The 10 steps you will go through while traveling in West Africa
This article is part of a sequence of posts about my experience traveling by bus in West Africa.
This 10 steps are based on my own experience crossing the border between Benin and Niger
Bus trip from Benin to Niger
Bus 1: Natitingou-Parakou
Price: 3500CFA (5,30€) (cause I booked the night before, otherwise 4000CFA)
Duration: From 7am till 11am. Total: 4 hrs
Company: Baobab Express
Bus 2: Parakou-Niamey
Price: 14500CFA (22€)
Duration: From 12:30pm till 12:30am. Total:12 hrs
Total distance: 829kms
Total price: 18000CFA (27,50€)
Total duration: 17:30 hours (including waiting/transfer time)
Step 1: Finding the right bus:
My last stop in Benin was in Natitingou. It was then time for me to go to the next country Niger but unfortunately there were not buses going directly from Natitingou to Niamey and the shortest way was crossing Burkina Faso. I didn’t want to do this because I had only one single entrance visa for this country and I was going to go later on. So I was told that I have to take a bus from Natitingou (west of Benin) to Parakou, a city in central east Benin and wait there for a bus coming from Cotonou to go to Niamey. Hmmm, a little bit risky. No reservation, not knowing if the bus is coming full of passengers and there is no place for me and also no idea when the bus is arriving from Cotonou and when it is departing to Niamey. But I had no other option.
Step 2: Finding the right bus station:
I arrived to Parakou at almost 11am after being a half hour delayed. My friends had told me the bus to Niger departs from the same place I will arrive from Natitingou. But once I was there, a motor driver told me that I have to go to another bus station. I asked a few people to make sure the guy wasn’t lying to me and then I jumped in his motorbike. At the other station they told me all the buses are gone and the next one will be at 8 pm. OMG. Lot of hours waiting plus I didn’t want to take a night bus to Niger after all the scary things people were telling me about crossing this border and the proximity to the Boko Haram group. It’s risky enough that I’m going by bus, alone, but a night bus? Hell no! I was trying to find a solution when they told us about another bus station. We drove there and the bus, that was supposed to come from Cotonou, arrived exactly at the same time as we did by motorbike. So lucky!!! The motor driver asked for 1000 CFA, I gave him 500. Come on, I already know the prices and 500 is even a little bit more than the normal price. Lol.
Step 3: Improving my patience skills by waiting and waiting:
The bus was coming from Lomé, Togo, stopping in Cotonou and then in Parakou, where I got my ticket for around $25 for an 12 hour trip to Niamey (it was supposed to be 10 but ok, it’s Africa… fine, lol). So at the end I arrived at night anyway. Hmmm.
It took a while to depart because you have to wait that some passengers buy food, drinks, etc and some other passengers take their luggages as they were getting off in Parakou. If you have seen Africans traveling you must have noticed that many of them travel with 4-5 pieces of luggage. So it was this lady who had so much luggage that she needed a motorbike with a big car attached to transport everything. We had to wait for her to finish with her luggage and then make space for ours.
Step 4: Finding a place to sit:
I entered the bus and it was almost full. I sat in the first place I saw that was free but a few minutes later a lady came and asked me to stand up. Apparently she went to the toilet and I took her place in the meantime. I realized her bag was there beside on the floor, so it was definitely her place. I started looking for another free place. Mission impossible. Haha.
I walked to the end of the bus and back to the front where I saw a Muslim lady who looked like a Somalian or Ethiopian but yes, she was Nigerien. Later on I realized that Islam is the dominant religion in Niger and is practiced by 94% of the population. Her skin was as light as mine but of course not white. The place beside her was empty and I was about to sit when she gave me this look like don’t ever think about it. Wow. She said something to me in Arabic and French and I supposed she meant there is someone sitting there. Later on I realized that nobody was there, she wanted the space only to stretch her legs. Hmmm.
So I went to the bus driver to find a solution and I told him that in my ticket is written I have seat number 1, right behind him. He looked at my ticket, cut it into 2 pieces taking out exactly and ONLY the part where my seat number was written and gave it back to me. What!?? Lol. From his hand gesticulation I understood that I should look for another place by my own. Then someone nicely showed me that it was one place available in the middle between 2 guys. (The bus has 3 seats on the right side and 2 seats on the left. It was a big bus). I looked at the 2 guys and pointed to the seat on the aisle hoping to get this one and holding my ticket in the hand as if this seat number was written in my ticket, lol which wasn’t the case, of course, but the guy stand up and moved to the middle place leaving the aisle seat for me. OMG I was so happy. Lol. Problem solved.
And then, they were playing Arabic music on the bus most of the time (other than most of the buses I have taken before with African music)
Step 5: Crossing the border:
After 4 hours more or less, without anything interesting happening, we reached the border. First you go to the Benin migration office, fill out the papers and get your stamp out of the country. Then you have to cross a long bridge to the other side to enter Niger. Lots of motorbikes wanted to drive me there but I preferred to walk. It was only 100 CFA (0.20€) but I wanted to take some pics of the other bridge beside this one and I wasn’t carrying any luggage anyway. Our suitcases remained on the bus. So I could easily walk. The motor drivers became more insistent, making my walk uncomfortable. By that time there were already 3 drivers surrounding me. I told them to go away because I didn’t need them. They said that the police will return me to Benin when I reached the end of the bridge if I have no one assisting me to cross the border, haha. Of course I saw the rest of the people walking by their own and not going by motorbike. So I continued walking by my own too. Don’t let anyone change your mind or tell you what to do if you are sure you are doing the right thing!!!!
Step 6: Solving the visa issues:
At the border they were nice to me but they always have a problem understanding the dates and visa issues. You probably already read my post about the visa issue with the police officer in Nigeria (My overland trip Part III). My visa was issued on November 2016 but it’s written that I can use it starting from the 18 of January (that’s the date I told the embassy that I was planing to enter the country when I applied). It was the 20th of January so it was perfectly fine and in my visa was written that I can stay 3 months after my arrival. But they didn’t understand it.
In the visa it is written Date d’entrée 18 January and he thought it means Date d’expiration. Excuse me? Even with my little French I knew it’s not the same.
Once he finally understood that I could stay for 3 months starting from the date d’entrée (20th January), then he calculated and wrote in my paper that I could stay until the 20th of March (2 months with African mathematic). Hmmmm 😳I said ok. I didn’t want to argue because of 1 month difference as I wasn’t staying that long anyway.
While talking to the officer and trying to explain everything to him, I met this guy (Ibrahim) from Niger who was living in Germany and came to do some business in West Africa. He saw my German passport and helped me with the translating as he spoke German and French but bad English. Great to meet the right people at the right moment in the right place. 😜👍
Step 7: Going to the toilet:
Ibrahim also helped me to get the key that opens the door for the toilet that the officers normally use, which is obviously cleaner than the other one for the passengers. Because I always smile so nicely to the migration officers every time I cross a border, they are also so nice to allow me to use their official toilets. Lol. 😉
While everyone was queuing for the public toilet, I went to the other one, when I opened the door with the key, I saw there were actually 2 toilets inside. I looked to the queue and guess who was the only female face I could recognize? The Muslim girl that refused that I sit beside her 5 hours ago. So I gave her a sign and I told her that she can come with me and use the other toilet. Then I closed the door after her. That was my way to say I know you were not nice to me before, but I forgive you anyway. lol. After this act, she was always smiling to me during the rest of the trip and she even say thank you to me in English. So… be nice to everyone. Even more if you are a girl and you see another girl traveling alone in your country. You never know when you will need some help yourself.
An hour later a fat man joined the bus and wanted to sit beside her. She had to change her seat with someone else. Apparently she didn’t want to sit beside this man. In this moment I was just thinking hmmm, you see? You should have allowed me to sit beside you. The best part a few hours later, when both guys sitting beside me left the bus and I had the 3 seats alone to myself to sleep. Yupiiii!!!! Then it was me who was happy that I didn’t sit next to her. 😜
Step 8: Praying together:
Only one time during our journey the police stop the bus for passport control. While checking every single passport it became almost 7 pm and I saw everyone getting off the bus. Then I realized it was prayer time. There were no mosque around but people just started praying there beside the bus. Some of them were well prepared with some carpets to put on the floor. I didn’t take a picture in order to respect their prayers but I still have this picture in my mind of everyone praying beside the bus.
Some water in little packages was provided for them to clean themselves, so that they could wash their feet, hands and faces before praying.
Step 9: Finally arriving to Niamey:
So we arrived to the capital of Niger after a long day trip. 7am till midnight in 2 buses. Puffff.
A nice couple, friends of a friend of mine that I got the contact just a week before, picked me up at the bus station. Fortunately I could call them from the phone of the guy that I met at the border, Ibrahim, because otherwise the couple would have been waiting for my bus for more than 2 hours 😱
Step 10: Getting to some conclusions:
Traveling by bus in Africa is definitely challenging, its long, it’s uncomfortable, it’s very tiring, it’s complicated if you have to change buses, it requires lot of patience, it’s loud because they play music or watch TV all the time and it’s also dirty, but it’s actually NOT as dangerous as people always say. I had some concerns regarding this area in Niger, but everything worked perfectly and I didn’t feel any danger. At least that’s my perception. Or maybe I was just lucky 😜
And now…let’s enjoy a new country!!!!
You can check my daily summary of my travel adventures in Africa on my Instagram account.
Don’t miss my next post about my bus trip from Niger to Burkina Faso. Coming soon!
Enjoy it and stay tuned!!!