Travel Through Benin on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Benin on a Harley (25/1/01 - 1/2/01)
Distance 889 km (219299 km to 220188 km)

This is part of the Seventh section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from  Niger
 

25/1/01 Out of the big countries and into a run of small ones starting with Benin. The further west we head the more sophisticated and civilized things become and the border crossing just 20 minutes. Immediately the place wealthier with signs of prosperity including a new sealed road to Kandi for the night. People still carry their own food bowl to eat at small street stalls but gone are the children hoping to fill it from the leftovers of your meal. The dry harmattan wind blowing dust to choke the sinuses and make the throat as dry as burnt toast. Our skin is starting to feel like parched leather and we probably look ten years older than we are. It's no wonder the desert people wear turbans across the mouth and nose revealing only the eyes.

26/1/01 Further south to Abomey, 500 km, burning oil at 300 km to the litre and black smoke. Not much alternative but to press on at least to Cotonou, the capital, to try repairs. A loose exhaust bracket and engine vibration succeeded in severing the exhaust pipe just behind the rear cylinder. A bit noisy but otherwise of little effect. The people gradually getting shorter and heavier featured moving away from the Arabic, African look. Camels disappear along with sheep and the goat's legs stumpier moving to more fertility.

27/1/01 Removed the exhaust and had it oxy welded using oxygen and carbide gas. The quality of repair barely acceptable, near enough more than good enough. In the same workshop a Mercedes engine had been dismembered on the dusty floor, with the crank case removed, dust attracted to its oil as if to a magnet. Other vehicles in various states of disrepair littered the yard, convinced us we had no choice but to travel the 150 km and look at repairs in Cotonou. A visit to the interesting Abomey museum with its history going back 12 kings to the mid 1600's filled the remaining part of the day.

28/1/01 The rattle we thought was in the engine had actually been the slow breaking of the exhaust pipe so we travelled to Cotonou more at ease. A spread out city requiring thousands of motorcycle taxis for movement. Almost all smoke billowing 50 cc two strokes lined up at traffic lights for the slow amble down wide boulevards. Sedate dense moving traffic at about 40 km per hour. As with most ex-communist/Marxist countries in Africa there are few beggars and great adoption of private enterprise with small stalls everywhere down to the man walking the streets with two glasses, coffee and a thermos or a shoe shine man. Heading for a town in the lake, on Lake Ganvie, people live on stilt houses Sit in a street bar or restaurant for 10 minutes and be politely offered a wide range of clothes, electrical fittings, tools, belts, clocks, coats and trousers. If they don't have your size they know where to get it and will be back in minutes. The owners of the bars have long ago given up on chasing them, but they are not too pushy.

29/1/01 Ghana visa, four application forms and four photos, who knows what they do with that many, internet and change travellers cheques. We don't often need to change travellers cheques, thank goodness. We paid 2% commission for the privilege of standing in line for 20 minutes, the girl closed her window to go to lunch just as we were next, so we start to queue again. Customer service hasn't arrived here with government or ex-government enterprises and people complain little probably having long ago given up. They get crammed into taxi's or shuffled from place to place. The educated middle class however is starting to vote with their feet and businesses will very soon have to change. The stilt houses

30/1/01 Over 200 years ago the Tofinu people fled from the Fon people and having nowhere to go and knowing the Fon's fear of swimming they set up a village on stilts in the middle of a large coastal lake. Today there are 30,000 people living in stilt houses and cultivating the lake fish by feeding and growing them on rotting branches and leaves in the lake's shallow waters. We took a guide with his dug-out canoe through the fish cultivation plots to the stilt village which boasts a hospital, hotel and post office. Fresh water now comes from a deep well but originally had to be brought from surrounding streams.

31/1/01 Ouidah, just 40 km, a place where slaves and with them voodoo were exported to the U.S.A., Haiti and Brazil. Voodoo seems like many exported cultures to be stronger in the new homeland than the old place of origin. Over one million slaves were shipped out of the port at the rate of 10,000 a year for 100 years. It was not only the west who profited from the slaves with the local kings capturing and selling theirs and neighbouring tribesmen.Memorial to the slaves that were transported from this port It's a four km walk from the old Portuguese fort to the monument of no return. This is the route the slaves took in chains, the last time they would see Africa, before being squeezed into the hold of a ship. Judging by the numbers of requests we get from people wanting to go to the west some would probably have wished their ancestors were the ones that had been exported to the U.S.A.

1/2/01 Engines don't repair themselves, but somehow the cracked and broken exhaust was effecting our oil consumption either through overheating, or less back pressure, as oil consumption has reduced since the exhaust repair. The jury is still out. Not being mechanics we are only guessing. Followed the coast route to the Togo border, polite and friendly.
 

Move with us to Togo
 

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