Driving home from the beach one evening I spotted an elephant family with teeny tiny baby in the forest near the road. I immediately asked Teun to turn the car around so we could go have a better look. We parked a couple hundred feet away and watched as the small family emerged from the forest and crossed the road.
The headed into the field on the opposite side of the road, but had to cross a set a pipes on their way. The baby was so small that it’s mom had to help him/her climb over them.
We continued watching them graze in the field as the light grew dimmer. Without a tripod this lead to difficult photographic conditions, so mainly I just enjoyed watching as the little baby played with it’s siblings/cousins.
But I couldn’t resist the urge all together…
The sky became a beautiful violet color and the moon rose above the trees illuminating these magnificent creatures
The forests of Lope National Park have some of highest densities of gorillas and chimpanzees in all of Gabon, so we decided instead of staying at the Lope Hotel and doing short visits from there, we would camp inside the forest where we could more easily try to search for gorillas. So, the next morning we met with our guide and host that would take us into the Mikongo Forest of Lope National Park, Ghislain Ngonga Ndjibadi, who I can not recommend more highly. Ghislain is truly passionate about what he does and is extremely knowledgeable. If you have looking to visit Lope I would highly recommend that you use his services to tour the park, either with half day full day trips or staying at his camp deep in the forest as we did. You can get more information about him and his services on his website Mikongo Vision http://mikongo-vision.info/
On our way there we observed a family of elephants grazing on the edge of the forest
We also needed to stop at the house of chief of the village in which the entrance to the Mikongo forest lies. We had to ask for his permission to enter and pay… Mostly it was just us sitting in his living room while Ghislain talked to him. Then we headed into the forest and after a bumpy, windy road through the trees we arrive at the camp.
We set up our tents, had lunch and then laced up our hiking shoes for our first trek. The forest is gorgeous! There are small streams and creeks feeding though lush trees and bushes and you’re surrounded by the calls of birds and monkeys.
No signs of gorillas the first day, but our spirits were still high.
The next morning we set off at the crack of dawn to begin our search. We soon came upon a pair of black colobus monkeys that kept us entertained for quite some time.
After several hours of hiking we stopped by a creek for lunch.
Back on the train Ghislain started seeing signs of gorillas
We found a knuckle and foot print near one of the streams.
We were on their tracks, but the sun was getting lower, so we had to head back to camp.
When we came back to camp Ghislain asked if anyone was interested in a small hike, to a nearby former camp. This tented camp fell in disrepair after investors pulled out of the project. While roaming around Ghislain found tracks of gorillas, very fresh tracks, and fresh dung. He was in utter unbelief as we spent all day finding them and apparently they were very close to camp. We tracked them for a bit but had to head back as the sun was setting. As most guides, Ghislain doesn’t want to be in the forest at dark, when elephants are roaming around, but are difficult to spot.
The next morning we headed out for a short hike as Ghislain had a feeling they were close.
We found some interesting things, but unfortunately the gorillas evaded us.
One of the things we knew even before we moved to Gabon was that we we wanted to explore as much as the country as possible. So after months of planning, Teun, myself, my brother and four other friends set off on a road trip around Gabon. We planned a route that took us around the center of Gabon and included several different parks. In planning our trip we used the Bradt Guidebook to Gabon (no, I’m not receiving any money to mention it, but it is the only (as of early 2017) English language guidebook for Gabon), and, as we live in Gabon, we gathered information from friends that had already traveling around the country. While the Bradt book was extremely helpful in planning our trip and finding our way around, we did find some of the information to be incorrect or out of date, and in some cases it was obvious that the author did not actually visit what they were talking about, but must have heard this from other people, so just an FYI.
Getting out of Gamba is always a challenge as after about 45minutes of driving you have to take a small ferry to cross the Nyanga river, and you never know how long it will take to get your turn. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long (only about 45 minutes 😉 ) and we were soon onto the new (not yet tarred at the time of the trip) road that connects to the national road system.
On the first day we drove from Gamba to the town of Mouila. It took the better part of the day as a considerable part of the road between Gamba and Mouila is still under construction and consists of laterite (red rock gravel).
In Mouila we stayed in a nice hotel near the river, where we had dinner. There was a wedding going on in the hotel that night, which made it rather awkward for us when we turned up at the front of the hotel in our 4×4 cars covered in dirt and the majority of us dressed in casual/outdoor wear, while all the guests milled around in their fabulous wedding attire. The party went on until the wee hours of the morning, making sleep a little difficult.
Day two took us from Mouila to the lively town of Lambarene, a drive of about 4 hours on a very nice road. In fact, the majority of the national road network is very good, being new, wide paved roads. However, in certain places there are “national roads” that are pretty horrendous dirt/gravel tracks with loads of potholes and bumps (more about that in a later post).
On the way into Lambarene there is a police stop we are all too familiar with. During our trip to Ivindo National Park earlier in the year this police stop had caused us the most delay and annoyance (as we refuse to bribe police). It ended after about 20 minutes with us giving the police officer a few slices of chicken sandwich meat and some stale bread. This time was no different. You always have to present your residence cards or passports to the police at every stop. He quickly examined Teuns and mine, but upon seeing my brother and Adrienne’s passports we asked where their invitation letter was. We explained that they had applied using the online e-visa scheme and they only needed the Gabonese visas that were in their passports. After some arguing, among which he also insisted they needed permission from their parents to be in Gabon, even though they’re both in their 30’s, I suggested that we should call the visa services ministers to determine what was actually necessary. This ended that conversation so he was on to his next issue…in our breakdown emergency kit (there are a large number of items you are required to keep in your car including a fire extinguisher with its own certificate of expiry) we only had one reflective triangle instead of 2. Again more discussion and us being told we could be fined 200,000 XAF (roughly $350) or thrown in jail, and magically one of the other police officers having an extra triangle he could sell us, we eventually negotiated that we would buy the triangle for 20,000 XAF and not get a fine. After 45 minutes and 20,000 XAF we were on the road again.
Lambarene is known for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital and the beautiful waterways that surround it. We stayed at the Ogooue Palace Hotel, which sits on a lovely spot next to the water.
After a quick dip in the pool we headed out on a boat tour, which included a walking tour of a small island where a former woodmill was located. This island now offers cabins to stay at.
The next morning we visited the nearby Albert Schweitzer Hospital and museum. We picked up some pastries on the way and enjoyed eating them while watching the sitatungas (antelopes) and pelicans, before heading into the museum which gives details about Albert Schweitzer’s life and work and reconstructs his house.
A little before noon we were back on the road heading to Lope National Park, but not before a quick detour to cross the equator.
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.
This post isn’t that exciting, just elephants….we obviously live in their habitat and during the year they will occasionally pay us a visit. However, from October toDecember the fruit ripens on the mango trees and elephants come with it…The elephants love the mangos and en masse come into camp after sunset during the mango season. They are way more silent than you would expect so there are multiple occasions where you, and others, have bumped into them. Often they are equally scared and run away, but some times they are surprised and startled and start chasing you…mostly a bluff charge but it is always a good idea to show respect and run….
After spending a few weeks in the original house we moved into here in Gabon, we realized that although it had some positives (it was recently built so had nice, modern features, and it was huge with 3 massive bedrooms and 2 bathrooms that you could fit a pool inside) it also had some problems… the master bathroom was constantly flooded with water coming from under the bathtub, the walls were paper thin (and we shared our bedroom wall with our neighbors), and it had a very small yard around it which was overlooked by 4 other houses. So after a lot of discussion we decided to see if we could move to another house, which meant down grading to an older (built in the 60’s or 70’s) and smaller (2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, all about half the size of those in the first house) house. Luckily (and by luck I mean hounding the housing people daily for several weeks) we were allowed to move houses. Unfortunately they gave us this news a few hours after unloading our shipping container into our then current house…
Our new house is in a beautiful location, tucked into the corner of the forest with a large, more private feeling yard. The interior is a tad more dated, to say the least, but we feel much more at home here.
Here’s a little tour though our new house, but be warned it’s still a work in progress, and the 2nd bedroom has become a dumping ground for items we don’t know what do with yet… Oh, and the bathroom is pretty spectacular… 😉
We’ve also noticed that we have a very nosy neighbor here…his name is Rabi…he gave me a bit of a startle a few weeks ago…we enjoy him more from a distance…
Personally, I think it was his way of trying to make a friend…a friend that rides on his back… Next time Rabi, 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 spent a couple of hours at the beach enjoying the cool breeze and beautiful scenery. It’s truly amazing to have these huge stretches of stunning, white sand beaches all to yourself.
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.