IN an ideal world, this entry would provide a perceptive insight into the sights, history and attractions of Benin.
Sadly, my only insight into Benin came from long periods spent lying down. Much of it with my eyes closed.
Not through choice. Would much rather have been exploring the slave trail at our overnight stop at Ouidah or joining the others in making use of the camp site’s very welcome-looking swimming pool.
Instead, my entire afternoon was spent curled up in the shade on one of the sun loungers alongside the pool – under the watchful, slightly confused eye of the waiters – and any exploration was confined to the toilet facilities.
Whatever laid me low hit fast and hit hard, even prompting Steve to suggest his personal malaria test of seeing my reaction to a shot of rum – almost worth it to be granted access to his personal stash of Captain Morgan, but it does get a bit scary when malaria starts being considered.
All had seemed fine as our final morning dawned in Togo.
Two days recovering from the fallout of our Australia Day celebrations had us rejuvenated and ready to move on, our final departure delayed by one final round of visa hold-ups, but it least it gave Matt and myself another chance to sit on the shoreline as the sun went down and the lights blinked into life amid the traffic jam of ships heading in and out of Lome’s bustling port.
A few quiet beers sat around the bar was certainly no indicator of what lay in store, which was still not stirring itself as we geared up for breakfast.
But one bite into a piece of toast was enough to kick everything into gear.
Within minutes, feeling a bit queasy had been replaced by a return of the toast and any attempt to keep hydrated with a cold bottle of water prompted a similar result. To add to it all, my body ached, radiating out from my legs.
It all added up to a testing, if thankfully fairly short, border crossing into Benin and attempts to sleep off whatever had enveloped my system were shaken up by the disintegrating road surface as we neared Ouidah.
As the others caught sight of the pool, my eyes simply sore somewhere cool to lie down and, until the sun went down and it was time to relocate to the truck, that was pretty much it – a couple of rich tea biscuits finally managing to stay down before bedding down for the night on the floor of the truck (which would become my home for the next week).
And, around midnight, the combination of biscuits, sleeping and, finally, getting some water on board did the trick and, awaking with a start, a wave seemed to break over me and flush away a lot of what had floored me. (Not literally. That would have made a mess of the truck).
Still feeling wiped out, the trip out to the stilted village of Ganvie down the coast was never really on the cards and so, sat back on the truck with a couple more of the walking wounded, it was time for even more lying down.
This time it was with my leg dangling over the top of one of the seats, prompting Joe to ask a simple question: “Is your leg swollen?”
The simple answer was yes. And very red. And painful, feeling stretched taut as it pulled at the scabs over my healing bites.
An extremely bumpy road meant a very uncomfortable ride to our bush camp for the night, by which time Helena – whose nursing expertise has been much in demand since she climbed on board in Accra – had diagnosed cellulitis in my leg and had me on a fairly vigorous (ie plentiful and difficult to swallow) course of antibiotics. She’d also drawn and written all over my leg.
With it came the order to stay off my leg and to have it raised as much as possible.
That’s pretty easy when we are parked up – on the beach with my legs up on the roof or stretched on the seats with one leg out of the window – or in my temporary home on the truck floor with assorted soft items from my locker forming an improvised footrest.
It has even been possible on smooth roads, but there’s not been that many of them over the past few days as we embarked on probably the most intense spell of driving days to date, turning our back on the coast and heading north through Benin and into Nigeria (again, worryingly easy and adding to the feeling that border complications are being stored up for us) and its capital Abuja, slowed by the combination of poor road surfaces and constant check points.
Lying down on the seats in those conditions brings fresh dangers of being thrown off, while lying on the beach at the front of the truck can be akin to cooking gently at gas mark five, meaning clinging on for dear life or roasting in the sun is swapped with sitting up normally and subjecting my leg to the rigours of the journey and whatever ills are still lingering.
So while the sickness finished as quickly as it started, my leg continues to rise and fall with our travelling conditions.
Each morning, it has shrunk down almost to normal – even my good leg has come down a couple of centimetres, meaning my ankles are properly defined for the first time in ages and my sandals are now too big to keep on easily when walking. Might actually have to do them up.
But by the time we pull into camp at night, it has swollen up again (a little less each day) and it is back to my horizontal vigil.
It’s enough to drive a man to drink.
Or would be, if he wasn’t on antibiotics.