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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Benin, part 2 and Togo

Benin, part 2

Day 5 – 21/3/12

For us, it was a hot humid night, we are not used to the humidity at all!

We drove to Cotonou for a bit of look around and to find out about the need for a Togo visa. Garmap had the coordinates for what turned out to be the French Ambassador’s residence, not speaking French, we thought this must be the Embassy. Not much help. We asked a policeman for directions to the French Embassy and he jumped on his motor bike and took us there, and refused any money for essence – wonderful. Turns out there is a separate consulate, so we paid some bloke hanging around to show us the way on his bike – he did want money! The security bloke at the consul directed us to the Ivory Coast consul. We drove there and the wonderful people assisted us to complete the forms and do their absolute best to ensure that we have everything for a 3 month visa e.g. did not insist on a hotel reservation. We can collect our passports on Friday. Fingers crossed.

We have decided to take the Travel guides as being correct and will so anticipate getting a visa at the Togo border, hopefully!! We tried to ring the Australian embassy in Accra many, many, many times to ask about the Togo visa, but it does not seem that answering the phone is part of the job description and is probably not specifically mentioned in their KPIs.

The Ivory Coast embassy in Accra did answer their phones and assured us there was not a Consul in Cotonou. The Ivory Coast consul in Cotonou is not mentioned in any of the guides.

 We stopped off at a charwama joint for lunch. On the way back to Grand Popo, we tried to visit the old slaving port of Ouidah. But, the street to the beach was blocked off; workmen were felling a very large tree in the middle of town watched by a crowd.

So back to Grand Popo (and please do not think there is too much grand about the town) for the night. Having had a large lunch, after a couple of drinks at the Auberge bar, we settle for a light dinner.

 Ray & Avril driving.

Day 6 – 22/3/12

A day of chores – mainly cleaning and washing. We took a long, hot walk into the internet café. Unfortunately after a few minutes the power failed. So, no internet today.

We heard on the wireless, BBC, that there has been a military coup in Mali. Just so every one is sure; we had nothing to do with it! Apparently the new ruling folks have closed the borders and the airport. We had always intended to take the coastal route north, but now we have no option and no escape if the roads prove to be very bad.

Our general plan now will be to pass quickly through Togo and spend some time in Ghana getting a number of visas. Per chance, some friends from Egypt days may be there at the same time, so hopefully we can meet up with them.

From Ghana we will go to Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone and hence to Guinea. There is some suggestion that the best route from Ivory Coast to Liberia is via Guinea, so we need to check this.

The rains will start in the next 4 – 6 weeks. So, aimless though we are, we need to take account of this. Our previous experiences with mud tracks did not leave us yearning for more.

 The days are a bit too hot, but late in the afternoon a sea breeze comes in to drop the temperature – a bit like the Freemantle Doctor. This seems to clear the cloud cover and we get a view of the stars. Before sunrise, the haze has returned. We have not seen a clear blue sky since Ouga.

Day 7 – 23/3/12

We decided to go and look at the capital of Benin; Porto Novo. This involved a transit through Cotonou and the GPS took us right through the middle one of the main markets. It is interesting to see the life in a major market: a bit like Victoria market in Melbourne, but with many, many more people; lots more noise (lots & lots more); taxi’s and motor bike taxis cruising to pick up passengers (this means the driver of our Landcruiser needs to be super alert, as potential passengers will wave to attract the attention of a taxi and shout their destination, then depending on whether there taxi is going that way, the taxi driver may decide to collect the passenger, which means either a sudden stop or a left or right turn – all which will cause disruption to the traffic and then the negotiation on a fare starts. Patience is needed); lots of colour and even from the lofty heights of a Landcruiser you can see there is a great diversity of goods for sale.

Basically the guide book says not to bother with Porto Novo and in this they are 100% right. We did not take any pictures!

We returned to Cotonou for a bite of lunch and to do some internetting. Then we back to the Ivory Coast consul to get our passports. They opened exactly on time and we were back on the road post haste with a 3 month, multi entry visa. Many thanks.

The drive back through Cotonou confirmed that this has some of the worst air pollution we have seen in a long time. It was so bad that it reduced visibility. It seems that Friday is “burning off” day. The smoke from the many fires as we drove back to Grand Popo caused further damage to lungs and sinuses.

Avril driving.

Day 8 – 24/3/12

After a short drive we departed Benin. The customs & immigration formalities were straight forward. No request for a bribe.

Benin Summary

It is fair to say Benin was not one of our favourite countries. The people were not that friendly, in fact they seemed to be a bit sour. We may be tiring of the constant attention, but it seemed that more people in Benin asked for “cadeau” than elsewhere. At the Grand Popo campsite, school kids would come into the camp ground to demand a present. The traffic and vendors in Cotonou were frenetic and the air very polluted.

On the positive side, the roads were basically OK and there were no security issues.

Rough Guide: 5/10 (even though places mentioned have closed). Lonely Planet; 5/10.
IGN map; 7/10. Garmap was very useful.


Day 1 – 24/3/12

As per the blogs, we got a visa on entry. CFA 10,000 each. No hassle all very efficient. The customs bloke asked for money and Ray said he could have a drink when the Carnet was signed. So, it took 1 minute to get the carnet finished and a can of Diet Coke delivered.

Togo is a very narrow country ~ 56 km. There are some road works on the way to Lome, but otherwise it was a good drive.

We had some humus & Tabouli at a Lebanese place recommended by the Rough Guide. Avril immediately declared Ray’s humus is much better. Great thing taste (& loyalty!). We had a bit of a drive around the city. Much easier and nicer than Cotonou.

We decided to drive north to Kpalime rather than exit directly to Ghana.  As we drove north we got that familiar view of haze caused by heat, fires and dust from the sahel. The road is okish, but with some bad pothole sections. As we approached Kpalime, the outline of Mt Agou appeared. Togo’s highest mountain at ~ 1,000m, through the haze we managed to get a photo . The place we wanted to stay in in Kpalime was full, so we decided to proceed north to Atakpame.

This road is green on the Michelin map. The drive was very pleasant, through mostly tropical vegetation. The road passed along a small mountain range, but due to the haze we could only get a general impression. The road it absolutely awful. Avril thinks as bad as Angola, but Ray is not sure. We stayed the night at the hotel L’Amitie with cold beer and a nice view of the mountains.

Ray driving. ~ 300km N  070 31’ 18.7’’ E 0010 08’ 57.1’’

Day 2 – 25/3/12

We had a pleasant evening chatting to 2 Swiss sisters who were backpacking (yep, we have finally met some backpackers).

The road to Badou on the border was incorrectly marked on the IGS map and on Garmap, but after chatting to the local folks we managed to found the way. The route is over the mountains with hairpin turns and some great views of the plain below. Even through the haze we had some fine viewing. The road is awful, badly broken up and potholed.

At one point we stopped to get a picture and a bloke on a motor bike stopped and asked where we were going. We said Badou and Ghana. It seemed he was going the same way and so we teamed up. A couple of times the battery fell out of his motor bike, but with some twine from our spare parts kit we managed to secure it. The second time is fell out another bike stopped to assist (3 blokes on one small bike) so we had a “chat”, handed over water & food and a pen and continued.
When we got to Badou the chap on the motorbike stopped to pick up another chap, who could speak English. Turns out the motorbike dude was not going to Ghana, he was just showing us the way – not that we needed that. We paid for his petrol and gave him a tip for his kindness.

We completed customs formalities in Badou (not at the border) and proceeded to the Frontier, along a very, very bad road. We had bad memories of our Angola ~ Congo crossing!!! Then, the motor bike fell and there was blood, scratches and torn clothes. After patching up the assistants, the motor bike chap stayed behind and the other chap clutched to the side of the car and took us to the border.

The border formalities were completed with a minimum of fuss and no request for a bribe.

Togo Summary

It is hard to pass any realistic comment after 2 days. There is no shortage of churches. The roads are OK near the coast, but very bad once you leave the coastal region. We had no security issues and the lack of road blocks is always nice.

The people seemed to be a friendly, always with a wave and a smile.

IGS map & garmap were both poor with roads marked incorrectly etc. We cannot really comment on the guides.

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