Saturday, August 24, 2019

Traveling from Nigeria to Benin

Crossing the border between two African countries might be an enlightening experience. Just like it happens on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, the impression a traveler has is to leave hell and reach heaven.
That was exactly the same feelings we had when we crossed the border between Nigeria and Benin.
Not just the people seemed more relaxed and keen to help, but the infrastructures told a whole story about how differently the two countries are managed.
From our hotel in Lagos to the border, we had a driver. He couldn't drive through Benin as he didn't have the license. Therefore, the challenges connected with finding a ride from the border to Cotonou, the city where our hotel were obvious.
We were lucky that the border officer helped us to find a driver, who for a reasonable price, would have driven us to our destination.
At that point, we had everything set, and the journey could continue.
The first thing to be noticed was the maintenance of the main road.
No holes, no significant damages on the asphalt, no checkpoints to rob the drivers... Another world, just like I said, the same difference between hell and heaven.
The journey would have taken about two hours, so I just leaned on my seat and took a nap.
I had nothing really to worry about.

Benin's capital is legally Porto Novo, but Cotonou is the heart of Benin's economy. The name Cotonou, in a local dialect (Fon) means 'by the River of Death.'
I could not find out the reason why, and perhaps the origins got lost in the past like it generally happens with ancient civilizations.
One thing we noticed was that, at least in Cotonou, the main road is well kept and continuously maintained to allow the circulation of heavy vehicles to and from the harbor. Nevertheless, the secondary roads are not even paved. They are left as sandy/muddy roads.
On one side, it makes sense to invest more in things that drive the economy of the whole country. Yet, I am wondering whether it would cost any big effort to pave also the secondary roads.

Another thing I have learned is don't bother yourself with questions which do not have an easy or unique answer.

Despite being a city on the sea, it seemed like people do not really care of the shores. They indeed have beautiful beaches, or better said they would have if they even cared about them.
Most of the places we have visited on the beach were occupied by the shacks of the seamen (and garbage).
So Benin gives the impression of being almost exclusively oriented on the practical side of things.

Similarly to Nigeria and generally in Africa, houses are built only to the level that they are capable of granting people with shelter. External walls are rarely finished, or pained. The roofs are completed to the bare minimum, and I am wondering whether doors and windows really do the job they are planned for. Despite this detail, people take great care in how they dress, particularly women, and they own expensive cars. Could it be again that they prefer to spend their money on a vehicle that can bring them to their work, or can help them with their business rather than in their houses?


On the streets, you will find everything from people selling gasoline stored in large glass containers (I am still wondering about this way of storing gasoline!) to goats and chicken. Nevertheless, I haven't seen a single dead animal on the road, and that was comforting.

 The official language is French, but people could also understand basic English, which made us a perfect match since my French is quite poor.

We spent in Cotonou three days, but my experience is too wide to be told in a single blog, so I will have to split the Benin experience into two episodes, hoping you will continue to follow me in this adventure.

Have a great weekend!


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, I hope you will also enjoy the rest of the travel series <3

  2. Replies
    1. It has been indeed one of the most interesting travels. I have always mixed feelings towards Africa, but in the end that is the continent I am traveling the most.

  3. I'm just as perplexed about the incongruities of Benin: neglected secondary roads; unkempt beaches; minimalist homes, but finer cars and dress.

    1. This is anyway something I have noticed in many places in Africa. It makes me also wonder. Certainly it would take a lot of effort presently to organize the infrastructures, take care of buildings, waste management and other issues that are clearly plaguing daily those countries. But after the big investment it would be a question of simple and ordinary maintenance.


The long road of writing a book.

Publishing a book is a journey on a rocky path that involves several stages, from writing and pre-editing to editing, formatting, selecting ...