Apr 25 2010

Gabon – diary 2010-03-18 to 2010-03-28

2010-03-18

We arrived at the Gabon border, 100km from Bitam, just after 5pm. We were met there by a very excitable border control official who was super excited to meet South Africans. Before he took our passports he started saying that visas for Gabon were not necessary for South African passport holders as there was an agreement between the 2 governments. We were again a little peeved by this news as we had spent CFA35 000 per person (€50) on these visas in Lome’. There was nothing we could do about our monetary loss and so just wanted to get on the road and ead to the immigration office in Bitam. The office closed at 6pm and our friendly border control official was just not letting us go. Eventually at 5:30pm we were handed back our passports and wished well on our travels. We had over 100kms to travel before reaching Bitam and we knew that it was going to be impossible to check in with Immigration before their office closed. The road was a perfectly smooth tarred road that guided us through villages and thick impenetrable jungle. We made it to the immigration office at 6:15pm and were waved away and told to return the following morning. We made our way back to Auberge Menage and checked in for the night. The expense of Gabon was evident in the prices of the rooms – CFA7000 (€11) for a very basic room. We took the room and used their kitchen facilities to cook spag bol for dinner. The air was thick with humidity and our skin was constantly clammy. The presence of an abundance of bugs and flying insects was a good indication that we were in the heart of the tropical rain forests and created a hum of excitement.

2010-03-19

Today would mark a very important day in our African adventure. The previous months driving had brought us closer and closer to the Equator and today we would potentially be crossing it.
We had woken up very early due to the early hour we had retired to bed the previous evening. The air was still saturated with warm humid air and the bugs were still in abundance. The humidity was already oppressive at 7am and the best thing we could do was get on the road to create some wind and cool our sticky bodies. We arrived at the immigration office at 8am and were greeted by a very unfriendly receptionist who demanded all sorts of documents from us. We had gone through all of this when we applied for our visas and we were now being asked to provide almost the exact same documents. Once more, they referred us to the photocopy shop across the road that was ridiculously expensive. We reluctantly made the copies and returned to the immigration office where we were told to wait. 40 minutes later our passports were returned and we were free to proceed.

The road was fantastic as it meandered through the tropical jungle giving us a true sense of being immersed into the thick of things. The jungle was impenetrable and we could not see more than 10 meters beyond the dense vegetation. This beautiful road and scenery took us as far as the equator, where we stopped to have the mandatory photograph, and then it just dies. The smooth tar came to an abrupt end and we were thrown onto a mess of a road that was full of potholes, puddles and ruts. The road was in an appalling state only made bad by the numerous logging trucks that hogged the road as they transported trees that must have been hundreds of years old. This enraged me and made me question the government’s claims that something like 70% of the land is national reserve. This is undoubtedly not the case if they are letting these foreign companies come in and take the natural resources that are so vital to the earth’s future existence.

We proceeded on to Libreville where we were welcomed in with our first tropical thunderstorm. It was glorious as the rain cleansed the air, roads and cars. It did however reduce us to a crippling pace as we could barely see 10 meters in front of us at times and the potholes were concealed by puddles of water. We made it into Libreville where we set us camp on the basketball courts at a Catholic Mission. The rains did not let us and that night Kirk and I were awoken by huge gusts of wind that lifted the roof top tent and caused us to zip up all of the flaps as the rain was coming at us horizontally. The thunder was deafening and the rain came crashing down onto the tent. We lay under our sheets waiting for the next attack but managed to drift off into a peaceful slumber.

2010-03-20

The previous night’s rain caused some mischief in the morning. Kirk and I leave our flip flops at the base of the ladder before we climb into bed and when I made my way down from bed they were mysteriously missing. The rain had been so sever the previous evening that it had flooded around the car and had washed our flip flops to the end of the basketball court. Everything was wet and there was no sign of the sun making an appearance for a while. We packed up in the rain and ventured towards the supermarket. We were going to be heading to La Maree’, a restaurant we had heard of via the overlanders grapevine, where we would be able to camp for free provided we had lunch at their restaurant on either Saturday or Sunday. Before we could venture north to the restaurant we had to get the tyre repaired again! It was becoming a nuisance and irritation as it would not stay inflated. The patch that had ‘repaired’ it in Yaoundé had come undone and was not strong enough. We stopped in at Michelin where they tried their hand at repairing the puncture. After copious amounts of patience we eventually made our way to La Maree’. We were welcomed in by the owners, Francois and Jules, and Jules cooked us the most delicious lunch. I had a whole grilled Red Roman which was celestial and had me wanting for more. Kirks Beef brochette was equally good and Joe and Christine savoured every mouthful of their fish brochette. The price was quite a lot more than our usual budgets would permit but we knew we would be camping on their front lawn for free for the next 4 days. Their restaurant/house was set in the most pictorial setting; right on the beach where the ocean laps up onto the white sand. The sea was as flat as a duck pond and the most perfect temperature. Nothing beats a sunset swim and then rinsing off with rain water that is caught and stored in large containers at the back of the house. We were really in paradise and were relishing every moment of it.

2010-03-21 to 2010-03-24

The sky was a beautiful shade of blue this morning and with no sign of further rain we took the opportunity to wash laundry and bed linen. The sun was scorching and provided the perfect temperature for the washing to dry quickly. La Maree’s restaurant is only open on Saturday and Sunday and we were told that Sunday is by far their busiest day. We had to ensure that we were not taking up too much space as the lawn fills up with expats 4×4’s as they make a b-line for beaches away from the city. The first guests arrived just after 10am and had brought with them everything for a full outing at the beach. We pottered around our cars and eventually made our way to the beach where we took a long stroll up the beach and into the next few coves. The beaches were the picture of beauty and were completely isolated.

The following days each resembled the next; Monday brought with it the stillness of peace and tranquillity as no visitors to the restaurant. Justin and Dianne arrived on Tuesday morning and stayed with us for the following 2 days. The boys tried their best to catch a fish but the only lucky fisherman was in fact Dianne who managed to catch a very small grunter. The rains did not cease and although the days were rainless, the dark ominous clouds lurked above head and provided us with some fabulous thunderstorms in the evenings. We again had our fill of fish and seafood. One of the local fishermen caught a 7kg Red Roman on a hand line that he had left out all day. We promptly bought it and had a wonderful fish braai with savoury rice. We also enjoyed clams steamed in beer and garlic again provided by one of the local women. We were enjoying every moment of this indulgence but knew it would have to come to an end art some point. The following morning Kirk, Diane, Just and I would be leaving La Maree’ but would be heading to another paradise…that of Nyonie’, a private beach and game resort south of Libreville.

2010-03-25 to 2010-03-27

Our private boat was set to leave Michele Marine at 9am. Kirk and I had a lot to do before we could board the boat so we left La Maree’ bright and early. We made it to Mistral Voyages to pay for our excursion and eventually made it to Michele Marine where we met up with Diane and Justin again. We arranged to meet Joe and Christine after our exclusive escape and bid them farewell for the next few days.

Our boat took us an hour south of Libreville. We passed through exquisite mangroves and were able to view many beautiful birds along the way. As we pulled onto the mainland again we were greeted by Marcelle and a waiting Land Cruiser. We tumbled into the open back and enjoyed the 40 minute drive to Nyonie’. The drive took us through some open savannah grasslands as well as the equator once again! The lodge was made up of relaxing beachside bungalows that provided Kirk and I with some much needed comfort. Nyonie’ only offer an all inclusive package so all drinks and food is provided for the duration of our stay. An hour after our arrival, the owner rang the bell for lunch and we experienced the first of many enjoyable meals. It was 3 courses with as much wine as you wanted. Kirk and I were in heaven…to have someone cook for us and then clear up all the dishes afterwards was certainly a novelty we had not experienced in a long time. We relished every moment of this culinary bliss! At 4pm we were whisked away on a 3 hour game drive which took us into the thick forest and then opened up into the most beautiful green plains that were interspersed with clusters of dense trees. This is where the forest elephant hang out and we would be lucky to see them. They are somewhat shy compared to that of the African Elephant and would rather run away than stand and pose for a photograph. We were however fortunate enough to bear witness to 3 of these bashful creatures and managed to get a quick snap of them before they retreated into the safety of the forest. As we neared the camp we ran into some buffalo that were grazing by the moonlight. The terrain around these areas is awe-inspiring and I find it difficult to describe it in words as I fear they will not do it justice.

Our evening meal was again tantalising and we enjoyed being waited on hand and foot.

We were up early the following morning…at 5am! We had a 3 hour hike planned and we were hoping to see some interesting forest animals. We were greeted by Salvador, our cantankerous guide who did not speak much English at all. He walked ahead of us, bush knife in hand, and casually pointed out animal spoor and the occasional bird. We had seen some leopard spoor that was relatively fresh as well as buffalo tracks. We were starting to feel a little despondent at the lack of fauna at the early hour until we heard this hiss coming from the right bank. At closer inspection (I was rather hesitant as I feared it may have been a snake) we discovered a baby Cayman sitting in a puddle of mud. He smiled merrily for us, or perhaps it was a snarl, whilst we photographed him from every possible angle. The rest of the walk was unsuccessful with regards to animal spotting but it was lovely to be walking through the forest and breathing the pure air.

The morning was spent fishing and relaxing on the beach. Lunch was again spectacular and afterwards we retreated to our chalets for a siesta before venturing out on another game drive. The heavens opened during our game drive but the spotting of Buffalo, antelope, monkeys, elephants and numerous birds kept our spirits high. Kirk and I were soaked to the bone as we had forgotten to pack our waterproof jackets and they were sitting in the dry comfort of Mvubu.

After a shower and drying off we dressed for dinner and reconvened at the bar for dinner. It was lovely to spend some time with Justin and Diane and speak about future plans. Dinner was greeted apprehensively this time round. We were so full and our bodies, unused to eating so much rich food, were struggling to digest the lunch we had eaten 5 hours prior to dinner. We managed to wolf down the food, it was too good to resist and we left the table feeling like swollen ticks. We slept well that night in the comfort of the air conditioned room.

Our time at Nyonie had come to an end and we were sad to say goodbye but we had an appointment with Mvubu and we were set for another mammoth adventure driving session. We said a fond farewell to Diane and Justin and made our way back to Michele Marine where Mvubu was waiting patiently for us. We packed our bags into the car and headed south to meet up with Joe and Christine. They had found a great bush camp just outside of Lamberene where we enjoyed our bath in the great Ogooue’ river and settled into the comfort of our Eezi Awn tent for a night of undisturbed rest.

2010-03-28

When camping in the wild, one does not need an alarm clock to wake you up. The sun rises splendidly and throws the most spectacular array of hues into the sky to provide the most tranquil setting to rise out of your slumber. The best time to get any form of work done on the car is just after sunrise as it is the coolest part of the day. With this in mind Kirk set about changing the oil and filters in Mvubu. We were about to embark on a mammoth driving session through 3 countries in as little time as possible and we needed Mvubu to be in tip top working order. We were on the road by 10:30 and travelled the distance to the Congo border. We went through a series of checkpoints and were eventually signed out of Gabon. A few kilometres down the road was a boom marking the entrance into Congo. It was a Sunday and there seemed to be a large Church celebration going on just up the road from the boom. We made our way into the immigration and customs office where our names were entered into a series of ledgers and we were told to proceed to the Police office 200m down the road. Before we could go any further, the great boom had to be lifted but this was not going to happen until we paid them ‘something’. Kirk promptly refused this request and pointed to the UNICEF stickers on the car and proceeded to ‘spank’ the customs officer on his bottom. This created great humour and we were allowed to pass through without paying a solitary cent.

The Police were just as friendly and smiley. They were very interested in us as people and were asking all sorts of questions about what we do and about the trip so far. This was of course communicated in half broken French and English but we managed to have a good laugh and were finally sent to the last office – the office where we would be given the last stamp in our passports and be free to proceed. It was getting late by this stage and we still needed to find somewhere to camp for the evening. After filling out a series of forms we were on our way just after sunset. We drove on for 10km where we eventually came upon another checkpoint just after a school. We asked the Gendarmerie if we could camp at the school ground for the evening and he was very obliging. We set up camp in front of an audience of girls from the nearby village. The oldest girl was very affectionate giving me hugs and holding my hand. They watched us cook our dinner and when we were about to eat they bade us goodnight and returned to their homes. We were in bed shortly after dinner as we were aware of the strenuous task that lay ahead of us for the next few days.
[book id=’19’ /]