Togo and Benin

Monday, January 5, 2009 - The coast of Togo and Benin - added by Roxy

Togo and Benin are long and narrow countries, and as we skirted along the tiny coasts of both, didn't stay for much time in either. Although it is possible to drive through both countries in a day, we did manage to spend a few days though. The birthplace of Voodoo, we found them to be magical and mysterious countries, steeped in the rites of this traditional religion. The lives of the people from Togo and Benin are therefore full of unique ceremonies, customs and superstition. On the surface you may not see this at first, but given time it doesn't take long to notice the symbols of Voodooism all around you.

We arrived in Togo in a pretty abrupt fashion. Immediately after crossing the Ghanaian border we found ourselves right in the middle of Lome, the capital city. Lome is literally on the beach, but for the tourist scene, seeing a stunning palm-fringed beach right next to numerous ugly factories amidst loads of rubbish, it doesn't really impress.

We spent our time in Togo in a spot called Chez Alice. Chez Alice is a highly recommended place for travellers to stop at, as the owners have spent years making it really homely (that does expressly exclude the two monkeys they have chained up right next to the bar!). For campers though, be warned, the actual campsite is a courtyard, totally separate from the rest of the establishment, rather bleak looking and with no shade. We didn't want to stay there, so were allowed to stay in the main parking lot instead, which was by far the better option. Our stay in Togo was short, and the only major event that passed was that we spent New Years Eve there. Unfortunately, New Years was uneventful for us as on the afternoon of the 31st Steve succumbed again (and no doubt not for the last time either) to some dodgy food, so he saw the New Year in from bed, while alone I watched some great African dancing at Chez Alice, and latched on to 3 unsuspecting Germans so that I would at least have someone to do the countdown to New Year with!

The following morning we headed off to Benin, a country that is breathtakingly beautiful. Just after crossing the border we saw a haystack walking down the road! It took us a while to realise we were not actually witnessing a mobile haystack, but in fact a Voodoo god, a Zangbetos. Zangbetos' are men who have been possessed by spirits and walk around town in a trance, communing with the netherworld while covered in hay! If you were to see one of those in a dark alley I guarantee you would run... I certainly got the fright of my life! The men's bodies are occupied by spirits who have knowledge of what bad things people have done. They have the job of acting as unofficial police, in that they can publicly shame and punish people for their sins. The Zangbetos' are followed around by assistants who translate the very secret language that the Zangbetos' use and act as crowd controllers, for as you can imagine some of the accused don't take their sentences very well!! While clearly an important link between this and the afterlife, for some inexplicable reason the Zangbetos' also have a tendency to pitch up at tourist spots and pose for photos for a small fee! Quite why the spirits who have possessed these men's bodies take a break from police work to lead them to tourist spots is something we have not yet figured out!

We spent our first night in Benin camping in a quiet, stunning spot called L'Auberge Grand Popo.

At the campsite we met the only other camper there, a German lady called Ina who lives in Benin. After spending the following morning with Ina, she kindly invited us to visit her in Cotonou (the capital city) when we passed through. Of course we quickly took up the offer of a proper shower and bed, perhaps too quickly!

We arrived in Cotonou a few days later. Whilst waiting for Ina to arrive back from Grand Popo we decided to hang out at the outrageously expensive German beer garden which is right on the beach near to Ina's place. We were there for ages, mainly because it took an hour and a half for the staff to change my corked red wine for a vodka tonic. They are notoriously slow, but we never realised the full extent! My drink finally arrived, and I was looking forward to celebrating the fact when we noticed a commotion on the beach in front of us. Steve, being as inquisitive as he is, decided to investigate what the crowd on the beach had gathered around. We quickly discovered that everyone was gathered around a boy of about 10 years old who'd been found face down in the water! A local guy who had gone for a swim found the body floating next to him; after dragging the unconscious kid of the water, he proceeded to go into shock whilst the people on the beach tried to resuscitate the child! They did this, literally, by jumping onto his stomach! After shouting for the people to stop jumping on the kid's ribs, Steve started to give him CPR. Fortunately, before we left for the trip, we went on an intensive expedition first aid course, and knew the basics of what we should do. It was a messy job, but when the boy finally started vomiting and gasping for breath we were incredibly relieved! It was terrifying! Steve was joined by a few other guys who knew their stuff (plus about 100 or so spectators), and they stayed with the boy while he drifted in and out of consciousness, waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Eventually, about an hour later, it did arrive. The ambulance crew was another story altogether. Before the paramedics exit the ambulance, they send 2 beaters out first. These guys are dressed all in white and carry huge sticks which they use to beat away the crowd, making it possible for the paramedics to reach the victim! After the paramedics finally had the boy safely in the ambulance, I ran after them, trying to tell them in my appalling French, that we had given the boy rehydration salts. Finally one of the paramedics took the time to write a telephone number down on my hand, which I took to be the number of the hospital. All the while people were asking Steve and I who would pay the hospital bill for the child! After that song and dance I managed to get back to my vodka and tonic, which as you can imagine I drained rather quickly, trying to comprehend the magnitude of how quickly a life can be taken away. Later we happily found out that the boy was OK... this because after depositing the child at hospital and stabilising him, the paramedics all came back to the beer garden. The guy who I had spoken to about the rehydration salts appeared at my side and it didn't take long to realise that he'd gotten the wrong end of the stick; he thought my pursuit after the ambulance had been because I'd been desperate for his telephone number! It was an embarrassing situation for all, but finally they left to get back to their job of saving lives!

After this stressful introduction to Cotonou Ina arrived and welcomed us into her home, plying us with food and drink and allowing us to relax wonderfully comfortably for a few days. We had the most amazing time, thanks so much Ina!

After leaving Cotonou, we nervously headed for the Nigerian border!


1 .
Go steve!
Doug - 19 Feb 2009, 14:50
2 .
Oh my god Stevie! Wow, all comments seem a bit banal after this story Love Trish
Trish - 20 Feb 2009, 7:23
3 .
No ways - you mean you actually remembered some of the first aid course we did. Stop, asses, ABC, call for help... I hope you did all the steps. But seriously - WELL DONE mate.
Thorks - 23 Feb 2009, 19:10
4 .
No ways - you mean you actually remembered some of the first aid course we did. Stop, asses, ABC, call for help... I hope you did all the steps. But seriously - WELL DONE mate.
Thorks - 23 Feb 2009, 19:11
5 .
HERO status oh my word!!
Bobs - 11 Mar 2009, 8:12

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