After unwinding in the hotel for a bit and relaxing, we decided to head out and get some dinner. Ian had found a place recommended by a friend that promised to be really interesting. It claimed to be “kind of ” German food, and the online reviews called it a fascinating cultural mixing pot…so we had to go! Took a taxi towards where google maps said it was, and it turned out to be a little further walk than expected, but eventually we found Alt Munchen. It definitely had a bit of that beer garden feel, and even some semi-authentic sausages and sauerkraut:
…and flaming bananas for dessert!
Next morning we were up early for breakfast at the hotel before our driver picked us up. He was right on time, and we headed east on the road out of Lomé to the Togolese border. The border was a pretty lively place, but there was absolutely no hassle. Usually at west African borders like this there are dozens of touts trying to sell you pens, arrivals cards, whatever they think they can get a little money for. Here, it was super easy. Stamped out of Togo no questions asked, and then onto Benin.
We already had our Benin visas, and got a few questions about where we were going, how long we would stay there, etc. They spent a lot of time writing down all of our passport details in some big books, and eventually started asking more and more questions. The conversation turned to what seemed to be the “you’re missing something” direction, but then the customs officer asked about my tattoo. I had to first explain to him what an octopus was, and then why I had one. He didn’t seem to grasp it, until I made up a really wild story about being attacked by an octopus as a child, and then he let us go.
There’s a theory that when dealing with corruption there are three ways to approach it. First, you can give them “power” and you will always lose. Then, you can interact with them as an “official” or a job-related approach, but they could come up with some technicality that they think they can get you on. However, the third layer if you can get there is to have a one-on-one personal interaction with them, and then graft is almost impossible. Seems to have worked in this case when we had a long chat about the tattoo, and he soon sent us on our way. Our driver was already waiting for us on the other side, and we set off to the town of Grand Popo, Benin:
Up until this point the road was pretty good, and we were making good time:
But when we turned to the north, the road became dirt, with giant car-swallowing potholes to avoid:
Village woman selling bananas:
Eventually, after a long drive we arrived at the Royal Palaces of Abomey. These were built by the Fou people from about 1650 to the late 1800s, and each king would build a new palace when he took over. There was a tour just starting when we arrived (French only, of course), so we joined in with some local families. We were definitely the only tourists from abroad today. First stop was the palace of King Glele:
The courtyard, and entrance to the palace museum:
This was the structure where they buried the king, with animal sacrifices scattered around:
Photo of Ian in the courtyard:
Inside of the burial structure:
In total the tour was about two hours, and was a good introduction to how the kingdoms and tribes of the area had not only resisted colonialism, but had cooperated with colonialists to resist each other. In the end, of course, the colonialists won and everyone pretty much got screwed over.
On the way back, given the condition of the road, we decided to take the other route back to Togo. This involved heading west to the border, before shooting south to Lomé. We thought it was a good idea initially, and the terrain was quite lush and the road quite good:
However, after about ten miles, the road got much, much worse than that we had come in on:
Huge trucks stirring up dust on the heavily potholed road:
At this point, we came across a police truck having pulled over a truck searching for contraband. We never did find out what they were looking for, however, they got several of the big trucks off the road which were blocking traffic, so it sped up our journey at least slightly.
Then, we finally got to the border. In contrast to the southern border, this one was super quiet and deserted. Nobody in sight. Getting stamped out of Benin took much longer than it should…the official invited us into a small building, asked us to sit down, and took what was nearly an hour to fill out his log book and apply all the various stamps he decided he needed to to both the logbook and our passports. Then, it was time to walk a small bit before the Togo border.
At this point, we weren’t sure our visas were good for a second entry, so it was time to play it by ear. We were standing outside at the Togo border, goats and chickens walking around, and he started to write our details in the logbook. He seemed happy with the visas, and then…the question came again. What’s the story with the tattoo. It took a while, but eventually ended in the same way. No hassle at all, and we were allowed back into Togo. Our driver, however, did have to pay a small bribe of around 1,000 CFA to get the car across. Also, while we were waiting to have all our details recored, a few people walked through the border, just handed the border guy a little change, and he waved them through. Seems that if you’re local, you just pay a small sum, and cross. Kind of sad.
We got back relatively late, and were absolutely exhausted after a full day of driving on rural African roads, so decided to stay in at the hotel and eat. Solid meal in the hotel restaurant, and got a good long night of sleep to catch up.
The next morning, our driver picked us up again to take us to the Marché des Feticheurs – basically the voodoo market. I’d visited there before, but thought it was something quirky and local Ian should see. It had become a bit more touristy since my previous visit, and even had signs posted offering tours and English-speaking guides. Bonus. The guide took us around and showed us all the “ingredients” for the various things…starting with miscellaneous owls and birds:
…moving onto bats, starfish, and other assorted critters. The porcupine quills are for cutting a gash in the skin. Then, after the ingredients are ground up they are smashed into the bleeding skin to let them work their magic. Sounds hygienic, right?
More birds, all for various ailments:
Overview of the market stalls:
After the tour, we got taken to see the local witch doctor, who unfortunately wasn’t in today. But not to worry, his son was, and was happy to try and sell us all sorts of trinkets. Ian bough a talisman that was supposed to be for safe travel (they know their market) and soon we were back to the hotel to pack up and head to the airport. It was time to head on to Chad!