Border Benin – Cotonou

25th of September – 6th of October 2019:

On the Beninese side was no check point at all and after a few kilometers we reached a brand new tarred road. At the police station, we got our entry stamp and the police officers allowed us to camp behind the building.

From the police station, we organized a Beninese SIM-card and visited a Tata house. Opposite of our overnight place, there was a family with such a house and the friendly owner showed us the interior. In the old days, people used the Tata houses as fortresses against the neighboring tribes. Today, many of the impressive buildings collapsed, so the owner need to renovate them each year after the rainy season. Most families only use the houses to practice fetishism, for example Voodoo.

The brand-new main road led us over two passes onto a plateau. The second pass was steep and we used the not yet opened tar road, which made the ascent much easier for us. The scorching sun let us sweat a lot and we were glad to arrive in the city of Natitingou. At the Swiss project “Centre de Formation Liweitari (CFL), Benjamin, a Swiss civil servant, expected us already. He just arrived one day before us from Switzerland. Joel, who cycled with us the first few months, told us that his cousin would travel to Benin and even brought some spare parts for us.

The CFL project trains electricians, polytechnicians, bricklayers and welders. To support the training of the apprentices, several civil servant come here and support the education.

However, the project does missionary work as well and for us this downgrades the otherwise helpful project. It is not the first time that we get to know a project and suddenly realize that one of the main concerns of the project is the conversion of the locals. For us this gives those projects a stale aftertaste.

The founder of the project wants to educate local farmers, since they are inefficient and burn for example all biomass, instead of creating a compost.

Together with Beni, we discovered the local cuisine of the city and treated us with some luxury meals like spaghetti carbonara and shawarma. At the market, we finally found dog meat and were surprised how good it tasted. We are sure that most people would not be able to differentiate between dog meat and pork meat, since it is so similar. The dogs kept on short leashes in front of the street food vendors would probably make most dog lovers angry.

For a change, we did a trip with a car and visited the Kota-waterfall not far from the city. The refreshing water in the pool and the calm atmosphere made us stay for some hours. A Swiss missionary family from the French part of Switzerland was there as well and invited us for dinner without hesitation.

Since forever, we did not enjoy a barbecue, «Spätzli» (a typical Swiss dish) and desserts and therefore we appreciated the cooking efforts of Lucy and Damien even more. We ate a lot, swam in the on-site swimming pool and enjoyed nice conversations despite a typical Swiss language barrier.

Lucy even backed a plaited loaf just for us, gave us a glass of mango jam and the leftovers from the chocolate cake.

Thanks to Beni, we could continue with four brand new tires and record our route with a new sports watch. With the old tires, we cycled almost 20’000 km, which really speaks for the quality of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires.

Another hot day made us sweat a lot and from the lost salt, there were traces early in the day on our shirts and pants.

The formerly tarred road led us more or less direct southwards. Nowadays, it looks more like a rag rug and it is troublesome to ride it. At least there was not much traffic and therefore the dust in the air was not that bad.

Slowly, the mighty baobabs disappear and the landscape is lusher. In contrary to Senegal, the baobab trees are in the current rainy season green and carry hundreds of fruits.

In a larger village, we wanted to charge our laptop and surprisingly found out that there was no electricity. The last time we had this situation was a while back and showed us that Benin is not as developed as we thought.

During a break, we asked a boy with big, brown eyes, if he goes to school. He said no in a sad and reserved way. To the question why, he answered that, there is not enough money for the school fee. Such moments sink in deeply and help us realize how lucky we are.

From time to time, we realize how normal certain things got for us in western Africa. For example that most people eat only using their hands in restaurants and delightfully lick all their fingers when finished. In addition, we regularly see mothers with a huge pile of wood on their head walking on the side of the road, followed by their children, who all carry something as well. Such scenes were extraordinary in the beginning, but by now, other situations catch our eyes.

A rainy night showed us that the rainy season is not quite finished yet and that we need more patience. According to statistics, the rain should stop at the end of October in this region of West Africa.

The further south we travel in Benin, the more kids and even adults ask us for a “cadeau” (gift). Most people at least greet us friendly saying “bonsoir” before they ask in a kind of singsong for a present. Some people scream directly “Yovo” (white men), present and this makes us somewhat angry. Unfortunately, people in Africa believe that all Europeans or whites are rich and therefore can give something to everybody without any problems.

The landscape in the direction of the Beninese coast is not spectacular at all; just some rock formations impressed us for a while, until we continued cycling along the dead straight road.

Since we left Natitingou, we cycled almost 500 kilometers in five days. The main reason for the fast transition is the insecurity of the Nigerian visa. Either we find a solution in Contonou to get the visa or we have no other option than flying directly to Cameroon. In addition, we have to organize further visas for the following countries.

In Abomey, the old capital of the king, are still many palaces of this time. We found the palaces rather uninteresting and therefore skipped the museum as well. The kingdom existed between 1600 and 1894. A main feature of that time was the slave trade and brought a lot of money to the former empire.

Instead of always cycling on tarred roads in Benin, we decided to take a shortcut on one of the small gravel roads. Already after a couple of hundred meters, we were completely dirty and wet, since it was raining quite a lot the last few days. In a small village, we asked if it was possible to visit their voodoo shrine, since we just entered the main region of this traditional religion. One of the only men who spoke French, explained us a bit their traditions and the procedure of such a ceremony.

Voodoo has more than 60 million follower and has its origin in West Africa. With the slave trade, voodoo reached the Caribbean. There is no closed religious community and many different groups exist. In a central position of the voodoo rituals is the sacrifice of an animal or luxury food. At the same time, the priest, the community, the celebration and dancing to drum music is important as well.

The last time we asked a village chief for a place to stay was some time ago. The family was rather shy, but had a room for us anyway. In the morning, we waited until the heavy rain stopped and talked with the family despite the language barrier. They asked us many questions and we bombarded them with some as well. For example, a woman wanted to know if we eat the same meals in Europe as in Benin. In return, we asked if they use contraceptives. Everyone said it is not the culture and we were not surprised, since there were so many naked children running around us.

The muddy and narrow gravel road led us through beautiful villages and in between were lots of maize, beans, soy and sweet potato plantations. The villages are under water, everything is full of mud in the rainy season and people walk barefoot. At a junction in the middle of nowhere, we ate a plate of rice with spaghetti and said no to the head of rat on the menu.

At a lake, we slept in a classroom for the first time and kids annoyed us in evening with begging and screaming.

The friendly village chief gave us even a plastic bottle full of Moringa, a plant who helps to prevent malaria.

Due to the flat terrain, we reached the administrative capital quickly. Before, we did a detour to the slave route starting from the former slave market and ending at the gate of no return, where the slaves started their horrible journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

With Couchsurfing, we found an American family who offered us a home during our stay in Cotonou. Since almost two months, we enjoyed our first warm shower and felt finally clean again.

Lomé – Border Benin

20th of September – 25th of September 2019:

Unfortunately, we realized only after we picked up the residence certificate that the signature of the commandant was missing on Adrian’s document. Therefore, Adrian went to the police station again, to get the signature. Sadly, the chief was even after two hours waiting time not around, so he left his phone number and went home. In the next morning, before we said goodbye to the cute family of Noah, Adrian did his bonus round of 15 km to the station and got his signature.

We took some pictures in front of the restaurant and said thank you for the awesome hospitality. A road similar to a highway led us out of Lomé. Soon, the road got narrower and the first potholes appeared. In a small village, we tried our first African cow-cheese. The white, large chunk of cheese tasted extremely fresh, the flavor was rather boring though.

Our plan is to cycle northwards from Lomé, to cross the border into Benin. This is certainly not the direct route, but that is not why we do this journey. The high humidity due to the regular rain, made us sweat and the clothes did not dry at all.

Already from far away, we saw many people looking from a narrow bridge into the river. We assumed the worst and when we arrived there, we saw that a truck loaded with rice did not catch the turn and landed in the riverbed. Some bystanders told us that two people died in the accident. Everywhere, we saw children and teenagers, who grabbed the rice bags out of the river and proudly carried them home.

Behind a high school, we found a nice spot for our tent under some mango trees. When we installed the tent, we met the German teacher who was interested about our trip and asked a couple of questions in proper German. He told us that there are 80 kids in one class. To the question if the teachers beat the children, he said that the government officially banned it, but if they do not beat them, they do whatever they want. Understandable, since the parents beat the kids all over Africa, so if the teacher do not follow the parents lead, the conditions in the classroom would be chaotic.

In addition, he said that he did not have a salary during the first three years as a teacher and just this year he got an official contract from the government. Unfortunately, this salary is still not enough, so he has to work as a farmer on weekends.

Since one week, the summer vacation is finished and we see hundreds of kids on their way to school wearing their cute uniforms. Most of the time, they great us in a friendly way and sometimes they sadly ask for a “cadeau”.

Everywhere, children and women spread out their harvest on the side of the road. We saw maize, chili, okra and cassava. In addition, since Ghana there are teak plantations everywhere.

The traffic on the only main road towards the north is not that bad and there are many motorbikes as everywhere in Togo. Travelers who have visited Vietnam know this phenomenon, although there are many bicycles as well, which makes us feel more welcome.

After more than 340 km in three days, we reached Sokodé, the third largest town in Togo and were exhausted. Our Couchsurfing host Tatchein met us on the main road and led us to his house. His mother insisted on us trying her food and we were very happy about that.

Since the Sahara, we never cycled more than 100 km in three consecutive days and therefore we rested in Sokodé a bit. Together with Tatchein, we visited the “grande marché”, ate a rice meal called “wathie” in a typical, simple restaurant. Afterwards, we walked on top of a small hill to have a nice view across the city.

Before leaving the house including the great hospitality we had to tell the forthcoming mother of Tatchein that we decided to continue our journey. The further north we came in Togo, the friendlier and more enthusiastic is the reaction of people when they see us. The kids on their way to school scream most of the time something in our direction, greet friendly or today, we were even welcomed with applause arriving in a village. By now, it is normal to be the focus of attention, but this reaction was even extreme for us.

We cycled along a mountain pass road sideways up a slope and enjoyed the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. Trucks on their way to Burkina Faso pass the same mountain pass and because they were overloaded and fought themselves huffing and puffing up, we could easily overtake them. After the downhill, we immediately realized that the climate got tropical and humid again and we the whole body felt sticky.

In Kara, we finally wanted to taste dog meat, since it was a specialty in Togo. Somehow, the Togolese we asked where to find a barbecue place, did not know what we were looking for. We pointed at a dog and made gestures of eating. Finally, he understood and explained us where to find dog meat. Unfortunately, the meat in the recommended market was already finished and we had to settle for the local brew called “Tchoukoutou”, which is made from fermented millet.

After we gained altitude for some time, we suddenly saw a road cyclist approaching us. Both parties were surprised at first and it took a while before we stopped. Karim was originally from Lomé, a member of a cycling club and complained that he was the only road cyclist in this area.

When we reached a mountain pass after another climb, the landscape changed surprisingly fast and we found ourselves in a lush overgrown steppe landscape, since it was still rainy season. Memories from our time in Senegal surfaced and we were happy about this welcome alternation.

In Kandé, we left the tarred road and cycled towards the border. This region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes traditional houses, called “Tata”. Due to the horrendous prices for a visit, we decided to do it on the Beninese side, since we had some information that it would be cheaper over there.

Suddenly, a 4×4 vehicle approached us with a military convoy and a white man screamed «cape2cape» out of the window. First, we were shocked and did not know how to react. When two women and Essaddi came out of the car, we realized that we were in contact via Instagram. Essaddi told us that he follows us since a couple of months and cycled through Togo himself.

In Naboda, we visited the extremely lively weekday market. We strengthened ourselves with a huge portion of rice and drank a local millet brew with a group of locals out of a bowl made out of a hollowed calabash inside a cute round hut. Afterwards, it was not far to the customs and we were already in Benin.

With Togo, we left a country with extremely friendly inhabitants, who always welcomed us with “bon arrive” and asked surprised where we come from. For the first time since months, we crossed a country without enjoying a warm shower and no white hosts accommodated us. Therefore, Togo is truly a place TO-GO.