Quelle heure est-il?

Indeed, what time is it? We certainly didn't have a clue about the answer to that question when we arrived to find our bus had already departed from Parakou to Cotonou. Unfortunately, we were not aware of the time change when we entered Benin. I had received no sms alert about it, there are no clocks in any place we visited, and we were too dumb to figure out that it may be a possibility. So this morning we have an extra few hours in the commercial center and transport hub of central Benin, Parakou, before heading off at 1pm.

We will go by Intercity bus to Cotonou, de facto capital, a - hour trip costing 6,000CFA or about 9 Euro. For fellow Benin travellers, it is a far better option than being squashed inside a rusty taxi-brousse and similar in price now that the bus services recently reduced their prices. Most English guides advertise Confort buses, but from the black smoke we have seen pumping out of their exhausts and info. we heard from locals, they are unreliable and less comfortable.

Yesterday I spent my 29th birthday squashed in the back seat of a Peugeot 505 station wagon. There are seats for 8 people, but somehow 12 adults and 3 kids were squeezed inside. There are no other options when you come from Togo to Benin at the Ketao crossing near Kara. The border cops gave us no hassle. They seemed more interested in returning to the comatose state we found them in rather than questioning our Visa Touristique Entente. The journey from Kara to Ketao is just 26kms (300 CFA) but you need to get a zemidjan (motorbike taxi - they want about about 1000CFA so haggle) to complete the 5 km trip to the border. You may have to wait an hour to get to the border by taxi-brousse.

Some interesting things that have occured in the past 24 hours.

- I saw a cow tied up in the boot of a Peugot 505, although it looked more comfortable than the passengers inside the car.

- An innovative bootleg petrol seller in Parakou is advertising his small commercial unit as 'Hell' rather than Shell. Same thing really, given Shell's atrocious human rights record.

Next stop Cotonou, then the coastal cities/towns of Porto Novo, Ouidah, Abomey and Grand Popo. We hope to learn more about the old Dan-Homey kingdom and Benin's ties to the the notorious Atlantic slave trade. Being the origin of many Haitian ancestors, I'm also hoping to see if I can connect any dots between the people here and Haiti, their traditional practices in Vodoo, etc.

Any tips on Niger?


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