Waiting in country 12

If it’s a new week it must be time for another country. Benin, country number 12, has just over twice the coastline of Togo.

Aneho’s Quartier Jericho must only be a couple of kilometres from the border at Hilakondji. I walk across the frontier, and have onward transport to Cotonou before I’m even stamped into Benin and still have 100m of no mans land to go. I sit mostly on the handbrake of the six-place shared taxi for the thankfully smooth 100km or so. As a sign of my eastward passage Benin is an hour ahead of GMT, the first time I’ve left GMT on African soil.

I have to head straight to Cotonou in order to extend my 48 transit visa. It means lots of time doing not much there other than trying to get photos: it’s been rarely permitted so far in Africa to take photos of government buildings (like Presidential palaces), banks, private property, museums or more or less anything you would want to have a photo of, including sometimes the ocean! Its a difficult to take a sneaky photo as it is to have a sneaky wee, given there are people everywhere. Walk down the smallest, darkest alley and just at the point you think you’re alone you’ll bump into 9 people having a party.

To break the monotony of not taking photos I head to Ganvie a stilt village 8km out into Lake Nokoue, home to 30,000 people. My guide calls it “the Venice of Africa” and he’s right in many respects: its polluted, over visited, and the locals are expert at ripping off tourists. For some reason, its cheaper to have 2 men punt and paddle for 2.5 hours then it is to use the motor, despite all the petrol being brought in under the customs’ radar on small boats from Nigeria. But really when it comes down to it Ganvie is like any other African town. The sandwich woman travels around by boat, tray in front of her rather than on her head, there’s the illegal petrol stands, churches, schools, houses, nightclub, and waterways for lanes the kids meet at to snog of an evening.
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