7th of October – 21th of October 2019:
Our hosts in Cotonou, Devidyal and Brandon, both teach at an international school. After three years in China, they are now already more than two years in West Africa. Fortunately, their daughter Trinidad visits the same school. In contrary to the Beninese schools, the kids do not have to wear uniforms. Many of the local school kids have to go to school with their washed out and shredded uniforms and therefore the strict dress code loses its purpose.
They have a gardener and a cook, who take care of the house and prepare warm meals. Thanks to their generosity, we could profit from this luxury as well and were glad not to search restaurants in the neighborhood for once. Like this, we could focus on regeneration and the organization of our visas.
Already on our first day in Cotonou, we visited the embassies of Cameroon, Gabon and Nigeria. Additionally, we visited the Swiss consulate. For the Nigerian visa, one should have a residency in Benin. For us it’s impossible to get one, since we would have to stay at least six months in the country. Valérie, the Swiss consul was interested in our project and promised to call the ambassador of the Nigerian embassy for us.
The main problem was that we needed to know the exact entry date for the visas of Gabon and Cameroon. Since we did not even know if we were able to enter Nigeria, we had to postpone those applications.
Another visit at the Nigerian embassy showed us, that there was no chance for us to get anything. Even the Nigerians were desperate due to the behavior of the staff of the embassy. They did not even take us seriously and after a couple of minutes, we had to leave the premise with lowered heads.
After Valérie called the ambassador to explain, our unique situation and he allowed us to present our documents to the immigration officer. This officer was rather unfriendly like his colleague and explained us that we need an invitation from someone in Nigeria.
Therefore, we asked our contacts in Nigeria, which we organized during the last few weeks, if someone could organize an invitation letter for us. We returned with all necessary papers back to the embassy for the fourth time. The immigration officer called Mr. Nura welcomed us surprisingly friendly and told us immediately that he was not able to issue a visa for us. Apparently, he called his bosses in Nigeria and they told him that he should not issue any visas to tourists. The reason was probably the current security situation and therefore he did not want to take any responsibility.
We were shocked and asked if there was an alternative. He said that there is a “visa on arrival”, which is only for business people. After his explanation how to proceed, we left the embassy disappointed.
Of course, we knew about this business visa available only in the internet. We just wanted to try the legal or correct way via the embassy first. However, we knew from other travelers that this endeavor was almost impossible.
Therefore, we contacted Jeevan, whom we knew form Instagram. He clarified several times for us, which documents we would need and helped us with the process. Despite his absence due to a business trip, he was in contact with us day and night and patiently answered all our questions.
A few days later, we organized all necessary documents. Then we completed the online form, which was difficult to understand in the beginning, and therefore took quite some time. In the middle of this process, a lightning temporarily destroyed the fuse and we had to improvise to get internet connection for the payment.
One and a half days later, we luckily received the approval and were relieved for now. Anyway, even with the confirmation, we were not sure if we could enter the country. The documents we created were all totally fabricated and the company we were in contact with, did not really employ two Swiss cyclists.
Cotonou is the economical capital of Benin. Due to the port, it became an important trading center for countries without access to the ocean, like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Exports include petroleum products, bauxite and iron.
The Dantokpa market is one of the largest markets in West Africa. One can really find everything and it is easy to get lost in the narrow passages. We hardly were able to pass with our bicycles and had to get out of the way when women and men carrying heavy bags, baskets or other things walked towards us.
After asking many people where to find the voodoo section of the market, we finally found it. In Togo, one has to pay a lot of money for just entering this part of the market. Here it is less touristic and the shop owners only want money when taking pictures. The stalls were full of dead animals. There were heads of crocodiles, dogs, horses, chimpanzees and antelopes. The sweet scent in the air was rather disgusting and reminded why people normally burn or bury dead animals.
In the market, we saw many people with scarifications in their face. In the countryside of Benin, this traditional way of body decoration is still wide- spread. According to the patterns, one knows to which tribe the people belong. In the interior, we witnessed an old man who scarified his grandchildren below the breast. Just using a razor blade without any disinfectant or bandage.
Since some time, we had no malaria infection and were glad to travel with full energy. Unfortunately, Adrian got malaria once again. Luckily, after the three day treatment, he did not have the symptoms anymore and felt better.
In Lomé, we probably had the most mosquitos so far in Western Africa. Even in the mornings, they attacked us heavily. Especially after heavy rain events, we hardly spent any time outside of our mosquito net. Even the strongest spray did not help anymore. In Benin, there were not many mosquitos, but still we had bites every day.
Due to the high humidity, wounds heal extremely slowly. In Ghana, an insect stung Fabian and he had problems with this wound for weeks. Suddenly, the wound was ulcerated and he had to visit a hospital to get some antibiotics and disinfectant. In a typical African moment, the power went out during the treatment and it was pitch-dark.
During our long stay in Cotonou, we developed a friendship with Valérie and she generously invited us several times to eat at her place. We enjoyed the interesting conversations in the relaxed atmosphere.
Since the 20th of September, the border between Nigeria and Benin is officially closed. All people we asked said something different and we were not sure if it was possible to cross the border. The Nigerians closed the border due to the smuggling of petrol and food items in both directions.
On the day our visa for Nigeria started, we cycled to the border hoping everything would work out. Since our visa for Benin was finished the same day, we risked quite a lot if they would refuse us to enter.
Quickly, we reached the border and got the exit stamp for Benin, before we talked to the immigration officers for entering Nigeria.
Our focus in Benin was clearly in getting the Nigerian visa. We spent two weeks in Cotonou and could relax a lot, but still stressed due to the insecure continuation of our trip. Despite all that, we visited some places in this culturally strongly shaped country and made awesome acquaintances.