24th of December 2019 – 4th of January 2020:
For the first time in a week, we had reception and could tell our families that we are still alive. Directly next to the city hall, the major allowed us to pitch our tent under the roof of stands. They even gave us an extension cable with a socket on it, which reached to our tent.
Thanks to the Christmas trees made of plastic and the red caps, even in Gabon some Christmas spirit was around. Especially the loud church singing reminded us that there are currently holidays.
By coincidence, we met the truck crew once more. They successfully delivered their products, but could not drive back to the capital, since the whole town was out of diesel.
A long ascent let us sweat like crazy and we both wished that we did not eat so much for breakfast. Maybe two baguette per person would have been enough!
Surprisingly, people in richer countries beg more than in poorer countries and are in general less hospital. In all of Africa so far, people were sure that our government sponsors our trip or that we would be rich after this journey.
The tarred road let us cover many kilometers, despite the hilly terrain. In the evening, a huge storm surprised us and we could sleep spontaneously in the living room of the female village head.
Instead of cycling directly to Franceville, we made a detour to a dam. Apparently, there is a waterfall and a vine bridge after the dam wall. The road led us across a few hills and we had a beautiful view onto the savanna landscape.
Since we reached Gabon, small insects called “fourous” bother us. Those animals leave behind red circles of around 1 centimeter in diameter on the skin. At least they are not itchy for too long and the traces are gone in around one day.
For the first time, we saw huge ant roads, which are interesting to observe. Even the butterflies in central Africa are many times larger than all butterflies we have seen so far on this trip. The largest had a wingspan of around 15 cm.
One morning, a bee attack made packing our tent together very troublesome and especially the sweaty clothes attracted the animals. We could only put on our clothes properly after a few kilometers, since we did not know if there were still animals hidden.
From above, the reservoir looked like there was not much water left. However, after we saw the river after the dam, we changed our impression. We approached a brown, torrential river. Where we expected a bridge across the river, we saw only a vine bridge. To our astonishment, there was no other bridge to the village on the other side and the people told us either we pay the price for the passage or we had to cycle 30 km back. Therefore, we discussed with Teddy, who was responsible for the bridge. Finally, he allowed us to pass the imposing bridge, made only out of vines. He only said that the bridge was not in the best condition and if something breaks, we would have to pay for the reparations.
A bit anxious after this warning, we carried our bicycles over the wobbly nature bridge and tried not to look down into the white foaming water. After approximately half an hour, we had carried everything on the other side and we realized immediately that the alleged village contained only three houses. Teddy has a restaurant with his wife and we hoped to find our deserved breakfast. After a short discussion, Teddy generously invited us and we ate together while the young father told us his life story.
After we visited the impressive waterfall, we pushed our bicycles up a hill, sweated a lot and hoped to meet a proper road soon. Unfortunately, we had to fight ourselves through a few kilometers on a overgrown trail and pushed on several occasions. Before we reached the broad, red-orange gravel road, we met the third highest mayor. He said it would not be a problem to pitch our tent on the terrain of the town hall.
When we arrived in Franceville, the security of the town hall said that we had to get the permission of the mayor first to spend the night on this terrain. At the end, the responsible person of the terrain arrived and shortly after the mayor. All of this on a Saturday! After we explained all people present our story, the mayor gave the subordinate money and said we should sleep in a beautiful hotel on his cost. Therefore, one man led us to a hotel and we arranged it in a way that we could rest for two days there.
We enjoyed the room with air conditioning, running water, electricity and our own bed. This was the first time since Senegal that we stayed in an official hotel, equipped with nice rooms. Our accommodation was directly next to an immense river, in which we could cool down.
While eating dinner, we met a Senegalese woman, which prepared a breakfast from her home country just for us.
After saying goodbye to all the new friends we made, we continued and it did not take long until we had to cycle many hills.
Bongoville is the hometown of the president’s family and this was obvious even when just driving through. Beautiful, modern houses and there were even tarred side roads. The former president Omar Bongo was the head of state in Africa who was in power the longest, before he died in 2009. This record of 41 years says a lot about the politics of this resource-rich state. At least he declared 10% of the country as a national park and therefore promoted tourism and the protection of biodiversity.
After Bongoville, the landscape changed rapidly and we found ourselves in a savanna environment. Just in small villages or next to rivers, there were trees and the vegetation was suddenly dry and sparse. Suddenly, around a dozen road cyclists passed us, who probably trained one of the seven stages of the cycling competition “La Tropicale Amissa Bongo”. Shortly before the last bigger town in Gabon, the police officers wanted money for their routine control. We got angry and unfriendly immediately. After some unnecessary questions, the tipsy officers gave up.
We asked a woman, who was already a bit drunk, where we could find something to eat. After a short conversation, she said that we should follow her and she will prepare something for us. She told us that she lived in France for the last 30 years. More than two hours, she prepared a dish for us and not even a thunderstorm could decrease the energy of the lively woman. Since the early morning, the villagers were drinking lots of beer. The volume of the music increased and the people celebrated until the morning.
Apparently, villagers in this region celebrate the New Year all of January. On January 2, there was no sign that people would take a break from all that beer and palm wine.
From the main road, a sandy trail led to a red canyon, which we wanted to visit. We left the bicycles and walked the five kilometers to the impressive rock formations. We had a nice view across the natural phenomenon that was formed during a yearlong process. After we walked the long way back, we cycled the remaining distance to the border town. Unfortunately, there were only two families left and those people said there was nothing to eat. After we asked another woman, we saw many foodstuff behind the house and suddenly it was possible to eat something. For us it was extremely annoying this way and we did not know why people lied sometimes in our faces like that.
Between the border and us were only 300 meters and soon we already had our exit stamps in our passports. The two officials obviously thought about making it difficult for us, but then let it be.
Unfortunately, we had troubles with the mentality of the people in Gabon and realized that our mentality was not that far off back home. Sometimes, we did not feel welcome and people only looked out for themselves and did not really care about our wellbeing and us as guests. Of course, we had nice encounters and the endless rain forest and the savanna landscape was stunning.