected to see witch doctors biting the heads of small rodents and huge bubbling cauldrons with human heads floating around inside. The reality of it is that the religion is practised quite quietly, with an emphasis towards snake worship.

The only voodoo 'doll' we found - for sale at the bargain price of 200 pounds. Apparently for 'protection' although I'm not sure I like the idea of having it on my mantle piece!

A few of the guys went to see a voodoo ceremony one night, and Sonya found herself blessed by the God of Thunder. (This involved a possessed man launching himself through the crowd knocking everyone over and scaring the crap out of the local believers, stopping at Sonya when she had to prostrate herself to avoid the curse that otherwise would have followed.) On the last day in Benin we stumbled across a tiny voodoo market where there were several tables covered in dead half dried animal parts. These ranged from leopard paws, vulture and toucan heads and dried chameleons. Pretty stinky and gross but no sign of what people would do with the bits and pieces once they bought them. No real voodoo dolls either....disappointing.
The other side of Benin that we explored was the slave trade ports along the coast until it was abolished at the turn of the 20th century. The French owned the country at the time but the Portuguese established the slave industry with, shockingly, the support of the Benin kings at the time. The going rate for a slave was 1 cannon for 12 to 15 men or alternatively 21 women. Of course, Ian made the slightly inappropriate (but necessary) joke about trading a cannon for the 15 of us on the tour. Lots of nervous laughter followed among the group...

Other trading currency accepted included a few beads, tobacco or a bottle of alcohol. It just shocked us all that the king allowed his own people to be sold to Brazil, America and Cuba because he was also profiting from the business. So sad how little a person's life was worth. The guy who showed is on the tour was descended from a Brazilian slave, his grandfather had only returned to Africa 50 years previously along with many other Benin originals.

This statue shows the position all the slaves had to sit in on the ships for the 2 weeks getting to the US, Cuba, Brazil or Mexico.

This is the monument built where the million slaves died before even leaving the shores of Benin.

We  were shown the point in Ouidah on the beach known as 'The Door/Point/Port of No Return' or 'The Gates of Hell.'

There is now a monument standing to mark the spot where the people left Africa forever. There was also another memorial where we were told millions of slaves that had died in the 'holding areas' before making it onto the boats were buried. The whole thing was a real eye opener - statues line the roads in remembrance.

The Gates of Hell - The Point of No Return. (We camped here one night, and I hate to put a comical moment in here....but on her way to the toilet in the bushes, Sonya stumbled across a local couple getting busy in the trees. It was their very own 'point of no return.' Badoom-Tush. Big LOL.)

To finish up in Benin, we went off on a boat trip down the Ganvie Lake to see a stilt traditional stilt village. The whole place is built right over the river, and all the locals have replaced cars for canoes. Even the local food market takes place in boats. The trip, however, was of course cut short by a tropical downpour. But all in all it was cool to see it.

Fishing boat on it's way down the river.

Typical house on stilts.

Women on their way to market.

 Water, water everywhere...but not a drop to drink (without the risk of amoebic dysentary).

Romantic moment in the rain for the Z's (on a side note Zakiya informed me that Zah had been carrying this umbrella around the world for 18 months and this was the first opportunity he had to use it!)

The roof on the boat left a lot to the imagination...

All in all a pretty cultural few days spent in Benin.....

Check out the willies!! Hee hee :)

 Driving along post rain storm, shortly before driving through a narrow street where the power lines were hanging pretty low, and taking out the power to the entire village. Enter Mark with $5 to fix it!!

And now onto Nigeria for a massive change of scene!!

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