Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quick Drive Through Libreville

Libreville, Gabon is a living, breathing dichotomy. It is very beautiful and very ugly; very rich and very poor; very difficult and very easy.  The beaches in the city are beautiful. Close to the road, lined with palm trees, white sand and rolling ocean. The problem is, you really can’t swim in the ocean near the city. The locals do, but the amount of garbage that washes up during the tide is atrocious.

The city is located at the base of an estuary, an open connection to the ocean with a river that flow into it. In addition to sediment, anything that is thrown in up river, eventually ends up on the shores of Libreville…garbage, dogs, people.

Fortunately, north and south from the mouth of the estuary, the beaches are wild and pristine. The further you go from the mouth, the more pristine the beach.

Parts of the city are very rich, with residents employed by either the government or one of the oil, mining or logging companies. Lexus’, and BMW’s are common, but so are rusted, smog pumping taxis and trucks which prohibit you from driving with the windows open. Some neighborhoods have perfectly paved roads, walled homes with private guards, electricity and running water. Two blocks away you will find residents pumping water from a common well. The “street” in these neighborhoods is a rudded mud path…until it rains and then it becomes a brown river.

In general, all of the people are quite nice.  I have never felt uncomfortable, no matter which surroundings I may find myself in.

Dinner can be a $2 fish brochette at an open grill on the street, or $100 main courses at one of the finer establishments on the boulevard.  There are very few, if any, locally owned businesses. Most restaurants/bars and shops are owned either by French expats or Lebanese. The Lebanese are a major phenomenon throughout the continent. You would be hard pressed not to be able to find a decent Lebanese restaurant in any African city.

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