We returned to Cotonou two days before our flight back to Paris. After a brief debate about whether or not there was time to overnight in Abomey and return, we decided to attempt it and are very glad we did. Not only is the town itself the most interesting we visited in Benin, but getting there was truly an adventure. We took the train from Cotonou, second class (there was no first class) which meant no air-conditioning, and that we shared the compartment with a few hundred of our closest Beninoise friends, along with their poultry, produce and assorted other critters. It took quite a bit longer than the advertised three hours, and some stops were mysteriously missing. At each intermediate stop the sides of the train were inundated by locals selling food and drinks. We actually leaned what is inside the assorted wrapped banana leaves on this train trip - or at least what it looked like, it wasn't always clear exactly what food products were involved. Getting off the train at Bohicon involved throwing our backpacks off and then jumping after them amidst the people trying to load their belongings and themselves through the same narrow entrance. After that, it was a short zemidjan ride from Bohicon to Abomey. These are the bungalows at the motel d'Abomey where we stayed.
It's not hard to find a tour guide in Abomey, mostly because it's a town where travelers really need one. One found us in the hotel lobby while we were chugging Fizzi (a local grapefruit soda) and recovering from the near heat-exhaustion of the train ride. Abel Attonhonton: tour guide, artist, sculpteur, hotel liasion, and zemidjan chauffeur. We negotiated a price and he came back several hours later to show us around town. We mention him here because he definitely knows Abomey and it's history. As with any local guide in Benin, one has to suffer through a lot of 'small moneys'. Sometimes it costs a few hundred francs just to be in the presence of an artisan, blacksmith, King, etc
That would be king in terms of descended name only, there is no political power in Abomey anymore as the Dahomey kingdom officially ended in the early 1900s.
The kings of Dahomey each built a palace in Abomey. Besides that they built a residence, and added on to the one central royal palace. They might have built a few shrines each as well. (These buildings are shrines in the photos). Each king had three or four totems and those were painted on everything associated with that king. As a result, Abomey is a small town with a confusing maze of dirt roads, tracks and footpaths that periodically lead to enormous sets of ruins or deserted shrines. We don't believe it's very likely for a visitor to find most of this (other than the central museum and palace) on their own.
There is Abel in fact, next to David underneath the enormous statue of Behanzin. Behanzin is the Dahomeyan King who lost to the French army. There's a lot of partisan history going on in Abomey these days. We heard two stories about Behanzin. One upheld that he stood at the entrance of town with his hand outstretched symbolically forbidding the French army from entering Abomey. The other version claimed that he was destined to stand here with no shelter (roof over him) because he lost to the French.
Amongst our hours of zemidjan-based wanderings in Abomey, we visited one ruined palace which had been taken over by a group of weavers making mostly blankets. Somewhere else in town was this rather small scale blacksmith operation. For the curious, those are bells that he is forging. Pictures like this were taken via the negotiation skills of Abel, and the application of 'small monies'. Incidentally, whenever you run out of small monies, someone appears to take 2000 Francs from you and return with roughly 1900 in small change. Just accept it - it costs small moneys to get small moneys.
Some miles out of town through sugar cane fields was the small encampment of a voudon priest, a fetisher and their families. We visited the shrine there, shared a bowl of hygenically ambiguous water (hey, it was our last full day in Africa, what could go wrong?) because it was polite to do so, and spent several minutes convincing the fetisher we did not want to pay money so that he would slash open one of his body parts and procure the blessing of our choice. In the end we paid small monies so that he wouldn't cut himself. It seems like we must have lost that particular negotiation but again, it was our last day in Africa and we were definitely getting lazy. We ate dinner back at the motel (once electricity had been restored again) and returned to Cotonou by shared taxi the next day. This involved roaming Abomey until critical mass (3 passengers) was achieved, followed by roaming Bohicon until fullness (2 more passengers).