2nd May: Today we crossed the border into Gabon. The border crossing was a placid affair and all the officials on the Cameroon side were really friendly. The only hassle we did encounter was just after the bridge crossing, which up until recently had been a ferry crossing, into Gabon. Once across we were halted at a red and white boom by a fat, obnoxious, plain clothes bridge overlord, who quite clearly thought he was the dogs wangers while hidden behind his 50 cent pair of sunglasses. He, as anticipated, refused to let us pass unless we paid the "bridge tax". We knew it was a ruse and spent half an hour arguing with him, but he refused to budge and insisted that we had to pay 5000 Cfa per person! which is absolutely ludicrous. We continued to argue but got absolutely nowhere, he wasn't going to budge. Eventually we began to give in and started gathering the money. This was where Canada (the group of Canadians has begun to be collectively referred to as this) came into their own. Maggie climbed out the truck, and surrounded by the rest of clan Canada, broke into an absolute tirade. The rest of the clans began to cringe and anticipate a furor from fatty and his brethren, but it never came. He completely crumbled under the pressure of this 50kg white woman, ranting at him in a language he couldn't fathom, and looking like a midget banshee on the brink of a murderous fit. He quickly filled out the necessary papers, gave them to us, and ushered us through the boom. Go Canada! They saved us 60 000 Cfa.
From the border it was an easy 100km drive to Oyem where we would be staying at the Catholic mission for the evening. On arrival there was nobody about. We mulled around, people skulked off into the bushes, people returned looking like they'd gained equilibrium again. After an hour of trying to determine wether the mission was open or if there was indeed a mission at all, we were fortunate enough to encounter a local who informed us that the proprietor was asleep.He also told us that the mission was there, but that it, and the reception, were hidden just behind the building we'd been trying manically to enter. On the right track now we drove the cars around the building to the reception area. Fortunately it was open and we queried wether it would be possible for us to camp there and what the charge would be. Things were going really well, they were in the process of informing us that they wouldn't feel right about charging us for camping when, all of a sudden, there was a giant crack behind us. We turned to look, and low and behold, The truck had driven under the missions low hanging power lines, got caught, and ripped them out the wall. Matters quickly deteriorated and before we knew what had hit us camping was no longer free of charge.
3rd May: Woke today feeling a bit worse for wear, lets just be scientific about it and say that my guts were in a constant
state of flux. To add insult to injury, that dirty whore called fate had decided to contaminate me with her idea of toilet humour on the day that we would drive for 12 hours straight. We drove 550kms from Oyem to just outside Libreville where we'd got the co-ordinates for an "idyllic" spot called La Balise. Of that 500km drive I had to stop the car every 20kms at best, and it was a busy bloody road, so you may possibly be able to imagine how my squat spots were anything but ideal, for a bit of insight I'll elaborate with some examples: One was under a bridge, Two was on the pathway to someones hut, another was at a bus stop with the car door as my only cover, and to top it all off, when we hit the equator I wasn't in any photos except one where you see me in the background, emerging from the bushes, looking haggard as hell. By 6pm we were driving through Libreville and onto the last 30km stretch to La Balise, which we had anticipated being quick and easy. Well it wasn't, it was dark, and the roads were gradually beginning to deteriorate the further we got. Before we knew it we were in a plantation, driving through deep mud and backwood villages, and feeling completely lost. Then, just as we were about to give up and turn around, we hear Ben scream over the radio "There it is ahead of us! Go go go!" and we did, with complete abandon. So much so that as we were entering the driveway, with us bearing witness from our position behind the truck, we had a repeat episode of the day before. Low hanging power lines, lack of concentration, big crack, and the entire power line pole was ripped out of the ground. Things deteriorated again, locals began milling about, the urge came upon me, I dashed into a construction yard and began to unload, just to have some nosy parker prat local come with a flashlight to investigate what I'm doing! I wasn't too pleased. Once things had calmed down we parked in La Balise. It was dead, there was nobody about and we were in no mood to turn back, so we pitched our tents and camped. I died, well, between bouts of bush escapades I did.
4th May: By this morning we had ascertained that I have Giardia. We knew because Sarah had suffered from the same
thing for 12 days in Senegal before we managed to diagnose it. I quickly started my course of Metranidazole. I can't drink
for five days from now, but to hell with it, any sacrifice is worth it to get rid of this. We also learnt this morning that the
waypoints we had been given were totally wrong. Where they should have been taking us was to the entrance opposite the
"La Balise" to a place called "La Maree". It's a beautifully situated restaurant, run by a rather eccentric portuguese women,
who was kind enough to let us camp on her lawn.
5th May: We all relaxed at La Maree today. I slept while the others sampled the restaurants cuisine.
6th May: The group split up for the day. Pat, Sarah, Ben, Alex and Breanna drove to Libreville to stock up, as well as check
in with booking agents to ascertain what was required from us in order to visit the Lope national game reserve. The rest of
us stayed behind at La Maree (there was no way in hell I was going anywhere). We relaxed, swam in the ocean, and just
as I was beginning to enjoy myself, (The gods must hate me) I dive into the water and kick my own gammy toenailed foot!
Any remaining bits of toenail were instantly and excrutiatingly ripped out of the socket. Laughing hysterically, but really
crying inside, I retired to the safety of my bed.
I haven't eaten anything for two days! definately a new record. So when the rest returned to the campsite and proposed
eating at the restaurant, there was no way in hell I was being denied the prosepect of a proper meal. Chicken again!!
Damnit!! please god, no salmonella, please!!
7th May: Today we left La Maree, and the drive was essentially the same as the trip here, just one long, painfully jarring
slog. 10 hours after leaving La Maree and we couldn't go on any further, we stopped on a mountainside and set up camp in the bush. The spot is beautiful. As I write this I'm perched on a hilltop, the sun is setting on the horizon, there is a large river flowing in the valley below us and I can hear the sound of African Grey calls from the surrounding jungle. It is perfect. Whats even more perfect (but only ever so slightly) is the fact that I regained control of my digestive system.
8th May: After we left the campsite we drove for a further two hours before finally arriving at the "Hotel Dela Lope". We drove in just to be informed that they don't do camping, what the hell! This whole gruelling drive and nowhere to stay. While there we checked on the Hotels Safari prices. It was going to cost 126 000 Cfa for 12 people, damn! Once we had agreed that we would find a cheaper way of accomplishing our goals, the only other dilemma was where and how. We left the hotel grounds and continued on down the road. Barely a kilometre and we drove into a village. We stopped, spoke to a few of the locals, and with a hint of Deja - vu setting in we were told that we could camp on their soccer pitch for 15 000 Cfa per night, done! We even managed to get the locals to organise the hotels Safari guide to come and give us a private visit so that we could negotiate a better price. At 1pm the guide arrived and we managed to come to an agreement, we would be paying 50 000 Cfa for the Safari. He then told us that he would return an hour before departure, at 3pm, to confirm matters. He didn't return at 3pm but rather at the scheduled departure time. He also wanted to re-negotiate the price and said that he would now be wanting 100 000 Cfa for the trip. We flat out refused. Kees, using his brilliant pigeon French and graveyard face, managed to get the final quotation down to 75 000 Cfa. Everybody happy and in agreement, we were off into the park. It was a lovely 3 hour drive in the bush, but really thats just about all it was, I say this because the only thing we saw was pygmy elephants, from a distance. The things are tiny, about the size of a donkey, so with distance working against us the only way to get a proper look at them was through a shaky, fully zoomed camera lens.
It was Australias (Alex) Birthday today, and throughout the drive she had been nursing the most noxious bottle of vodka and apple juice. It was so potent that, if she wasn't already seeing double during the safari drive, she was definately feeling the effects on our return to camp. It wasn't long before she crashed into her half pitched tent.
9th May: We drove out the other side of the park today. Towards the end of the afternoon we struck tar, it lasted all of the
ten minutes it took to reach the town we'd be staying in for the evening, Lastourville. We filled the cars tanks and, while
the rest of us were finishing up, Ben quickly raced off to find us accomodation. He managed to find a really brilliant place
called the "Hotel Tchenga". We were permitted to camp for free, on the condition that we ate at the restaurant which, since they had pizza on the menu, seemed like a great idea. Ben, Pat and Sarah took rooms in the hotel (not together obviously). They were the best rooms I have encountered in a long, long while. They were clean, tidy, air - conditioned with a TV, walk in closet and en-suite bathrooms. The bathroom was beautiful, absolutely beautiful, and came with HOT water!! When Pat and Sarah left the room I snuck in and had my first HOT SHOWER since the 15th of April! While I was still at the Bloody Sheraton, Before we had even met up with this Barmy bloody lot!! Oh my GOD! Thats nearly a month! (sorry, I only just registered this fact while typing this).
After my bi-monthly hot shower we went for supper, and in typical African style they couldn't do the pizza, but we could order anything from the main menu. So we began making our choices, and as quickly as the decisions were made, thats how quickly they suddenly couldn't do the course. From a list of fifteen choices it was broken down to four definate dishes. Then we asked for cheval (horse), oops no, strike one more from the list. Three choices now that are the national African standard - chicken, fish, or beef. I guess I'll have the beef thanks.
One more night and my metranidazole stint is over! I can have a beer again!
10th May: Today we arrived in Franceville. We intend to do some sight seeing here. The main attraction is the Poubara
falls. Ben and Pat checked out the tourism office where the guide there insisted that we'd be needing his services to find the waterfall. We laughed it off, stole a map and headed off into the bush.
The drive was supposed to be 40kms worth of bush track. It all started off well, the road was wide, the bridges solid. It gradually deteriorated, the roads were now practically non-existent, the bridges were piles of logs and mud.There we were, the self - acclaimed hardcore overlanders, stupidly taking a ten ton truck over a maximum three ton designation bridge. My sense of foreboding (like a well honed spider sense by this point in the trip) had been tingling for a while. It was now literally burning the flesh off me. It doesn't take much imagination to envisage what the outcome of our little jaunt was. Both smaller vehicles crossed the bridge with ease and, while waiting and watching from the safety of the opposite bank, we could do nothing but watch as the tragedy unfolded. Like that moment in "Saving Private Ryan" where the one guy gets in a scuffle with the enemy and is slowly, painfully and tooth gratingly stabbed through the chest, thats how I felt as I watched. The crossing began well, the truck mounted the platform fine and then, as its back tyres started across and its full weight was rested on the bridge, there came a resounding CRACK! Kees's eyes bulged open and, quite possibly on the brink of soiling himself, he slammed his foot down on the gas. The truck lurched into action, the engine roared, and he launched himself onto the opposite bank as half the bridge broke away and fell to the river below. Here we go again, another self inflicted mis-adventure. We were trapped in the jungle, with apparently only one way out - the continually depreciating jungle path, and we hadn't even found the bloody waterfall yet!
At this point we decided that the best bet was to push on a further 60kms because, according to our GPS and maps, the jungle path met up with another road. We got maybe 5 kms further before realizing that we were honestly living in our own distorted pipe dreams. There was no way in hell the truck was continuing on along this impassable track. The only real option left was to stop in the road, set up camp and in the morning back-track to the bridge and re-build it, hopefully. Then hopefully head out the way we came in.
11th May: Everybody woke with a sense of foreboding this morning, optimistic foreboding, if thats possible, but foreboding none the less. We successfully turned the 7metre long truck around in the 9metre space we had available to us and headed back. Between 8am and 1pm we re-built the bridge using logs and rubble we'd found lying around, our sand ladders, and ratchets. It was a long, tedious, methodically logistical nightmare. We measured the width of the trucks tyre tracks and realized that it would have to be literally straddling the precipice on both sides. If the mud or rickety construction gave way it would more than likely mean tickets for the truck.
Anyway, 2pm came and it was time to tempt fate (who honestly has been a royal right bitch to us up until now). Both smaller vehicles made it across easily. Then came the moment of truth. The trucks approach was straight, slow and steady. He continued the gradual approach, mounted the bridge, got half way across, and DE-JAVU!! CRACK!! The bridge starts to collapse underneath him! All the logs under his left rear wheel give way and tumble to the river below. Kees, whose guts have quite possibly been fortified by these daily escapades was, by this point, beyond any self soiling capacity. Instinct kicked in - Repeat. Foot down as hard as possible and take-off!... He made it!!! The air horn was sounded, men hugged (in as mucho a way as possible) and, free again, we made the return trip to Franceville, stopping only once along the way to have a bath in the river.
Once in Franceville we headed for the most posh hotel we could find, "The Poubara Hotel". Ben played the charity card and we were allowed to stay under the usual conditions - eat and drink at restaurant. The rest of the day was spent swimming and drinking beer at the pool, yes beer, I was drinking beer again! There truly is nothing better after a long, hard day of bridge building.
12th May: This morning we learnt that the bridge building exercise had culminated in a flat tyre for us. So while Pat went
into town to get it fixed I worked on the diary and Sarah worked on getting rid of her braid induced afro. At one point the
resemblance between her and cousin It from the Adams family was uncanny. Pat returned at 10am with a fixed tyre and
by 11am we were off to the border. The plan was to stop in Lekoni, just before the border, and go see the Cirque de
Leconi and, if possible, camp there too. Things never go as planned. As soon as we arrived in Lekoni ten tons of trouble, as I've now dubbed the truck, developed a new problem. While driving they had heard a rattling sound from the rear of the vehicle. On closer inspection we found the problem. The wheel rim was beginning to sever around the entire diameter, two out of the four connection points had snapped completely and the third was gradually working it's way off. If the last one had given way the wheel would have been shot right off and we would have had a serious problem. We replaced the tyre, and while doing so some locals drove by and asked what our intentions were. We told them that we were hoping to go to the Cirque (canyons) de Leconi, and maybe camp there. They told us that we would be heading into trouble because bandits had been a problem in the area lately. They suggested that we go to the police station and procure the services of an armed guard for a brief visit to the canyons, then return and camp at the police headquarters. Somewhat dissapointed we agreed and made the necessary arrangements, picked up the guard and headed for the canyons.
It was a quick ten minute drive to the dirt piste which would take us the rest of the way (sense of foreboding beginning again). We didn't encounter any hassles on the way to the canyons, and on arrival we were rewarded with a rather rare, and breathtaking sight. The view was absolutely stunning. The canyons were essentially two massive craters, one alongside the other, creating an impression much like a giant infinity symbol. Within each crater, standing out above the tree canopy, were giant natural mud and stone spires that rose to a point and collectively resembled majestic towers from whence wizards would come (see that, I threw in some old speak, how snazzy!). It was beautiful. Unfortunately the guide was extremely skittish, his eyes were constantly darting towards the darkness of the surrounding forest, and he insisted that we hurry. So we did, quickly skittering off we took the necessary pictures and video footage, tried to absorb as much of the view as possible, then returned to the vehicles. On our return we found the guide hiding (or looking out) from the safest place possible, the roof of the truck.
Realising the intensity of the guides discomfort we quickly set off back to the village with the truck in the lead. Hurrying, ironically, was a total waste of time when the truck got trapped in the sand, at the base of a hill. It couldn't gain enough momentum to climb the hill, and when it did make some headway it would inevitably come to a standstill, have to reverse, and in the process dig up huge trenches that just made the going more difficult. The truck was just too heavy, and too slow. So any passengers were unloaded and made to walk up the hill, and we attempted a different route, we hit the hill at an angle and drove in a straight strip, plowing trees and shrubbery out of the way as we went. It proved effective and we were out in no time. We quickly reloaded and headed back to the village.