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8 day, Togo - Benin Craddle of Voodoo

DAY 1: Lome, Gulf of Guinea - TOGO
Arrival in Lome and transfer to the hotel. Free time to relax.

Meals own arrangements
Overnight Hotel Sarakawa or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

DAY 2: Fire dance, from Lome to Sokode (320 km – 6 hr) – TOGO
Our journey will start with a visit of Lome, the vibrant capital of Togo, the only African city which was a colony of the Germans, the British and the French. It is also one of the few capitals in the world bordering with another nation. These elements have led to the development of a unique identity reflected in the life style of its inhabitants and in the architecture of the town: Lome is indeed a cross point for people, trade and cultures, a cosmopolitan city in small size. We will visit: the central market with its famous “Nana Benz”, women who control the market of the expensive “pagne” (=cloths) coming from Europe and sold all over West Africa (unfortunately the market has been partially destroyed by fire); the colonial buildings in the administrative quarter where the flavor of colonial time is still very present; and the fetish market where we can find an eclectic assortment of all the necessary ingredients for love potions and magical concoctions – it is here that all the adepts of the local animist religion come to buy the necessary items to practice their cults. The market masters will introduce us with some of their home-made “gris-gris” which aim is to solve our everyday life issues.
We will then head northwards, with a stop on the way in Atakpame, a typical African town built on hills where all the products coming from the nearby forests can be found. Through their skilled work on small weaving looms, men of the region make the large brightly coloured fabric called “Kente”.
We will arrive in Sokode late in the afternoon and check-in at our hotel.
In the evening, fire dance. At the centre of the village a large fire lights up the faces of the participants, they dance to the hypnotic beat of the drums eventually leaping into the glowing embers, picking up burning coals, passing them over their bodies and even putting them in their mouths … all this without hurting themselves or showing any sign of pain. It’s difficult to explain such a performance. Is it matter of courage? Self suggestion? Magic? Maybe it really is the fetishes that protect them from the fire.

Meals included in a local restaurant or pic nic and at the hotel
Overnight Hotel Central or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

DAY 3: Traditional Chiefs, from Sokode to Kara (200 km – 4 hr) – TOGO
We will leave Sokode and head for the mountains of Malfakassa-Fazao.
We will meet with the Bassar people who developed traditional iron producing techniques and managed to preserve them till today. They will show us their old clay blast-furnace and tell us about the fusion process. Geological empirical knowledge and magical beliefs blend together in this archaic way to make iron, turning this process into an almost alchemical experience. In Bassar we will be received in the traditional chief’s “palace” also called “the council room”, represented by a spacious hut covered with a very high conical roof.

Meals included in a local restaurant or pic nic and at the hotel
Overnight Hotel Kara or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

DAY 4: Clay castles, from Kara to Natitingou (120 km – 3 hr) – TOGO & BENIN
We will meet with the Kabye people: in some villages located at the top of the hills, women make nice traditional clay pots while men are blacksmiths who still work with heavy stones instead of hammers.
When we reach Kante, a track across the Atakora Mountains takes us to the Tamberma people. For self-defence reasons, this people have been taking refuge for centuries in the heart of the Atakora, a land so difficult to access that they could flee from any attack, especially from slave traders from Muslim North Africa. According to anthropologists, their origins are close to the Dogon people from Mali with whom they share an absolute faithfulness to their animist traditions. Their strong tradition beliefs are proved by the presence of big shrines - of phallic form - at the entrance of their homes. Those fortified dwellings, similar in form to medieval castles, are one of the most beautiful examples of ancient African architecture. Their style impressed Le Corbusier so much that he spoke of «sculptural architecture». In fact the houses are built by hand, layer after layer, adding round mud balls and shaping them as per the plan of the house. A kind of sensual gesture mixing strength, care and beauty. With the permission granted to us by the inhabitants we enter their homes to better understand their way of life.
A bit further to the east, after we have crossed the Benin border (Nadoba/Bokoumbe), we will meet with the Betammaribe (alias Somba) who live in the same natural environment of the Atakora Mountains just like the Tamberma. Similarly they also build nice clay castles however, unlike the Tamberma, they follow a series of very suggestive initiatory rites. Young men between 18 and 20 years of age have their bellies scarified with delicate and complex geometrical patterns, deeply convinced that those scars are the only way to become “real” men. We will meet some of those young men to hear from them what they recall of this initiation. Girls also go through a scarification rite but in their case, scars are made on the belly and on the back at the age of 20-22. Should a child be conceived before this initiation, scarification is carried out at the beginning of the pregnancy because the lack of scars could be harmful to delivery. All these initiatory rites form a cycle that starts during the weaning period (when the child’s face gets scarified) and whose completion symbolises the official birth as a member of the group. It is the infinite number of very thin scars on their faces that reminds the people forever that they are Betammaribe.

Meals included in local restaurant or pic nic and at the hotel
Overnight Hotel Tata Somba or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

DAY 5: The mountain of the “Fetish Priest”, from Natitingou to Dassa (360 km – 6 hr) – BENIN
We start the day with a nice hiking trip to discover old Taneka villages located on a mountain with the same name. The villages are made up of round houses covered with a conical roof protected at the top by a terra cotta pot. The upper part of the village is inhabited by the young initiated and by the fetish priests who only cover themselves with a goat skin and always carry a long pipe. This ethnic group has been living on an archaeological site for centuries, in fact it looks as if the first inhabitants (from Kabye origins) moved to the mountain during the IXth century. Since then, other populations have joined thus forming a kind of melting-pot where despite the fact that each group kept its own cults and initiation rites, common religious and political institutions were defined.
As we wander among the villages along alleys bordered by series of smooth stones, we may come across half naked men. The Taneka people believe that in order to “become” a man, it is necessary to combine time, patience and a lot of… blood from sacrificed animals. It actually is a lifetime process in the sense that life itself becomes a rite of passage. As a consequence, life should not be considered conditioned by a “before” and an “after” but rather as following a continuous path.
Transfer southwards. Visit of the Savalou shrine, an important place for animist pilgrims.

Meals included in a local restaurant or pic nic and at the hotel
Overnight Hotel Jeko or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

DAY 6: Royal Palaces, from Dassa to Porto Novo (280 km – 5 hr) – BENIN
Dassa is the seat of an old kingdom founded by Olofin in 1385 and in the town it is still possible to see sites witnessing the passage of this long lasting dynasty. A walk through the hills will take us to a sacred place where kings used to be buried – it is still protected today by several voodoos.
Once we get to Abomey, we will visit the Royal Palace whose walls are decorated with the symbols of the former kings of the Dahomey Kingdom. The Palace hosts a Museum and a temple built with a mixture of clay, gold dust and human blood. The Kingdom of Dahomey maintained its power on a permanent state of war, which allowed kings to capture prisoners and then sell them as slaves. The royal army also included a female troop famous for its boldness and aggressive fighting spirit.
Historians like to emphasize the “secular” aspect of the king’s rule however even though the king was considered neither a god nor a priest, on special occasions many human sacrifices were performed on the kings’ graves. The power was exercised in a rational way, easy to understand also for a European; proof is the fact that kings of France and of the Dahomey interchanged their turns as diplomatic representatives at the end of the XVIII century.

Meals included in a local restaurant or pic nic and at the hotel
Overnight Hotel Le Palais or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

DAY 7: Ouidah, from Porto Novo to Grand Popo (160 km – 4 hr) – BENIN
A few kilometres north of Cotonou stretches a lakeside area … we cross Lake Nokwe with a motorized boat to reach Ganvie, the largest and most beautiful African village on stilts. The approximately 25,000 inhabitants of the Tofinou ethnic group build their huts on teak stilts and cover the roofs with a thick layer of leaves. Fishing is their main activity. The village has managed to preserve its traditions and environment despite the long-lasting human presence in a closed setting; and the lake is not over-fished. Life unfolds each day around the canoes that men, women and children guide with ease using brightly colored poles. It is with these canoes that men fish, women deliver goods to the market and children go to school and play.
Drive to Ouidah, considered the capital town of the African Voodoo. Ouidah was conquered by the Dahomey army during the XVIII century to become one of the main slave ports. Today Ouidah enjoys an Afro-Portuguese architecture, and the python temple faces the Catholic Cathedral. The laid back attitude of the locals blends in harmoniously with the thunder of the distant waves and the rhythm of the drums - a timeless atmosphere very well described by Bruce Chatwin in his book "The Vice-Roy of Ouidah". On foot we visit the Python Temple and the Portuguese Fort, now a museum on the history of Ouidah and the slave trade. We end our city tour by following the “slave road” to the beach, the point of “no return” where slaves used to board ships.
Late in the afternoon, we will arrive on the beaches of Grand-Popo.

Meals included in a local restaurant or pic nic and at the hotel
Overnight Awale Plage or similar (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)

 DAY 8: At the heart of the Voodoo Land! from Grand Popo to Lome (100 km – 3 hr) – BENIN & TOGO
Crossing of the Togolese border (Save Kodji / Hilla Kodji).
All along the coast of Togo and Benin, voodoo is a religion that has been passed on by the ancestors and is still fervently practiced. Although for many Europeans voodoo is only a vulgar form of black magic, in truth voodoo is a true religion, far richer and more complex than people often think. In a remote hidden village we will join a Voodoo ceremony: the frenetic rhythm of the drums and chants of the adepts help calling in the voodoo spirit who then takes possession of some of the dancers. They fall into a deep trance: eyes rolling back, grimaces, convulsions, insensitivity to fire or pain. Sakpata, Heviesso, Mami Water are just some of the voodoos divinities who can show up. In this narrow village, surrounded by the magic atmosphere of the ceremony, we will finally understand what people mean when they say: “In your Churches you pray God; in our voodoo shrine we become God!”
Arrival in Lome in the afternoon and free time to relax on the beach or go shopping. Many are the places which can be visited for this purpose and our vehicle will be available to take you around: shops for tribal art and antiques, craftworks, art galleries with contemporary paintings from the “Togolese school” (which start to be quite popular in French and North-American galleries), shops selling “popular” art items such as the colourful “advertising” signs in front of the street hairdressers etc.
In the evening, transfer to the airport.
Meals breakfast and lunch included in a local restaurant and at the hotel; dinner own arrangement
Day-use Rooms in day-use till 18.00 hrs (all rooms ensuite and with aircon)
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Listing Details

Based on 6+ 1199 Euro
Based on 2-5 1273 Euro
Single Supplement 199 Euro

Assistance at Lome airport upon arrival and departure
Transfers and tour in minibuses/microbuses and/or 4WD vehicles
Local guide (languages spoken: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish)
Tours and visits as per the programme
Accommodation in standard rooms, as per itinerary
All meals as described, from breakfast on day 2 to lunch on day 8
Mineral water in the bus/car during the visits
Entrance fees to parks, concessions, protected areas and cultural sites
First Aid box
All service charges and taxes
Credit Cards
Paypal, Visa, Mastercard, Amex (surcharge may apply depending on method of payment)
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