Ouidah

Picture of mel_python Ouidah is a relatively small town about an hour or so from Cotonou by shared taxi. The town consists of three basic parts. There is the section that stretches along the main coast road between Togo and Cotonou. There's a couple hotels along the road and some assorted market sections. Taxis in both directions leave from here. We're not really sure how one determines where taxis actually gather to leave from, it seems one has to rely on a zemidjan (scooter) driver to know what is where. The main center of town is a ways off the road to the south. There are very few cars / taxis in Ouidah off of the coast road so most travel is by zemidjan. We spent most of our time in this central part of town. There is also a trail leading to the ocean called La Route des Esclaves (The Route of Slaves). It's about 4km long from the center of Ouidah and follows the path that slaves took to the boats that carried them to the Americas. Ouidah was the only port city in Benin and the route is speckled with poignant memorials.
Picture of david_python So you might be wondering about the pythons by now. Ouidah is, at least according to the majority of sources we found, the center of the Voudon religion. Voudon became corrupted to Voodoo as it spread with the slaves to the Caribbean and North and South America but the basic tenets and practices are the same. The center of Voudon in Ouidah is the temple of the Pythons which is the only place in Benin we saw another person with a camera. Speaking of which, there is a fee to enter and a fee to take photos, although the second part of that is arguably negotiable.
Picture of temple_of_pythons All of our pictures here come from the Temple of Pythons but really the town itself is a fascinating place to wander around. The roads are all dirt only and there is no particularly logical pattern to them so it's easy to get temporarily lost. The town isn't big enough to get actually lost in. There are several other small museums around as well as a Sacred Forest (which is very small and deceptively hard to locate). Despite the sprinkling of actual tourist sights, we comprised (as far as we can tell) two-thirds of all the non-Africans in town during our stay.
Picture of walls We definitely attracted a bit of attention wandering around the streets of Ouidah. As elsewhere in Benin, there were a lot of shouts of 'Yovo' (white person) from the younger kids, some slightly more malicious comments from older kids, and general friendliness from the adults. The friendliest place of all would have to be the Hotel Oasis in the center of town. It's fairly cheap, fairly clean, and the power doesn't go out there any more often than it does in the rest of Ouidah (which is sporadic but often enough to make carrying a small flashlight a really good idea).
Picture of sacred_tree This, incidentally, is the sacred tree at the Temple. There's a lot of sacred things around Ouidah. They also let the pythons roam around at night to feed, which is yet another fine reason to carry a flashlight around. Ouidah has very few electric lights, and cooking fires provide most of the illumination after the sun sets. From Ouidah, it was easy and cheap for us to catch a taxi to the border with Togo. It's unclear even after covering the distance in both directions if it makes more sense to find a shared taxi all the way to Lome, or just to the border and then get a separate car from there. Either way, the important things are to know the car number of your taxi (the border area is total chaos when it comes to rejoining a car), and not to be in a hurry. The process generally went smoothly, but there are a lot of small steps involved. On our trip, we obtained Togolese visas at the border, which are good for 7 days. There is supposedly a 48-hour Beninoise visa going the other direction which can be extended in Cotonou. One last note of interest to travelers: there are no banks in Ouidah and no currency black market that we saw. There is a currency black market at the border which might be closer than Cotonou. As far as we could tell, in all of Benin, the only city outside the greater Cotonou area with a bank is Bohicon.

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