Gabon

From the border to Lope

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After 11 hours on the road, we had yet to reach any form of border post, and were looking around for a place to bushcamp when, around a corner, we spotted a few buildings behind a boom across the track. The boom was securely padlocked, but a smiling gendarme unlocked it, and allowed us through into Gabon  - and onto a tarred road! Where we were met by a friendly  border official, The local Gendarme!

Not wanting to push on in the gathering gloom, we asked the gendarme if he minded if we set up camp  next to his office and house, to which he gladly agreed.   We set up camp, under the watchful gaze of the gendarme and his live-in girlfriend, Miriam.  We had read that the Gabonese really enjoyed their beer, and so Stewart exchanged an ice cold Ngok beer from Brazzaville for a Gabonese equivalent, and we showed off all  Stan’s modcons to him and Miriam, who were mighty impressed.  We even lent him a power point to charge his cell phone overnight. He made good use of it and eventually brought 3 batteries to charge.

 Smart Miriam and Gendarme  Lots of Pygmy ancestors for sure!

After a supper under the stars, we crawled into our rooftop tent, and were fast asleep by 9pm.

The next morning, after a cup of coffee(Annaliese) and tea (Stewart),  we packed up Stan and had our next visit from the couple. As Miriam refused to have her picture taken the night before(she wanted to get dressed smartly as she is from Brazzaville) we took some pictures and she was off to work. We donated a South African bandana SA flag replica to the much delighted gendarme and headed west on the tar road. We immediately noticed that, although the locals we passed on the roadside were not as well dressed as the Congo locals, they were smiling and friendly, waving vigorously with both hands as we roared past, reveling in the good going.

 Local Shopkeeper   Every town has a roundabout with some figure/statue, this is in                                                                                                                                                     Lastourville

Our first stop was Leconi, where our few words of French, learnt during our stay in Congo, were much appreciated by the Customs and Immigration officials, and we sailed through with no problems.

The vegetation changed from savannah to the most unbelievable OMG jungle……as Stewart said, we expected to see Tarzan any minute! It was the most unbelievable feeling to drive through this tropical fairyland. What made the journey even more surreal was that we hardly saw people, which we suppose is understandable as the total population of Gabon is only 1,42 million of which 500 000 live in the capital, Libreville. Compare this to Brazzaville’s 1,3 million people just in one city and 7 million in Kinshasa!! Go Gabon!!

 The amazing jungle Typical street scene

From then on we traveled steadily westwards to Moanda, and onwards to Franceville, through beautiful virgin tropical jungle, interspersed  with small villages and smiling locals. In general though the villages were all closed up and the only sign of life was the washing on the line. Finally it seems that we reached a country where both the males and the females seem to share the workload. Only thing though , is that once again it seem to be only the females that do the carrying of heavy stuff. Here they do it on their backs, there is a strap around their head which is attached to a big basket hanging behind their back loaded with anything from wood to Cassava. We eventually called them the turtle people because it was mostly old ladies who due to all the years of carrying, couldn’t walk up straight anymore.

  The "turtle" ladiesChecking routes with Stephen

 We reached Franceville in good time, where we bumped into 2 overland trucks that had left Hippocampe  a few days before  us, on their way to Ghana. After a brief reunion and note swapping, we enjoyed a late breakfast of takeaway  baguette, filled with the most delicious combination of mince, chickpeas and mysterious local relishes. At the equivalent of R12 each, it was DELICIOUS.

We also bumped into another acquaintance whom we met in Brazzaville (are we becoming locals by any chance) who is the director of some Wildlife conservation project funded by the US. He gave us some good tips about Gabon as he has been living thee for a number of years.

After the luxury of tar the road changed to good dirt road cutting deep through the jungle, so going was easy until we got to a split in the road with no indication of which way Lope was. Out of the blue, a bakkie arrived and out got JC (!!!!!) FROM THE FREE STATE how is that for luck ? He has been in Gabon for 2 years and gladly showed us the way. Just as we started to relax and singing the praises of Gabon’s amazing roads…….the road deteriorated fast and Stan had to be put through his paces by 2 drivers still not sure he has fully recoverd.

 JC who appeared from nowhere!Trying to "pay it forward" after all the help

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It seems that this stretch will henceforth be known as the “Social road” as we also bumped into Michael O’Sullivan from Ireland/ US on his way from Spain to Cape Town on his bike!! We had a great chat, swapping stories about the route and the African nations right there in the middle of the road. We parted ways, Michael concerned about the soft sand in Congo and us concerned about the worst road in Africa waiting for us between Cameroon and Nigeria.

 The Lope hotel and IdaAfrican legacy!!

We bumped along and reached Lope in the gathering dusk, found the Lope Hotel and nearly fainted when we saw the place. WOW WOW, someone finally woke up and realized the potential of LOCATION! The hotel consists of chalets right on the river (most importantly FACING the river) surrounded by stunning gardens, a deck and dining room with a view of the river. This was the first time since Namibia that we found a place that utilizes its potential. Needless to say, it came with an absurd price tag, but we decided to take the plunge and stay there. Only problem was ……there is no hot water and the pool has no water, but hey, it looks great and was the fanciest place we have seen in a long time, so who complains! What made it even nicer was that Ida, the receptionist could speak perfect English. We had a good supper, a good clean up, treated all the insect bites that is the legacy of Africa and has now become  nightly ritual and passed out. PLEASE do not believe anyone that tell you it is possible to prevent getting bitten ….It is absolutely IMPOSSIBLE  as you WILL get bitten no matter what and your legs WILL look like you have measles/small pocks/sores etc.

Lope to Oyem

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 We left Lope Hotel  just after 9am, after  a leisurely stroll next to the river , a clean up and breakfast. 

We had made a late change of plan, and decided rather than to go to Libreville for the night, we would push on north to Oyem, in order to save time. Traveling to Libreville would have meant an extra 340 km or so of round trip, and we just did not have the time due to our Nigerian visa that expires on 22nd June which meant that we had to travel non stop all the way. There were only two problems with the new plan, however, one being that we needed to fill up with diesel  somewhere other than Lope, where there was none, and the other was that we needed to find somewhere or someone who was prepared to swap US$ for the local CFAs currency . Gabon  accepted Euros universally, but only the bigger centres changed dollars.

 

We were advised by Ida that we could get diesel at the town  of Ndjoli, and hopefully we could also change dollars there. Ndjoli was on the road to Libreville, but only meant a backtracking of 70km .

We headed west on a steadily deteriorating road,  again meeting  the 2 Overland trucks driven by Matt and Stephen on the way. They were also headed north, and were hoping to find a shortcut through the forest to cut off the loop to Ndjoli.

This road was clearly used  used by a procession of logging trucks, carrying massive logs from unseen places deep in the forest. Although it was sad to think of the deforestation, at least we were glad to see that there were no Chinese apparently involved. Their presence in the rest of Africa south of Gabon was increasingly disconcerting, as they seemed to be helping themselves to Africa’s raw materials, with little or no concern   for the consequences.

 One of the hundreds of trucks carrying logs. All we can hope for is that they replant ,as it seems the rainforests are under serious threat.

We eventually hit the main tarred road heading south west to Libreville, and north to Oyem   and the Cameroun border beyond. We turned west to Ndjoli, and  were dismayed as the tarred road quickly became  a  bone jarring potholed mass . We slowly crawled into the noisy busy Ndjoli, and managed to find a local Lebanense businessman (don’t ask what business!!) who exchanged some currency for us. We then filled up with diesel, bought some takeaway chicken and pork (they said it was pork) for lunch, and headed back east along the same road we had just driven , for 70km, before heading north to Oyem.

 

One thing that we did not notice up until now and only read about, was the eating and selling of “bushmeat” The local tradition of eating wild animals, and we mean anything from Chimps to Gorilla to Crocodiles, is  real conservation problem and is still practiced widely despite it being outlawed by most governments. It was truly horrible to see how the villagers display for sale  the carcasses of monkeys, pieces of meat that could be gorilla as it looked big enough, civets, snakes and any kind of wild animals.

The road   improved markedly once we had backtracked past our original turnoff to Lope, and we made increasingly good time as we headed northwards. At the village Lalara we passed the 2 Overland trucks again, who had successfully negotiated a shortcut through the forest. Shortly after we reached the Equator, and stopped for a photo session, before moving from “winter” to “summer”.

 YEAAAAAAAAH we made it !!!!!!!!!!!

During our enforced stay in Brazzaville, we had spent some time putting our CVs on the internet, and applying for various jobs scattered around the world. We thought we might make up the hole in our budget by working for a year, and then finishing our travels down the east coast of Africa a year later than planned.

 

One of the jobs Stewart had applied for was teaching English in Germany, and much to our surprise, we had received an email back, requesting a telephonic interview. We had arranged for the call to be made at  4.30pm that afternoon, and so were now driving northwards at breakneck speed in search of cell phone reception.. We eventually found reception in the village of Mitzig, and sat waiting for the call. When it had not come through by 5pm, we tried to call Germany, but had to be satisfied with leaving a message on an answering machine.

 

We then drove the last stretch into Oyem, arriving just as it was getting dark, and beginning to rain. The rain put paid to our thoughts of camping, and we instead booked into Hotel M’Vet Palace.  After the rain stopped, we took a drive into the town, and found an internet café to send out a few emails. We then had a late supper back at the restaurant, Stewart managing to get a meal of fish and rice, with mustard sauce despite thinking he ordered chicken curry and rice! Our French clealy needs some more work.

 

 We had driven  585 km that day  in 9 hours, the first  140kms from Lope to the main road  having taken 3 ½ hours.  We decided to leave early the next morning to drive all the way to Limbe, a distance of just over 700km. We hoped the border crossing would be smooth, and roads even smoother.

Stats and Helpful Info

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The following are some stats as well as some info that might be helpful to future travelers:

 

(Please note that the prices are relevant at the time that we traveled and should therefore be adjusted. The cost of the accommodation does not include some “freebies” like staying at friends or bushcamping, and the amount reflected is per couple per night)

 

Country :  Gabon

 

Dates:16-18 June

 

Exchange rate:R1 to 50 CFAs

 

Number of Nights:  three

 

Distance traveled:  1 250km

 

Average distance per day:  565km

 

Cost of Diesel:   R9.40 per litre

 

Average fuel consumption:   7.23 km per litre

 

Diesel used:  173 litres

 

Worst Road/s:  Lope to Njoli

 

Best Road/s:    north of Njoli (past the bridge) to Oyem

 

Favourite new destination:  Lope

 

Average cost of accommodation:   R600 per night

 

Number of Bushcamps:  one

 

Cheapest Acommodation:   Oyem (Hotel M’Vet Palace  - R400 per night)

 

Most enjoyable:  Hotel Lope