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December 10, 2001

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Cotonou may not be Benin's capital city (Porto Novo holds that position) but it should be; it's Benin's largest, most vibrant city and the center of action in this country. More polluted and smoggy than most places, Cotonou still has more charm and character than its closest rival, Lome. Whereas Lome is tense and watchful, Cotonou is bustling and brisk. We didn't get hassled by insistent street hawkers, yet Cotonou 's Grande Marche is one of the most active in West Africa. After spending our morning here, we drove north to Abomey, the capital of the ancient Dahomey kingdom and the nucleus of Benin's past. Dahomey ruled Benin before the French conquered and colonized this region in 1894. We toured the palace museum. A tip here: wear sneakers, not flip-flops or sandals. The old king allowed people in his presence with rubber-soled shoes, but not sandals. The museum guides continue this tradition, so visitors with sandals must remove them and walk in bare feet across the king's compound, a sure way to catch red clay dust between your toes.
This isn't pornography, it's local medicine for every type of need. If you don't speak the language, point to what's wrong and the curbside doctor will hand you a bag of treatment. Good luck.
The best (and cheapest) way to get around Cotonou. Just look for someone in a yellow jersey.
No need to go solo, these talented drivers can squeeze up to three people on a moped, more if kids are coming along.
A shame we will not be in Cotonou for Christmas to attend church services in this candy cane church.