Day 72 - Wednesday 02/01/08 - Grand Popo to Chez Monique, Abomey
Left the palm-lined beaches and headed along the coast to Ouidah - Voodoo capital of Benin, with a history of slave-trading. The museum is fairly average but it gives you an idea of the linkes between Benin, Brazil and the Caribbean (Haita, Cuba) and the influence of Dahomeyan slaves on Brazilian culture. You can also see evidence of Brazilian culture in Benin, particularly in the architecture, which the repatriated slaves brought back to Africa. As for Voodoo (Fetishism), it was only officially recognised as a religion in 1996, and now they have a big festival every year, which starts with the sacrifice of a goat. We'd noticed that quite a few of the houses have white flags hanging outside, and apparently this denotes the house of a Voodoo priest. People go to them with a problem, the priest communicates with the spirits, and gives them a list of ingredients (such as parrot's tail or cobra's head). The buyer then takes the 'prescription' to the local Fetish market (basically like a Voodoo pharmacy) - and the priest creates a fetish imbued with the spirits' power ... or something like that. Anyway, outside the museum we were hounded by boys demanding money and generally a bit too cheeky, so we drove on to Abomey. Installed ourselves in the garden of Chez Monique - an okay overlanders' place with lots of trees and wooden sculptures.
Day 73 - Thursday 03/01/08 - Abomey to Abeokuta (Nigeria)
We spent the morning visiting a nearby village where we were able to meet with the chief fetisher. He explained some more about fetishes - how you make them, what they signify etc. Interesting stuff - if a little far-fetched for our Western minds. As we only have a two-day visa (it doesn't seem worth extending it for just a couple more days), we have to leave Benin today. So we paid a visit to the palace of Dahomey (which features Ghezo's throne, mounted on the skulls of his enemies) and, feeling quite excited, we headed off to the Nigerian border.
The exit formalities for Benin were straightforward, but it took us a while to actually find the Nigerian immigration and customs - they're really tucked away - and whenever you ask for directions you're just told to 'go straight'. Sometimes they say 'go straight like this' (indicating to the left) or 'go straight like this' (indicating to the right) or just 'go straight straight straight' (meaning straight on)! All very entertaining. The immigration officer spent ages flicking through our passports and then asked for a present for his 'four children' (although I misheard and thought he was talking about a 'fortune ring') but the customs guy was very efficient and didn't even check the vehicle.
From the border we must have passed through at least 10 checkpoints - some were just kids asking for money (so didn't stop at those) but often it was friendly officials checking that we'd got all our entry stamps. As we drove through the villages people waved and shouted 'you're welcome' as we drove past, which was encouraging. Our first introduction to a Nigerian town was Abeokuta - just a dot on the map but still quarter of a million in habitants. It took us a while to navigate through the traffic to the Gateway Hotel - the poshest in town - where we talked with the very nice manager, who'd lived in England for 12 years and said we could camp in the grounds - excellent.
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