I thought it was drizzling when I woke up. It wasn’t; it’s just so humid that water was condensing on to the tree leaves above me and then falling off. It’s called a rainforest for a reason.
It was about 25km to the town of Ndende, where I needed to get my passport stamped. The road was generally better than it had been the previous night. At the edge of town the tarmac began, and there was a checkpoint. The guy there took a photo of my passport page and directed me on to the main immigration office in the town.
I made my way through the town, which was unlike the last few countries in a number of ways. Gabon is visibly richer and the buildings looked sturdier and more modern, the shops better stocked. There was even a small supermarket. And, miraculously, people didn’t yell at me!
The immigration office was open, but the chief wasn’t there and apparently only he gets to play with the stamp. The officer said he might be a while, so I went to check out a hotel, then went to a small supermarket. I then waited a bit longer until the chief arrived and stamped my passport.
It was only about 9 AM but I decided to check into the hotel. I figured I was due a rest day – not to mention a wash; my bike and myself were covered in mud.
I spent the day getting various minor jobs done. One of these involved having some patches sewn on to my handlebar bag, which had a few holes. The seamstress who did the work for me was a friendly woman called Giselle. She was good at speaking in a way that’s easy for a foreigner – slow, with simple words. It’s not something many people can do well! I enjoyed chatting to her.
The room itself wasn’t great – there was no mosquito net so I set up my tent on the bed. The bed wasn’t very comfy so I set under my air mattress as well. Nonetheless I decided to stay a second night – having been relatively busy the first day, I wanted a day to properly rest. Besides, this was my first time paying for accommodation in nearly a month!
After this second rest day I felt very refreshed when I set off cycling. I enjoyed rolling fast on the smooth, flat tarmac. Especially for the first few hours, it was very quiet. I passed only small hamlets, mostly consisting of wooden buildings.
There was lots of grassland around but I never saw any animals grazing it. There were several signs for tracks leading away to palm oil plantations, so I guess many of the people worked on those.
Later on I passed a bike shop, and stopped to pick up another pack of patches before riding on.
Gabon has a remarkable number of police checkpoints: there’s one every 15 km or so on average. Usually I just ride straight through and they don’t seem to mind. One, though, I approached while on a rare uphill, so I was going slow enough to give the police officer time to decide she wanted me to stop.
She didn’t really seem to know what she wanted from me. I gave her my passport and she looked at it for a bit. She called over a soldier and gave him the passport. He reckoned it was fine, gave it back to me, and walked off.
I think she just had no idea what she was supposed to do with foreigners. A Senegalese man drove past and she stopped to get him to translate some questions into English. Some local people explained to her that I was a tourist and she let me continue.
Unfortunately at this point my rear tyre had gone flat. I went over to the shade and swapped in a new tube. The hole was on the inside of the tube – next to the rim. This was a bit odd as I’d put some new rim tape in while I was in Luanda, perhaps 1500km ago.
A few hours later I felt my rear tyre going flat again. It was another hole on the inside of the rim. I’d patched the tube I swapped out earlier, so I fitted that again but it started leaking out of another hole on the inside of the tube.
I got out my other spare tubes, and a roll of rim tape. I cleaned out the rim and the old tube, fitted both tapes, and another tube. I pumped it up and started packing away… And it started leaking from a hole on the inside. Hoping this was a fluke, that this tube had perhaps been weakened by previous use, I fitted another one. Hiss….
It doesn’t look that much written down, but all this added up to quite a long time. I thought about the fact that I needed to get this sorted relatively soon in order to have time to get water before setting up camp. Shortly afterwards, a vehicle stopped after passing me. The driver, an Arab man, walked over to me to hand me a bottle of water and check I was alright. That was very much appreciated! Another passerby told me there was a bike mechanic in a village 20km on.
It seemed very strange that these leaks were appearing pretty much instantly. With two rolls of rim tape it seemed unlikely something from the rim was penetrating through. I thought there was a chance there was some issue with the old rim tape, so I decided to try with just the new tape. I fitted a tube I’d patched, but the patch didn’t stick properly. How I miss those good patches I used to have…
I patched up a tube, fitted it, and it held air. I packed up and cycled on, about 2 hours after I’d stopped. There was a wild camp spot marked on iOverlander 4km ahead, so I headed there. It was a little earlier than usual, but getting bitten by midges was bad enough; I did not like the idea of being stuck at the side of the road at sunset with potentially malarial mosquitoes biting me.
My tyre was still holding air in the morning, so off I went. After a couple of hours I reached the town of Fougamou, situated on a river. I stopped at the Cecado, a supermarket chain that seems to be present in most Gabonese towns.
From Fougamou the road climbed slightly away from the river and into the forest. There were surprisingly frequent hamlets along the way. Occasionally these had “bush meat” – various animals hanging for sale at the road side.
In the early afternoon I passed through Lambarene, another riverside town, this time sitting astride the river Ogooue, one of Gabon’s largest. The road continued on upstream running roughly parallel to the river but several kilometres away from it.
There were lots of hamlets around and between them the jungle was dense, making it difficult to find somewhere to camp. At one point I followed a footpath away from the road but it led to a graveyard; I’d rather not offend anyone by sleeping on top of their dead relatives.
I passed a school and decided to see if I could camp there. I looked around but couldn’t find anyone to ask, so I just set up camp. A while later I heard some people arrive who seemed to live in a building on the property. It was dark so they hadn’t seen me and were unlikely to, but I decided to go and talk to them. They were fine with me camping.
About an hour into the morning’s cycling I reached Bifoun, a small town situated at a junction in the road. Continuing straight on would take me to the capital; left goes to Cameroon. I went to a supermarket then turned left.
The road was quite atrocious after leaving Bifoun, terribly cracked with some massive potholes. I stopped for a break and got bitten by some horrible midges. They were small enough that I didn’t really notice them much and wasn’t concerned – I’d been getting bitten by midges the last couple days. But after a while these bites became incredibly itchy, to the point of being painful and making it difficult to focus on anything else! I cut that break short and rode away from the midges.
It was very hilly and particularly slow because I couldn’t go fast on the descents. Not only was there a chance of potholes lurking around the constant twists and turns, these potholes also meant there was a decent chance there’d be an oncoming lorry on the wrong side of the road. The worst potholes were usually in the dips, so I could never start climbs with any sort of momentum.
After a few hours I reached another town, Ndjole. I got a bit more attention here than usual for Gabon -“Le Blanc! Le Blanc! Money! Money!” Past the town the road surface was pretty much flawless. It was nice to be able to take the descents a bit faster.
The road followed the river a little longer then headed up into the hills. In one of the villages there was a monkey for sale on one of the bush meat stands. I’d have taken a photo but it looked like it had been shot in the face, and there was a lot of blood.
Shortly afterwards I passed a sign that marked a major milestone: the equator! Well, I didn’t see the sign at first as it had fallen to the ground. I propped it up against the post for the sake of a picture.
I cycled on for another hour or so in the northern hemisphere. At sunset I conveniently reached a large sandy clearing, so I made my way away from the road and set up camp.
An hour or so before sunrise I woke up to see a man walking up to my tent with a gun. He said hello and asked if I was sleeping. I said yes, groggily. He said he was going hunting. “Ok,” I said, and dozed a bit longer before starting to pack up. This seemed quite unremarkable to me at the time.
It was only later in the afternoon that I thought about it, and imagined myself at school, and how unlikely it would have seemed that ten years later I’d be cycling around Africa, sleeping in my tent in the rainforest and woken up by a man with a gun. And not only that, but I’d think it was normal!
A bit later I packed up and got to cycling. It was a pretty uneventful day; there generally wasn’t much of a view as I cycled through dense forest. I only later realised I hadn’t taken any pictures. So instead here’s a photo I took a couple days earlier; it looks similar!
I could not generally see much agriculture going on, but from what I saw for sale at the road side, cassava and plantains seem the staple foods.
In the late afternoon I reached the town of Mitzic. The formal supermarkets were closed, presumably because it was Sunday. Minimarkets were still open though so I stocked up and continued cycling. There was thunder in the distance and a few raindrops so I wanted to get a move on and try to dodge the rain.
At this point I was pretty close to Equatorial Guinea, and the road was parallel to the border for the next 150km. Equatorial Guinea is a small country made wealthy by a huge oil industry. As such they have no interest in tourists and don’t tend to issue visas, so unfortunately I’ll be skipping that one.
I managed to stay dry as I cycled for the last hour or so of sunlight. At the end of the day I saw a cell tower. There was a shelter nearby and I asked the people living by the tower if I could camp there. Instead they kindly invited me to sleep in their spare room. Didas and his wife were employed to watch the cell tower, which is quite a common thing in Africa.
It rained a bit a few hours after dark, and morning came with the usual mist. I cycled away from the cell tower, up and down through the forest. The hills were often steep – I used the full range of my gears, frequently swapping from highest to lowest.
The Gabonese villages are different in many ways to those of their neighbours. The houses are typically of better construction, occasionally with lawns outside that make them look almost European. Elsewhere, animals such as goats typically eat all the grass in the village – grazing animals are very rare in Gabon. Some of the lawns are even mown with strimmers as opposed to machetes. Some houses even have glass windows.
A little while after passing the town of Oyem, I saw the top of what looked like a huge stadium emerging from the trees. I got closer and it was indeed a stadium, apparently built for the African Cup of Nations. Other than the stadium there’s not really much tourist infrastructure around – I wondered where the viewers would have stayed. Or perhaps it was mostly locals?
In the evening I stopped again at a school. I asked a man passing by if I could camp there. He said yes and informed the village chief, who came over and confirmed that I was fine to camp there.
June 7: 26 km
June 9: 138 km
June 10: 191 km
June 11: 138 km
June 12: 140 km
June 13: 133 km
One thought on “Gabon”
Quite a journey that one tires, midges, men with guns! On you go …
Look forward to reading the next chapter Lynda