Travel Through Gabon on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Gabon on a Harley (8/8/06 - 21/8/06)
Distance 763 km (465616 km to 466379 km)

This is part of the twelfth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from Congo or read our previous visit to Gabon
8/8/06 The road in Gabon started no better than the one we left in Congo but soon became wider and faster with bad corrugations all the way to Mouila where we found a reasonable hotel for the night after 260 km of dirt roads. The police were right at the border, Gendarmerie a few km's into Gabon and immigration in the town of N'dende, almost 50 km from the border and we had to hunt around for them, and we still haven't found Customs!! Not much changed other than more road traffic this side of the border. 

9/8/06 The logging trucks were thankfully up later than us and we had the first couple of hours travel to ourselves after which the dust for the 150 km of remaining dirt road was tiresome. It had also rained overnight, the wet season not due here for a couple more weeks but the grass is green and the rainforest humid. A new asphalt road is winding its way slowly south from Lambarene, currently 40 km south, a welcomed respite from the broken surface of dirt roads we have experienced since entering the country.Bush meat of crocodile and dik dik antelope hang roadside for sale Most petrol stations are dry. The one in N'dende yesterday only had diesel, Mouila had fuel, Fougamou was dry and Lambarene only had petrol at the third station we stopped at. It seems most of Africa is being affected by the high price of crude oils. We don't remember as many empty pumps on our last visit nor the electricity going off as often. As petrol prices rise there is less traffic, needing less fuel stations. Stopped at Bifoun, 260 km for the day, washed the motorcycle and ourselves of the fine dust at a small Auberge near the road intersection. It is the same place we stayed in six years ago, a merging of the two trips, the first one crossed Africa from Uganda through DRC and Central African Republic and this one from Angola and Congo, arriving at the same location.

10/8/06 The last time we didn't stay in Libreville. This time we need a visa for Sao Tome and Principe and a boat to get there. Having now visited fifty of Africa's fifty three countries hopefully Sao Tome will be the fifty first. We had covered the 165 km to the capital by 9 am and went straight to the port where we were advised there was only one boat, running every one to two weeks depending on weather and cargo and it was due to arrive in port this afternoon, maybe!! A trip to the embassy should give us a visa by tomorrow, 50 Euro's each. Since the Euro became stronger than the US dollar embassiesSmoked fish and eel for sale in a small town are starting to quote visa prices in Euro's, though they seemed to be happy to quote them in dollars while that currency was strong. It wasn't till we visited our third mission, Maison Soeurs Bleues, that we found available accommodation, and very comfortable, but even then we needed to take two single rooms, all that was available. It didn't take long to move the beds to one room and leave the other empty. After four days of hard travel we did little else for the day.

11/8/06 Libreville is a modern city, for Africa. There are toilets in the petrol stations, the electricity stayed on continually for 24 hours and we have our first hot water shower in three weeks. A visit to the port this morning however had us realising we are still in an African dictatorship. The boat from Sao Tome didn't arrive last night as planned because of the Independence celebrations to be held from the 17th, a week away. People were at the wharf waiting to greet relatives and friends, no-one knew it was not coming or advised anyone. Apparently all borders are closed for between two and seven days and the whole country comes to a standstill for the celebrations. The city is being tarted up with kerbsides and walls painted for the last minute dressing. If a boat arrives now it could get stuck here till after the celebrations. There is a slim chance it could arrive tonight else we are also stuck here, likely for two weeks or more. We have to return to the port at 4 pm to find out. The city has four peak hours.A well loaded inter town taxi One in the morning, made worse in some areas due to road closures as the President and his military security need an open road to race from his residence to work and back. Another peak hour at start of lunch, then three hours later when people start work again and one in the evening. The three hour lunch is sometimes four and different shops have different closing hours between 12 noon and 4 pm making getting anything done difficult, doubles road usage, petrol consumption and wastes time, something everyone in Gabon has plenty of, except those racing along on the roads. We went down to the port at 4 pm, hopeful, and found the boat, "Therese", had just arrived. After looking at it's size and condition we weren't sure we were happy to see it in port. No bigger, and about the same design as an American cray boat it carried empty gas bottles and beer bottles in crates plus about forty passengers and baggage for the 300 km off shore journey. It is still uncertain whether it will depart before the holidays but customs were happy to stamp the motorcycle's paperwork into the country and when the boat leaves will again stamp them out.

12/8/06 At 10am the owner said he expected the boat to leave Monday, the last day possible before the week port closure, and in two days time, then the negotiations on price started. Passenger prices are reasonably fixed at $US 120.00 and the starting price for the motorcycle was $US 700.00 Part of the AfricanThe rainforests of Gabon problem is charging what the market will bear at each transaction rather than working on a predetermined price based on costs. This means part of the time the boat owner is at the merchant's mercy and at other times the merchant at the boat owner's mercy. An agent can't be sure what price to quote so each freight transaction must be calculated individually causing added expense, uncertainty and delay. After about 30 minutes negotiating the final price was $US 400.00 as a package for the motorcycle and two passengers and so as not to be left stranded on Sao Tome at the boat owner's mercy we received a guaranteed return price of the same, if we decided to return on the same boat. This took the whole of the morning to arrange. Our Euro's were changed into CFA with a local Lebanese merchant and payment is to be made tomorrow when departure is more assured. Somehow we managed to get caught up in the President's movements twice today with road closures, an aerial display of fighter jets and troop and weapons transports in and about the city. The usual helicopter flying overhead checking his route. The days seem exhausting yet looking back nothing much is achieved.

13/8/06 A few maintenance jobs revealed the rough roads had jolted loose the horn connection and lodged a stone in the rear brake lever not allowing it to release properly and causing me some concern for the last couple of hundred km's. Harleys have a cotton air filter and although a new one"Therese", the only boat to Sao Tome and Principe was installed only 3,000 km ago the fine particles of dust managed to get through and were lining the throat of the carburettor, stuck to the re-breather oil coating. Also an oil change revealed more metal sludge on the drain plug than usual. I guess we are in for a further increase in oil consumption and one reason we didn't want to have the engine rebuilt before touring Africa again. The midday appointment with the boat owner had yesterday's negotiations all over again. Today he couldn't possibly take us for the money he had agreed to yesterday. Normally in most of Africa a deal is a deal plus 10% hedge money for the deal to change. When a price is fixed, firmly fixed, add 10% and that is usually what will be necessary. Being western we don't readily accept this philosophy. After another hour of discussion we again shook hands at yesterday's price.

14/8/06 Today is supposedly the last day the boat can leave before the celebrations close all borders. All morning we were told that the boat was leaving on the high tide at 5 pm. By the afternoon the story was that the owner was going to pay special overtime money to the port authority to arrange for the boat to leave tomorrow morning at 10 am. We had to make a decision to buy a ticket, necessary before we could get customs clearance for the motorcycle, and the office would be closed tomorrow. With little choice, whether the boat left tomorrow or not till after the holidays,  it was the only boat, so we bought a ticket and clearedMilitary hardware on display for the celebrations customs.  

15/8/06 We had been told to be at the port by 7 am to load the motorcycle. They had been working to load the boat late into the previous night and beer was now in the hold and large bags of used western clothes were piled high on the back deck. We were optimistic as passengers started to arrive with their belongings. Some had lounge suites and most of their household goods, others boxes of goods, even a toilet. The boat was not alongside but was on the outside of a line three deep to the wharf. Some passengers clambered over the other boats to load their gear but the heavier goods waited where the boat would eventually come alongside. The tide rose and the best opportunity for loading the motorcycle passed but eventually the boat was brought alongside. At the same time all the passengers were informed that the special clearance could not be obtained, apparently the owner was not prepared to pay the overtime (read bribe) necessary and the boat couldn't leave till Saturday at the earliest, four days away. In true African acceptance no-one got upset, not even the people lounging in their settee on the wharf, with no where to go. A few comments to us that this is Africa, and whilst we also accepted it we again realised that while everyone accepts that this is Africa, it would always remain how Africa works, or doesn't work. The mothers with their well dressed childrenWaiting on the wharf with all their household goods to be told it will be another four days to sailing time and friends who had come to say goodbye slowly wandered away as did we. We returned later in the day just to make sure that the situation hadn't changed, but it hadn't and so we wait.   

16/8/06 When you are waiting for a boat and most things are closed the mind wanders and wonders. After a while questions need answering and calculations need to be done. Out came the map program, the memory banks and diary were switched on and Kay and I reminisced. By day's end we had calculated the motorcycle, in it's 440,000 km life since the trip started, had been flown six times. It has been uplifted three times due to breaking down, where repairs could not be carried out on the spot. Twice because the drive belt broke and we didn't have a spare and once because of a cam bearing failure. It has been carried three times where the roads were considered impassible. By train in the Sahara, by truck in the Guyanan mud and by 4x4 in Somaliland in coastal sand. It was trailered twice where motorcycles by law were not allowed to be ridden, in and out of Bahrain across the causeway with Saudi Arabia. It has been trained twice more, once in Switzerland due to road closures and through the English Channel tunnel. There are forty six island countries in the world and the motorcycle has now visited twenty nine of them. They are by far the majority of the remaining twenty two unvisited countries. It has been necessary to put the motorcycle on boats for ocean crossings eighty eight times.Local handicrafts in Libreville Some were simple roll on roll off boats between islands within countries like in Indonesia and the Philippines, others were more major shippings of a couple of days where we accompanied the motorcycle like to Iceland or Madagascar while only a few intercontinental shippings have been done, America to Australia etc. The motorcycle has also been on twenty seven freshwater boat crossings from dug out canoes in the Congo to regular vehicle ferries at some rivers and a couple of days to cross the Amazon River mouth. This number is particularly questionable as short river crossings by ferry are easily forgotten. All of these non ridden distances added up to less than 60,000 km which rather surprised us as the costs of these shippings is substantial compared to just riding across the countryside and much less enjoyable. 

17/8/06 Today is the actual Independence day and with it come celebrations not unlike that of former Soviet Union days where the military goes on display. The last few days we have seen the patrol boats practising off shore and a couple of fighter jets scream overhead plus the usual road closures and military at each intersection along with army trucks and personnel carriers. We decided to avoid the possible crowds and flag wavers and stayed most of the day in our accommodation and like yesterday played with the computer and it's encyclopaedia. Today's boat waiting boredom avoider was to calculate the time and kilometres we had spent on each continent and what percentage of land that represented in the world. As we have no intention of visiting Antarctica, at least not with the motorcycle due to environmental reasons, we left it out of the equation and concentrated on the six remaining continental land masses. The Encyclopaedia Britannica includes the Middle East in with Asia and the Caribbean in with North America. We have included the Pacific Islands as part of the Australasian Continent.Fellow passengers waiting on the wharf So here are the results. Australia, 277 days travel (9%), 42,800 km (10%), constitutes 7% of the world's land. Asia, 881 days travel (29%), 118,745 km (27%), 33% of the world's land. Europe, 409 days travel (14%), 65,211 km (15%), 8% of the world's land. Africa, 680 days travel (23%), 85,526 km (19%), 22% of the world's land. North America, 508 days travel (17%), 87,494 km (20%), 18% of the world's land. South America, 246 days (8%), 41,052 km (9%), 13% of the world's land. It would appear we have given a fair go to each continent with South America being the most under represented. In all the calculations we discovered we missed the 3000th night on the road anniversary, on the 7th August last. We have been comfortably riding an average of about 145 km a day or 1000 km a week on the trip.  

18/8/06 A trip to the port about tomorrow's departure had our suspicions realised. The boat has been again delayed till Monday, four more days. There was no reason to see why the owner would pay the overtime necessary for a Saturday clearance only to arrive in Sao Tome on a Sunday and have to pay overtime again. The household furniture has been loaded and it seems they have left room for the motorcycle, but not much space for passengers.

19/8/06 A lot of time was spent at the internet looking at options for the rest of this trip and thoughts about the next trip. One resource we have used often before is the CIA World Factbook, yes the same CIA that has that reputation. A free downloadable version is available. It has great information on all the countries of the world, their economies, peoples, trading partners. Everything to give us a bit of a picture of what to expect before a visit. There is also a strong similarity between their maps and ours.  

20/8/06 Another trip to the port and all looks likely for a tomorrow sailing.Bike loaded surrounded by baggage We took the road south trying to get away from the city for a while but only found the usual African conglomeration of an unplanned city where timber mills are situated next to upmarket apartment buildings or shanty villages occupy some previously lovely waterfront land where creek runoff dumps garbage all along the coastline. Two measures of societal level are the number of restaurants and the realisation that waterfront land is more valuable for pleasure than industry. In some base level societies restaurants are almost non existent, the wealthier the society the more restaurants until we reach a peak in the USA and some other western countries where most meals are eaten outside the home. Many countries place no value on their waterfront land other than for fishing or industry, recreation and aspect are affordable luxuries only for the rich.

21/8/06 The boat was scheduled to depart at 4 pm and departed only 15 minutes late. The passengers were to report at 1 pm as we did and the motorcycle was easily loaded by riding a plank at high tide onto the deck where it was lashed down and surrounded by boxes of other luggage piled up on one side. The bike had not been on the boat five minutes before the owner approached Kay informing her he could not possibly bring the bike back for the same price. Honour in dealings in Africa is a lot lacking. Not knowing the immigration procedures we had not handedPacked in ready to sail in our passports to police and were probably responsible for the boat's delay. Luckily we were considered dumb tourists and our papers were cleared. There were about 30 passengers including about five children for the two five person benches and two bunks in a cabin. The cabin and toilet doors had to remain open as the engine air intake pipe was between them meaning everyone had a side on view of the squatter's right thigh and cheek crouched over the eastern toilet. Those that didn't scramble for a place on the benches or cabin either made themselves comfortable on top of the luggage, on our bike or on the deck which soon became awash as the boat rolled and the ocean moved through. We were lucky and had the end of a bench where we sat on it's slats for the next 20 hours. A couple of stowaways appeared from behind boxes at the rear of the boat as soon as it sailed. Either they didn't want to pay the fare or they were escaping Gabon immigration, returning to Sao Tome. People started throwing up as soon as we left the protection of the anchorage, a few not making it to the gunwale, it landing on the deck. Initially buckets washed it away but as the seas became rougher the regular deck washing by the ocean was enough. Time is often unkind, moving sometimes too fast and on this occasion too slowly. Sitting crouched fighting back seasickness, rolling with our cork of a boat and rubbing sore bum cheek bones on a wooden bench extended every minute. The only relief to the discomfort was the display put on by a small group of humpback whales breaching themselves and tail slapping the water reasonably close to the boat as we passed. We were surprised to see them this far north, north of the equator. 

Move with us to Sao Tome and Principe


Top of Page

Story and photos copyright © 1996-
All Rights Reserved.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website, with more Travellers stories, a great Travellers Newsletter, and a Bulletin Board for all the latest On the Road Information! Webmaster: Grant Johnson