Day 115: Crossing the Line

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Mon 28 Feb 2011 13:10
Day 115: Sunday 27 February 2011.  Hotel Embeyi, Lope, Gabon.  S00 06.502  E011 36.635 Distance driven 293 km
The insects drove us into the tent by 8 pm last night and then, about midnight, it started to rain.  The rain became a severe thunderstorm and the sloping track we were parked on became a river.  We had thunder, lightning, torrential rain but fortunately, not much wind as we were concerned about trees blowing down on us from the forest, or at least blocking our track out.  By 7 am the main force of the storm had gone but it was still raining.  Fortunately we had packed away all our gear the night before so all we had to do was pack away the tent, which we did stark naked to avoid getting our clothes soaked!  One truck passed as were were doing this and the driver was quite freaked out.
We resumed driving the beautiful highway south until we came to the equator at about 8 am and stopped for the obligatory photographs.  Unfortunately, the equator crosses the road on a blind bend so we couldn't stop too long and, in any case, it was still raining. It was so wet we half expected King Neptune to appear for the marine ceremony of "crossing the line". 
From now on our positions will all be south latitude. I have been trying to determine when we shall pass the sun's zenith but without astronomical tables I can only approximate.  The sun is overhead the tropic of Capricorn at the solstice (23 December) and overhead the equator at the equinox (23 March).  It travels about 23.7 degrees in 90 days so gets further north about 16 minutes a day. With 24 days to go, the sun is still about 6.4 degrees south of us.  So, theoretically, it will still get warmer before it gets cooler!
From the equator we drove south to Ndjole but the road deteriorated badly almost as soon as we were in the southern hemisphere.  What had been our magnificently engineered highway from the boarder became a muddy track full of ruts and potholes.  With the rain it became a quagmire.  In Ndjole we found a quaint French-style auberge by the side of the river Ogooue and had breakfast there.  We had been intending to drive on the Lambarene and back-track to the Lope National Park, but in view of the state of the roads, we altered our plan and drove from Ndjole back north for 40 km and then took the track 98 km to Lope. This track is the N3, the main road from the N1 to Franceville, but there was practically no traffic and virtually no villages along the route.  The track itself is well engineered and had been recently graded and it winds through beautiful rain forest which suddenly opens out into savannah with clumps of rain forest in the distance.  The route follows the beautiful River Ogooue, which is wide, fast and shallow so there are rocks visible right across, sandbanks and whirlpools.  We managed to get down to the river bank for a lunch stop and were surprised to see a train on the opposite bank.  One wonders what could possibly justify a railway in such a remote area;  presumably there is a mine in the area.
On the way, the rain stopped and the track dried up and the ,mud dried hard all over the Land Rover.  On arrival in Lope we went first to the Hotel de Lope, which is an Eco Tourism project and has magnificent villas on a green lawn sloping down to the river. It was immaculate, but empty. We could have had a room for 60 Euros but opted to camp at the nearby hotel annexe in the village with clean showers and toilets for a change.
No internet here so we haven't been able to connect for nearly a week now.  We did find in Cameroon that we could pick up BBC World Service in English on 92.5 FM, so caught up on world events, but we have lost that now.