Benin, Past and Present

I did not visit all of Benin as it was ill advised to travel North. But I was fortunate to have a driver/guide for a few days allowing me to learn much about the history, the culture and daily life.

Benin, formerly known as the Dahomey Kingdom, was depicted in The Woman King, a movie based on the African female warriors during the 17th-19th centuries. They were a warring society whose economy was based on conquest, slave labor and trade with Europe. Their art was highly regarded and has been in the news today regarding repatriation. But most of all they are and were notable for their practice of Voodoo. They gained their independence in 1960 from France.

In another blog I will share my understanding of Vodun (Voodoo is the Hollywood version).

I was captivated by their art: the carvings, the design of their fabrics, the paintings, and the sculptures.

Today’s economy is based on both agriculture and mining. They grow enough food to be self sufficient with fruit, yams and rice. One of the biggest crops is cotton. But I was surprised to hear that they export it and then buy all their beautiful materials from Thailand; however, the designs are created in Benin. The tailors in Benin are both men and women and the colors truly amazing. You will often see couples dressed the same as they scoot by on their motorcycles. A Sunday in Benin is eye candy for sure!

Unfortunately they are still listed as one the least developed countries of the World and their literacy rate is insufficient and the mortality rate for both mothers and infants is too high. I was most upset with the number of people on motorcycles without helmets. Most of the population can not afford cars or more than one helmet for their bike. I saw way too many families traveling together, often with the youngest wrapped to the mother’s back with a scarf and no helmet.

Benin is in the process of growing tourism in Cotonou where the waterfront close to the airport has miles of empty beaches and no big hotels yet! They are also developing the controversial Marina Project designed to enlighten people about the transatlantic slave trade with a hotel spa, a replica of a slave ship, memorial gardens, craft market and an arena for Vodun performances.

Today most organized tour operators offer a 3 country visit including Ghana and Togo in addition to Benin.

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Benin Blog by BARD

While confined to home due to Covid I decided to explore another frontier: Artificial Intelligence! Is it bad? Is it good? Will it replace me? Is it to be trusted? I’ve been hearing all these concerns and more. Granted, it is still a work in progress but isn’t everything?

My next trip as the Aging Adventurer will take me to Benin and Togo. I have my visa, my rough itinerary, my hotel in Benin and have been corresponding with the hotel staff about hiring a driver to take me on a few tours. Where exactly? I thought I’d “prompt” BARD and see what my trip was all about. What BARD recognized about the aging adventurer was my “old age” and hence a summary of my trip that has yet to be taken:

My Trip to Benin as an Older Woman

I chose to visit Benin because I was interested in learning more about its history and culture. Benin is a small country in West Africa that was once the center of the powerful Dahomey Kingdom. The kingdom was known for its powerful army, its elaborate court rituals, and its practice of human sacrifice. Today, Benin is a republic with a rich cultural heritage.

Voodoo, also known as Vodun, is a religion practiced by the Aja, Ewe, and Fon peoples of Benin. It is a polytheistic religion that worships a pantheon of deities, including gods, spirits, and ancestors. Voodoo is also a religion of magic and ritual, and its practitioners use a variety of techniques to communicate with the spirits, including drumming, dancing, and sacrifice.Voodoo is a complex and fascinating religion that has been practiced in Benin and Togo for centuries. It is a religion that emphasizes the importance of community, healing, and the power of the spirits.

I had a wonderful time traveling to Benin as an older woman. The people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I never felt unsafe or discriminated against. I was able to experience all that Benin had to offer, from its ancient ruins to its vibrant cities.

If you’re an older woman thinking about traveling to Benin, I highly recommend it! Here are a few tips to help you plan your trip:

Do your research: Before you go, be sure to do some research on Benin’s history, culture, and customs. This will help you make the most of your trip.

Pack light: Benin is a hot country, so you’ll want to pack light clothing. You’ll also want to pack a hat, sunscreen, and insect repellent.

Be prepared for culture shock: Benin is a very different country from the United States, so be prepared for some culture shock. This is especially true if you’re traveling to a rural area.

Be open-minded: Benin is a beautiful and diverse country with a rich culture. Be open to new experiences and new people.

I had an amazing time traveling to Benin as an older woman. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a unique and unforgettable travel experience.

How about that, looks like I’m going to have a wonderful trip! I’ll do a comparison when I actually go and return. Sorry about no pics, as BARD is not able to show you pictures. It can only describe them to you.

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Covid Caught up with Me

I was diligent, I was cautious and I was a bit of a control-freak. I thought I just had “trust” issues but one of my daughters assured me it had to do more with “control” issues.
For three years I avoided Covid. I have had 5 avoidance vaccines and I still get my groceries delivered. I haven’t returned to the gym and I wear a mask anytime I go into a crowded space, like airplanes and airports.

Last week I had a few medical appointments like PT and veterinary visits with my dog. Of course, I wore a mask, but many others that were in my space did not! Everybody seemed to think the threat was over. I knew differently as one of my sisters had recently contracted it by sitting next to a coughing stranger on a plane. She is much nicer than me because she excused him by saying she understood he wanted to get home. I hate being sick and am less nice than usual when it happens (I hear the snickering).


To make matters worse both of my daughters were in Europe, and my sister who cooks and helps with my dog was in Florida for a softball tournament.  I immediately had a virtual meeting with my health care service and was advised to reconsider taking Paxlovid.  However, it was available should I struggle with breathing.  Okay, that meant no workouts, no long walks with my dog and a reprieve from PT!  But it also meant no Pickleball or travel.  I had to cancel a trip to Naples to stay with another sister who has the best guest house, amenities and food.  Oh poor me! 

I felt blessed though in many ways.  My son-in-law stopped by daily to take my dog walking; my daughters sent a care package from Amazon Fresh and sisters and friends checked in on me regularly.  I’m still mad though that I got sick. I’m better at being well and out and about.

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By the Numbers

When I count the countries I’ve visited I may “cheat” a little. For example, I consider Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales all separate, not just UK which would only be one! I also include some Republics otherwise I might only have 195 as travel destinations! Interestingly there are 254 Country flags in the World….of course, 26 of them are from Afghanistan.

By my most recent count (my way) Mauritius was number 150 of flag bearing places that I was lucky enough to enter. I was rewarded by this amazing welcome.

There have been many repeat journeys to various spots on the globe. For example I’ve been to China, Australia, Mexico, Peru, France and Canada at least 10 times. My list of five or more journeys include the countries of South Africa, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Japan.

My passports include way too many stamps that are identical from countries entered at least two times.

Which one is my favorite? I get asked that frequently and my go to answer is the one I hope to get to next. However, Antarctica is definitely one of the nature’s finest art galleries, Bhutan really is a happy place and more than a few have people checking out their maps: Lesotho, Brunei, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Suriname and Azerbaijan.

I think travel is one of the greatest continuing educations for the elderly…at least for me!

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The Responsible Role of the Tourist

On my latest long trip I watched a documentary on the plane entitled The Last Tourist. It makes one think about the future of travel and whether or not we are destroying places economically or environmentally. I wished I had done a little more research beforehand but I think I lucked out!  I have always tried to book local lodging instead of chain hotels that are headquartered elsewhere.  And rather than buy souvenirs I tend to tip the local workers.  I found out years ago that some of the mementos I was buying were manufactured in some other part of the world.  I realize that there are items to buy like art or clothing that you know are  created domestically, but since I live in a small apartment I’m happy with memories.

I booked a resort because the island of Mauritius offers so many water activities and having opportunities to engage in these various endeavors right at the site is easy. And the LUX brand of resorts happen to be local.   Saving the planet for the future is another concern and the Grand Gaube Resort has made a serious commitment by joining with a community initiative to make their island more respectful of people and environment.  There was no plastic.  Their goals: To be recognized as an eco-friendly company in our country; To work in harmony with nature and the community towards a sustainable and inclusive future for Mauritius; To have our name listed alongside those who will be creating a greener environment for present and future generations.

While my main interest in going to my 150th country was to swim with the dolphins, I realize there are concerns about safety. The various charters all claim this is a safe activity for both the dolphins and the humans since it is in the wild and only takes place for two hours each day. However, upon seizing this opportunity and seeing how many boats and swimmers were involved I’m not sure that it was. My personal experience was exciting, scary and a little bit overwhelming…probably for the dolphins as well. There were 25 boats in the area along with about 5 kayaks. There were only two tourists on my boat and the plan was for us to sit on the edge with our fins dangling and masks on and jump quickly when told as the dolphins were under us at that time.

My first effort was not successful as I was so excited that I forgot to put the snorkel in my mouth and proceeded to drink seawater laced with gasoline. Choking and coughing left me no time to look around. The guide hurriedly got me back on the boat. The second attempt was futile as well since the mask slipped off my face. Ignoring these signs I tried once more. I was ready, set and when given the command, almost landed on one. I decided to spend the rest of the time on the boat watching as they dove, swam by and delighted me much more with the distance between us.

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My Untimely Trip to Tahiti

At first I checked out small cruise ships but could not find one without a steep penalty for a solo booking. I have never been to French Polynesia and due to the number of silly Facebook quizzes requiring a trip to Tahiti to get a point, I decided I would go and take a ferry from one island to another.

While the flight price was reasonable, the hotel and food were surprisingly expensive. I booked the hotel thinking I was getting breakfast but found out that no food or drink was included; however a hefty daily resort fee was added to the bill.

And it was rainy season! I knew that but decided to indulge anyway. The hotel did offer umbrellas for use free of charge…and beach towels.

I decided to stay in Papeete (thank goodness a friend taught me how to pronounce it before arriving) and do day trips from there.  Besides a great walk on the beach and a long walk to a convenience store to buy something to eat in the room, I also took the hotel bus into the town proper and walk until I got lost and had a great quiche at a local restaurant.

Another day I signed up for a group tour of Moorea where a boat took us on a tour of the island, stopping for a great encounter with sand sharks and manta rays and then landing on a small private island for a barbeque and a cultural show. The musicians that accompanied us loved their job and kept all of us delighted the entire day. The trip to and from Moorea was on the public ferry where I actually met the pilots who flew me back home the next day!

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Lipstick on a Pig

I hate to diss on my favorite airline as I work hard each year to prove my loyalty. But my trip to Sao Paulo had me more than a little discouraged. I had hoped to use my global upgrades both ways but in order to do so I had to book the next highest level. For this flight it was their new “cabin”, the Premium Select, which is saddled between their domestic first class and their Delta One.

I was fortunate to get the upgrade on the outbound but due to the 3 hour delay in Atlanta I missed my connection in Sao Paulo and lost an entire day of sightseeing in Iguazu. Ten hours in their lovely very large airport was not fun.

On the return I was first in line for the upgrade with 2 seats remaining but apparently 2 other people had paid more for their ticket or something and I missed out. Since I had already paid for the Premium Select I was somewhat hopeful but was disappointed in almost everything. The dedicated overhead bin space was stuffed with bags from everywhere, the food was not appetizing and while served with actual silverware the salad and main course appeared in cardboard containers. It was difficult to sleep more than a few minutes with the close proximity to the galley for Delta One (flight attendants were talking, working hard and making noise). And the pillow, blanket, limited recline and footrest were not sufficient. Do you remember when airlines gave everyone a pillow and blanket no matter what seat you were in? And the sparkling wine was served in paper coffee cups!

I will think twice before booking Premium Select in the future and wish I had checked reviews from others.

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The Waterfalls of the World

I like waterfalls, if you’re close enough it’s like an expensive spa treatment. But mostly I like the sound, the fury, the amazing beauty and the spritzing!

When I was quite young my folks took us to Niagara Falls and made sure we saw them from both New York and Ontario. What I remember about them are the stories of the crazy people who attempted to go over them in a wooden barrel and the first one to succeed was a woman!

Since then I’ve visited some of the most famous in the World for one reason or another. Maybe it is the tallest or the most water or the widest or an incredible view….I don’t exactly have a list of all those I’m missing but I’ve enjoyed Gullfoss in Iceland, Murchison Falls in Uganda, Havasu Falls in Arizona, Yosemite Falls in California, Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, Victoria Falls in both Zimbabwe and Zambia, and finally Iguazu Falls on the Brazil side. On hikes and road trips through other countries I’ve also watched the water fall in South Africa, New Zealand and Croatia. However, the one that is often ranked number one is Angel Falls in Venezuela and I’ve not been there YET!

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Cape Coast Tour of Ghana

It’s a day long drive from Accra but worth every minute. You’ll go through multiple small villages and window shop the markets as you breeze by. The small goats are ubiquitous and I worried that they wouldn’t know their way home but was assured it’s routine for them to end the day at their pen regardless of where their curiosity took them.

I was with Stephen and Patrick again in their comfortable SUV with air conditioning and clean windows. It was fun to listen to the two of them speaking both English and their indigenous language, intermixed without skipping a beat. When I asked one of my frequent questions Stephen answered in perfect English. He has been guiding tourists for over 20 years and was most knowledgeable about both his country and mine. We also discussed problems and accomplishments of many African nations.

On our way to the coast we stopped at Kakum National Park known for its suspension bridges high above the forest floor among 300 year old trees. The park also houses a museum with information and exhibits about the flora and fauna. If one is even more adventurous they can spend the night in the tree house!

After working up a sweat and a little anxiety on the single plank walkway we got back into the car for another few hours to the Cape Coast Castle. Along the way we saw a boat building yard, many more villages, more goats and many entrepreneurs.

 I learned a great deal about the horrific Atlantic Slave trade.  A special guide took us through this compound and pointed out the total dichotomy of life above and below ground.  There was a church, school, luxurious lodging that sat atop the dark, dingy cells where many Africans suffered for months before their  horrendous journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

This guide wanted us to experience just a little of the horrendous pain that the men and women endured for months before embarking on the long journey across the Atlantic in the bowels of some ship. She had us all step into a tiny cell and closed the door and turned off the light. It was hot, humid, stinky and quite unsettling. Her point was well taken. I literally thought I would faint and could not wait for the moment to be over.

It was a long trip back to the hotel.

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Accra, the Capital of Ghana

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited a new country and luckily for me I found a good fare for Ghana.  As I was traveling alone and was not sure how best to  get around, I contacted my hotel, the Movenpick, for assistance.  Their transport desk was happy to oblige and set up tours that fit both my schedule and desires. I was thrilled with my guide, Stephen Komla Kpogoh  (In Ghana the children are often named after the day of the week that they were born)and driver, Patrick.  They were fantastic.

Ghana, once called the Gold Coast is now known for its color, music and artwork. It’s also almost the center of the World! While they have many natural resources besides gold they do have problems with unemployment and rising debt. However it is considered a safer country to visit than the U.S!

Accra is actually the second most expensive  city in Africa but has many immigrants who come here looking for a better life.  Due to cost of living many of the locals work at more than one job to survive, often setting up “shop” on the streets to sell something or offer some service.  It is illegal so they often  start early and close up before the city is completely awake.

My first tour was of the city proper and Stephen had the answer for everyone of my questions.  I knew that Ghana had been colonized by the Brits but didn’t know they had been subjects to the Portuguese, Dutch, and others as well. I was surprised that they drove on the right since they gained their independence from the British in 1957 but Stephen said they were excited to change everything.

The history of this country was memorialized in the museums I visited, the National Museum and the  W.E.B. DuBois Centre which contains memorabilia and his personal library. I also spent some time at the famous market, the Makola, which is quite large and the Black Star Square which overlooks the Sea.

I didn’t have to go far to see some incredible art as my hotel had local works throughout.  There were sculptures, paintings, and artifacts on each floor, in the lobby, and in all hallways.  Many were for sale and others were permanent. I opted to skip out on their vibrant music scene that was  part of the nightlife but understand they do have festivals featuring their music periodically, the next one in the Black Star Square December 29th and 30th!

My next blog will cover my full day tour out of the city to Kakum National Park and the Cape Coast Castle.



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