Chimpanzee and Car Trouble en route to Point Pedras Beach

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 ūüėČ ). 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. 20151122-IMGP8657I 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! 20151122-IMGP8678He 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!!!

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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. 20151122-IMGP8696The 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. 20151122-IMGP8723Luckily 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!

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Our First Visitor…Ariana Visits Gabon….Part 2

20151103-IMGP8108After 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.

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20151106-IMG_5910 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. 20151106-IMG_5929Truly 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.

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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

It’s Always Exciting in Gabon….Elephants Around Yenzi

20151027-IMGP7609This 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 20151120-IMGP8608elephants 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 20151102-IMGP8039occasions 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….

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More Adventures in Gabon…Crocodile Search

In Gamba we have a Smithsonian research group that studies a variety of subject ranging from developing strategies to ease human-animal conflicts and discovering new species of animals to analyzing the impact of industrial practices on local ecosystems. I met one of the visiting researchers, Matt, who specializes in research on crocodiles in Central Africa, and asked him if I might be able to join him on one of his trips to search for new nests. Lucky for me, he agreed and one morning in October I set off in a boat with a small group of researchers and volunteers to go check on a nile crocodile nest he had recently found. Our journey took us into the Ndogo lagoon towards the Moukalaba river. After about 45 minutes we anchored the boat on a patch of land nearby the nest. We hiked up the muddy bank and across a small savannah, keeping a careful eye out for mommy crocodile. Unfortunately there was no sign that the crocodile had been anywhere around the nest for at least the last few days, most likely abandoning her nest after realizing humans had been poking around it. The crocodile population here is pretty small, mostly due to overhunting for many years. So we sadly made our way back to boat.

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On the way back to Gamba we decided to take a little detour into an offshoot of the Moukalaba river to see what we could see. It was an absolutely beautiful place, lined with fluffy papyrus plants and raffia palms. I gleefully snapped away, hoping that some of my photos may capture the magic of the area.20150925-IMGP7236

And then our crocodile expert spotted them! Two slender snouted crocodiles sunning themselves on a fallen tree in the river! Crocodiles around here tend to be very shy and run away at the first sign of people, but these two seemed very relaxed. They just hung out on their tree as we made several passes by them in the boat.20150925-IMGP7242

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We continued down the river, finally returning back into the lagoon and heading back toward Gamba. On the way back Matt and Tobi, one of the head researched at the Smithsonian that I’ve been helping out run the Nature Club at Yenzi, asked if I would like to join them after lunch to look for crocodile nests in one of the coastal lagoons. I happily agreed.

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After lunch they picked me up and we headed towards Colas beach. This would be a little different trek than our morning excursion. Instead of the large boat with 100hp motor¬†we would be using their small¬†aluminum dingy with a 12hp motor to explore areas of the shallow lagoon. ¬†Matt already had some ideas where to look so we crossed the main body of the lagoon and headed towards a narrower section that apparently goes on for several miles through thickly vegetated areas. Soon enough we found a sandy bank that could be a potential nesting area so¬†we stopped the boat, all got and started walking around (in the middle of no where in potentially crocodile/hippo/elephant/snake infested territory) looking for loose sandy areas that could indicate a nest and started poking long sticks in the sand. Apparently if there’s a nest the stick will easily go several feet into the ground, otherwise it just goes a few inches in. No nest, so we started wanderingfurther around in the bushes. After a few minutes of searching we headed back into the boat to go further up the lagoon. Soon the water became shallower and more plant¬†filled and the motor became useless. That’s when Tobi and I grabbed the paddles and used man power to continue on. We would paddle on a for bit before Matt would spot another potential nesting spot and we would all jump out and begin our search again, but again with no luck. Back in boat we would go, sometimes we could use the motor for a bit before we had to go back to paddling. It was turning into quite an adventure… and then it got real… Anybody who know me well, knows that while I’m crazy about all kinds animals, I’m not a fan of spiders, in particular them crawling on me. So as we continue down the lagoon the waterway is getting narrower and the bushes and trees are overhanging further into the water. And all I can see as tree branches and bushes are headed straight for my face, in slow motion (paddling isn’t getting us anywhere very fast) are¬†spiders crawling all over them. Of course I’m in a boat with¬†two seasoned field biologists who aren’t at all bothered by these harmless little spiders, so I’m trying to keep my cool, casually as possible dodging branch full of spiders after branch. Eventually I was busted when they advised me to put my camera strap around my neck in case we went overboard, I had left it sitting on the bench in front of me and it was now crawling with spiders that I clumsily tried to remove with the end of my paddle before hanging it around my neck. So between the paddling through the thick brush laden water and doing my best to avoid the hundred of spiders, all in the middle of the humid mid-day¬†heat, it was turning into quite an adventurous afternoon. We continued further up the lagoon for a another hour or so continuing our search unfulfilled before giving up and heading back to the car. It was quite an amazing day!

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Camping in Vera Plains, near Gamba, Gabon

20150926-IMGP7293Not far from us, hidden between the beaches and the large Ndogo lagoon, is the a beautiful place called Vera Plains. It consists of large¬†sprawling open meadows, dotted with patches of¬†dense forest. 20150926-IMGP7310One weekend¬†we went with a group of friends to camp in one of the prettiest spots in the area, a hilltop that offers panoramic views over the plains, forests and nearby lagoon. It’s about an hour drive from our house through rough dirt paths winding through the forests and hills of the plains.

It’s not the easiest spot to get to, often areas of the road are blocked by fallen20150926-IMGP7311 trees or debris from a newly build plantation. Usually nothing a little muscle and machete work can’t fix, though.

 

20150926-IMGP7315¬†But one you get to the view point it makes all your effort worth it…

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The boys worked on cooking dinner while the girls enjoyed the view and sipped on some cocktails….

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20150926-IMGP7337Soon the darkness came and we all huddled around the campfire, or rather very large, bright¬†citronella candles in this case. You would have though they would have protected us from all insects, but in a strange twist of fate we were actually invaded by a large swarm of tiny beetles. At first was funny, as all the bugs seemed be attracted to our one friend, but as more and more came we decided to take¬†shelter in the car. After 15 minutes or so the coast was clear and we returned to our “camp fire” for a bit before heading to our tents for the night.

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Evading the swarm of beetles in the car
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Tiny beetles everywhere

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We woke up to a beautiful misty morning and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Vera Plains as we made our way back home.

 

 

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The BBC Treehouse in Sette Cama, Gabon

20151011-IMGP7546With Ariana coming we decided to do some maintenance on the BBC treehouse. Floorboards were bad, the ladder was missing some steps so it was becoming quite an adventure just to go to the top. 20151011-IMGP7548Not to mention the safety hazards while climbing up…At the top there is a bridge, a big rope with some side netting, leading to the other side where another platform is. All providing a great view over the jungle. Just as it was designed by the BBC. 20151011-IMG_5536The hut was build some 8 years ago by the BBC and featured in their tv show. The goal was to provide a place for researchers to study the red capped mangabeys, which apparently are a rare species if you consider the world. To us they are quite normal as they roam the trees around our house quite frequently….anyways Ariana was coming and the hut needed some repairs, after years in the jungle 20151011-IMGP7568being exposed to the elements this was needed very much….we wanted to show her the hut so some upkeep was required. We went up there for the day, brought some wood, nails and elbow sweat…all worked out well and¬†the hut was safe again to climb up…at least for a couple of weeks…20151011-IMGP7573

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