After walking a short distance from the Togo immigration area, I got back on my friend Taotao’s bike and we rode to the Benin side. Taotao came into the immigration area with me and acted as the liaison between myself and the officers. He told them that I was just transitting through, as I already had a flight out booked. We were ushered into an office where a guy, let’s call him Mr Wants-money-for-nothing, advised us that he would issue me with an 8 day transit visa for 30,000CFA (€45). All the information I’d received beforehand had indicated that the visa was only 10,000CFA (€15).
Mr Wants-money-for-nothing then offered another alternative. He would give me the 10,000CFA visa, but I would have to pay him another 10,000CFA on top of that. Taotao negotiated him down to 5000CFA, which is still half the price of the transit visa, but I feel I lose a little bit of integrity each time I’m forced to play this corruption game. I couldn’t have been happier that this was the last country I’d have to do that in.
Although I’d gotten off to a good start and had managed to avoid having to pay corrupt people until about halfway through West Africa, the last 3 countries really screwed me over on that front. In the end, I was forced to take part in just as much corruption as I’d managed to avoid, for a final score of –
Kez = 4; African border corruption = 4.
Cruising to Cotonou
I was out of the immigration area in less than 10 minutes. Taotao then took me a little bit further up the road and found a car to take me to Cotonou, for 2000CFA (€3). After saying our goodbyes, Taotao headed back to Togo and I got in the car. There were only 2 other people in the car at that point, but the car didn’t stop to wait for more people. I was relieved that for the first time in Africa, I wasn’t going to be squeezed in.
Unfortunately, that relief wasn’t very long lasting. We picked up 2 more people 20 minutes later. Well, the extra space was nice while it lasted. They had decided to bring along a live chicken and a live goat with them. They just put the animals in the back with the luggage, which seemed a little cruel, but I guess the trip was only going to take an hour. Apparently, the goat agreed with me as it spent a lot of the ride making made some awful sounds that I didn’t know goats could make. At some points, it sounded so much like a baby crying that I had to look back and check that they hadn’t put a baby in there.
The car dropped me off on the side of the major arterial road through Cotonou, just in time for the sunset. The driver kindly called my host, Coffi, and I waited for him to pick me up. As the area I’d been left in was a major drop off area for intercity cars, about 50 motorbike taxis offered me lifts. It’s easy to tell the motorbike taxis from normal motorbikes, because all the taxis wear bright yellow vests, to indicate they’re for hire. This definitely makes things easier for people who don’t know the city.
Cool, Calm and Chatty in Cotonou
For the first time ever, I was presented with a fairly unique problem. When I woke up in the morning, it was raining. The rain itself wasn’t the issue, but my host’s place only had an outdoor shower with no roof. While showering in the rain seems like a novel idea that I wouldn’t have any problem with, the issue would come when trying to get dry! I decided the best idea was to wait out the rain.
That was fine, because it gave me a chance to chat with Coffi and his family. His English wasn’t very good, so we did have some difficulties understanding each other. But he was always smiley and willing to try. I think he really enjoyed having someone from outside of Africa to share things with. His family were also absolutely adorable and helpful. Coffi’s two younger sisters happily cooked breakfast for me each morning and were always busy doing things around the house.
I’d asked a few people living in Cotonou where all the fun places were and what were the best things to see. Every reply seemed to indicate that there was nothing to do except go to the beach. Luckily, I wasn’t staying far from the beach, so Coffi and I went for a walk along the beach. We saw some local small fishing boats and a stage being set up for the Urban Vibes Festival that was soon to take place there.
As it appeared that I had now seen all there was to see in Cotonou, I decided to head to the nearest WiFi depository. The plan was to relax while catching up on the real world that I’d been almost completely detached from for the last few months. The only area in the whole city that really offered WiFi was near the airport, which was also close (ish) to where I was staying.
The airport area had a completely different look to the rest of the city. I’d speculate that the reason for the difference was all about keeping up appearances. As most visitors that enter the city would do so via the airport, they clearly wanted to give the best first impression they possibly could. I’d encountered mainly dusty roads in the rest of the city, but this area had nice, new sealed roads lined with trees, as well as manicured gardens on roundabouts and median strips.
While walking through the airport area, I did come across a few things that I found rather strange. Firstly, the drainage system on the shiny new airport road seemed to consist of concrete pavement that had people size, square holes at regular intervals along it. This meant that any pedestrians had to weave from the pavement to the road and back again several times. Secondly, there was a very old disused plane, with a Benin flag on the tail, that was falling apart, within the airport area. Definitely not a shining example of Benin aviation.
To get my WiFi fix, I ended up at the hotel across the road from the airport, where the staff were super friendly. The food was also surprisingly cheap, as long as you stayed away from the buffet. The staff pretty much let me sit there the whole day after ordering only 1 meal. There wasn’t really anyone else there, so I guess there was no need to move me on.
While at the hotel, some locals came to visit me for a chat. The first one was an interesting local man named Solomon. It turns out that he had lived in Istanbul and knew one of my friends who had also once lived there. We chatted for a while, mainly about how divisive different religions are. He had some very strong opinions on this! After he left, a friend of someone I’d met in Ghana came to see me with his friend. My Ghanaian friend had apparently spoken so highly of me that they just had to meet me. We had a nice chat before parting ways.
I had heard from a few people that there was a huge mall in Cotonou, but I found out that this ‘huge mall’ was in fact just a small complex consisting of about 10 shops which included one huge supermarket. I wouldn’t have even noticed it was there if I hadn’t recognised the name ‘Erevan’ which was the name of the supermarket in the complex. It is quite interesting to see what qualifies as a ‘mall’ in different West African countries.
Leaving West Africa
After spending ovwe two months traversing nearly 12,000km by road through 14 countries, I was glad to finally be travelling on a plane! The Cotonou Airport was a lot smaller than I expected it to be. In fact, there was only one duty-free shop past the immigration area. It was the only shop after the security check. Luckily I had some snacks and had managed to get through security with a half-full bottle of water.
Before I got to the secured area, West Africa had one more obstacle to throw my way. A narcotics search by a particularly rude, un-uniformed officer who didn’t bother to introduce himself or what he was doing. Obviously bored with his life, he decided to practice his English by picking on the only foreigner in the airport. Awesome. At least he didn’t want any money and let me go as soon as he realised that my bag contained exactly what I’d told him it contained, clothes. With a sigh of relief, I was glad to say, “Bye bye, West Africa!”
In a few words – nothing to see here
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – ??
The area around the airport seemed to be the only place where WiFi was available.
Transport – ????
? Bikes seem to be the popular transport option and the high visibility yellow vests that the mototaxi drivers wear makes them easily recognisable.
? Shared taxis are also readily available and seem to be a little less squeezy and in slighty better condition than their counterparts throughout West Africa.
Roads – ????
It appears that despite some pretty obvious corruption, Benin has fairly decent roads and infrastructure.
Scenery – ?????
Benin is pretty much just beaches and dust with the occasional tree.
Prices – ?
Benin is great on a budget. Street food is relatively cheap and even meals from the airport hotel are reasonably priced.
Checkpoints – I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Benin.
Border efficiency – ???
There were little to no queues and immigration formalities were completed within 15 minutes on both entry and exit, including bribery negotiations.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠
Border corruption was clearly a thing!
Overall – ???
Next: One last stop in Kenya before leaving Africa
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