Monday, October 10, 2011



Considering the number (and the weight) of our baggage, the operation took a while, but once we had everything and proceeded through customs, we were able to say that we were finally in Benin.

Even the next step of our adventure required no small amount of effort, requiring a good hour to be accomplished. Two drivers managed to solve a real puzzle, that of stuffing us and our huge compliment of luggage into two cars. Giorgio Minguzzi, IZ4AKS and Fabrizio Vallefuoco, IW3SQY kept the suitcases containing the K3s at their feet to avoid any potential damage during the two hour scheduled journey.

Reaching Grand Popò was quite the feat in and of itself. The only existing road was traversed by our driver at high speed and in the darkness of night, punctuated with jolts, “last minute” detours and local police checkpoints. We also noticed, during the drive, an overturned truck. Certainly, the car with Franco Papa IZ8GCE, Fabrizio Vallefuoco IW3SQY and Les Fabjanski, SP3DOI onboard narrowly averted an accident (I’d say they had mother luck on their side). However, we managed to achieve our first goal, that of arriving safely at the resort.

It was late at night. So, once the luggage was unloaded, we couldn’t do much more than to get ourselves settled in our rooms. We all agreed to meet the following morning to start setting up the stations.

Even if exhausted by the long journey, we couldn’t sleep. So we availed ourselves of the opportunity to discuss the whole process that got us there.

It hadn’t been easy to get the licenses. Benin recently reorganized the issuance procedures, which are now quite strict. The application form (if you’re determined to do things “as instructed”) is quite technical and detailed. If any data are missing, the application doesn’t get processed. Our friend Serge Koujo, working for Benin at ITU, was crucial in helping us procure the necessary licenses.

Well, morning came. And after our first briefing during breakfast, we started setting up stations and putting antennas in the air.

In a short while, thanks to Franco Papa IZ8CGE, the first Spiderbeam and the 30 meter vertical were up. Two stations immediately hit the airwaves on 15 meter SSB and 30 meter CW.

After just a few minutes, the pile-up began to grow dramatically, while the rest of the team continued with antenna installation. Our first idea was that of a “holiday style” DXpedition, without hard shifts and things like that… however, thanks to a spontaneous team spirit, we then wanted everybody to be on the air in as short as possible time frame while giving us the greatest potential in maximizing our efforts.

The location we chose was situated just a few dozen meters from the ocean, which greatly enhanced our performance from the outset.

Shortly thereafter, we mounted the second spider and completed the set-up. The two phased verticals for 40 meters worked great. During the first few nights of operation we were able to log numerous stations from North America, especially from the west coast.

The resort owner had a problem our 80 and 160 meter antennas. But in the end we found another solution, allowing us to install these additional radiators and beverage antennas.

The only problem we hadn’t been able to manage during the course of the entire DXpedition was that of the internet connection, demonstrating once again how things that look trivial to us just aren’t so in Africa. The resort offered a connection, but only for a few hours in the morning and it was really slow and unreliable.

After a couple days we tried to look for an alternative, buying an internet key with a local SIM card. The result was completely unsatisfactory. The connection was as slow as ever, especially when trying to send out log updates.

Nevertheless, with just this hickup, operations went on in a positive fashion. The size of our logs grew ever increasingly.

Having been silent on HF the first few days (due to a geomagnetic storm), the 6 meter band rewarded us with some openings, allowing us to work quite a number of European (and others) stations. This particular circumstance was greeted with a triumphant sense of jubilation by the whole team.

On the 12th of August some of us (SP3DOI, IZ4AKS and IT9YVO) went to Togo, where we briefly hit the airwaves as 5V7KS.

Crossing the border to Togo was an intense experience, as we could, even more than in Benin, witness the problems the third world has to deal with on a regular basis.

Some hours later the team was reunited again. Between jokes, a few laughs and additional QSOs, the TY1KS adventure continued.

At 12:11 UTC, August 15th, the last of the three stations on the air shut down. Not without a strong sense of emotion, Salvador Carol Tafal, C31CT passed the last “five by nine” report, while the whole team applauded to QSO # 28,803.

We then tore everything down and after packing up the equipment, we waited for our transportation due to bring us back to the airport. First things first, however – raising the glass to TY1KS was a must, and the bottle of champagne provided by Salvador was a special one.

The trip back to Cotonou was suspenseful at best. As with “Beninese” custom, speeding was a constant (this, along with a slippery road and the vehicles used, provided an… explosive combination).

We didn’t feel as if ten days had passed since our arrival there. We took a good look at the landscape along the way. With a sense of curiosity and certainly charmed by what we were seeing, we took a lot of pictures and shot a lot of video (this was simply impossible during the previous drive, in complete darkness).

The drive took a couple of hours. Somewhere in the vicinity of the airport, we stopped to buy a few momentos and get a Coke. All this aside, the true memory will be the experience we lived. That will remain with us forever.

However, the adventure was not over yet. Some over-zealous officials gave us a hard time at baggage check. We risked missing our plane. And it was only thanks to the very good French spoken by Fabrizio that, in the end, we made it to our seats.

Just over a month has passed since returning home and our minds are still alive with sights and emotions hard to express. Referring to this experience merely in terms of a “DXpedition” simply doesn’t convey the full impact of our adventure. It has truly been the experience of a lifetime.

Ham-wise, things went exceptionally. We ended at nearly 29,000 QSOs, with 11,400 unique ones. This means we managed to give a “new one” to a lot of operators from 150 different countries.

The team, even though its first time working together, worked well and harmoniously. Our relationships go deeper than radio. And when in Paris, before heading off for our respective destinations, we all asked each other: “where next?”

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