Category Archives: Hippos

Road Trip Around Gabon. Part 1: Gamba to Lope National Park

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helpful in planning our trip and finding our way around, we did find some of the information to be incorrect or out of date, and in some cases it was obvious that the author did not actually visit what they were talking about, but must have heard this from other people, so just an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.

map of our driving route around central Gabon

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 ūüėČ ) and we were soon onto the new (not yet tarred at the time of the trip) road that connects to the national road system.

Day 1: Gamba to Mouila
ready to cross the Nyanga River at the start of the road trip

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).

I insisted we pull over so that I could get a better look at this shy snake (Calabar Boa)
First sunset of our road trip around Gabon seen from the the car as driving
typical view on the road…lots of trees

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).

after a long drive, we stayed the night in Mouila. The next morning we visited the nearby Blue Lake (trust me, it was blueish)

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.

we arrived at Ogooue Palace Hotel in Lambarene
saw lots of weaver birds busy building nests in the trees around the hotel
pool time in Lambarene

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.

boat trip in Lambarene
riverside market in Lambarene
fisherman in the lagoon near Lambarene

 

view of the Albert Schweitzer hospital from the water
coming back to our hotel there was a bridge where hundreds of bats were roosting on the underside
bats under bridge in Lambarene

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.

Albert Schweitzer Hospital museum in Lambarene

young sitatunga at the museum
Albert Schweitzer’s grave
not so friendly pelican

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.

made a slight detour to cross the equator
getting closer to Lope the terrain changes to open grassy fields
first elephant sighting as we get to close to Lope National park
beautiful river view near Lope Hotel

 

next up….Road Trip Part 2: Lope National Park….

Hiking and Wildlife in Loango National Park, Gabon

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:

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Always fun trying to get from the boat to land
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Rainy season = lots of mud in Loango Park

IMGP8874trees, loango national park

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walking along the beach in Loango National Park
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Large herd of forest buffalo grazing near the beach

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Who would imagine to walk out of the forest and stumble across a hippo grazing in the fields above the beach?! Only in Gabon
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our guides, Zico and Kaza, were surprised and excited by the hippo as well

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the elusive red river hog
monitor lizard running across the beach
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hippos relaxing in the river in the south of Loango Park

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Our First Visitor…Ariana Visits Gabon…Trip to Loango National Park

20151029-IMGP7648At 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, 20151029-IMGP7653watching the elephants coming through camp to eat all the ripe mangos, and kayaking around the lake.

 

 

20151030-IMGP7691 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 20151030-IMGP7708Loango 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 20151030-IMGP7712the 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.

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all smiles at the start of the hike

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 20151031-IMGP7736impressive 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. 20151031-IMGP7749Or 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 ūüôā

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Giant snail, it was bigger than my hand!

 

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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 20151031-IMGP7823friends 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. 20151031-IMGP7802It 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.

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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

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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!

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Getting from the boat onto dryish land
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more spiders
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giant monitor lizard
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our guide Kasa
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lovely scenery
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massive trees, small people
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yet more beautiful trees
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We finally made it out of the forest an onto the beach
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Herd of buffalo on the savannah next to the beach
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Herd of buffalo on the savannah next to the beach
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Cute!
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Pure Beauty! The only thing we’re missing is a surfing hippo…

We were all pretty exhausted after the long, hot hike, but everyone agreed that it was an amazing experience.

Part 2 of Ariana’s visit to come in the next blog post

Pink Hippo Sighting

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 ūüėČ

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 20150626-IMGP5784for 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.

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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.

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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 ūüôā

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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.