31/5/05. Cotonou, Benin.
Shortly after departing Lome it becomes clear that there is something wonky about my steering. Anything under 10mph is a bit of a struggle, which makes for some hair-raising filtering on the truck-packed, pothole-strewn Cotonou road.
Something must be done. But what? I left Lome, like Gibraltar, with new Michelin Desert tyres, but I don't remember this much trauma with the last set.
At Toni's my head bearings were adjusted - I think possibly a little too much. Perhaps all I need is the mechanical knowledge to de-adjust them. Oh dear.
The Togo/Benin border is shit. Not as bad as Ghana/Togo, but I do end up shouting a bit after being charged on the Togo side for having my bike paperwork stamped (which should be free) and then being refused a receipt (which means the money is going in the guy's pocket).
The Benin side is better, although at the end of the visa process the uniformed official grins somewhat pathetically and says "what about my beer?"
"What about it?" I think as we walk away.
"Pension Souvenir" in Cotonou, at $10 a night, is welcoming and ideally positioned between an internet cafe, a bar, a cafe, an off-licence and a guitar string shop.
I really should put up my mosquito net but *yawwwwwn* I just can't be arsed.
Cut to 2.30 AM
Owch! Bloody mosquitos. Where's my net?
We go in search of the Fetish Market, which apparently is brimming with monkey testicles, dried snakes and er, badger's penises and so on. Having wandered through a huge, extremely hot market selling suits and ties, dried fish, booze and deadly-looking peppers, we decide we can't find it and go for an ice-cream instead.
The theory is that you can find the Fetish Market by following your nose. Unfortunately we smell so bad that we have obscured the olfactory trail.
Found a man with a big spanner. My steering problem seems to be fixed.
3/6/05. Abomey, Benin.
Do not touch.
Now then. The thing about West Africa is that it's very very flat, and the roads tend to be fairly straight. This combination can be a little tedious on a long slog.
The Cotonou-Abomey route, however, has highlands and bends. Now that I think about it of course, highlands mean bends, as it's generally easier to build a road around a hill rather than through it. Anyway today's ride is noticeably more fun than usual. At one point there's even a real-life vista.
No danger. No elephants.
The Benin TV news theme tune is extremely arresting! Maximum rock'n'roll with all the knobs on the graphics machine set to 11, a la "The Day Today". I am completely drawn in, fascinated to see what's happened. The answer is - nothing, in French.
At one point, cruising along some perfect white-lined asphalt, I allow myself to think the words "Mmm. Excellent infrastructure." Exactly four seconds later the road becomes a sandy dirt track.
Abomey is reasonably picturesque, which means it's heaving with touts. Doug arrives first and visits the museum, which I had planned to do as well, but his tale of grumpy-guide-related woe puts me off.
We've decided to hurry to Chad for a flight to Addis Ababa. I'm about a month behind schedule (like it matters) and now the seasons are becoming not quite right for West African motorbikin'. Wet in the south and hot hot hot in the north. I reckon we can make it to Chad in 10 days...
Riding around Cotonou is highly entertaining if you don't mind lungfuls of pollution. At any one time there are six million mopeds on the road, all jostling for position and all ignoring traffic lights. Most of these are piloted by licensed, yellow-shirted moped-taxi riders, which seems to marginally reduce the risk of death.
I just found three fleas in my beer. God knows how many there are up my trouser leg.
4/6/05. Parakou, Benin.
Having been told at 8.30 that there's nothing for breakfast, Doug scoots off hungry while I hang around for a quick Nescafe. The coffee arrives. A pot of proper jam arrives with proper butter. Warm fresh bread arrives. I stuff my face. Ha!
60mph tarmac for 180 miles, and I'm in Parakou, halfway up the country, by early afternoon. Ice cold beer. Ha!
I stop for a fag on the way and, standing in full moto get-up and not sweating, think "Oh-ho. Not too hot today." Then I remember I have a thermometer in my pocket (thanks Aust). It's 90 degrees. When I go back to the UK I am obviously going to die of exposure.
5/6/05. Malanville, Benin/Niger border.
Sitting in the bar of the "Rose Des Sables" hotel. By 8pm there are vast numbers of large, weird insects; luckily quite a lot of toads arrive to eat them.
Another 190 miles of mostly perfect tarmac today, with 30-odd miles of bad potholes in the middle. Potholes are fine when the traffic's light - you simply weave around them. The trouble starts when some twerp in a Peugeot comes round a bend on your side of the road at 70mph to avoid potholes on his side. Luckily my steering problem is a thing of the past. 9000 miles from Islington today and the moto is running like a dream.
And still everyone is smiling and waving as I rumble past. Does this only happen in Africa? Or does it only not happen in Europe? Or has Doug painted the words "I am a clown" on the back of my jacket in an African language?
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