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.