#GoogleInCotonou: A First-Hand Experience Of The Beauty Of Travel Technology

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Google recently hosted a group of social media influencers, writers and journalists (I don’t fall into any of this. Why was I invited? Swag.) to a trip to the Republic of Benin.

The aim of the trip was to show how Google’s applications and technology could be used to make life considerably easier when visiting a foreign country. I’ve never been much of a travel person (my passport was basically a virgin before this trip), but the offer of an all-expense paid trip out of Nigeria couldn’t be turned down.

We left Ikeja, Lagos on Thursday morning, and it took 3 hours of driving to get to Seme border. It felt like an hour to me though because I slept half of the journey (Our bus had a bed. A big fat hunk of a bed. I couldn’t resist the temptation.) And this is where the action began. Someone was spotted with a camera, throwing the border officials into a fit. A sun-burnt officer was particularly angry, boarding our bus and dishing out slaps like a French chef. After an additional 2 hours, everything was resolved and we were finally on our way into the Republic of Benin.

My hunk of a bed. Photo credit: Eki Ogunbor
#GoogleInCotonou My hunk of a bed. Photo credit: Eki Ogunbor

What I first noticed was the quality of the roads in the country, with all the roads being well-maintained. They even had a lane for motor-cycles, which are a very common means of transportation. So common, we even spotted a number of women riding scooters! And they did it with so much class!  We got to the Sun Beach Hotel around 4pm, our home for the duration of the trip. The hotel was an impressive 4-star hotel, and after a much-needed bath, we went to eat at a restaurant called La Teranga.

Arrival at Sun Beach Hotel
Arrival at Sun Beach Hotel
Arrival at Sun Beach Hotel
Arrival at Sun Beach Hotel
Arrival at Sun Beach Hotel
#GoogleInCotonou Arrival at Sun Beach Hotel

Now, I’ve never been one to experiment with food because I like my stomach, so I had no interest in trying out local cuisine. In light of this, I decided to order pizza at La Teranga, in the hope that they could not go wrong with pizza. Brothers and sisters, this was the biggest mistake of my life. It was so bad I had to pour sauce on the pizza to make it the slightest bit edible. After that, all I had for the rest of the trip was chicken and chips. No rough play.

Dinner at Le Tergana
Dinner at Le Tergana
Dinner at Le Tergana
Dinner at Le Tergana
Dinner at Le Tergana
#GoogleInCotonou Dinner at Le Tergana
Dinner at Le Tergana
Dinner at Le Tergana

Friday morning began with Taiwo handing out Google Nexus 5s and MTN Benin SIM cards to everyone and introducing everyone to Google apps that we’d be using over the course of the trip. They were:

1. Maps: If you’re in a foreign country… Scratch that. Wherever you are, Google’s Maps is one of the most useful apps you can have. Maps can help when you’re lost, help with road directions (with options for if you’re driving or walking), and help you find places such as restaurants and hotels. It doesn’t just help you find these places, it also shows you previous reviews of those places and allows you to add your own reviews. It also has a Timeline feature, which shows you where you were at a particular time, and helps retrace your steps.

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2. Google App: The Google App is exactly what it sounds like: having the entire Google search engine on your phone. The Google App gives you a plethora of information at your fingertips, and if you’re too lazy to type, you can also search for anything by just saying it! The Google App comes equipped with Google Now, which is a personal assistant tailored for just you. Google Now tells you where you parked your car, the temperature of the city you’re in, and really anything else you want to know.

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3. Google Translate: When you’re in a country where you don’t speak their language, Google Translate becomes your best buddy. Like the Google App, you can either type or speak, and it will translate into the language of your choice instantly. And here’s the amazing part: Translate also works for written documents, and all you need to do is just hover your phone above it. Sick. I actually tried to use Google Translate to talk up some girl, but even Google can’t give you game. 🙁

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Introductory session
Introductory session
Introductory session
Introductory session
Introductory session
Introductory session

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After the introduction, we began our exploration of the country, starting with the voodoo-rich city of Ouidah. In Ouidah, we visited the Sacred Forest of Kpasse, which had tributes to all their voodoo gods. The god who caught everyone’s attention was Legba, the god of fertility. Want to know why he caught our attention? I’d rather show you. Scroll down!

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Our very amazing tour guide
Our very amazing tour guide

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Legba!
Legba!

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After leaving the Sacred Forest, we explored the rest of Ouidah. Ouidah is a coastal city, and like Badagry here in Lagos, was used as a port by slave traders. There are several tributes to the slaves all around the city, with the biggest being the Port of No Return, a big door through which slaves were loaded on to ships.

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Lunch on Friday was at the very gorgeous Casa Del Papa, where we entertained with what seemed to be a Yoruba Demon (you people are popular now). Casa Del Papa offered a gorgeous view of the beach, and and also amazing food.

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We ended Friday by visiting the Handicraft Center, where we taught how to make beads and even given quite a few, free of charge (my 3 favorite words!). IMG_8458 IMG_8462 IMG_8468 IMG_8483

Saturday was almost as busy as Sunday, and we started off with a visit to the lake village of Ganvie, which lies in the Lake Nokoue, near Cotonou. On our way to Ganvie, we passed a funeral procession on the water, and just like at the border, they didn’t seem too pleased seeing our cameras too. We were welcomed by a dancing troupe, and visited the village’s local handicraft shop.

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We visited the Palace of the King of Porto Novo after leaving Ganvie, but as with most things Benin, we were not allowed to take pictures.

During the introductory session, all the participants were split into groups, and after visiting the palace, each group went to the market with a list of foodstuff (written in French) to buy as part of the Cooking Contest. It was a very difficult task using Google Translate to bargain with the local traders, but somehow we survived and made it to the restaurant with all the necessary ingredients.

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Before dinner, prizes were handed out for people who showed the best use of their Google Apps. There was also a best team selfie contest, which my team won (Duh). Benin republic has a very big fabric industry, so it was only right we got Ankara bags too.

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It was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long while, and I can’t wait to travel with Google again.

To Taiwo and Funsho – who are now one of my favorite married couples ever, to Demola, Kunmi, Sam and Moroti  who are literally the best set of guys to hang out with, to Arit – who is my passport goals, to Eki – who owes her ability to shoki to me, and to everyone else whose name I can’t write now because I’m really hungry and I need to go eat, thank you very much!

Wana

Wana

Quo non Ascendam. Writer. E-mail: wana@360nobs.com

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