Route taken since crossing into Benin: Djogou, Bassila, Savalou, Dassa Zoume (camped at the Auberge Dassa), Buhicon, Abomey (camped at Auberge Abomey), Lokissa, Grand Popo (stayed at Auberg de Grand Popo. A room this time), (visit to Ouidah from Grand Popo), Cotonou, Porto Novo (stayed at Central Songhai, a research centre for sustainable farming run by a monk from Dominica. It has rooms, to allow you to stay there).  32C and above right now. Less rain over the last week.

Jesus – September already. Al had his birthday yesterday! That makes him 3_? We had a few days rest after heading down from the north once we crossed the border on Sunday.

We visited another UNESCO site at Abomey and the Dahomey kingdom. Some weird and wonderful palaces there which we tried to get our head around as to how they operated. The Bas-reliefs on the outside of the temples was the main reason UNESCO gave Abomey its status. Benin has an annoying policy of not allowing photos of it’s major sites. partly to do with removing the spirt if you use a flash. Explaining to them that you have no intention of using it doesn’t help!

We heard some very bloody tales about the kingdom’s involvement in selling other black people to the Europeans’ from surrounding villages. We heard one story about the person who turned the king’s umbrella, that shaded him. If he happened to turn it in the opposite direction than was normal, so clock-wise, he was killed.

We spent Al’s birthday in Grand Popo, a wicked spot on the coast and stayed at an Auberge there for a few days. Some good food, and we got hold of a bottle of half decent French red wine after the cocktails proved to be a dissapointment! They were served as raw alcohol with a small straw.

Al got himself a vodoo doll, well several inside a old bottle, which is used a a good luck charm. It’s meant to buried in the earth and watered every day! Not sure about that, but it will find a home on a shelf somewhere to freak him out whenever he looks at it.

Bun’s stomach has been playing up again. Al’s been waking up in the middle of the night, to find Bun rushing to the loo faster than Usian Bolt! The food in Benin hasn’t agreed with her so far!

We are now in Porto Novo, very close to Nigeria, but we wont be crossing into the country most African’s we’ve met love to hate! A visit to Lagos will have to wait this time! Not worth the hassle with the vehicle and heading into the north is in the wrong direction for us.

Instead we will check out the Brazilian connection in Porto Novo and then make our way right to the top north of Benin to visit Pendjari National Park before crossing into Burkina Faso.

Even though much smaller than Cotonou, Porto Novo remains the capital. The Portuguese named it after they set up a slave colony there. The French occupied it and created it as the capital. It is now a sleepy town, with lots of Brazilian-African heritage. After slavery was abolished, slaves returned from Brazil and brought back Brazilian culture with them which can still be seen in southern Benin.

Our last hurdle. We have been keeping a close eye on things happening in the Sahel desert regions of Mali, Mauritania and some parts of Bukina Faso, near Niger. On the 22nd August, two Spanish hostages were freed, after they were freed days after a Malian national had been freed from a Mauritanian prison.

It’s all wrapped up in Al Qaeda’s movements in the Islamic Magreb (AQ-M) in the Saharan regions of the these countries. At present there are no foreign hostages held by any militant group in the Sahara. But risks are high if indivual countries continue to pay ransoms in exchange for prisoners. Looks like some countries, for example Mauritania, are responding firmly, with French and US assistance. A lot of the trouble is when local gangs get involved in hostage taking purely for financial gain.

Current risk areas include parts of our proposed route back and we will have to take it as it comes through Mali and Muaritania. A detour to Timbuktu was a plan but even the road leading to Timbuktu from Douentza is an advised ‘no go’ area. Normally it’s the area north of Timbuktu that is off limits.

http://www.fco.gov.uk/content/en/travel-advice/sub-sahara-africa/mali/22282579

http://www.pendjari.net/english/ – Benin’s National Park

Were listening to: Hackney Colliery Band