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Posts from the ‘Africa’ Category

Santo Antao Island, Cape Verde: Made for Hikers

We ride up a snaking cobblestone road that separates many fertile valleys, canyons, and Ribeiras of Santo Antao Island.

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Ron up in the clouds on the road to Cova de Paul. Ribeiras on both sides!

The town of Ribeira Grande is the gateway to the island’s Gothic-like volcanic peaks.

town of Ribeira Grande

Town of Ribeira Grande on Santo Antao

Ribeira de Torre

Looking up Ribeira de Torre

Visitors come here to hike. So, here we go. The driver drops us off in a volcano crater carpeted with crops and fruit trees, better known as Cova de Paul.

climb out of crater

First we have to climb out of the crater

From here, we trek out of the crater and then into the Ribeira do Paul. The trail switchbacks down for about three sun-exposed hours, to our guesthouse in the middle of nowhere.

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Just part of the long walk down

Stop to take in views of villages below, where block houses cling to the side of jagged peaks, often blending in with the scene.

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Cha Joao Vaz village

Terraces with crops of all kinds layer the peaks that we descend. This ribeira is best known for its grogue (strong alcohol).

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Typical homesteads in Ribeira do Paul

The trail eventually transforms back into the cobblestone road, and passes through several small villages. Friendly locals always greet us and often give a “thumbs up.” We stop briefly for a cold beer and plate of fresh goat cheese.

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Lunch at O Curral

Back at our guest house in the middle of nowhere, the shower still does not work. I’m sore in strange places. We lay on our bed, soaked in sweat, and listen to the drunken proprietor rant and rave at phantom tourists, or perhaps, at his partner. Doors slam and employees scatter. Eventually, the electricity turns on and we shower. Refreshed and renewed, we decide to leave the drunken proprietor’s place, despite having booked for another night. Let’s find some peace and quiet in the coastal village of Ponta do Sol.

ponta do sol

Ponta do Sol

We sit on a balcony and bask in the cool breeze. Sip beer, and stare at the ocean.

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Our favorite drinking hole in Ponta do Sol – Veleiro

Fisherman clean their daily catch of tuna and eel on shore. Children dive from rocks and swim in the turbulent pools.

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The active harbor at Ponta do Sol

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Kids will be kids

The streets come alive with warm and friendly people each evening. They often try to have conversations with us in a language we cannot understand. We are beginning to feel like locals as we recognize not just the people, but some of the free roaming dogs as well.

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Ron making friends, drinking grogue, and eating chicken

Time for a change from hiking the ribeiras. We follow yet another cobblestone road, this one hugging jagged cliffs that drop into the ocean below us.

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Hiking to Fontainhaus

We stop in the small village of Fontainhas for refreshment. Again, folks all wave and greet.

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Leaving Fontainhaus

Back at Ponta do Sol, we watch children and adults alike enjoy the water and each other. Gentle and genuine best describes the people of Cape Verde. Throughout these past three weeks, we have felt nothing but welcome.

Saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon in Ponta do Sol

As for tonight, we must decide on dinner of either Cachupa (national dish of corn, beans, herbs, cassava, sweet potato and sometimes with meat), or should we try the baked goat? Life is good.

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From Rolling with it to Dancing with it in Mindelo, Sao Vicente

We expect difficult travel in West Africa. Here in Cape Verde, which we call “West Africa Light,” (click on previous posts Ghana, Togo, Benin) the mindset of “just roll with it” works fine, but doesn’t make travel any easier. Last-minute flight cancellations (four thus far) happen, and it’s best to have wiggle room rather than be on a tight schedule.

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“Rolling with it!”

We’re exhausted, and there’s something draining about the African sun that is beyond mere temperature readings. Binter Airlines cancels our flight and comps us a room at the “Seafood Hotel” in Sao Filipe, on the island of Fogo, that comes with a meal of fried fish or chicken. I believe that nobody comes to Cape Verde for the cuisine. After a bottle of fine Fogo wine, we don’t mind getting up at 4:00AM for the rescheduled flight, until morning of course.

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You don’t come to Cape Verde for the food

When our two-prop plane finally shoots down the runway for take-off, Marilynn whaps me in the arm with her elbow.

“That guy across from you is freaking out!”

“I’m on the wrong flight!” he yells. He stands up and tries to bolt for the emergency exit.

The flight attendant and I make him sit, and eventually calm him down. Now, I’m his best friend, and am forced to listen to him bitch about the airline company the entire flight. I just nod, and am grateful that this flight duration is only forty-five minutes. Roll with it. (He’s lucky he wasn’t on a flight in the USA)

Mindelo

Mindelo Harbor

We land in the port city of Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente. Set on a natural harbor, full of cafés and music, we instantly love this lively place.

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Dancing in the streets of Mindelo

It is a nice break from the silence of Fogo Island.

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Many cafes have live music

Enter our short attention span…, how long can we watch the active fish market by day, and explore the back alleys full of restaurants and live music at night? Three days.

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Just outside the fish market

 

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Looking at the Presidential Palace from our terrace

They hand out vomit bags on a one-hour ferry ride to our fourth island, Santo Antao.

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Leaving Sao Vicente

Avoiding seasickness, we soon fight motion sickness on land, while riding in a packed Collectivo that whips around dramatic coastal scenery.

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Driving the coastal road of Santo Antao

Once the driver turns inland and uphill, volcanic craggy mountains conceal lush, green canyons.

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Next stop – Cuidade das Pombas (Paul), Santo Antao

From banana, papaya, and mango trees to corn and sugarcane, Santo Antao provides produce for all the islands. We plan to hike down from the Cova de Paul (volcanic crater) tomorrow.

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Making Grogue from sugar cane

At our guest house, an older French man, whom we think is the proprietor, is drunk on Grogue (sugarcane rum), and slurs only a few words of English. Simple things, like trying to order dinner a day in advance are difficult. The room is sweltering hot, and the shower doesn’t work because of an electrical outage. Roll with it. And we do. Oftentimes, difficult travel culminates into luscious reward…like tomorrow’s cool hike! Stay tuned.

 

Hiking Pico de Fogo, Cape Verde West Africa

fter roaming around the laid-back island town of Sao Filipe, Fogo Island, we hop into a Collectivo for a twisty, crowded ride with many stops.

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Sao Filipe

We’re heading uphill to the base of Pico de Fogo, a towering active volcano. The desert terrain transforms into black ash and volcanic cones.

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The landscape begins to change

At the Casa Marisa guest house/restaurant in the village of Portelo, our cement room sits atop the crust of “new lava” in the middle of Cha Das Caldeiras, a massive, ancient crater. The eruption of 2014 destroyed this village.

Marilynn runs out of the bathroom. “There’s something weird going on with the toilet and the floor’s burning my feet!”

I look in disbelief at simmering water in the toilet. The floors are too hot to walk on barefoot. “Maybe it gets cold at night and the floors are heated?”

Pico above our hotel

Pico de Fogo towers above our guesthouse

Turns out that the floors are indeed heated. Not by design. By accident. After the 2014 eruption, they quickly rebuilt the Casa Marisa, where we will sleep the next two nights. The new lava below still produces steady heat, to the point of boiling water in the toilet. It will take about eight years for the lava below to cool.

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Living in Lava

Too hot to sleep in the room, we sit on chairs atop warm cement outside, surrounded by crusted lava. The smell of sulphur in this terrain reminds me of a steel mill. The hot African sun radiates down upon us, the ground heats up from below, and a Swiss man who hiked the volcano yesterday informs that it does not cool down at night.

We stare at the behemoth Pico de Fogo, one of the steepest volcanic cones in the world, and begin doubting our ability to hike it tomorrow. Are we chicken?

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Here we go

After a restless night, full of barking dogs and volcanic subterranean booms, we meet Cecelio, our English-speaking guide. “We’ll hike slow and take breaks, he says. “It’s not competition, it’s vacation. Use lots of sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and drink lots of water.”

Off we go, along with a young Swiss couple. Cecelio, who is forty-years old, explains that he has lived here his entire life and has twenty-one brothers and sisters. He’s been guiding volcano hikes since age nineteen.

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Views back to our village as we begin

We approach the volcano through scattered fig trees and individual grape vines, watered only by humidity and minimal rainfall. A small winery converts muscatel and touriga grapes into reds, whites, and rosés, but not enough to export.

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Growing grapes

Our trail turns to ash, and then shoots straight up a side of unstable stones. Cecelio makes sure that we take frequent water/rest breaks, especially after stints of scrambling on all fours. He’s an excellent guide, who knows how to find the most stable row of stones. Hiring a guide is imperative, and there’s no turning back once you begin.

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Ceceilio and Ron lead the way

About three hours later, we sit atop a massive volcanic cone that surrounds a serene monster crater that will explode again one day. The five Italian hikers already up top applaud our arrival.

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On top looking into the crater

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Views of our village from the top

Now, to get back down. After negotiating some craggy cliffs, hanging on to a cable in places, we stare straight down at a massive slope of black lapilli (ash scree). Woohoo! Jump right in, baby! Glide down the mountain with long strides in knee deep ash.

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The way down

Slide to the bottom in no time at all. Reminds me of sliding down giant sand dunes in Namibia and in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia a few years back. Gobi Desert Mongolia …, Namibia

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Running down through the ash. Now this is fun!

The walk back to Casa Marisa twists through a black ocean storm of solidified lava. A few rooftops of block houses show how the lava of 2014 entered through the windows and took back the territory.

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Lava reclaiming the land in 2014

Time for some well-deserved beer and wine. Tonight, we not only meet our chicken face to face, we devour it!

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Dinner

 

 

 

 

THREE MONTHS AT HOME

After spending three months at home taking care of necessary business, my wife and I prepare for a four-month travel adventure that will begin in West Africa’s Cape Verde Islands. We purchase one-way airline tickets, as we often travel without reservations beyond the first few nights lodgings.

Enter the energy of “Three months at home,” a powerful, psychological experience that wreaks havoc upon our freestyle spirit of travel. Daily television news shows, politics, an overload of internet information, all this bombardment sprouts seeds of fear and paranoia in us. Suddenly, our world appears doomed. War is inevitable. If fatal violence doesn’t get you, a new disease will. Don’t leave home. The world is a scary place, and it’s either melting or blowing up!

I’m getting sucked-in. Starting to believe that the whole world hates Americans, especially since the recent divisive election. Many people think that our country tolerates racism, and we’re a couple of white Americans planning travels to West Africa?

There’s more. Azores Airline employees are on a two-day strike. Reviews on Trip Advisor warn us to stay clear of this terrible airline, describing the planes as old and decrepit, the staff rude, and common delays up to ten hours. Reviews also tell us that our hotel on the island of Fogo has no air conditioning, and previous guests have felt unsafe. I’m nervous. Even my free-spirited wife starts to get nervous. We don’t know what to believe anymore. Too much information coming in from all angles. Let’s get out of here!

We start to feel better the moment we hit the skies. The world beyond television and internet welcomes us. It’s a life full of real people, nice people. Face to face interactions and experiences dominate, rather than distant opinions, tirades, and preconceived notions. The reality of travel on our Azores Airlines flight proves to be one of the most unique, fun experiences we have ever had on a plane. A stranger invites us to his house for a big party next Saturday. Musicians play guitars, bongos, sing and dance down the aisle. Flight attendants serve cake and fill our glasses with champagne, in celebration of the airline’s maiden direct route.

azores plane

We land in the city of Praia, on the island of Santiago in Cape Verde, and wait during a four-hour layover. We’re the only white people. Strangers welcome us with friendly gestures and attempts at conversation in English. Four guys at a nearby table buy us a round of beers. A young woman from our flight invites us to join her for lunch with her cousin during the layover. We decline, merely because of exhaustion.

fogo volcan

Our final flight lands on a live volcano – the island of Fogo. We look forward to hiking to the top. To hell with the energy of “Three months at home,” that spirit killer which had tried to prevent us from leaving our “comfort zone.” We escape its grip, back into freestyle travel, and it feels fabulous. Stay tuned for some travel blog posts that explore new adventures. Peace, love, and happy trails to all.

 

 

 

Voodoo Child

After a long day of travel and sightseeing, at six o’clock in the evening we head out to a Voodoo ceremony. Three people to a scooter, Mare sits between two men on one scooter, and I on another. I have never felt such closeness, sandwiched between two men before. Mare probably enjoys this better than I. The half-hour ride bounces over bumps, powdered dust, rocks and ruts. No riders around here wear goggles, and despite us wearing sunglasses, our eyes burn and water. We have never been so filthy.

The following account comes from my interpretation of what Mare and I experience at a genuine ceremony. Voodoo is complex, and this information we get through our guide, Apollo, by asking questions that he has to ask the family member who invited us.

Each family hires a fetish priest, a Voodoonou, once every seven years. The reasons vary, and each Voodoonou has his area of specialty, but this seven year ceremony is mostly for the family’s good heath and fortune. If a family has had a good year, they may sacrifice a cow, but most sacrifice goats.

Voodoo followers worship the Python. A python will not bite you, but if you kill one, even accidentally, you will die. These beliefs, as all of these beliefs, help the people to stay in touch with their ancestors.

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So, we sit in a circular row of chairs around a House of Python. We sit, stare, sit some more, in between Apollo and Abell. Apollo says that they will protect us. They seem nervous.

Abell tells Apollo (in native tongue) to tell Mare to “Slowly give your camera to Apollo. He might be able to sneak a couple of shots.”

Villagers, friends and relatives of this family, begin to arrive. The Chief of this tribe shows up, with his wife, dressed in bright garb with a yellow sash. People approach both of them and bow down to their knees. Then they bend over and kiss the dust on the ground, while the Chief claps his hands together a few times. People use this same greeting for the Chief’s wife, and the many dignitaries, such as holy fetish priests, priestesses, who are Voodooshis, that are on a lower tier than the high Voodoonou. All in all, between 750 and 1,000 people are here, mostly greeting each other.

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Arriving

I feel like I’m going to pass-out. Mare is exhausted as well. She whispers into my ear, “The things I do for you.”

We are getting delirious. I remember a silly video that a friend sent to me prior to this trip. In it, a white man is captured by an African tribe and has his feet tied together, while his arms are tied around a log across his back. The villagers chase him, as he tries to hop away. They catch him, kill him, and cook him.

I whisper to Mare, “If I see a white man hopping, I’m taking off!”

We get a case of the giggles and try to hide our inappropriate laughter. We are pretty conspicuous as it is, being the only white people here, at a sacred ceremony, and do not want to appear disrespectful. I’m reminded of my altar boy days, trying not to laugh during mass.

Darkness descends, and still we sit and stare straight ahead. We ask Apollo questions, for him to interpret from Abell. Here is a summary…Most of Voodoo is for goodness, but there also is a dark side. For instance, if you go to a Voodoonou and ask for someone to be killed, he will put you through a rigorous number of tasks first, such as bringing him a woman’s menstrual blood. Also, you will bring him the heart of a dead person, which you will need to dig up. Even Apollo believes that a Voodoonou, who specializes in this area, has the power to kill a person without physically seeing them.

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Moses

Many people believe that Rastafarians derive from Prince Ra Sta, who is believed to be embodied with a living god. But here, in the birthplace of Voodoo, a much older story teaches that a couple, who cannot produce children, will approach a Voodoonou (specialist) for fertility. However, after they have a child, he is not permitted to cut his hair, or he will die. The family must trade again with the Voodoonou, in order for the child to get a haircut. No wonder I see only two Rastafarians with dreadlocks in all these countries thus far. Rasta’s are discriminated against here, even by the government, like a Voodoo Child.

People for Cannons

Bushed, from changing taxis several times in several villages, in the stifling heat, we stop alongside the road. Apollo negotiates his beaded bracelet with an elderly, topless, woman, so Mare can use her outhouse. Mostly, throughout Western Africa, people relieve themselves just about anywhere, especially the men. Flushing toilets seem to be reserved for hotels.

After a one-half hour scooter ride, where the wind dries our our sweat soaked clothes and cools us, we reach the city of Abomey, and check-in to a clay hut at Motel D’Abomey. Apollo talks to an artist, Abell, who invites us to his family’s Voodoo ceremony this evening. Of course, we accept the invitation. But first, we walk about one mile, in the sun, to visit the Royal Palace Museum.

The twelve kings of Dahomey lived here, and each added more space to the huge compound. They ruled the kingdom until the French conquered them. There really are not many artifacts left in this compound, other than some reproductions of thrones, as either the genuine remnants sit in French museums, or were destroyed by the Africans. The most interesting, true artifact left here, is a throne that sits atop human skulls.

“Why can’t we take photos?” Mare asks.

“Because if people take pictures, nobody would come to visit,” the guide replies.

Mare looks at me and says, “No Kidding.” I am reminded of how the NFL will black-out a local game if the game does not sell out.

This tour is sad, seeing the loss of traditional relics. Bowls of corn and an old garden ho sit in clear plastic displays. Really, there is not much to see, as the traditional remnants appear barren. Rich in history, the guide explains how the African leaders traded 15 strong men, or 21 perfectly proportioned women to the Portuguese, for each cannon that they needed to fight their enemies. The kings gained their riches by trading their own people. It is interesting to hear our guides blame the African leaders for initiating trading of people for goods, primarily weapons.                                                                                                                                                                      After this tour, we walk through the market and see a more realistic fetish market, where local people purchase items.

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This market looks pretty much like a garbage dump, and the fetish stands reek of rotting flesh. Scrawny chickens roam around the filth, being gathered twenty at a time for sale.

“Here in Benin, we eat local chickens,” Apollo says. “Not like the imported fowl you get in the hotels around Accra.”

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Gathering Chickens

Ironically, about one-half hour later, the three of us sit and eat a fried, scrawny chicken at restaurant “Chez Monique’. The couscous tasted terrific, and luckily, the chicken does not have much meat, and we have “Cipro” back in the room.

Scooter rides back to the hotel, and then we’re off to the Voodoo ceremony.

Restorative Justice Voodoo Style

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Theo, the proprietor, joins us for breakfast. He speaks French, so our conversation is rather limited until Apollo shows up to translate. Meanwhile, we watch children cast their nets into the shallow lake, hoping to fill them with Tilapia.

            We jump into a taxi, en route to the town of Abomey. Passing through several villages, changing cars, we learn that Saturday marks a major market day. A good distance out into the countryside, we pass a small, mud-hut village, and Apollo makes the driver stop the car. He exits, while children come to our window and wave, shake hands with us, and giggle. The kids find us as fascinating as we find them.
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Apollo returns. “The elder men in the village are getting ready for a Voodoo ceremony. I’m trying to get permission from the Voodoonou for you to photograph them.”

The Voodoonou must consult the spirits. Eventually, we are granted permission.

Voodoo ceremonies have many purposes, and most seem similar to praying for good things to happen. This particular ceremony involves a member of the village, who had had something stolen from him. He consults the Voodoonou, and agrees to provide a goat, or it could be a chicken if he cannot afford a goat, for sacrifice.

After this ceremony, every villager is asked if they were the one who had stolen the item. If the person who steals the item denies doing it, he will die on the spot. The human skulls which anchor the fetish display give credence to this claim. Fetish priests can specialize in this power to cause death, but only after a long and complex, traditional ceremony. If the thief admits to stealing the item, he must restore it to the victim, along with an additional gift.

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I’m Innocent!

We are not permitted to watch this ceremony, but are privileged to be able to take a few photos.

As retired criminal justice professionals, Mare and I cannot help to correlate this concept of “Restorative Justice” to our profession. And we think of ourselves as pioneers of a new idea? This Voodoo origin predates all of us.

Apollo insists that prior to the introduction of Christianity, thievery was not an issue. We are not so sure about that claim, but it’s an interesting comment .

Grasscutter

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No Helmet Law in Benin

Busses and Tro-tros disappear. Taxis and motor scooters replace them as the primary form of public transit. We notice harsher conditions in the French-speaking countries of Togo and Benin.

“In the English speaking countries, people walk, then they get a car,” Apollo explains. “In the French speaking ones, people walk, then bicycle, then many get a motor scooter, and a few of them get cars.”

We pay an extra fare to the taxi driver, so that three of us can sit in the back seat, rather than the usual four passengers. Three also sit in the front seat. Mind you, the cars are no larger than an economy size vehicle. We drive through a more lush countryside in Benin, than in Togo, and notice that most people garb in very colorful, traditional attire. The dwellings, in small villages we pass, often are made from mud-brick and palm thatched roofs.

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Fill’er up

Gas stations become roadside stands, with a variety of shapes and sizes of bottles, full of gas, and on display. At first, I think that they are selling palm wine. (African moonshine)

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Traditional Attire and Transport

The religious breakdown in Benin is: 20%Muslim; 30%Christian, and 50% traditional belief such as Animism and Voodoo, which is practiced under the name of Fetishism. Christians and Muslims also practice some forms of Voodoo. All religions coexist peacefully and respectfully.

Our US dollars mean nothing here, and we cannot even exchange them for CFAs, the currency for all French speaking countries. At a rare automatic teller, $200,000CFAs equal about $400US dollars, which maxes out my daily banking limit.

We ride the final leg of our journey today on the back of small scooters. Bouncing overtop gravel and dirt roads, I am not used to riding on the back of a bike. I find it frightening at first, not being in control, but these riders quickly prove their expertise, weaving in and out of ruts, rocks, and raw sewage, as if competing in an exotic obstacle course.

Apollo leads us to the resort “Chez Theo,” in the town of Possotome. He is proud to say that a black man owns and operates this business. Our painted clay hut looks similar to the one where we stayed back in Ghana at the KO-SA. Only, it offers a private bath/shower and air conditioner. I should mention that we have not seen a shower with hot water thus far, not that we need it, because the African sun keeps the water plenty warm.

Click for larger imageWe relax on a stilted terrace, overtop Lake Aheme, and the three of us share beers. Apollo explains that his family has slaves, purchased a few generations ago. The slaves are like part of the family, but are not entitled to any sort of inheritance.

“Once a foreigner, always a foreigner,” he explains. Then he pulls out a dark, plastic bag. “I have a special treat for you.”

Apollo opens up the bag and offers us a few pieces of “Grasscutter,” the cooked meat of the “King Rodent,” that he knows we want to try. Yes…it is a rat…but a big one, who eats only grass and is hunted throughout West Africa.

After that appetizer, we feast on the two available dinners: rabbit and fish, before calling it an evening.

And The Gods Send Us Apollo

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Ghana-Togo Border

This morning we throw on our backpacks and meet Apollo, our guide, for coffee. We will travel through three countries via Public transit. So, we head for the “Lorry” station and sit in the van for about one-hour, waiting for people to fill it up. Venders sell everything from fried plantains to high-heeled shoes. Already soaked in sweat, finally the Lorry fills up, and we squeeze together like sardines in a can, en route to the border of Togo.

Several hours later, madness and mayhem minds the border. People sell goods in clouds of dust, dodging trucks, taxis and vans, (Tro-tros). Finally, we pass through the fifth passport/immigration stop, filling out forms, happy to hop into a taxi. The driver continually beeps the horn, slowly rolling through the middle of a crowd in a market. Again, vendors sell everything from plastic banjos to baby cloths and dried fish.

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Drive through the Lome market

The smoky, dust-filled air of this city of Lome, in the country of Togo, burns our eyes, and I feel like I have smoked a pack of Camel non-filters. Lome derives its name from “Alome,” the Ewe tree, which produces chewing sticks. French is the language here, and through the border, negotiating taxis, we realize that Apollo, our guide, is worth more than we could have imagined. We would still be at the border, probably detained for missing a stop, if not for him.

Apollo shows me his perfect teeth. “You see, people think that we are backward, but look at my teeth. We’ve been chewing on sticks way before the Europeans brought us toothbrushes. Everybody has good teeth.”

Okay, from this point on, I scrutinize everybody’s teeth.

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Fetish Market in Togo

Our first stop is at a fetish market, “Marche’ des Feticheurs,” where a different guide gives us a tour. Dried heads of monkeys, dogs, tigers, elephants, snakes, lizards, frogs, alligators and antelopes, goats and gorillas, birds, most everything you could imagine, sit out in the sun on display. All the animals die on their own, before they get “medicined” to preserve them. Click for larger imageThe stench of decaying flesh overwhelms the smell of smoke and diesel fuel. These fetishes (Voodoo) represent white magic, good magic, and the guide explains that nothing can harm us here. The black magic of Voodoo cannot defeat the white magic at this place.

“What you see here is just a display for tourists to buy,” the guide explains. “They are not blessed yet. Now I will take you to a fetish priest, (Voodoonou) who specializes in good travels.”Click for larger image

We take off our shoes and walk through a curtain, hiding a back room, where the Vodoonou welcomes us. He learns our names, and blesses us individually, not looking at us, but at a statue that he pats, making a tingling sound.

All items in this room are blessed. He hands pieces to us, one by one, such as a small, carved travel god with a hole in it. You speak into the hole to ask for safe travels, and then plug the hole with a small stick. Travel with it in your pocket. After traveling is finished, you take out the stick for another time.

The bones of a variety of animals are ground, mixed with up to two hundred different herbs, and  used for healing – Elephant for elephantitis, guts of a cobra (preserved moist in a bottle) for general healing, and blessed pods to put under your pillow for good sleep. Of course, a certain stick is used for maintaining an erection, by cutting off a small piece, soaking it in water, and then drinking the water fifteen minutes later.  A man can only do this once per week. At least the guide didn’t tell me to see the Voodoonou for any erection lasting more than four hours!

We decide not to purchase any of the items here, as Apollo advises us that this market is mainly for tourists. If all goes well, we will experience a genuine ceremony in Benin, the birthplace of Voodoo.

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Togo-Benin Border

When we cross the border from Togo to Benin, we again realize the value of our guide, Apollo, who directs us through several more checkpoints, and speaks not only French, but many different tribal languages as well.

Ghanaian Hospitality

Luck travels with us this morning as we leave the Akofa Guesthouse in the village of Amedzofe, and squeeze into the last two seats on the “Tro-tro.” Fifteen of us bump shoulders down the rutted road through the forest. Once the road turns to pavement, we hump it to the town of Ho.

At the Freedom Hotel, a man sits in the lobby and smiles at us.

“Good morning, how are you?” He extends his hand, and we shake, Ghanaian style, with a limp pressing of forefingers, ending with each of our middle fingers making a click, a snap. He laughs, delighted that I try to greet him according to custom. Mare does the same.

“We’re wonderful, thank you,” I respond.

“I’m taking the day off from the School Master’s Conference today.” He places his feet upon the coffee table. “After six days in a row, a person needs a rest.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

He asks if we are checking-out.

“No,” Mare says. “We’re trying to find a room.”

He raises his hands into the air towards the receptionist. “Show our friends some Ghanaian hospitality! Give them a good room, Ghana style.”

She laughs. We all laugh.

“My name is Emmanuel Ekow, which means that I was born on Thursday,” he explains.

“Nice to meet you, I respond. “In Africa I have no name, but in the USA, I am Ron.”

“Ahh, the USA. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon once. It was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” He raises his eyebrows and says, “Obama!”

He asks Mare and I about our travels in Ghana, and is proud of his country, delighted that we visit.

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Cooling-off in Ho

We end up in an air conditioned room, complete with a hand-held shower, but opt to immerse our overheated bodies into the cool pool. We celebrate with a cold beer. Who cares if it is only eleven o’clock in the morning?

After several hours of an electronic labor of love in the internet room, we dine on the second story, overlooking the busy street below. The beeps of taxis and murmur of pedestrians blend in with traditional African drum music, and the tune of cell phones.

While I dip Fu Fu (a doughy substance pounded from cassava and yam) into goat soup, Mare opts for a vegetarian pizza. Then…Apollo shows up. We are happy to see him, and he joins us for a dinner. (He is a guide we met back at the KO-SA resort)

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Apollo and Ron

Tomorrow, Apollo will guide us through two border crossings to his hometown, in the country of Benin, the birthplace of Voodoo.