After our night in Lome, we shared a taxi to Benin with a pleasant lone German tourist named Jens whom we had met at our hotel. We crossed the entire country of Togo in under two hours and were presented at the Benin border with a 48 hour transit visa. While we could have extended the visa with some effort, we were on a tight schedule and opted to see what we could. We parted ways with Jens at the coastal city of Ouidah and checked into a hotel on a deserted beach. While calm and relaxing, the hotel also was deserted with no other tourists and with power turning on and off at various intervals during the night.
Ouidah was the major hub for the Portugese slave trade through the eighteenth century. Now reduced to a smaller city of 87,000, Ouidah markets itself on its historical past. One can walk the 4 km Route del Esclaves from the city to the sea which Africans were marched before being loaded into boats to set sail for slavery in the Americas, primarily Brazil. There is a large Point of No Return memorial on the beach symbolic of the twelve million slaves which passed by this point.
Our second day in Benin we continued eastward to Cotonou, Benin’s capital in all but name. This time instead of the comfortable taxi we opted to travel like the locals and piled into a hatchback with 8 other people for the hour ride. Cotonou was a very busy and noisy city in stark contrast to the leisurely pace of Ouidah. Crossing the street was a major ordeal without traffic lights and breaks in traffic. Taxis in the city consisted of small scooters known as zemi-johns which we utilized in getting around.
The main attraction just outside Cotonou is the floating city of Ganvie, known as the “Venice of Africa”. During the slave trade, a few fled to the water and built bamboo huts in a lake on stilts to avoid traders who were dealthy afraid of entering the water. Ganvie now has grown to 40,000 people who survive on fishing and tourism. We boarded a motorized boat for the half hour trip out and saw the fully functioning city, replete with stores, schools, churches, and mosques where Sarah was taunted by a few children on boats calling out to the “white person”.
The following day our visa expired and we took a combination of zemi-johns and taxis from Benin, through Togo, and into Ghana with my GPS tracker recording our position every five seconds along the way. (I know, I need to figure out a better way to display this data…this is a work in progress.)