SW Benin – Cities of Relaxation

So, there I am in a beachfront reggae bar in Grand Popo on a sunny Sunday evening, drinking beer, playing in the sand with my toes, listening to the wind flutter the nearby palm leaves. The owner of the bar puts on the stereo; carefree sunshine beat and rhythms fill the air, I could almost be in Jamaic…

… hold on a second, I recognise that song, that voice. That’s not quite right …

… I suspect the ‘subtleties’ (or not) in the lyrics of Judge Dread might have been lost on a predominantly Francophone audience …

Grand Popo Beach.
Grand Popo Beach. Had it almost all to myself!

It was an amusing end to a light-hearted and relaxing two days; although Grand Popo is quite a small beachside town with not really that much to do other than the usual clichés. I was spending the night in the famous ‘Bar Lion’ – signposted down a side-road, although not much more than a sand track, off the main street and pretty much built on the sandy shore. All that separated the bar from the sea were a line of palm trees and a sloped beach. My room was a small concrete box with electric fan, but cheap (5,000 CFA) and reasonably comfortable.
Getting there had been easy – I caught a shared taxi from the town of Come, took less than an hour, which dropped me off at the junction to the town, from where I walked about 50 metres before being approached by a moto-driver who took me the rest of the way. It turns out that this moto driver was a chap called Gaston, who’s even mentioned in my guidebook as running trips around the village and over the river, so that sorted my afternoon.

Ruins.
Ruins of old Grand Popo village.

He took me first along the coast to the old, ruined, original centre of Grand Popo village. Just like in the UK, the sea’s encroaching and over the last couple of decades, the whole village has been moved a couple of kilometres inland, leaving the old buildings to fall down and be slowly enveloped in sand. A couple of people still live out here, unwilling to move, asserting their independence, in houses without roofs, without a future.

Beyond the village lies the River Mono, a quite serene waterway with only the sound of water lapping against the pirogue to disturb the peace. Caressing the banks of the river is a small mangrove forest, where the river creeps into to form natural shadow bays filled with small crabs and other littoral life.

Momo River.
Pirogue on the Momo River, Grand Popo.

On the other side of the river lies a more residential suburb of Grand Popo – a small traditional village with narrow alleyways, sandy streets, small stone houses, and voodoo temples. Here, Gaston introduced me to a few more voodoo spirits, before taking me into a house with a priest, and offering me a ‘water’ to protect myself from these spirits.

Selfie with water.
Me, with the voodoo spirit drink. The design is reflective of the protection it offers…

By ‘water’, what he seemed to mean is ‘neat alcohol spirit’ … a few more shots of that and I’d certainly be seeing my ancestors …

Prior to Grand Popo I’d spent a night near Lac Ahémé, a large lake in the SW of Benin, about half an hour beyond Ouidah, and which doesn’t seem to exist according to Wikipedia. I stayed in a local eco-tourist gite in the mineral water village of Possotome, although again in a cheap dorm that was empty except for me.
There’s not a great deal around Possotome; apart from the springs there’s a couple of hotels on the lakeside, one of which (Chez Theo) had a very picturesque setting and served good fish, whilst in the other direction there’s a small local village which I had a slow browse through; while there I was harangued by four small children who ended up pinching the pen that was in my top pocket.

Possotome.
The village of Possotome, with Lac Ahémé in the background.

It’s very definitely an area to just chill out, away from the hassles of city life.

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