10th of December – 23rd of December 2019:
The outward voyage went quick and we crossed the large bridge in no time to get to the Gabonese side of the river. There, the border officials already waited for us and checked our passports. Since we did not eat breakfast yet, we asked where the two men got their bread, which was laying around. They explained that someone gave it to them. After we said that we were hungry, they offered us two baguettes and this stopped our first ravenous hunger. After another control and a second bread with sardines, we made our way to the first city, where we were supposed to get our entry stamps.
The immigration officer there was extremely imperious and persisted that we have to give a copy of our hostel reservation and passport. Fortunately, the stressed official did not realize that we mistakenly made our hotel reservation in France. Afterwards, we followed the hilly tar road, which led us through thick forest.
For once, neither the village head nor his friends offered us breakfast and were surprised when we asked them where we could find something to eat. Many people think probably that we do not eat much due to our figure, but the opposite is the case.
Gabon has a higher level of development than most countries we visited in Africa and the prices are significantly higher than in Cameroon. The reason lays in the high fees the merchandisers pay on the border and each of the police checkpoints. In addition, Gabon does not produce enough foodstuff and therefore relies on imports.
For the first time since a while, we experienced rain while we were moving forward and needed some overcoming to expose ourselves to the wet weather after the lunch break.
Locals warned us that there are no more villages for the next 100 km and our map showed the same thing. At the end, there were small, deserted villages every couple of kilometers. Most families are self-sufficient and have a few banana and papaya trees behind the house. Therefore, we stopped from time to time and asked for fresh fruits as snacks. A luxury we really enjoy here in the tropics.
Since we left Nigeria, we try to wild camp more often and therefore have to find food beforehand. This can be difficult, since there are no restaurants in these small villages. Therefore, we asked a family if it was possible to use their kitchen to cook our rice. This was no problem and while Fabian cooked the rice, Adrian walked from door to door (not cape2cape) and asked if anyone has a bit of sauce left for our rice. A friendly family offered us even two fishes and therefore we had a delicious meal.
A generous family, who owns an electronics shop, provided free internet for us to update our blog. Whereas, it was raining hard and we could not continue. We observed that in most countries Lebanese or Mauritanians own the large grocery stores. This observation proved once more in the shop we bought a kilogram of rice. The nice Mauritanian offered us chairs and a drink while we waited for the rain to stop.
After around two hours, the rain decreased and we took the chance. We enjoyed a long downhill, ended in a valley, and followed a wild river through the jungle. We saw beautiful, colorful birds above our heads and heard various sounds out of the thick forest. When the sun appeared, water vapor emerged and we witnessed a stunning, almost romantic atmosphere.
Across the hilly terrain, we followed indirectly the brown, rapid stream. Regularly, we passed small bamboo forests, which created a tunnel high above the road. More and more trucks loaded with huge logs or already cut planks out of the expensive tropical wood overtook us with horrendous speed. Especially Chinese companies cut down the trees and transport them to the port.
Gabon has one of the highest exports of tropical timber in Africa and even has a monopoly with certain precious timber. Wood is after crude oil the second most important export good. Due to the rich crude oil deposits in front of the coast, the gross domestic product is one of the highest of all countries south of the Sahara. Therefore, the level of income is comparable with that of Argentina. More than 80% of the export revenue results from crude oil products.
In a village with a population of 80 people from two different families, we asked the village chief, if we could stay for one night. The chief allowed us to sleep in the living room and the bibulous community offered us more beer than we wanted, before we even could settle in. Most men were already tipsy when we arrived and the drunk men only went home when they almost could not sit on their chairs anymore.
This drinking orgy continued the next day before noon and already before sunset, the senseless discussions got louder and we withdrew ourselves. Despite the small size of the village, we met a Ghanaian, a Nigerian and a Cameroonian woman. All of them found a better life in Gabon. A Gabonese with French blood was very weird, since he had the Hakenkreuz on his arm and wore a moustache like Hitler. He proudly showed us his tattoo, but at the same time tried to explain the two shocked Swiss guys that he is not a racist. Another villager showed us his garden and invited us for lunch. We enjoyed the calm and easygoing atmosphere in the village and washed ourselves in a river for the first time in a while.
Before we left the small village, which has a bar for every eight inhabitants, the chief organized us an interesting breakfast. The combination of sardines out of the can, strawberry cookies, onions and Maggi made us laugh. Finally, we found some typical manioc stalks instead of the sold out bread, which was more appropriate. Directly after leaving the family, we saw a man approaching us with a dead baby crocodile, which he caught in the same river we washed ourselves the day before.
After 577 days, we finally crossed the equator and instead of following the road to the capital, we turned and started our adventure into the deserted area where the Lopé national park lays. After 70 km and several hundred meters climbing, we found a nice spot directly on the huge river called Ogowe.
Since we left the main road, we saw many monkeys, small antelopes and elephant shit. In Gabon, there are approximately 64’000 elephants, 35’000 chimpanzees and 25’000 gorillas. Additionally, leopards, forest elephants, crocodiles and hippos live in the forests and rivers of the country.
Due to the bad gravel road and the hilly terrain, we sweated heavily and realized that we were at the equator region. The beautiful forest- and savanna landscapes reimbursed for our exertions.
The advantage of this gravel road was the remoteness and therefore we experienced less traffic. The disadvantage is that we had to focus completely on the road and therefore only marveled from time to time at the landscape. Even drinking from our bottles while cycling was difficult, since we risked a fall.
Suddenly, a motorbike from Luxemburg overtook us. Carlos started two months ago from home and will take total six months to drive to South Africa and back to Luxemburg via the east coast of Africa. We quickly exchanged some experiences and continued separated ways afterwards.
After the bumpy road shook us thoroughly, we reached La Lopé, where most tourists book a tour into the national park to see forest elephants, lowland gorillas and many other animals. This expensive tour was above our budget and we hoped to see some animals during the next 50 km through the national park.
La Lopé lays on the riverside of the Ogowe River as well and additionally the railway line between Libreville and Franceville (670 km) stops here. The train transports passengers in the night, since at this time there are no wagons full with manganese ore on the tracks. Gabon is one of the richest countries in Africa when it comes to resources and has gold, manganese, uranium and iron ore at its disposal.
Our plan was to stock up with food items in La Lopé for the next days, but many things were not available anymore, since the trucks did not drive the bad road as often. Back on the road, birds twittering and muddy roads accompanied us. From time to time, we saw small black monkeys jump from one tree to another.
The landscape changed and we reached thick rain forest again and this reduced our range of vision to a couple of meters. In a small pygmy village, we could spend the night. Pygmies are people who lived in remote forests of Central Africa in the past. In addition, pygmies are famous for their small body size. Indeed, we met some adults in the village, who were maximum 1.50 m tall.
As already with other hosts in Gabon, we experienced not the same welcoming culture as in most of the previous countries in Africa. The people are nice and we always find a place for the night, but culinary they did not spoil us as before. From time to time, we almost had to beg for food. Interesting was that we were several times spontaneously invited for food by foreigners, but never by Gabonese.
The gravel road got worse and worse and at one spot, there were already two trucks, which were stuck. We knew the driver and his helpers. We saw them already three times and the first time was four days ago in the 175 km remote village of Alembé. The first time a tire exploded, the second time the motor did not work anymore and now there was a mud pool, a difficult hurdle to overcome.
Partly, we only saw mud and tire marks for several kilometers and the original road was not there anymore. In addition, mudslides made our journey more difficult and narrowed the passage. At an extremely slippery spot, Fabian fell and luckily only carried some abrasions away.
In small village, we rested for a bit to relax our tired legs. Unfortunately, the old village chief did not really care about us and therefore our hunt for food was complicated. There was only one restaurant in the village and the owner was not around for half of the day. Therefore, we had to wait for a long time to find some food. Finally, we cooked our rice with tomato sauce in the kitchen of the daughter of the chief. Sadly, the only person who helped us with bananas and other things was once more a foreigner.
We wanted to walk a bit in the forest since we arrived in this green country and finally had the chance to do it. We found some elephant tracks and followed them deep into the forest. After a few kilometers, we got hungry and returned.
We attacked the last part of the «Route Economique» more relaxed, since we heard that the gravel road was broader and apart from the corrugated parts, less muddy. Due to the many Chinese logging projects, new worker settlements originated, which contain beautiful wood houses.
Apparently, the Chinese and the Gabonese government planned in a collaboration, to tar this road and build new bridges. Unfortunately, the project stopped about a year ago and therefore all the bridge elements and huge gravel hills lay around.
Before sleeping, Fabian braced with the elbow on his mattress and suddenly, thousands of down feathers surrounded us. Of course, white Christmas was one of our most important wishes, but not necessary at the expense of our bed. In a night project, Fabian was luckily able to fix the damage and the next night was more comfortable again.
In every village, we saw hooks presenting the freshly hunted bush meat. Mostly we saw small antelopes, monkeys or even pangolins. People of this region eat practically only this exotic meat and the sale is an ideal source of income.
Since we entered Gabon, we saw already thousands of lizards. These agile animals are everywhere and cause a hellish noise when they run across the corrugated iron roofs.
In the last days, we learnt a lot about the nature and animal diversity in the tropics. A woman told us how she produces a beverage similar to coffee out of tree bark and a family showed us their manifold garden. The biggest problem are the elephants, which strip all the plantations bare in the night and therefore make agriculture very challenging. Many villagers told us that they see leopards, gorillas and other large mammals in their village on a regular basis.