Monday, September 14, 2009
Gabon is roughly the size of Colorado, with a population less than 1.5 million people. It is one of the least populated countries on the continent. Gabon is located on the west coast of Africa, on the equator. It is thick and lush with tropical jungle. So thick that the two major cities, Libreville, the capital, and Port Gentil, the major oil port city, are not connected by roads. Gabon has an 885 kilometer coastline along the Atlantic with some magnificent beaches; although the more pristine south coast is not easily accessible, except by water (no roads, remember).
Gabon is dependent on its natural resources. It was a major oil exporter, once a member of OPEC, but that resource is depleting. There is also mining, for just about everything (gold, manganese, iron, etc.), and lumber. Because of its resources, Gabon is one of the richest countries on the African continent. The former president, Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for 42 years, was one of the richest men in the world before he died in June. Unfortunately, since the wealth is not distributed, much of the population lives on $1 US per day.
Libreville is the capitol city and is located on the coast. The major boulevard, the Blvd du Nord de Mar winds along the shore and is dotted with palm trees. The blvd and some of its arteries are paved, but that tends to diminish the further you go from the coastline. The only form of transit is shared taxi’s, which will stop to drop off and pick up just about anywhere. Since the blvd bends along the coast, driving can be hazardous.
Libreville is a very expensive city, especially if you expect to live like you do in the western world. Just about everything is available, as long as you can afford to pay for it. Chicken breasts are $9 per lb. but avocadoes are $0.50. The local beer is about $1, but a vodka cocktail can cost $12, and don't expect ice.
Since 2002, about 10% of the country has been set up as national parks. However, since there is no infrastructure, transportation, communication and waste removal are issues that must be dealt with first. Getting anywhere outside of the city can be difficult. Eco-tourism promises to be the next big industry, but that will take time to develop properly...it has already been a long time coming.
Although the country is just not set up for tourism (not yet anyway), this is what makes it more of an adventure. The jungle is teaming with forest elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees; you just have to go find them. Humpback whales mate just off shore and Pygmies still live in the Northeast forests. The entire coastline is a nesting haven for sea turtles. It is a very green, wild, bio-diverse country that is little known to the rest of the world.