We only know a few people who had been to Gabon, and they most often described it with less than kind words. The country is expensive, the drivers are crazy, and the local police roadblocks near the border where we entered were very corrupt (at one point a cop tried to say that we had to pay him for not having the required seven vaccinations rather than the actually required one, though he couldn't actually name single one--really, do some research if you want to shake down tourists), which combine to create a bad first impression. We spent our first night in Oyem, a village where we had originally planned to launch a pygmy-hunting trip, but which we decided against after our disappointing Cameroon pygmy adventure. We apparently didn't find anything in the entire town worthy of a picture. Here are our pictures after that, though.
The next day, we got up at 5am to catch a bus to Ndjole, which in our terrible Lonely Planet map looked the closed thing to a junction with the road that would take us to Lope National Park, the only affordable park in the country. We thought it would take 8 hours, but because the bus driver maintained a speed of 70 miles per hour no matter how sharp the curve or how crowded the street (sort of like the movie Speed, I suppose), we arrived in 5. The locals said we were unlikely to get a car and should take the train, which turned out to be a 12 hour wait for the next train. Here is the station where we caught the midnight train to Lope.And the sun setting over the tracks.
This bug may not look scary here, but when it flies (which it can barely do with small wings and a huge body), the back part hangs down like a limp piece of plastic and it looks like a giant insect from a horror film. I have no idea what it was, but I avoided it.
Much of the cargo carried on the trains is wood that had been cut from the interior and goes to the coast for processing or export. Logging is everywhere in Gabon, though it seems that they are trying to manage it.
Lope National Park is an interesting mix of gallery forest (small patches of forest) and savannah. In this picture you can see both. Most animals live in the forest and come to the edges to feed.
Here is Tara tramping through the Savannah followed by one of our guides. Amusingly, instead of the machetes carried by all of our guides in other countries, these guides carried small pruning shears, with which they clipped grass and branches as we went. Tara says the shears are more civilized than a machete, but I laughed every time they cut something.
This is a lapwing, which has these terrific yellow things under its neck (waddles, I suppose). We also saw a mother and baby elephant and a couple types of monkeys, but couldn't get pictures of them.
The roads in Gabon often get very dusty, and if it hasn't rained for a few days, the plants become completely covered with dust. We saw much heavier coverings while traveling, but this was where we could take a picture.
In Libreville, the capital and ten times larger than any other city in Gabon, we were lucky enough to Couchsurf with Yvette, who has a beautiful house on the beach and who ran for president last year. She has been very interesting to talk to and an amazing host. This is the tortoise that lives in her yard.
For our anniversary, we went to La Dolce Vita, the local Italian restaurant in Libreville. This is us in our fanciest clothes... This picture was taken by Sarah, and American teacher that we met at the restaurant who was kind enough to let us come to the American School, meet the kids, and use their Internet connection for this post.
While at the American School, I was completely dominant in badminton against the seven year olds. Okay, so we were playing without a net or any rules, but in my mind, I won.
This is the equivalent of the White House, where the president lives and works. Hopefully, some other people live or work there, also. This was all I could get before an armed guard yelled at us for taking pictures.
Across the street from the Presidential Palace is the ocean. Here is a view of the city south of there taken by Tara, photographer (and French translator) extraordinaire.
To remember the time when slaves were shipped from the port, this statue has been erected. Probably not what I would have erected to remember slavery, but I don't really like most modern art. Tara thinks maybe they couldn't afford separate man and woman slave statues, so they combined them.
Something that I should have commented on long ago is tampons. Tampons, as it turns out, is the French word for a stamp, and Africans love tampons. Really love. In every town, many stand exist solely to repair broken stamps or to sell you new ones. Signs like this are everywhere. Every time we see one, I laugh inside.
It is the one year anniversary of not just our wedding, but of the death of Bongo, the last "president" of 40 years (if you define a president as simply being elected, he qualified, but if he must be fairly elected, he wasn't even close). All over Libreville are signs of him with everyone from the Pope to Nelson Mandela, but this was Tara's favorite.
Well, that wraps up Gabon. It has turned out to be a better stay in Gabon than expected. We have met some very nice people, and just wish that it was possible to visit some other national parks for less than $300 per person per day. Maybe when we are rich, we will come back to what are supposed to be beautiful parks.