Weekend Away: Route des Tata and Kota Waterfall
This weekend we were off on our first trip away from Parakou! Finally time to feel like tourists again instead of interns.
On Friday afternoon we took the Baobab Express bus from Parakou to Natitingou, in the west of the country near the border with Togo. We were really impressed with the bus, especially compared to our experience travelling to Parakou the first time. The bus was air conditioned, comfortable, and there were no travelling salesmen yelling their stories for all to hear!
Once we arrived in Natitingou, our guides for the weekend, Guy and Felix, were waiting for us with their motorbikes. It was a fresh evening ride about 40 minutes south to the village of Kossoucoingou and the Otamari Lodge. It seemed like a quiet and tranquil place to stay, but given it was pitch dark outside we needed to wait until the morning to properly appreciate it.
Our visit to Kossoucoingou was to explore the “Route des Tata”. The Tata is a traditional type of building, made from mud, but resembling small castles, with various terraces and turrets to explore. After waking up to a scenic breakfast and watching the local cows come to the village well for a drink, we set off with our guides to visit some of the families and local businesses in the area.
We learned how a local family makes fresh mozzarella-like cheese daily from their herd of cows, using a local plant to assist in creating the cheese curd. We also visited a local man who weaves baskets and whittles wood – Femke picked up a beautiful basket from him to use for fruit once she is back in Belgium. We also stopped to visit a local family building a new house and saw how they created the concrete-like mud from the ground and worked together to build up the walls of the house. And of course, throughout the visit, we explored the various Tata houses that we came across. Some of them are being used by the families, and others are open to tourists to discover what it is like to live in one.
In the afternoon, we visited a family running a small forge, forging iron products and jewelry, with multiple generations working together at once to create the final product. Then we stopped into a final village where the local women were preforming a traditional dance, one that they hold to celebrate when a girl is officially considered a woman (around 18-19 years old, we were told).
Our day ended with a short walk up to a viewpoint where we could watch the sun setting behind the mountains, which were technically just over the border of Togo! So we could see the other country, even if we can’t officially cross it off our travel lists just yet. Our dinner that night was a stew containing some of the cheese we had watched being made just that morning.
On Sunday we were up early again for breakfast and to watch some local women making Shea butter. It was definitely a group project, as two women worked together to crush the nuts, which were then roasted, and another then ground finer and finer. The last step was gradually washing the cream that was produced, turning the mixture from a chocolate mousse-like creation to a white meringue. Once the solids were separated out, we were left with a creamy yellow oil; the Shea butter.
Afterwards we left Kossoucoingou and headed back to Natitingou. Just to the east of the city lies the Kota Waterfalls. It was a very bumpy ride on the “red” roads (dirt roads) to reach the waterfall, with a short hike down to the lagoon at the bottom. It was worth it, though, to go swimming in the refreshing water and stand underneath the falls! We even had some monkeys observing us from a distance; I guess they were jealous!
Unfortunately, the bus back to Parakou was fully booked, so we needed to take a taxi instead. A taxi here, however, is different than you would imagine in Europe or North America. They try to maximize their profits by filling the car up as much as possible and continue to take passengers on as they make their journey. Traveling in such a way, during the heat of the day and without air conditioning, made it for a very long, hot, sweaty ride. At one point there were 8 passengers in the car, as a couple were even sitting in the trunk! It was probably an experience we needed to have here in Benin, but not one we are very keen to repeat.
But regardless of the less-than-ideal transport back to Parakou, we had a great weekend discovering more of the country!