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March 8, 2013 / samwilson60

South of the equator… briefly

We left Yaoundé in a fairly leisurely manner, making sure we’d used as much internet and stocked up on as much brown bread as we could handle before heading south. We made it as far as Ambam, the last town before the border, and eventually found the most well-known but poorly signposted hotel in town. It looked defunct but had a passable lawn, so we let ourselves in and hung around to see if anyone wanted our money. Thankfully they did, and we agreed on a camping arrangement that seemed ideal. We had an almost immaculate patch of grass for both the car and the tent and were within walking distance of omelette ingredients. What’s more, when venturing out for supplies, we spotted a carpenter’s workshop just opposite the hotel. Just that morning, we’d been talking about the Awale board project and how convenient it would be if were to happen upon a planer/thicknesser at some point on our travels. We never imagined it would find us, or so quickly. The guys were more than happy to help out and at next to no cost. We even walked away with a complementary pineapple!

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Back at the hotel, we were very happy with our lot. The only slight annoyance was the young guy in semi-charge, who had no concept of personal space and some fairly strong views about anything and everything, which he seemed to like sharing with us at regular intervals. In the evening, while making friends, it was a little trying; first thing in the morning, when he appropriated Sam’s chair before he’d even finished his cuppa, it was a bit too much to take, so we made a fairly swift exit, expecting to finish the tea/coffee ritual in a quiet spot somewhere between the hotel and the border.

The border came sooner than expected but was much smoother and swifter than expected too. The Cameroon side couldn’t have been easier, and the Gabonese were equally efficient, if a little less conventional. We just filled in forms on the border and had to stop at immigration in a town 25km down the road to pick up the stamp in our passports. This was purely a formality – even the woman at the copy shop knew what we wanted, and had done it, before we’d worked out what was going on.

The checkpoints were also refreshingly efficient. The police were very well dressed and equally well mannered. The other thing that instantly set Gabon apart was the roads – they were pristine. Winding up, down and round through thick forest, having almost forgotten what potholes looked like, we felt we’d been transported into another world.

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We knew we were aiming for Libreville but never expected to make it so close so soon. We asked everyone who stopped us about the best route to take – the main one was obvious but there was an appealing ‘shortcut’ that one policeman actively advised us to take, apparently because of a river crossing that may or may not involve a boat. We were quite keen on this alternative route – not least because it would take us through Sam – but we weren’t in the mood for over 200km of poor piste and broken bridges, especially when the main route was genuinely so good. The consensus was overwhelmingly in favour of sticking to the main road, taking us straight towards the equator.

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We’d had grand plans for our equator crossing, it being quite a significant landmark, but having already had the ceremony of entering Gabon that day and with no real place to stop, we agreed to save the celebrations for the final southbound crossing (knowing our detour to Libreville would take us north again before long).

Almost as soon as we’d entered the southern hemisphere, the road conditions also went south, slightly more gradually but not much. Suddenly we were all the more focused on finding a place to stay, which resulted in us camping on the grounds of a nightclub-hotel in Ndjolé. The Indonesian owner was lovely and the street food in town was as we’ve grown accustomed too, but the girl in charge of the stereo fell rapidly in our estimations and as we collapsed in the tent after a long day on the road, we couldn’t help praying for a power cut.

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