Weekend In Gabon

Our first weekend during IBD was a pre-trip two-day layover in Paris. Having spent the following week in Libreville, a city that’s a few notches down in the culture department from Paris (more precisely, infinity notches), we were ready to get away and experience some real live African nature.

On Saturday morning, we took a cab to the ferry for Point Denis. Unfortunately, we got picked up by a cab driver who already had someone in the car, and he told us that his existing fare was on the way to our port. That’s not what I thought 20 minutes later when we went by the exact intersection where he’d picked us up. Fortunately, everything here runs on African Time, including the ferry, which was 30 min late, so we made it and off we went. African Time is like Berkeley Time on Berkeley Time.

Upon arrival, we decided to hike to the jungle, but we missed it (took the wrong road), which turned out to be a miracle – more on that later. We ended up going to the beach instead. Point Denis is across the estuary from Libreville, and it’s full of resorts packed with expats and various Gabonese muckity mucks, but once you go around the corner, you get the most secluded beaches ever. Great sand, warm water, and nobody on either side of us for a mile. We went swimming (Gustavo even saw a giant sea turtle), and walked to the more secluded resorts for lunch. They sunset was really beautiful, which we chalked up to the world ending that night (Spoiler Alert: it didn’t).

A friend from the Parks Department took us to a little restaurant where a woman was cooking a barrel full of chicken, beef and fish. We had a yummy meal and drank a few beers while the locals (it was a hotel-worker bar/restaurant) did crazy Gabonese dances to African music and played bongos around the fire. Their dance involves a lot of aggressive bootie gyrating – we Got Served while we were getting served.

A Gabonese friend of a friend offered to give us a jungle tour the next day, which we gratefully accepted. The sky was beautiful – it was the first night we could see stars since we got to Africa, and you could see galaxies and the “Big Spiller” (upside down southern Big Dipper) and the Southern Cross. We headed back to our “accommodations” – the choice between sleeping on the floor of an open-air mosquito-filled museum and sharing the world’s smallest tent with my teammate Ran. In the spirit of Umanity, I took option B.

Our guide arrived the next morning at sunrise (straight from the bar, I don’t know how he did it, I couldn’t even make it to Micro if I stayed out past midnight at the Bear’s Lair) and took us out, leading the way with his machete. After about two miles of walking through a sandy path through the savannah, we got to the jungle. As we were about to enter, he said some stuff in French to Gustavo, who translated that a Black Mamba(!) had tried to attack the group that went on our path yesterday. Nobody seemed fazed by this piece of information but me. Oh well, no big deal, only THE DEADLIEST SNAKE ON THE PLANET, AN AGGRESSIVE CREATURE THAT DEFENDS ITS TERRITORY TO THE DEATH USING THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE AND ITS LETHAL VENOM.

Off we went into the jungle, nobody but me the least bit concerned about encountering a creature so deadly that Kobe Bryant uses it for his self-appointed nickname. As an American hiking with an Israeli, an African and a Brazilian, I was definitely going to be the first to die. I’ve seen that movie. I stayed very close to the guide from then on. Facing down a Mamba does allow me to compare myself favorably to the Honey Badger, who merely faced down the far-less-deadly King Cobra. Such a badass.

The jungle was beautiful – cool and damp, with beautiful giant green tree canopies. We didn’t see monkeys but we sure as hell heard them. It sounded exactly like the inside of a Rainforest Café. At one point we went through some tall grass, and our guide pointed to some fruit – “the Mambas are often seen here, because the eat the fruit.” Um. Then he pointed to the ground, where a shed mamba skin was on our path. What? I was very glad to leave that part of the trail.

For parts of our hike we literally were hacking our way through dense jungle – it was crazy. We saw trails left by several big animals like buffalo and antelopes, and I think I saw a monkey jump from tree to tree, but they were too high up to see. We did see a bunch of millipedes – nasty.

Finally, we got to the beach, hung out at the resort by the dock for a bit and took the ferry back to Libreville at 4pm. Showering in a crappy shower with no water pressure never felt so good. Next weekend we’re planning on going to Lope National Park, where we hope to see some animals that aren’t crabs or stray cats or millipedes or Black freaking Mambas. Also, we are writing a paper about shrimp.

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