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Into the Heart of Madness - This is Gabon!


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Don´t expect smooth sailing, we were told when we booked this trip. We did not. And it was not.


"How was this latest safari of yours, Michael?", my friends asked. "Not really a safari. The most crazy thing I´ve ever done", I told them.


And crazy indeed - difficult. Maddening at times. Complicated. Frustrating. Dangerous. Nothing going to plan. Curveballs all the way. This is Gabon.


Where your passports gets confiscated at 02:00 in the morning by drunk officers.

Where you end up sleeping in someone´s house and never know why.

Where boats will never come - or worse, will have you huddle together onboard with your friends, holding hands and watch the Captain pray.

Where you are charged 2,000 Franc for not following the proper protocol of dealing with the 4th most-important man in the country.


But Gabon is also:




The only place in the world where you have a chance to find wild Mandrill in the jungle.




Home to the largest stable population of Forest Elephants.




Gabon, trek Western Lowland Gorillas here.




Participate in and observe psychedelic spiritual rituals - go "Bwiti"!




See iconic rainforest birds like Grey Parrots.




Easily see elsewhere rarely observed animals like Sitatunga.




Or monkeys you can never see on Safari circles in Eastern and Southern Africa, like this Red-Capped Mangabey.




Experience 25-ton giants jump out from the sea.






So this is Gabon. Crazy - but exciting. Thrilling. Never boring. Remote. Untouched. Beautiful. A super-cool adventure. And adventures are so much more fun when you can share them with good friends and kindred spirits. In a word, with Safaritalkers.




So join @SafariChick, @Kitsafari, @gatoratlarge, @AndMic, honorary Safaritalker Josep and me on this report.  No idea which shape it will take but I think we can guarantee one thing - it won´t be boring. This is Gabon after all.B)

Edited by michael-ibk
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Looking forward to more, sounds like an exciting trip. Fabulous primate photos already!

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 The entire group is all smiles.  Is this before all the madness began or after you had triumphed and survived it?

Edited by Atravelynn
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1 hour ago, Atravelynn said:

 The entire group is all smiles.  Is this before all the madness began or after you had triumphed and survived it?

 That was before most of the madness!

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50 minutes ago, SafariChick said:

 That was before most of the madness!



I think @Atravelynn was referring to the group photo at the boat - that was after all the madness. smiles of relief. 

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oh right - there were a lot of boats - and trains - and just traveling in general - it's all mixed up in my head! Ok , so time to start untangling this super crazy and wonderful trip!


@gatoratlarge and I had met up on Friday July 27 in Istanbul. We'd each flown there from our respective home cities in the U.S. and he arrived a couple of hours before me. We'd stayed at the same hotel overnight (paid for by Turkish Air) and gone out for a fabulous dinner and then flown together to LIbreville the next day, where we would meet up with @michael-ibk @AndMic and @Kitsafari


@gatoratlarge and I arrived late at night - we were supposed to land at 10:30 but the plane was delayed by I think about half an hour. We could not find the person who was to pick us up at the airport at first but eventually we met up with him. We were a little surprised he didn't have a car but was just going in a taxi with us, but that was fine and it was a very short drive to our hotel, La Residence Oceane. Though we didn't get to see that much of it at night, we got to our rooms and got a decent sleep. We had a plan for the next day to go on an outing that had been arranged months before we left home and we'd arranged to meet for breakfast in the morning to be ready for that.  


My room was on the ground floor and very comfortable. 




There was air conditioning (which was available, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, at many of the places we stayed) and wifi (though in my room the wifi only worked when i was very close to the door of the room - i.e. in the bathroom!) But the wifi worked well in the lobby and dining areas and the owners were extremely nice and the food very good. Well, I should say the food was very good when it could be obtained.


The next morning us five Safaritalkers met up for breakfast and we all had a happy reunion. All of us had traveled together before in some format or another, except for @gatoratlarge and @Kitsafari We also met up with Guillermo, the man who was the ground organizer of the trip. He's originally from Spain but lives in Cameroon. He is fluent in French and English and talks a million miles an hour in any language. He would not be going with us on most of the trip but was there to get us on our way. Now that it was light, we could see the very nice pool that the hotel had and beyond that, a view of the ocean as we were situated right on the beach!




I was a bit on the later side to breakfast, and I think all the others had already ordered eggs. The eggs began to come out. One plate, then a five-minute wait. Another plate, then a five-minute wait. You get the picture. Finally everyone had eggs but me. It was getting to be almost time to leave for our activity, and, my French not being the best and the breakfast staff not speaking much English, I asked Guillermo to inquire about my eggs. He was told they were coming. Some more minutes went by so I asked him to please ask again. This time, we learned that the kitchen had actually run out of eggs and were out somewhere obtaining them. At this point, I decided it would be best to forgo the eggs or forgo any hope of making it to our activity! So we gathered in the lobby, ready to  be picked up. 

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Gabon - Where is that? In Africa? Never heard of it? Sounds really exotic. What do you see there? What is there? 


I asked myself the same questions when Sangeeta of Chalo Africa excitedly messaged us to brainstorm some ideas to put together a safari itinerary. Always willing to explore the unexplored, I signed up on the insane itinerary of three parks that would require a heady mix of trains, and boats, and planes - and then wondered what I had gotten myself into. What was even more astounding were five other persons willing to embark on this journey to suss out what a non-traditional safari destination would offer. 


It was to be expected  that doing a trip in a country rarely visited as a safari destination, you would have the only expectation to expect the unexpected, but it was still a jolt to my pampered safari life and confused my sensibilities. The only possible way not to confound my neatly arranged brain cells was to give in to all the bumps in the flow. 


Go with the flow, and there was a lot of flows - literally.


The itinerary was to make the most of our trip to Gabon. We wanted to see mandrills,  western lowland gorillas, forest elephants, forest buffalos, all the different kinds of central and western African primates, red river hogs, sitatungas - not necessarily in that order. To maximise the coverage, the itinerary would take us from Libreville to Lope National Park for three nights, then to Ivindo National Park for three nights before ending in Loango National Park for five nights. 


We all met up in Residence Oceane in Libreville, a lovely, small and intimate B&B lodging of 6 rooms, with a stretch of public beach that faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is only about 5 mins drive by taxi from the airport.





On the way to the hotel from the airport, Anouk who met me and accompanied me to the hotel received a call from a lady who wanted to find out if I had arrived safely and where I was. Anouk said she wanted to talk to me and that she was a Chalo representative and based in kenya which confused me a lot, as Chalo has no representatives in Africa. I was checking in at the hotel at that time, and the lady boss had mixed up my reservations so I was in no mood to talk to anyone. The mystery deepened when Chalo confirmed they had no representative in Kenya, and neither did ground handler Guillermo . It is still a mystery who that lady is to this day, but it was a clue as to how the safari was going to turn out to be. 

The sixth member of our team was Josep, not a safaritalker (at least at that time!), and a stranger amidst our group. He turned out to be a very nice person with a good dose of humour and pragmatism. He arrived without his luggage, and was forced to spend another night in Libreville for the luggage, while the rest of us left for Lope. It couldn’t be a coincidence - more fate possibly? - that when all of us returned to our respective homes at the end of the trip, @gatoratlarge @safarichick and I came home without our luggage. 


Picking up where @safarichick left off, we had booked to do a trip to Akanda National Park, about an hour’s ride from where we were. We diverted mid-way to go to someone’s home where a flock of mannikins entertained us while we waited for a lady to arrive.




I’m still unsure who she was but apparently she coordinated the boat ride that we needed to enter Akanda. So we were finally on our way, arriving at another house by a river but no boat  in sight. Having experienced a meal that took an hour to arrive at Residence Oceane, we instinctively knew we were in for a wait. The lady carried chairs to the pavilion and told us the boat had engine trouble and our drivers were despatched to buy the parts needed for the boat, at least I think that was what it was supposed to be. The drivers took a long time to return, in the meantime the lady proposed going with another boat at another location, but the drivers were still absent. Finally with the transport back, we piled into cars for the next location but I don’t know what happened to the new parts but the boatman was improvising and the engine still didn’t sound good. By that time, it was probably 2-3 hours of waiting and finally the tour leader suggested we adjourned for lunch and there decide what to do next. Clue: cancel Akanda.



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This is gonna be awesome. Can’t wait for the next installment. 

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Oh dear! What an inauspicious start! Sounds like Gabon works on some of that madagascan "mora mora" spirit! 


Already enjoying this report, I know it's going to be epic! 😁😁😁

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1 hour ago, kittykat23uk said:

Oh dear! What an inauspicious start!

  You could say that!


But it´s technically not quite correct, at least not for AndMic and me. Since we found a pretty good flight offer we already arrived in Libreville on Friday, one day before everybody else. (Visa and immigration stuff was super-easy for us btw, we were in the hotel 30 minutes after landing - new record for me!)


So obviously we could not just lie around and relax (you don´t do that on holiday), I needed something for me to fix my birding craze, and a bit of walking. Akanda NP for the first, Mondah Forest for the second. Sangeeta tried to organise this via Guillermo, but it turned out too complicated, mainly because apparently there´s little point in trying to plan too far ahead in Gabon. According to Guillerom. Well, he was half right.


I found a company online, 241Tours, and communication with the guy on the other end was swift and professional, so I decided to try my - and our - luck. A forest walk for Saturday, and Akanda for the whole group on Sunday. I did refuse to pay anything in advance and 241 agreed to payment on the spot.


And Saturday worked like a charm. We were picked up in a nice car by Francoise, who has several years of experience in South Africa in the safari business, a very nice and pleasant guy.




At Mondah, after the usual unavoidable one-hour-wait (which is super for Gabon) a park ranger joined us. He spoke reasonable English, and adding in my not quite reasonable French could communicate very well.




Mondah Forest is just outside Libreville, and a good part of it is protected, as the Raponda Walker Arboretum, named after the very first Gabonese priest. I was not quite clear what the Arboretum actually was, and expected a kind of park. But it´s not, it´s a proper, extensive forest, mostly secondary, with some remnant patches of primary forest. Elephants are gone here, but there are still Chimps around for example.




It was here many scenes for the latest Tarzan flick were done, and it really is a very cool forest - we greatly enjoyed our walk. And we were good boys - we did a very long circuit of almost 15 km. And don´t be fooled by the first picture, it was not a broad nice path, most of the time it was a narrow trail with lots of roots and branches in the way, and we were warned never to try to hold on to anything - the forest fights back with thorns, needles and poison!








Forest bridge:






One end of the circuit leads right to the open Atlantic, a beautiful unspoilt beach there waiting for us.






So a really beautiful day. All my illusions about rainforest birding were totally shattered on this walk though, since I did not see a single bird all the way through. Of course, we never stopped and actively tried for them, and the forest was full of sound, but I realized this would not be the trip to stack up 100s of new species, especially without a dedicated birding guide. I was in for a challenge. B)




There was some wildlife at least. :-)




Mating milipedes - now could that be a Safaritalk first?


And nice Butterflies everywhere:










We came back to Libreville in the afternoon and met up with Kit (Hooray!), and with a really sumptous dinner at our place (which is also a fancy restaurant) we were really looking forward to Akanda. We felt being in good capably hands with Francoise, everything had worked so well today, so what could possibly go wrong?


Well ... This is Gabon. B)



Edited by michael-ibk
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It is the rich green which is so striking to me as someone who sticks to East and Southern Africa.


Fascinating report so far, everyone, and some lovely images, thank you. Looking forward to the next instalments. 


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I signed on to this adventure with one key advantage:  I had been to Gabon once before.  In 2006, fueled by the stories of National Geographic and Michael Fay's mega-transect expedition through the Central African equatorial forest, Gabon emerged as one of the most intriguing ecological destinations on the planet.  Surfing hippos?  Apes that expressed curiosity rather than fear at the sight of humans?  This was a place I wanted to explore sooner rather than later...I had never visited Central Africa and it was about time I did...




But my first trip to Gabon had its limitations---I mostly visited ONE National Park, Ivindo,  my entire stay in Gabon (about ten days).  With tourism infrastructure  (or  transportation infrastructure for that matter) limited in this sparsely populated country---I took the planes, trains and automobiles route to Langooue Bai in Ivindo, retraced my steps to Libreville and then took a plane to Makokou (flight currently not in service) and then a five hour pirogue trip to reach Kongou Falls which is the same national park, Ivindo.  By the time those excursions were completed, I had a couple days to kill in Nyonie Reserve, a wilderness with wild beaches but sparse wildlife a couple hours from Libreville.  Efforts to extend my trip and visit Loango were met with "not possible" from the tourist operator and even though I wanted more, I was getting thwarted at every turn.  I had whiffed on gorillas in the bai at Langooue which was just pure bad luck, a Spanish couple I met at Nyonie had seen 35 during their stay!  They also showed me tantalizing pictures of leaping whales off Loango's coastline.  SO I left Gabon frustrated, knowing there was  much more that I had not seen or visited.


Then Chalo Africa offered this trip and on the heels of my safari to Zakouma with some of the same travel partners, I quickly said yes to it.  It offered everything I wanted to see and didn't on my first trip to Gabon:  the possibility of mandrills (I only heard them in the forest near Kongue Falls, no positive sighting), western lowland gorillas (a habituated group in Loango would get me close and an opportunity to see them in Laongooue Bai with elephants which I had missed before) and then those leaping whales...!  The combination was too enticing---13 years later and I was headed back to Gabon!


The others have described our first night in Libreville and our attempt to visit Akanda.  Our group would learn on day one that the seemingly simplest transport in Gabon is not nearly so simple.  But in the meantime, the beach scene in Libreville has not changed much since my visit (which is a good thing) here's what I saw when walking the beach behind our hotel:




To follow up what Kit said---we were going to spend our free day searching for birds and monkeys at Akanda NP which is quite close to Libreville.  Getting in late the night before, with the typical fatigue of travel, it was a feat to get up and get going...interestingly, Guillermo at breakfast was quite impressed we had arranged our own outing as he had found outings to Akanda to be a bit unreliable in the past.  We were about to experience that first hand.  We picked up an interpreter at one spot and spent about 45 minutes for her to get ready, drove a while, got out for another 45 minutes waiting to the boat to arrive, got word the boat was experiencing "technical difficulties" and needed some parts, drove to a new location where we intercepted said boat but the sounds it was making were less than encouraging...finally, they decided we'd be better off waiting at a hill top restaurant nearby where we could take a short boat trip into the mangroves, have a nice lunch and await our chariot when it was a bit more sea/trustworthy.   I'm not sure if we ever made it into the actual boundaries of the park but the mangrove trip was nice...we saw some rosy bee eaters which would become a bit of an obsession for some :D of our crew and a few other birds.  By the time we were back, our seats were occupied and so was the entire staff on a large party that was now floating out into the river/lagoon? on a barge, towed by a small boat... others may remember in more detail but suffice to say, each request we made seemed like a fresh new surprise, never contemplated before....where do we sit?  when do we eat?  Is the BBQ for us?  Can we have something to drink?


It was all a bit comical and we basically entertained ourselves watching a bunch of weavers flitting in and out of their tiny basket nests dangling from a nearby palm.  It was a lovely spot and softened the blow when we learned that the boat would not be ready in time to meet the tidal schedule.  Akanda would have to be scrapped for today.  To the everlasting credit of the tour group @michael-ibk used to book the excursion, they asked for no payment and comped our lunch.  He and @AndMic had a very good day prior to our arrival with the same folks.  We tipped the guide and departed knowing they were a reputable outfit that just got "Gaboned"   :D a term I just coined but might have some staying power considering events you'll learn about later  :D


Some shots of our "Akanda" Attempt Day:



A nice breadfruit from the Residence Oceane:



A rather intrepid looking shot from our mangrove trip:



Trying to locate our boat took many twists and turns:



The wait wasn't too tough from this nice hilltop along the water:


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There will be nothing hidden from us, as no less then 4 writers and photographers of great reputation will showed us the ups and (some) downs of their Adventure in Gabon! This will be another milestone in Safaritalk's trip reports history. Opening posts are already showing the treasures that are to be revealed in future days and weeks.

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Yes, we have no eggs, @SafariChick.  Mystery lady on the phone solve, @Kitsafari.  Yes we have no boat motor.  Glad some of you got to Akanda  for the mating milipedes.  Had you succeeded as a group, you might even have found Tarzan.  @gatoratlarge, why weren't you playing soccer?


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Matching green boots in post 17 in the mangrove swamps must have been provided by the tour operator?  How did they manage to get all your various sizes?


Oh, never mind.  What I really want to know is, who was the woman in Kenya who called to make sure @Kitsafari had arrived?


Too bad about the cancellation of Akanda, but from the opening sequence, it seems that there was some marked improvement (at least in terms of access and sightings) over the course of the trip. 


This thing is is going to be quite a ride, I can tell. Can’t wait for more. 

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@Alexander33 I still havent a clue. if I have to guess, it could be someone from the meet and greet company that I had used to help me at the airport but they are based in Gabon, not Kenya!





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this sounds wonderful, and as the Goodies so nearly said


Do, do, do the funky Gabon
(The funky Gabon)
We are here to show you how
Ooo, ooo, ooo
Ooo, ooo, ooo, the funky Gabon
He's just like you
So come on and do
The funky Gabon now


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@Towlersonsafari that is so fun!


I agree with @gatoratlarge I was very impressed  by 241Tours for picking up the tab for our lunch and the mangrove tour and not charging us for the day's misadventure. Thanks to @michael-ibk's foresight, we had arranged to pay on the day of the tour so no money had changed hands prior. 






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I had not intended to jump into this one because I had wanted to follow with a shorter Group 2 report, but cannot resist :D


I too want to know who @Kitsafari's Chalo lady was! If you're reading this, Chalo lady, please 'fess up!  I asked high and low, all over Gabon, but came away with nary a clue...


I got a whatsapp message from Kit on the day she arrived in Libreville:


Kit: Your Kenya rep kept questioning [the pick up person] Anouk, who kept asking me things when I was sorting out the room.

Sangeeta: Kenya rep?

Kit: Anouk kept saying that this lady from Kenya is a Chalo rep

Sangeeta:  Nopes, no Chalo rep there. Anouk himself is supposed to be Chalo's rep! :O

Kit: I'm confused.

Sangeeta: Me too, was there someone else there?

Kit: No, you'll have to check with Anouk...

Sangeeta: Can't understand how Kenya is involved in all this? I will ask him.

Kit: Yes, Anouk showed me her photo too!

Sangeeta: Is Kenya a person? I thought you were talking about the country!

Kit: Hmm, I thought he referred to her as from Kenya but now you've suggested it...but he said she's Chalo.

Sangeeta: All a mystery, Kit.

Michael piping in: I love a good mystery!

Sangeeta: Big mystery! Kenya, Anouk, Chalo Lady...

It was like a Who's on First, What's on Second conversation - and cracks me up when I read it now!




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10 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

this sounds wonderful, and as the Goodies so nearly said




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