When I talk to the volunteers throughout Benin I always hear lots of crazy travel stories. Waiting hours for a taxi to leave. A Bull (very much alive) riding on the back of a moto. Locals riding on the top of the taxi. 11 People in a small car... it goes on and on.
Down here in the city taxi's are much more tame? Instead of live animals on the back of a motorcycle I am more likely to see a refrigerator or a couch. I never have to wait more than 10 minutes for my taxi to leave for Cotonou (the perk of traveling between the country's capital and it's biggest city). AND I rarely if ever see live animals or people on top of any sort of vehicle. In the city I seem to get more reliable and maybe even safer transportation than those who live out in the bush. (Safer – but not by any sort of American standard). That being said travel is still an experience no matter the style.
Types of Transportation In Benin
The most common form of public transportation. The name of this motorcycle taxi translates in Fon to “take me there fast!” Ze mi translates to “take me” in all of the local Fon based languages. You can tell a Zem by the uniform.. but be aware that this uniform differs based on the city you are in. In Porto Novo the Zem driver wheres blue... in Cotonou yellow.. in other cities you will find another color (or color combination). The uniforms are always identified by their number on the back, signifying they are in fact a part of the Zem union and are authorized to get you there fast. Make sure you discuss the price with the Zem before you go.. there are no fixed prices. Just the normal agreed upon price that people pay based on the gas price and some form of general consensus. Porto → Cotonou 2000cfa
This person is not really a taxi.. they might be just a person with a car going to Cotonou for a day, or they might be a household Chauffeur. Either way this person is driving to Cotonou, and they find it worth their while to pay the small fee to park their car in the taxi station and fill up with passengers for the trip. You can tell these cars because they are relatively new and clean, they don't squish you in like sardines, and they don't get stopped at the pre-appointed gendarme bribe locations. Hey if you are driving there anyway.. why not make some money out of it? Porto → Cotonou 800cfa
Vrai 6 Place
In the US this would be a 5 passenger car... and we include the driver. In Benin this is a 6 passenger car... and the driver doesn't count. Four in the back and two at the driver side passenger. These Taxi's are the most expensive type of taxi because of their small size. I don't really understand the logic here since they are also the most uncomfortable. This car is usually falling apart.. has produce and other goods magically strapped to the roof.. is somehow not weighed down to the point of scraping the street AND will get stopped at every gendarme checkpoint.. also the car might break down once or twice. *Children are not part of this head count.. they do not pay fare and you can have any number of children sitting in laps in this car. Porto → Cotonou 800cfa
9 Person Peugeot
In my opinion this is the most common type of taxi. It is kind of like a station wagon but kind of not. This vehicle has an extra seat (a real seat not made up by the driver) in the back. In Benin this seat can fit 3. Tuning your 6 Place taxi into a 9 Place experience. As with the 6 place.. this car is falling apart.. usually looks as though it is about to tip over based on the top load... and gets stopped at every bribe point. Same also goes for the likely hood of car troubles and the number of children who might also be sharing the ride with you. The 9 place taxi is slightly cheaper than the 6 place. Porto → Cotonou 600cfa
My favorite form of city to city transportation the trotro is a van with bench style seating installed. Allowing it to hold around 20 people give or take. This is the cheapest form of transportation. It is also the most comfortable because you can slide your helmet or bag under the seat, and because the bench is flat and lacks squishy cushions you don't feel nearly as crammed in. The passengers are “generally” friendlier AND I can usually pick up a trotro in the market in my village which means I don't have to pay the 200cfa to get to the taxi “station.” Unlike with a taxi however, you do have to pay a little extra if you wish to strap bags to the top of the van. The tro for some reason.. does not get stopped at all of the gendarme check points. Porto → Cotonou 500cfa
There are different bus lines and there are different prices. The bus is not for travel to and from Cotonou. The bus is for traveling further distances (in my case anywhere north). Generally it is worth it to pay slightly more for the air conditioned buses that have assigned seats. The cheaper non-air conditioned buses can (and very well might) over book the seats... and have traveling salesmen trying to sell their cure all soaps walking up and down the bus for the entire ride. These buses are your typical tour buses like you see in the States.
I am sure there are other forms of travel in the north or in small villages that I have yet to be made aware of due to the fact that I live so close to a city and have reliable transportation available to me. I did one day see a city bus go by (only once) it was empty and I never saw it again.
No matter how you travel.. there is never a lack in interesting sights or sounds.. and occasionally the conversation isn't all that bad. Sometimes there are fights.. sometimes it is peaceful... mostly it is crowded. I have even started to keep a notebook of interesting things that I see when traveling in Benin – but I will save that for another day.