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

                                                                                                                                                                                we got

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.