Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Mobile Phone configuration in Benin

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

As we tried to get our mobile phones to work in Benin, we learned a number of things:

  • New SIM cards need to be activated, by presenting an identification document (e.g. passport) at the office of the provider
  • APN settings are tricky
  • SMS message center settings pushed by the carrier may not work on all phones
  • no 3G coverage in Benin, although MTN won a 3G/4G license in March 2012, so that may change soon.
  • According to a local with a smart phone, Moov is much better than MTN for data.  Unfortunately we learned this after buying a 10000 CFA MTN recharge card, so we have stuck with MTN and have not confirmed this ourselves.
  • 2G data roaming from Bell Canada didn’t work (but did work in Ghana and Togo, at least along the coast), voice roaming worked fine (albeit expensive) and SMS roaming is intermittent.

We activated SIM cards on both MTN and Moov. In hopes of saving someone else the aggravation of figuring this out, here’s how we did it.

MTN Telecommunications

MTN requires you to bring a photocopy and present it outside their main office in Cotonou on Boulevard Steinmetz north of Avenue Clozel. Make a photocopy of your passport before you go to the office. There are photocopy shops just down the side road by the MTN building – I made a copy for 25 CFA with some local help. Write your new mobile number on the photocopy and present it at the table under the shelter outside. They asked for occupation and added it to a pile of other papers – no idea when the activation will occur.

To make Internet work, we used the following APN settings on a Samsung Galaxy S i896 (under Settings -> Wireless and Networks -> Mobile -> APN):

  • APN:
  • Proxy IP:
  • Proxy port: 8080
  • APN Type: Internet + MMS

Other tips:

  • to check your balance dial *124#
  • to recharge, dial *125*XXXXXXXXXXX# where XXXXXXXXX is the voucher number in the scratch off section of the recharge card
  • Recharge cards are available at many streetside stalls in denominations from 500 cfa to 10000 cfa
  • the only way to recharge a prepaid sim in an iPad is to remove it, put it in a SIM carrier, and use an unlocked phone, with the standard *125*XXXXXXXXXXX# code
  • according to the very frustrated Chinese lady at MTN with us yesterday, data is very slow, especially connecting overseas trying to use YouTube and Skype. We tried to explain that this was Africa, and not too surprising. In hindsight we should have suggested trying to find wifi, it might be better. Also, data coverage is limited outside the major cities, and sometimes even inside.  It has been slow but not unusable in our experience, but Wifi is slow too.  Hopefully the new fiber just laid from Europe to Ghana, Cameroon and South Africa will help when it’s lit up.
  • If sending an SMS the first time doesn’t, work, try again, the network may be overloadeded.
  • Data is 200 CFA per MB, or 2500 CFA for 50 MB by dialing *130*3#. Other  amounts are available.


The Moov office is a bit further up Boulevard Steinmetz from MTN. The person doing activations was just inside the door, and the queues for everything were much shorter than at MTN. Once I reached the front of the queue, he did our activation immediately, but that may have been because our SIM had already been disabled. He was also able to correctly configure the Galaxy S APN settings with little difficulty.

  • To make Internet work, we used the following APN settings on a Samsung Galaxy S i896 (under Settings -> Wireless and Networks -> Mobile -> APN):
  • APN: moov
  • Proxy IP: none
  • Proxy port: none
  • User name: moov
  • Password: moov
  • APN Type: Internet + MMS

Other tips:

  • to check your balance dial #100#
  • To add funds, dial *101* followed by the 12 digits of your recharge code, # and then dial
  • Recharge cards are available at many street corner booths as well as mobile sellers
  • Text and voice calling between moov phones is much cheaper than moov to mtn. (e.g. 25 cfa per text vs. 50 cfa)
  • On my basic Nokia phone, I had to rename the message sending profile from ‘moov’ to ‘Profile 1′ before it would send SMS successfully.  This is under Menu – Messages – Message Settings – Sending profile – Moov – Rename sending profile.  The message centre number is +22995950999.  See the Nokia discussion board for more details. OneSIMcard has instructions on how to reset the SMSC for many other phones.

In Ghana, people carry multiple mobile phones, because it is cheaper to call and text people on the same network. With multiple networks, people carry phones that either take multiple SIMs or they carry multiple phones. We suspect the same is true here in Benin, but haven’t validated that yet. This may explain why some African countries have higher mobile penetration rates than Canada, including a few with more mobile subscribers than inhabitants

When right is wrong!

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

When you are a child, you are taught that if you must ride your bike on the street, that you should ride as far to the right as possible. This gives cars as much space as possible to pass you. However, as you grow older and bolder, and start to ride on busier roads, it becomes time to revisit this lesson in safe cycling.

On the way to work each morning, I ride on a couple of major city streets. These roads have two lanes of traffic in each direction; however, they do not have bike lanes. To make matters worse, they also have square curbs. As a cyclist, if I were to follow the “keep as far right as possible” rule, I would have no place to go when a car passes me too close. In addition, the further right I ride, the more likely a car driver thinks they can sneak pass me without changing lanes. To be safe, I ride in the middle of the right most lane. Once I started doing this, the car drivers got the message “to pass this cyclist safely, I must move over into the left lane.”

Taking this one step further, anytime I am riding on a street where I think it is unsafe for a car to squeeze by me, I ride in the middle of the lane. This requires cars to wait behind me, or pass only when the left or oncoming lane is completely free of traffic. I learned this lesson the hard way; when a car passing me in a narrow construction zone clipped my handlebars with its side mirror, knocking me onto the shoulder. This would not have happened had I been in the middle of the lane, as the driver would have been unable to pass me.

Of course, riding in the middle of the lane only works if you are very visible. If you are wearing dark clothing at night, and are not well lit, stay off the road!  Unlit cyclists are a danger to both cars and other cyclists.

How (not) to hang food

Monday, August 24th, 2009

We awoke to a cloudy day with questionable looking weather, however, by the
time we finished breakfast the sun was shining. We were still moving pretty
slowly – with a late start and headwinds slowing us down.

By 6:45 pm, we pulled into the Bunnell campground at Atikokan. We must have
looked confused, since a friendly couple called over to us to offer a site
beside theirs. Just a patch of grass and a picnic table, but it was all we
needed. Later, we discovered that up to three tents were allowed per site,
so we decided to share a site with Wendy and Peter. This made for a very
cheap camping night, at only $5, including free firewood and nice hot

This also gave us a chance to visit with Wendy, Peter and their friendly
springer spaniel Casey. They had just returned from a 19 day trek into
Quetico Provincial Park, which sounds spectacular. Lots of little lakes,
fishing and beautiful solitude. Another inspirational couple; they retired
early and are spending much of their time in the wilderness of Canada and
the U.S.

As dusk approached and dishes needed doing, the mosquitoes came out in
force. This was the worst bought of mosquitoes we have experienced since
Labrador. Fortunately, we had the mosquito head nets.

We were slow moving when we awoke, and a heavy dew left everything quite
wet. We still try to avoid packing up the tent and tarp wet, which
definitely slows us down on a damp and overcast day. Our plan was for a
long ride, leaving only a short relaxing ride into Thunder Bay the next day,
but this wasn’t in the cards. A strong headwind and rolling hills made for a
very slow day.

Before lunch, we crossed paths with an Albertan couple riding a tandem.
Wendy and Andy were out for an afternoon ride, enjoying the quiet road and
pretty scenery. After sharing a few trip stories, we learned that there was
a restaurant up ahead that had free Wireless Internet. We had not
anticipated any services on the road, so the restaurant was a nice
bonus, and Internet meant we could let the people with which we are staying
in Thunder Bay know when to expect us. Of course Internet is always a time
sink, so we had a longer lunch break than originally planned.

With the slow going and clouds threatening to release some wet stuff on us,
we opted to pull into the Rest Area at Huronian Lake. It turned out to be a
nice little rest area – certainly adequate for camping for the night – and
the lake was not too cold, such that we enjoyed a quick dip to rinse the
road grunge off of us.

After dinner, we decided that we would try a new method for hanging food. In
the past, we haven’t had a lot of luck figuring out how to hang it high
enough – rarely succeeding in getting it more than 6 feet off the ground.
Finding a tree with a horizontal branch which is strong enough to hold our
food, cooking gear and toiletries, and is at the correct height always
proves problematic.

In our latest method, if you can find trees the right distance apart, the
branch height is almost immaterial. Here
is how we did it.

What you need:
2 pieces of line long enough that one line will go up one tree to the height
you need, across to the second tree, and back down, plus have enough spare
for tying down. So, let’s say the hanging height is 4 meters, and the trees
are 8 meters apart, you would then need at least 4×2+8=16 meters of line.

1 pulley wide enough to fit the line. (In a pinch, a loop tied in the rope
will work, but the pulley makes things much easier when dealing with heavy

1 square shaped rock about 2 inches across – in a pinch a round rock with

The procedure:

1. Identify two trees between which you wish to hang food. Ideal trees are
about 2 meters apart and have solid branches 4-5 meters high.

2. Take one line (line A) and tie the rock around one end of it.
Caution: If you don’t tie the line to the rock solidly, the rock will
slip out of the line when tossed – possibly ending up in the middle of the
woods or worse hitting something you don’t want to hit. Trust us!

Rather than a large rock, we also tried to use a mesh bag full of
smaller rocks. This worked well for the tossing portion of the procedure;
however, the bag was easily caught on branches. In the end, it jammed on a
branch 5 meters in the air, and we were forced to abandon it along with
several feet of our precious rope!

3. Coil line A ensuring there are no knots or snags in the line.

4. Stand on the non-rock end of line A, so it doesn’t get away from you.

5. Using your line-rock throwing skills, toss the rock end of the line over
the branch of the first tree (tree A).
This will take some practice to perfect. Again, trust us!

6. Use the weight of the rock to ease the rock end of the line back to the
ground. You should have both ends of the line in your hand with the bight
looped over the branch. Untie the rock.

7. Secure the ends someplace so you don’t lose them.
Trust us!

8. Repeat steps 2-7 with the second line (line B) and second tree (tree B).

9. Tie one end of line A to one end of line B, using a smooth knot (a reef
knot works well).

10. Tie a bight (loop) into line A on the same side you tied A to B and
secure the pulley to the bight. The placement of this knot should be such
that it ends up in the middle of the two trees when the line is tightened.

11. Take the free end of line B and run it through the pulley.


12. Hold on to the free end of line B and gently pull on the middle of
line B such that it feeds line A from tree A to tree B. Keep pulling until
the knot is at ground level. Note that as you do this the pulley will rise
out of reach, hence the need to be holding onto line B through the pulley.

13. Untie the knot between ropes A and B. You should now have rope A strung
between the two trees, and rope B fed through the pulley with both ends on
the ground.

14. Adjust rope A to ensure the pulley is in the middle of the two trees.
Securely fasten both ends of the line to the attached tree trunk. (A few
wraps and some half-hitches usually works well).


15. Secure food to one end of the line B, and use the other end to raise it
between the trees.
If your food bags are heavy, this can be a challenge. Our approach has
been to have Scott stand under the bags and push them up while Becky keeps
the line tight. Once the bags are above Scott’s head, he comes and helps
Becky raise them to the top. We are carrying 35-40 lbs (15-18 kg) of food
and related stuff.

16. Secure line B to a tree.

17. Fall asleep, secure in the knowledge that your food is safe. (Unless
you’re in Yellowstone Park, where the bears know to chew through lines until
the food falls to the ground).

If you look really close, you can see the bags hung nice and high in the air.

Rainy Lake cottage to Atikokan – 117 km, 6h40 min
Atikokan to Huronian Lake Rest Area – 75 km, 4h 30 min