ONE OF AFRICA'S SMALLEST COUNTRIES, BENIN IS A VIRTUAL PORT OF ENTRY TO CENTRAL AFRICA WITH ITS POPULATION OF 300 MILLION. THE COUNTRY HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS THE KEY TO AFRICA FOR ITS SHAPE ON THE MAP.
After flying from Istanbul to Benin’s capital, Cotonou, we begin touring the city. We are in the streets of commercial Cotonou, surrounded by heavy motorcycle traffic. Dantokpa Market and the Handicrafts Center are recommended as must-see places by all the guidebooks. There are many cafes along the Rue de Jonquet.
Following a panoramic city tour, we head by car to the lake village of Ganvie. Along the road we see the fish traps made of reeds and branches anchored to the bottom of Lake Nokoué. Behind them the colorful sailboats used mainly by women paint a pleasant picture on the lake’s placid blue surface. The village of Ganvie was founded in the 17th century. Known as the Venice of Africa, it spread in time over a rather broad area. With a population of 20,000 today, it is a charming village, indeed a town, with a school, post office, hospital and grocery store. Gardens have even been created between the houses. Twenty thousand people in Benin live on the water, and “canoe” is the sole mode of transportation here on the lake, which is up to two meters deep in places.
IN THE SACRED WOOD
It’s an hour’s drive to Ouidah, Benin’s only port on the Atlantic coast until 1908. A series of strange statues and figures, all different, adorn the “Slave Road” in this town. A “Monument of Shame” (Zoungbodji) has been erected here today by Unesco on the beach where slaves were once loaded onto ships. Over the monument is an inscription which reads, The Road of No Return. Every year on September 26, Benin’s twins gather in this region for a festival. We enter now into the Sacred Wood. A group of volunteer young people, easily identified by the ten scar marks on their faces, greet us at the gate of the Temple of Snakes, which is without a counterpart in the world and highly recommended by many guidebooks. Snakes lie curled up and sleeping in one room of this temple.
Apparently the snakes leave the temple at night and return in the morning… We see a large number of pythons and then tour the cave of wishes.
Besides French, which is the official language of Benin, a local language called “Fon” is the most widely spoken. Benin cuisine with its French influence has won fame as the region’s finest. The country is also regarded as the cradle of democracy in Africa and has signed a tax-free trade agreement with the U.S. Mainly cotton as well as palm oil, peanuts and coffee are exported abroad in large quantities. We must taste the juicy pineapples... To sum it up, Benin is a land that will surprise you at every step. Make time for it, you’re going to love it.