Back on the road, we were getting a little fed up with peremptoriness of Gabonese gendarmes. How they love their whistles… Nine times out of ten, they begin by ignoring you, but quickly thaw to amenable, chatty even. There must be a directive that says you have to start shitty. The exception was the lovely Lionel and his friend Bradley who stopped us the first morning out of Libreville merely to show us our picture in L’Union, the official state newspaper, and ask if it was really us?!
A bit frustratingly, we had to drive back towards Lambaréné for 100kms before turning left at Bitoum onto the road going north. This meant we ended up traversing the Equator twice more – the last time following a massive overnight downpour featuring spectacular thunder and lightening, which made the morning surprisingly chilly. It was so weird to cross the Equator wearing a scarf! (See the Facebook page header)
This is full on Tarzan country – miles upon miles of forest leaning in around the road; grass, ferns, palms of every kind, bamboo, hardwood trees and creepers, all supersized. Poor Zola has supersized sneezes to match. Every evening and every morning he turns into The Amazing Exploding Boy! Sometime his eyes are swollen too, but the antihistamine doesn’t seem to be touching the sides.
The further north we got, the more the dense brush on either side of the road began to encroach – it must be a full time job trimming the verges here, like painting the Forth Bridge. At one point, Sampson’s wing mirror was whacked by a piece of bamboo in passing; he sellotaped the smashed pieces down for now.
His back’s not great, so I was doing more of the driving, slowly because the exhaust brake was playing up AGAIN, with a whistling leak that disappeared leaving zero power in it. Big Reg was also overheating and we had to take it very easy on the twisty road through the mountains from Njolé, alongside the tributaries of the Ogooué river.
Sleeping by the side of the road, it was pitch dark at night and the Green Noise got quite deafening. Once I was woken by the sound of something weighty dropping off the mosquito net onto my pillow… Yeurrgh, give me a bloke in a balaclava with a machine gun at midnight over that!
I braved a mist of midges to get out of the truck in the early morning to do yoga, but was rewarded by a cloud of bijou butterflies. White with black speckles at rest, when they moved their inner wings flashed the most luminous lilac you can imagine. They were so tiny it was impossible to get a photo of them in flight, but I sat entranced with them dancing round my toes. The smell of the heavy forest breathing was unique: deep green loam layers. Oxygen so pure and powerful you feel almost high on it.
The names of Gabonese villages became increasingly entertaining: from Tranquille in the south, there was now Plus Tard in the north; a place called Sam and, the nearer to the frontier, the more Serbo-Croat sounding: Adzabikat, Mitzic, Sougoudzap, Ewormekok…
Mitvic market was crammed full of delicious veg – I bought the first cauliflower and green beans we’ve seen in ages. It’s telling how the vast majority of people who’ve been friendly and forthcoming with us here turn out to be Cameroonian. On the road out of town, we heard the sounds of a church service emanating from St Joseph’s. I jumped out to peek in at the infectious drumming and tambourine percussion supporting singing so uplifting, it was impossible for feet not to want to dance along. The choir on the mezzanine even had cheerleading pompoms that they were shaking in unison for His greater glory! No wonder the place was packed.
On the long sticky road to Oyem, we had a chat with Senegalese truck driver Osman. He had 45T of logs loaded on a 33T weight-bearing lorry; so what were we worrying about slinging a few extra oil containers on the roof? The humidity was bearable when moving, as driving creates a breeze through our quarter-lights; it’s far too sweaty when still. We could keep our speed up as the tar persisted, despite a few roadworks: thankfully a Gabonese ‘Déviation’ is never more than 100m, whereas an Angolan ‘Desvio’ as we know can take three days.
Ruby was trying hard to be Better. She was failing quite a bit, but at least she’d acknowledged she had to try – a major step forward.
In Oyem, the last major town before the border, we did our first SIAT Green Oil Swap. We gave Chef Augustin Ondo at the Hotel Mvet Palace 5L of brand new Cuisin’Or in exchange for his used oil. The staff also let us sleep in the carpark – thanks ladies!
The next morning we decided to ‘ask a policeman’ for assistance and ended up being escorted by lovely young copper Gerard Obiang to local mechanic Monsieur Godwill Afoseh, who turned out to be an Anglophone Cameroonian. Sampson was delighted to be able to explain all of Big Reg’s problems in detail. Godwill swiftly replaced the paper gasket that had blown out in the exhaust brake with a metal one. Meanwhile, in intense heat, Sampson drilled that pesky tool box back on once again before the rain came pelting down and we set off towards border.
We spent the night in a primary school playground, after asking permission from local community leaders. Over our delicious cauliflower cheese supper, we were making each other laugh making up nicknames: greedy Ruby is now ‘Scooby Snacks’, speedy Zola is ‘Dash’ (from The Incredibles). Sampson christened me ‘Shades’… thanks a lot. He’s the tricky one: suggestions from those who know and love him please?
The kids who came early to school the next morning loved his magic show. I was proud of Zola, who is managing to conquer his fear of being stared at to the extent that my shy son is now learning to do T’ai Chi short form most days in front of a crowd.
After waiting half an hour in Bitam to get our carnet stamped by a customs official, it was a pleasant surprise to be taken through to the Chef and find a woman sitting behind the desk! In five countries, this was the first time to see a female in a state office. She told me she’d only been in the job 3 weeks, but her appointment was part of President Ali Bongo’s initiative to promote 30% women and 30% youth throughout management of the civil service. Erm, remind me again why we think it’s AFRICA that’s behind, people? Mme Elize loved Zola so much she gave him a packet of biscuits from her bottom drawer.
It always takes a day crossing borders but the one at Eboro was relatively painless. We slowed ourselves down because we spent half a day using up the generous credit donated by MOOV. The data connection was not strong enough to load the blog, so instead we phoned everyone we know. It was indescribably wonderful to have long chats with people we hadn’t spoken to since we left home in July, or longer in some cases! Sampson had pulled his back out the day before and was in terrible pain, so he was most cheered to chat for 20 minutes each to his two best friends from school– one living in the UK and one in Costa Rica. Thanks MOOV!
The best call I made was to the lovely Michael Raddall at Tudortech, who listened to my story about how my trusty Olympus PEN had disappeared on the beach at Pointe Noire and immediately offered to replace it: HOORAY!!! What a Christmas present that will be 🙂
Written on 14th Nov
Mark ‘Pool Noodle’ Sampson…
No suggestions on the nick names but apart from all the fixes, sounds like things are moving along. Wonderful to experience yoga with butterflies!