Tour To Gabon
It was January of 2011 when I had the opportunity to visit Gabon, Africa. Being the Operations Director of a famous oil company in Texas, I was sent on a 15 day business trip to attend the 3rd African Petroleum Congress in Libreville, Gabon. After the 7 day convention I decided to spend the rest to tour its idyllic attractions and get to learn more about its people. Travelling on a business visa, I went there via Paris and landed at Libreville Leon M`Ba International Airport. It was my first trip, what an exotic adventure!
The first attraction I visited along the Estuaire Province was the Pointe - Denis Beach in Libreville; it is one of Gabon’s primary beaches that offer camping and lots of beach activities. I rented a Jet-ski at Port Mŏle to get to Pointe - Denis (30-40 minutes ride). It’s a great way to explore the shore and enjoy the fine sand beaches. On the inside, the beach is calm and quiet and lined with private second homes for the Libreville elite, on the ocean side the beaches are beautiful and wilder. I enjoyed fresh seafood at the Maringa Lodge. The Pointe –Denis has a thin strip of land that separates the estuary from the ocean. I walked around the Pointe to the ocean side for a little beach exploring. The western side of the beach was completely different, Ekwata Beach along Rogolie River; was wilder and occupied mainly by the locals. I availed the ATV (all terrain vehicles) Tour to explore the Nyonie Reserve and Elephant Sight Seeing Tour. The safari includes hiking tour with a guide to see the elephants, monkeys, gorillas, birds, wild pigs and many more. I noticed there were not many hotels, lodges, etc, so the beach was so relaxed. The beaches were empty and the waters were clear. The nightlife spots in Pointe Denise were the Rogolie Night Club and The Reggae Bar. It was amusing to watch the mix of the elite expats and the locals rub elbows on the dance floor.
January was the season when giant marine turtles visit Pointe Denis to nestle and lay their eggs. I joined other tourists and locals to witness this wonderful event which mostly occurs during high tide at 10 pm and lasts until 2 am. When the tides rose up, it became too high to walk along the water’s edge. I had to climb onto the beach. Then I almost stepped on a giant turtle that just finished laying eggs! She was so massive! I know I startled her, I am sure. I saw her covering her eggs with the sand and she looked exhausted. I looked carefully and I could see tears in her eyes. After this I head for some pizza at the Le Rogolie Pizzeria and rented a shack at the Assala Lodge to enjoy an overnight stay at the island.
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The next day I head back to Libreville and check out the Bord de Mer (Independence Avenue), it is a waterfront that runs from the Embassy district to the Quarter Louis where most of the restaurants are located. I strolled along this popular street and saw locals relaxing on benches, early joggers, Gabonese women vendors, and just people watching the Gulf of Guinea. From here I went shopping at the Marche du Mont-Bouet, it is near to the center of Libreville and the city’s top market. Off the main road from the Bord De Mer, I had a decent meal of Poulet Roti and pita bread at an Arabic restaurant named Al Amir. From here I watched a game of soccer played by Gabonese teen aged boys along the main strip facing the Atlantic Ocean. I passed by the statue at the Freedom Park Monument. Fresh Coconut vendors were set up at various spots along the street to sell coconuts as drink or food. They cut it open in such a way that I was able to drink and eat the fresh coconut. It was a refreshing treat on a very hot day!
The next attraction I visited was the L’eglise St-Michel Libreville; it is a landmark church that is distinguished by its wooden columns that were carved by a blind craftsman. Inside I was fascinated by an interesting choir which was accompanied by drums and balafons. Then I precede next to the Musee des Arts ET Traditions, it is one of the best attractions and definitely worth a visit. It is next to the Elf Gabon Building. This museum houses The Palais Presidentiel and overlooks the heart of the town. Built by President Bongo in 1970, made of Italian marbles and Greek columns this palace stands as a shrine of opulence. It is not open to the public and taking pictures of government and military establishments in Gabon is a big “no-no”. I saw one tourist whose camera was confiscated because she took it out her bag. It was best to keep the camera out of sight around these places.
On my fifth day, I flew by prop plane to the northern part of Gabon, Makokou. It is located at the Ogooue-Ivindo province. I passed by a village with tin-roof shacks which leads to a clearing in the jungle. I signed a waiver at the office of an animal reserve camp stating that animals are wild and unpredictable and the government is not responsible for any death or harm they might cause. A guide led me to the forest to meet other tourists who will join me at the pirogue (a dug –out canoe). At the river we loaded everything into our canoe and started to head inland with the help of three guides to the Kongou Falls. It was a dry season so we were extra careful over the rocks and rapids. We reached the rainforest after 3 hours. We trekked our way to banks covered with rich vegetation, and clambered up and down hills to admire the falls from different locations. Our Pygmy guide took us to the middle of the falls where we got out of the pirogue and walked through the water at the very edge while they took a bath and fished. The water was cool and swift and to see it rush over the rocks at the edge was incredible. It was simply amazing!
From here we paddle our way further into the lake region, where hippos and other wildlife animals can be seen at the Reserve de la Lope. I did saw leopard, elephant, and gorilla tracks but the animals stay hidden most of the time when I was there. We hiked to get to the Boundji Waterfalls. It was fair enough and can be seen from one place. The last part of our paddling journey was reaching the Port-Gentil an oil town built on an island (Ile de Mandii). It is found at the mouth of the Ogooue River, the northern point of the island. The Cap Lopez Beach was full of expats, top-end hotels and the only decent beach. I found more restaurants, nightclubs, stores, decent hospital, and a casino. I spent the rest of the day fishing and sailing at the small island called Port Hawkesbury.
The next day I rented a “clandos” (private car) and a driver to get to Lambarene. It is the third largest city in Gabon. It is built on an island in the middle of the Ogooue River. I was fortunate enough to visit its famous attraction called the Schweitzer Hospital. The hospital/museum is still fully functioning. Albert Schweitzer’s office, home, library, laboratory and treatment center are still there, though it looked deteriorating. A new hospital is right next to it and shelters 600 families.
Looking back at how I explored this radiant country was an eye opening experience for me. The skyscrapers of the Libreville provide a dramatic contrast with life in the rural Gabon. I truly enjoyed the natural and cosmopolitan texture of this country. It may be too expensive to live there, but I enjoyed my time to relax, enjoy the scenery, and most especially the hospitality of its people.