After our visit to the gorillas (and changing one tire that developed a leak on the way here) we were back on the road. Today was the beginning of the end…we had no more exciting stops planned, just getting back to Gamba in time for our friends to catch flights back home. As we backtracked north on the road that would lead us to Koulamoutou we heard a pop…yup the spare tire Teun had put on just blew…. Luckily Teun had put a patch on the tire with the hole that he took off, just in case. So we all piled out of the car, mainly to watch Teun change the tire (well done Teun!).
Not knowing how long the patch would hold, we knew we would have to buy a new tire in the next town we came across. We weren’t far from Moanda, so that would be our stop.
There were several auto repair shops and tire stores so it was easy to find a place to buy a replacement. We left the car at the shop and explored Moanda a bit,
wandering around the market and looking at shops. It always amazes me what you can find in small towns in Gabon. You’re in the middle of absolutely nowhere, a place that is notoriously difficult and expensive to get goods in and you find the craziest things. One music shop was selling large amplifiers and speakers from well known brands as well as home made CDs. My friend Neha, after listening to the same playlist for the last week and half, decided to buy one of the local music mixes…unfortunately she never got it to play in her CD player…
The road to Koulamoutou was good and we arrived in the later part of the afternoon. We hadn’t booked a hotel in advance so we drove around to several hotels in the center of town advised by the guidebook, but none had hot water, and after a couple days of short, cold showers I, and everyone, was really keen for a decent shower, so we decided on a business hotel just on the outskirts of town. This hotel was great, AC great showers, a welcome surprise. After cleaning up we went in search of dinner. The first place we stopped only had drinks, so we sat down and enjoyed a beer. A couple of friendly, and rather drunk, locals came up to talk to us, showing us their secret stash of their homemade palm wine. We tried a couple more recommended restaurants, but they weren’t open so we finally found a Pizzaria and were served a delicious fish dinner there (welcome to the randomness of Gabon) by a happy hostess that must have had some of that secret palm wine.
The next day we had a nice breakfast at the hotel and then hopped in the car and headed west.
We were headed to Tchibanga and as the distance to get there wasn’t much were hopeful we could make it there by the early afternoon, which would give us enough daylight to make to an area on the coast near the ferry where we could camp and be first in line for the ferry the next morning. Well, the national road that we headed out on that morning soon turned into the worst of the trip. It was a horribly narrow, extremely rough and potholed dirt road with thick vegetation or steep hillside on either side. We were often going at a snails pace. It was painful. Needless to say we slept in Tchibanga that night.
After leaving Tchibanga it only took a few hours to reach the ferry and we were back in Gamba in the late afternoon. It was hard to believe our trip had come to end, but it was also nice to be back in our comfortable beds 😉
My final thoughts about traveling around Gabon:
Gabon is not a really easy place to travel around…there are very few signs and roads in towns are not named (the best way to get around is to ask someone on the street, people were usually very helpful), there are many police stops/checkpoints (some of which will keep you for long periods of time), knowing at least some French is necessary, there are very few websites to use for information/bookings, bookings usually have to be done over the phone and even then you have to get lucky to find the correct phone number and that someone actually answers, and there is little emphasis/money put into tourism so getting to interesting places and the level of service and accommodations is of a much lower standard than in South or East Africa. It is also important to consider the weather…as Gabon is located on the equator there is no summer or winter, but rather rainy and dry seasons. The long dry season is June-September and the short dry season is the end of December to mid January. As you may have noticed some of the roads we took are dirt or laterite, and during the rainy season these can become horribly bumpy and muddy messes. Even the tarmac roads often develop severe potholes during the rainy season. And if you plan on hiking be prepared for thunder storms, very heavy downpours and hot and humid conditions. Animals also move around depending on the weather and what plants are fruiting. We planned our trip for the long dry season, which meant the roads were easy to travel on, the temperature was cooler and less humid, and hiking was easy, but, as you can see from the photos, it is usually gray and cloudy. Another issue is that one of the main draws to come here is to see the amazing wildlife endemic to and still thriving here. Really the only way to do that is to go to the parks (or spend a lot of time hanging out around Gamba/Yenzi 😉 ), but staying in and visiting the national parks is often very expensive, often the accommodations are very basic, and even when you’re in the parks there is no guarantee that you will even see any animals. Animals here are still hunted and even within the national parks there is still problems with illegal hunting, so most animals would prefer to keep their distance from humans. That being said, Gabon is an absolutely amazing and unique place that I can highly recommend visiting. Gabon has so much to offer! From gorgeous, lush forests, to stunning white sand beaches, and absolutely incredible wildlife. It is essential when traveling here to have an open mind and a good sense of humor, be friendly and considerate (even in frustrating situations), and have bucket loads of patience. If you do decide to travel around Gabon I wish you the best of luck and hope you enjoy it as much as all of us did! Bon Voyage!