We’re still in the Congo, but tough going following the edge. Our journey stopped from time to time by lagoons that have broken through and are rushing out to the Atlantic. Then back-tracking through the forest, finding a ferry and back to the coast again, the endless beaches, not a footprint, crystal clear lagoons, mangrove forests and when we do meet people, curious and kind.
Few people come this way and they tell us that in the rain forests there are still gorilla and chimpanzee. We see elephant tracks on the beach, then near Gabon we get completely and utterly lost. The forest track so overgrown that we loose satellite reading on the Garmin GPS’s. The track sometimes wide enough to take a Land Rover, at other times we walk ahead to cut and chop our way through.
The sweat drips down our backs and off the tips of our noses – thank god we’ve got Deon Schurmann with us – he’s built like a brick shithouse (used to play professional rugby in France), he’s just flown in to Pointe Noire as French interpreter to the expedition. He’s as tough as nails and at 134kg we have him hanging onto the side of the big Landie to stop it tipping over into the rain washed trenches that make up the road to Gabon. Somehow we miss the border and find ourselves illegally in Gabon and not booked out from the Congo.
The track continuous – deep mud holes with oozing black goo – we stick for hours at a time, winching, pushing, pulling and digging. Gorilla and elephant tracks in the mud. We inch forward, rebuilding plank bridges and swatting tsetse flies, finally we make it to Mayumba in southern Gabon and as the Zen of Travel dictates meet up with Mike and Linda, two South Africans who work with national parks in Gabon. They help smooth the way forward with immigration.
We take a ferry across the lagoon. The beautiful forests continue, that’s the secret of Gabon, more trees than people. Wilderness forever. You can see hippo and buffalo frolicking in the waves, yesterday a sititunga on the beach with her young, and now we’re sitting chatting to you toes in the sand, elephant tracks around our camp, some local peri-peri chicken on the braai – the South Westerly is blowing so no mozzies tonight.
You’ll be pleased to know that our humanitarian efforts continue and that yesterday at Mayumba, with the help of Aimee Saunders who does community conservation work, we’ve visited a school where she dressed the kids up as dolphins, sharks and turtles, did a conservation skit and then we gave out pens, pencils and exercise books together with malaria prevention education. In the villages we continue to distribute mosquito nets to pregnant mums and children, together with spectacles to the poor sighted. The way ahead will be tough, more lagoons, rivers and forests – we always knew Gabon would be a great challenge. Will keep you posted.
Greetings from Gabon, a jewel on the raw edge of Africa. President Bongo established a national park system encompassing 11% of the country’s territory. More than 70% of Gabon is covered in pristine rainforest.
The national bird of Gabon is the African Grey. You can find forest elephant walking through patches of savana grassland, separated by clumps of forest, or padding softly down a snow white beach. Gabon is one of the few, if not only, places on earth where one can see “surfing” hippo and we’re not referring to Kingsley catching a wave. A clever hippo will sometimes swim parallel to the coast in search of better grazing off another beach, surfing in for a nocturnal feast and then swimming back in the early hours of the morning to ride a wave home.
The road to Gamba, where we are now camped, is a great adventure as we follow an overloaded bush taxi through jungle and savana grass to the Mayonammi River which translated into English means the “River that belongs to me”. No sign of a ferry, just a wide river. A few fishermen fixing nets and a dead slender nosed crocodile – its neck chopped deep with a panga. “It’s a delicacy” says the fisherman, “we’ll cut off a piece for ourselves – the rest will go by bush taxi to Gamba.”
Gamba has a tarred road, fuel and cold beer. The director of the park here says there’s no way forward and we’ll have to retreat and go hundreds of km’s inland – cant bear the thought, it’s a hammer blow for the expedition – it reminds me of the Cunene crossing and the 1000km Land Rover detour between Namibia and Angola – all for 600 metres of river which we did by rubber duck.
Now we learn that to follow the beach up towards Port Gentil is impossible – too many rivers flowing into the sea and no ferries. The only way is to speak to the Shell guys who control the oil operation here and any transport north. We meet Kiwi John who offers us the use of his air-conditioned home and piping hot shower – bloody luxury.
We speak to one the senior Shell men in Libreville explaining the humanitarian nature of our journey. “Phone back tomorrow at 9h30, and if all goes well we’ll put your Land Rovers on a barge that will take you north across the massive Ndougu lagoon, then into primary forest and a track that will take you to Iguela in the north of Loango National Park. It’s a pristine wilderness but there is no guarantee that I can get permission – it will depend on a YES from the general manager who’s in an oil plane right now flying to Gamba.” And so we camp in Kiwi John’s garden and wait for the hand of fate to play its card. This is the nature of following Africa’s outside edge – will keep you posted.