15 May 2012, Gail’s trip log

Well, our port guide had told us that we were in for a culture shock in our next two ports and she was certainly right about Benin. We arrived on time, but were over an hour late getting docked because we had to wait for another ship to move out of the port and the pilot to come over to our ship to guide us into the port. Our previous Captain had said that in most ports and with current technology, the pilot isn’t really needed, but it is often a local political or economic requirement, so we have to comply. In this port, unlike most, tugs were required to get us to our berthing position, as the port is very small. Anyway, once alongside, we watched the local dancers and drummers and all the dockworkers who had stopped to watch the arrival of a cruise ship – a rare occurrence in such a small and poor country as Benin. After waiting in line for our tour assignment we finally got off the ship and on the bus over an hour late. First culture shock – bus was not air conditioned, had no microphone, and the rear side door was held shut by strapping tape and rope. [We had been warned about the lack of AC and PA system, but that didn’t stop many whiners.] Off we went, in the humid, hot morning through town toward Ganvie, the city built in the 1700 on wooden stilts over a large lake, about 20 miles from Cotonou, the port city. As we drove through the city it was total chaos in the streets. There are many more motorbikes than cars or buses and they were frequently carrying 2 or 3 people, many with items on their heads, and darting everywhere. Along the road there was every conceivable thing for sale – fruits, vegetables, chickens, TVs, clothing, pottery, gasoline/petrol in bottles, beds, mattresses, tools, and even beautiful wooden caskets, all displayed at the edge of the road. The clothes most of the men wore looked like cotton pajamas in beautiful, colorful print patterns. The women wore wraps and fancy turbans, also brightly colored. The women were nursing children at the side of the road, and it was common to see a man peeing on a wall. One naked man ran in front of the bus as well. We got to Ganvie, off the buses, and lined up to get into flat bottom pirogue boats, like 15 person covered canoes – which were poled away from the dock and when out into the lake powered by an outboard motor. They carried us to the stilt village.  There were many small boats, with the men fishing from theirs and the women having theirs filled with good to buy and sell, or to take home to eat. The village was fascinating, with some 5,000 people living there, though years ago there were over 20,000 residents. The boat trip out and back took about 1 ½ hours, and while there we saw children doing local dances and of course an opportunity to shop for things. When we got back to shore there were many adults and children that were vigorously trying to sell us all manner of things, mostly hand crafted items. Dan bought a tshirt. The bus trip back provided more of the same sights. We got back on board about 130 and had a little lunch, folloed by a shower and down time in the cabin. The last buses also came back late, but we didn’t sail away for over an hour after that. But, it doesn’t matter, since it is only 70 miles to our next port, another culture shock I’m sure. We get an extra hour of sleep tonight. 

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