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January 20, 2013 / samwilson60

Then there were three

With all day to get to the airport and almost all night to wait for Sam-Sam’s flight, we stopped off for lunch in Grand Popo, a beachside town most of which has been eaten up by the sea, leaving just a thin strip of land full of restaurants, auberges and beach. The first place we stopped in at was run by a very chatty local guy, who was all too keen to feed and water us, despite clearly not having the means to do so on site. We had to order something so settled for a couple of cold cokes, which he returned with about an hour later – we had the time but not the patience to stay for lunch and after setting the world to rights with our all too eager host we sauntered down to the nearby auberge for a slap up meal and the requisite paddle.

The airport was only about 80km away but we were told it would take us a few hours. This in itself was ominous and in any case we didn’t want our first taste of Cotonou to be after dark, so we set off early with the aim of finding a quiet corner at the airport itself to curl up in the truck until our first guest arrived. The drive into town was hectic to say the least, and did nothing to ease Cat’s aching head. There was nothing out of the ordinary – lots of horns, lots of whistles, lots of dust, roadworks and ‘diversions’, interpreted differently by every passing vehicle it seems – all now rather familiar but full on nonetheless. Once at the airport things settled down and we were comfortable with our surroundings. We had to sweet talk the security guards every time we wanted to get inside for a drink, the loo, phone credit, you name it – and with varying degrees of success – but the hassle was minimal and people-watching was fun.

Once Sam-Sam had extracted herself from the inefficient, overzealous airport officials sometime in the early hours, we drove the gauntlet back to Grand Popo for breakfast by the sea and a lazy day of catching up, making plans and, in Cat’s case, crashing out.

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With five days before needing to be back in Cotonou for our second guest, we decided to take our time exploring the southern half of the country, starting in Oudiah, the country’s historic voodoo centre and former slave-trading port. After exploring the small town and trying to digest just some of its haunting past, we set up camp on the beach, where we awoke on Christmas Day.

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The second half of Christmas Day was spent in Abomey, trying to find a restaurant that could better our hotel’s offer of rice, chips and peas for a vegetarian Christmas dinner. Thankfully we found just that, with red wine and ice cream to boot, followed by crepes round the corner for breakfast on Boxing Day.

After a tour of Abomey’s museum and some rather gory insights into the country’s Dahomey past, we returned southward, in the direction of Ganvié, ‘the Venice of Africa’. Our progress was hampered by some all-too African pot holes and we only made it halfway before calling it a day at a fairly mediocre looking ‘auberge’, the main selling point being that the other place in this small town looked (and sounded) infinitely worse. As it turns out, the one we plumped for was perfect – we were invited to camp among the trees in the ‘outer courtyard’ and when we hesitantly inquired about the showering facilities, our young hosts promptly supplied us with a 180-litre barrel of water – more than we knew what to do with even after washing ourselves and our clothes and filling the water tank in the car.

After this impromptu stopover, we had to get our act together before our second guest arrived. We desperately wanted Anthea’s first night to be special, or at least reasonably nice, but were also aware of our potential mobility issues. Three in the Tinker Beast, it turns out, is more than manageable when the third isn’t a random mechanic or gendarme, but four was still a bit daunting. We tried Abomey-Calavie, as the starting point for a visit to Ganvié the following day, but we were unconvinced by the accommodation on offer (rooftop of a fairly dreary hotel, zero shade and questionable facilities). The next option was the beachfront just past the airport in Cotonou, but this didn’t feel right either. The Christmas funfair was entertaining and alarming in equal measure, but the rest was just alarming. Just as we were passing the airport again, running out of ideas, we had a flash of inspiration involving an eco-tourism lodge in Possotomé, on Lake Aheme. The only problem was that, even if it was a goer, by the time we got out there we wouldn’t have time to get back before Anthea’s plane landed, so Sam and Sam-Sam went to check it out while Cat made herself comfy outside the airport, negotiating taxi fares for three hours.

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