We packed the car on Friday night. Due to the fact that we were getting up at 4:30am on Saturday and there was a good chance that something could get left behind at that hour. Maybe even a kid.
We travel with our food and water, as there are no Kwik Trip’s or Taco Bell’s along the way. That was also prepared on Friday night. So Saturday morning was quite smooth. Everyone grabbed what he/she was supposed to, and we were out the door. The journey had begun.
Since we were leaving so early, we had almost 2 hours of driving in the dark. Not fun. But we did see the sunrise. That was fun. It’s about a 3 hour drive to the border between Niger & Benin Republic. It was about 8am when we arrive there. We sat on very old benches to fill out our paperwork BYOP-(bring your own pen). Not a computer was in sight. Each one of us was required to fill out a form with various birth, address, and other unecessary information. The form was in French so for the parts we couldn’t figure out we had to ask the ‘officials’ in Hausa what it said in French so we could write it in English. The thing that always strikes me at places like this is not just the primitiveness(it is a national border), but the inconsistencies of how things are done. The forms we filled out were inconsistent. When we pointed this out, they had us refill them out. Our names (at least some of our names) got written in a big ledger where they use a ruler to draw straight lines to divide the names. I couldn’t quite figure out if they got all our names there or not. They were giving us a really a hard time with the forms – one official telling us one thing, a different official telling us something completely different. Neal was starting to get frustrated. We all were. Especially when busses full of people pulled up, and came and went while we are still sitting there with our forms – papers that have probably since been used to start cooking fires. Finally Neal says (in Hausa) “are you treating us like this because we are Americans or because we are Christians? You’re wasting our time!” The man started saying ‘No, no, no’. Then he immediately began to stamp our passports. They do not like to be accused of favoritism. Neal said “I’m sorry for getting hot. We have a long trip.” The man told us no problem and by the time were on our way, we were laughing together. We crossed the bridge into Benin and had to fill out similar forms. But these were written in both English and French. And these officials even helped us fill out our forms. That went much quicker. In all, we spent just over an hour at the borders.
We were on our way South. The road at this point starts out very bad. Filled with potholes. Unavoidable potholes. This and the fact that it is a 1-lane road posing as a 2-lane road and is the main truck route from the port in Cotonou, Benin to Niger, and you may be able to picture it. Though all the overloaded trucks were a nusciance, we enjoyed the changing scenery from desert to tropics. And the road did improve. And then it got bad, then better again. One thing we were really excited about was the price of fuel. Right now in Niger, we are paying about $6.64/gallon of diesel fuel. In Benin, Fuel was only $4.30/gallon! Now that is a great example of perspective – when one can be excited about fuel costing $4.30/gallon!
The trip was uneventful – as uneventful as can be when traveling on roads as described above. I might add though, that even though our children are able to sleep on these trips, the average visitor would be white-knuckled right out of the starting gate.
We arrived in Cotonou some 14 hours after departure. Our kids are great long distance travelers. It’s something they’ve grown accustomed to. Believe it or not, we only stopped to ‘use the bush’ twice in those 14 hours. (Again, no Kwik Trips nearby) I think we have unknowingly learned to synchronize our bladders for road trips.
Traveling with us also, was Rufus. Rufus is from Benin and he and Trae are good friends. In fact they were roommates last year when Trae was in boarding school. Our traveling to Benin was a great opportunity for Rufus to be able to visit his family, and for Trae (and all of us) to meet them. It made the car more crowded, but we managed.
The traffic in Cotonou was incredible. It makes Niamey look like a village. We dropped Trae and Rufus off at his house, planning to meet the next morning at church. The rest of us made our way to the SIM Guest House. SIM is a huge worldwide mission organization. We were originally ‘signed up’ for the room that had an AC. We were told 2 days before departure that that room was no longer available for us but that the fans should be sufficient. Oh how wrong they were. We are coming from the desert. Yes, it’s hot (116 when we left) but we are living in probably single digit humidity. Benin is in the tropics and is just starting it’s rainy season. At first, it almost felt like we couldn’t breathe. The air was so thick and heavy. Temps stayed around 90 – 95, but with the high humidity, I thought we might melt. The fan didn’t cut it. We all took showers and slowly (so as not to build up a sweat) got into bed. We were exhausted after the trip, but sleep wasn’t easy. We just kept sweating. Fortunately there were enough beds for us each to have our own. I think around midnight the electricity went out. At this point, we would just be thankful for a fan – who needs AC? (There’s that pesky perspective again!) But Alas! I hear a generator starting up. Alas my foot! It was from the compound next to us. Our curtains were open and windows were up – to maximize the use of the non-existent breeze. The generator was so close it could have been a running lawnmower stationed right outside the window – fumes wafting into our room. And for some reason, even though it’s the middle of the night, that generator was running all the lights in that house next to us – and they were shining into our room! I got up and passed out wet wash-cloths to everyone, more of a token, really. They didn’t do much to cool us. The lights came back on after about 90 minutes. I finally gave up trying to sleep and went into the common room to read – something to keep my mind off my sweaty body. And I began dreaming about the place we would be in the very next night. A nice beach chalet with crisp cold AC – wonderful after a day at the beach. That got me through the night.
This ends Day 1 of our adventure in Benin.