Stuck in Cotonou

Today was not a good day.

I had every intention to go away for the weekend to a lake village called Ganvie, not far from Cotonou and one of Benin’s main attractions. It is a village in the middle of the lake where all houses are propped on stilts and people move about in boats. I found out I can spend the night there, at a simple hotel and was looking forward to it.

The day before I’d bought a Lonely Planet guide on Benin as they are very useful for transportation tips and good places to stay and eat. I even had to buy it twice because I’d accidentally exhausted all my downloads on the first one by trying to view it on my phone and the one downloaded and saved earlier was on my work PC and I hadn’t e-mail it to myself. I had to have it on Friday night, so I can figure out the transport for the next day’s trip so I bought it again. Frustrating as I don’t like spending money when not necessary.

Anyway I was thinking about two options – get a moto taxi to the embarkation point (about 15km) or take a moto taxi to a local station, then get a regular taxi, and then a moto taxi again. I thought Option 1 was better.

I naturally woke up at 7am this morning and was surprised because it was dark in the room and I thought I’d sleep for a lot longer. I went back to bed and woke up again at about 8.20am after an unpleasant dream. When that happens it is better to get up and get distracted rather than stay in bed and dwell.

So I got up, I spoke to a friend, got my running gear on and was ready to go out when I was told that breakfast ends at 10am (I thought it was 11am on weekends) and I only had about 25mins. I couldn’t miss breakfast so I skipped the run. Sitting there about 40mins later it was clear that breakfast wasn’t going anywhere and I could have ran afterall. Annoying.

I showered, packed my bag and got ready to leave. I stopped at reception to drop off my room card and ask what was the best way to get to the embarkation point. That’s when trouble began.

I was told that I couldn’t get a moto taxi there because it was too far. The other alternative was a normal taxi. They said they would call one and I would negotiate the price with him. He came and said that he would charge CFA25,000 which is about £30 for a 20min ride. Even the local reception girls thought it ridiculous because they negotiated it down to CFA15,000 even before they translated. It was still too much. That is normally what you would pay if you were hiring a car with a driver for half a day if not more.

The other option was to just hail a cab which would be a lot cheaper but the girls were adamant that it wouldn’t be safe for me. We talked in length and they explained that there are places where even they wouldn’t go alone and it wouldn’t be safe for some who’s a girl, alone and didn’t speak the language.

I decided not to pay for the private taxi and stay in town because even if I’d gotten there I would still have to come back on Sunday and I would be in the middle of nowhere surrounded by people who don’t speak English and sometimes don’t even speak French.

I felt really helpless and stuck. I didn’t know what to do.

This wasn’t the end of bad news. I checked my e-mails and there was one from my lettings agent saying that he is having to chase my rent again. Tenant has been in for 3 months and he has had to chase for two of those. He is serving a notice for her to leave but according to local law she will not before the 6 months is up or something like that meaning that I may not see any money until she is gone. Not great for my very first tenant experience.

At this point I felt really down. And lonely. An American guy sitting next to me in the hotel lobby was talking to someone close (family most likely) and there I was stuck and alone as they come.

Anyway, I brightened up after a while, I sent a couple of e-mails to a local tour agency hoping to still arrange something but there is still no response from them.

Then I thought I’d go out for a walk along the beach. I got there and it seemed lovely at first. Then I realized how deserted it was and how there were a few solitary men here and there. I was worried about myself, about my phone (I’d taken it for the GPS) and I was even afraid of the water. I didn’t know if something wasn’t going to come out and bite me or hurt me in some way while I splashed around ankle deep. Even the water seemed unfriendly somehow.

Fidjrosse Beach, Cotonou

Fidjrosse Beach, Cotonou

I kept walking, after I while I didn’t see anybody and I relaxed a bit. The wind was whistling about me and I thought how great it was to have all the time in the world and just walk around aimlessly, going where the road takes you.

I saw some boats in the distance and walked towards them which accidentally happened to be right in front of one of not so well off neighbourhoods in Cotonou and that came with its own share of whistling men who every now and again stopped to make kissing noises after me. There were several people around defecating on the beach. When I realized what they were doing my walk became even more unpleasant. I now had to watch where I walked on top of trying to run away from sleazy guys. One guy actually managed to get right next to me without me noticing me and scared me to the point of screaming.

What I can only assume a local fishing boats. They were in a pretty bad state so not sure if they are used.

What I can only assume a local fishing boats. They were in a pretty bad state so not sure if they are used.

That’s when I decided not to wander around by myself. Funnily I have travelled on my own before and I have been to some remote and poor places but I have never felt scared or threatened. This is not the case here. I feel very uncomfortable. I wonder if I have changed, gotten more afraid or this place is dodgy?

I stopped at the supermarket on my way back, I had lunch at the hotel, I showered for the second time today (moisture in the air is horrendous and I got sticky within minutes) and I’ve been resting and watching films since.

I am meeting a colleague from work for dinner and drinks. I am looking forward to that. I am also very much hoping that he would be interested in joining me for some trips here and there. Otherwise I am not sure what to do.

Sunday UPDATE: My colleague doesn’t seem interested in going place which is unfortunate. I will have to sort something else out for myself. I will talk to the travel office at work and see if something comes up.

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One thought on “Stuck in Cotonou

  1. Wow, the tribulations of a white, female traveling alone in West Africa! I admire you – it’s certainly an experience, and I think you are smart to be careful 🙂

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