After a good breakfast we set course to Natitingou, 400km north of Dasse Zoume. We spent more than 6 hours on the dirt road – supposedly under construction – slowing down every 50 meters to avoid the large potholes and the tons of dust produced by the crossing trucks. We made a stop in Djougou, about 80km from Natitingou, am indifferent city of 250 thousand people without any interesting sights. We had lunch at Chez Tata, a small local restaurant where we tasted cooked lamb with rice and pineapple. I would not stop here if there was any other option, but apparently this was the best we could get.
We continued to Taneka Beri, a nearby village in the Atakora region. On the way we were flagged down by the the local police for speeding. We were not going more than 60km/h, but negotiating the speed was rather pointless. Finally, Sam had to pay 10 thousand CFA to let us go on.
Taneka Beri is home of the Tangba or Taneka people with about 300 permanent residents. Nearly all of the 30 thousand people that define themselves as Taneka, who work and live elsewhere in the region, declare their official residency here and will return to the village to attend the important family and communal ceremonies.
The village consists of hundreds of small constructions that serve as sleeping quarters, barns, chicken scoops etc. They are mostly circular huts, made of clay, with conical roofs, arranged in family compounds around common open areas. Immediately after our arrival, we were greeted by a small group of children who took us by the hand and led us to the center of the village. As the crowd of children was growing by the minute, the entire village became aware of our presence.
The people were quite friendly and happy to show us around and eventually took us to Dalawe, an 80 year old fetish doctor. Dalawe was not really busy, lying and smoking a long pipe. His main function, other than to cure the ill, was to pose for visitors and collect the money for visit.
Papa Somba is an uninspiring concrete lodge in Natitingou, featuring a large and mostly cosmetic swimming pool. The rooms are, well, basic, with noisy air conditioning units and ugly furniture. Our dinner was much better than what the setting suggested: beef and pizza, accompanied with cold local beer and the first drops of rain after one week on the road.
We woke up late, packed and went to the regional museum of Natitingou, housed in the restored colonial prefecture building, which was built in the beginning of the 20th century. The building was constructed by using forced labor, but otherwise the region escaped the plague of slave trading. The two main reasons were the long distance from the coast and the absence of a local king. The museum exhibits show the culture of the Otammari people of the Atakora region and constitute of musical instruments, tools, masks and some interesting photographic material.
Boukoumbé is the largest city in the land of the Somba, some 50km west from Natitingou, next to the Benin-Togo border. Along the way, we stopped to see a Tata Somba, the traditional two-story fortified house of the Tammari (Somba) people, that are considered as a UNESCO heritage site. It is constructed like a fort with cylindrical structures that are used for storage and sleeping the livestock at night. The top floor is for sleeping quarters and granaries for storing food.
Originally we were to sleep in La Perle de Lakatora, a traditional lodge a bit outside Boukoumbé, which did not have any running water and toilets. Therefore we decided to move to the town where we found some rooms in the only alternative option, the Tata Koubeti, a tata-somba like hotel with very basic rooms and running water.
We got a better chance to see the Tata-Somba architecture, during our afternoon visit in a neighbouring village. The village is surrounded by green fields and full of curious kids, eager to interact with visitors.
Tata Koubeti was the worst hotel we stayed, but the nearby restaurant, Chez Maman, made it worthy. It was not the food – once more average – but the great night party with traditional local dances and lots of fun. There we met Dikania, the Chief Priest and King of the area, a not-to-be-missed character, who quickly got drunk and entertained us the whole evening.
Next: North Togo and Ghana