Facts and Figures
March 6th - 13th 2009
Benin Cont. & Togo
Start Mileage - 9253
Savalou - Grand Popo
We left Savalou at 09:30 after breakfast and decided to stay on the yellow roads towards Cotonou as they weren’t too bad a condition and were quite scenic. Quite a pleasant ride all the way to Dassar where we picked up the main route to Cotonou. We had read that Abomey was a very nice town with a lot of Colonial architecture, and decided to pull up somewhere there for lunch. Abomey was a nice looking town, but very hectic as are most big towns. We rode around for a while looking for somewhere to eat but we were having trouble finding anywhere that looked good, we are still not brave enough to try the street food which I’m sure will be safe and mostly looks very tasty. Not finding anywhere to stop for lunch we headed back to Bohicon where we had seen a couple of roadside bars and stopped for a cold drink. Cooled down and thirst quenched, we headed off on the main route to Cotonou, we should have stayed on the minor roads! As we arrived at the outskirts of Cotonou it was rush hour, and the road was being repaired. Both sides of the road were being dug up at the same time, and not in short stretches either. About 20 miles of uneven dirt and sand road in slow moving nose to tail traffic with the temperature rising doesn’t set you up for a good time. Any smooth bit of tarmac, no matter what side of the road, is the target for every vehicle and if you’re in the way.. tough! One point we were stationary, and had been for long enough for anything approaching from behind to notice we weren’t moving, except for the moped that ran straight into the back of us, no damage done though.
We finally made it to Grand Popo planning to camp on the beach which was very nice, we did enquire about room prices but they were way too expensive. The receptionist showed us the toilet and washing facilities for campers, not very good as usual, and quite a way from the camping area, not to worry though, it was cheap and the camp ground was right on the Atlantic Ocean. After trying to put the tent up in the wind coming off the Ocean and the very soft ground, I decided that even if we managed to get it up it would be blown down during the night so we gave up. Lorraine went back to reception to let them know that we wouldn’t be staying while I repacked the bike. When she was asked why we were moving on, rooms too expensive and camping not good, they asked how much we would like to pay for a room and quoting the CFA7000 we had paid at Savalou they said that maybe they could do us a room, not as cheap but for CFA10000. A quick chat with the boss and the room prices fell from CFA18000 to CFA10000 a night for the couple of nights we planned to stay … done deal, I didn’t really feel like moving on anyway as it was getting on for 17:00 and would be getting dark soon. A local guide, Mathias, offered his services for a boat trip tomorrow around the mangrove swamps and Voodoo village, as it wasn’t that expensive we booked him for a 10:30 start. We unpacked and showered, then time for dinner and a few beers in the open restaurant on the beach with the sound of the sea crashing on the shore and the cooling breeze blowing in … nice.
Breakfast consumed and it was soon time to meet Mathias for the boat trip. We walked from the Hotel to the village where the trip started, about 15 minutes. The boat was a dug out canoe paddled by Mathias’s mate, not a job I’d want in that heat. We set off for the Mangrove and soon pulled in to a little island village where the family that lived there caught the crabs from the Mangrove and grew them on at their crab farm. Next was a paddle into the swamp to see the small crabs before they are caught, there was thousands of them scurrying away as the canoe pulled in.
After the swamp we set off again up the Mono river with Eagles flying overhead and perching in the palm trees. Mathias spotted a Hippo in the distance, so we headed towards it to get some photo’s. The Hippo must have been used to tourists as every time I went to take a picture it submerged itself, I managed to get one sort of good pic eventually.
The rest of the trip was spent being shown how the locals fish for Shrimp and a walk round the Voodoo village before heading back. The whole trip was about 3 hours and well worth it, especially as the price we were quoted was for the two of us and not per person as we first thought.
You can get Mathias’s contact details here.
We needed some cash but were told that there wasn’t an ATM in Grand Popo, the nearest was a new bank 20Km’s away in Comé, it was so new that it wasn’t open yet, 2 or 3 months we were told by the security sitting outside. Nothing to do but head back into Cotonou for the next nearest bank, another 65Km’s away and into horrendous traffic. We eventually found a bank with an ATM and Visa sign, so I dumped Lorraine off to go in while I stayed with the bike. 5 minutes later she comes back out, she had pressed the wrong buttons and only got £20 worth of CFA and the machine wouldn’t allow another transaction so I went in to use my card. Hot and bothered from the traffic and the heat I wasn’t very happy, and when the machine went through all the motions before the screen flashed up with “Transaction Denied, Your Card Has Been Retained” I was even less happy!! And when the guard said that we couldn’t do anything till Tuesday, I could have killed someone! Nearly Lorraine as I apparently rode back a bit above the speed limit and not being very friendly to other road users … don’t know what she was going on about!!!!!!!!!!!
We made it back to Grand Popo in one piece, Lorraine disappeared for a long walk and left me still fuming with the world.
In a bit better mood this morning, just hanging round the room after a long lie when I heard a couple voices outside that sounded familiar. Opening the door, there stood Mark and Allison who we had met earlier in Ouaga. They had seen the bike and stopped off after trying to get booked in, but the place was full and they couldn’t get the number of nights they wanted, not looking good for us to extend till Wednesday to sort out the bank card.
After Mark and Allison went off to try another auberge, we set off on foot for the internet café in town, which is also another new addition to Grand Popo. It didn’t seem that far when we passed on the bike, but on foot and in the heat it seemed twice as far. We stopped at a small beach side restaurant for lunch on the way and for some shade. After lunch we carried on the hike but were soon accosted by one of the many Moto Taxi’s running up and down the road and decided to take the chance, 3 up on a moped with no riding gear .. Got to try these things I guess. Foolishly we hadn’t agreed a price before jumping on and were well and truly bumped. Dropped off and being pointed in the direction of the internet café, we found we had been double bumped, it was closed on a Sunday, he must have known that’s why we weren’t taken all the way. We stopped at the local supermarket to get some coffee and milk, and found out from the girl at the counter the price we should have been charged for the Moto Taxi was around CFA150 each not the CFA500 each we were charged. Not going to be had again we decided to walk back which cost us a lot more in the long run as we stopped at every other bar on the way back.
Had a nice pizza in a local pizzeria along the strip, Chez Marcel. It took a little while to actually get the pizza, because although he had an extensive menu, many of the choices weren’t available due to lack of ingredients and he still had to send out his boy to get a few of the basics. Although it was a bit of a wait for the pizza, we had some impromptu entertainment laid on free of charge. When we first got to the pizzeria, the guy with the drum stall next door was banging away, Marcel asked if we wanted him to stop. We said no as he was quite good, and as the evening went on he was joined by a couple of other guys who all put on a good show with the local kids whitening their faces and dancing away as well.
A lazy day today, Lorraine sat by the pool reading and I set off again for the internet café, this time on the bike. 30 minutes later I am back and sitting by the pool as well, internet café closed again .. Today is a public holiday in Benin and everything is shut. Bummer!
We went back to Marcel’s for a sandwich for lunch, and once again the menu was more extensive than the actual ingredients available and the boy was sent out again for bits and pieces. No drums this time though.
Not much else occurring today.
We tried to extend the room till Wednesday morning but they would only give us tonight so we would have to go back into Cotonou loaded, not looking forward to that.
Start Mileage - 9568
Grand Popo - Cotonou - Ouidah
All packed up and ready to go back to Cotonou again. Lorraine went off to settle up the bill and was gone for a while. I thought she might be having trouble with the costs and arguing that we were given the room for CFA10000 however, I was about to wander over to see what was going on when she appeared at a pace and said “lets get out of here quick”. When I asked what was going on, she said that she had been stuck behind a queue of Americans paying up and that’s what caused the wait, also, we had been undercharged. Obviously I wanted to go back and point out their mistake, but it was too late, we were on the way to Cotonou.
We arrived at the bank that ate my card and were told that they couldn’t give it back, we would have to go to another branch a couple km’s away. Arriving at the said branch, we were now told that it was Barclays that had stopped the card and that I would have to phone them up to get it back. Now the hunt through all the bank paperwork we have trying to find a number that isn’t an 0845 number, eventually we find one and call Barclays from a roadside shack. It turns out, that although they had it on our file that we are travelling, and despite my informing them of the countries we would be in online, some oike decided to put a manual block on the card as it was being used in strange countries. As it was a manual block, the bank are unable to remove it and re-activate the card, all they can do is send out a new card if we can give them an address that we will be at for two weeks or more. Lorraine’s card, although she hasn’t been updating online the countries we are travelling through, is, touch wood, working ok so far.
That’s buggered it!!
£10 on the phone call and after getting Barclays to fax a release approval for the card so that I know that it has been destroyed we go back to the bank. They are saying that the fax has not been sent, and the more I argue with them the less English they speak. In the end we just give up and leave the card, after all, Barclays have said it no longer works and we are just wasting time here.
We find an Auberge half way between Cotonou and Grand Popo, so we haven’t made much headway today.
Start Mileage - 9646
Ouidah - Lome (Togo)
So today is another Border day, into Togo, country number 10. We try to get a coffee before we leave the Auberge, but the restaurant does not open till 10:00 - who has breakfast at that time! So we are on the road by 09:00, it all looks familiar to start with, well it would, we went back on ourselves yesterday. Passed Grand Popo and into pastures new. We reach the border, and again a painless crossing although hectic with all the trucks queuing up in both directions and no one would take our Lassaiz Passer from Benin. On the Togo side of the border, the road conditions dropped dramatically. Have we been spoiled for too long with good roads? Fortunately, it only lasted till the other side of the first village, probably all the trucks churning it up as they queued at the border. Lome was only half an hour away and we had three tasks - one to find decent accommodation in a big city, two to find Toni Togo, in a big city, who had been recommended to us for tyres, and three to find the Ghana Embassy, in a big city, for Visas. An impossible task on past experience. As we were riding in on the main road, huge big orange KTM flags caught our eye, and a bright yellow Toni Togo Barcelona / Dakar truck parked in the yard. Anchors on, swung round and in we go to see about tyres before we forget where it is. They had plenty of new tyres, unfortunately none the size I wanted, after a phone call they managed to source a set of second hand ones and told me to come back in the afternoon to have a look. The guys asked us where we were staying, and we told them we were looking for an auberge. They offered to take us to one.
So sitting in the bar with our arrival beer, in walks Mark and Allison, of all the hotels in the city!! Who is following who on this trip? They had booked in earlier this morning and had just returned from the Embassy. So half an hour after arriving, we have accommodation, in a big city, seen about tyres, in a big city, and directions to the Embassy, in a big city. That’s a first! Went to look at the tyres in the afternoon, good tyres, right size, but road tyres not knobblies.
In the beer garden of the auberge, there is a huge tree that drops fruit the size of cricket balls and probably the same weight, without warning. Nine times out of ten, they drop to the ground, but the tenth can do some damage if it catches you. I had just been relaying the story of my broken collar bone and showing the scar, when I got the tenth right on my shoulder. Lorraine, full of sympathy, laughed her head off!
We both had a bad night. Lorraine kept running to the loo, I couldn’t get comfy as she kept moving. Finally got to sleep around 05:00, but not for long as the staff arrived early to do any task that made a noise! At least we were up early for breakfast! Forgot we had run out of passport photos, so needed to find a Tesco Photo Booth before heading to the Embassy. Found a place that can do the passport photos, and as it was a Fuji Film shop, we asked if they could fix Lorraine’s camera. They said to return at 15:00 (with the camera!) when the repair man arrives. So off we go to the Embassy. All sorted, collect tomorrow. Back to the auberge to try to catch up on an hour or two’s missed sleep from last night, then back with the camera in the afternoon. He said, he would have a look and we could collect Saturday. Two days, can that happen in the UK?? We explained we were leaving Saturday morning, so he said he would do it for Friday. Following day, that definitely does not happen in the UK!!
I sent an email to BMW in Ghana to see if they could supply tyres, although not so desperate now, it would be good to have them before we pack the bike into the container for shipping, just in case we ship to Namibia and not South Africa.
Mark and Allison are leaving tomorrow morning, so a few drinks in the bar tonight.
Both slept like a log last night after the troubles of the previous night. Mark and Allison are early starters, and we thought they had gone without saying goodbye. They are not planning on going too far, so had decided on a late start. We said our farewells and we had a couple of hours to catch up on emails before heading for the Embassy to collect the Visas. All of a sudden, the skies turned black, and a hooter sounded. There is a storm coming in! From our balcony, we could see into the carpark where the bike was parked. Half a tree had fallen on it from the wind at the start of the storm. I went to remove it and see if it had caused any damage. No damage caused by the tree, but……..when we moved it, we knocked the bike over! It only popped the pannier mounting and loosened the mirror. As we picked the bike up, the rain started. Security told us to move it under their shelter and there we stayed for at least half an hour, as the rain came in good and proper and we could not get back across the road without getting drenched!!
Eventually dried out in time for us to head to the Embassy…...by taxi, as we were not brave enough to try the dodgy 1.5 Km dirt track to the Embassy after so much rain in such a short time. 2 minutes at the Embassy and Visa’s in hand, easy!
As we left the Embassy, we met a German couple going in to apply, but the guard would not let them in, so they had to wait till Monday - that’s Africa! We got chatting, and they had recently come from Cameroon. They confirmed that our choice to ship was the right one. They took 6 days to do the Mamfe road. A 30 KM stretch which is the main route between Cameroon and Nigeria. Although the wet season had not started properly yet, the mud pits were still quite full and their truck was constantly stuck axle-deep. They were both bikers and reckoned it would have been impossible for us to get through. As the rain had started again, they offered us a lift to the main road. As we jumped in the back, there was a collection of waifs and strays in there already that they had rescued en route. Paul, an Irish lad had cycled (yes pushbike, no engine) the same route as us as far as Burkino Faso then on to Niger, round Lake Chad , then Central Africa, Congo and Cameroon. In Congo he had been hijacked at gunpoint and lost everything apart from his bike. The German couple picked him up in Cameroon and he was trying to arrange a flight back to the UK from Lome. He did look exhausted, but had enjoyed his 6 months in Africa.
We collected the repaired camera, tried and tested it, and were happy with the cost.
Back at the Auberge, the rest of the day was spent hanging out in the bar, trying to get people on Skype and failing, and waiting for the evening entertainment to start. A live Jazz band was playing at the Auberge tonight, great. Jazz not being our favourite music, and as we expected it would last long into the night with no escape as it was directly under our room, I hoped the early start on the alcohol would numb the pain. Although they did start off with Jazz, it didn’t last long. They started playing more mainstream music as a guy came into the bar with a guitar and asked to join in, then other people asking to join in using the instruments, it turned into a bit of a jamming session and a good evening … and they wrapped up at 23:00.