Beautiful Benin – Travel Blog. The Beninese leg of our Oasis Overland ‘Accra to Cape Town’ trip. From Grand Popo to the stilted Ganvie Lake Village.
After spending a few relatively uneventful days in Togo, we were hoping southern Benin would have much more to offer, and we were relieved to find it did. Being the third country we visited on our overland tour with Oasis, we were pretty happy with our 4 days in beautiful Benin.
We crossed the border from Togo at the Hilakondji Border crossing and entered into Benin, which was relatively smooth and painless. It was only a 30-minute drive to our campsite in Grand Popo, where we camped right on the beach again. However, this time, we were just outside of a small and sleepy village, which was lovely on the grounds of Auberge de Grand-Popo.
After chopping some firewood and an early lunch Chris and I opted to explore to the small local village. Exploring on our own, so we could go at our own pace we were hoping we might also find some wildlife.
It was really hot and humid and the sun was brutal. After wandering around the friendly village for a while we were easily lured into the shaded mangroves by the sight of a White-Throated Bee-Eater.
The sheltered mangroves was full of birdlife. Straight away we found an African Blue Flycatcher, followed by Pied Kingfishers, Weaver Birds and glimpses of a Malachite Kingfisher. We must have spent an hour or two clambering around the mangroves taking photos. In particular, trying to get a shot of the Malachite Kingfisher, unfortunately with no success, just a lot of perspiration!
Having access to the facilities at Auberge de Grand-Popo and especially the pool was amazing. After a hot sweaty afternoon it was nice to relax in and around the pool, beer in hand. It really was a nice introduction to beautiful Benin.
The following morning, Chris went back to the mangroves quickly after breakfast, in search of the Malachite Kingfisher. Although seeing one, he was still unable to get close enough to capture a shot that we were really happy with. So the search would continue. The Weavers, however, were still busy making their nests.
Straight after breakfast, we drove a couple of hours to a small town called Ouidah. We had the opportunity to visit a Python Temple (which we decided against) and to do a little shopping. We, along with some others from our group wandered around the town and stopped at a small restaurant for lunch. It took over 2 hours for the staff to serve us six beers, four serves of fries, two salads and a chicken sandwich – ‘TIA.’
After our rather prolonged lunch, we all walked the ‘Route des Esclaves’ in the 40′ heat. This old slave route started at a large tree and plaza from where the slaves would have been auctioned off. Once sold they were then herded 4km from town through to the “Point of No Return.’ This beach area was the point where the slaves would be forced to board a boat and taken to their destination for new life of slavery.
Along the way, the slaves were taken to the tree of ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ were they were branded as property of their new owners. They were also forced to walk around this tree several times (seven times for men and five for women). The act of circling the tree for the prescribed number of laps was supposed to make them forget about their past and accept their future as a slave, resisting all resentment to their new life.
The route took us through small villages and farmland before we reached ‘The Door of No Return’ (La Porte Du Non Retour.) Now symbolised by a monument, approximately 12 million people were shipped off as slaves from this spot. It was a very sombre experience! Imagining what those poor people must have been thinking whilst walking down that road and what they had to endure from that day forward was impossible to comprehend!
By the time we reached our nearby to the campsite, we were all dripping with sweat. So much so, that we all decided to jump into the saltwater pool to cool down. Unfortunately the campsite, although plumbed for it had no running water, except for inside reception. The only way we could shower was to take a bucket to reception, get them to fill it up and have a bucket shower. The slight inconvenience was well worth it.
We had purchased a ‘pop-up’ netted tent in Accra and decided it would be a great opportunity to sleep under the stars. What we didn’t account for were strong winds that kept threatening to collapse the flimsy tent! After a little repositioning, we survived the night, without being blown away!
Our next stop was a town called Ganvie, for a shop at the local fruit and vegetable market. It was also the gateway to the stilted Ganvie Lake Village.
From there, we took a guided boat tour for 2 hours around the Lake Nokoué and out to its famous stilt village. The cruise out to the village was very picturesque and we passed our first stilted structures (several large reed ‘watch-houses’). These were constructed so that the locals could protect their fish traps from potential thieves.
It was really interesting watching the locals go about their daily lives. With villagers throwing their fishing nets out and women and children paddling in their dugout canoes to and from the main land out to their stilted houses. We did notice the locals were quite shy and preferred not having their photo taken front on.
Dubbed the ‘Venice of Africa’ we learnt the stilt village was constructed in the 16-17th century. The Tofinu people who lived close to Lake Nokoué were forced to flee their village pursued by the powerful Fon warriors. The Fon were intent on capturing the Tofinu to sell to as slaves to Portuguese traders forcing the Tofinu to flee to the safe haven of the lake. Religious reasons prevented the Fon from attacking them out on this sacred lake. Thus, the Tofinu people made new lives out in the safe sanctuary of Lake Nokoué, forming what is now known as Ganvie Stilt Village. With over 30,000 inhabitants and over 3000 buildings (almost all of which are stilted) Ganvie was really impressive.
The Stilt Village was a highlight for us. And on the way back, we even saw several of the elusive Malachite Kingfishers. But as usual we could never get quite close enough for a decent photo.
After a quick food shop at the market, we spent the afternoon making our way further north, towards the town of Nikki, where we would be crossing the border into Nigeria. We found a very quiet bush camp along the way and had a quiet nights sleep. The following day, we had a full drive day again. There wasn’t a lot to see along the way, however, we noticed as we got closer to the Nigerian border, the roads got a little worse, with large potholes and the occasional obstacle to drive around!
We made a quick food shop stop in a small town, before finding another great spot to bush camp. Our last night in beautiful Benin was spent sleeping under the stars in our netted tent, before making our way into Nigeria.
Our Oasis Overland Expedition
We travelled with Oasis Overland on the 12 week Accra-Cape Town section of their 42 Week UK-Cairo Trans Africa expedition. Doing an Overland expedition was an epic way to travel through this big and beautiful continent. It took the hassle out of travelling independently through some of most remote parts of the world. Yet, it still provided the challenges and adventures that we as well-travelled backpackers wanted. From free-camping under the stars to sweltering in the dense jungles and driving for days along dusty desolate tracks to haggling in the busy and bustling markets, this expedition had it all. We really did get a little off track!