Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Last Hurrah: Benin Part I

After my meeting with the diplomat, three of my friends and I hopped a tro-tro to Aflao, the Ghanaian border town next to Lomé, Togo. Our ultimate goal was Comé, Benin but my meeting lasted longer than I thought and we had to drop by the Beninese embassy to pick up our visas. What a simple process, doing this ahead of time as the Beninese consular office was very nice and efficient, processing our visas in less than 24 hours.

After a bumpy but largely comfortable tro-tro ride to Aflao, the last bit with only a few people inside (and a whole row to myself), we arrived at the border, crossed without too much of an issue although purchasing the Togolese visa was a bit costly and before I knew it we arrived at Hotel Le Galion, my favorite in all of West Africa thus far. The next morning, we would travel to Comé, Benin and onwards to our hotel.

Why is the Hotel Le Galion my favorite? The atmosphere is irreplaceable. That begins with the clientele. Both poorly aged French men and their hookers, along with students from both France and ISH, make the hotel their base. All mix and mingle in the courtyard of the hotel, under huge old trees and safely behind a medium height wall. There are tables under umbrellas with the hotel looking down and in. Just inside there is a large bar that also serves as the front desk. The staff and service is very good as a few of the women even speak small-small English or enough to understand non-Francois’s such as me. On some nights, a band plays in the far side, masquerading the diners in sounds of electric guitar, piano and the soft Togolese vocals.

Par the former French colonial Africa tradition, Le Galion also has a full service restaurant serving excellent food. From ham sandwiches (on a toasted baguette with melted cheese and ham),omelets that are yellow, tasty and with real cheese, and coffee that isn’t instant, Le Galion knows how to do French West African food. Drinks include a variety of beers (well beyond the big Ghanaian five) including Flag, the best macro-lager I have had below the Tropic of Cancer. Wine is expensive but decent enough. Dessert includes top notch ice cream and chocolate mousse. All of this is at good prices and right in the hotel courtyard. One realized quickly why Hotel Le Galion is my favorite.

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