Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cotonou, Benin

Cotonou, Benin
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Unable to find a private guide for the next four ports on the Internet, I took the ship tour to see both Cotonou and Porto Novo, and unfortunately, it was not good. Princess had warned passengers to be careful in the next ports as they are truly third-world, and not always safel. In addition, few taxis would be available, and none at the port; therefore, Bas and Monique and I were not inclined to try to find a taxi. We had also been told by Princess not to expect good bus transportation on the tours -- the busses would not be air conditioned, nor would they have amplification for tour guides. However, the bus on our tour was quite old and all the windows were badly fogged over and we could not see out or take photographs through them. There were two guides on the bus, and they tried hard to make the trip informative and interesting; however, it was really frustrating to see endless interesting scenes through the front windshield and through the foggy windows, and not be able even to see it well, much less take photos.

The bus drove directly to Porto Novo, about an hour away. The road was very good; it was a six lane divided highway that was as straight as an arrow with a line of tall street lights running down the middle. It was quite pretty to see it through the windshield, even though I could not get a photo. As we drove along, we were surrounded by motorbikes, much like in Vietnam; however, Benin is more economically developed and advanced than Vietnam and there were many cars as well as the motor bikes. Clearly, there was much economic activity. The guides said that poor people from the rural areas and particularly from Nigeria, next door, were moving into the area between the two cities of Cotonou and Porto Novo. Most of these people lived in shanties built all along the road. Indeed, it seemed that everyone in Benin lived in a shanty. I asked one of the guides, and he said that about a quarter of the population of eight million lived in shanties.

All along the road, and indeed in both cities, people were selling a wide variety of items, including gasoline which was available in four liter bottles (about a gallon). The guide said that gasoline could be bought in Nigeria and sold along the roads for much less than people would pay in stations; therefore, most people, particularly those on the motor bikes, bought gasoline along the road.

When the bus arrived in Porto Novo, the tour went to the Ethnographic Museum, which displayed masks, musical instruments, plowing tools, etc. I was not very interested and waited outside in the shade. After leaving the museum, the bus went directly to another museum; however, just before reaching the museum, the bus stopped at a traffic intersection, and I saw a market across the street. I got up out of my seat on the bus to take a quick photo out the windshield of the bus. The guides then invited me and others to get off the bus to take photos. Well, everyone got off the bus to take photos, and the guides had a difficult time getting people back on the bus. When they did, the bus continued to the Honme National Museum, which was the former home of the last king of Benin, King Taffe. The tour went through the various rooms and ended at a performing area with benches set up and male dancers dancing to drums. After half an hour of that, I suggested that we leave, but the people at the museum wanted us to stay. Eventually, most of the people got up and walked out to the protests of museum staff. The bus then drove back to Cotonou and directly to a handicraft center. We were given 15 minutes to make purchases, but many people did not return to the bus for more than half an hour. The bus then took us back to the ship.

All in all, it was a very unsatisfactory tour.

After returning to the ship, I took the shuttle back to the handicraft center to try to take a few photos. I was not very successful, but I was glad I went. Only two other men were on the shuttle, and one of them said that he had been able to find private guides for the next four ports in Africa, and I gave him my name and asked him to let me know the names of people I could contact in those ports. I hope I will be able to find private guides in all or at least some of them. I really don’t find the ship tours satisfactory.

No comments: