Travel to Gabon in West Africa – My First Few Days

My Gabon Experience – Part 1

I have  had the most amazing fortune to be able to travel to Gabon in West Africa. I managed to document my exploits there and have created a short series of articles that I would like to share with you, starting off with this one describing my first few days on arriving in the hot & humid equatorial West African country.

First Some Background to the Story

About a year and a half ago, I made what I thought would be a life-changing decision. I decided that I was going to take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in the rainforests of Gabon.

I won’t go into the details how the opportunity came about as it is quite a long winded story. Just know that I went there in April for a 10-day interview and fell in love with the place. I spent all my time in Loango National Park at Loango Lodge and in the capital city – Libreville between flights.

Anyway in July 2019 I left my relatively comfortable lifestyle, wife and 2 young kids behind, to start a new career as a Regional Tourism Development Manager in a far away land.

The contract was initially only for 3 months, but was basically open ended should everything work out. After a very teary goodbye I set out on my long journey to destination adventure.

And So My Story Begins

Arriving in Libreville after a tiring 26hr journey including a 4hr bus ride, 2 flights and a taxi to the Hotel Tropicana, I was pretty excited to be back in Gabon.  As much as I loathe the Johannesburg/Addis Ababa leg of the trip on the very cramped Boeing 737(800), it really is worth it when you arrive in Libreville to the sounds and smells of West Africa.

Hotel Tropicana
The adequate Hotel Tropicana in Libreville
Tropicana Restaurant
The view from Hotel Tropicana Restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Room at Tropicana
Standard room at Hotel Tropicana
Regab Beer
Cheers to my final day in Gabon – and my final Regab beer
Sunset at Tropicana
Sunset at Tropicana

The first few days were spent with my new boss, Jannie, in Libreville as we planned for the first ever group to be hosted in Lope National Park by ourselves  Gabon Wildlife Camps (GWC) and The National Agency for National Parks (ANPN).

Lope Camp View
The view from our Lope Camp location
Lope Camp
As you can see, it’s still in the process of being built

Unfortunately our new camp that we are building is not yet finished and the eight guests were accommodated at the Lope Hotel, but all meals were provided by Jannie and myself at our house in the national park, while the ANPN guides provided the guests with the activities in Lope, including a Mandrill Trekking Experience – you know the baboon that holds up Simba in the Lion King? Yeah that’s a Mandrill.

Mandrill
Mandrills occur in troops of a few hundred and move very quickly through the forest

After writing up a long food, drinks and general supplies list, we went shopping on the way to Lope at the import store (one of many). Libreville is apparently the 12th most expensive city in the world, so the food and drinks cost us (Jannie) a lot of money. To give you an idea, Beef fillet (yes we spoiled our guests) cost  €24/kg and Johnny Walker Black Label costs €44 a bottle.

Cheese Selection
The French Conection – they love their cheeses
Fruit & Veg
This was the fanciest store I saw in Libreville
Jannie - Car
Jannie taking one for the team in the uncomfortable back seat

The journey from Libreville is normally taken by train at night arriving in Lope at 1AM, but we weren’t able take that option due to us having to transport all the supplies. The road trip is 400km and it took us 8hrs excluding the 1,5hrs of shopping we did.

Driving
From the “comfort” of the front seat with a our driver Errrrrrveee (RV in English to me)

What I noticed on the journey, besides the many road blocks, which we were lucky enough to drive around in our chauffeured ANPN vehicle, is a few wooden posts with bush meat hanging to be bought by any passersby. I happened to see a few different species of duiker and monkeys, but am told you can sometimes find some protected species that happen to die in the traps set.

On lighter note, there were some amazing little vegetable stalls along the road side too, where we bought some very fresh and great tasting goodies.

Road Stall
Wonderful fresh fruit and relishes on the side of the road
Dried Tilapia
Dried Tilapia

After about 3hrs we decided to stop for lunch in Njole. It’s a small fishing (I think) village with a crazy vibe. We walked straight to the food market in search of the famous “coupe coupe” dish, simply translating to “cut cut”. It’s basically layers of beef stacked on top of each other that are grilled on coals and then soaked in oil to soften. Or is it the other way round? Anyway I think the process of oiling and grilling happens a few times in its short life span. A pre-arranged portion of the tender and fatty meat is then sliced thinly onto a piece of tinfoil where curry powder and mustard is added to taste. Toothpicks are your weapons of choice when devouring this delicious West African delight. Also available are barbequed Tilapia and curried skewered Chicken wings all of which cannot be enjoyed properly without a lukewarm Regab Lager.

Njole
Outside Njole market place on the river
Njole Market
Njole Market
Coupe Coupe
Delicious Coupe Coupe being prepared

Once our bellies and taste buds were completely satisfied, we headed off for the last 5 hours of the journey. With sections of the road very badly potholed, the going was tough, but I didn’t know how tough until we crossed the river and completed the last 100km in 3hrs on possibly the worst road I have ever travelled on in my life.

This is a main road between somewhere and somewhere, where only one rule applies, the biggest vehicle has right of way. And good luck to the smaller one taking cover on the road’s edge getting slapped by tree branches flanking the steep verges.

Jungle Road
It’s ok if everyone drove slowly – but they don’t
Treacherous Road
Treacherous roads – not for the faint hearted

After our little 3hr trip through hell, the lights of the Lope Hotel and village huts could be seen flickering across the river in the distance. I needed an appointment with my chiropractor, physiotherapist and heart surgeon (due to a few near death experiences), but that would have to wait 3 months, because now I had work to do.

Coming up next – Lope National Park and a quick helicopter flip to Ivindo National Parks’ Kongou Falls……….

If you would like to find out more about my travels in Gabon, please leave a comment in the section below.

Warm regards,

Matt

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