Category Archives: Travel

Gabon Road Trip and Volunteering: Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project

From May 21st to May 25th Teun and I (and a group of other volunteers from Yenzi) volunteered our time to help out the Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project (or Le Projet Gorille Fernan-Vaz in French). It was an amazing experience and I’m so happy we were able to be involved!

The Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project is an educational and rehabilitation center for western lowland gorillas in Gabon. You can learn more about them on their website: They have 2 islands in the Fernan-Vaz lagoon that they work from, 1 if for orphaned gorillas (usually because of the illegal bushmeat trade in Gabon) that they aim to release back in the wild once they are healthy and old enough, the 2nd is an educational center that is home to 4 adult gorillas that can not be released into the wild because they are too dependent on humans for food (these gorillas came in 2001 from living in a research facility in Gabon) and the aim is that these gorillas will help promote great ape conservation through education and eco-tourism. We went to help make improvements (building a jetty for boats to dock on and repair to the gorillas enclosures) on the 2nd island to make it more feasible to bring tourists to view these magnificent animals which will raise the funds needed for the rehabilitation center.

But to get to the Fernan-Vaz was an IMGP2724-203adventure in and of itself. It started with a ferry ride through the Ndogo lagoon, which is simple enough except that the cars had to go on a separate ferry than all of us, one which took much longer than ours. IMGP2829-208So the day before we actually left Gamba, we sent our cars out on the ferry. One of the volunteers and his son went on the fast ferry the same day and then camped overnight with the cars. The rest of us left in the wee hours of the morning of the 21st and took the fast ferry (1 hour versus 5 hours) and met them on the other side of the lagoon. Now the real fun began.

We spent the next 6 hours driving through beautiful forest towards the Fernan-Vaz lagoon. IMGP2843-209The roads started out pretty good, well maintained laterite that we could keep up a good pace on. But after a couple of hours and turning off of the main route, the road got IMGP2857-210quite a bit worse and in some areas our pace slowed to a crawl. I loved every second of it!





Stopping at a check point before entering the Rabi Complex. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too IMGP2899-213long, some of the volunteers that were driving up later in the day had to wait a couple of hours before being let through


IMGP2906-214Still not too bad, but to pace was pretty slow through this area






We arrived around 4pm and began setting up camp in a field IMGP3053-227 near where the boats would pick us up from to get to the island with the gorillas.



We had a nice, short hike through the woods down to the boat the next morning and even found some new friends



We divided into 2 groups, one that would make the repairs on the gorilla enclosures and the other that would build the jetty. It was really hard work, and for the most part I’m not sure how helpful I was being that I’m almost the least handy person there is (but I learned how to mix cement several different ways and I’m a pro a carrying around pieces of wood LOL), but together we really accomplished a lot and made some huge improvements to the island.

Team Jetty hard at work:






Our well deserved lunch break




Team Gorilla Enclosures just monkeying around:
IMGP3103-234 IMGP3105-235 So the young male gorilla wasn’t really happy the team was working on his transfer cage and showed his frustration by IMGP3106-236continually running up the door (the only thing keeping him away from the team) and slamming tree branches or his body up against it. His care taker protected them by standing inside the cage and banging a stick back at him. IMGP3144-240All in all I think they had a pretty relaxing time…until he actually broke the door. Don’t worry…no gorillas were injured in the process… 😉IMGP3242-246

Heading back to camp on Day 1:

IMGP3031-223 IMGP3017-221

I don’t think the gorillas were very impressed by our effort


IMGP3043-224After we got cleaned up a bit (as best you can with camping shower bags and face wipes…) we went out to dinner the nearby town of Omboue. It was in a beautiful restaurant above the water.





Our beautiful finished jetty.





It even functioned properly!







On day 2 the children of some of the volunteers came for a visit





On day 3 we came back to make some final adjustments to the jetty and walkway


And say goodbye to our new friends  IMGP3224-245IMGP3459-274 IMGP3478-275


Again, he just doesn’t seem impressed by the quality of work… He was actually scraping the paint off with his fingernail, it was pretty unrealIMGP3485-276 IMGP3501-277

After leaving the gorillas we got to do a little sight seeing nearby and were put up by the owners of Loango Lodge in thanks for our volunteer efforts, but you can read all about that in the next blog post!


For now, bye, bye from Kolo and the gangIMGP3518-279

Welcome to our new home in Gabon

On Wednesday the 4th of March we flew an hour south from Libreville down to our new home in Yenzi Camp in Gamba.

We fly over one of the most beautiful national parks in Gabon, Loango national park, on our way down to Gamba. (When it’s a clear enough day) You can see the beautiful coast, lagoons, marshes, and jungles of the national park and the area we’ll be living in from the plane. It’s pretty awesome.


The first view we had of our house was from the plane. Of course at the time we didn’t know which house was ours, but looking back on it we can see in the pictures we took while flying.

IMG_8277 IMG_8275our house

We were very lucky that we were able to move into our new home the day we arrived, most people get stuck in a studio or other temporary accommodations when they first arrive because their house isn’t ready yet. There’s a few different types of houses in Yenzi, but we’re in one of the newest built of houses. It’s a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house. Since we don’t have any children we technically should be in a 2 bedroom house, but this was what was available so that’s what they gave us. Although we may end up moving to a two bedroom still.

This is a video I made of our house the day we moved in, so excuse the mess and for filming in the wrong angle 😉 All of the furniture is temporary, provided by the company until our shipping container arrives.


Arrival in Libreville, Gabon

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  ― L. Frank Baum


After a 7 hour flight from Paris to the capital of Gabon, Libreville, we disembarked the plane and got in line. Before leaving The Netherlands we had been sent a fairly detailed information about what was about to happen. We would enter the airport and head towards the line for people without a visa (we had to get it at the airport), there would be someone behind a glass window (at some place the line went by) who would hand us the original copy of Teun’s work permit and money to pay for it, and we would present this to the person who gave out the visas. Oh and everything is in French (and my 3 lessons so far aren’t really that helpful with real life situations…). Sounds simple. Getting in the line was easy enough. We showed proof of our yellow fever vaccine and followed the line until it stopped around 30 feet in front of the visa office. A few feet in front of us was an office, behind the desk in the office was a glass window with a bunch of people holding signs and shouting at the glass. Bingo, this where we need to get our paperwork and money from. So did another lady standing just in front of us. There was no one in the office and the door was slightly ajar. So the woman started to walk into the office. Then there was shouting (well more shouting than the normal level that was already ongoing). An armed guard standing next to the visa counter was yelling at the lady and looking very serious. I can only assume it was something along the lines of “get out of the office!” A minute later an airport worker walked by and locked the office door as the lady tried to explain about needing to collect something from behind the glass, which was ignored. Interesting, but the line wasn’t moving anyways so we waited. A lady holding paperwork and a piece of paper with Teun’s name on it spotted us looking anxiously at the glass and indicated she had our stuff. 10 minutes later someone else came and unlocked the door. The lady in front of us told her story to this person and after some discussion was allowed to come in and collect her documents from someone behind the glass. As this happened the the lady with our documents banged on the glass and got the attention of the airport worker indicating she had documents for us. Teun was ushered in to collect everything. Success! We then pushed our way closer to the visa booth, lines aren’t really a thing here. After standing around in front of the booth for a while an seemingly overwhelmed official called Teun over (he probably wasn’t next in “line”, but oh well), stamps were issued, photos were taken and we were sent on our way. Woo hoo, we’re allowed in Gabon!

We entered the baggage area and waited to collect our 6 checked bags (which miraculously all showed up). We met up with another family who lives in Yenzi and already knew the ropes. We arranged for some airport employed porters to take some of our bags (because sometimes this makes it easier to get through the luggage check with less questions) and as a large group (because sometime kids also make it easier and they have two of them, score!) we exited. We had to show our luggage tags, but no bags were opened (which is good ’cause we had a lot of food and things that probably could be “taxed”).

We’re released into the city of Libreville

Libreville is interesting. It’s part large modern city, part crumbling apart ghetto, but it’s supposed to be quite safe and have many very nice (and expensive) restaurants.

After getting settled in our hotel we decided to go have dinner at the hotel restaurant that overlooked the pool and the ocean. Not too shabby. I ordered one of the Gabonese dishes, chicken with a palm nut sauce, but was repeatedly asked/warned that it was “local meat” (which from what I can tell means its one of the chickens that normally runs around the streets), but I was all in. It was really delicious.





The next day we had an appointment to apply for our “carte de sejour” (residence permit). We were picked up 30 minutes late and first taken to a local market where we would get our pictures taken, which was literally a wooden booth and a guy with a digital camera and small canon photo printer. Photos done we walked a couple minutes down the street to the government building. We were taken by a guy from HR and our driver. We stood with a group of about 50 other people in a larger covered area, after about 20 minutes we were called and walked into a large non-air conditioned government building with rows of wooden benches surrounded by desks and booths. We sat for a while while the workers slowly trickled into their desks and chatted with each other. Then our HR guy took all of documents and passports and started talking to the workers. He would go back and forth between us and the workers at their desks, I guess until he got the signatures/stamps that were required and we moved to the benches on the other side of the room and waited. We waiting for at least an hour or so in the warm, stuffy room. At some point we were told to move to another section of benches and a large group of people were ushered into the spots we were sitting. After more waiting, my name was called. I went into the booth and had my picture and fingerprints taken, then a signature and it was done. I sat back down on the bench while Teun and another woman with us went through the same process. Then we were done. We would have to return a week later to collect our cards.

We had the afternoon free to do what we wished. We asked at reception if there was a nice beach nearby we could go to (as the beach at the hotel was covered in large rocks and garbage. They recommended Tropicana, so we hopped in a taxi and away we went. We had no idea where we were going or how far away this beach was. We drove through the center of town, past the airport, and after 25 minutes and down a little alley we arrived. It was really nice. It’s a hotel/bar/restaurant/”beach club”. White sand and palm trees, pretty idyllic. It would have been even nicer if I hadn’t realized after a few minutes of being there that I didn’t have my iphone. I was 100% sure I had it at the hotel. Ugh. I’ve never lost a phone before in my life. Of course it has to happen the day after I move to a country where I can’t replace it. So after we somberly drank our drinks and discussed what happened to my phone (conclusion after checking back at the hotel and all around and calling/texting it a million times, it must have fallen out of my pocket in the taxi, never to be seen (by me) again). I decided we shouldn’t let this ruin our time so we set off to walk down the beach as far as we could get. We walked for 40 or so minutes and ended up a dead end where there was an outlet from some channel/canal into the ocean. Hmmm, what to do? We could walk back. A local who was trying to catch something(?) in the outlet saw us pondering and called out to us. He indicated that we could walk through the shallow part of the water next to a wall and could climb up some rocks to get back up to the street. I was eager to try, but the look on Teun’s face was not too eager. The man indicated to take off our shoes and then led the way. Before Teun had time to protest I had slipped off my shoes and was the following the guy. He took my hand to help me balance as we crossed the underwater rocks. He showed us the way up to the street and with a wave and “merci” he was gone. It was a nice welcome to Gabon.





We took a taxi back to the hotel and had dinner by the pool again. We left early the next morning to catch our flight down to our new home in Gamba.

Away We Go – Goodbye Netherlands, Hello Gabon

After the months of preparing, thinking, shopping, planning…

What a crazy week it was….

The week started with our house looking like a combination of a hoarders home and the aftermath of an explosion. We spent the last couple of months trying to figure out everything we may “need” for the next four years (because we were told it is very difficult/impossible to get most things (i.e. everything, but bare necessities) where we will be moving. It’s a strange thing to try and decide what you may “need” (or rather want) for the next four years of your life, especially when you’re moving to a place where it’s hard to fully comprehend what your life will be like at. We know it’s on the coast of Central Africa, it’s a tropical climate, the road system is….in some cases non-existent, we’ll be living in a company run housing camp (in a proper house, with plumbing and air conditioning, etc. LOL), there’s tropical diseases, we want to do a lot of outdoor activities…. but what will life really be like? There were lists, lists of items that other people thought were the necessities of life, or wish they had brought with them, in our new home. So we went shopping, we must have been to Ikea a half a dozen times in the 2 month before we moved, and at least as many trips were made to the hardware store. And the amount of packages from online retailers that arrived at our house during that same time period was just ridiculous. So our house was overflowing with an array of boxes and random bits and bobs. Then we had to decide what was essential to take with us on the plane because it could take 6 months before we saw anything that gets packed into the shipping container. So our house was a little chaotic…


Then the packers arrived… our house was filled with bodies and boxes and brown wrapping paper. At a certain point it became impossible to keep an eye on everything to make sure everything that was packed was supposed to be packed, so I’m pretty sure we’re going to find some boxes full of trash when we see them again in a few months… A day and a half later our whole life was neatly laid out in boxes all over our living room. 334 pieces to be exact. Our walls were bare, our cupboards empty, our windows uncovered. And soon everything was gone, taken down our (steep) stairs or out our window, packed into the shipping container. The container was sealed and it was done. It was funny seeing our house like that, the same way as we saw it for the first time when decided to buy it, completely empty, a shell of what it was/could be.





And of course there were the goodbyes… We planned a “borrel” to say goodbye/see you again later to all of our friends and family in the Netherlands. It was emotional… happy and sad at the same time… so happy to spend time with everyone we love… so sad to say goodbye and have no idea when you would see them again. Sad to see people hurting… happy to reminisce about all of the good times we’ve had together…. The day before we left we spent with Teun’s family…our family…




Our first flight to Paris was at at 7:15am so we spent our last night at an airport hotelhotel at airport


We some how managed to get all of our luggage on the plane….