In the weeks prior to Gabon a search of the usual flight websites failed to find any reasonable flights from São Tomé to Gabon. I was pretty much resolved to catching an expensive flight with 2-3 stops, bouncing around a couple of West African airports, until in Cape Verde I noticed a billboard advertising CEIBA, the national airline of Equatorial Guinea. I’d never heard of them!
They fly only on Fridays and don’t have a normal website, so we found their office in SãoTomé and went to book our seats. “Sorry it’s full”, was the answer!!
Then we found out about another airline I’d never heard of, called Afrijet, which also flys the route. To cut a long story short we arrived at the airport to catch our Afrijet flight only to find our jet had propellers.
Before long we’d made the short hop back to mainland Africa and had landed in Libreville, the capital of Gabon.
Apparently the 500km stretch of road to Lopé is pretty bad and just about everyone catches the train.
After two days in Libreville we boarded the train to Lopé, which is a small town dead smack in the middle of Gabon sitting on the edge of Lopé National Park our destination for the next few days.
The Trans Gabon Railway is a single track line that runs from Libreville’s Owendo station in the West to Franceville in the East. Covering 669km, the route crosses the equator, runs through dense jungle, remote villages and follows the impressive Ogooué river for large sections.
There are some cool warnings about the train like, ‘the exit doors are not locked and can slide open of their own accord. Depending on the speed, if you survive a fall from the train, you would likely be in incredibly remote and inhospitable jungle surrounds, so be careful!’
Our short trip to Gabon is primarily to see Mandrills. Gabon is the best place in the World to see them and July is the month they come together into large groups of 500 individuals to breed. It’s also the time the large males come into their breeding colours.
French researcher David Lehmann has been working with the Mandrills for four years and has a couple of them radio tracked.
We joined David and his assistant Leeza and headed out across the savanna to a section of rainforest where a group of 500 were last seen the day before.
We were lucky. The group were only 100m from the road and after a walk through the forest we soon found them and had nice views of a couple of big males. David noticed they were heading for the road, so we quickly made our way out of the forest and back to the road where we waited.
The binocular views were excellent but I was regretting leaving my camera at home this year and only travelling with my phone and Gopro, neither of which are any good for photographing wildlife.
After five minutes the first male crossed the road and then over the next twenty minutes 300 Mandrill, including twenty brightly coloured males, crossed in front of us. It was incredible to watch.
David said it was the best views he’d had of the big group in a year.
We relaxed and did a couple of walks around Lopé finishing the visit on a day tour with a guy called Ghislain from a business called Mikongo Vision. I reckon I’ve had a pretty good record of avoiding dodgy tour guides in Africa over the years but got conned by this unscrupulous thief.
Unfortunately he came recommended by some people that have used him in the past. We paid him for a full day and he drove us around doing other things all day and then dropped us off at the motel in the afternoon.
After complaining, he said we could do some activities the next day. He then jumped on the midnight train to Libreville and disappeared.
After another night in Libreville we boarded the plane for a cross continental flight and after five months, I said goodbye to West Africa.
Gabon is a spectacular country jammed packed full of great wildlife and things to do. They have habituated Gorillas for half the price of Uganda and Rwanda as well as good beaches and if you’re lucky even surfing Hippos. For our Gabon logistics we used Fameli at Gabon Adventures and he was excellent and professional.
I really only stayed eight days because I’ve been to all the countries surrounding Gabon except Equatorial Guinea and seen all the wildlife in those other countries. If I’d come to Gabon first I probably would have stayed for 3-4 weeks.
Which is exactly how long we’re staying in African country no. 46, Mauritius and Rodrigues, with maybe an extra week on Réunion since we’re so close.
Bye for now..