The forests of Lope National Park have some of highest densities of gorillas and chimpanzees in all of Gabon, so we decided instead of staying at the Lope Hotel and doing short visits from there, we would camp inside the forest where we could more easily try to search for gorillas. So, the next morning we met with our guide and host that would take us into the Mikongo Forest of Lope National Park, Ghislain Ngonga Ndjibadi, who I can not recommend more highly. Ghislain is truly passionate about what he does and is extremely knowledgeable. If you have looking to visit Lope I would highly recommend that you use his services to tour the park, either with half day full day trips or staying at his camp deep in the forest as we did. You can get more information about him and his services on his website Mikongo Vision http://mikongo-vision.info/
On our way there we observed a family of elephants grazing on the edge of the forest
We also needed to stop at the house of chief of the village in which the entrance to the Mikongo forest lies. We had to ask for his permission to enter and pay… Mostly it was just us sitting in his living room while Ghislain talked to him. Then we headed into the forest and after a bumpy, windy road through the trees we arrive at the camp.
We set up our tents, had lunch and then laced up our hiking shoes for our first trek. The forest is gorgeous! There are small streams and creeks feeding though lush trees and bushes and you’re surrounded by the calls of birds and monkeys.
No signs of gorillas the first day, but our spirits were still high.
The next morning we set off at the crack of dawn to begin our search. We soon came upon a pair of black colobus monkeys that kept us entertained for quite some time.
After several hours of hiking we stopped by a creek for lunch.
Back on the train Ghislain started seeing signs of gorillas
We found a knuckle and foot print near one of the streams.
We were on their tracks, but the sun was getting lower, so we had to head back to camp.
When we came back to camp Ghislain asked if anyone was interested in a small hike, to a nearby former camp. This tented camp fell in disrepair after investors pulled out of the project. While roaming around Ghislain found tracks of gorillas, very fresh tracks, and fresh dung. He was in utter unbelief as we spent all day finding them and apparently they were very close to camp. We tracked them for a bit but had to head back as the sun was setting. As most guides, Ghislain doesn’t want to be in the forest at dark, when elephants are roaming around, but are difficult to spot.
The next morning we headed out for a short hike as Ghislain had a feeling they were close.
We found some interesting things, but unfortunately the gorillas evaded us.
One of the things we knew even before we moved to Gabon was that we we wanted to explore as much as the country as possible. So after months of planning, Teun, myself, my brother and four other friends set off on a road trip around Gabon. We planned a route that took us around the center of Gabon and included several different parks. In planning our trip we used the Bradt Guidebook to Gabon (no, I’m not receiving any money to mention it, but it is the only (as of early 2017) English language guidebook for Gabon), and, as we live in Gabon, we gathered information from friends that had already traveling around the country. While the Bradt book was extremely helpful in planning our trip and finding our way around, we did find some of the information to be incorrect or out of date, and in some cases it was obvious that the author did not actually visit what they were talking about, but must have heard this from other people, so just an FYI.
Getting out of Gamba is always a challenge as after about 45minutes of driving you have to take a small ferry to cross the Nyanga river, and you never know how long it will take to get your turn. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long (only about 45 minutes 😉 ) and we were soon onto the new (not yet tarred at the time of the trip) road that connects to the national road system.
On the first day we drove from Gamba to the town of Mouila. It took the better part of the day as a considerable part of the road between Gamba and Mouila is still under construction and consists of laterite (red rock gravel).
In Mouila we stayed in a nice hotel near the river, where we had dinner. There was a wedding going on in the hotel that night, which made it rather awkward for us when we turned up at the front of the hotel in our 4×4 cars covered in dirt and the majority of us dressed in casual/outdoor wear, while all the guests milled around in their fabulous wedding attire. The party went on until the wee hours of the morning, making sleep a little difficult.
Day two took us from Mouila to the lively town of Lambarene, a drive of about 4 hours on a very nice road. In fact, the majority of the national road network is very good, being new, wide paved roads. However, in certain places there are “national roads” that are pretty horrendous dirt/gravel tracks with loads of potholes and bumps (more about that in a later post).
On the way into Lambarene there is a police stop we are all too familiar with. During our trip to Ivindo National Park earlier in the year this police stop had caused us the most delay and annoyance (as we refuse to bribe police). It ended after about 20 minutes with us giving the police officer a few slices of chicken sandwich meat and some stale bread. This time was no different. You always have to present your residence cards or passports to the police at every stop. He quickly examined Teuns and mine, but upon seeing my brother and Adrienne’s passports we asked where their invitation letter was. We explained that they had applied using the online e-visa scheme and they only needed the Gabonese visas that were in their passports. After some arguing, among which he also insisted they needed permission from their parents to be in Gabon, even though they’re both in their 30’s, I suggested that we should call the visa services ministers to determine what was actually necessary. This ended that conversation so he was on to his next issue…in our breakdown emergency kit (there are a large number of items you are required to keep in your car including a fire extinguisher with its own certificate of expiry) we only had one reflective triangle instead of 2. Again more discussion and us being told we could be fined 200,000 XAF (roughly $350) or thrown in jail, and magically one of the other police officers having an extra triangle he could sell us, we eventually negotiated that we would buy the triangle for 20,000 XAF and not get a fine. After 45 minutes and 20,000 XAF we were on the road again.
Lambarene is known for the Albert Schweitzer Hospital and the beautiful waterways that surround it. We stayed at the Ogooue Palace Hotel, which sits on a lovely spot next to the water.
After a quick dip in the pool we headed out on a boat tour, which included a walking tour of a small island where a former woodmill was located. This island now offers cabins to stay at.
The next morning we visited the nearby Albert Schweitzer Hospital and museum. We picked up some pastries on the way and enjoyed eating them while watching the sitatungas (antelopes) and pelicans, before heading into the museum which gives details about Albert Schweitzer’s life and work and reconstructs his house.
A little before noon we were back on the road heading to Lope National Park, but not before a quick detour to cross the equator.
Sorry for the long absence!!! We’ll make an effort to try and catch you up on some of our adventures over the past 9 months…
Back in February, our good friend Ann was preparing to leave Gabon and wanted to do one more trip before she departed. A look on the map set the destination: Ivindo National Park. Ivindo is famous for its waterfalls and also appeared in the latest Tarzan movie. Little did we know that Ann’s reputation (always excitement when on a trip with Ann) would follow us….
Teun, Andrea and our two friends, Ann and Aly, left Friday afternoon just after work and had to wait for the ferry at Mayumba. Ferry is a nice word for a little 2 car floating pontoon thrusted with a single 40hp outboard engine…slightly overconfident Teun quickly drove up the ramp of the ferry, but the rear right tire missed the narrow ramp and
the car became stuck precariously on the ramp. Luckily, out of nowhere lots of people came help to get the car of the ramp and on the ferry….a great start….
We camped overnight in a remote laterite quarry and after an efficient set up of camp, dinner and clean up we all went to sleep early as next day was going to be a long day of driving. We got up around 6 and were on the road by 6.30. on our way to Makokou.
We past quite some “bush meat” stalls where the days merchandise varied from putty nose monkeys to crocodiles and even a pangolin….all technically illegal, but the police nearby these stands didn’t seem to mind. The road has quite improved over the last couple of years, so quite some ground could be covered, unfortunately, there are also quite some police stops…48 in total…which slowed us down a bit. Also the last 100km were on gravel roads which slowed us down even more…finally we reached Makokou and checked in into the Belinga Palace hotel. We then called the conservatuer that organizes trips into Ivindo to meet us up and discuss the plan, as we weren’t successful in working out all the details earlier…it seemed all was in order and we would head into the park the next morning.
The next day we drove to the park office and registered, then headed on our way to the boat. The boat appeared to be a wooden pirogue, which is not necessarily very comfortable…and we were told that the journey was going to be 4 hrs…
To get to the waterfalls of Ivindo park you must travel down the Ivindo river and there is quite some drop in height, which means quite some rapids. But we were assured: the captain serves in the Gabonese navy…Alright, onward!
We saw the first rapid that was quite timid and not too exciting. Next one was a bit more tricky…we got stuck on a rock.We were told to stay inside and the guides got us off by rocking the already tipsy boat. A bit more exciting!
We had some more rapids and even one of them provided us a big splash into the pirogue getting us and some food wet, but not too bad, nothing the sun can’t dry.
Then we almost got to the exchange point, where we had to get on another pirogue and leave the more wild rapids behind.
We made the last turn down the rapid and the boat got stuck…this time the water started rushing into the boat and began pushing us sideways allowing more water to gush in…this was when the captain told us to evacuate the boat. Andrea and Aly through the front, Ann and Teun via the back…the water surrounding us was too deep so we couldn’t stand.
We hold on to the boat and found a rock to stand on. Andrea and Aly found a rock to sit on and Andrea started to document the whole ordeal. The captain began handing Teun and Ann all our bags, food, fuel and the outboard engine, while the copilot was trying to keep the boat afloat. After everything was unloaded the guides floated the boat to an island further down stream and emptied the boat.
We were rescued to a little sandbank and dried up while waiting for the other pirogue to pick us up….this sure fits in Ann’ s adventures book…
After another 1.5hrs in the second pirogue we made it to our camp. The camp was pretty basic but as this is truly the middle of nowhere and was quite impressive. The location beautiful, on the edge of the river, next to a waterfall and enveloped by the forest.
After unloading and relaxing a bit we did the first hike to nearby waterfalls through the jungle. No major wildlife sightings unfortunately. Back on arrival at camp we tried to dry some more clothing but with 90% humidity there is little chance…we played some cards and had some s’mores! Even the guides were impressed.
The next day was the hike to the big waterfalls.
1hr hike though the forest, then a short boat ride across a lagoon boardered by smaller falls, and finally another 1.5 hrs hike, but finally we made it!
A magnificent view, despite the smaller size of the falls as it was just the beginning of the rainy season so not much water yet. But this allowed us to go to the base of the waterfall, which gave a good impression of the size and a lovely view.
We soon headed back to camp where we had a delicious lunch and started our journey back up the river. This meant we had to go up the rapids….luckily this captain was a bit more experienced and at some points told us to get out of the boat and walk along the sides as he would go up he rapids by himself.
After a long day we finally got back to the Belinga Palace hotel where enjoyed a hot shower and air conditioned room, then we set off to have some dinner and happened to walk into a bizarre restaurant where the menu solely consisted of bush meat including rare and endangered species…funnily enough they didn’t have anything any food for us…mmm…weird. A tip from a local guy brought us to a nice waterside restaurant where we had a delicious meal.
Early the next day we started our journey back and we made it from Makokou all the way to Tchibanga..an 800km journey!
We stayed overnight in Tchibanga and next day we continued our journey and timed so we would take the earliest ferry back. This time Teun decided to go a bit slower up the ramp and made it in 1 go!
After 2100kms in 5 days, 48 police stops we came home, quickly refreshed and went to work, still full of adrenaline from the trip, an amazing experience despite the troublesome boat ride.
At 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, watching the elephants coming through camp to eat all the ripe mangos, and kayaking around the lake.
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 Loango 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 the 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.
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 impressive 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. Or 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 🙂
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 friends 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. It 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.
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
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!
We were all pretty exhausted after the long, hot hike, but everyone agreed that it was an amazing experience.