10th of December 2019 – 4th of January 2020:
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 must 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 tried to wild camp more often and therefore had to find food beforehand. This can be difficult, since there were 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 proven right 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 could hardly 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. Roberto 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 currently there are no wagons full of 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 a 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 contained 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 necessarily 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 like 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.
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. 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” bothered 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 somewhere.
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 will 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 an 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, who prepared 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 again.
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 for 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 foodstuffs 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 the mentality was not far off in comparison to our home country. 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.