This country in West Africa borders Nigeria to its east and Togo to its west.
Having lived in Togo’s capital Lomé for two years, I now look back with a sense of fondness for the few fascinating and sweltering countries that have coasts along the Atlantic's Bight of Benin.
The country has a complex and troubled history and many of these chapters can still be seen, from the Abomey Kingdom's red palaces coloured with the blood of virgins, to the snake temples and Voodoo dervishes of Ouidah which also a major port in the slave trade.
I didn't cycle much of Benin, but saw much of it during shorter school holidays over the two-year contract. This long thin country starts in the desert and Sahel in the north, and runs in a strip south through rainforests, grasslands and finally to the oceanside city of Cotonou and the capital of Porto Novo. Riding around the lakes which are home to the floating (actually stilted) town of Ganvie to rather nice, loosely French influenced hotels was a joy, if rather sticky.
I once went on safari in my red Mitsubishi 4x4 through some of the northern regions here. Benin’s wild creatures might not include all of ‘The Big 5’, but the red burnt earth tracks contrasting with the soft grass greens was spectacular. Many of villages here are still fortified with turreted mud houses. They were designed this way in order to be most difficult to enter (from the roof on ladders) and thus least likely to be snatched from within and from freedom, first by the triangular slave trade, then by the blood thirsty King, and then once again by traders.
It’s amazing that most of the people I met were welcoming, inquisitive and down-to-earth. Even the third set of roadside police were friendly enough after receiving my payment of an already opened 2 litre Coke bottle. They were insisting that I had not got my seatbelt on, or I was speeding and $40 would fix it. I see that as a good bargaining skills on my part.