Busy times

Sorry for the lack of posts! We’re so busy enjoying our new life here we haven’t had time to put together another blog post ūüėČ just kidding…sort of ūüôā I was in the Netherlands for a conference for about 10 days and Teun has gotten busy with work, but last weekend we were part of a group of volunteers that drive up north to help repair cages and build a jetty at a gorilla education and rehabilitation center. It was an amazing experience! We’ll write more about it soon, but now (as in a few hours from when I’m typing this) we’re leaving to go to Zimbabwe to celebrate our 1 year wedding anniversary. Here’s a little teaser of our experience with the gorillas:

 

 

Our New Car!

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!

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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.IMGP1844Then 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.IMGP1839¬†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.IMGP1853At 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.

IMGP1872The 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.1857As 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.IMGP1862

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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.

IMGP1880This 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.¬†IMGP1883We 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.

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Snake in the Grass

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The other day I took Calli and Andrew’s dog, Hunwick, for a walk. We went to the golf course and as we walking down the road that leads out of it I noticed Hunwick locked onto to something in the grass and was slowly heading toward it. As I stared in the same direction and¬†thought to myself “hmmm that look a little bit like a snake”. A second later I was quickly pulling the dog back towards me before it reached the head of the maybe snake. And indeed it was a snake.

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From my internet research I think it’s a¬†Rhinoceros Horned Viper. (Still need to double check with someone who would know for sure) Venomous, but pretty timid, luckily for us. Keeping a safe distance (and trying to hold back the dog that wanted nothing more than to get¬†the snake) I watched it cross the road and head into the jungle. Pretty cool.

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First Weeks / First Experiences in Gabon

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… IMG_8290Ants (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…).IMG_8294

 

20140308-IMGP0821 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.

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There’s a beautiful beach called Colas that isn’t too far from our house and 20140306-IMGP0795isn’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 20140308-IMGP0829spotted some¬†movement a ways off by the trees…it was a mother and baby elephant!They were headed toward the20140306-IMGP0797 beach, but soon spotted us and headed 20140306-IMGP0804back to forest, too bad, but it was a¬†magical moment.

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20140306-IMGP0758We 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.

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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 11060102_10205177411927318_1965109754594954912_nclothes 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 IMG_8306competition 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.

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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.

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And we can’t forget about all of the elephants!

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The first two weeks we were here we saw elephants almost every day! It helped that we were seeking them out ūüėČ we would take drives in the evening before sunset trying to spot wildlife.¬†20140314-IMGP0976Some 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!

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Elephant family staring suspiciously at me as they decide when to cross the street and wander through Yenzi.

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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 IMGP1153safety 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.

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And I’ve spotted other beautiful creatures¬†just walking around camp.

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The birds here are amazing! Usually I’m too slow to get a decent picture, but sometimes I’m lucky.

 

 

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There are lizards everywhere!

 

 

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Haven’t seen too many creepy insects (yet), but a few big grasshoppers, butteflies, dragon flies, and a praying mantis.

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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.

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Camping in Gabon

One of the, many, things we wanted to do while here in Gabon was to go camping. And we just did our first trip! We went with a group of 9 people (6 adults and 3 children) to Pointe Pedras. A scenic beach right next to the jungle. The ladies went earlier during the day and set up the campsite, the men joined after work. The drive to the campsite is a bit different, first so20140313-IMGP0899me tarmac, then laterite and finally sand. Going from a plain landscape through dense bushes which try to hide the path going to the beach. Soon after our arrival and some walks on the beach the prep work for dinner started which actually means gathering wood to build¬†a fire for¬†BBQing (and keeping the elephants away). Everyone brought some delicious items which were BBQ’d and accompanied by various salads etc.¬†¬†Then the night falls and a beautiful sky full of stars appeared. Also making it pitch black dark and very difficult to see your surroundings. This is not a bad thing if there weren’t any elephant tracks and manure around us….they are 20140313-IMGP0909around us and are very difficult to spot but before you know they are right in front of you! Before bedtime we did a little walk on the beach and found fresh hippo tracks but didn’t hear anything. Unfortunately the¬†hippo had set off, probably annoyed about the people sitting around in his spot….. Before we all gracefully retired we put some extra wood on the fire, just to make sure we wouldn’t be surprised by a nightly visit of an elephant which will start shaking the tent, or trampling us. That is the reason we bought¬†a roof tent….20140313-IMGP0927

After a hot and some¬†what humid night, resulting in a sweaty night of some sleeping and mostly¬†avoiding touching each other. We don’t need more body heat! The true beauty is when the sun rises and you can hear the monkeys in the trees jumping around with some parrot noises here and there.

We decided to get up early and 20140313-IMGP0912walk to the lagoon and hope to see a surfing hippo or maybe an elephant. They tend to go out early to avoid the direct sunlight, or for that matter the people trying to spot them…. unfortunately no signs of wildlife at this lagoon.20140313-IMGP0919 After a delicious breakfast containing fresh coffee, cinnamon rolls and scrambled eggs and some monkey entertainment we decided to walk over to the other side. There was a breakthrough where the river flows into the ocean this provides an interesting interaction between the salt and freshwater and brings in nutrients for the saltwater species. 20140313-IMGP0921Usually a good fishing spot or an easy way for wildlife to hop between the two. We spotted elephant and hippo tracks, but again the animals were probably hiding in the woods.¬†Unfortunately no wildlife, most likely because of the sun starting to burn quite hot, it is the equator after all. We knew they were around, fresh tracks gave away their presence but didn’t reveal them as the tracks ended in the water where they wandered off…

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After the walk we sat down and watched the children play. The little girl in the photo, Liefie started to practice her surfing skills and balance. She must have some Australian bloodlines.

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There will always be an end, also for this trip. We packed up the stuff and only needed to take down the swing, which was knotted up to the tree….

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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.

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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 ūüėČ All of the furniture is temporary, provided by the company until our shipping container arrives.

 

Arrival in Libreville, Gabon

‚ÄúToto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.‚ÄĚ ¬†‚Äē 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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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….

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Hello world!

Welcome to our blog!

We started this website¬†to share with our family and friends (and who ever else decides to read this) all of the adventures and struggles¬†we (Andrea and Teun) will experience during our time living in Gabon. We’re very excited to explore and enjoy our new home.

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Our house in Gabon the day we moved in (March 4, 2014)

 

‚ÄúThe soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.‚ÄĚ
‚Äē Emily Dickinson

 

Andrea and Teun's adventures in Gabon