Leaving Lomé I follow the highway along the coast, and arrive to the major border crossing there with plenty of time left in the day.
On the Togo side I hand in the Temporary Import Permit to Customs, and Immigration stamp me out in thirty seconds. After I’m stamped out they are very confused to see me duck under the massive barrier and walk back into Togo to collect the Jeep – they hadn’t realized I had a vehicle.
Over on the Benin side I wait a few minutes at immigration to be stamped in, where another foreigner is having a hard time. I gather he doesn’t have a visa, and after lots of back and forward I see him hand over a wad of cash to get an entry stamp. How much, I’m not sure, though it was obviously much, much more than the 10,000CFA (almost $20) visa I got yesterday in Lomé.
With my entry stamp I walk over the road and register with the Police, then at Customs a couple of young guys quickly write out a one month Temporary Import Permit. The price is 5,690 CFA (almost $10) and they are very happy to round it up to 6,000, saying they don’t have any change. They are not overly impressed when I have the coins and pay 5,700, and I see them toss it into a drawer overflowing with change.
I make my way into Cotonou, the capital of Benin, and immediately notice a lot of differences from Lomé. There is trash everywhere, roads are severely broken and cracked, vehicles are back to being death traps and things in general look a lot less prosperous than Togo. Despite all of that, people are still smiling and wave in a friendly way when they see me.
I move around the edge of the city in horrible traffic, and eventually find my way to the beach, and along a sandy “road” for a few miles to Chez Rada – a hotel run by the extremely friendly and outgoing Rada, originally from France. Rada also moved here many years ago, and loves having Overlanders camp in the back of her beautiful hotel that is right on the beach. When Rada discovers I am originally from Australia she is overjoyed, and we spend hours together going through her photo album from a visit there a few years ago. Rafa has seen more of my home country than I have, and I am equally excited to ask questions and plan my dream “lap” around Australia.
I’m again in the city applying for another visa, so I spend another night at Rada’s before gearing up for a long drive to the extreme North of the country. The crystal clear pool might have something to do with me staying another night
For all the details to drive your own vehicle into Benin, including gas prices, border procedures, paperwork, insurance, camping and more, see http://wikioverland.org/Benin