Wednesday, 17 February 2016


We woke up at the crack of dawn, 5am! To leave the lovely Songhai hotel to make our way to the Nigerian border. We decided we would avoid the notoriously bad Seme border and try the next crossing slightly north at the Igolo town in Benin. We were nervous to cross as everyone has been telling us we won't get through without paying bribes. So we decided to get there before the rush of Monday traffic.
We arrived at the barrier at about 7:30am and handed our passports over to the police in a wooden cabin to our left. They noted our details into their book, stamped our passports out of Benin and asked us to fill in our details on forms. We made friends with the police officers and acted dumb when they said they needed money for us to pass through the barrier. Eventually with big smiles, they let us go through without payment. 

We drove up and parked on the left before the baggage container. We walked across the road to get our passports stamped, yellow fever certificates checked (first time in Africa I might add), our temperatures checked for Ebola and then back over to the baggage container to get our carnet's stamped. All very easy, and such a joy to speak English. We left with no hassles, and no bribes!! It seemed we were lucky as ALL the locals were paying, no questions asked. The officers would open up their draws in their desks to add more notes to their already overflowing piles! But we got through Scott free! There was even an atm at the border where we could draw some Naira, the Nigerian currency, which is something most borders don't offer. It all took under 2hours... Easy peasy!

That was to be the end of the easiness in travelling to Lagos. We were stopped every few kilometres, with some stops literally being next to each other. There would be two thick wooden sticks where you would be instructed to park in between. Then be instructed to drive around the one stick and park in the next bay, then the next, then the next, then the next. With each booth having different cops stood there to hear the same story and ask for gifts. Like being on a speed dating course with the cops! They were all very friendly and eventually moved us on when they realised they weren't getting anything from us.
It was the Lagos traffic officers that proved to be our most challenging. They wore a light brown shirt with a maroon hat on, like a cricketer would wear during a match. They insisted that driving in Nigeria with a right hand drive vehicle in a left hand driving country is illegal. On both occasions they insisted our vehicles were to be impounded, or for a hefty fine of 50000 Naira (£175) to be paid after escorting us to the Chiefs office. At this point we refused to continue to drive and said we would wait there for a tow as it was illegal to drive. We had to play them at their own game, by blocking the road and acting as if we had all the time in the world. (Hence stopping them from getting money from other passers by) We insisted we were tourists, but they were having none of it. After about half an hour, we were eventually told to move on, clearly getting bored with our lack of payment and happy go lucky vibes. Thank goodness! We would look up the laws of the road as soon as we got internet in Lagos.

We were warned about the traffic in Lagos and oh my gosh, were they not kidding. We drove into the city on a very uneven road, with potholes the size of small cars. How were non-4x4 vehicles driving on this "road"? We saw the evidence of broken cars who had taken the wrong lines, as you had to drive around abandoned vehicles with their parts lying under the cars. It was utter madness. Not only that, you had people in vehicles driving alongside us wanting to know all about us and our travels whilst dodging potholes. You have to have eyes at the back of your head for this kind of driving.

We were absolutely shattered, with empty stomachs, as stopping to eat in this craziness didn't seem to be an option. We eventually arrived into Iyoki, Victoria Island just past 3pm, and found the house we were looking for. Cat's godmother has family in Nigeria who so kindly offered us to stay. We pulled into her compound and were treated by a beautiful house with such a beautiful family. This family offered their house to us without even knowing us. She had her chef, cook us up a fantastic meal (which was amazing since we hadn't eaten yet and we were up at 5am!). We played a few board games with the kids and enjoyed a tea (with milk!!) before bed in an air conditioned room!!!

We woke up early the next morning as we needed to head into town where we would try our luck at the Cameroon embassy in Lagos. But as we decended down the stairs, the dinning room table was layed out with a breakfast for us!! This was total luxury!! Ego even organised us a driver for our time with them, so that we wouldn't be hassled by the police! He was a fantastic driver, called Sunday, and he happily ferried us around with zero hassle from the police in an air conditioned car! Hallelujah! 
We arrived at the Angolan embassy to be told they don't issue any visas at that embassy. We weren't that surprised as they place looked grubby and unused! So we headed to the Cameroon embassy. We weren't sure if we could get a visa here, as all blogs and advise say to get it in Calabar. But we would try our luck. We greeted a man who told us a visa would cost $120 each!! Ouch!! He gave us the application forms and told us to arrive the next day to apply. 120USD (£80) sounded extortionate, so we messaged some of our friends who had gotten theirs in Calabar to see what they paid. We decided we would go back the next day and ask to pay the normal price at £60 per visa. 

Next stop was the MTN shop to get a SIM card. We arrived at the entrance where the car was scanned and checked by security. After heading inside, we were then also scanned and checked. Security was intense. But we bought a SIM card for 100 Niara (£0.35) and needed to wait an hour or so until it was activated. So we headed off to the Yellow Chilli restaurant for some lunch. We had Sunday tag along and bought him some lunch too. Here we tried some traditional dishes. Charles, Cat and I had different sauces with Semivita (Pounded yam) while Rob enjoyed a rice dish with prawns, shrimps and chicken. Yes... Rob ordered a fish dish! And enjoyed it! I am as surprised as you are!! I can't remember the last time he said he enjoyed any food that isn't your normal European dish. But I was surprised that he got stuck in, even pealing off the shells with his hands. Something he hates doing, as he always says he likes food that's easy to eat. Not having to fight for it. Lol!
We headed back to the house where we played more board games with the kids and enjoyed watching Cartoon Network with them. We were later told dinner was ready. Yes the chef cooked us another amazing meal! We were being treated like kings and queens! 

The next morning we headed off to the Cameroon embassy to hand in our visa application forms. But little did we know, we were about to be made fools of! We walked into his office and asked about paying the normal £60 worth of visa instead of the £80 he was asking for. He then went off in a tangent about paying so much to visit England, that it's only fair. After a few efforts at negotiating, we were getting no where, so we told him we would go to Calabar and get it there as it would be much cheaper. At this point he told us we needed to pay for the application forms. This guy was going to take us to town. Our tempers were rising, and we were fuming. We were aware that we still had no visa, so we were now firmly in his grasp. He could phone ahead and get our applications denied. So he charged us 1000 Naira (£3.50) per paper and even gave us a receipt after Charles asked. We left swiftly after that, ANGRY!
After calming down a bit we headed for a Shoprite (a South African grocery store that opening stores nation wide)... I could finally stock up on Mrs Balls Chutney!! My favourite!! I was even more happy to see a Pandora store (a jewellery store I used to work at). It certainly wasn't up to the standards in England, but the girls were lovely!!! Made me miss my girls in the uk. South Africa has certainly made their mark in Nigeria bringing large businesses, like DSTV, to accommodate the ever growing population. 

The next day we headed for the Lekki Conservation Centre where they have a forest with monkeys in the middle of Lagos. Not something you expect in the middle of a city. The entrance fee was 1000 Naira per person and 1000 for the canopy walk above the forest. It was absolutely beautiful while we watched the monkeys swing from branch to branch. We met 2 couples who were in Nigeria to complete a very long process of adoption. They had been here for 3months and were heading back home to Amsterdam with their new baby girls in the next week. It had taken 5years for the one couple and 2years for the other. It was so interesting to chat and talk about their experience. Such a great thing they have done. 

On our way back home, Sunday needed to fill up. But in Nigeria, there is a huge shortage of fuel, as there are no or little refineries. It's crazy to think such an oil rich country imports all their fuel, they most definitely missing a trick there! We pulled up at a fuel station that they had blocked off, reducing the amount of people using it. Sunday got out, leaving the car in the middle of the road, to chat with the manager, while we sat in the car in a very busy roundabout leading onto a highway. Safety isn't a key factor in these parts! But he eventually got back into the car, and told us he had difficulty persuading us to go through because we were in the car (white people)!!! But he eventually convinced them, and we were able to fill up.  

The next couple of days Ego was able to come home early and take us to see African art studios. The artwork was incredible, so creative and beautiful. She took us to a small restaurant/gathering spot where we had some cold drinks and got to try more local cuisines. Charles and Rob tried the pepper soup and oh my word was it the hottest thing they had tried yet. I took a bite and immediately had a coughing fit as my throat burned from this fiery sauce. I still can't believe both of them finished it. Cat and I tried the fried yam chips with scrambled eggs, peppers and tomatoes; something the Nigerians have often. The next day, she took us to see more art galleries, and took us for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe which had recently opened on the beach front. Food was good, but once again in Nigeria, very expensive. Then it was off to the freedom park where they play live music while you enjoy the local Star beer or palm wine. Fantastic to see, but we couldn't stay too late as our driver was collecting us at 8pm. So we waited outside the gates as we watched the chaos unfolding around us, people dressed up in their best outfits entering the park, security trying to keep the roads clear and moving, while the local disabled would beg for money. A crazy sight as quickly jumped into the car when our driver arrived.

We left Lagos, Ego and her family with a heavy heart, humbled by their generosity and hospitality. Back on the road we were greeted with yet again more police officers. All happy, friendly and just wanted a chat and the hope they would get something out of us. We were now also armed with our knowledge of tourists transiting through the country with a right hand drive vehicle. We told them we knew the law stated we had up to 6months to travel freely with our vehicles and as we were only transiting through within one month, we were perfectly legal. And this worked well, no arguing, no questioning, just happy to wave us on. Fantastic!! 

After a full 10hours of driving, and stopping for the police, we arrived into Benin City where we found a hotel that offered cheap rooms for 3500 Niara (£12) a night, called the Osdy Hotel. We wondered into town to grab a cold drink, and soon got chatting to some locals. We had a great time with them as we spoke about the way of life in Nigeria. We drank the African Special Guiness which was normal Guiness with injections of herbs and spices. Actually quite nice, and were even more enjoyable when we were told they were buy one, get one free! Two drinks for 200 Naira was a bargain! Yes that's £0.35 per drink!!!

The next day was pretty relaxed, as the boys did maintenance on the cars, while I cleaned the inside with an attempt to tackle the forever appearing dust! A thankless task, but if it means we have at least one day of driving in a clean car; it most definitely is worth it! It was sweltering and we were all literally dripping with sweat. The boys would have sweat dripping from their noses and chins; very attractive of course. But with happiness and pride, it was a productive morning! So, Rob and I decided we deserved an ice cream, so we headed back into town where we soon realised it was a Sunday. People were returning from church in amazing outfits and the streets were now a beautiful array of colours. The ladies dressed up in traditional clothing or amazing ball like dresses, while the men in suits with bow ties. People take such pride in their appearances in Nigeria, particularly when it comes to attending church. We later met up with Charles and Cat to get some dinner at the local KFC equivalent, Chicken Republic. Like most places in Africa. Everything on the menu was not available, except a chicken sandwich and chicken wings. So there was only one thing to do... Have a chicken sandwich and chicken wings. It was devine, and just what the doctor ordered! We wandered back to the hotel where we ended up playing table tennis with one of the other residents that was in Benin City to put through a study application to study abroad in Canada. Something most Nigerians strive to achieve as studying abroad will offer them far more opportunities than studying in Nigeria.

Another 10 hours of driving awaited us as our next destination was Calabar. We arrived and needed to look for another hotel. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not a country that offers camping, so it had to be another hotel. We tried one hotel, but it was far too expensive, so they phoned ahead to a nearby one that could give us a room for 5000 Niara (£18) a night. We arrived there and she said it would be 7000 a night. No way! So we did some more haggling and she soon agreed to 5000... Fantastic. Our room even had aircon... It's the small things in life that really make a difference! 

Calabar was a great little town and we managed to get our Cameroon visa within half an hour at the normal price. Quick, easy, and the staff were so friendly at this embassy. Now we understand why everyone says to go to that one. All we needed was 2passport photos and to fill in an application form. Fantastic!

There is so much history in Calabar , being Nigerias biggest slave ports and later a major exporter of palm oil. Fascinating and a definite must see! The first museum is in a large colonial building with extensive information on the events during Britains arrival into Nigeria. Then we moved onto the next museum which was in the Marina Resort. It had a small cinema which played a movie to illustrate what it was like back then. We were then taken around with a guide who explained more to us. Each museum cost 100 Naira per person and definitely worth it. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Togo to Benin

We spent another couple of days enjoying the beach and our new found traveller friends. We decided for our last night, we would get a roaring fire going and whip out the Dutch ovens to enjoy a stew with everyone. So we went to our local vegetable stall and butcher for all the ingredients. The local butcher, I might add, was just a wooden small stall on the side of the road with a lump of beef laid on the top with of course had flies circling like crazy. We asked for 1,5kg which was 4500CFA (£5) for the good stuff -no chopped up bones included. Bonus!!!
We had a great night enjoying our stew with the Africa crew. Cat even managed to round up all the boys to help with the dishes. Shame, the poor guys didn't know what had hit them, so used to travelling without woman and getting the locals to do everything for them. What brilliant fun, as we sat around the campfire talking the night away, mesmerised by the flames.

We left the next morning feeling sad we had to leave them and the gorgeous palm tree covered beach. But it was time for us to head to Benin as our visa had already started and we wanted to spend some time seeing what Benin had to offer. Massive goodbyes and good lucks passed around and once again, leaving having met such awesome people! 
We soon arrived at the border which is always great fun when you can't figure out which building to go to first. After passing the numerous stalls selling all name of things, we arrived at the barrier where there was a building to the left where we got our passports stamped out. Once again, very friendly, laughing and teasing that the boys could continue to Benin, but Cat and I should stay. We apparently would make great wives for them.... 
We made our way around the building to the right where we handed over our passports, for more note taking. Then over the barrier to the Benin side. Again no bribes, no hassle!!

We drove to the next barrier where we went across to the building on the right where we got stamped in. And then across to the building on the opposite side. This was not the building we needed and were just told 'la ba', meaning over there or straight. Great, we would have to find it ourselves in the masses of cars, trucks, people and buildings. We headed in the direction that he pointed and would hope for the best. Eventually some very helpful Benese directed us to a glass reflected building where we could get the vehicles paperwork. Unfortunately they didn't accept our carnet (apparently from other travellers it can be done with a bit of gentle persuasion, but we were only told after we had crossed) so we bought a Laissez-Passer for 5800CFA (£6.70). And we were through! Another easy border with no bribes!! Fantastic!!

We were now in Benin... A new sticker and a new time zone. So we moved our clocks forward 1hour and headed for the nearest street stall for some lunch. A very large, tasty plate of rice and pasta with chicken and spicy sauce for only 800CFA (£0.90) for 1 plate. Brilliant!
We made our way to Cotonou the capital where we would try get our Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) visa and the Angola visa. We reached town in good time; even though (annoyingly) we were stopped by police a lot; so we decided to see if we could get a SIM card and Internet. We popped into the MTN shop to try get it sorted. Something we expected to take half an hour, took just less than two hours and we still needed to find a campsite. Bugger!! So we drove around in search of one, but as we had hit rush hour, we weren't moving anywhere quickly! We were loosing daylight and patience as the MTN store took forever while the boys were getting pestered about parking in the wrong place. It was now rush hour and the place was riddled with beaten up cars and hooter mad bikes that made navigating around town a very dicey experience. Eventually we all agreed a hotel would be our only option as there were zero campsites available. 
We tried hotel after hotel, and they were either fully booked or mega expensive! So we opted for the least expensive hotel and got a room.

We had chosen Hotel du Port, a nice hotel in a not so nice area as explained in the lonely planet guide. When approaching the reception we were told the basic rooms were all taken, so we had to opt for the  second higher option. We had no option, so they would charge us 56000CFA per room .... That's £64!!!! That would be the most expensive price to date, and blowing our £50 a day target out of the water!! Ouch!! We paid, reluctantly, and made our way up the stairs to our rooms. We were shocked! Charles and Cats room looked like it had someone staying there with the bed unmade and food in bags lying everywhere. The receptionist had also walked off with our key cards, so we couldn't even lock the doors. We were not putting up with this! 
Luckily a cleaner who happened to pass down the corridor, showed us to the lesser priced rooms and said we should ask the receptionist for those rooms. He had lied to us, there were cheaper rooms available! So we went back to reception and demanded the lesser priced, clean rooms! We were fuming at this rate as it had now taken over an hour and a half to organise clean rooms in a 'fancy' hotel! We were eventually given 5000CFA back and were told the other 2000CFA they would give us tomorrow, as the rooms were now 48200CFA each. At this point we were fed up and just wanted to go to our rooms.

On the plus side the Internet was amazing, the rooms had aircon and there was a massive pool!! We could upload all our photos, finally!!!! We gathered some food out the cars to make in the room and then venture down to the pool for a late night swim. Our tempers were slowly disappearing as we were now enjoying the comforts this hotel had to offer. The pool was fantastic and massive, but we noticed a small sign that said no swimming shorts allowed, only budgie smugglers... But a gentlemen came over and said it was no problem for the boys. Great news!! We enjoyed a dip in the pool under the stars and the boys enjoyed the 3 diving boards which they took full advantage of, jumping off and scaring the living day lights out of me and Cat... It was mega high!! 

We had a great nights sleep and would enjoy the hotel until check out as it was so expensive! So we headed down to the pool only to be told that this time the boys shorts were not permitted and therefore could not swim in the pool.... So frustrating!!! Our fuses were obviously still recovering from the day before and this was pushing us in the wrong direction! So we went back to the rooms to use the wifi....
Check out soon came so we headed down to reception to ask for the bill and get our 2000CFA per room. Only to be told the guy that deals with the money wasn't there. WHAT!? He then started saying that we got our change the night before. Yes, he was right, but not the full amount. Although it was only £2.30, it was now the principal... Cat tried her best to get through to the receptionist with her French, and even ended up speaking to the owner on the phone. But as he was not there we weren't getting anywhere and eventually had to give up and move on after an hour of arguing. Now our tempers were at breaking point!! 

We left the hotel and within seconds were pulled over by the police. This was not what we needed as pulling out our fake smiles and same old, same old, stories was proving difficult. At this point we decided to head to head to the Super U grocery store, a place where obviously all the Europeans and wealthy Beninese people shop. A large clean store with everything placed strategically with labels on the bottles; a real difference to the side of the street stall where everything is just flung in piled on top of each other. We bought a few things, but we're certainly not used to these European prices and decided only to get the essentials we couldn't find elsewhere. Then it was onto the Steers/Debonairs restaurant for lunch... This is something Charles and I remember from back home in South Africa, so it was a must!! It did turn out to be a little different from what we remembered with the usual... We don't have pineapple, cheese, caramelised onions, etc, etc... But it was still good!!!

We would now try to find the DRC embassy to ask about the requirements needed for a visa. We drove and drove around town with no luck. The address on the Internet was not working in the satnav and the map of where the embassy was on the Internet was wrong. We asked people and they couldn't tell us. We arrived at Hotel Chez Rada on the beach front just outside of Cotonou, where they offered camping as well. They even had a pool which is always delightful. So we pulled up, set up, and dived straight into the warm salty pool. There was a big group of Beninese who became increasingly interested in us as they watched us swim, particularly cat and myself, asking to take photos with us individually. These men were obviously going to make the photo with us their profile photo on Facebook... With a white girl no less! We could imagine that's what celebrities would feel like, with cameras and videos pointing at you, when all you want to do is have a relaxing swim in the pool after a couple of stressful days. Lol!!! But they were actually a good laugh, while some were asking us to teach them how to swim. A much harder task than expected! 
It was an early night for us and in the morning we would try onceagain to find the DRC embassy.

We drove around for hours trying to find the embassy with zero luck! After asking person after person, who had no idea, we going to give up. But eventually we asked a police officer who very kindly offered to chauffeur us in a convoy to the embassy! Fantastic!! He didn't even ask for anything in a return. So we followed him to the other side of town and eventually turned up at the embassy. We were so grateful! We gave him and his partner a cold coca-cola for the road as thanks. Very sweet of them!

We entered the building and soon realised we had come to the wrong Congo embassy. We wanted the DRC embassy but were brought to Congo Brazzaville. Luckily the lady inside knew where we had to go and gave us directions, back across town to where we had come from! We pulled up to see Andi's BMW motorbike (Wheelie Adventurous) parked outside the embassy. What a nice surprise!
We went inside and were very lucky to be granted a visa as we didn't have an onwards visa for Angola. Something that was a requirement to prove you would not settle and overstay your welcome. But we told him our story and after a phone call to the chief, we were asked to fill in the application form, hand over 15000CFA (£17) per application, 2 passport photos, 1 copy of the passport and he would take photocopies of our bank cars. He didn't however get round to taking the photo copies of our bank cards as they soon became flustered after realising they had lost someone's passport. A very reassuring feeling after he asked us to return after 3pm to collect our passports. 
We met up with Andi and would go grab a bite to eat at the restaurant down the road to kill some time. This was where we noticed they were playing international sport, so we asked the waitress if they would be playing the 6 nations rugby game the following day. To Robs great delight and excitement, they were!!! Well this was a date Rob was not going to miss!
Andi was staying in a hotel around the corner for the night, but he said he'd join us at our campsite and head off with us to watch the rugby the next day. Fantastic!

We headed back to the embassy to sit and wait! Charles even fell asleep in the fan cooled room. We laughed as he jolted himself awake in his seat, like sometimes you do in bed while falling asleep, when your muscles suddenly make you do karate moves like a pro. We then heard a familiar honking noise outside.... This was the Fan Ice man selling a small bag of heaven!! With frozen chocolate nesquik, or vanilla ice cream inside... I can't tell you how orgasmic a bag in the sweltering heat is! So we dashed outside to buy one for 150CFA each (£0.17), just then we were called inside to collect our visas. So we wandered back inside with our bags of heaven hidden behind our backs, like naughty school kids bringing sweets in class when we knew it wasn't allowed. But there were no problems as we left with our fan ice's and passports in hand. Happy days!!
It was time to head back to the campsite for dip on the pool! And another celebrity moment as we were being filmed by the locals while enjoyed a leisurely swim. 

But the pool needed to wait, as we were in for our first bad encounter with the police. There was a height barrier coming onto the beach that was bent inwards and therefore we would never be able to make it under, so we did as the locals and drove over the curb and around it. Just then the cops waved us down... Bugger we hadn't seen them!!! But they took our documents and told us to make our way with them to the police booth. A decrepit old wooden shack on the side of the road. We were nervous as he had our documents (Aware that every traveller has always advised to keep hold of your paperwork and keep it safe). Our lack of French and his lack of English meant we weren't getting anywhere fast while tempers started to flare. Benin was proving a real challenge for us! But just then a lovely, well dressed man walked passed and asked me, in English, if we were OK and if we were having trouble with the police. I explained our issue was that we didn't speak French so we were finding it difficult to talk through our problem. This man offered to help and soon had the situation under control with his calm approach to dealing with the police. The copper was going to issue us a 15000CFA fine per car, keep our documents until we returned to the police station on Monday morning to fill out paperwork as record of our crime. But he bartered for us and brought our fine down to 5000CFA per car, without needing to report to the police station on Monday and we could have our paperwork back there and then! 
This man was amazing and got us out of the shit purely because he was interested in our adventure and the cars. A man that often visits South Africa and recognised the flags on our cars. We were lucky in our lack of luck!
The funny thing was, after we paid our fine. The copper then said he understood why we did it and said we could do the same thing and go around, like we had done earlier, to get to our campsite and he would alert the rest of the police officers. What!? NO WAY ARE WE DOING THAT AGAIN! We would take the half an hour round trip to get to our campsite... The right way!

The next day we enjoyed a long dip in the pool before Andi joined us. Then it was time to head into town to make Rob a very happy man. After some serious negotiations to get a taxi, they were gonna charge us too much, so we started to walk instead and would try hitchhiking a lift. We soon flagged down a Kawaseki, a three wheeler pickup truck. We all piled in and soon realised the poor engine was on its last legs with the gearbox missing a few gears. It was a pure test of his skills while he battled with the now very heavy load on the sand with minimal gears. Every now and then the boys had to jump out to push this kawaseki out of the sand. While driving along the beach, the locals were all laughing and pointing in shock with this truck filled with white folk; rich people doing as the locals!? It was great fun as we waved and laughed with them. 

England won!! But Rob was furious as this was not the clean win he was hoping for saying we needed to win by more to get more points. It totally goes over my head, so I just nod and let him rant in his drunken state. Lol! Quite funny really to watch! 
We enjoyed a delicious pizza, the best in a long time while we chatted and drank the night away. Well the 4 us anyways, as Rob fell asleep in his chair with all the excitement of booze and rugby. People kept walking past him to ask if he was ok. We thought the owner was gonna chuck us out at one point with Rob passing out in this classy establishment.... But we laughed with him and ensured that he was fine and was just tired. 
We eventually decided it was time to go, so I tried to wake Rob up quietly so I didn't get too many grunts and groans to leave him (the usual when he's in this state.. Lol!). But he pounced up as if ready to start all over again. Sober as a judge... So we decided to stay for an ABF (absolute bloody final)!!! 
It was time to find our way home, so the lovely owner of the Livingstone bar, called to organise a taxi. After finding out it would be 15000CFA (£17), there was no way we would pay that! They love to charge European prices when they know our skin is white. None we will do and pay as the locals. So we called up a few zemi-John's (motorbike taxis). No helmets! 3 on a bike! On the sandy beach road! This would be interesting!! But it was a great laugh and poor Cat was put on a bike sandwiched in between two Beninese men. So half way she got off and got on her own, as Charles' driver was obviously trying to win first place on a MotoGP race, and dashed ahead of us. We were happy to make it back to the campsite with all our limbs still attached! It was past midnight, but we still had the whole night to enjoy so we all jumped into the pool and drank Gin and Sprite under the stars! 

The next day was a chilled day spent by the pool as the place became filled with local Europeans enjoying the pool and good food. What a great relaxing day. The next morning we got up early, paid our bill, said our goodbyes to Andi and headed to the Angola Embassy in hope to get a visa. Unfortunately it was not an option as we needed to have Beninese residency to apply for the visa in Benin. She ensured us Abuja in Nigeria would be the best place. That's what we thought, but no harm in trying our luck.

We headed back inland to explore more of Benin. We headed to Grand Popo along the beach front where we stayed at the Lion Bar, a reggae feel bar as you feel yourself getting high just off the second hand smoke. This place was both lovely and awful. The bar area and rooms looked amazing, but surrounding the bar was covered in rubbish! This was where we were made to camp. 

The next day we set off into Grand-Popo to explore and get some street food lunch. We wondered to a stall with a sign for fufu, sometimes also called igname (cooked and puréed yam - a sticky substance and staple food). So we sat down and ordered a bowl of fufu with palm nut oil sauce and fish and fufu with a tomato sauce and fish. It was actually not that bad as we ate our food with our hands. No utensils here!! Even Rob had a good go and ate the lot! This meal was incredibly filling and only cost 1000CFA (£1.15) per plate, so no need to have dinner! Even better.

The next day we left for Abomey, a town of the Dahomey Kingdom, that has palaces and temples dotted all over. But the road to get there was equally amazing and horrific. With perfectly laid tar, better than you've ever seen before and then massive potholes lining the roads a few kilometres down. But we arrived to Chez Monique, a weird place that once again was becoming the story of Benin. Some really good points and equally some real bad ones! It was a massive place filled with large wood carvings that gave the place a beautiful African feel. She would charge us 6000CFA (£6.90)per car, but you'd only get a bucket shower that you had to ask for and a semi working toilet. This was loads of moola for what you get! 

But we decided to have a stroll into town to hopefully find some veg. Well all we came across was moldy tomatoes and a shit load of onions!! While walking down town we noticed the trees where all squawking like crazy. We looked up and it looked like the trees where covered in oysters. No, these were bats! Every tree covered in hanging bats! We had never seen so many bats just out in the daylight, such a weird thing to see. 
We eventually stopped and enjoyed a cold beverage to cool us down before heading back to camp. We bought a baguette and a pineapple and that's what we would have for dinner. We got back, made our tuna and mayo baguettes with pineapple for desert. Just then Rob said he could hear a TD5 defender in the distance (a weird talent of his)... It got closer and closer and then Olly and Lena pulled up into the campsite. What a small world we live in bumping into our traveller friends everywhere we go! It's fantastic! Unfortunately Olly is not well and has been struggling with a fever for the past couple of days and they had just gotten back from a hospital that declared that he didn't have malaria luckily! So it was an early night so he could get some rest.

The next day we decided we would go check out some of these palaces with Lena and Olly. But first Olly and Lena popped into town to get some repairs done on their car, this meant we had time to empty out the cars, do a bit of cleaning and chuck out things we weren't using. Free up some space and make things a little easier to access. We got rid of our big clothes box and transferred our clothes into two wolf boxes. We reduced our 3 food boxes into 2 boxes and put our touristy souvenirs into the everyday box. Perfect! After jigging a few things around, it feels just perfect. Everything can now be accessed easier and the lady we gave our big box to was over the moon, almost in tears!

A successful morning and now we were ready to hit the palaces and temples of the 12 kings. We started walking through town and one by one started seeing what apparently was a temple or a palace. These places just looked like broken mud huts... Nothing out of the ordinary. The signs explaining what each building was, was a rusted metal brown sign that made reading anything very hard. This place obviously has been hit hard by Ebola causing a massive decrease in tourists to west Africa! People all claiming to be guides and begging you to buy anything from them. 
But eventually we came to the Unesco world heritage sight where here there was something to finally see. We got a guide who would show us around two palaces where two of the kings lived. It cost us 5000CFA per couple (£5.70) for a tour. After a while of Cat and Lena translating what the guide was saying to us, a South African guy joined our group with an English translator!!! Fantastic!! Lena and Cat were let off and could enjoy the tour with us. Unfortunately it was forbidden to take pictures, so we've got none to show. But it was a great experience!
While walking back to camp the streets were covered with children returning from school and bats flying above! The children chanting a French hello song.... Ça va, ça va, bonsoir, ça va, bien, merci... And so on. Fantastic watching them and we enjoyed their animated faces to go with the chants!! 

We got back to camp where we tried to collect our washing we had handed in to reception in the morning. She had told me washing was 200CFA... Really cheap. So we handed her loads, our sheets, jumpers, towels... The lot! But silly us didn't agree a new price for our massive pile. We got back and she said it would cost 7500CFA (£8.60) per couple.... WHAT!? That's crazy expensive! We went back and tried telling her we would pay 4000CFA, but eventually settled on 5000CFA. Still expensive, but our own fault for not agreeing a price. We got our clothes back, and they actually did a very good job and got most of the red dirt stains out!! A real accomplishment in these parts... Lol!

We packed up the next morning and would head back down for a change of scenery. Again Charles and Cat were held by the cops, questioning every bit of paperwork and eventually asking for a gift! We are now fed up with the Benin police and weirdly looking forward to Nigeria... If that's even possible, even knowing they are going to be incredibly more aggressive and demanding for gifts.... But at least we can talk the lingo then... ENGLISH!! (It may be a bad thing, but a different location, country, people, will be awesome!)

We've arrived into Porto Novo and with no camp sites available, so we've ended up at the local community centre where they have rooms. They are charging 9000CFA (£10.30) a night for a room, with a fan, mosquito nets, BBC tv (in English), working toilet and shower... Can't complain!!! A bit of nicety to lift our spirits!! This community centre is like non other I've ever seen. This seems to be a training, research and production centre for farming. We joined a tour around the gardens and production sight with great insight into the importance of this facility, with people travelling from neighbouring countries to learn or refresh their knowledge on farming and different techniques. We've met incredibly interesting people during our time here in this up and coming farming village.

Our last weekend in Benin, has been a real high! Like I said before, Benin has both been fantastic and horrid. So we leave to the Nigerian border on Monday morning with a love-hate relationship of this small West African country.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Burkina Faso to Togo

The border was once again an easy affair after figuring out what we needed to do and where we needed to go. We were told we had come through the wrong entrance, so the police officer directed to the correct building. An orange large building with zero signs. Very useful of course. But we went inside and into a small room to the left where two officers were sat. He stamped our passports out of Burkina after some confusion with our passport validity dates and the visa validity dates, somehow getting the two confused?! Quite amusing actually as he thought we had a 10year long tourist visa!?
Then around the corner and across the parking lot, where we got our vehicles checked by either a fixer or an official (wearing no uniform) who soon asked for a CADEAU... We just pretended like we didn't know what he was saying and moved inside to a police officer who was in a uniform that took our vehicle details down. Then to the gates to get a post control ticket for the vehicles to exit Burkina for 2000CFA (£2.30) per car. This was legit and we got a printed receipt which was stamped. No bribes and no hassle from the police.
Then we drove to the end of the road and parked the cars behind the barrier. Here we had to go to a pre-fab building on the left. It was absolutely packed with people waiting and we could only imagine how long this would take, but we got ushered straight past them and into the air conditioned room (heaven!!) and here we bought our Togo visa for 10000CFA (£11.50) each and got our passports stamped. We left with hand shakes and even a smile from the grumpy looking official. They told us to go across the road to get our vehicle papers sorted. Here the official told us we didn't need it and we could continue... What?? How could that be possible? So we continued to ask until eventually, with a less than interested response, he told us he couldn't do our carnet but we would need a Laissez-Passer for 5000CFA (£5.70). That was lucky, if we had continued and got stopped by a police check, how would we explain that one! But once again, no bribes! Brilliant! 
We were now starving so we made some lunch before setting off into Togo. 
Another country, another flag! Yay!! 

We arrived into Dapaong and made our way to Hotel de Campement in hope they would allow us to camp. Togo was already different to Burkina with perfectly tarred roads and proper buildings with proper bricks and roofs. There were still extensions made of the normal clay bricks and grass roofing, but definitely different. The cars on the road seem a lot more roadworthy. We can definitely sense that there is more money in this country.
We arrived at the hotel and it looked lovely. They would allow us to camp for 3500CFA (£4) per person. Great news, so we sat down and enjoyed a well deserved Pils beer after our border crossing day. For some reason, on the days we have to cross a border, it totally takes it out of us and we become very tired and quite unsociable.
But this place had a wifi connection, so we wanted to touch base with the folks and call them to say hi. It was a pity we were so knackered as we must have sounded so unenthusiastic, but it's really great to hear their voices. Our little nephew even asked when we were coming home and followed with "you've been gone for AGES!" ... It's little things like that which really touch you! We are having such an awesome time and wouldn't swap this for the world. But it is always family that make you miss home!
We made vegetable slop with sweet potato mash which was actually very tasty! And called it a night. 

We woke up feeling rested and ready for the day. So we had a quick shower and some brekkie while Charles battled with his tent zip. It started separating while pulling the zip and becoming a real pain in the ass! After battling with the zip for a little while, he tried clamping the zip tighter together and it seemed to do the job! 
We were told about some caves that were not too far away and definitely worth a visit. So we headed off through the villages, waving and greeting them. Some waving back with big smiles and shouting bonjour, but still there were some shouting CADEAU (present)... Shouting cadeau back is always amusing as you watch their confused faces. 

We arrived at the caves but there was a locked door to get down to them. So we spent some time taking in the sight of Togo. Unfortunately this country is very hazy this time of year, which hinders the view, but luckily it wasn't too bad and we could see the beautiful landscape with scattered trees and brown grassland. We thought if we hung around long enough someone would eventually come, they always did... And true enough there was a man that came wondering out of the bushes. 
He told us it would cost 2000CFA per person and a small contribution for him as our guide. So we offered him 2000CFA and he said this was too little. So we settled on 4000CFA. As we got burned previously we agreed a price and paid. Just then there was another guy that arrived and he tried to tell us that we now needed two guides. Nope, we weren't having any of it! So we made our way down the rickety metal ladder with the original price we agreed. 

These steps were crazy and once again England's health and safety would have a heart attack. But we decended down till we got to the small caves. There were old mud containers and evidence that people once lived here. The guide told us in the war the village would decend down into these caves by climbing down exposed tree roots and would hide there. These caves were not very tall and not very big, and we were shocked to hear over 300 people stayed here to hide from the war for up to 4months at a time. Some places we had to almost crawl to get through to the other side, it was spectacular to see! And we could understand why this was dubbed a world heritage sight by Unesco. Absolutely stunning and well worth it. 

It is, however, some of the people that ruin excursions like this, with the guide constantly asking for a cadeau. He then tried to tell Cat that his solar panel was broken and if we could give him anything to help. This was getting tiring! So we decided to cut our visit short and head back to the cars. He then again was asking for gifts and said we should come to his village to look at his shop and get a drink. No, we were fed up of him begging, so we left and headed to the next village where we would enjoy a drink in peace!
Well, as peaceful as it gets in Africa. With some of the guys taking photos of us while we sat in this pub. We could imagine him showing all his friends in shock that 4 white people were sat enjoying a drink in their town. I ended up having a selfie with him and I suppose we fuelled the town gossip for the week. These are the people we love! 

With a long drive ahead of us we made our way to Mango. We arrived at Campement de Mango and were told once again that they wouldn't allow us to camp but needed to take a room. As there were no other options and only being 4000CFA per night per room(£4.60), we couldn't really complain, even if the room didn't come with a blanket. He said the rooms needed to be cleaned so we head into town to grab some lupper (lunch and dinner).

We saw a street food stall with loads of people around it. As our last street food was less than desirable, we were so hoping this would be good as we were now all starving. 
We got to the stall and when the lady saw us white people stood in front of her, she was shocked! Almost taking a couple of steps backwards. All the people that were there were now all staring at us and watching us intently. The food looked good so we were hoping it would be a winner. We had couscous, thin spaghetti, a tomato and barbecue sauce with dried bits of beef. It was flippen amazing and we ended up getting another bowl to share. One of the kids had a ball in his hand and I asked him to throw it to me. Reluctantly he eventually threw it to me after confirmation from one of the adults that it would be fine. Then the other boys joined and we had a swarm of kids around us. It was great fun playing with these kids, and getting to know them and they were lapping it up. I had one girl that decided it was way more fun hanging onto me and almost climbed into the car to come with us. Fantastic food, fantastic people, fantastic fun.

We headed back to the hotel where we dropped off the cars and headed into town for a couple of drinks. That night turned out to be very drunken as we made friends with the pub owner. We watched the world go by with its lorries speeding through town, children walking back from school in their perfectly pressed brown and blue uniforms, goats following their owners as if well trained dogs and woman carrying all name of loads on their heads. 

We certainly had one too many, and emotions began to run high. After a conversation about our behaviours as couples in general on this trip and spending 24hours together, I passed a comment about Rob and I having issues, just like every other couple. At that moment Rob got up and left the table. Cat ran after him, but he was gone. I think we had reached breaking point, as although we had chatted before about working on our new relationship (totally different when you spend 24hours together). It never really materialised.
Cat and Charles sat with me while I sobbed, telling me how they saw our relationship from the outside. We were both at fault and I needed to realise that. I felt awful as although this was mine and Robs issue, Charles and Cat had to live with it along side us every day. 
After a few tears and a really good heart to heart. Rob and myself both don't want us to end, or our adventure, so we lay it all on the table. In the morning, we told Cat and Charles that we would both do our best to not only work on our relationship, but in turn make life better for them. 
I say it again... This trip continues to throw good and bad at us. But it's funny how you learn to turn the bad into good and look at it not as an end, but as a hurdle you learn to overcome and grow from.
It's only been a few days, but we have both made some serious changes to our attitude and behaviour towards each other. We just need to continue to be mindful and work together. 

We were up early with very fragile heads and headed into town to get some coffee before heading off. Sadly, Mango had no cafes and therefore we decided to head off to the next town. Eventually we stopped at a cafe but they had no coffee, so we had a few soft drinks called Youki which was absolutely divine. It's our new favourite drink.

As we were only given a 6 day visa for Togo, we had until Monday, so we needed to reach Lomé (the capital) by Friday so that we could get our visas extended and hopefully apply for our Benin visa in the next week. This meant we had to motor through the country and sadly miss the sights on the way down. 
We arrived into Atakpame and came to Hotel Le Sahelian. They would allow us to camp, but for £3 more we could have a room. Well, after our very long day of driving, we couldn't bear putting up the tent in the sweltering heat, so we ended up taking the room (8800CFA per room - £10) and even had a lovely dinner there.
The rooms had a shower, aircon and a blanket! That was enough for me and it was lights out within seconds of putting our heads on the pillows.

The alarm went off at 6:30, ready to enjoy a quick brekkie in the morning so we would be ready to drive the last 4 hours before reaching Lomé. Driving on the main roads of Togo is interesting. There are parts of the roads that are magnificent with beautiful, perfectly laid tar that even England would be jealous of. But I t then just ends and becomes ridden with pot holes or just simply turns into piste for a few kilometres, then back to perfect tar. Why wouldn't they just join them together? 
It's still great fun driving through the villages when everyone pretty much stops what they are doing to look at us drive past and give us a wave. So welcoming, with only a few begging us to stop in hope to get a cadeau. It was getting incredibly hot the further south we went. Sitting in our un-air conditioned vehicles was a killer. We had all the windows open, but yet we still had sweat dripping down our faces with our clothing drenched. I had forgotten what this felt like having lived in England for the past 8 years. 

We drove around trying to find the immigration office getting directions from locals this way and that, with no real success. Eventually we found it on the sat nav and drove back the way we had come from, to find out they had closed for a really long lunch and would open at 3pm. We decided to head to camp and we would return in the morning to extend our visa. 
We arrived at Chez Alice and were treated with shade and a cold drink and it would be 1000CFA (£1.15) per person per night. Perfect! We stayed the night, but it was so stuffy and sticky as there was no wind that we decided to move on to Chez Antoine on Coco Beach where there was a great view and wind to cool us off.

This place was amazing and what seemed like the overlanders meeting point. We met some pretty awesome people; that while on a trip like this, you seem to really bond with immediately. We spent the next week getting know everyone while chilling out on the beach, and shot gunning coconuts as they fell around us. The boys got pretty good at prying them open with a machete west African style after being shown by the local guard. We spent most afternoons swimming in the warm, but violently strong currents, that proved to be one hell of a workout! Such fun! 
We couldn't have asked to be stuck on a better campsite while we waited for our Togo visa extension (500CFA per person), the Benin Visa (10000CFA per person - £11) and the Congolese visa (70000CFA per person - £80). The Benin visa was very easy and applied on Tuesday, they needed a hotel booking, 2 passport photos and 1 passport copy for a 15day visa, but only possible for collection on Fridays. The Congolese visa was easy as well, but the embassy was a little unassuming and therefore difficult to find; they needed a hotel booking, 1 passport photo and 1 passport copy for a 1month visa. It was 60000 for a 3day wait or 70000 to receive it as we waited. So we decided the quicker the better as the embassy was on the other side of town.

While in Lomé we visited the Grande Marche which was much like the other markets in west Africa, the only difference being that all the mannequins had Obama heads... Very entertaining! That afternoon we stopped off and had more street food, but were shocked to see three skinned animals dragged in and butchered right in front of us. Not your normal restaurant etiquette! Lol. But the food was good at least!

We went to the voodoo fetish market, which is the largest in the world. It was equally fascinating and revolting! You needed to look past the gruesomeness of the rotting dead animals and carcasses and try to understand their animist and voodoo beliefs. All these animals are sacrificed for medical purposes or good luck charms. Still not something I can get my head around, but interesting to see.
It did however feel a bit like a tourist trap and I wonder if these traditions are still actively practiced in this day and age; even if we were ensured they were and people travelled from miles away to buy these things.