Crossing the Equator for the first time
GABON 01/12 – 06/12
Happy Anniversary, Romania! We celebrated the National Day with the chilled and rather hip looking border officers who welcomed us to Gabon, and handed the first professionally printed immigration forms in Africa. It was the first sign that this 9th African country we were entering was different. We had gotten the visa rather effortlessly in Yaounde (50,000 CFA), after trying in vain in Lome, Togo and in Abuja, Nigeria. From the border there was perfectly smooth tarmac, the kind of track designed for a petrol-head. Twists and hairpins, rapidly alternating at sometimes adrenaline pumping incline, spectacular luck jungle, 100% pleasure for hundreds of kilometers.
Even if we roll through diminutive villages with no more than a dozen wooden huts, long is forgotten the poverty of West Africa. And if life in Nigeria is unthinkable without the power generators, the Gabonese must have is the grass trimmer. The result is the entire countryside looks like it could host a golf tournament anytime, even if it’s not likely that many villagers would attend. The prices for everything match the manicured look: double or even triple compared to other CFA countries. Petrol is still at about 550 CFA/l though, so we soon arrived in Bitam, where we humbly requested permission to sleep for the night at a catholic mission.
The sister in charge kindly invited us to join an impromptu jamming of the kids. We learned that they are all orphans, hosted and schooled by the mission, and that the money for this charitable operation comes from Canada. We sing and dance into the night. All our misery in Cameroon and the aggressivness of the people seem a thing of the past.
We were heading towards Libreville and soon big artificial openings were replacing the dense jungle, signalizing massive logging operations, just like we’d seen in other parts of Africa. During the 50 years of African independence, many countries were torn apart by bloody conflicts and political mayhem. Gabon managed to somehow stay afloat, building a solid, stable economy, based on petrol and rich mineral resources. Then, in 1999, the english explorer J. Michael Fay hiked over 2000 miles along the Congo basin. His 455 day adventure changed Gabon forever. The president declared over 10% of the surface of the country as national park, transforming Gabon overnight into a champion of conservation. The unique biodiversity of this largely unexplored country was on every eco-tours agency mind, so they soon started moving in and advertising fabulous and very expensive packages for the rich. We could never become their clients. We were just going to Libreville to meet the Romanian-Gabonese family of Radu, a project initiated over a year ago by the only Romanian ever to have kissed the lips of Billie Joe Armstrong, Stoi.
Soon our GPS let us know we were crossing into the southern hemisphere. The sign that marks the Ecuator is covered in overlanders’ stickers. We put the dot on the I.
We were already running out of time, with visas for Congo and DRC soon to expire. We had no expectations, only stress that we were late and unable to spend more quality time with our new friends. But radu had a different plan. He would guide us to a place that we were sworn secrecy to. Beautiful, impossible to find unless initiated by someone who knows it well – and there are very few of those people – this place can read your emotional profile and respond with the right energy, the one you need to recover your balance, to feel one. In this LOST place there is a beach, the perfect beach.
The trail that eventually arrives on the beach is temperamental and difficult, separating the brave from the unworthy. The rain was soon melting the sand and laterite into a lava under our truck. Then we arrived on the shore: mellow waters washing white sands, not a soul for miles, paradise.
The only human touch: a shed with a table with benches, a barbecue, a hammock.
I struggle for hours to light the barbecue. I am having a great time doing this.
Cristina tastes the olive oil.
The photos are far from the unbelievably laid-back reality.
After sunset we lay the table: grilled chicken and pork, tomato salad, chilled pineapple and beer, a very summery Romanian fare.
The day of our departure from Libreville, Frederik dressed Ana in elegant African attire. The girls spend the entire morning at the Angola and Congo embassies, trying to find out more about the elusive visas.
Good bye, Radu & co., good bye Libreville! Thank you for your hospitality and see you soon!
Another catholic mission becomes our home for one night: we sleep over in Mouila, hosted by a very smart monsignor, who serves us local beer and invites us into a room that is also the library.
Magnificent books, some even from the XVIII th century.
In the morning we cannot find any petrol in Mouila or N’Dende, so we make a 35 km detour to Lebamba, then we return in N’Dende for exit stamps. Now less than 50 km separate us from the misterious border to the Congo and then DRC, the dark heart of Africa. Soon, we will descent into the unknown.