Beautiful forests, and a culturally challenging, first day in Gabon. My last day in the Southern hemisphere, till July!
12th March 2014.
What a wonderful sleep I had. I was pretty tired yesterday, and then having my first decent bed and bathroom since Brazzaville, I certainly appreciated the comfortable bed. Knowing there were decent roads ahead, also took away a lot of the apprehension for the day ahead. It was even tempting to sleep in a bit and have a day off, but I have a lot to do in Libreville, so the show had to go on….
I was wondering about money too…. There were no ATM’s / banks in Ndende, and I hadn’t come across anyone who would take dollars or euros. I had enough Francs for one more day, but no more, I had to get to Libreville. The motel manager had said there were banks at Mouile, the next town, so we shall see what Gabon’s banking infrastructure is like?
Well, as almost an ordeal surprise, the first 78 kilometres were on dirt road, but mostly a real good quality one. Unlike in the Congo, it was clear the road is maintained, so where there were some flooded sections, the maintenance guys had made a detour around it. It was just so nice being out in this equatorial forest environment, on wide roads, and being able to do 70-80 km/h, with almost no traffic. My book said Gabon was one of the least populated African countries, and so far on the roads I have felt I’m almost the only inhabitant!
The villages were few and far between, and they looked a few notches above the villages in the Congo: Very orderly, and many of the houses were of wood construction, and almost 1st world looking. Gabon did feel different…
Every now and again I’d stop and just enjoy the forest noises, and it’s awesome beauty. I realised photos can’t capture the extent and impressiveness of the forests, but these non-forest scenes captured my fancy.
At one point I thought I’d left the earth, and was in this large grassy plain, which had these huge mushroom like ‘structures’ randomly popping out of the earth, all over the place. From the road, I was convinced there were mushrooms, but parked the bike to go and investigate. Well to my amazement they were anthills, but special equatorial ones. It would seem that nature, in her creative innovation, had adapted her standard anthill design, to deal with the heavy rains. These anthills had a large, overhanging, grass and mud roof on them, that gave them the mushroom look. My reading of the design was that this was to prevent pummelling rain eroding the whole anthill structure. I’d never seen that before!
Mouile was a large town, spread across another huge river. The signs ‘Centre de Ville’ took me to a place that seemed to have everything except banks, but I was told there was ‘a bank’ over the river. Hungry I had a disappointing breakfast, but at a great location right on the riverfront. As now is the norm, the huge brown river was flowing swiftly, but here the birdlife was amazing. As I ate my breakfast, I was treated to a wooded kingfisher catch a huge, equatorial size, insect right in front of me. Lots of other birds, some I’d never seen before, and then too I must have seen three large, colourful iguana, lizards. With tar roads now ahead, it was also nice to remove my oilskin pants, and be ‘casual’ again! This was both a physical and mental undressing…..I was looking forward to relaxing tar road riding ahead.
Across the river, there were two banks, one with an ATM, but the ATM didn’t take any of my cards, and neither bank exchanged euros or dollars. I searched around and found a guy who was interested in buying euros. He was clearly an opportunist, and although quite desperate, I could squeeze my way to Libreville, so with his poor rate, I had to show my resolve, but kiting up and starting the bike. Well he soon came running after me, and a deal was done. So now I had ‘everything’ a touring motorcyclist needs: Money, good weather, good roads ahead, no time pressure to get to my next destination, and a whole new world awaiting……
To my surprise, I was subject to three police control stops, where they want to see my passport and visa. These control points really inconvenient, and totally on the police terms: There are plastic cones across the road, the police sit, normally under the shade of a tree, some distance from the road, talking together, with the ‘on duty’ cop having a whistle in their mouth. Depending who you are and how you look, you either get the whistle or not. The whistle is a piercingly loud shrill, that one cannot fail to hear. On the whistle, I’d have to stop, get off the bike, and walk over to them sitting in chairs chatting and even eating…. At each stop it seemed like the object of their whistle for me, was just because I looked interesting and they personally wanted to find out what I was doing. They were always friendly, and the focus was on my trip, rather than officialdom. Sensing I was a ‘friend’, I did take them on about how disruptive these controls were, and asked them what they were trying to achieve?: “Controle”, was all they said, and trying to get them to see that ‘controle’ should add value, I realised would be wasted effort. This is such an African thing, with most of the countries police / military staff seemingly in comfortable jobs, with little value add, but tourist disruption, and no value add mind-set. A real socialist approach… I soon learnt to ignore the whistles, and just slowed down, and waved as I continued through.
Well when exploring, what one ‘sees’ in the exploring is not always what one would choose to see, but rather what the local environment offers! After my monkey meat meal yesterday, I’d spent quite a bit of time thinking through the whole principle of eating monkey meat, how many die a day for human consumption, and why the locals don’t understand that it is not sustainable? I also felt bad that I had promoted the mind-set, and shouldn’t have had the dish.
As sophisticated as these Gabonese villages are, the tradition seems to be to hang outside one’s house, ‘any meat’ one has for sale, in an ‘enticing’ display for desiring, potential customers to view as they drive past. While presented in a display format, I was taken by how gruesomely the meat portion had been butchered in the dicing up process. There were legs of goat, and what seemed like buck, hanging with loose pieces of flesh, and blood still dripping. These were at first shocking, but the offerings got more exotic as I rode on. I saw huge rats, small deer, and then the two disturbing ‘prizes’ were the crocodile and monkey below.
Beyond the human impact, the road took me through what for me is the finest equatorial forest I have seen to date. Huge trees, the size of which I hadn’t seen before, but just the extent of the forest, one can see how special it is to the world.
The roads are well signposted and marked, and the speed limit officially 80 km/h, but nobody seems to care about that. The road through the forests is often very twisting and as such is self-regulating, but all the drivers, have been courteous and conservative.
Like the Congo, Gabon seems to have lots of open water and huge rivers. Each one captivated me as I drove across the seemingly never ending bridge to get the other side. As I looked down I was always amazed how relatively swiftly they muddy brown water was flowing. These countries will never be short of water.
Well I was hoping to reach Libreville by the end of the day, but being some 400 kilometres away, and me having taken my time, enjoying the new Gabon offerings, I was behind schedule for that, so decided to call it a day at Lambere, right on a huge river and lake region, where water is everywhere.
Sadly Mother Nature's beauty, trashed by man!
I found a really great hotel, a bit pricey, but I felt I deserved a bit of luxury, and really soaked it all up….
I was around 100 kilometres from the equator, and my 4th self-driven crossing of the equator and the new city of Libreville await the morrow.