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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Gabon 2

Day 5:  a very bad nights sleep. Our best guess is that there was a funeral earlier in the day and there was an all night wailing session/wake. This was not a quiet affair, but consisted of very loud singing, complete with drums and other instruments. The morning dawned with very thick fog. The fog/mist seems to be a feature of the climate here.  There has been fog/mist most mornings.

We drove to Lekoni; ~ 100 km from Franceville for a day trip. The drive along the Bateke Plateau is Green on the Michelin map. Initially you pass through some forest, the quite suddenly the forest stops and grassland starts. Magnificent green rolling hills with great long vistas to a far horizon. We drove to Leconi gorge. It was a great sight, hard to explain. From a geographers perspective it seems to be more of a basin than a gorge. The basin seems to have been created by erosion the side of a hill. At the bottom of the basin are a series of long narrow features. But we know that does not really explain. Suffice to say it was worth the drive.

We then came back to Franceville; got a Gabon SIM card (the easiest time in Africa, 3 minutes!) and did some fruit & veg shopping at the local market.

We did some chores in the late afternoon. Unfortunately the pool was being painted, so swimming was not possible.

Later we caught up with Dave Payne from BHPB. They kindly had us around for a meal and a few drinks. We had made contact to get information on the roads etc further on in Gabon. Dave was very helpful. It was great to sit around and yarn for a bit.

Avril driving. 236 km. Except for the last few km into the gorge, the road was all good tar.

Day 6:  Many thanks to the owner and staff at Hotel Masuku ( The location is great, the pool refreshing and the beer cold.

a long day in the car. We got up early with the hope of getting away to an early start. We finally got on the road at 07:40 after withdrawing some CFA from an ATM, buying some baguettes and filling the car with fuel. Interestingly they put in 160 l into our 150 l tank, which was not empty. Not sure when they last calibrated the gauge.

We returned on good roads to Lastrouville and onto Koulamoutou. In the latter town we asked a gentleman the way to the next town. Without hesitation he jumped into the vehicle and rode with us until he was sure we would not get lost. Such a great gesture.

We had been told by 3 different people that the road to Mouila was good, after driving the road it confirms our suspicion that the African definition of good is that you can make it through, not that the road is good in an Australian sense of the word. After Koulamoutou the road deteriorated, comparisons with the farmers track came back to mind. In the middle there was 80km section of higher quality road, we suspect courtesy of the loggers. The last ~ 200 km was all in mountains/hills, lots of ups & downs with many zig – zag assents and descents.

It was forest all the way, but not the thick jungle type rain forest with vines etc. Whilst still very thick it was more scrubby than the rain forest we have seen previously. In parts it was so close it formed a  tunnel over the road. Unfortunately it was hard to get any good views.

At 16:00 we consulted the GPS on sunset (18:06 according to it), looked at the road and the time and decided that we could make it to Mouila before dark, which we did.

Following other blogs we looked for the Catholic Mission. The coordinates we had were not that accurate, so we asked directions from a young chap at the side of the road. Keen to practice his English, he rode with us to the mission. We would not have found it without him. Again, a great gesture from a young person to help us.

The mission is on a large river with cut lawn, quite picturesque. The nuns have moved out and there are a couple of young chaps staying there, again keen to practice their English.

Two bits of bad news; our windscreen has a crack (not from a stone chip) and the Mitchley/Waeco fridge (from Ray’s tent city on West Terrace ) has an error: “err2”. When we looked this up in the instruction manual it said to go to an Authorised dealer – very helpful.

Avril driving. 485 km. 10 hours. S 010 53’ 41.6’’  E 0110 03’ 31.1’’

Day 7:  writing this sitting on a large drift wood log at Mayumba, watching the waves. It was a hard days drive. We started off a bit later than normal and did some shopping. Then south down the N1, the main north – south artery for Gabon. In fact it is a gravel & dirt track this time of year. Most of the time just a couple of worn tyre marks. Then we change to the N6, which is really no better. The last 60 km into Mayumba was awful. There is a (free!) ferry over the lagoon to get to Mayumba. However, we suppose we need to say that the road was good, as we made it through without any major hassles. We both noted how courteous the drivers are here. If you come from behind, the trucks will pull over to let you pass. Lots of big waves and smiles from the locals.

The vegetation changed through out the day from some patches of rain forest to grasslands and scrubby forest. We also passed through a couple of ranges of hills. We saw our 1st wild life outside a park. A couple of black mongooses ran across the road in front of us. We have seen quite a few alive and dead snakes as well.

About 10 km from our destination we stopped to give a couple of young lads a lift, on the roof rack! They proved very helpful in giving directions etc.

We took a drive around town and stopped to give a chap a lift along the way. This was fortuitous. He is a guide for the Mayumba NP. So we have arranged for a 2 day trip into the park starting tomorrow.

We are camped 10m from the beach. It is white sand and the Atlantic is warm here. Ray has been for a swim.

Avril driving. 282 km. 7.0 hours. S 030 27’ 46.7’’  E 0100 40’ 37.9’’

Day 8:  An amazing & incredible day. Day one of the dry season, so we got some drizzle for 30 minutes early in the morning. Things did not start out that well. After waking & packing, we did a little shopping and then went to the National Parks office to meet our guide and get permits. The NP Director checked we were OK to go into the park. She stressed the road wad not that great etc. We got the permits (double the price the guide had said) and were ready to go. It turns out the guide is employed by WCS and they are not willing to let him go – great. So, after some toing & froing with a WCS lady we managed to break into the NP Directors program (she had international visitors) and she allocated us an Eco Guard; Pascal.  We then drove to Pascals house so he could get his kit, bought some additional food and were on our way. The locals were amused at Ray sitting on the roof rack.

The track is sand the whole way (Mias would have loved it!). After an initial hiccup (we forgot to deflate the tyres, sorry Mias) we were OK all the way. Most of the way the track is along small ledge between the beach and sand dunes. At times the track goes inland and at a water crossing we got stuck and reversed out and decided that was far enough. So we drove back to the beach and picked a place to camp and set up.

The beach is stunning, km after km of white sand. The big downer is the enormous volume of, almost exclusively plastic (we also found a DCS monitor from a platform of rig on the beach), rubbish along the way. It has to be seen to be believed. This cannot all be local; most of it must be brought in by the currents from far away.

During the drive we saw a large monitor lizard, probably hunting for turtle eggs.

After setting up camp we go for a swim. It is great. After all the humidity and damp, to be in the sea is a welcome relief.

We did a ~ 4 hour safari walk. The beach is ~ 10 m wide, then there is a 10 m ledge of coastal ground cover, then 10 m forest, then 100 m of grass land and then the forest starts again an goes to a lagoon that runs along the coast. Our game walk is out along the grasslands and back along the beach. For our efforts we saw a sititunga. We got quite close (~ 15m) and it did not see us and continued grazing.

Then back to the camp where we have an open fire, the first since Angola.

In broken French/English we asked about turtles. Pascal says we must get up at 12 midnight to see the turtles. So after 3 hours sleep we got up.

On the beach in front of our tent ( 5 m) there is a turtle building her nest to lay eggs. We are amazed by her size, maybe 2 m long and 1 m wide. It is incredible. We watch as she digs her nest and lays her eggs. Over the next 2 hours we see 2 turtles do this and return to the sea. We have all seen this on a nature program, but to actually be here in person and see it live is amazing. We could go on and on about the experience, the hole must be 1.5m deep, starting out quite large and then narrowing to a cylinder. The digging technique is slow and definite. Using her rear flippers she scrapes a little sand out and brings it to the top of the hole. Then she lays ~ 80 eggs. She is again very definite in putting the sand back and patting it down later by layer. The exhaustion can almost be felt.

Avril driving. 64 km. 7.5 hours. S 030 43’ 38.8’’  E 0100 58’ 27.4’’

Day 9:  we got up in time for a 06:00 safari walk. Day 2 of the dry season, it starts to drizzle very early on the walk. After ~ 3.5 hours we decide this is not fun and to return to base. Just as we get back, it pelts down. So much for the dry season so far.

For our efforts we see a buffalo; it is suspicious and runs across in front of us the stops, turns to face us and stare at us. It does this 4 or 5 times then decides, this is probably not good so runs into the forest.

We spent the next 5 hours inside the accommodation module, trying to wait out the rain. Eventually the rain eases and we pack up quickly and get underway. We see a buffalo on the beach – so now we can claim to have seen at least 1 animal on a beach!

Avril does a great job driving back through the sand. Under Pascal’s direction we take an alternative route, this is water overlaying sand. At times the water is only a few inches deep and at other times up to 2 feet deep. The Landcruiser under expert control has no issues.

We get back to Mayumba at 17:15 and drop Pascal off. We were fortunate to have him as a guide. He was fantastic and could not do enough to help us.

We then set up camp where we were on day 7. We discover the huge building we are in front of belongs to cabinet minister (who would have thought!). There is a hotel and restaurant to one side of the mansion. The previous day we had asked the owner if the restaurant was open and she assured us it was. After making camp we walked to the restaurant full of expectations. But, it was not open!

However, waiting outside was a French chap (waiting for his room key). He quickly assesses the situation and insists we go to dinner with him. This involves taking a motor boat across the lagoon to a hotel on the other side. There we met some great people who are setting up a saw mill in the area. They were a mix of South African & French folks. We had a nice meal and great fellowship. A wonderful surprise.

A side note: One of the things we need to contend with is the constant humidity and the associated damp. It is almost impossible to dry clothes and a most of the time there is a damp feeling on the sheets when we go to bed. Not all that pleasant.

Day 10: when we get up we see what we hope is a thick costal mist. However, after breakfast the mist turns into drizzle and rain. Day 3 of the dry season.

We pack up quickly again and start out to Gamba (where apparently you can see elephant on the beach). Due to the rain the road had deteriorated and it is hard work. After ~ 30 km we reach the turn off to Gamba. It is hard to find and not marked, so we needed to quiz villagers to make sure we were on the right track. We had been warned by everyone from Dave Payne in Franceville, to the folks the previous evening, to every local we spoke to that the track was not good. If the locals say it is not good, it must be bad. And this was correct. It took ~ 1 hour to do 14 km, with a lot of serious 4WD involved. Then we came to a self operated manual ferry across a reasonably wide river. Mmmm, no, enough is enough. We decided to turn back rather than hammer the car. We were also a bit worried about our ability to get out if the rain persisted. Maybe if it was a sunny day and we did not have a camper with lots of wet and damp clothes etc we may have kept going. But not today.

We then drove back to the mission at Mouila, where we had stayed on day 6.

It rained or drizzled most of the day and we had to set up camp in the drizzle.

Avril driving. 300 km. 9 hours.

Day 11:  it drizzled and rained all night. After packing Ray bought some breakfast on the street. 2 boiled eggs in a baguette. Avril still prefers home made food. There are no plastic gloves here, so everything is done with hands on the food.

It drizzles and rains all the way the Lamberene. A big plus is that it is tar road all the way. An unexpected bonus. We still struggle to understand the Chinese construction program. The major river crossings are yet to be done and all the finishing touches e.g. kerbs are outstanding. Still we had an easy drive. The vegetation is mainly forest, but the scrubby sort not the thick jungle type.

After we arrived at Lamberene a vehicle pulled up in front of us. It was Didier the French chap from Mayumba. So we have lunch with him. Apparently the rain has not stopped down south and the road out of Mayumba and further on has deteriorated yet more. We feel vindicated in our decision not to go to Gamba.

We then proceeded to the Catholic Mission to find a place to stay. They offer to let us camp, but we decide on a bit of luxury (and to let the tent air) and go for a room.

After a bit of cleaning we went to the Albert Schweitzer hospital/museum. This is a bit of a disappointment. It is quite dilapidated and unkempt. It seems that at least part of the site is now a squatters camp or such.

After the visit Ray went off for a beer with a Swedish back packer also staying at the mission and Avril read and listened to the radio.

We have discussed it and the with the term “dry season” we think there must be a translation error from French to English

Avril driving. 193 km. 3 hours. S 000 41’ 29.6’’  E 0100 13’ 41.1’’

Day 12:  A day without rain. We had an easy start to the morning. The mission is also a kindergarten, so we watched all the kids line up and get ready for class.

We gave a lift on our roof rack to Bjorn, the Swedish backpacker. The looks on the faces of the locals as we drove along was great fun; astonishment, amazement, amusement etc. The road blocks were another matter. We got through the 1st block easily. The 2nd was a little more difficult. There was a skinny nasty cop and a chubby happy cop. The skinny nasty cop wanted us to pay some money (this all in French) but the chubby happy cop said no. So the nasty cop made Bjorn hop off the roof rack and squash into the front. As we left, the chubby cop made it clear we should change back around the corner. And so it went for every road block, Bjorn had to hop down and squash into the front and when we were out of sight of the cops, he would climb back onto the roof rack. This was a good system until ~ 40 km before Libreville when we struck some aggressive cops (very unusual for Gabon). They demanded money etc. We resisted this, but it was clear that the game was up. So Bjorn had to make his own way the rest of the trip. Coincidently he is again staying at the same place we are camping.

The road was fine until ~ Kango then there was a horror stretch for ~ 30 km. Now our memory may be fading with time, but, putting it out there, this stretch was as bad as some of the Angola stuff! Again the vegetation was forest – where there were not villages. Around the villages there is a small amount of cultivation, mainly bananas.

We crossed the equator again, hopefully the last time until we go south through Kenya.

We are camped at the Blue Sisters Mission in Libreville. Not an ideal set up. But being an oil town, Libreville has mainly expensive hotels. Most overlanders report no camping possibilities.

We did some shopping at one of the supermarkets.

Avril driving. 235 km. 6 hours. N 000 24’ 21.4’’  E 0090 26’ 56.9’’

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