Monday, May 4, 2009

Togo and Benin!!!

*I should warn you all, this is a long post. I seem to struggle with being concise and not giving lots of details. But lots of things happen in Africa, so I want to include it all!*

This past week was an adventure to Togo and Benin. Togo is directly East of Ghana, and Benin East of Togo, so each country is only about three hours apart.

We (Kristin, Sarah, Clara and I) left for Togo early Tuesday morning. We hopped on a tro in Madina and paid our 5.50 cedis and we were off to Togo. Unfortunately I had a very large women at the end of my row, so the guy sitting next to me was leaning up really close to me and he did not smell particularly good, so it was kind of a long three hours. Crossing the border from Ghana to Togo was no problem, and conveniently, the hotel we stayed at was about 3 blocks away from the border, so we could just walk right there. Our hotel was really simple, we had two beds, two fans, and a small bathroom where you could literally use the toilet, shower, and wash your hands all from the same spot. But for the equivalent of about 6 dollars a night, I figure it's a pretty good deal. Also, our hotel was directly across the street from the beach, so you couldn't beat the view!

Togo was absolutely amazing! I had so much fun while being there and I loved just having a break from Accra. Everything in Lome (the capital of Togo) seemed more relaxed to me and there wasn't as much yelling and everyone just seemed really friendly. Also, because they speak French in Togo, they don't yell Obruni, they say La Blanche or Mon Chere, both of which sound much nicer than Obruni. Also, they use Moto Taxis (motorcycles) which Ghana should really start doing. They were so much fun, and they're cheap, and they can weave around stopped traffic much more easily and it just makes getting places really easy. We spent most of Tuesday wandering around Lome and the big market they had. We had avocado sandwiches for lunch, which was a lot like eating a guacamole sandwich, avocado and tomatoes and onions and salt, all on fresh baguette, so delicious! For the night we went to a random restaurant we found that had a really odd variety of menu choices, but I was able to get a beef shwarma wrap that was really tasty, for the equivalent of about 3 dollars. Then we walked down to an ice cream store!! It was real ice cream and it was so good! The waiters there really got a kick out of us four white girls, so they were really generous with our servings, so I got mint chocolate chip, chocolate, and something called crunch, which tasted a lot like a snickers bar. I don't think ice cream has ever tasted so good to me,

Wednesday morning we got up early and headed off to Kpolime, where we wanted to see a butterfly garden. If you're curious about how public transportation works in West Africa, let me enlighten you. Buses leave when they are full, and never before then. So we got to the station at 8:00 a.m. and we left 9:30 a.m. quite a long wait in the sun in a stuffy tro. Also, tros need to be stuffed as much as possible to make more money, so in a vehicle meant for 16 people, we had 22. It's about a two hours ride to Kpolime and with 22 people, it certainly was not comfortable. Clara and I had to take turns leaning forwards or back against the seat so that we each had enough room. And mind you, it's somewhere around 90 degrees (if not hotter) so everyone is hot and sweaty and smelly. Overall, not the most enjoyable tro ride ever, but hey, it's done now. Kpalime was a really neat town where people seemed to speak an odd mix of Ewe and French, making translating somewhat difficult for Kristen. Lonely Planet had told us that we should try to find someone in town who could guide us around the butterfly garden, so we asked around, and Kristie spent a long time bargaining with someone, and we eventually settled on a price that included a driver, a car, and a guided tour, so off we went. The guide (who's name I think was Momo) was able to show us all sorts of neat things, including a waterfall, and a mountain where you could see most of Togo from one side, and then part of Ghana from the other. When we eventually got to the butterfly gardens though, the man in charge there said that the butterflies would be gone for the next three months. Now, Momo had told us that he does this tour all the time, so we figure, if you do this all the time, wouldn't you know that the butterflies would be gone? But Momo kept insisting he had no idea what was going on and that he was very surprised to hear any of this. We still don't really believe him. With that not working he offered instead to walk us along a path so we could see different fruits and veggies growing. That actually worked out and he even got a cocoa pod down for us so we could munch on the seeds. In case you're wondering, cocoa seeds taste like melon more than anything, not cocoa. And you suck on them, don't chew! When we got back in to town and we payed Momo he got mad because he said our money only included the driver and the car, and that we also needed to pay him for guiding us. Kristen explained to him that we had already agreed on the price and we weren't going to pay more. Then he got mad because he said we were cheating him, but we were mad because we hadn't even seen butterflies and we had already paid more than we wanted to. Momo ended up getting really mad and we were just as frustrated, so we gave him a 1,000 cefa note (about 3 dollars) and left. It was less than he asked for, but more than we wanted to give, so we figured that was fair. Then we luckily found a really nice guy who quickly found us an already full tro and we headed back to Lome. Despite the butterfly garden not working out, and fighting with Momo at the end, it was still a really day.

Thursday morning we headed off to Cotonou, the capital of Benin. We had read that there were buses that went from Lome to Cotonou on a daily basis, but couldn't find them. While talking to the taxi drivers about where the buses might be we were told “there are no buses, they left with colonization” Probably one of the best quotes I have heard my whole time of being here. We never were able to find the buses, so we took a shared taxi there. Now, most cars fit 3 people in the back and 2 people in the front counting the driver. Not how they do it in West Africa. Here, a full taxi means 7 people. The driver in his spot, 2 people in the passenger seat and 4 in the backseat. Not the best set up for a country that is hot and humid, but hey, it meant we paid about 10 dollars to get all the way to Benin. Also,in case you were wondering, Benin is 1 hour ahead of Ghana, which we figured out after we were confused how it took us four hours to do a three hour trip and none of our clocks matched up with any of the ones in Benin.

We stayed with some friends of friends in Benin which was a huge money saver and the people were incredibly nice! They were Preced and Victor, and they had a daughter and son who were both really sweet. The boy was 4 years old and you could tell that he kind of ruled the roost. He was really cute and definitely knew how to get what he wants. The family seems very well off, their house was really nice, and it was air conditioned, which you don't usually find. This meant two wonderful nights of sleeping in the cold and not sweating, woo hoo! Most of Thursday was taken up with traveling, but we were able to go all around the big market in Cotonou, which seemed a lot like the markets here, but this time with everyone yelling in French.

Friday morning we headed off to Ganvia, which is a stilt village in Benin. It was really neat to to see the stilt village since literally everything was on stilts. There was a very small patch of actual land that had a few houses/buildings, but besdies that, everything was above the water. There were canoes of all shapes and sizes with people of all ages going throughout the village. The kids were adorable and always seemed excited about seeing white people. We canoed there and back, so it meant about three hours in the water, with no shade, and an awfully bright sun, so it was definitely one of the hotter activities I have ever done. After Ganvia we headed off to Ouidah (pronounced wee-duh) where we had wanted to see a museum on the history of Ouidah, but it was closed. Turns out that the first of May is more or less the West African version of Labor Day, so most everything was closed. Ouidah is known for it's voodoo practices, and this museum was supposed to have a neat section on the history of voodoo and the current role it plays for Ouidah, so we were bummed we couldn't see that. We did make it to the Sacred Forest, where they had different statues depicting important symbols and figures in the voodoo religion (over 50% of people living in Benin practice voodoo), so at least we got a small taste of what it's about. We then decided to do the Route des Esclaves, which is the route taken by slaves when they were brought to the ships that would take them away from Africa. Our book told us it was a 4 km walk, which seemed very doable, but it was much longer than that. We walked for probably about two hours, always thinking that we must almost be there. By the time you reach the beach there is an archway saying “point of no return” and it is a memorial dedicated to the slaves. It was good to see, but had we known how long the walk was actually going to be, I think we would have done moto taxis instead. We originally thought it would be funny to drive along the route that is so known for it's history. However, the road is now the major one used to get to the beach, and there is no path, you just along the side of this very dusty, very busy road, so a vehicle probably would have really been our best choice. We got back to Preced and Victor's at about 7:30, had dinner, and pretty much all fell asleep by 10:00. I think between all the sun and all the walking, we were just way to tired!

Saturday morning Sarah and Kristen headed off to the North of Benin while Clara and I headed back for Accra. I am quite proud of us for making it all the way through Benin and Togo without either of us really knowing how to speak French. With enough pointing and my extremely basic knowledge of French and most of the customs peoples knowledge of English, we got through ok. Luckily, our taxi driver from Cotonou to Lome was great and he drove us right to the Lome/Ghana border, so we got to avoid a lot of interactions there. It took about 8 hours to get all the way back, but we safely made it! Also, that means I was in three countries in one day on Saturday, how cool!!

So there was our great adventure to the East of Ghana. I'm really happy that we did it and it was great to see a new part of the world! Monday is another exam (Regionalism and Ethnicity in Ghana) and then Tuesday morning Clara and I take off for Burkina Faso! It's a 24 hour bus ride, with some stops, but it's air conditioned and everyone has their own seat, so at least we'll be comfortable. We'll meet up with Kristen there and travel all around for a few days, hopefully seeing hippos and crocodiles in Bobo! I have no internet or phone service in Burkina, so it will be another week or so until you hear from me again. And just a week after I am back from Burkina Faso, I leave for home! Tuesday the 18th will be here in no time and then I will be back to real water and electricity, both of which have really been lacking lately. And studying for an exam anytime after 7:00 p.m. is pretty hard when there is no light to read your notes by. This sure will make taking exams next year at Morris seem like nothing!

See you all soon!


Tasha said...

Here is what I have gathered from your experience in Ghana: it is very hot. All of the transportation is really crowded and takes long than anything ever should. But you get to see lots of cool things that make up for the first two things.

Jamie said...

i approve of the ice cream! other thongs in the post, too. but it's me so the ice cream sticks out. :P

h. irene j. said...

I'm glad you're getting around and seeing stuff, lady. Mmm, avocado sandwiches. Too bad about the butterflies. Good luck on your exams.