Thursday, February 5, 2009 - Lambarene - added by Roxy

Gabon is a fairytale country, full of stunning dense forest and beautiful rivers that seem to pop out of nowhere. The towns are small, clean and well organised. The pace of things is outrageously slow; at times we'd want to check our own pulses to ascertain whether or not we were still alive! All in all, it's a fabulous country, exceptionally beautiful and relaxing. One thing of note, however; we were especially intrigued to see that the Gabonese bury their relatives in their gardens; each house had a granny and grandpa resting in peace just next to the porch! How does one move house? Does this become a selling point, or does one dig up the dead and move them on with one's furniture!? "Lovely 2 bedroomed bungalow, 1 reception room, 1 bathroom, 2 graves..."

We spent our first night in Gabon in a beautiful Catholic mission. On arrival we found ourselves surrounded by the obligatory 50 kids, all asking for presents. We're used to this by now, so I sent Steve off to play frisbee with them while I unwound after a long day of driving. While reflecting on the day, and appreciating how quiet and peaceful Gabon was, I was rudely interrupted by some awful singing and clapping that erupted from one of the nearby houses. For the next 5 hours we listened to church karaoke, and in this fitting location, ourselves turned to God, praying in earnest that it would soon stop. That was followed by an exorcism being performed at the church, and we had to endure hours and hours of harrowing blood-curdling screaming all through the night. Perhaps this wasn't as peaceful as it first seemed?

On day 2 in Gabon, after almost 4 months on the road, we finally crossed the equator; we were ecstatic!

Our excitement slowly eroded, along with the road, as we spent the following 5 hours slowly creeping along awful mountain roads at 30kph. The scenery made it bearable though, the tiny mountain track winding up steep mountain sides through dense equatorial jungle, which was breathtaking. When we were only 30km from our destination we arrived at a bridge under refurbishment and were forced to spend the next 4 hours impatiently waiting for the bridge to reopen. At 7:00pm, after dark had fallen, we were finally allowed to cross. We decided that we would push on in the dark, as the distance was so short. Going was even slower than before as we attempted to navigate huge dongas and mud holes barely visible in our headlights, finally arriving at our destination, the Lope Hotel, at 09:30pm.

The Lope Hotel was worth the struggle to get there, set in a beautiful valley up in the mountains, right on the banks of a huge river. We stayed in their parking lot for the next couple days doing very little at all. We attempted to arrange a visit into the Lope National Park in the hope of seeing gorillas. Unfortunately it was not possible to do it in the time we wanted to, so decided rather than wait for an opportunity we'd press on, certain we'll see them in Uganda later. Instead, we chilled out and attempted to forget the pains of the road!

On the morning that we were due to depart, I heard Steve telling one of the hotel staff that we were selling the bicycles we had. Our bicycle rack had long since broken, and the bikes had become more of a liability than anything else, and we were forced to get rid of them. He then let the guy test drive one of the bikes, and before we knew it, the guy had happily ridden the bike out of the premises. My bike! Three hours later we were still waiting, with neither of us admitting to the bloody obvious. After a long while, when Steve could no longer bare my accusing stares, we decided to report that our bike had been stolen. Thankfully Lope is a small place and they were soon able to track down the bike, which was now in the middle of the town. At length the perpetrator returned, and surprised us by saying he was so pleased with the bike, he'd buy it immediately. He didn't even challenge the price we'd proposed! He'd even brought back a friend with him to buy the other bike! We then happily left, and Steve was forgiven.

Our last couple days in Gabon were spent at another stunning mission in Lambarene. We spent a couple great days relaxing there, and then headed off to Congo, but not before upsetting the head nun by ripping off a branch from an enormous tree at the mission. We had a passing sense of regret, but after destroying a series of trees and infrastructure en-route, this was just a single incident in the swathe of destruction we have left in our wake... we are getting used to Songololo's temperamental nature when it comes to dealing with trees in her way; besides, not that it would make the nun any happier, this was one of the smaller incidents thus far!

Our time in Gabon was very easy going, which had to work in our favour as before us lay the Congo, which would no doubt prove to be our toughest challenge so far!


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