“Do you want to come with me? I’m meeting my friends at the beach in a few minutes.” Within the first five minutes of meeting Mea, our 8,000 cfa bed and breakfast host in Cotonou, I knew my travel through Benin Republic was going to be a very good one. Less than 30 minutes later, we were riding on the back of local bikes down the beach path of Fidjrosse to meet her friends - a mix of French expatriates and some Beninese ladies - at a poolside joint by the beach. My understanding of French is at the bare minimum and my friend tagging along for the first two nights of the trip, was even much worse at speaking and understanding French. Our new friends spoke mostly French around us, but the excitement of already being a part of the social scene made up adequately.
Our new friends helped order a delicious plate of fresh fish and fries with a large bottle of the local beer - Beninoise, topped off with Soda Bi - an aperitif that is on par with our local ogogoro.
After a couple hours of lounging and trekking along the beach area, we found ourselves at a joint called, Place de la Petanque, sipping on a chilled bottle of pineapple juice while watching and socializing with more of Mea’s friends that came to play a French game called Petanque in the middle of the street. The goal of Petanque is to throw hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet while standing in a designated circle. After watching how the game was played in the first three rounds, my friend and I joined in the fun on opposing teams of two; my team won!
The next morning, with a travel tip from a couple of Scots we met at the beach, we found ourselves riding on the back of a bike to Abomey-Calavi for a boat ride to see Benin Republic’s floating village, Ganvie. Getting a boat to Ganvie was a bit of a hassle; it took over an hour’s wait and we paid the tourist price of 4050 cfa each for a boat and a ‘tour guide.’ What we got, was a grim guide that barely spoke a word to us. C’est la vie!
After our ride through Ganvie, we hopped on bikes to meet up with a new friend. Prior to coming on this trip, a lot of people had mentioned how much cheaper everything in Benin Republic is compared to Nigeria. I really do not understand where they shop because in Lagos, a visit to mama-put (roadside food joint) sets me back by about N200 per plate, not N2,000! We had plantain swallow, the Benin version of Banga soup, rice, and a serving of peanut soup. The futu et sauce (peanut soup) and the platain (plantain) combo were divine.
After lunch, we ‘walked out’ the calories on a 30-minute trek to the artiste village for some souvenirs. We walked some more around the city before heading to fin pave Fidjrosse to meet up with more new friends for drinks, at a joint owned by a friendly woman named Maimouna. A stone throw away is a miniscule restaurant that serves ‘butterful’ mashed potato. I had mine with burger, an unusual combo, but those were the two favourite dishes of our new friends and I just had to try them out too.
Going into Benin Republic, I really had no plan in mind. The goal was to simply explore and follow the path that falls along my way. Since arriving Sunday morning, I have explored a bit of Cotonou; shared a bush taxi with five strangers to Abomey; stayed at a simple breakfast and dinner lodge called Chez Edith for 8,500cfa; explored the Royal Palace of Abomey; and purchased a colourful handcrafted outfit that would fit in so well with my travel purchase collection! I played a few card games with the very friendly local kids while swatting off some flies and sipping on a bottle of Beninoise. Abomey was worth the visit. Although the palace is now mostly in ruins, the rich history of the place commanded my attention (I suggest a quick Google of ‘Abomey’ to understand why).
From Abomey, I hailed another shared ride to Dassa, where I currently am. It was a 2-hour ride from the taxi park in Bohicon - a larger town near Abomey – and cost a haggled fare of 1,500 cfa. I paid another 300 cfa for a bike that brought me to Chez Armand where I’m paying 8,000 cfa a night. There really isn’t so much to do in Dassa, but with the help of M. Armand, I got a 2,000 cfa tour guide to Awaya, a picturesque neighbouring town not too far from the lodge. For those who love the outdoors, you can do a two-hour hike through Dassa to the small mountains in the neighbourhood. Make sure to wear sturdy hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, long breathable pants, and grab a large bottle of water and snack. The hike up the mountain was only about 15 minutes, but the slopes are pretty steep. Don’t forget your camera, the view here is magnificent!
Now, I have to rush off to catch the next bus heading five hours up north to Natitingou. If you want to travel through Benin Republic, note that it is a cash only country and Nigerian cards do not work at the ATM, so, exchange your naira at the borders. A bientot!