Gabon is known for it's untouched and undeveloped land. Tourism continues to struggle here due to sky high costs, inability to get visas and all around difficulty to travel within the country. The result of this is that when you do try to explore, you aren't surrounded by tourists, the landscape is natural and beautiful and the animals are a-plenty.
On Sunday morning, we arose early for a trip to Loango National Park. Two hours of travel on an unpaved and bumpy road through patches of savannah and then through dense jungle, landed us at Loango Lodge where we met our rangers for the day.
Because the lodge was fully booked for the long weekend, all of the land cruisers were taken for safari trips during the day but they were able to accommodate us with a pirogue, a traditional Gabonese fishing boat. The rangers would take us by boat to different locations where we'd jump out, hike and search for animals. To be honest, I was prepared to see nothing but was pleasantly surprised when we found buffalo and an elephant within the first hour.
The lagoon eventually opens up to the ocean and it's here where one hopes to spot Gabon's surfing hippos. A few years ago, a National Geographic reporter happened to experience this rare sight and it's been famous ever since. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to catch - in fact, the warden of the park has never personally seen it in his 3 years at Loango Lodge.
While we didn't glimpse the hippos surfing, we did view 6 hippos throughout the day. They were fairly camera shy though making it near impossible to get a good photo.
Unfortunately, no surfing hippos on this beach while we were there.
At one point, we jumped out of our boat as we were trying to track down an elephant we'd seen at a distance. When we returned to the boat, we found it floating about 500 metres away from the shore. We joked as to who was going to swim out to get it when a hippo popped up in the water between us and the pirogue. For some reason, neither of the rangers wanted to get in the water and thus, phoned a colleague a little further down the river to help us out.
Loango really did deliver the animals. While we didn't see nearly as much as we did in South Africa, there was something about being somewhere so undeveloped and so unknown to much of the world.
The next morning we jumped back in a pirogue from Omboué to St. Anne's Mission - about a 30 minute cruise from the village. St. Anne's Mission is very well known in Gabon as the church itself was built from the remnants of the Eiffel tower and designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. Unfortunately today, much of the property has been let go as there are no missionaries there. Local's from a nearby village give a guided tour and they still do hold Mass but the majority of the property is completely overgrown and unusable.
The Bamboo Cathedral
From St Anne's, we carried on down the river and through smaller waterways to find crocodiles. Eventually, we turned into a narrow river with water so still and so dark that it created beautiful reflections of the towering jungle on either side.
The crocodiles like to sun themselves along the river's edge. Our guide would pull our pirogue up quite close, we'd snap away our photos and just before we'd pull away, the guide would clap his hands and yell, waking the croc and sending him diving into the river.
After spotting and observing a few crocodiles it was time to head back to Omboué to catch our boat home.
While the weekend was far from luxurious, without running water and occasionally unpredictable, we really did enjoy our excursion inland. I was really happy to see a different side of Gabon - one less reliant on the oil & gas industry, happy villagers, serene and natural.
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