Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Quick Weekend Safari

Went into the jungle again this weekend for a short elephant safari.  Despite its many challenges, Gabon is primed for eco/adventure-tourism.  The country is just so green and wild.  It is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world.

You drive into Libreville to one of the “ports”…more like a dirty, muddy lot surrounding a single cement slope into the water.  There is no dock, all of the boats sit on rollers and they are dragged into and out of the water with a rope tied to a truck and a lot of guys yelling in French “non celui-ci, celui la, on fonction…sortez de la voie! (not this one, that one, get out of the way”).


It’s about an hour across the bay and up an inlet.  I guess it is sardine season, because we had to navigate past 30 single-man boats fishing with nets.  Many of the fisherman are Nigerian.  They smoke the sardines and sell them in market.

You make land at a small village and climb into the back of a 4x4 pickup for the next hour to the camp.  Packed along with your bag are some of the necessities for the trip (diesel for the generator, rice, water and wine for the guests and staff).  The next hour is a bumpy ride through beautiful thick jungle.  It is still rainy season, so the roads (former logging paths) are muddy ravines that become a river at times.
Camp is a grouping of permanent structures, built for minimal comfort.  Foam mattresses in the bungalows, plastic chairs in the dining area and water from plastic tanks above the WC/Douche.  Despite my Four Seasons history, you have to forget about where you are sleeping (that’s what the wine is for) and recognize just how gorgeous it is; lush jungle on one side and wild, beautiful beach on the other.  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe the tourism ministers realize the power of that jungle/beach combination.

The owner of camp, Beti, is a former French Finance person/Chef who moved here 15 years ago.  The food, served family style, is fantastic and the wine is non-stop.  When Beti first picked the location, there were two local homes.  Now there is an entire village, most of whom work at the camp.  He supplies the water, electricity, transport and wine to the village (can’t be more than 30 people, but apparently they consume 100 bottles of wine per week).  Of course, the village never had a chief before, but with someone else paying the bills, you can bet they have one now.  Beti also has to manage/maintain his own cell tower for communication.  Apparently, rain is a cultural challenge.  When it is nice and sunny, more people than are necessary come to work; when it is raining, he literally has to pull people out of their homes to come to work.

Because of the geographic diversity, Gabon has many savannahs along the coast, which makes viewing elephants and other wildlife a lot easier.

One of our friends who joined us this weekend is a director for the WWF posted in Gabon.  Yes, it’s great to have him around because he can explain everything about the people, wildlife, flora and fauna of the jungle, but more importantly, he is Dutch and loves to fish.  He caught a kingfish Sunday morning (very similar taste to tuna) from the shore with a borrowed rod and a single piece of bait…the chef served it carpaccio style with lunch; raw fillets with lime, salt, onions and tomatoes, delicious.

Kingfish

Although Gabon is a small country and not very populated, everything is big here...the skys are, the views are big...it is a beautiful country.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Bret,

    My boyfriend and I are coming to Gabon within some days. We are arriving in Libreville the 7th of may.
    We are from France, and we tried to gather some infos before living but Gabon doesn't seem to be a really touristic country for the moment.
    However, I was really happy to find your blog and read your posts.
    Your pictures are great and we cannot wait more to come and discover this country.
    I wanted to know if maybe, you could give us some tips on how to prepare a safari trip for 4 to 5 days like the ones you are describing.
    All infos are relevant for us, how much it cost, how long it takes, where to go..

    Hope to hear from you soon,:-)

    Daisy.

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  2. Daisy,

    You should go to Nyonie for 2 days. Your hotel can arrange or you can call direct (241) 06 03 36 36. It is beautiful, but the rooms are not very comfortable, more than 2 nights may be uncomfortable. The owner is Beti, he is a lot of fun. Cost is $100CFA for the 1st night, $40CFA each additional night. This includes everything (transportation, room, food, drinks, safari's - food is good, all meals are family style so you can meet other guests).

    Schedule (same all the time)
    9:30AM You meet a small boat at a port downtown, ride across the estuary is 45 minutes. Then you meet a truck for a 45 minute drive across the equator.
    11:30 arrive and pick a room
    12:30PM lunch
    3PM guests from the day before depart back to Libreville
    4PM afternoon safari drive, 3-4 hours (sit in the first row on the back of the truck)
    8PM dinner/drinks
    Breakfast in the Am is just coffee jam & bread. They will arrange an early morning jungle walk if you desire.
    Spend the day on the beach until lunch and start everything over again.

    pack: towels, bug spray, camera, suntan lotion, snack if you get hungry. Dress is very casual, it is warm and humid.
    Have Fun!

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