A vacation for the Not-so-faint-at-heart Part 3

I know.  It’s been a whole month.  Memories are fading a bit, so I’ve got to get this recorded!  So, I left off with our radiator driving away with a young boy on a motorcycle.  Would we make it to the beach….?

Here’s what was decided.  Since we already had reservations at Hotel Bel Azur in Grand Popo, and since we had two vehicles, the decision was made that we girls and Tobi would go on to our destination – so as not to run into any problems securing the rooms.  Neal and Don would wait for the 4Runner to get fixed.  But not before a brief trip to the artisanal to see what we could see and buy what we could buy.  Several members of our group found some lovely items.  Neal and I enjoyed the place because there were so many Hausa speakers there.  Nice for us as unfortunately we don’t speak French, which is the main language being spoken all around us.  We even shared the Gospel with one of the traders, and put Pastor Joseph on his case to follow up.

We ladies, protected by Tobi, were on our way by about 4pm.  The drive was less than 2 hours – in spite of the 2 lanes and lots of traffic.  Were we ever glad to see the ocean!!  Here we are, arriving!

A requirement for me when on vacation is working air conditioners.  Especially when in humid climates that our bodies are not at all used to. (We are in dry season in Niger, meaning humidity readings in the single digits).   I have been known to be very scary when a place we stay claims to have AC when all that ‘AC’ amounts to is an AC unit that operates as a fan.  Not good.  Upon our arrival, we tried no less than 10 rooms to find AC’s that worked.  Between the 7 of us, we needed 3 rooms.  Not everyone was adamant as I about having cold, dry air, but they humored me.  After much sweating, stubbed toe, scraped hand, carrying bags up and down stairs several times, we were settled.  Basically.  But wait!  It was almost dark.  And even though all of us could be considered the adventourous sort, none of us wanted to enter the ocean post sunset.  Tobi had been so patient through the whole ordeal I really wanted him to be able to get in – if even for 5 minutes.  After all, it had been 4 days since we left home and we’d yet to see our beach.

The beach at this particular location is quite rough.  It’s very steep and one has to be  a decent swimmer to get in.  Tobi and I are both decent swimmers and I’m also a decent watcher.   I think I had more fun watching Tobi run directly into the ocean, arms outstretched and shouting – than he had doing it.  And believe me, he had fun!   As good of  a watcher as I am, I could not see him in the wild waves once the sun was down, so out he came.  But he was a happy camper.  From there, we relocated to the pool which was lighted and lovely.  Then we waited for the men.  Neal called before they left to let me know that all his car papers/passport etc, was in Don’s car, which was with me.  “So be ready to bring them if I call you”.  What?!  Get in the vehicle again?  In the dark?  On that road?

Those in Cotonou with Neal & Don couldn’t believe they were going to travel without their car papers.  Believe me, I was all for it!  And much to everyone’s surprise, they made it through every checkpoint with no one asking for their documents!  Thanking God here!

They arrived around 10pm.  We had ordered food at the restaurant so it was almost ready by the time they got there.  Boy did we ever enjoy that meal!  Vehicle fixed and we were all safely at our destination.  Tomorrow – Beach Day!

Oh – I haven’t mentioned yet what was wrong with the 4Runner.  I’m not sure I completely understand myself….But the gist of it is that something caused overheating which made a hole in the radiator which caused the water to get in the gear box.  But Ben came through with much oversight by Pastor Joseph and he got it fixed.

Moving on….Here’s the view from our room.

We brought all our own breakfast stuff except for the mangoes and pineapple we purchased in the market.  Here’s where we enjoyed breakfast every morning – right outside our room.

Yep, the pineapple was amazing!

This is where we shopped.

So our schedule went something like this.  Get up (whenever we felt like it), have breakfast.  Watch the local fisherman bring in their nets – sometimes while in the ocean and getting in their way.  Spend time on the beach/in the water/fighting the waves.  Various combinations of us going for a walk/jog on the beach.  Move to pool.  Read.  Swim.  Eat avocados and pineapple and an occasional coconut.  Order lunch to be eaten at the hotel restaurant – semi outdoor with a view of   the beach.  After lunch, retreat to our room for a nap and to cool off in that crispy AC.  Back to the beach until sunset.  Return to the pool for splash contests and more relaxing.  Order dinner, eat it really late.  Crash after such an exhausting day.  The following pictures might tell the story a little better.

The fishermen.

Children and women are on hand with buckets when the catch is brought in.  They buy from the fishermen and take it directly to market to sell.  Now that’s fresh fish!

Inspecting the catch of the day.

We even saw some shrimp in there!

I’m including this video because I found it fascinating.  The nets were pulled in very systematically using a whistle and a type of chanting.  Everyone knew exactly what to do.  This was done every morning.

Here’s the view of our rooms from the beach.

Here’s a view of the ocean with Neal ready to take it on.

Don contemplates.

Neal and Tobi contemplate….separately.

This is the restaurant where we ate many of our meals. Viewed from our balcony.

Another shot from our balcony.  Erin and Tobi.

Tobi LoVeS the ocean.  It didn’t matter that he was on vacation with a bunch of ‘old’ people.  He loved every minute of it.

‘Riding’ these waves was quite the challenge.  More than once I felt like I was being tossed around in a washing machine and didn’t know which way was up.

Sand crabs were EVERYWHERE and I found them fascinating.  These are only a couple of the pics I have of them.  I even have video of them digging.

Here’s the little guy digging.  They do everything sideways, and are very quick.

From salt water…

To fresh water…


Being silly.  Very silly.

Check out the painting on the wall behind us.

One must keep up one’s strength whether with pineapple…

Or avocado…

For all the fierce competition.

Points were awarded..and if memory serves, Tobi had the biggest splash.

It’s a well known fact that no poolside time is  complete without a good book.  Jessica had the right idea.

Everyone had the same idea.

This beautiful sunset could be viewed from the pool…

Or the beach…

Now everyone knows that a trip to the beach is not complete without someone being buried in the sand.  Tobi was the, ummm, volunteer.

I’m pretty sure Neal was having more fun than Tobi.

Guessing Tobes is feeling quite vulnerable about now…

But it wasn’t all bad, having those big shoulders and all.

Wonder how long it would take the sand crabs to dig him out if we would have left him there…

But it wasn’t all fun and games at the beach…it was fun and games in other places too.  Other than our trusty hotel restaurant, here are some of the other places we ate…

It’s dark, but we’re eating chocolate mousse.  And according to Erin, it’s the best chocolate mousse she’s ever eaten in her life.  I may have to concur.

Panini in Benin!

We enjoyed us some fish.  Lots of fish – being right at the ocean and all!

Hungry yet?  Fish brochettes (shish-ka-bobs).  Tobi was begging for my broccoli – and everyone else’s.  What  a deprived life he lives.

Just for comparison sake, Erin and Jess had to have mousse at another place.  I believe it came in a close 2nd.

Nothing like a rousing game of giant checkers after a good meal.

I’m not sure if it was Kerrianne or Jess that came out a winner…

Happy tummies are conducive to silliness.

They are also conducive to napping.

Here are some other things we did…

Shopping on the beach.  Nothing like it!

Don was the best shopper.

It made more sense for all 7 of us to cram into 1 vehicle when going somewhere, so Tobi would get tucked in the back.  He used his time wisely.

Just a reminder that wherever we went, we were still at the beach.

We visited the Slave Museum in Ouidah.  Very sobering to hear how one human could treat another.

This is the tree that the slaves were brought to and sold…


A  restored cannon at the Slave Museum.

A really cool monument in Ouidah built in memory of the slaves.

Time to go.

Next stop – Casa del Papa for 4-wheelin’ on the beach!  This is the road to the beautiful resort.

When we got there, they told us none were available.  Can you believe they were able to deny this face?!

We made the best of it and enjoyed ourselves anyway.  I was really wanting these guys to be able to do the 4 wheeler’s though.  Neal and I have done it here twice before and my goodness is it fun.  As in F-U-N!!

Time to be on our way.  After all, we have a beach waiting on us.

Our last night at Bel Azur there was a buffet dinner with traditional dancing from the Beninoise people.  We thoroughly enjoyed both the food and entertainment – once again on the beach.

Serious percussion!

Disregard the look on Tobi’s face.  The food was great and we all loved it.  Just a bad camera shot but the only one I had.  Or maybe he’s really savoring it.

So – that was our last night.  However, the adventure is not over.  I have not mentioned anything more about our 4Runner.  But while it was sitting in the parking lot and being driven occasionally, it was having it’s issues.  But I must stop now.  We had an awesome time in Grand Popo so for now, I’ll leave it at that.  I will get to the ‘rest of the story’ some time soon.

For now,  I leave you with this.

A Vacation for the not-so-faint-of-heart: Part 2

I guess I’m in a ‘writing in parts’ phase.  But I promise, this saga will not be 10 parts long.  I don’t know how long it will be.  Maybe it’ll be 11!  Won’t know until I write it.  I’m the type of writer that doesn’t write with a plan or an outline.  I just write.  Some might call it rambling.  Whatever it is, it’s me.

OK, so we were getting ready for Day 2.

Our plan, as is usually our plan when we travel to Benin, is to see Rev. Joseph and Joy Nwobodo and minister in their church.  Neal met Joseph in a conference he was speaking at in Cotonou, Benin several years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since.  We’re like family now.  So the plan was for all of us to spend the weekend in Cotonou, Benin’s capital – in the capable hands of Joseph and Joy.  What a great weekend it was.  But I digress – let’s get back to the journey.

Check out the palm trees!  Now that’s what I call tropical!

There were a few issues along the way – what a bummer.


What a city!

Here we’re following Pastor Joseph to the hotel.

That evening we had an INCREDIBLE meal at an African restaurant – I think one of Pastor Joseph’s favorites.  So much food!  From salad with avocados to cous cous, rice, fries, fried turkey, fish – I could go on.  (On a side note, I don’t think I’ve mentioned how I couldn’t wait to get to the beach to eat avocado and pineapple.  So I was pretty excited about the avocado salad) We were stuffed!  Back to the hotel we went for the night.  As is frequently the case in I would guess many large cities in west African countries, the water was out.  The AC’s worked in some rooms and not so much in others.  But Pastor Joseph was all over it and made sure we stayed cool and had water.  He even hauled  20 gallon containers of water up 2 flights of stairs himself.  Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures at the restaurant or the hotel.  Don’t know what I was thinking…it’s just not like me.

Sunday morning bright and early, Joseph and Joy arrived with trays of tea, coffee, juice, bread and jam.  So sweet.  Neal was slated to preach at Kingdom Life Glory Mission’s 9th Anniversary service.  Quite a privilege.  We had also been there for their 5th anniversary.

Here’s Rev. Joseph Nwobodo

And his beautiful wife, Rev. Joy

The music was awesome!  Here’s the worship leader, band and choir.  I’ve tried hard to upload a 30 second video so you could hear it for yourself, but so far no success.  Our internet…

Before Neal preached, each of us shared testimonies with the people. Including Tobi.  He was so cute, and so nervous, but he did great.  Again – I FORGOT MY CAMERA!  I was so annoyed with myself.  And Tobi and Neal were even dressed alike – unplanned.  At least a few pictures were taken by others and I was able to get some of them.

Here’s me.

And Neal

Here’s part of our team.

The ladies.

The Guys

At the end, to celebrate the anniversary, we ALL got to be part of the cake cutting.

After the service, there was another incredible meal.  Yep.  More food.  Again, sadly, no pictures.  But trust me, it was good!

It was quite the lovely day.  Back to the hotel to rest and after that a trip to the beach with Pastor Joseph and his family (they have 5 wonderful kids).  That was the plan.  However….

They met us at the hotel at 5pm.  We’re all excited – finally – we’re going to see water.  You see where we live, we are surrounded by ‘beach’, but water is seriously lacking in the Sahara Desert.   We’re tooling down the busy streets of Cotonou, everyone crammed into 2 vehicles so as to cut down on the challenges that ensue when cars have to follow each other in the kind of traffic that lives in Cotonou.  We’re following Joseph.  Suddenly, our vehicle just stops.  What does one do when that happens?  We kind of looked at each other and said ‘Huh’.  By we I mean Neal and Don in the front and Jess, Erin, Kerrianne and myself squished into the back.  All 8 of our white (soon to be tan) legs were a scary sight all stuck together in the backseat.  Scary to us because in Niger, shorts attire isn’t very common – and would never be worn in public.  So we were trying to get used to ourselves in shorts.  It was quite humorous really, as 2 of us are tall and the other 2 of us – not so much.   Someone did take a picture of that, but I don’t have it.  Probably a good thing….

We managed to push the 4Runner to the side of the road in  spite of traffic (thankfully pretty light it being a Sunday night) and opened the hood.  The men in our group looked into the engine to see if there were any obvious issues.  By this time Joseph realized we were no longer trailing him and he turned around and joined the men – staring at the engine.  The oil seemed low so we added some.  Turned the ignition and what a wonderful sound when we heard it come to life.  Off we went.  The beach.  We girls all breathed sighs of relief (I know this since we were crammed together in the back seat) since the next day the plan was to get to our beach location and plant ourselves there for 5 days.  And vehicle issues would put a definite crimp in the plan.  We got 1/2 mile or so and again – we came to a halt – not a screeching one, but a slow ‘the engine just died’ kind of halt.  Once again, we all found ourselves standing around the vehicle, wondering what the ramifications might be.  I must say, everyone was very upbeat and positive about the whole thing.  No complaining – at least nothing that was out loud.  I’m big enough to admit that I was complaining in my head though!  And praying.  We were all doing that.  And we were realizing how fortunate we were that this happened where it did and not somewhere on one of the roads you saw in Part 1 of this post.

You must realize that having a vehicle issue this far from home – another country (far from your own trustworthy mechanic), can be a big wahala (problem).  Especially if you yourself don’t know much about vehicles.  And since you stick out like a sore thumb – a target of sorts – the mechanic will see you as  fresh meat, as an opportunity really, and will be strategizing as to how much he can get from you.  He may even thank God for sending you his way.  Not kidding.

We were thanking God for Pastor Joseph!  He immediately got on his cell phone and dialed his trusty mechanic, Ben.  Remember, it’s Sunday evening.  But Ben, from wherever he was, showed up to where we were.  And instead of having to pay big bucks for a tow, Joseph took Don to the hotel to get his vehicle and we were able to tow our 4Runner with his Explorer.  And by ‘we’ here, I mean the mechanic and his assistant.  It was a treacherous drive let me tell you.  I was in the ‘towee’ vehicle and the rope that attached us to the ‘tower’ couldn’t have been more than 4 feet long.   At night.  In traffic. In a very busy city.  With lots of big trucks.  Since the 4Runner was not on, of course the steering and breaks don’t really operate.  Needless to say, it’s not something I’d like to do again.  But I would.


We got the sick 4Runner to the ‘hospital’ and Joseph assured us that he had complete confidence in ‘Dr’. Ben and that the truck would be perfectly safe.  Good.  It would sleep there, we would sleep at the hotel and Ben would be back in the morning to make an assessment.  I should add here that Pastor Joseph was very insistent that Ben get the job done quickly.  Very insistent.

All this took place over a period of a couple of hours so it was now dark.    The beach option was out.  Next best thing?  Ice cream and pizza of course!  So off we went.  All the kiddos, Tobi included, had been so patient through it all – they deserved it, right?

Here we are – enjoying our ice cream….

…and pizza!

The kids really were with us – they were just sitting away from the adults.

Monday morning we all went to visit the 4Runner.

Here are some of her insides.  And I gotta be honest – at this point I was wondering if the beach was really going to be a reality…

This did not invoke confidence that hitting the road would happen today.

Here Dr. Ben is giving Neal the down low – at least trying to.  Language barriers are such a pain!

But wait!  There’s the pineapple lady!

Pineapple anyone?  Fresh Pineapple!!?

She was seriously good at cutting it up.

So while we waited for the news…we enjoyed more pom pom and pineapple.

And I mean enjoyed it!  Everyone had their own and paid about $.20 each.  Peeled and sliced.  Somehow, it made the waiting so much nicer.

That boy is carrying a radiator on the motorcycle.

Wait!  That’s OUR radiator!

Stay tuned til next time and find out if the beach remained a dream or became a reality…