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.