January 11, 2008 GMT
Gabon

We left Kribi on the second of December, Kribi had been an excellent place to relax and enjoy New Years Eve celebrations and a few comforts but now it was time to move on. Around four thousand miles to Namibia, which doesn’t feel that far seeing that I’ve covered eleven thousand miles so far on this trip. It was a rough dusty track through the jungle running east towards the road for Gabon and I could tell I had been off the bike for five days it didn’t quite seem as natural as it should and even though I had my new TKC 80’s (tyres) on it took me a while to get into it. After one hundred and forty miles running east we turned south onto the main highway, which was lovely smooth twisty tarmac. The border crossing from Cameroon to Gabon was time consuming, the actual border is marked by the river Ntem but we had to continue on into Gabon for twenty miles to clear immigration and customs at Bitam it was dark by the time we found a hotel and had parked our bikes up inside the local night club which we were assured was going to stay closed on this night. I’d parked my bike in many places during this trip but a nightclub was a first.

The road between Bitam and Lamberene is incredible more smooth, twisty tarmac running through the jungle with hardly any other traffic. I would highly recommend that you ride this road if you ever get the opportunity. We stopped for lunch on the equator and then continued on our way but as soon as we entered the southern hemisphere the road turned into a pot holed buckled mess, was this to be the last tarmac before Namibia? No, the road improved again and we were soon back to the pannier scratching. The tarmac finished a little past Lamberene and was a mix between gravel and wet mud. What a perfect days ride perfect tarmac and then off road!

We ride into the jungle and pitch our tents and crack, open a couple of beers that we bought in the last village. It’s no problem to get your hands on beer in Gabon every village no matter how small has a bar or drinking den. Everyone seems to be on the piss the whole time, no exaggeration. I was talking to one local man and asked him if the women join in with all this beer drinking. “Of course he replied but only after they have gathered the fire wood and cooked dinner.”

Gabon is one of the richest countries in Africa with huge natural reserves and a small population of only 1.2 million. It is probably the most chilled out African country I have visited so far.

The jungle camping is wild, I left it a little late to apply the deet and little did I know that there were hundreds of tiny little insects feasting on my flesh. It wasn’t till the next morning until I saw and felt the results of this. I was like having brail written up and down my arms.

I was rudely woken at three AM it had started pouring with rain and I hadn’t bothered to use the flysheet. I got up to put it on and crawled back into my tent and it’s damp, sweaty and hot and I’m not getting back to sleep any time soon. Six thirty, thunder, lightening and torrential rain. I stay in my tent to see if it passes by eight O’clock the sun is shinning and the clouds have passed.

After another couple of days riding through beautiful untouched rain forest the jungle starts to turn to savannah. Many shades of lush green and many trees make for stunning scenery. At around four each day we turn off the road and ride through waist high grass to find a camping place.

Gabon has been yet another highlight of the ride through Africa the riding has been loads of fun and it has been an easy country to travel in. Next Congo….

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Congo

If they’re was one country that I was a little apprehensive about passing through it was Congo but as usual all any doubts about the country I left at the border. There were police and military checkpoints at the border and then we were free to pass into the country. We waited for someone to open the boom gate and waited some more. We’ve lost the key I was told by a one of the police. “So you’ve lost the key to Congo” “Oui” the policeman replied. Half an hour later the key was found in another policeman’s pocket he was having a kip.

We rode into Congo and had one last checkpoint, as they were going crazy with the stamps using up precious pages in my passport I noticed a British registered Rangerover coming in the opposite direction. It was Chris and Jackie, (although I didn’t know there names at this point.) Shortly followed by a German fire engine with Chris and Jessie inside. The first “over landers” that we’d met, so far on this trip coming in the opposite direction.

By now it was three O’clock so we decided to have a few beers and exchange some info. It was a most enjoyable evening, we pretty much camped right there on the border and Jessie cooked us some fried plantains for dinner. Chris just asked if he could sleep in the police station, this was no problem at all and they set him up a bed complete with mozzy net. More rain during the night and after we said our farewells to new friend we were off down the road. Thomas was joining us for a few days with his Landcruiser, he was good company and he had a fridge in his car, cold beer.

Although it was more of a very long pond rather than a road there were deep puddles all along it, by lunchtime we had only made twenty kilometers. Before we could ride across one of these puddles we had to walk it first to check the depth and work out the best route to take. I miss judged one and had water come up as high as the tank. At the same time the engine took a gulp of water through the air intake and stopped. I pushed the GS out and got busy with the tools, and soon enough I was running again. Then Chris got a puncture it was one of those days, I like the days like this in a funny sort of way, character building!

There were some deep ruts that I had to take the luggage off the bike to get it through and for the first time on the trip the BMW cylinders were getting in the way. It was an exhausting day! Although as the day went on the sun was shinning and the puddles got fewer. By five O’clock I think we had made one hundred and twenty kilometers not very far but not the worst day we’ve had so far on this trip.

I really enjoyed the ride across Congo it was around five hundred kilometers of the worst roads. More beautiful scenery and in every village we rode through we would be greeted by many waving and smiling kids and adults alike. There was more deep mud to pass and at one place I counted forty truck stuck in the mud. All the drivers were shoveling earth to try to make the road passable. It was no problem for us though as a local showed us some tracks that led us around.

The pool region is located just west of the capital city of Brazzaville and is still subject to sporadic rebel activity. We were warned that there were some rebel checkpoints that we would be stopped at and they could try to extract some money from us. So it was not too much of a surprise when we came across the rebels or Ninjas, as they are known. There was a large group of them ether side of the road and as we approached they moved into the road and started to wave at us to stop. Fortunately I couldn’t see any visible firearms. I started to change down through the gears and slow down as I approached them. As I was about to put a foot down and shift to neutral I noticed there were no nail boards on the road and the way ahead was clear. So with Chris close behind I accelerated through them and away.

The last hour into Brazzaville was on yet another brand new still under construction road and we were soon in the capital. The Catholic Mission has let us camp inside their holy walls on a bit of lawn next to their bar.

Brazzaville seems to be a prosperous city set on the river Congo, the streets are wide and it is very clean for an African city. There are many restaurants and a lot of things are available to buy here. There is still evidence of the civil war here it’s easy to see bullet holes in some walls and other large houses and office blocks that have been left derelict.

We are stopping here for a couple of days to relax and I have spent a day giving the bike some TLC. It is all sparkly and clean again with fresh oil and filters. The starter motor hasn’t been sounding so good since it’s stint in the muddy water so I removed it and cleaned out all the muck from inside. Apart form that the R1200GS has been holding up exceptionally well but I better not say too much too soon. Not until I get to South Africa.

Across the River Congo is Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (yes there are two Congo’s). Tomorrow morning we’ll be taking the ferry across and yet another border crossing and another country.

Posted by Michael Beckett at January 11, 2008 06:34 PM GMT
 
 

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