I have to start by saying thanks to Lynn for letting me take the piece that she wrote up for her family and friends and slightly modify it for use on my blog. I have not had a chance to post on the trip but want to document it. The pictures are mine but 95% of the text is from Lynn. Thanks a bunch.
We left on Saturday morning in a nice 20-passenger air-conditioned bus, with police escort front and back. The road from Lagos to the border is known for hold-ups, apparently, but having the escort eliminates that problem. Unfortunately, the cops do their share of "hold-ups" as we discovered with the police checkpoints on the way back. It was crazy at the border, mobs of people and vendors everywhere. Two of the 20 people in our group had to dropout at that point, friends Kevin and Susan, because Susan didn't have a re-entry visa for Nigeria. So, they had to get back on the bus and go back to Lagos. Once we were all through customs, we reloaded into two 10-passenger vans. The AC was minimal, so the ride became pretty hot at points. We drove through the Benin coastal city of Cotonou, which seemed like a smaller, but just as dirty, version of Lagos. Then we headed north, and made our first stop at Allada, a little village of rutted dirt roads where we visited the King's Palace. The king wasn't around, but one of his family members agreed to show us around, though he couldn't let us into all of the palace buildings because he didn't have permission. Benin is a French-speaking country, so we were fortunate to have two people in our group who are fluent in French and interpreted for us throughout the trip when needed. Our "guide" in Allada, a bare-chested older gentleman missing a few front teeth (see pic below), explained the history of the local kings of that particular place who were all represented by bas-relief symbols (flattened forms which give an exaggerated perception of depth when viewed from a particular vantage point) on the outer walls. Each king chose his symbol to represent his ruling philosophy.
Since voodoo is a recognized religion in Benin, the palaces always include a number of structures in which an object of worship, called a fetish, is placed. A fetish, which can be a potion or object, is believed to hold the spirits' power. Then priests, called juju men, are consulted to communicate with the spirits. The fetish hut was a large round tin roof structure and the entrance was very low to the ground. We were not allowed to enter the fetish hut in Allada but if we were we would have had to kneel down and almost get on your hands and knees to enter. The adjacent building (left of the fetish), which was open, was the king's meeting room, containing the king's chair along with a few other chairs for guests. All were covered in a leopard-skin print, but we weren’t sure if that was the real thing. The door on this room had simple carvings on them.
I just like this picture of me so I posted it! ; )
Then to Guezo' palace... just to see the outside.
Then off to another palace, with more bas-relief paintings and Benin crafts for sale. Each king has his own symbol.
Statue of King Gbehanzin in the center of town (Goho Square)...
Later in the day, we went to a market where fruits, vegetables, fabric, and other goods were sold. In the back, there was a voodoo section with piles of dead birds, reptiles, monkey skulls, and some live animals in cages, including an enormous rat and some birds of prey, which was very sad. We took a look and left, and most everyone was a little sickened by it. On the way through the market, there was a foosball table surrounded by boys. One boy appeared to be in charge of the table, taking on challengers. Our friend Jonathan stepped up to play. The boy threw a coin on the table, and Jonathan threw down his to match it. Somehow it was established they were playing best of five goals. The kid won easily, 4 to 1. Then Dan took the challenge and hung in a little better, but in the end the score was 3 to 2. The table was rough, and the handles on the rods were big round wooden balls, kind of like doorknobs. Here are some photos and a video.
Voodoo section of the market..-
At the end of line, we regretfully boarded the vans again and continued for another hour to Grand Popo. The Auberge Hotel there is right on the beach overlooking the ocean. It consists of a bar lobby area, a few two-room bungalows, and more rooms in two other buildings, one of which is a grand-looking two-story structure with a porch wrapped around the bottom and a balcony wrapped around the top floor. We stayed in a bungalow that had a small but clean bathroom and a queen size bed with mosquito netting. The owner said the buildings were colonial, circa 1930s, and had been refurbished. The beach was beautiful to look at, but a little more difficult to enjoy. It dropped fairly steeply to the water, making it somewhat awkward to just have a walk along the water. You had to decide to go in or just enjoy the view from the upper beach. You have to time the moment to get quickly out past the break, and then time the moment you want to come back in so that you get ahead of the waves and run up the beach before they smack you. It was deep just a little way out, which is all the further we went. The water was warm and clear, so it was refreshing.
Market on your doorstep...