Benin – Stilt village of Ganvie

While I could have been a totally lazy tourist today and hung out in Cotonou drinking coffee and surfing the internet, i figured I should break with tradition and be a good tourist.  So off I headed to Ganvie – the Unesco stilt village.  It is a village entirely built on the lake, originally to help the inhabitants avoid the continual threat of being kidnapped by slave traders.

As is often the case on these adventures, it is the getting there that is (more than) half the fun.   I have been surprised by how honest the mototaxis are here.  Most of the time they quote me the same price the locals have already told me.  And more importantly, they mostly make sure that I end up where I need to go.  My nice chap this morning charged me 50 cents and took me to the right place to stand to catch the shared taxi to the roundabout at Abomey Calavi.  It was an amusing taxi ride.  I was wedged in the middle of the back seat with three generously proportioned Beninese ladies.  I couldn’t move anything, but I felt relatively secure as even if the car had crashed into something I was well cushioned and firmly wedged for protection.   The taxi driver didn’t really know where to drop me, but the ladies in the back did, and he got a bit of a telling off for dropping me off 200m past the turn off.

I avoided the offers of a moto taxi, and walked the 800m to the port where boats go to Ganvie, to the non-stop soundtrack of Yovo yovo (my new word for white person) from passersby.  (Side note, I have given up trying to explain to Africans that I am polynesian and therefore brown and not white…..).

And then it began.  I haven’t had this level of hassle before on this trip.  Two guys intercepted me before the port offering to sell me a tour, and when I asked them to leave me in peace, one told me to f’ off back to my country.   At the port, I had four guys yelling at me telling me I had to pay 20 euros for the boat.  When I said I wouldn’t pay more than was on the sign (where all the prices were quite clear) they said I couldn’t go.  All right then.   So, I started with tactic no. 1 – I sat down and relaxed and took some photos of the ladies in the boats for 5 minutes.  Before I had to advance to tactic no. 2 (getting up and walking away), they acquiesced to the right price on the sign.

Off we went.  It was a pretty tranquil morning and a pretty quick ride to the village.  It was fascinating watching village life, and I was most impressed with some of the 5 year olds paddling themselves to school.   Unsurprisingly, the locals are not at all excited to see tourists and yell at you/ask for money/cover their faces if you try and take photos.  Fair enough, if I had a bunch of foreigners walking round my neighbourhood trying to take my picture, I wouldn’t like it either.   This is a working village, and most of these folks still have to paddle 8k each way to sell their wares.  The guide said they are worried people will sell their pictures and that is why the villagers don’t like it, but he told me not to worry.   In the end, I only took pictures from a distance   However, it is a bit odd to be trying to increase tourism here without figuring out how to ensure the villagers also profit from the relatively expensive fees the tourists are charged….. the trickle down effect clearly isn’t working.   I would recommend visiting, but don’t expect a warm welcome.

Getting back was also amusing.   We picked up half the village to give them a ride to town on the boat.  I don’t mind this at all actually, we had space.   They were friendly folks and one of them offered me a ride to the roundabout on the back of his moto, but I wandered up instead.

Then I stood on the side of the road with a lady I found who was also headed for Cotonou.  Interestingly she ignored the first three offers of rides in minibuses, she obviously didn’t like the look of those, and I trusted her judgment.  We eventually hopped in the front seat of a minibus.  Unfortunately she was a bit skinny, so while there was a smidge more space, it was a bit boney.   I nonchalantly had my arm out the window, holding on to the door.  That is until the side view mirror got smacked off by a passing car.  After that, arms firmly inside!!!  My new friend gave the driver continual performance feedback with tuts and pointed fingers.     I got off the minibus at the first stop in Cotonou, given the traffic was heaving, and I was pretty sure it was faster to walk the 2.5k back to the hotel.   A fun day.

Ganvie, Cotonou, December 21, 2016

Benin – Chilling in Cotonou

There aren’t many sites in Cotonou, but it is a pleasant enough place to while away a day or so.

My priority when in town was to check out the Haring exhibition at the Foundation Zinsou. First step – try and find it! I walked for 4 k trying to find the building – damn google maps and the lying/lonely planet! It turns out the foundation has moved. The first moto taxi promised me he knew where it had moved to…. I have heard that before :-). So, i had an extended tour around a bunch of sites around Cotonou for about 45 minutes while we asked random strangers where it was, and then ended up back about a 10 minute walk from where I started.

It was a lovely free gallery with outstanding coffee and an exceptional chocolate brownie! There were two extraordinarily well behaved school groups when I visited, who were adorable. The shop on the top floor was worth a visit if you want high end african art souvenirs. Although the gallery is free, you do get assigned a mandatory guide when you arrive. I asked the guide to leave me be as I was happy wandering by myself. But I realised that he got bumped to the back of the queue of waiting guides when I ‘rejected’ him. Feeling bad, I did let him guide me up the stairs, and gave him a reasonable tip given I didn’t have to pay entry and it would have been churlish not to.

Very studious school kids at the gallery
I also checked out a few other things in Cotonou – the place d’etoile, the place des martyrs, and the stade d’amitie. I was honestly too lazy to check out the grand marche, as I feel like i have seen more than enough African markets for this month. None of the sights are mind blowing but Cotonou is a great place to chill for a couple of days. The ONLY way to get around town, similar to Togo, is on the back of a zemijohn or moto-taxi. It isn’t particularly safe, but there isn’t much choice as taxis are rare and the traffic in a car is painfully slow.
Statue of the martyrs
I stayed at the very chilled out and reasonably cheap Guesthouse Cocotiers which I would highly recommend.

December 22, 2016

Queue of mototaxis waiting at the lights