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And suddenly, it was three of us (English version)

por | Ene 17, 2011 | África de cabo a rabo, Benin, Viajar por África | 2 Comentarios

So after a couple of weeks in the south of the country we waited for Ainhoa, Itziar’s sister, to come and head then to the north. It was great to have her with us but not only because she came loaded with jamón and chorizo. We did not think the same the day of her arrival: at 3am we woke up to collect her from he airport. Very practical arrival time, really: everyone is annoyed, both passengers and people waiting for them. Not the taxi drivers, of course, that triple their rates…

We allowed Ainhoa to get contaminated one day in the city, browsed with her through the incredible market of Dantopka and ate fairly decent street food before heading to Nattitingou, the capital of the northern region.

According to the guide it should have taken 8 hours. According to the company, 10. But the reality is that it took 15 to get there. Luckily we were in Comfort Lines, which was a too optimistic name for the bus, although to be true we each had one seat for ourselves, no need to share it with anybody else. The journey was interesting as we went from the greeny south to the drier and dustier north, although the country, or at least that road, is nothing special: nature is boring, as there are no mountains or nothing to make every one of the 500 kilometres a bit different from the previous one… Always interesting are the bus stops, where food and drinks sellers push each other to be the ones selling first their products to the passangers getting off the bus. In one we bought some barbaqued meat. In another a baguette with avocado, egg, fish and spicy tomato sauce. In another a mini pineapple, which was pure juice although a bit tasteless. In another a chocolate icecream frozen inside a plastic bag. It is always exciting to try to guess what you will be able to find in the next stop…

Natitingou offered nothing but logistical comforts. There we rented a car, hired a guide and set off to visit the Pendjari National Park, apparently the best park in the whole West Africa. The car was really cool: it was a 4×4 and on the roof it had attached a 3-seater bench, so once inside the park we could seat on the roof and watch the animals from there. The two days in the park were fun, that is the truth, but the king was missing when we left. We visited after the wet season had finished so the grass was really high, too high too see anything in most of the park. Probably that is why we saw so many elephants: they were easily visible over the grass and many birds flying all around. But also hippos and crocodiles in ponds, warthogs and loads of juicy antelopes waiting to be eaten by the wild lion in front of our eyes… but did not happen.

The park itself was really cool and wild. With only dirty tracks on it and a few cars searching for animals, we felt very unique, alone, remote. Only when arriving to the hotel located right in the middle of the park, completely covered in dust, we would see other whites. Most of them where there for the Christmas holidays. Yeah, Christmas… as many have asked, we spent our Xmas eve there and Xmas lunch too, at 35ºC in the shade… It was nice and special for us: we sat on the floor, got the jamón, chorizo and cheese, open a couple of baguettes and enjoyed a simple but rewarding dinner: last time we had eaten those was months ago… We even got turrón, a spanish season dessert… what else could we ask for? (the answer is… cheap beers!!).

Leaving the park was sad as we had not seen the lion (a thing that Ainhoa really wanted to) but we stopped at Abiba’s homestay to get our good mood back. Her house was located in the village of Tanongou, right by the park entrance. We had already slept a night at her place the night before entering the park and we decided that her chicken with peanut sauce was so good that we had to repeat again there. An local NGO has set up this ecotourism project in the village: they have chosen and prepared 5 family homes for tourists to stay at. This way you enter a home and stay the night with a family, at their place. They had arranged a room for us, and we even had our private organic toilet and bucket shower. Once we entered we were greeted by many children… they explained us that they belong to two different women, that share the husband. He lives in one room, each of the wives in a different and separate room, and the children, according to their ages, either in the mother’s room or on their own. Each wife had its own kitchen and, of course, only cooks for her children and the husband, that gets food from both. It was a great opportunity, albeit short, to sample how people live: no electricity (no television!), no running water, woodfire to cook… and the orchestra of animals playing at night: the sheep, the dog, the cow, the chicken and the cock…

The final day we visited the region which is full of «tata somba», castel-like houses, built in mud. Incredibly they have two floors, leaving the lower one for the animals and the higher for the family and the maize, millet and corn grains. When we asked the guide he said they were built like this to repel wild animal attacks. If you read the guide it says it was to protect agains other tribes attacks. Either one or the other, the dangers are long gone today, so most of the families that can afford it live in «normal» squared one-floor houses, with corrugated iron ceiling. Much more practical, indeed. I would do the same, and as the family we visited, preserve the old one: tourists might come to visit and pay for it, so it is worth it.

Pablo Strubell

Editor de La editorial viajera, escritor y guía de viajes. Cuenta con dos grandes viajes a sus espaldas: Ruta de la Seda (8 meses, en 2005) y África de cabo a rabo (12 meses, en 2010-11). En sus pocos ratos libres escribe para este blog así como para Leer y viajar. Por si fuera poco, organiza las Jornadas de los grandes viajes. Y entre una cosa y otra, intenta viajar.

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2 Comentarios

  1. Julian

    Great to finally understand what you’re up to! Haha, I miss the random bus station food… Pasalo bien!

  2. Olivia_rv

    Ola Pablito y Itziar y Ainhoa
    Is it the Ainhoa who was living in Malaisia and after whom we named our daughter ?
    Great to read those lines, it reminds us of the good old time of bus travelling in South East Asia.
    the chocolate ice cream in plastic bag is a very courageous idea when you know you will spend the next 12h in the bus (and considering the nice toilets that are welcoming you at your arrival), apparently it did not make you sick, great !
    Thanks for the effort for putting it in English, it is great fun to read !


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