This last weekend Nathan and I and two dayworkers (Femi and Brice) decided to go to Cotonou, Benin. Benin is west of Togo. Here is a map of the area.

To travel to Benin from Togo we needed Visas, so we applied and payed about 24 bucks and in return we recived two-week mulitple entry visas. We didn’t have any plans except to get off the ship for a day or two. The trip was standard for african travel. Which involves many hours of sweating in cramped taxis in traffic jams on bumpy roads! We left the ship about 7 PM and didn’t arrive in Cotonou until about 1 AM.  The ride was made longer by the fact that we got stopped nine times at military check-stops that were looking for illegal goods. There is a lot more Illegal good traveling the roads at night so that was why there were so many check-stops. A quick check in the cab and then the trunk and we were on our way again. Once in the city we found a hotel. Because we were on a budget we all asked to stay in the same room so they agreed as long as we were out of the hotel by 6 AM we were alright! We crashed shortly after getting into the room.

At 6:30 AM we were walking along the beach listening to the waves crash in onto the shore. It was nice to be able to walk in the sand and feel the breeze blowing on your face. We found a bakery and bought some bread and yogurt. We then found a place to sit and eat our delicious food. This was on the steps to a mosque.

Nathan, Brice and myself eating in Benin

After breakfast we went to Brice’s aunts place and left our backpacks there. We then headed to the national stadium, for what, we were not sure. But when we got there I noticed they had a pool and I could see the diving boards above the buildings. So as we walked over to the the pool we could see there were a bunch of people there. We walked into the pool area and they were having a big african swim meet. We got seated with all the athletes under a big tent.

Athletes tent

That was kind of strange. Us two white guys sitting with all the swimmers and swim coaches. This was a swimming event like I have never seen. There were kids of all ages and sizes competing. There were a lot of people watching the races. The first heat of kids to race was a group of about six girls maybe 12-16 years old. I don’t think these kids had ever dived off of a pedestal because the one girl lost her balance and fell into the pool. And also the swimmers were all doing belly flops into the pool as opposed to diving in.

Belly flopping in!

Also along the side of the pool were rescue swimmers. Now you would think that at a swim meet you wouldn’t need rescue swimmers but almost every race a kid needed to be rescued because they were drowning. It was quite a site to see.

Rescue swimmers

This was a big event because there were police and security with machine guns all over the place. The minister of sport was in attendance as were a bunch of other dignitaries. There was live music with people pounding on al types of musical instuments. My favorite was this one guy who was beating on a piece of steel that was balanced on this head.

By the time we left there it was about noon and we were getting hungry and thirsty. We walked for a little bit until we found a place to eat. We opted for authentic African food. We ate the traditional fufu and peanut soup with goat meat. Fufu is basically some type of mashed yam that is boiled then pounded into a paste similar to the consistency of Play dough. Fufu doesn’t have much taste but the soup has lots of flavour as well as spiciness. The meat on the other hand can be pretty interesting. The animal is not really sorted like you get back home.  What you get here is basically goat…. meaning muscle, organs, skin or any combination of the above! You name it could be in the soup. Some of it was pretty tough and chewy, but I am getting used to it. I have eaten it three times now. Before you start eating, a large bowl along with soap and water is brought to the table. This is used for washing your hands. Oh did I mention you don’t use utensils to eat this dish. Basically you roll a small ball of fufu up and dip and roll it in the soup. Eating is done with your right hand because traditionally your left hand is used for bathroom duties and since toilet paper is expensive…. well you get the picture. Once you have eaten all the fufu and meat you can use your three fingers as a ladle and scoop the soup into your mouth. This is harder than it looks. Thankfully the bowl of water is left at the table to clean up your hand and face and any other part of your body or clothes that may have gotten in the way!

Right hand spooning action!

After lunch we headed to one of Mercy ships previous day workers shop. He owns a small welding shop so we stopped in to to visit for a couple hours. I got to try my hand at street welding. The welder was a homemade unit, it only had two setting if you were welding small stuff you use the one wire if you want to use more heat you hook up to both terminals. I used a welding mask but when I asked why the two employees didn’t use a welding helmet. I was told that, “that was how they had learnt and that they had tried the mask but couldn’t figure it out.

No gloves, No helmet… No problem, “I’ll just squint”

Three cute little boys running around playing!

We then took a quick tour into the market area. This is one busy city! The pictures don’t do it justice.

Motor bikes, called zimijons, are everywhere! They are a fast and cheap way to travel in the city.

After that we went back to Brice’s aunts house and had some food that they so graciously prepared for us.

We headed back to the ship after supper. Five more hours of riding in a cab and seven military roadblocks later we arrived at the ship; tired, dirty, and hungry but safe! It was great to get to see another country and we sure packed a lot into one day.  Hopefully I will get back there some day to do some more exploring!