Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Last Hurrah: Benin Part II


Exiting (sorté) Le Galion, we took moto-taxis to Grand Marché and quickly found a tro-tro that could not only take us to the Beninois-Togo border but to our final destination, Comé, Benin. Differing slightly from Ghanaian tro-tros, the Togolese cram four people across a seat where Ghanaians would cram no more than three (smaller tro-tro). While my roommate and I shared the relative comfort of the front seat, our travel mates shared a cramped seat further back with two others.
Upon our eventual arrival in Comé, we took the most dilapidated taxi I have even seen to Hotel Chez Théo on the shores of Lake Ahéné. Scared in the front seat, I reached down for the seat belt to find only a sharp edge. Looking up in slight pain, two people began to push the ancient Nissan backwards as it appeared the reverse gear was no longer in working condition. While we arrived at the hotel safe and sound, the ride was more memorable than I would care to recall.


While the room was standard enough, the hotel has a restaurant on stilts. While the kitchen is on shore, the tables and bar are on a variety of platforms, seemingly built ad hoc. Breakfast was French bread, still heavenly warm, with real coffee and fruit although my first placemat was inhabited by a colony of ants. Upon finishing breakfast, we decided to take a trip to view some of the local sights.

Riding moto-taxis, our first stop was the python temple in Comé. The Beninese are about 60% traditional religion and the reminder French Catholic (contrast dually noted).The python temple was simply that. There were small half size huts that would house the priests for seven days in preparation for some sort of festival. We were ushered into an odd shaped temple that housed some forty pythons. They all appeared rather lethargic and one was passed around my travel mates necked. While I had no problem with the snakes, putting one around my neck was never considered.

An English speaking guide from the local tourist office was provided to take us around on moto-taxis (zemi-johns) to view the local sights dedicated towards reminding people of the slave trade. Benin was known formerly as the Slave Coast. We saw a tree in front of the slave market, originally constructed by a Brazilian slaver. We then stopped at a variety of traditional religious symbols marking each aspect of the slave trade. The Tree of Forgetfulness required slaves to walk around it three times in order to forget every aspect of their lives in Africa, all at the request of the Dahomey (Benin’s colonial name) king.

The last stop on this depressing moto-taxi ride was the memorial at the ocean. Built by the government, it was a simple arch that framed the sea. Slaves would be rowed out to the slaving ships for the trip to Brazil and Haiti. We snapped some photos, ignored the many purveyors of tourist junk, and made for the hotel.

Riding back on moto-taxis, it almost immediately began to rain. And rain it did, in fact it bucketed at one point. Luckily, I had put my camera under my raincoat along with our photo copied guide of where we would stay. The next day, my only boots were still wet.

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