Not only 800 kilometers, but also an enchanted forest and mystical tales about rulers as well as kings await Patrick in Benin. The third country of his West African tour, which he cycles on one of our bamboo bicycles. A my Densu, road bike that is a treasured friend and companion of Patrick for a total of 5 000 km. The previous entry about Togo can be found here.
And now have fun reading his thrilling, fourth report!!
“Benin. Formerly known as the kingdom of Dahomey until the European, especially the French, took over. Similar in size and shape to Togo, a thin and long-stretched country, the third on my tour.
This time it was easy to get over the border, the soldiers waved me across after a few minutes and on a good road I could head towards my first goal: Ouidha. A small town famous for something most people would rather forget: Slavery.
A Portuguese fort was the main trading station for Slaves heading towards Brazil. Today the fort is both a museum and a memorial. A 4 km long sand track leads from it towards the beach, to the "Gate of no return", a massive gateway covered in pictures of departing slaves and their owners. Showing the horrible realization that none should ever return to their home, never see their continent again.
But Ouidha has other sights as well, like their holy forest of their ancestors, full of fetishes and statue showing voodoo-gods. With my one-armed guide that spoke only a little bit of English, I learned about two-headed spirits betraying one god or another, a king that was fleeing the Europeans that was turned into a tree to avoid capture, tricksters that win by might of their brain instead of brawns.
Stories and myths that are remarkably similar to old tales from Europe.
In Benin, I visited the first UNESCO world heritage site on my trip, the palaces of the Dahomey kings. Just 130km north of Ouidha, after riding for half a day with the wind on my side, I arrived in city of Abomey.
The history of the country, or rather of Dahomey and its rulers is fascinating. A war-like people ruled by a king who builds his palace right next to the palace of the former ruler... for twelve generations in a row. The resulting structure is a massive maze, with each palace separated from each other. One of them you can visit, but only with a guide and without taking pictures.
I'd advise you to look them up online, read more about the palaces, because I can only give a short summary: Human sacrifices, altars, a throne standing on human skulls, interesting reliefs, temples with walls made of mud and blood, and several museums full of tools, clothing, weapons and information about the history and tribes of Benin. One of the best cultural sights on the entire trip. Especially Victor, the guide, made the visit worthwhile.
After my stop in Abomey, I journeyed further North; on empty roads towards Parakou. Small villages, trucks carrying massive amounts of cotton and a tropical heat that slowly faded into a dry heat, those three were my constant companions for the next 400 km. It got harder to find English-speakers, but I guess that everyone understands sign language, at least enough to get food and water.
Now that I left the touristy bits near the coast, I was perceived differently by the locals. Far fewer visitors head into this area and for a week I've seen no other white person. Same for the locals, who exclusively started calling me by the word Yovo, which means "White Man". Especially the kids had their fun, there was always a lot of laughter, yelling and waving when I road by.
The ride to Parakou was rather bland, followed by five long days of waiting for my Niger visa. The first day I had a good look at the town, but after realizing that there is not much to see, I spend the others reading. Dune, the desert planet. I thought it fitting, considering that I'm heading north towards the Sahel and Sahara. In a surprise visit, the kind woman from the consulate did visit me in the hotel to give me my passport back, and with the new visa I could start riding again.
My visa number was... 006. Well, well, at least five other perfectly sane people decided to visit Niger this year. Just 300 km were between me and the border, and while the nice rear wind had forsaken me by now, and the temperatures climbed to 40°c, I had no issues on that section. Luckily the road was still lined with small villages, a welcome sight to refill my bottles.
So, on good road, with no problems, passing the national park W, I made my way to the mighty Niger river, which forms the border of the country that shares its name: Niger.”
The next entry describes Patrick's experiences in Niger - complete with the worst potholes I've ever seen and a well-hidden restaurant full of expats and UN members.
We wish you and Patrick always a safe trip and are already looking forward to your upcoming travel report :-)!