|Mr. Murphy on vacay|
Solo encoreSo, I was back on my own, back on public transport, and back into the uneasiness and excitement that comes with entering a new country. This border crossing I knew by far the least about, other than that I would at least be able to keep my currency (Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, CAR, Equatorial Guinea and Chad all use the Central African Franc CFA). After a quick stop in Ebolowa, where I stayed with another PCV, Annie, I hopped a bus, then a moto, then a taxi to the tiny border town of Bitam in Gabon.
|Another visit to a PCV! And an example of Cameroonian buses|
Since I didn't really know what to do in Gabon, I decided to spend the day relaxing and planning the next three weeks that I had in this new country. I'd heard that Gabon was more expensive than its neighbors (implying more well-off people, as well), and after seeing three or four cyber cafes in a town with only a single paved road with some side trails and a consistent supply of electricity, I was impressed. Little did I know that this would be the last time that I would see either of those things until Libreville.
|Bitam. They also had people who actually came out and picked up trash!|
|This is how much fun I have in expensive, jam-packed minibuses.|
|An example of a Gabonese hotel room. My back was against the opposite corner when I took this photo.I could see the neighbor's room through cracks in the boards. Still, more expensive than air-conditioned hostels in Central Asia.|
The JungleSo, after a day of exploring the city, we were off! The three of us were loaded into a taxi, brought into the park, separated from our cash, then plopped in a pirogue (dugout canoe) for our 2-hour ride down the Ivindo river, deep into the jungle.
|Our guide preparing for the mini-rapids|
Immediately after setting foot in our camp, our guide pointed out some elephant footprints on the shoreline. This was just the first in many sightings of sign (elephant, boar, gorilla and panther tracks and scat) and live animals (mandrills, other monkeys, a type of otter, many birds, countless species of insect, spider and millipede, and eventually two live elephants!) Here are some of the few I was able to document, along with some vegetation. I apologize to the nature photographers and artists who read this (Floris and Jess in particular) for the quality of these photos.
|Grasshopper. I should have put a finger in for size comparison, as they are equivalent lengths.|
|Crazy vines. This one was over a foot thick in places and felt more like a tree trunk.|
|La mante religieuse|
|Fungi! It was tiny, size of a quarter each|
|Antfest. There were so many different kinds of ants in this jungle...|
|earthworm writhing to escape the ants (unsuccessfully)|
|Crazy roots. Apparently they provide good shelter when an elephant is charging you.|
|Crazy buttress roots. Not so helpful with the elephants, but good burial spots, apparently.|
|Army ants in formation. The column is about 2in wide.|
|Part of the Kongou Falls|
|The platform overlooking the falls with Remont, Ulrich and Clemens|
|Leo, Remont, Clemens, Ulrich and I at another set of Kongou Falls|
Eventually, our time for adventures was over and we had to return upstream. We settled into the pirogue for a 3-hour ride back up the river. These hours were punctuated only by shifting position to hide from the sun, occasional bird sightings, and almost swamping the boat in a few rapids. Then, just as we thought we were out of the park and back on the road, we (almost literally) ran into two elephants! One was on a marshy island in the river (pictured below), while the other was on the bank. We watched them for several minutes before their huge bodies disappeared into the seemingly impenetrable forest.
|Sleepy, sun-beat pirogue-ers on the way home|
|Back to the "main" Ivindo NP camp|
Gabonese Transport, part 1Once back in Makokou, the Austrians and I spent one last night together before parting ways (although I'll be meeting up with them again later this week when I go to Lambarene). My next stop was the town of Lope, a little equatorial village on the edge of another Gabonese National Park of the same name.
|The minibus, and the roads.|
|Pangolin bushmeat. Yes, these are endangered. Yes, the lady in the car bought it for $5.|
Then I remembered that this is Africa. a 4-hour drive to Booue is actually 9+hours of finding a minibus, waiting for it to fill up, driving around town while the driver performs various unexplained errands, finally leaving, then stopping at every bushmeat salesman on the road (plentiful) so the lady in front can haggle for some illegal endangered (but delicious) meal. Once finally arriving in Booue, I figured the train would be easy enough to find. Wrong again. When I asked at the station about the next train, I was told that it wouldn't leave until the next day. Actually the next night. Actually, it left at 1am, so basically two days from now. "You want a ticket?" "No. Are there other options?" "I don't know, I just sell tickets." "Thanks..."
Just before I left to wander in search of a new taxi, a local came up to me and brought me to a couple of police officers. Until this point, all police officers in Gabon had done for me is look at my passport, try to find something wrong, then comment on all of my visas and stamps, so I didn't have high hopes for these two. In contrast, they told me to follow them over to the freight terminal and invited me up into the engine with the conductor to leave 20 minutes later on a train to Lope! Hitching trains suddenly became my new favorite form of travel.
|Front row seat!|
|1500 year old rock carvings|
|Lope National Park|
|Fun tracks, let me know if you identify them (finger for size comparison)|
Gabonese Transport, part 2After my 2 days in town, I was out of money and it was time to get to Libreville, A/C and ATMs. I started by heading to the train station, asking about trains (again), hearing about the 3am train (again), asking about alternate options ("les AUTRES trains...") and then a first: The police officers at the train station told me something to the effect of, "Oh, you want to get to Libreville, you don't want to wait until 3am and you don't have much cash? You should just go into town and hitchhike! The trucks come through pretty often, sometimes they'll take you for free, or a little something. They'll have you to Libreville in no time!" Suddenly, my motivation for travel was rekindled. Hitchhiking in Africa? Done.
An hour later I found myself in the cab of a mercedes truck on its way from Franceville to Libreville. My driver was Cameroonian, so we were able to talk all about my time up there, politics, Central Africa and, of course, family. An hour after that, I found myself here:
|How many truckers does it take to escape a mud pit? 11.|
One truck was already stuck in the mud (from the night's deluge) and one was crippled with 3 blowouts (probably from attempted tows), my driver managed to power through the pit and come out unscathed, which was lucky because he then got to tow his partner's truck out, then the two successful trucks together towed the original truck out, who then towed the next truck that came along and got stuck out, so finally traffic could move both ways. Meanwhile, the truckers who weren't actively involved in the towing operations were rearranging wheels and spare tires on the crippled truck. La fraternite des chauffeurs
|Nick's classroom (SS/LA)|
|Terry and his classroom (Science)|