Grand Popo & Ouidah, Benin, December 12 - 13, 2007
Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
85Trip End Jan 05, 2008
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Where I stayed
At our beachside camp in Grand Popo we encountered a Rotel truck. Rotel is a motel-like word, a contraction of Rollende Hotel and is the German version of overland group travel. The Krauts know how to do it with style, and these enormous vehicles are equipped with tiny individual sleeping cubicles, a real stove in back, and even outside electrical sockets which enable passengers to (among other things) blow-dry their hair in the morning
Benin is one of West Africa's smaller countries and (like Togo) quite long and narrow. We stayed entirely in the narrow southern part near the Atlantic coast. Benin has a pretty interesting history as the center of the Dahomey kingdom, one of the most powerful in West Africa up until the colonial era and one that grew rich partly through its involvement in the slave trade. The region continued to bear that name as a colony and during the early years of its independence, before it was changed to Benin, the name of another historical empire in the region.
Despite being a very poor country with an economy largely dependent on cotton and other agricultural commodities, over the last two decades Benin has become one of the stable democracies in West Africa.
Benin, though, is actually one of the West African countries where Islam and Christianity have made the fewest inroads among the population, with something like 50 percent of people still practicing traditional animist religions or voodoo. One such voodoo center is Ouidah, a small coastal city we visited between Grand Popo and Cotonou. Ouidah has a few rather underwhelming voodoo sights, including a now serious tourist trap called Temple des Pythons, which you can go into for a look for an unpleasantly high fee and then be photographed dancing with a python around your neck for some additional dash. I figured I'd pass. There was, however, and interesting voodoo ceremony taking place under and around a large tree on one of the town's squares. They weren't keen on pictures, but I figured I'd hold my camera down near my crotch to inconspicuously take a few snapshots of the ceremony and dance anyway.
Ouidah was also a slave center during the pre-colonial era, and the Portuguese-built fort in town now houses a local historical museum on the slave trade. After a few hours in town we drove along the Route des Esclaves, the now main road which follows the route slaves were marched along from the fort to the beach to board ships to be taken (mostly) to Brazil. We had our truck lunch beside the beachside Point of No Return memorial, a monumental arch and sculptures depicting chains in slaves being marched to the sea. The Door of Return monument, built in 2000 and symbolizing the return of the diaspora to Africa, was a short distance away along the beach.