We didn’t spend much time in compact Gabon, but just enough to be mesmerized by its pristine natural beauty and stalk buffaloes and elephants one afternoon at Reserve de la Lope. We did find getting stamped in and out of Gabon to be problematic, as unlike every other country in Africa where entry and exit stamps are issued at the border, Gabon required us to get stamped in Bitam (a 45 minute drive inland). The same was true on our way out of country, as we were forced to backtrack to the village of N’Dende, located 50 km from the border in order to obtain our exit stamps. Other than that bureaucratic hassle, we found Gabon to be quite picturesque, with beautiful forestry and stunning landscape vistas. The only things we despised about Gabon were the dreaded fourous, tiny insects that left all of us covered in red dots and itchy welts.
23 Feb: Immediately upon entering Gabon, we were all instantly impressed by how neat, orderly and well off it appeared. There was no litter on the sides of the road, grass was groomed, and the roads were well marked and signposted. The only other interesting tidbit we noticed was that each house had a section of the yard dedicated for a graveyard, complete with headstones, crosses and flowers. How bizarre that these graveyards weren’t in a town cemetery…perhaps the Gabonese practice ancestor worship? We had to drive to the town of Bitam where we had to stop by the police station to get our passports stamped in for entry. Gabon was the first country where the officials would not do this for us as the border itself, as the town of Bitam is a 45 minute drive from the border crossing. Chris found an awesome open area past the town of Oyem to bush camp and our group planned a new country party. The cook group (Nancy, Matt and Ruth) made Mexican pasta bar, complete with guacamole and real cheese! Even though several people were drinking, the party atmosphere fizzled out and it wasn’t a late party night after dinner. The stars were sparkling in the sky tonight though, making for fun star gazing.
24 Feb: After breakfast, we had a drive day today, leaving Oyem behind and headed towards Lope National Park. The road was excellent, and we made incredible time, stopping at Mitzic for cook group shopping at 10 am. We quickly found out that Gabon lives up to its expensive reputation, with Smirnoff Ices priced double what we could get them for in Cameroon. After stocking up on any necessities, we drove onward and stopped for a tasty lunch of hummus…yum. We officially crossed the equator an hour after lunch, and stopped for a group photo to commemorate the event. The weather took a turn for the worse and rain poured down, so we briefly put up the beach and put down the windows, but it got to be too stifling hot with the tarps down so we quickly took a truck vote and decided we’d rather be wet and cold than dry and hot. After driving for several hours, Chris managed to find a spectacular bush camp site in Ayem (according to Matt’s GPS camera) overlooking a beautiful watering hole. The sunset was absolutely fantastic and Hoff played the soundtracks to Jurassic Park, Superman and Indiana Jones…great stuff. Everyone agreed that tonight’s sunset was the prettiest one of the trip thus far, and definitely an African sunset to remember. Cook group (Tim, Pam and Lars) made a tasty mince and potatoes with carrots for dinner tonight and it went down well. Since Hoff and Robby built up such a nice fire, Nancy brought out a bag of marshmallows for roasting. We stayed up chatting by the fire and stuffing ourselves silly before calling it a night.
25 Feb: Wasps kept buzzing outside our tent this morning and their loud, incessant noise prevented us from having a sleep in. Since breakfast was at 7:30 am, we didn’t have to get up super early and were surprised to see that cook group had laid out guacamole to spread on our bread, a nice change from the norm. Supplemented with a cup of soup, we finished breakfast in no time and packed away the tent for our 8:30 am departure. Our drive to Gabon’s Lope National Park was short, and we made good time on the dirt road to reach our stop for the day, at the lovely manicured lawns of Motel E.Mbeyi in the village of Lope itself. Nancy immediately set out to organize our safari excursion, and came back with the information that it would cost 18,185 CFA for both the 3 hour jeep drive or the 3 hour walk, so we all opted for the drive. Mike and Frans decided they wanted to take the train to Libreville and onward Point Noire where they would meet up with our group in a week’s time. We all sought out electricity, and did a quick load of laundry before our lunch of tuna fish sandwiches (yum). Afterward, a quick run through the shower was a nice way to cool down, followed by a bit of catch up on our journals and photos. By 4 pm, we were ready for our safari through the park but were disappointed when the game reserve officials pulled up in a single jeep and told the 12 of us to crowd in the back of the vehicle…yeah, maybe 12 midgets but there was no way in hell that 12 full grown adults were going to fit in the back of the jeep! So Becky opted out of the trip while Robby decided to give it a whirl after 3 other folks (Tim, Lars and Dowelly) also decided to forego the excursion as 8 passengers was a lot more manageable than 12. While the excursion went on, Becky got a copy of Tim’s Photoshop and was able to work on the website for a bit. She spent the late afternoon chatting with Pam and Norma who said the Lope Hotel was definitely worth a visit with lots of photographic opportunities. Nancy helped out the cook group tonight as Luke and Bree were on the safari. Dinner consisted of chicken, mushroom soup and risotto…yum. Poor Marie walked into the ditch when she was checking on her laundry and hurt her knee but thankfully it was nothing serious. Robby stayed up late by the power point working on the website to the accompaniment of loud Christian prayers and chanting coming from the neighboring building…it was a bit hilarious as we didn’t realize we had camped right next to the most religious people in Lope! Becky worked on the website for a bit before falling asleep watching a couple episodes of tv shows.
26 Feb: Breakfast was pretty kickass this morning, consisting of leftover chicken risotto, toast with peanut butter and honey (yum), and fried eggs (do it yourself style). While Becky was frying up her eggs, Mattie got a bit impatient so he tossed in his egg into the pan and shortly thereafter, all 3 eggs attempted to commit suicide by running into each other. The boys laughed that Becky was probably the worst egg frier amongst them, and they quickly realized why Robby normally does the egg frying! Robby had to rush off to do a quick cook group shopping experience before our 08:30 am departure, and his group was able to scrounge up a bit of bread and frozen turkey. The bread purchase was quite an interesting experience…even though the bakery had sufficient bread to sell, they refused to sell cook group all of their bread as they wanted to reserve some for their other customers. Hence the boys had to run around town scurrying for several loaves of bread from each store and in the end, they couldn’t get enough bread for both lunch and dinner. We had a bit of trouble when we pulled out of Motel E.Mbeyi when Chris inadvertently pulled the town’s power cable loose. After realizing that the truck’s edge had caught on the cable, he immediately stopped but the damage was already done…the cable hung loosely over the ground and was sagging far closer to the ground than before. Since the manager of the motel was not around for him to sort out any financial damages, we ended up driving away and the group consensus was that the next Oasis truck would sort out the mess? It was a bit bizarre and none of us felt good about leaving the motel’s grounds in that condition, especially since the staff had been so nice and accommodating towards us. Since Mike and Frans had opted to take the train to Libreville, we had plenty of room on the truck to spread out and get comfortable. We backtracked the same route that we drove in towards the National Park, passing the posh Hotel Lope and admiring the fantastic scenery all around us. Our lunch stop was memorable for being the most hellacious experience of the trip to date. These tiny flies buzzed all around each of us and landed on whatever moisture they could detect, making for an unbearable feeling. Crawling in and amongst every body crevice and orifice, the flies were absolutely relentless, and no one escaped their interest. Luke had about 300 flies on his back at one point, and everyone took photos of it in disbelief. Lunch consisted of corned beef, and the flies dive bombed into the bowl of it like kamikaze pilots, committing suicide in mass. Becky supplemented her lunch with a can of tuna while Robby devoured her portion of corned beef (nicknamed “corned fly hash” after our dismal lunch experience. Everyone ate as fast as humanly possible and we were off, with the breeze from our drive the only thing keeping the annoying tiny flies at bay. After lunch, we had another further 5 hours of driving towards Pointe-Noire, Congo. Our destination tonight was a bushcamp, and we mentally prepared ourselves for several weeks of bush camping until we reach Namibia (as we still have the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola to look forward to). Our campsite tonight was stifling hot, and Hoff’s angels sweated as they prepared a delicious dinner of grilled turkey wings, potato salad and fried cabbage for dinner. Everyone raved about tonight’s dinner which was enthusiastically received and went down well. It was an early night with most folks retiring to their tents around 8:30 pm.
27 Feb: Thankfully the heat from last night was tempered by the rain that pelted us off and on throughout the night. It was a poor night’s sleep as mosquitoes had invaded our tent and they attacked us mercilessly all night long. Eventually, we resorted to spraying the inside of our tent with DEET and that was the only thing that allowed us both to get back to sleep as the mossies finally relented and left us alone. Breakfast was at 7 am and everyone complained about getting bitten by tiny insects all night long. However, the torture wasn’t over, it had only begun unbeknownst to us! Gabon apparently is infamous for its fourous, tiny insects that bite and leave red splotches all over their victim’s body. The itchiness is only apparent several days later and can be relieved with calamine lotion. Pretty soon, everyone sitting around the breakfast campfire started noticing distinct red spots all over each other’s bodies…uggh! The one thing we can’t stand about Gabon is its abundance of biting insects! Probably the worst victim of the fourous was Luke, as his body was covered by dozens of bug bites resulting in hundreds of red splotches. It got so bad that he finally resorted to donning a t-shirt and long trousers instead of his usual attire of shorts and no shirt! Everyone had been suffering as a result of the limited overhead space because of the truck rat, and lo and behold, Chris appeared with a dead rat trophy that he tossed into the camp fire to everyone’s relief. The truck rat was finally caught, killed by one of the rat traps that Nancy had heard go off during the night but she had mistakenly assumed that someone had knocked on the truck’s door. Chris wanted to be a bit cautious however, asking us to refrain from putting our stuff overhead for a full 24 more hours to see if any new rat droppings appeared. We were on the road by 8 am and drove directly towards the town of Lambarene to gas up, fill up our jerry cans and go cook group shopping. Becky’s group had to cook the day after tomorrow, so the decision was made to forego meat and create a vegetarian dinner. Unfortunately, Gabon lives up to its expensive reputation as we found eggs to be outrageously priced at 150 CFA per egg! Our best bet was a large pumpkin that we snagged for 1500 CFA and we wandered to the outskirts of the market to get French bread for breakfast and lunch. The other vegetables were a bit outrageous, so we made a group decision to skip the purchase of tomatoes and instead bought avocados which turned out to be a bargain at 1000 CFA for 4 large ones. Since we had plenty of time to kill in Lambarene, we dropped off our cook group items and wandered around to buy some personal items which included generic Pringles, tiger balm and candy. After loading back onto the truck, it was another uneventful drive day with our goal of reaching the border with Congo. We had a brief lunch stop at an actual rest stop, and immediately after lunch, the tarmac paved road ended and the dirt road began…bring it! At 5 pm, we were about 120 KM from the Congo border, when Chris pulled into a bushcamp site, which was located near a nursery. Dinner was a delicious chicken pesto (Sean, Marie, Norma and Katherine because Mike and Frans were off the truck and Nancy thought it would be easier to combine them into one super group) and we spent the evening working on the website.
28 Feb: After breakfast, Dowelly and Hoff came up with the idea of the “Breakfast Bitch Distance Game” which consisted of everyone guessing how far (cumulative) we would travel today, with everyone committing their answer in Kilometers to a piece of paper with their name on it. Whoever had the furthest distance from the number of kilometers actually driven would have to serve as the breakfast bitch for the person who had guessed closest to the distance driven. It was game on with 16 out of 18 of us jumping at the chance to compete (Katherine and Tim opted out) and Nancy and Chris wanted in as well. Our guesses ranged from a low spectrum of Sean (140 KM) and a high end of Sara (298). Right before we left our campsite, an official pulled up to inquire where we were going and what we were doing. He advised us that the road towards Congo was quite bad, and that we would miss the roads of Gabon shortly. We made good time during our morning drive, reaching the town of N’Dende and seeing a signpost for Congo a further 48 KM away. However, it was all too good to be true as we hit the border in no time only to be told that we had neglected to get stamped out of Gabon at the police station in N’Dende, the town we had passed 48 KM ago! Nancy made an intercom announcement telling us that we had to backtrack and a furious truck debate ensued as to whether the distance should be counted against everyone’s guesses since we were actually backtracking, not moving forward. A group consensus was taken and everyone eventually agreed that it should be the final, total KM indicated on the odometer so any and all distance driven, regardless of direction, should be counted. It was a hot bumpy ride back to N’Dende where we finally found the police station and trampled in to fill out the obligatory forms. By the time that was completed, it was time for lunch, so we made a brief lunch stop and than drove onward towards the border.