Tag Archives: offroading

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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Roof Tent Camping near Gamba, Gabon

One of the things we were excited¬†to do in Gabon is camping, that’s why we bought a rooftent! A rooftent is a fairly unknown concept for most¬†Americans/Europeans but in Africa is a fairly common sight. Just a big pack on top of the car that folds open into a nice spacious tent! One of the biggest advantages is that you sleep off the ground. So less likely for nightly visitors to surprise you: snakes, or other critters. But also being off the ground gives some safety for wandering elephants or hippos.

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Teun posing with the car and rooftent on top (unfolded)

Once the roofrack was assembled and mounted and the rooftent fixed on, it was time to give it a try. Helped by a long weekend off we headed to the beach. First night was spent at Ponte Dick (Dick’s bridge) and a second night¬†at Jardin d’elephants (elephant garden).

Driving onto the beach of Ponte Dick we were welcomed by a group of 4 elephants! One ¬†was a bit more daring than the rest so we kept hoping they would go into the ocean. Unfortunately no surfing¬†elephants…

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Welcome committee at Ponte Dick
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One brave elephant
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Keep the fire going!

An important part of camping is collecting wood. Not only nice and fun to have a fire going for marshmallows, but also a necessity in order to keep the wild animals away; elephants, hippo’s, monkeys and big cats… so as soon as you arrive you start collecting wood…..the resulting flames provide a night of entertainment;¬†¬†sit around it, stare at the flames, or look at the starry nights which is amazing due to the lack of light pollution all accompanied by the soothing sound of ¬†waves crashing on the beach.

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Rooftent unfolded at Jardin d’elephants

As mentioned, the second night was spend at Jardin d’elephants, elephant garden. This raises the expectations to see some more of these magnificent creatures. Once we arrived we looked for a nice spot to set up our camp and started to look for wood. the view onto the beach was amazing and we had it all to ourselves. Having this to yourselves is fairly common in this very low densely populated area.

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Beach front property

You already feel bummed and the place overcrowded if you show up and there are 2 other people there….guess Scheveningen beach will be a different experience from now on…

During the night we heard a thunderstorm and the flashes were amazing, slowly but surely it moved towards us and eventually stopped. At 4AM we noticed a light drizzle but expected some heavier rain later, as it was rainy season. When we set up our tent earlier that day, we decided not to put on the rain sheet…..so that was something we did…. at 4AM……a light drizzle, worry for elephants/wildlife (fire died because of the rain) dark and ow…because it was our first time out we did not have experience with this….luckily we managed within 10 minutes and enjoyed our dry tent while at 6AM the rain came!

The next morning we woke up and enjoyed our stroll around the beach. A bit disappointed, it was elephants garden and our campsite was surrounded by elephant dung but we didn’t see any,¬†but happy with our rooftent we left for a new adventure!

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Bee eater

 

 

 

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Gabon Road Trip: Mission Saint Anne and Loango Lodge

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After we finished all of our hard work with the gorilla¬†project we happily¬†got to do a little sightseeing in the area nearby. About a 20 minute boat road from the town of Omboue lies¬†the Mission Saint Anne. It was built in 1889, the same year as the Eiffel Tower, and, funnily enough both were designed by the same man,¬†Gustav Eiffel. IMGP3320-253It seems that the founder of the church had a very rich mother with good connections in Paris,¬†Mrs Bichet.¬†All of¬†the plans¬†and materials were shipped¬†from Paris and assembled in Gabon, reminds me of ikea furniture ūüėČ

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We were guided through the church and the area surrounding it by an enthusiastic, and perhaps slightly inebriated local gentleman, none the less he seemed to have a lot of information and love for the mission.

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We went inside one of the classrooms of the local school. On the outside there were some lovely painting of local animals, however, IMGP3390-265on the inside there were some live specimens, I would have rather avoided…

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One of the most beautiful areas was the bamboo forest. They actually refer to part of it as the bamboo chapel as the stalks tower over you, making what IMGP3428-270 looks like an arched ceiling. Once a year thousands of people gather here for a mass.

 

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After lunch in Omboue we set out towards our next destination, the Loango Lodge.

 

This beautiful resort is situated on the northern edge of the amazing Loango National Park.IMGP3558-281 The owners of the Loango Lodge actually helped start up the Gorilla Project, so when they heard that we were helping out there, they offered us to stay at IMGP3560-282 their beautiful hotel and join them for dinner. Needless to say we were all ecstatic at the opportunity. Teun and I and few other didn’t get to lodge until after dark and we all had to leave before sunrise the next morning, but from what I got see it looked fabulous, I can’t wait to go back again and join in on some of their safaris into the national park.

Dinner was fantastic, with a beautiful view over the river below.

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But at 5am we all rolled out of bed, grabbed a quick breakfast and were on our way to begin our trek back home.

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Once the sun stared to come out the landscape looked amazing! I couldn’t help, but to try and capture it as Teun was¬†driving.IMGP3602-288

 

We even saw a leopard while were driving! We were in the lead and we saw a large, dark cat (leopards here are very dark colored)¬†crossing the road. It IMGP3609-289was quite far away and as soon as it saw us coming it ran off so I didn’t get a picture unfortunately. A while later (while I was napping) Teun spotted a chimpanzee crossing the road, again it happened so fast, by the time I woke up and looked around all I saw was some movement in the bushes.IMGP3620-290 IMGP3624-291 IMGP3630-292

Large hornbill flying by

 

 

 

 

We needed to make it to the ferry by 11am in order to get our cars on. And it was very tight, we were the 2nd car of the group and made it there at 10:50am. Of course the ferry didn’t actually leave until 11:30…

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After our final ferry ride a few of us decided to sit and wait for the cars to arrive. We made a picnic lunch out of the leftovers in our cooler.IMGP3656-295 IMGP3695-296

 

 

 

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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