More opportunities to visit the south of Loango national Park have brought with them more incredible wilding sightings and stunning landscapes. Enjoy some of the highlights:
Four species of sea turtles occur in Gabon: leatherbacks, green turtles, olive ridleys and hawksbills. All of these species are in danger of extinction worldwide, with their numbers are declining sharply.
Every year between October and January female sea turtles make their way to their birth place on the beaches of Gabon to lay their eggs. Gamba is one of their prime nesting sites and we have the opportunity to join local researchers on their nightly walks to monitor the beaches for nesting turtles. As the turtles only lay their eggs at night the walk along the beach (that is home to a variety of other nocturnal animals including elephants and hippos) doesn’t begin before 9pm. And because the bright white light of a flashlight may confuse the turtles this is done
mostly with just the light of the moon and the stars. It’s actually very fun, if you don’t mind walking up to 12 kilometers in sand, and you actually get to see a turtle (mother nature doesn’t always/usually cooperate 😉 ).
Females lay around 50-100 eggs in each nest. During oviposition (the name for the process of laying the eggs), the turtle enters a kind of trance and is insensitive to disturbance. During this time it is safe to approach a nesting turtle to observe her quietly and take some pictures. This is also when the researchers measure the length of the turtles and put a tag on them (if they don’t already have one) for identification and tracking.
Gabon has the largest population of nesting Leatherbacks in the world! These turtles are the largest of the sea turtle species and also the most unique-looking. They have a soft leathery shell with longitudinal ridges and white spots. A full grown adult can measure over 180 cm in length! Last year during a turtle walk with friends I saw one and as you can see from the photos, it was massive!
After the female lays the eggs and returns to the sea, the nest incubates for approximately two months, buried in the sand. Due to the fact that the sea turtles are endangered the researchers in Gamba have set up a turtle nursery where they move nests to if they feel that the nest was laid in an area that endangers the eggs (such as in tracks cars drive on). When these eggs hatch sometimes local residents are lucky enough to be invited to see the baby turtles and carry them down to the water to be released in the ocean. It’s an incredible experiance to see and touch these tiny, beautiful babies.
Teun and I spontaneously decided to go to Point Pedras beach one Sunday afternoon, so after loading up the car with some snacks and drinks we hit the road. It takes about 30-45 minutes (depending on how fast your drive down the laterite and sand tracks) to get there and it was already about 3:30 when we made the decision to go so we didn’t think to invite anybody else that day. Just after turning off the laterite path and on to the sand track I noticed something running across an opening between the trees ahead of us. It looked quite large, but I didn’t say anything to Teun at first because I thought it was probably just a monkey (hahaha just a monkey, they’re so common place around here 😉 ). A minute later we both spotted a smaller primate running through the same area and we looked at each other and started discussing what it could be… a monkey? a gorilla? a chimpanzee? All are possible here. He sped forward towards the opening and just as we came through we saw a large ape-like animals running through the savannah towards the next group of trees a couple hundred meter in front of us. I raised my camera through the open window of the car and started trying to snap some pictures of our mystery creature. It was definitely too big to be a monkey! As it reached the edge of the trees it quickly climbed into one of the trees and turned back towards us. It was checking us out too! He must have sat in the tree for a good 5 minutes just staring back at us and occasionally glancing away toward the far end of the forest. This also gave us time to finally identify our mystery animal, it was a chimpanzee! I assume there must have been a family group and this was the alpha male making sure his family was safely concealed before taking off. Soon he climbed out of the tree and took off himself. What an amazing siting!!!
We then continued on our way to the beach and had a nice time walking along the edge along the edge of water with Eva (our puppy) and then having some drinks and snacks under the shade of the palm trees. A little before 6 we decided to pack up and head home as the sun would be setting soon and we would rather not negotiate the sand tracks through the jungle in the dark. At almost the same exact place that we have stopped the car to watch the chimp Teun drove through what looked like a shallow stream of water (normal here during the rainy season) and it ended up not being so shallow. The front of the car made it through thanks to the momentum, but the back end wasn’t so lucky.We were stuck. After a few failed attempts to try get out of the rather deep pool of water that were only digging us in deeper (the back bumper was now completely under water) we knew we were going to have to call someone to help us.I dialed the first person I thought would be able to get to us quickly, our friend Anne, who was actually borrowing out other friend’s (Ann) car. Luckily she picked up and said she would come as quickly as possible, which was good as the sun was about to set. About 30 minutes later we saw our rescue (Ann and Sarah) coming down the road. In just a matter of minutes we had attached the tow rope between the two cars and we were free! We all headed back to Yenzi and invited the girls over for dinner as thank you for saving us!
After an amazing, but short visit up to the Shell Hut and Loango National Park (because Ariana absolutely detested the hut…) we headed back to Gamba. The next couple of days we spent exploring more beaches, searching for oysters, a picnic in Vera Plains, and doing a bit more kayaking.
Then it was time head back to Libreville to drop Ariana off for her flight back to California. But first we arranged to visit Baie des Tortues resort across the bay from Libreville. And it was AMAZING. Truly a little slice of paradise just minutes away from the chaos of Libreville. We arrived by boat and once on land were immediately offered a welcome drink that we sipped while we sat under the trees gazing out over the turquoise water and pristine white sand beaches. We spent the morning walking down the beach and back before laying claim to a few beach loungers and dividing our time between napping and swimming in the crystal clear sea. Lunch was an amazing affair, 3 delicious courses that left us stuffed to the brim. Then we went back to lounging about, with cocktails this time, and swimming. It was a perfect final day of Ariana’s trip! Around 5pm we were shuttled back to Libreville and after collecting Ariana’s bags we headed to the airport to bid her a fond farewell.
At the end of October we were very happy to have our first visitor to Gabon, my best friend Ariana! After spending a few days in Paris to celebrate her 35th birthday we flew altogether back to Gabon. We eased her into her first African experience by spending the first few days doing a bit of relaxing, visiting the beaches nearby our house, watching the elephants coming through camp to eat all the ripe mangos, and kayaking around the lake.
But over the weekend we took a boat and headed up north through the lagoon to Sette Cama where we stayed in the Shell Hut and arranged for a guide to take us for a couple of hikes into the amazing Loango National Park. Before arriving at the hut we of course had to stop at the newly semi-improved BBC Treehouse. I was really impressed that Ariana, who is extremely scared of heights, actually climbed all the way to the top and even crossed the rope bridge! That night we enjoyed some drinks on the beach, just steps behind the hut, while watching the sunset.
The next day we picked up our guide in Sette Cama at 6:30 for an early morning walk in Loanga. We decided to start with an easy 2 hours hike that takes you through the forest and 3 separate savannas. We came across several groups of monkeys (mostly red capped mangabeys), a massive snail, and some fairly impressive spiders. I found walking through the forest was really magical; Ariana, who lets just say isn’t the most outdoorsy person, may have found the experience slightly less magical. Or at least that the impression I had as she asked every 10 minutes if we were almost back to the boat yet and continuously tried to in vain to swat invisible insects away from her face. This probably wasn’t helped when at one point, after our guide pointed out a large spider web and then demonstrated where to walk around it, Ariana then walked through the side of it 🙂
We all survived the hike and to our surprise Ariana even raved about how much fun she had! After a bit of relaxation at the hut, we dropped the boys (two of our friends arrived that morning) off on the beach near the lagoon mouth and we went in search of hippos in a little river off of the north side of the lagoon. It was a successful search and we spent about a half an hour watching a fairly relaxed group of hippos bob up and down in the water checking us out. We also spotted some rosy bee eaters, pelicans, and a red capped mangabey monkey hanging out in the mangroves.
After meandering up and down the river for a couple of hours we headed back to the beach to see what the boys had caught (unfortunately nothing this time) and then all headed back to the hut for a (fishless) dinner
The next day we had another early wakeup call and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for what was to come….a 6 hour hike through the heart of the Loango National Park!
We were all pretty exhausted after the long, hot hike, but everyone agreed that it was an amazing experience.
First of all I have to start this blog post with a very random side note. I can not think about the pink hippopotamus I saw without my Dad’s most infamous joke popping into my head. It’s one of those jokes that he loves to tell, but nobody wants to listen to more than once, so if you ever see my Dad be sure to ask him about it, he’ll be over the moon to have a captive ear 😉
Anyways, now onto the actual blog post…the other day (hahaha, actually a couple of months ago, I’m just so terrible at updating this blog that I didn’t get around to posting this yet…whoops) I was at Colas beach to go for a walk (as I do quite often) and I wandered down to the lagoon. I started taking some pictures of the beautiful lagoon separated from the ocean by only 10s of feet when I heard a noise. It’s an unmistakable noise if you’ve ever heard it before, the sound of hippos talking (if you’ve never heard it please do yourself a favor and have a listen here, it makes me crack up every time I hear it). I immediately swing back around towards the main lagoon and in the distance in the middle of it I can see them! The ears and nostrils of a few hippopotami are visible just above the water.
I move around the side of the lagoon and crouch down near some bushes. Slowly I see hippo heads popping in and out of the water. And then I realize that one of the hippos, the largest one that I can see, appears to be pink! Now I’m really fascinated. I sat down and for the next 20 or 30 minutes I just watched the hippos hanging out in the lagoon, moving around a bit and talking to each other. It was really amazing to just sit and watch and listen to them.
After getting my fill I stood up and started to wander back to the car, but not before spotting a bee-eater watching me from a tree branch over the lagoon. Somebody’s always watching you around here it seems 🙂
And for any curious minds out there, I did a little research into my pink hippo (why he’s pink) and found out that most likely it’s leucistic. Leucism is a condition where an animal has total or partial loss of pigmentation in the pigment cells (for hard core science nerds, it’s due to a defect during differentiation of the pigment cells or problems during migration from the neural crest to skin, hair, or feathers during development). The difference between leucism and albinism is that albinism only affects the melanin producing cells where leucism can affect all types of pigment producing cells. Leucistic animals don’t have red eyes.
One of the things we were excited to do in Gabon is camping, that’s why we bought a rooftent! A rooftent is a fairly unknown concept for most Americans/Europeans but in Africa is a fairly common sight. Just a big pack on top of the car that folds open into a nice spacious tent! One of the biggest advantages is that you sleep off the ground. So less likely for nightly visitors to surprise you: snakes, or other critters. But also being off the ground gives some safety for wandering elephants or hippos.
Once the roofrack was assembled and mounted and the rooftent fixed on, it was time to give it a try. Helped by a long weekend off we headed to the beach. First night was spent at Ponte Dick (Dick’s bridge) and a second night at Jardin d’elephants (elephant garden).
Driving onto the beach of Ponte Dick we were welcomed by a group of 4 elephants! One was a bit more daring than the rest so we kept hoping they would go into the ocean. Unfortunately no surfing elephants…
An important part of camping is collecting wood. Not only nice and fun to have a fire going for marshmallows, but also a necessity in order to keep the wild animals away; elephants, hippo’s, monkeys and big cats… so as soon as you arrive you start collecting wood…..the resulting flames provide a night of entertainment; sit around it, stare at the flames, or look at the starry nights which is amazing due to the lack of light pollution all accompanied by the soothing sound of waves crashing on the beach.
As mentioned, the second night was spend at Jardin d’elephants, elephant garden. This raises the expectations to see some more of these magnificent creatures. Once we arrived we looked for a nice spot to set up our camp and started to look for wood. the view onto the beach was amazing and we had it all to ourselves. Having this to yourselves is fairly common in this very low densely populated area.
You already feel bummed and the place overcrowded if you show up and there are 2 other people there….guess Scheveningen beach will be a different experience from now on…
During the night we heard a thunderstorm and the flashes were amazing, slowly but surely it moved towards us and eventually stopped. At 4AM we noticed a light drizzle but expected some heavier rain later, as it was rainy season. When we set up our tent earlier that day, we decided not to put on the rain sheet…..so that was something we did…. at 4AM……a light drizzle, worry for elephants/wildlife (fire died because of the rain) dark and ow…because it was our first time out we did not have experience with this….luckily we managed within 10 minutes and enjoyed our dry tent while at 6AM the rain came!
The next morning we woke up and enjoyed our stroll around the beach. A bit disappointed, it was elephants garden and our campsite was surrounded by elephant dung but we didn’t see any, but happy with our rooftent we left for a new adventure!
Sorry, this is a long over due post, but better late than never 🙂
Over Easter Weekend we were invited by our new friends to go camping with them at the Ngodo river mouth on the southern edge of the Loango national park. We happily accepted, they even provided us with everything we would need for camping! Teun and I had just started our training to be boat captains the weekend before, and because we were taking Daniel’s boat up to the camp site and I got to get a bit more practice.
And the boys went in search of firewood…
Then it was time to relax, which meant fishing…
It was absolutely beautiful at the beach; warm, but with enough of a breeze not to make it miserable for sleeping
There was quite a feast for dinner! This weekend was the start of the celebrations for Daniel’s 40th birthday, so there were beautiful speeches and champagne to celebrate! It was a very memorable evening.
After “a little hiccup” (the boat ended up getting flooded with water when the tide went out and it tipped over and then the tide came back in…) we loaded up the boat and set out on the slow ride (only 1 of the 2 engines was working now) back home.
The somber mood turned more jovial again when we spotted a small group of hippos! After weeks of wishing and hoping to see them, I was over the moon to finally get the chance.
Although everything is fairly close by here… work 5mins drive/7mins by bike (down a potentially elephant infested path through the jungle), supermarket 5 mins by car/15 min by bike (down proper roads, but still potential to run into elephants), bar/clubhouse a few mins… having a car is highly appreciated. It will take you beyond the “compound” limits to where the nice places are, like the beach, lagoon, villages, etc.
While in the Netherlands we started discussions with a car dealer in Port Gentil, Gabon. Options were fairly limited; a 4 wheel drive is the bare minimum and the rest is a nice bonus. Since there is a healthy population of Mitsubishi Pajero’s the local mechanic has some knowledge and also the way to get them from Port Gentil to Gamba is more established which makes your own life (a lot) easier….
I selected the model, with good off road tires included, and would start the process of how to get it to Gamba once we arrived, first making sure we would get the visa. Then of course there’s the the last bit, sending money to a person you only know via email…but since a lot of people have done it before it should be OK…right? The dealer doesn’t want to hurt its reputation… Once that was done I had to arrange the Bon de Transport; so the car gets on the boat from Port Gentil to Gamba and this requires a special form. And two signatures…which is not at easy at it sounds… Then finally I received a confirmation the car was going to be delivered!
Side note: It is very important that you have all the car papers, insurance registration, carte gris (sort of APK/MOT). Every other Friday (there seems to be a link with payday) the local gendarmerie (police) is on the look out between the worksite and the restaurant at the club between 11-13 (lunchtime). Cars being stopped often fall in a certain category: not local and not company cars….They tend to search for something not in order resulting in fines varying from 15-150 euro…
Enthusiastically we drove on Easter Monday 40 mins to Mayonami to pick it up. In theory everything should be OK, but right before you get to the boat yard there is a gendarmerie outpost (police). Depending on the chain/sign you need to drive through a little corridor to report yourself.
After being stopped by the police we handed the papers and he start studying him.We borrowed someone’s car and the car papers were OK, but we had some minor discussion about the carte gris. Technically cars not older then 1 year don’t need a carte gris….we had to explain the policeman the laws he was maintaining…..but alas, everything was ok after a couple of nouveau voiture’s. Next driver’s license. We were told that while applying for a Gabonese license you can use an international drivers permit with the original one (from your home country). However, this policeman was not impressed since Gabon didn’t show up on the list of the international permit and basically said I did not have a license, but his english was non existing and our combined french insufficient to explain we applied for one and this should be OK. We were still in the 3 month grace period. After suggesting we could call someone to help translating he told us strictly we couldn’t. Later we found out that there wasn’t any reception to start with anyway….So there we are, discussing the license for last 15 minutes, in the heat, sweating (making it more suspicious) not sure what to do…do we get a fine or does he want something for himself (technically a bribe…). If you bribe them they could arrest you resulting in a 1500euro fine….so one has to be very careful…To top it off we explained that we were there to pick up a car. The other guy didn’t have his license on him either so we couldn’t just swap…resulting we would have to stay there…….after repeatedly discussing in somewhat broken French he told us just to go pick up the car. Normally one would be really happy, however, we had to go back and then we would have double the issue, 2 cars, 2 drivers, 2 missing drivers licenses…..but he insisted us to go….so we drove off. We arrived at the yard and saw the car! Unfortunately it was still on the boat. Due to the strong river current the boat couldn’t dock and unload……we had to come back another day…..so all the trouble with police for nothing and we’ll probably have the same issues the next day…also we had to go back and pass by the same officer…We took off from the boat yard and stopped at the policeman. We told him the car wasn’t there and we would come back the next day….he couldn’t be bothered this time…perhaps by now the alcohol left his system…I didn’t notice but our friend on the passenger side, closest to the policeman noticed a very strong alcohol breath during the discussion before….so most likely he was after some money and when it appeared we didn’t understand him and it was taking too long, he just gave up. We waved goodbye and took off home.
Next day we showed up again…but this time we didn’t see a chain blocking the road so we drove right past the police office, the officer saw us but couldn’t be bothered this time! The car was unloaded from the boat, we picked it up and left without any problem.
Quickly fixed the insurance and now we are the proud owners of a 4×4!
Now we have the car we should make use of it, right? So we decided to take it up to Sette Cama where there is a hut/cabin. Because the drive is a bit tricky we followed others to make sure we wouldn’t get lost. First part is easy, tarmac, only a pothole or so, but thats easy.Then laterite, sort of gravel, which is more challenging since the surface is quite uneven….only one detour since the people we followed took a wrong turn…hopefully we remember for next time…Then the laterite stops and you think the road ends but no, you just continue on the sand. This is where the 4×4 comes in handy. We had let the tires down before so it would be able to go through the sand a lot easier. We continued and drove for 15min and then went through the forest….very dense woods.At some points you even wonder where to go next, but a turn appears.
Because we are still in the rainy season there was some water crossings, but nothing too scary, fairly shallow.
The drive went over hills, through plains, little creeks and at some point a small settlement. Just after this we pulled over and went to the people we joined. We assumed we were there but we weren’t…the best part was still to come…the last bit was over the beach. Not your typical hard sand beach but a fluffy sandy beach.As long as you keep the car going everything will be OK, they said. With images of digging our car out of sand on our mind we set off. Without any recovery equipment required we came to the hut. A very remote place, overlooking the lagoon on one side, the ocean on the other.
We weren’t spending the night, the others were, so we had to drive back by ourselves. This was a bit daunting but oh well, we had water and some food. Worst case we would spend the night on the plaines….with the elephants, snakes and whatever wildlife… We took off before sunset, just on time to be home before dark. The sun was setting which always lures the animals out of the woods. While driving on the beach Andrea saw an elephant.
This time we didn’t stop, as stopping would most likely result in stranding the car in the deep sand. A bit later we saw a group of monkeys on the path and were able to stop. Too bad the monkeys saw us as well and quickly escaped into the woods. After a couple of “is this correct?” “did we drive here before?” we found the path out.On the way we saw a lonely forest buffalo and some birds, no more elephants. We would have expected so since the path/road was infested with elephant dung and it has been a couple of days since we saw one. Disappointed we continued on the tarmac and when we were almosthome we saw a couple of bins in the street with contents spread out….the graceful act of an elephant. So what we had been hoping to see far away just walked through our street….oh well better luck next time.
We definitely experienced a lot of new things our first few weeks here…
I’ve found 2 main types of critters that like to call our house home as well… Ants (who I fight tooth and nail to be rid of) and geckos. The geckos I don’t mind so much, but it is quite surprising to grab and broom and find one hiding in it. I do my best to catch them and put them outside, but I think it’s a loosing battle (with both the geckos and the ants…).
We have a bamboo tree right outside of our patio that weaver birds have built nests in. Almost every morning I sit on the patio watching and listening to them.
There’s a beautiful beach called Colas that isn’t too far from our house and isn’t too difficult to get to (i.e. doesn’t require off road driving, that has to wait until we get our own car). The Friday after Teun and I arrived we went there in the late afternoon. As we were walking toward the beach Teun spotted some movement a ways off by the trees…it was a mother and baby elephant!They were headed toward the beach, but soon spotted us and headed back to forest, too bad, but it was a magical moment.
We spotted two more elephants on the drive home.
The first Saturday night we were in Yenzi there was the “Les Bal Des Majestes” where everyone was encouraged to come wearing traditional clothes made in town by a local tailor. At first Teun and weren’t planning on going because we didn’t have any attire, but after meeting Christina at the open water sports day earlier in the day and having her offer to let us borrow a skirt and shirt from her and her husband, we decided it would be a good chance to meet people. So off we went to experience our first Yenzi night out. Christina and Calli had matching dresses made just the day before the event (aren’t they cute?!). Teun (much to my chagrin) even entered us into the competition for king and queen (even though we had no chance of winning, but we did get awarded the “judges prize” because we participated in the event after only 3 days of arriving). It was a fun night and great to see so many nationalities celebrating together. Close to the end of the event the king and queen were crowned and sat on their thrones in front of the whole crowd.
The next week I was invited to picnic lunch on the beach (Colas) with Cali and Michelle and their kids. It was a beautiful day, bright blue skies.
And we can’t forget about all of the elephants!
The first two weeks we were here we saw elephants almost every day! It helped that we were seeking them out 😉 we would take drives in the evening before sunset trying to spot wildlife. Some we saw just across the road from the housing camp, some in tall grass as we drove to or from the beach and some in our own yard!
Elephant family staring suspiciously at me as they decide when to cross the street and wander through Yenzi.
Then there was the afternoon that I received a telephone call from my neighbor that there was an elephant outside. I jumped up from my computer and looked out the window, there was a huge bull elephant 10 feet away, walking toward the bamboo tree!
He spent 10 minutes munching on it while I snapped pictures (from the safety of my house and patio, not that the mosquito netting would stophim) and then he wandered away to find food at other houses. I spotted him again a while later around the corner helping himself to someone garbage.
And I’ve spotted other beautiful creatures just walking around camp.
The birds here are amazing! Usually I’m too slow to get a decent picture, but sometimes I’m lucky.
There are lizards everywhere!
Haven’t seen too many creepy insects (yet), but a few big grasshoppers, butteflies, dragon flies, and a praying mantis.
The jungle is just a few minutes walk from my doorstep (and literally on the doorstep of some of the houses). We’ve seen monkeys several times, but I haven’t been able to get a good picture yet.