For this week’s Stamped, Mercy Ukao, a travel blogger, walks us through her unique trip to the Republic of Benin. She tells us about her love for travelling within Africa and why she believes it’s important for Africans to tell their own stories.
This is her story as told to Chukwunonso Emelumadu, writer at Backdrop.
I used to be a fashion blogger, but then I went on a road trip with my friends to the Southwest in Nigeria, and I fell in love with travelling. Travelling within Nigeria and Africa has always been something that interested me, and I believe that a lot more people should do it. I became a travel blogger because I realised that if we do not tell our own stories, other people will tell them for us.
I have now been to about 15 states in Nigeria — most of the states in the Southeast and Southwest, as well as Kano and Kaduna in the North. I hope to experience all 36 states if the security situation in the country takes a turn for the better. I’ve also visited some countries in Africa, like Senegal and The Gambia.
Many travel bloggers make touristy content, visiting nice hotels and the most glamorous places in their locations. As nice as that is, I prefer to live like the locals when I travel; I believe that’s the best way to truly experience where you are visiting.
I’m a very spontaneous traveller, and when I decided that I didn’t want to spend Christmas in Nigeria, I pretty much just packed my bags and was on my way to Benin. When you tell people that you are going to Benin, they immediately think that you are going to Cotonou. Even though I stopped at Cotonou, the main part of my trip was in the north of Benin. I really wanted to see their wildlife reserve and amazing waterfalls.
The issue was that I headed to Benin without doing any due diligence or finding out the state of affairs there. It was only when I got to Tanguieta, a northern town in Benin, that I realised there was unrest in the region. They had conflicts over the border there, and that region just wasn’t a safe place to be at that time. Luckily, I met a really nice man on the bus when I was going to my hotel, Auberge de Grand Popo, and he gave me someone’s number. He told me to call her if I needed any help during my stay.
The next day, rumours started going around that they had killed four members of the armed forces, so tensions were high. I could not go where I planned to that day, which made me sad because that was the only reason I came to the north. I had planned to spend three or four days there, visit the reserve and waterfalls and then return to Cotonou, but the situation ruined my plans. So I called the lady I was introduced to, and she confirmed that I couldn’t go to see the waterfalls because of safety concerns. At that point, I just started crying because I was really frustrated. When she noticed how sad I was, she told me to cheer up and go back to my hotel. Then she reassured me that I would get to go the next day.
The next day came, and she said that it was still too unsafe to go to the waterfalls. I also could not go to the animal reserve because they had closed amidst the unrest. I guess she could see how upset I was because she left the room, came back and told me to get ready. She said that we were going to go after all. Apparently, she was able to talk to a police officer, and they arranged a police vehicle to take me to go see the waterfalls. This act of kindness made me so happy because she did not have to go through all that stress for me; I will forever remember that.
I was taken to Tanougou Falls in a police van, and it was as scary as it was exhilarating. It’s definitely not something that I expected to happen on my trip, but it’s an experience I will never forget. The waterfalls were everything I hoped for and more; I enjoyed every moment there. I didn’t even mind that I couldn’t visit the wildlife reserve because the connections and memories I had made were more than enough. The hotel even let me stay an extra day, free of charge, because of what I went through. The people were so nice.
The next day, I took a bus back to Cotonou. I ended up staying there for a few days because I made a couple of friends. During my time there, I visited the Python Temple, a sacred temple where pythons are revered. It was a truly unique experience.
Although my trip to the Republic of Benin didn’t go exactly as planned, I loved how it turned out. I will always remember the hospitality and kindness of the people towards me. I can’t wait for my next trip; I’m looking at Kenya and Morocco because I really love their cultures. I have already been back to Benin since this trip, and I’m sure I will visit many more times in the future.