Monday, October 4, 2010

Lopé – Part I: The Journey

Sorry that it’s been so long since I’ve posted. It’s been a busy couple of weeks and I fell out of the habit of writing. And while sometimes I feel blogging is a bit “oh, look at me” and I’d rather stay in my shell, I’m gonna try to keep this going. So I’ll start with a couple of posts about my first safari.

Last weekend, four of my colleagues (Chris, aka Mossa, Roger, aka Rogey Baby, Thierry, aka Cool Bitch Supreme, and Bill, aka Le Grand Fromage) and I went to Lopé National Park. It’s near the geographic center of the country, about 180 km east of Libreville. It took us about 8 hours to get there. The roads are either asphalt – mixed with potholes and stretches of various levels of deterioration – or single lane red dirt. Mind you, this is National Highway 1. To give this some perspective, Libreville and Lopé are about the same distance apart as Washington, D.C. to Roanoke, VA (about a 3 hour drive). People we talked with after thought we were crazy driving there. But I’m so glad we did.

The scenery was amazing and we were able to see how people outside of the Libreville live. We drove out of the city as the landscape transitioned into dense jungle, through the occasional roadside village (really nothing more than a 5 or 10 houses, maybe a school, and always a football pitch). We passed many random tables where people left various things for sale – mainly produce (citrus, tomatoes, yams, bananas, and avocados), but also dried fish and bush meat (we saw several monkeys hanging up and a small crocodile). We also drove through huge rubber plantations, through cut forests, and by several huge saw mills.

Housing was very similar to those found in Haiti – mixes between thatch houses people have probably made for thousands of years, wood frame houses with corrugated metal roofs, and every now and then a concrete and block house. Some painted in reds, and, blues, and greens. Lots of the green, yellow, and blue Gabonese flags. Children carrying water cans to or from the local hand pump well or playing in red dirt yards. We came into the lively town of Ndjolé (pronounced similar to En-julie), that with its old Catholic Church on the hill, for a second reminded me a town you’d find in northern New Mexico. We stopped to fill-up right in the middle of the town next to the market full of what I can only describe as African Reggae music blasting from some ancient box speakers across the street. It was here where we left asphalt for dirt and began climbing into hills, covered in even thicker, now virgin, rain forests.

I saw some of the most incredible bamboo I’ve ever seen – bamboo here grows in large clumps and the stalks splay out in all directions. Clumps are spaced out randomly say 30 or 40 feet apart so that they create a maze into the hills or down into valleys leading to streams. As we crested the hills and crossed the Ogooué River, we entered the plateau and into savannah region. We continued following the river all the way to Lopé where I kept thinking to myself that this is the Africa I dreamt about when I was a little boy.

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