Day 96 - Saturday 26/01/08 - Oyem to bushcamp on 'yellow brick road'
First impressions of Gabon are that it's a lot more prosperous: the villages are really tidy and people are even mowing their lawns with strimmers rather than goats. It's getting a hotter and more humid now and we're south of the harmattan which means blue skis and cumulus clouds again - a welcome change but the sun is realy strong. Rather than take the main road we opted for the 'short cut' to Libreville on the 'yellow brick road'. It's supposed to be quite a challenge, but it had been recently graded so we could relax and enjoy the scenery. The road wound its way through dense jungle (75% of Gabon is rainforest) and we spotted lots of really colourful birds, and a huge butterfuly with a wingspan of about 20 cm. Someone has also turned up the volume on the weirdest sounding insects - the noise levels are incredible. Plenty of evil biting things I'm sure. Late afternoon we investigated a muddy track, and found a suitable clearing for bushcamping. We've been worried about a lack of power in the landie and when Robin investigated he found that the intercooler mounting point had cracked under all the vibrations and there's a hole the size of a 50p piece. Fortunately ingeniously patched up. A joint effort of 'jungle pizza' for tea and we watched the thunderstorm over Equatorial Guinea, wondering how we were going to get back down the muddy track if it rained overnight.
Day 97 - Sunday 27/01/08 - bushcamp to Auberge La Maree, Cap Esterias
Miraculously our camp stayed dry last night, and we thanked our lucky stars because it soon became apparent that it had been raining heavily everywhere else. At this point our Cooper STTs (that's 'mud tyres' for the non-technical) really came into their own and we proceeded to have great fun getting very very muddy and wet - the roads had actually turned into rivers in places. It took us four hours to travel the last 30 miles and by the end of it we were thoroughly soaked and filthy. With it's high-rise hotels and wide boulevards, Libreville is no place to drive round covered in mud (apparently the police stop you for having a dirty car) so we made our way 20 km north to Cap Esterias, where we'd heard of an Auberge by the sea where you can camp for free. Sure enough, when we arrived the lovely French owner, Francoise, invited us to camp on her lawn. We repaid her kind hospitality by drinking rather too many beers.
Day 98 - Monday 28/01/08 - Cap Esterias/Libreville
We rather regretted our beers last night as today is the Day of Reckoning for our Angola visas. It rained heavily overnight and our tent has started to smell of mushrooms. Had quite a job to keep our embassy clothes clean because our car is so muddy. We knew it was going to be a battle but were determined not to be fobbed off like we had been in Abuja, so with no messing about we presented the guy at the desk with our piece de resistance - our letter from the Angolan High Commissioner in London. Fortunately, thanks to the 'support team' at home the London embassy had faxed through copies of all our documents and after two hours of explaining that we really do need to get the visa here and not in Congo, we were allowed to fill in an application form. He told us that he would send the fax to Luanda and to come back on Friday to see if we'd been successful. Who knows.
Days 99-102 - Tuesday 29/01/08 to Friday 01/01/08 - Auberge La Maree, Cap Esterias
Four days to wait. Entertained ourselves by doing some washing, catching up on the very overdue website, and swimming in the sea. When the sun is out it's really too hot to do anything but sit in the shade and melt. Anna and Helio have given up on their Angolan visa and headed off to Congo - hopefully we'll catch up with them again later. In retrospect, we wish we'd applied for our Congo/DRC visas here in Libreville as they're a lot cheaper and we could have made good use of our time. When Friday came, surprise surprise, there was still no news from Luanda. At this point we realised that our visas might never arrive and that the embassy just keeps procrastinating until you give up. Also, having already wasted so much time, we'll only have time to drive straight through Angola anyway, so we made the decision to get our five-day transit visas at the border. From Gabon there are two possible routes: head south to Dolosie and along the 'rebel route' to Brazzaville, or head out east to Franceville and down through the middle of the Congo.
Day 103 - Saturday 02/02/08 - Cap Esterias to bushcamp by Lope National Park
Set off early from Cap Esterias and headed off east. It feels good to be back on the road again with some purposeful direction. We crossed the equator on a very bendy stretch of road, but the sign itself was a few miles south - obviously for safety reasons. Quite a landmark in the journey. It's still extremely hot and humid and we saw lots of bushmeat hanging up by the side of the road (crocodiles, porcupines etc) as well as lots of rather large, squashed snakes. Beyond the tarred road, we soon found ourselves winding our way on thick jungle pistes - the red earth roads contrasting vividly with the bright green vegetation. Unlike Cameroon, there are very few settlements out here, which really gives a sense of being in deep in the jungle. We saw a huge blue bird, which turned out to be a xx. All of a sudden the forest started opening out into savannah - we thought at first that this was the result of intensive logging, but it's far too large an area. Found a bush camp just outside Lope National Park in an old quarry overlooking the huge, muddy river.
Day 104 - Sunday 03/02/08 - Lope National Park to Franceville
We were chased off by bees this morning. We noticed one or two as we had breakfast, but by the time we packed up the car they were gathering fast. One of them stung me and this must have triggered some alert as they started to get really agressive. We had no choice but to drive off - fast. It was a beautiful morning as we entered national park, with misty cloud hanging over the forested hills and the river. Stocked up with bread and supplies in Lope, then slowly made our way through the park and on towards Franceville, across rolling hills and savannah. Franceville is Gabon's third most populous town and is really spread out, with miles from one end of town to the other. We were just wondering where on earth to stay when we spotted some Norweigian overlanders camped in the car park of the Auberge Apily, so we drove in to join them. They were heading north, so had a fun evening exchanging notes over beer and wild boar. One of them had a room so we were all able to take a much needed shower.
Day 105 - Monday 04/02/08 - Franceville to bushcamp south of Boundji (Congo)
Thankfully it was cooler overnight and much less sticky. We needed to fill up with diesel, but it seems none of the banks here will change money and the ATMs weren't working. Rather than drive all the way back to Muanda (an 80-mile round-trip) we asked around and were pointed in the direction of some dodgy Lebanese shopowners in the market. Mission accomplished, we headed out east past Bongoville (birthplace of Gabon's president - the longest standing president in Africa at 40 years), and continued on a good, paved road to the small village of Lekoni. We had to go and find someone to fill in our carnet, before continuing on a maze of sandy tracks towards the unmanned border. It seemed really strange to be driving into the Congo surrounded by savannah - not exactly Heart of Darkness. Miles from anywhere we saw two very hot looking men waving us down for a lift - they seemed ever so grateful when we let them sit on the roof. The border post itself was a tiny bamboo structure and the immigration official looked awfully disappointed that we already had our visas and wouldn't be handing over any cash. It's really remote out here so we found a quiet spot for a bushcamp. Out of the darkness, we heard the sound of drums and music and realised we must be near a village - we had visions of them dancing round a stew pot about to come and get us.
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