Porto Novo’s Stories

Porto Novo, Benin

Porto Novo was an amazing experience.

We all know that I’m a slightly weird person and that I have my ways. And I have to admit to one weakness. I love public transport.

Crazy marshrutkas in Kazakhstan or the motor taxies in Benin will always have my affection. There is something unique but also authentic about using those. You meet genuine people. You can engage yourself in conversations and observe the real life. This is always my main goal when traveling. To take part in bona fide experiences.

I decided to take a minibus to Porto Novo. Be prepared to get completely lost. There is no timetable. There are many different stations. And it is impossible to find out anything on the Internet. Get used to it. Your fancy 3G smartphone is not much of use here.

I did it the simple way. I told my zemi-john that I want to go to Porto Novo and trusted him to take me to the right Gare. When we arrived there was one mini-bus being fixed. I was told that this would be my transportation for the day. I thought lovely! At least I know it will be in ‘great’ condition after all that sophisticated maintenance work. Including a spanner and a piece of black rubber.

Porto Novo Scenario

Off we went to Porto Novo. It was one of the highlights of my trip. I was the only white person on board. I was a bigger attraction to them than they to me.

Those minibuses have a unique system of picking up passengers. They go slowly on the crossroads and have a special person to shout the destination out loud. ‘Porto Novo, Porto Novo!’ When people wave they stop. Pack the passengers with all their belongings.From fabrics, through vegetables to sandbags full of coal. They squeeze as many people as possible. At some point we were 23! Like little sardines in a can.

Restrictions are mildly enforced by the policiers here, but expect to see them on the roads. Halfway on your trip you may be transferred to another vehicle. Do not ask. Do not argue. They know what they are doing and there must be some kind of logic in that. At least to them.

Porto Novo is an administrative capital of Benin. One of the most interesting cities of the country. With numerous sights and some outstanding examples of architecture from the Portuguese period. It will charm you with its old-fashioned colonial style and lazy rhythm of the day.

I started from the Royal Palace of King Toffa. It serves as a museum and is a great way to imagine lifestyle of the kings who lived here from 1688 until the 1970s. It is neither enormous nor opulent, but it does have a lovely courtyard with many interesting sculptures. You can walk around only with a guide. I liked the fact that mine told me many interesting stories and legends. The thing which most stuck in my memory is ‘Chambre Noir’, the so-called ‘Black Room’.

It is a special room which contains only a flagon with a liquid poison. In case of lost honour the king went there to commit suicide. Quiet impressive. Such an attitude.

Another thing is that the kings were buried in the Palace. In the same rooms where the new king or queens were living and sleeping. This has its deep origins in Yoruba traditions. Yoruba people say ‘We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors’. Although it has been forbidden since colonial times.

African culture, traditions, religion and history are something everybody travelling here should take great interest in. To understand what one sees. 

A great place to do so is the Museum of Ethnography. It is an amazing place where you can learn about the importance of birth, marriage, life and death in African culture. An extensive collection of Yoruba masks is simply the cherry on the cake.

Another very interesting sight is Da Silva Museum in Porto Novo. Showing what life looked like for returning Afro-Brazilians. It displays numerous exhibitions about the progression of art, culture and technology in Benin. It is a place where I took my first and last picture of white people in Africa.

I met a lovely group of young people from Belgium volunteering in a project in a village whose name I now can’t recall. I say ‘hello’ to all you marvellous people.

You can skip the Gardens of Jean Bayol. But do not miss a refreshing bottle of Coca-Cola in the stand next to the Governor’s Palace, which is inaccessible to tourists.

Yeah! Right! Same as taking pictures of the Royal Palace were prohibited. When you are nice and smile to the soldiers they will close an eye for lack of the required pass.

I know you won’t believe it but it is still not the end! Stroll around the Great Mosque. Originally built as a Brazilian-style church. A truly unique creation from an architectural point of view.

You can skip the market in the city, as a few kilometers out of Port Novo there is the Grand Marche d’Adjara. The biggest and busiest market in the whole of Benin.

It is held every fourth day. I didn’t plan it but, as usual, I was super lucky and the day of my visit was market day. Huge, hectic, loud and colourful. The only shame is that the weather wasn’t better for taking pictures.

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19 thoughts on “Porto Novo’s Stories

  1. Abdul

    Hey Marisa,
    Really great stories full of information.. I had to laugh when you mentioned that your fancy mobile could not help you “Your fancy 3G smartphone is not much of use here.” Good one.

    Happy travel always,

  2. Sbo

    I like to learn new things . It’s interesting to see something new .

  3. Tim

    Like you I love taking public transport when I am other countries. It just seems like the right way to approach things. Getting squished in a mini-van or train, or bus all amounts to the same great experience. You cannot help but meet people which, apart from food, is one of the main reasons we travel. Good for you.
    Tim recently posted…Himalayan ChillMy Profile

    • Yes, you can’t help meeting people, and that is what I love the most! Right on the side of all the food and culture :)
      Marysia recently posted…Friday Lens Affair #73My Profile

  4. Richard

    Fantastic blog and I enjoyed your excellent photography!

  5. Laura

    I love this! Thanks for the great account of the public transport…and I appreciate the recommendations at the end. This blog makes me itching to get on the road again. I can’t wait to read more!

    • Glad you like it, You should check out my posts about Kazakhstan and Jordan, Im sure You will love those as well :)

  6. Melanie Jean Juneau

    Gorgeous photos. As someone who rarely leaves my province, never mind my country, this blog is fascinating. Even better than National Geographic!

  7. poonam

    On your blog for the first time, and LOVE it, I am spellbound by how much travelling you have done over the months/ years!! Lucky!!!!! Following you on social network now ;)

    • My Travel Affairs

      Thank you very much Dear. Im glad You like my blog, and yes I do travel almost all the time! Just can’t stand being in one place for too long :)

  8. poonam

    Wow that is some extensive write up of Benin, never been there.

    Actually I like this offbeat blog, its so vast and I love travelling, I think it will take quite a while to go through the whole site.

    • My Travel Affairs

      Thank You very much, it is not over still 2 post more I’m hiding in the draft section :) I’m glad You are enjoying my site!

  9. Cordelia

    Yeah, brave indeed! Benin is not your average stop on the tourist trail… looks beautiful though. I imagine my experience of the dolmus in Turkey is quite similar…

    • My Travel Affairs

      That is why I have chosen this destination. I love to travel to those ‘weird’ (as some would say) places. From one side I’m really happy that there are still places like Benin, almost untouched by tourists but from another side I recommend it to everyone, really rich historical and religious heritage!

  10. The Guy

    You are very brave with those forms of transport, I like travelling in comfort.

    It sounds like a very interesting place to visit though and great to hear of the diversity in Africa. Your pictures are also fabulous and very unique.
    The Guy recently posted…My Top 5 Essential Items For A Trip To IndiaMy Profile

    • My Travel Affairs

      Thanks a lot of Guy! I really felt in love with Benin and would love to travel in more African countries now :)

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