We came upon a small fetish market, at the back of the huge main market, selling the heads, skins and body parts of every animal imaginable, from snakes and chameleons to eagles and elephants”.
Charlie Curtis : 16th June

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Click the photos to see the gallery of Benin

Click the photos to see the gallery of Benin

DIARY : Benin Imagery: ©2009 Terrametrics
Map data: ©2009 Europa Technologies

16th June : Benin
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Heading north to explore Benin before crossing into Nigeria. However Benin proved too much a lure to pass straight through. Famous as the birthplace of Voodoo, or ‘Vodun’ as it was originally known. This country was amongst the most beautiful and interesting we have visited. Our first stop was Ouidah, a focal point for Voodoo in the country and also the shipping point for slaves from West Africa to the Americas.

After a fruitless search for evidence of the practice of voodoo we were finally directed to the ‘Python Temple’. The site was frankly disappointing. The Temple was nothing more than a dank room with a pile of listless snakes in a corner. We headed for the coast and found the most stunning stretch of coastline to date on the trip; miles of untouched beaches with a palm forest reaching the sands occasional huts and boats breaking the eye line.

We were soon camped up on the edge of the sand, cooking up some fish and prawns that had just been brought in. Chatting with local fisherman, who allowed us to stay in their villages, we learnt that the entire coastline was populated by Ghanaians whose grandfathers had come to Benin in search of more fruitful fishing and stayed on. We could not believe that no one else had swept down on such a paradise. As the evening drew on we bullishly agreed to help bring in the fishing nets the next morning as a thank you for their hospitality. At 7.00am the next morning we found ourselves with 40 fishermen pulling on a net which stretched in an arc 400 metres out to sea. What followed was 5 hours of a tug of war against the Atlantic Ocean. And whilst not convinced fish work in teams, at least some shoals must have been swimming against the net. All the while we were hauling on the net ropes; the men around us broke into ritual singing and for some reason rhythmically swinging the ropes. Our concerns that this was counterproductive, wasting time and energy, fell on deaf ears. This was clearly a tradition which bonded the team in their work. In an impressive act of human endurance one fisherman who could barely stand from the effects of alcohol, managed to swim out to sea to ensure the net did not catch on rock outcrops as it was pulled in. The reward for our hard work was more fish and a sack of coconuts. Both of which were well received – especially the coconuts, as our earlier attempts to harvest them resulted in bent bull bars from an encounter with a palm tree. And so onward along the coast to Nigeria, with a brief stop in Cotonou, which finally gave us the opportunity to see some voodoo paraphernalia.

We came upon a small fetish market, at the back of the huge main market, selling the heads, skins and body parts of every animal imaginable, from snakes and chameleons to eagles and elephants. All of this is apparently used in the religion that is still practised actively by much of the country. Interestingly we were told that ‘Voodoo’ dolls are in fact only ever used as a good luck charm and never for harm.

Our final night was spent in a camp site filled with sculptures, mini golf and wild animals. And so we spent our last hours in Benin drinking Sangria, playing mini golf and ended up in an alligator pit, feeding the inhabitants oranges. Very surreal.

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