Togo and Benin to Niger

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of Niger  ,
Thursday, March 27, 2003

We entered Togo without hassle and drove a triangular route through a lush, green, mountainous and tropical landscape. We passed coffee and cotton plantations and the views were spectacular. Our first night was in Kpalime, a small town with not the most to offer but which had a really nice vibe, relaxed and laidback. From there we headed to the capital, Lome and spent a few nights on the beachfront. The surf crashed all night and the palm trees waved in the breeze. We could get used to this! The town had a fabulous craft area with some great masks and carvings. We could have spent a fortune but instead we headed to the fetish market. This was an extraordinary place, full of dried animals laid out on tables. They are used in voodoo ceremonies and in other animist beliefs. We were given an explanation by a local guy who told us what everything was used for. Owls are considered bad luck so they use dried heads to conquer bad spirits - bad vs bad. In the same way, scorpions are used against poison. It was quite grusome in some respects and we didn't expect our first glance of a real leopard to be a dried cub's head on a table! We underwent some kind of ceremony and small items were 'blessed' for want of a better word, with our names in a voodoo shrine. It was all quite bizarre and although we considered it a bit touristy, the locals were there buying items for medicine and potions too.

From Lome we headed across Togo, taking in the sights of Lake Togo and a small village called Glidji which had voodoo deities and shrines. There were voodoo shrines for power, bad spirits, etc dotted throughout the village and a sacred forest which we couldn't enter. It was then on to Benin crossing the busy, chaotic border in the evening. We stayed in Grand Popo, apparently a lovely beach setting but unfortunately there were tropical storms raging all night. The lightening was amazing but constant and you could feel the thunder through the ground!! As you can imagine, everything got soaked in our tents. Ouidah was our next stop, a small town with a slave history and an important centre for voodoo. We walked the 4km route from the town to the beach which the slaves once took. Along the way there were more voodoo shrines and at the end was a large monument named the 'Gate of No Return' for those slaves who left Africa from there, never to see their country again. Cotonou, the colonial capital was our next brief stop before we headed north to Ganvie. This is a village built on stilts in the centre of a lake, called the venice of Africa and the way Venice must have been hundreds of years ago. Apparently, it was established by those fleeing the African chiefs who rounded up people for the slave trade. They built there as the chiefs could not cross water due to religious beliefs. We took a ride in a pirogue and saw the market, houses, schools and churches all on the water. It was a beautiful place.

Further north, Abomey is the capital of the Dan Homey empire, a man who ruled many years ago. The guy at our hotel gave us a tour of the town on mopeds and we had so much fun. It was an excellent tour, with an in depth history of the country, voodoo and royalty. We saw an ancient palace where his grandmoher once worked, voodoo shrines the slave villlage where still today they marry within, a very closed community. That night the guide found out about a voodoo ceremony taking place which was entirely for the locals. We managed to get ourselves there with a friendly local and we were the only white people there. We seemed to be welcome and there was much dancing by voodoo priests dressed in spectacular sequined costumes, really colourful and they danced to the beat of drums. However the villagers were really frightened of them as they taunted the priests to be chased, then the priest would run amongst the crowd quite frequently but the crowd genuinely didn't want to be caught. When they did catch someone they seemed to faint and be carried off by the crowd. Later there was a ceremony with offerings and about twelve of these priests. It was an amazing experience and we felt privilidged to be there.

We have been joined on the truck by a Japanese lady, Amy and her 6 year old son, Aran. They are staying until Ethiopia and it is so much fun having them on board. Aran really lightens up the atmosphere and we play football with him. He is so well behaved; we hope it stays like that!! We have decided not to travel through Nigeria due to various problems throughout the country, so we are now in Niamey capital of Niger from here we will head straight to Chad, missing out Cameroon. We have sorted visas without much hassle and will spend time exploring the city this afternoon. We really enjoyed the tropical climate and scenery in Ghana and southern Benin but now we are back in the desert and Sahel and it is so hot. That's about everything for now, sorry it's a bit rushed, we only had an hour to jam all this in! Pictures are a problem due to no CD players in the internet cafes.

Take Care all,

Kev and Sian.
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