Day 1: COTONOU.
Upon arrival in the international airport we will transfer immediately to Cotonou and arrive by nightfall. The guide will be waiting for us outside the airport, and we’ll head for the Hotel du Lac for check in. The hotel is in a peaceful area of the city and is complete with pool and other amenities
Day 2: COTONOU– GANVIE
After breakfast we will have a brief chat about the day’s activities, and set off into the city for some spontaneous shooting and capturing day to day life. Cotonou is a port city with traces of the communist era that marked the face of the economic capital of Benin.
In order to get the essence of the city we will go deep into it until we reach Dantokpa market, one of the biggest in the Gulf of Guinea.
After a chat with the priests and acolytes and a small photo session with them, we will continue on to Ganvie, called Africa’s Venice, which is home to a great concentration of fishermen of the Tofi ethnic group. They fled slavery and sought refuge around Lake Nokoue in the 18th century and have been there ever since. We will speak to them and have time to photograph them in their daily routine, bringing in their catch, inside their homes, and at the aquatic streets where the majority of people perform daily tasks.
Day 3: GANVIE – OUIDAH (festival day)
After breakfast we will head back to tierra firma and go by minibus to the mythic capital of African Voodoo: Ouidah. Via the local guide, who is an acolyte himself, we will become immersed in the festival, where the faithful will gather from all over the world to worship and celebrate.
The four kilometers that separate the coast from the city center will transform into a cavalcade of chaos, joy and color; masked men and priests and devotees move in this archaic and disjointed parade but with no particular hurry – the festival is only just starting.
There are small groups going by dance, some ambling and greeting everyone they see, or individuals making small offerings, mothers with baskets balanced precariously on their heads, babies tied to their backs, and men beating drums as the parade moves along.
Even in this beautiful mess it is not difficult to distinguish the high caste, as it were. They are the ones carried along, protected from the inhospitable sun by enormous umbrellas. At the
beach, just next to the historic Gate of No Return, everything is whirling, reeling, happy chaos. And heat.
In precariously placed grandstands these honorables enjoy dance and music dedicated to them, after long and pompous speeches and much presentation. On a central stage griots (minstrels) entertain doing stunts, human castles or demonstrations of balance standing at the end of a high pole; Later, fetishes (representations of deities) straw are brought across the sand, turning wildly.
But the best part of the entertainment comes with the amount of small groups of men coming along beating drums. Around them the devotees, all dressed in traditional garb of bright, vibrant colors, seem compelled to dance to the thrumming, endless beating. Men in ritual clothing bedecked with amulets, faces painted white, and young, recently initiated acolytes dance and reel ceaselessly.
We will stay the whole day in the midst of all this celebration, photo documenting this singular and incredible event.
Day 4: OUIDAH – BOPA
This morning after breakfast we will have time for a few last visitis and experiences in this mythic city, still literally overrun with thousands of Voodoo faithfuls.
Then we will bid Ouidah farewell and continue on to the sacred lake of the Benin voduns – Lake Aheme, the great jewel of its animist population. These people have preserved their ancestral customs for countless generations, the customs which were then carried over to the Caribbean, Brazil, and the USA during the slave trade.
The variant of Voodoo here, well, we’ll experience it fully, at maximum expression as they say. They still practice ritual chicken sacrifice to feed their ancestors, participate in dance rituals that join the living with the dead. It is critical to remember that though it will seem strange, we are in their world, and we must enter it from a place of respect and curiosity. We will have several photo sessions in the animist village, and make contact via our local guide who will be key in the interaction process.
We will also have time to visit and photograph the high priest of Bopa, and see the temple as well as all the history it retains to this day.
Day 5: BOPA– ABOMEY
At first light we will breakfast and take off to the center of culture and spirituality in Benin: Abomey. En route, however, we will have a stop in the fetish market of Bohicon for a spontaneous photo session. Here many fetishes and images of many deities are made and presented, we will even see some being worked on at the market stalls.
Then we will arrive in Abomey, which is an UNESCO cultural heritage site and also a national monument. We will have a visit to the royal palace and also the art museum for a more academic understanding of the cultural history of this wonderful country, and to photograph and see the influences of some westernization. Then, we are taking back to the streets to the central market to attend and photo document some traditional dances that will be done in various plazas in the central neighborhoods.
Day 6: ABOMEY – ANGOLIN MOUNTAINS – NOMAD WILLAGES – COVE
We have a long but very rewarding day today. We will be traveling through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Africa up into the foothills of Agonlin by way of red earth roads. This entire area is inhabited by farmers and also Fulani nomads who preserve ritual tattooing practices as well as elaborate hairdressing. We will have several stops in Nomad camps to meet and learn from them, and tell their stories via photographs.
In fact we will even have a picnic with some of them and go by foot with them to see their villages and photograph the unbelievable and beautiful expanse of land they live on.
Day 7: COVE– KETOU– PORTO NOVO
We will have our breakfast again at first light and then set out to find the land of the Holi tribespeople, a subgroup of the Yoruba peoples. Once again today we will have time to fully explore these native villages and meet the animist peoples who live there.
They are known for their facial tattooing practices. All day we will visit their markets, where they sell a great many traditional wares, some that have cultural bleed with their neighbors in Nigeria. We will again have a picnic with some of the locals in their village and spend time with them getting to know them, and then in photography sessions with them.
It is a delightful rural experience and the people are very open and friendly. When our time with them is spent, we’ll continue on for Porto Novo, the political capital of the country, and a fabulous little place to lose yourself for a few hours so you can breathe in the history it emanates.
We’ll head out to the Afro-Brazilian neighborhood and have a good look around, doing some less posed and more off the cuff photography for the afternoon. This city, as you will see, is an incredible fusion of cultures, from the Yoruba to the Afro-Portuguese, and the architecture is also strongly influenced by both the French and English colonial eras.
Day 8: PORTO NOVO – YORUBA VILLAGES – COTONOU
In the morning after breakfast we will set out for Rio Negro to visit the Drum Market on the outskirts of Porto Novo. There we will have a final chance to see some drumming performances and even how the drums are made and sold.
After that we will visit a few more of the Yoruba tribe villages, though these have more influence from Nigeria than our previous hosts. We will be spending the afternoon with a Yoruba dance master, learning about his trade. Dance and music are central to Yoruba culture, as it is how said culture is passed down via kinesthetic and oral tradition.
After that, we will head back to Cotonou for a traditional farewell dinner.
Day 9: COTONOU
Depending on the flights schedule, free morning. Departure to the airport