One trip: A streak of travel incidences

Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
Trip End Oct 03, 2009

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Flag of Benin  , Borgou,
Saturday, October 3, 2009

The goal today is to make it to a city in the northern part of Benin called Kandi. It's located 12 hours north of Cotonou. Tomorrow, another American and I will be continuing on to a city even farther north called Banikora. It's too far to go in one day, so we are dividing the trip into two days.

We arrived at the first major city, and stopping point for this lag of the taxi, Parakou, around 11:30am. When we got there, there was a big argument with the taxi driver over how many seats we were paying for. Apparently the driver had the idea that we rented the entire car (there was "room" for 3 more passengers), when we never said such a thing. He could have picked up other passengers along the way, but chose not to.  We gave the driver money for our seats only, but he threw the money back at us and refused to leave until we paid for the extra 3 seats. The Beninese guard on duty at the workstation helped us out by giving the taxi driver the phone number for one of our facilitators/directors, so he could work out the situation with him/her. The taxi driver was content with that and left.

We left Parakou around 1:30pm, and arrived in Kandi around 5pm and called it a day.

The next morning, I went to the taxi gare (station) with another American at 10am to find a taxi going to Banikora. Apparently 10am is too late in the day, and we should have been there at 8am.

There was a truck heading that direction, but it was waiting to fill up with enough people. We didn't have any other choice but to sit around and wait, so that's what we did. After about an hour, a Beninese friend we met in Kandi with arrived. He said we should take a motorcycle taxi to Banikora, because it'll be faster and not much more expensive.

I was kind of skeptical about the idea. The road between Kandi and Banikora is an unpaved, sandy red dirt road. It's 3 hours in a car to get there, which meant it'll be longer on a motorcycle, and more uncomfortable. We really needed to get going though, and didn't really have the time to be sitting around a taxi station hoping to get enough passengers for the truck. So, we agreed to take motorcycle taxis to Banikora.

The ride was an adventure in itself. You have to know, there are different kinds of motos. Some are good, strong motos with a lot of power and bigger seats, and then there are weak smaller engine cycles, called zemis. The good motos have bigger tires and more comfortable seats, and the weak zemis have smaller tires and small seats. Each driver owns his moto/zemi, so there is a variety of styles to pick from.

My friend was unlucky and got a weak zemi. I got to ride on a nice, new moto. Finally, we were on our way. About 30 minutes into the trip, my driver and I noticed that my friend wasn't behind us anymore. We waited a bit for them to catch up, but they didn't. So, we turned around to look for her.

After we found her, we learned that her zemi had a flat tire. Luckily it happened in front of a zemi repair station. It was being fixed, and we soon we were on our way to Banikora again.

About an hour later, now out in the middle of no-where, my friend’s zemi got another flat. There was NOTHING around us but fields. We had no choice except to double up on my moto, with our baggage too! My friend’s driver waited by his zemi for another motorist to come along who could help him with fixing the flat.

We rode for about another hour and a half, with 3 people and 8 days worth of baggage on one moto. It was a bit crowded and probably not the safest idea, but what else could we do?  My friend made the driver stop every once in a while to take a break.

When we got about 20 minutes outside of Banikora, the other zemi driver showed up. We weren't expecting him to do that, but we where happy to have him back.  It was not fun riding doubled-up. My friend and I are pretty sure he showed up just to get paid. If he didn't, he would have missed out on a whole day's worth of work. He did transport us most of the way there, so we felt he deserved it.

This entry doesn't do justice to the actual experience. Today's adventure on the moto really made me feel like I was in Africa. There were all sorts of little villages and huts along the dirt road, farmers plowing fields with oxen, and cows being herded by shepherds. I even saw two colorful looking parrots along the route.

We headed back to Kandi the next morning. This time we went to the taxi-station at 10am, but we knew the taxi driver was informed we'd be arriving.  Seats were being saved for us in the taxi, so there was no reason for us to be there at 8am to wait for the taxi to fill. At 11am, we left Banikora.

There were 14 people, 3 baby goats, AND luggage INSIDE the car, as well as 3 more goats and luggage strapped to the TOP of the car!!

Along the route back to Kandi, we had to stop to cool the engine, drop off food for some old man, and some other be explained...keep reading.

About 30 minutes into the trip, we got a flat tire. It didn't take more then 10 minutes to fix and we were on our way again though.

Another 30 minutes later, we ran into this "traffic jam" type thing. There was a HUGE rut in the road due to recent rain. Vehicles were having difficulty getting through. Two large semi-trucks were stuck, and so was a taxi-truck.

Somehow, the taxi-truck was freed and then our car was let though. We were all instructed to walk to the other side of the rut, while our car was driven through it.  This was so our body weight wouldn’t cause our car to sink and get stuck in the mud.

We got a good hour ride in before another flat tire occurred. Because it was the second time that happened, we didn't have a replacement tire. It took the taxi driver 2 hours to come back with a good tire!

Once the driver returned and we were on our way again, it only took us about 15 minutes to get into Kandi. Aagghh...we waited 2 hours for a flat tire when we were only 15 minutes out of town!

The driver was really nice by dropping my friend and I off directly at the workstation. Normally, he just drops everyone off at the taxi station. 
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