BENIN: LAST OF THE WEST AFRICAN 14

May 17 – June 1

Benin was a lot of fun; I spent a good deal of my time hanging out in the largest city of Cotonou, having great times with mostly local people and a smattering of travelers and NGO workers.   As is typical in West Africa, people were awesome and a joy to spend time with.   I relaxed in cafes and made trips to the markets and beaches.  My French has never been better.

Despite our best efforts including this sign, we were unable to sling the Cruiser in Benin

Benin was also where I said goodbye to the Cruiser; I had decided in Ghana that I would stay behind in Benin to continue the adventure solo while Lee and Nate went back to Ghana to get a flight to South Africa to buy motorbikes, do some sailing lessons, and, I’m sure, plenty of other awesome stuff.  A few days before I flew out of Benin, we took the Cruiser out for one last day trip (for me, at least) to Benin’s capital of Porto Novo and a visit to the huts-on-stilts village of Ganvie, built over Lake Nokoue. These hut dwellers perched over the lake escaped invasion by slave hunters, who, depending on whom you ask, were either forbidden by their religion or simply too scared to venture into the big, bad lake to attack villagers.

Colonial architecture in Porto Novo

We tried slinging the Cruiser in Benin, but couldn’t find anyone who would buy it for anything approaching a reasonable sum.  We probably could have gotten more in Burkina Faso or Niger, but at this point none of us wanted to go there.  After failing to sell his own vehicle (an older, less equipped vehicle than ours) in Burkina Faso because no one would give him the $10,000 US he was asking, my German friend Andy brought it to Benin, hoping to get at least as much.  His final price after tons of haggling:  $6,000 US.  Whoops.  So the writing was on the wall, and we had already visited and been in contact with shippers in Ghana that would ship to South Africa, as a backup plan.  We wanted to get at least $14,000 US for it, but we really never got close.

Aquatic fruit merchant and her young daughter in Ganvie. I bought a few of her bananas.

There are dealers from Benin’s giant neighbor to the south, Nigeria, everywhere on the scene in Cotonou.  They buy in bulk to sell mostly to the Nigerian market, and were not interested in a vehicle outfitted for an expedition.  Not to mention that they were collectively a bunch of knobs. Ideally, we wanted to find a fellow overlander, someone who cared about a roof rack, awning, load guard, bush lights, and everything else that makes the Cruiser ready for its next African off-road assignment.

With no takers in Benin, South Africa is the Cruiser’s next destination.  So the day after our final expedition, around 1 pm, I said goodbye and watched Nate, Lee, and the Cruiser start the journey up the Atlantic Coast to Ghana.  I will remember for a long time standing in the driveway of Gaesthaus (the name of our guest house in Cotonou) and seeing my home of five months disappear around a roundabout, and from view forever.  And so ends of Part 1 of the Africa Trip.

Rush-hour dugout canoe traffic services the stilted village of Ganvie

At a local art market (and a damn good one), I wheeled-and-dealed for some slick pieces of African art and sent a bunch of stuff home, in the process making a “heart-wrenching” decision to leave my banged-up old speargun behind.  (My internal debate entailed carrying the awkwardly long, and somewhat bulky, and – to some people – threatening speargun around until I found a place to put it to good use, probably Mozambique if not sooner.) The rains started to come more consistently as time passed in Cotonou, a reminder of dumps to come.

The keys I had held in my pocket for about 5 months were about to head to Ghana, then to South Africa in shipping container along with the Cruiser.

The only thing left to do was deciding where I would continue the journey.  Around the time Nate and Lee left, I finalized plans to go to Egypt.  In this way, I would do the classic Cairo to Capetown route north to south.

This was totally out of the blue, as until recently I hadn’t even considered the thought of going to North Africa, to the heart of the unfinished Arab Spring.  But after about an hour of research, I decided it was safe enough . . . and booked a one-way flight to Cairo.

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