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Traveling Benin the rough way

zem Idaatschland

Riding a zem through Idaashaland

 My handicaps were plenty – my very poor French, travelling on my own, hardly any other tourists to exchange information with and the absence of a public transport system in Benin.

Benin lacks pubic transport to an extent I didn’t think was possible, it just doesn’t exist, Not even taxis. When Beninoises speak of taxis they talk about run-down cars that pick up people as they go, but it is not a taxi you have to your own, unless you pay for all the seats. For longer trips the taxis often don’t leave unless they are filled to the rim, with a roof full of cargo.

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Meeting the locals

Roch's family

Roch's parents and wife

 

Roch, a resident of Puerto Novo participated in a teachers’ exchange program in Vienna years ago. Only days before departing for Benin I learned about this through my friend Linde Magg, who hosted Roch during his day in Vienna. He answered my mail immediately and met me already on my first day in Cotonou. Quickly it was decided that I would welcome the New Year with his extended family in Puerto Novo.

New Year’s Eve was rather quiet. Roch’s adult children had invited friends from Nigeria and hung around the house before leaving for a club. But January 1 was an unparalleled life time experience.

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Benin through the lens of an EOS 70D

Leaves coated with red soil

Leaves coated with red soil

A nasty grey sky was the first thing I spotted when opening the curtains on my very first morning in Cotonou. Was it going to rain any minute? A quick check of the weather app said „low visibility due to dust“. Eventually it sank in, Harmattan season. This wind bis lowing from the Sahara across West Africa between December and March fills the air with thick dust. The horizon is greyish white, a photographer’s nightmare. A kind of blue skies would sometimes reappear late afternoon.

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The twin village Camate-Shakaloke

Path separating Camate& Shakaloke

Path separating the two villages of Camate&Shakaloke

A small path separates the two villages of Camata and Shakaloke. Why they never merged? Two different clans reside there, explained Monsieur Bash, who works for Conetre e Protégé Nature. This local NGO supports villagers with all kinds of projects, like collecting rainwater, a school was built, the value of herbal medicine is kept alive and the occasional tourists in the area is shown these achievements.

A privilege that I had more or less to myself, in the four days around Dassa I did not see a single tourists.

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Yellow Fleet of Cotonou

zem fleet28. Dezember 2015

Zems in Cotonou

    Forget New York, the true and real yellow fleet calls Cotonou its home. Streets are buzzing with young men on motorbikes, wearing bright yellow vests, registration number printed on the back. Even before I arrived I Benin I was determined to explore places by zemidjan, or simply zem, as they are called. Since Cotonou, nor any other town in Benin, provide urban public transport that is your choice. Half a Euro is a trip to most places around town. Despite the zigg-zagging through traffic, using sidewalks as escape routes during traffic jam, I was never really afraid. The only downside, zem drivers don’t provide helmets for their passengers like they do in Rwanda.

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Benin Photo Gallery

Benin Photos

New Years Party at Roch's family home, outdoor kitchen

Roch's family home, outdoor kitchen

Traveling to Benin has been on my mind for years, especially experiencing the voodoo festival. X-mas 2015 it finally happened. a total of 17 days I spent leisurely moving around Benin. From the capital Cotonou I did short trips to the stilt village of Ganvie, to Ouidah and Puerto Novo, mostly by motorbike taxis. Dassa was the most northern city I visited, from where I moved to Abomey, the former residence of the Dahoman Kings. The voodoo festival in Ouidah was the definite high-light of this trip.

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Ouidah – from slavery to voodoo capital

Place du Chacha

Place du Chacha

Quite a few memorials remind of the dark past of this city, most of them along the route de esclaves, a 4km sandy track that starts at Place Chacha where the slaves were auctioned off. Shaded by a large tree the square now radiates an almost idyllic ambience. Francisco Felix de Souza, the Brazilian slave trader, resided right there, his former villa seems almost modest considering the money he must have made trafficking human cargo to Brazil. Local narrative has Souza watching the horrid business transactions from this very villa, he would even check on the ships leaving through his binoculars until they disappeared on the horizon.

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Ouidah – festival du voodoo

Voodoo pope

The who is who of voodoo in Benin, the "pope" is the person with the green hat

The tranquility of Ouidah changes abruptly on the 10th of January when the town hosts Benin’s annual Voodoo-festival. The ceremony starts in the morning at the house of “the pope”, together with “the who is who of voodism” he leads the two-hour long procession through Oudiah.

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Royal Abomey

Abomey palace

Palace of Abomey

Abomey is the ancient capital of the powerful Kingdom of Dahomey that existed from the early 17th century till 1900. Tradition required for each king to have his own palace built, adjacent to that of his father. By the time the last king was ousted by the French, it was 12 palaces stretching over an area of 44ha surrounded by the wide moat. The buildings were all made of clay and if the site had not been granted UNESCO Heritage status, very little would be left. But UNESCO money two palaces - those of King Glele und Guezo -have been restored and turned into a really informative museum.

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