#23 – Making animal friends and enemies in Gabon
For weeks I’ve been trying to contact the airline I was flying with to Gabon today, to find out if I could bring a bike. The only response I got back from the tiny company, was that the email inbox was full. I was left with only one option, wait till the moment and see what happens.
“It’s not possible”, the man behind the airline desk said, without any doubt. “It’s too big, and the airplane is just small”. An unpleasant wave of terror went through my body. I told him I could take of the bags and relocate the handlebar. “Ok, do it, and deflate the tires too”.
Even though a small airline has some disadvantages, being able to see the bike loaded in front of the airplane was a big advantage. An hour later I looked down my window and obtained the view of my drone, as the plane seemed to float just a few tens of meters above the city. I arrived in Gabon, a new country with new adventures and I can’t wait to hit the pedals for real again.
“I’m from the country Biafra”, the guy who sells sim cards said. “But Nigeria took our land, and now we can’t return”, he added, while the sound of a YouTube video almost overpowered his voice. “The man in the video is our leader, but he is now in Israel”.
I never heard of Biafra, but it was both interesting and painful to hear his story, as he is now separated with his wife and two children, who still live there. I wished him good luck and hopefully he and his people will enjoy freedom someday.
Such big was the contrast with me obtaining the visa for Congo Brazaville earlier today. With this visa I’m ready to start annoy car drivers again, eat cheap spaghetti meals and hopefully find some amazing wild camp spots.
Time to cycle again, to swap the swimming pool for puddles, unlimited internet for endless roads and air conditioned rooms for a humid rainforest.
Equipped with 5 apples, a bottle of peanuts, bread and water, I cycled myself out of the big city. Soon, the tarmac revealed potholes and eventually degraded to something like the leftovers of a battlefield.
Trying to find my rhythm again after spending 3 weeks in luxury hotels was easier than I thought. I stopped at a house next to the road to ask for a place to sleep. Not a problem at all, and in no time someone was cleaning the camping spot on their veranda. Yes, these are the wonderful experiences!
After spending a good night at a lovely locals veranda, I was recharged well to move on. And so did some bugs recharge themselves, by biting in my arms and legs, leaving small red spots on my body, so many that I couldn’t even count them.
I came to realize that cycling here is not the most difficult part. It’s the resting during the day. It’s quite difficult to find a spot for yourself, since there is either houses, or thick vegetation. And when I finally found a place, it turned out to be a mosquito hotspot, leaving more marks on my limbs.
And once again I passed the equitor, this time with my bike. The big sign was only 2 km south of the actual equitor which my GPS showed me. In the afternoon I arrived at another local’s house where I could spend the night at without any hesitation.
An army of really small flies entered my tent, as soon as I zipped it open. For the upcoming hour they sticked to my limbs, feeding themselves with whatever they sucked out of my body, and left me with a red and white panther print.
When I hopped on my bike and the wind was flowing around me, the problem was solved. The red spots kept me thinking for the biggest part of the day What if it is something bad? Would there be a place nearby where I could let it check? But the locals kept away most of the worries, telling me that it’s just harmless bites. I will check if it gets less, otherwise I might visit some clinic.
I went up one of the few gravel paths that was connected with the main road. It led me to a quarry, which actually granted me one of the best sights I got today. On the brink of the roughly 15 m excavation I put up my tent, listening to the rough animal wildlife of birds, frogs, grasshoppers and all other kind of insects that I probably don’t even know they exist.
Animals, more than before they are becoming the main actors in my day. A zooming bee woke me up. And I heard another one, one more a bit further away, just outside my tent. It appeared that I was surrounded by about 20 of them, probably attracted by some water on my tent or the sweet sweat on my stuff. Real carefully I packed all my stuff and got away without pain.
On the road I see many dead animals hanging up side down, for sale. Aligators, turtles, armadillos, small deers, catfish, escargots, rats and all other kinds of bushmeat. But I’m more triggered by the living animals. Often I see lots of birds flying around balls hanging on palm trees, which are self made nests.
But when I found a crippled chameleon, I was in love immediately. The green monster was probably just hit by a car and I decided to take him with me to take care of. When I found him, his colour was green. And it will stay that way untill his skin becomes dust, since the little fellow died in my handlebar bag, probably because of the internal damage caused by a car.
I still find it difficult to find the right sleeping conditions. Sleeping inside is too hot, sleeping outside with my outer tent is also too hot and sleeping outside with only my inner tent is impossible due to the rain. Outside under a roof is the perfect solution, but those places are hard to find in Gabon.
For the past couple of days I also had some struggles on the road. Often I couldn’t even turn my head without looking into someone’s eyes, and being forced to say ‘bonjour’. It ate a lot of my energy. But now the road started to show longer stretches of undisturbed nature and less houses, which I really appreciated.
And the nature was changing quite obvious too. From the thick rainforest, with dozens of different trees and plants crawling over each other, to a calmer and monotonous grassy landscape.
Out of the blue, I see two traditional styled women sitting under a bunch of bend trenches. I’m confused, what are they doing there? Two other women invite me to come and to take a picture, after which they explain this is the “elongo dance”.
It’s mostly the two other women who talk, while the two women with white paint on their body don’t strike me as happy, they are just sitting there, like it is some kind of punishment. I get to taste small parts of tree, which should let me hallucinate. A little flabbergasted I step back on my bike.
I headed towards a basic hostel, not particularly for myself, but to charge most of my equipment. Due to the rain season I couldn’t use my solar panel, and the previous places I stayed at didn’t have power. Even though Gabon is relatively rich, having electricity is not a certainty for many small villages.
Two dogs are laying in the middle of the road of a roundabout. Probably the infrastructure of the area is such that this turn is never used, except for me, the wandering biketourer.
Me and my equipment recharged very well, and it had a great boost on my mood. The amazing stretches of high grassfields and the lack of cars on the road added even more to the mood.
After visiting the last big village on the route out of Gabon, the tarmac changed into a nice gravel track with a few terrible mud pools. The grass beside the road was too high to camp on, but I found a bold spot under a mango tree at a friendly locals house.
I used to be afraid of thunder, and I thought that I grew over it, but last night that young boy inside me awakened again. The thunder here seems so much more intense, especially when you’re camping outside and the deed is happening within about 200 m.
The rain that came along with the thunder worsened the gravel track. I had to cross many puddles of which I didn’t know how deep they were, or if they contained irregular tracks. It was quite a challenge, but I made it to the border with Congo Brazaville.
At the border I met Carlos, a motorcyclist from Portugal who is one a similar quest as me. He fell three times at today’s track only, proving that for him it is even harder. We seperated our ways after the border and I found a place to sleep at the chief’s house, what a welcoming first day in Congo Brazaville. The country is also known as the Repiblic of Congo and shouldn’t be confused with its Southern brother Congo Kinshasa, know as the Democratic Republic of Congo.