Wednesday, 1st December 2021
<To guardian.ng
Search
Breaking News:

Trip To The Republic of Benin

By Christine Ade-Serrano
31 October 2021   |   10:07 am
You know how stressful living in Lagos can be right? It takes a toll on a person and you just want to travel, leave all your worries and the stressful life of Lagos behind, even if it’s just for a couple of days or weeks as the case maybe. Anyway, I had gotten to that…

You know how stressful living in Lagos can be right?

It takes a toll on a person and you just want to travel, leave all your worries and the stressful life of Lagos behind, even if it’s just for a couple of days or weeks as the case maybe.

Anyway, I had gotten to that point and I just needed to take a break, so I planned for a mini vacation which was going to be for about 14 days. We went to a total of three countries, but for this article, I will be focusing on Cotonou, because I had the most fun in Cotonou.

Journey from Porto-Novo to Cotonou town

Immediately you enter the country, the first thing you notice is the roads. They have the most straightforward roads and even a lane for motorbikes (Okada). They also seem to have a flair for roundabouts, heading from Porto-Novo to Cotonou town alone. I counted about five roundabouts, I mean, these people really love their roundabouts. Oh, and not a single porthole/bad road.

Covid 19 & Road safety measures

Another thing I noticed was everyone had a mask on, and I mean EVERYONE! From the bike men, the petty traders, those just walking on the roads, to the policemen, everyone had one on (little wonder why their Covid cases are so low). They were also not touching each other or being unnecessarily close while speaking to themselves. Secondly, they follow traffic rules; when the traffic light says stop, everyone stops, bike men, taxis and private cars alike, oh and the bike men all wore helmets (would have loved for helmets to be provided to passengers too but hey, I don’t make the rules).

Accommodation

As far as hotels/Airbnb’s/Apartments go; there is still a lot of work to do. It took me approximately five days of searching for a decent place before I found a hotel that we thought was alright. What we were looking for was an apartment so we could make our own food when we didn’t feel like eating out, but I just couldn’t find anything nice enough in Cotonou town (or maybe I didn’t search deep enough). Accommodation is also pretty expensive in my opinion. The hotel we settled for was cool, I would give it a solid 7/10. It was a bit pricey but I’d rather pay for that amount at this hotel than pay the same amount and a subpar hotel or apartment. Anyway, our room had a balcony with a sea view, wifi was incredibly slow inside the room but once you leave your room and are within the premises, it is better, the hotel had a pool and an open bar that was on till very very late, so that was exciting for us. 

If you book your accommodations online like me, please make sure that the price written is the same as the hotel, because sometimes, the website/app you use may reduce the price or give a discount and when you get to the hotel, they tell you there are no discounts, this happened to us recently and it was not even remotely funny.

Call Minutes, Internet Connection & Electricity

Most of the hotels and apartments in Cotonou do not have WIFI, and those that have, say WIFI isn’t in all areas of their property (This was a big problem for us). There are several network providers in Cotonou but the two that stand out are Moov and MTN. We eventually found out that data and electricity are quite expensive in Cotonou, hence the scarcity.

More than half of the apartments also insist you buy your own units for electricity after you pay for the accommodation because your bill does not cover electricity; it is not negotiable if you stay in these properties, and another thing to note is the caution fee. For apartments/Airbnb there is usually a caution fee that has to be paid along with the accommodation fee and will be refunded to you as you check out and after inspection of the place by staff. The fee is usually a lot more expensive than the combined accommodation fee itself (wild right? I know!) Make sure you read the fine prints when booking hotels/apartments online, they are usually hidden in small letters, so most people miss it.

Language

The people of Cotonou proudly speak French, most of them speak what I like to call ‘pidgin French’ but French anyway, and they are not in a hurry to learn or speak English. A large number of them also speak Yoruba, this was a very pleasant surprise because, and I’ve been told that the French I speak can bring tears to the eyes (side eyes at my husband). Anyway, once you can speak French or Yoruba, you’d do just fine in the language department. They are also very friendly and are willing to wait for you to use Google translate while conversing with them.

Food

Sigh….I make it a point to travel with my own pepper mix anytime I leave Nigeria because I’ve come to realise that most people’s ‘HOT’ and ‘SPICY’ food is my own ‘this food just has a slight touch of pepper’. The only country I’ve been to that matched my pepper Anyway, as far as food is concerned, I do not like the food in Benin Republic, I was looking forward to eating their Dahomey Fish Stew, but when I tasted it, I just didn’t like it (I know, I’m sorry), maybe it was the way it was made by that particular chef. I also do not fancy their perfumed rice. Hear me out; Rice is my best food, I mean, here in Nigeria, I eat this thing almost every day so why do I not like it, well, in my opinion, their rice is a bit sticky, probably a lot more starchy than the one we eat here.

They also put onions, A LOT OF ONIONS in their food, I love me a good dose of onions in my dishes, after it has been sautéed well and cooked in the food, because it helps to bring the food together, and has a wonderful aroma, but our brothers and sisters in Benin take Onions to a whole new level I never knew existed. My husband once bought ham and sausages on a bed of rice (so we thought at the time). Upon opening and tasting it, the bed we thought it was on was actually Onions…a lot of it. They also have the best palm wine I have ever tasted in my entire life! Fresh and absolutely delicious palm wine…We loved it so much that it became our daily drink till we left Cotonou 

Things to do for fun

While Cotonou has lots of fun places to visit, we didn’t really leave town, we stayed in Fidjrosse. These are things you can do within Fidjrosse and environs:

  • You can go to Fidjrosse beach or Obama beach 
  • Go to lounges/clubs in the evenings
  • Visit Dantokpa market (I’ve been told that merchants from all over West Africa come here to buy things)
  • Visit Babs Dock, this is a fun place to go and they only go by boat and open only open on the weekend, while this is a lovely place and the food is nice too, some people may think it is pricey. 

Babs-Dock-Cotonou | Razvan

Grande Mosquee Porto-Novo Benin | Joseph Herve Ahissou

Door of No Return | Alberto Molero – WildJunket

These places are just a few places you can visit; there are a lot more places to explore.

Currency

If you are going to Benin republic, it is best to change Naira to Dollars or Euros before you leave Nigeria because despite how close our countries are, they do not accept Naira in most places, and with how unstable the Nigerian Naira is currently, it is advisable to not change Naira directly to CFA. You can change Dollars/Euros to CFA when you get there or you can decide to use Euros to buy things while there. I find that groceries are a bit pricey in Cotonou, but I guess this is because most of the things there are imported. 

At the end of my trip, I had so much fun in Cotonou, took long walks by the beach and had a very restful visit. The people are very welcoming, are always eager to help. This was my second visit to Cotonou. I’ll definitely go back.

A picture taken on September 12, 2017 shows franc CFA banknotes.<br />A controversial west African activist, Kemi Seba, was expelled from Senegal following an incident last month in which he burned 5,000 CFA francs — a banknote worth 7.6 euros ($9.10) — in an anti-colonial protest over “French Africa”. The CFA franc is pegged to the euro and used in 14 African countries, six of which are former French colonies. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)

In this article