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March 8, 2013 / samwilson60

South of the equator, for real

Back on the road, we retraced our steps to and across the equator, for the third and final time (on this side of the continent at least). This time we did stop and celebrate the occasion with the last of the New Year’s fizz, which we were more than happy to spray around in the hedgerow.

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After that, it was a long but smooth drive south to Lambaréné, passing through more lush forests and more roadside bush meat than ever. We didn’t inspect it closely enough to identify everything, but there was an unmistakably large snake and what looked like a medium-sized crocodile in amongst the miscellaneous monkeys and deer-type mammals.

Before we’d even made it into Lambaréné, we knew we’d like it. The town – considered more of a village by the locals – is set on an island in the Ogooué river, a beautiful and rather moving spot. Albert Schweitzer, the founder of a now famous hospital on the north bank, apparently thought so too. We stayed on the hospital grounds, which also include a museum, craftsmen, a grocery shop and a patisserie, plus a handful of pelicans. The chalets provided for visitors are the best value we can imagine in Gabon and come complete with bathrooms reminiscent of cross-channel ferries (in a good way). The women running the museum are a bit characterful and the museum itself is small but well done and genuinely inspiring.

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We had the perfect first night back on the road and felt we were slowly getting back into the swing of things. South of Lambaréné the roads remained excellent but the landscape opened up dramatically. Then, on leaving Mouila, the tarmac ended and the road turned to piste. For the most part it was good but it wasn’t without the odd hole/semi-intact bridge. Sam thought it reassuring to point out that one, at least, had a steel sub-structure but he also conceded that without this it would have been little more than a hole suspended over a river.

From Lambaréné we made it all the way to Ndendé, the last town before the Congo border. As always, we planned to rest up and cross over the following day but we knew our accommodation options would be limited at best so pulled in at first place we passed advertising as a motel. It provided a really grotty room but lots of space for water tank maintenance, running water inside the room and out (particularly useful for refilling the water tank), excellent chicken and chips and cheap beer. We put the tent up inside the grotty room and considered the evening a success.

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