learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play
06.26.2009 - 07.04.2009 22 °C
Heading into Gabon, the rain-forest ecosystem encountered in Cameroon was intensified and though the route we took was windy, it made for spectacular views on the many long drive days. The second day in Gabon made for a personal victory - entering the southern hemisphere for the first time! Water did indeed flow straight down a funnel, and contrary to my childhood belief that I would spontaneously combust upon straddling the equator I managed to remain as pale as ever. In fact, one of the most surprising aspects of Gabon was the climate. Most days required a jumper and the nights were spent bundled in my sleeping bag, and this is out of the rainy season.
June 28th, our 3rd day in the country, we made it to Lambarene, home of the Albert Schweitzer (Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1952) Hospital. The clinic was originally set up to treat lepers, and while it is closed, a new hospital has been built and is free to locals. The original is now a museum and remarkably intact, the only downside to the visit was how rushed we were since they close early on Sundays. Most of us made the visit and encountered a slight problem when meeting back up with the truck - there are 2 post offices and we met up at the wrong one. Tempers flared a bit and cross words were exchanged by some but all was forgotten in the evening thanks to the equator party Lene and John H organized for us. Everyone performed short skits which were all nothing short of hilarious. Kudos to Martin, Gwynne and Tamara, the cook group for the evening, who slaved over the campfire making pizzas for 5 hours! The morning proved to be painful for most however, as our camp was infiltrated with virtually invisible insects which are immune to deet and leave painful red splotches. In some cases entire legs were covered in these making me think another visit to the leper hospital was in order. They are also some of the most painful bites encountered; maybe not as bad as some the bouts I’ve had with flea bites, but worse than bed bugs and mossie bites for sure.
After leisurely packing up camp we set off on a long and windy drive for Reserve de la Lope, where there were rumored to be lowland gorillas. We set up camp for 3 days here, scheduled a game drive for the second afternoon, and arranged for our radiator to be fixed (again). On the game drive we saw forest elephants from a lengthy distance along with a couple of indistinguishable monkeys and a buffalo that wandered off pretty quickly. Most thought it to be a fairly lame game drive but considering this was my first one I wasn’t too fussed and it turned out to be a pretty owesome Canada Day.
The following morning we set off towards Franceville but our fickle radiator let us down. “George” (the newly named pesky rad) went through 100 L in 2 hours and eventually left us stranded on an unfrequented logging road. Luckily a passing car informed us of a logging camp nearby where we hoped to find a mechanic to help us out. Chris, Gary and the good Samaritan drove back to enquire while the rest of us amused ourselves for a couple hours while trying to fend off the fourous (tiny demonic insects). The crew arrived with good news of a mechanic and we drove to the small logging village of Offoue. The town was so small that the only food we could find was a few tins of sardines and manky looking fish from the freezer of a small general store. The cooks managed to conjure something up while the rest of us found the local bar to hang around. the local millwrights mending our rad were very friendly and hospitable, and had about 8 of us over for drinks that night. Days like these, while stressful initially, always seem to turn into the most memorable and authentic. Once again we were saved by the generosity of locals and I seem to be consistently astonished with African hospitality.
Camped in amongst graders and logging trucks, we set off on our way the next morning after filling our jerry cans at the train station. It is worth mentioning the enormous amount of logging taking place in Gabon; trains kilometers long full of trees at least 2m in diameter are constantly rolling past, and slash pile fires can be seen most every night. I don’t consider myself a tree hugger by any means but the clear cutting of such pristine rain forest is upsetting. We entered Gabon at a rather historical time; a week after the death of president Bongo, who has been in power the last 42 years (making him the longest serving head of government of any African country, and the world's longest-serving non-monarch ruler). There has been much controversy over his green initiatives in recent years; while he has set aside much of Gabon’s area as national parks for ’conservation’ and tourism marketing, the loop holes for limitless logging and mining in these ’protected areas’ is shady. It will be interesting to see what the next cabinet (ran by his son) brings. Even the lonely planet guide cites Bongo’s imminent death as a momentous and possibly volatile event. Given the recent bereavement, however, it is for the best we planned not to go through the capital, Libreville, during such an unpredictable time.
We finally made it into Franceville, the only city visited in Gabon with much more than a few shops and street vendors (which has been good considering it is the most expensive country in Africa - the Lonely Planet jokes it costs $20 a day to breath in Libreville). We treated ourselves to a pizza lunch and most ran off to the first internet cafes encountered in a couple weeks. We only stayed a few hours in the city and bush camped en route to the border in a gravel pit. The following day was another drive day to the Congo border town of Leconi after passing through Bongoville.
Note: I have updated the Cameroon entry and have added more photos.. trying to get this caught up to at least South Africa, but will be leaving wifi territory soon.