When I arrive back from Luango Park visit there’s no car to meet me at Libreville Airport and I have to walk to my hotel, which is luckily just up a level road. The only problem is trying to cross the busy highway. There is no respect whatsoever for zebra crossings. And just when I’m getting to the point when I’m swearing never to return to Africa I end up, totally unexpectedly in a little idyll, on a white sand beach eating delicious succulent prawns and asparagus.( At a price.) Tomorrow I’ll have time on the beach before I go home - excellent.
It’s raining, naturally, so much for the beach. It’s also quite chilly - and I’m on the Equator. My itinerary says I’m having a city tour today, but there’s neither sight nor sound of a driver or guide. Not even a message. Encore quelle surprise. After breakfast, I ask the hotel receptionist to phone; the only working number we have is the trip mastermind, the Italian guy who runs the lodge in Sao Tome. He says a car will arrive in twenty minutes. I eventually set off for my morning city tour at 12.30.
It’s conducted by the Van with the van, who turns out to be the elusive Fifi who was supposed to meet me when I first arrived. He doesn’t speak any English and has brought along his son, Laurent, who speaks about two words of English. Just enough to establish that I’m from London and pester me for my phone number the rest of the trip, so I can invite him to stay at my house. He wants to marry an English lady. In the end I just remonstrate, ‘What’s in that for me?’ and they laugh.
My tour of Libreville consists of a lot of traffic jams and a church that is wooden and decorated with tribal features, so I think it must be a museum. It isn’t, but we visit the Libreville Museum of Art and Culture next. It’s obviously a novelty for Fifi et fils, as they don’t know where the entrance is and saunter in too. They get a tour in French from the guide and I wander off on my own. It’s mostly masks, used to praise the ancestors and to mark important life events by signifying transformation It’s a compact museum with a few fascinating masks that look like props for a horror movie. There are photos in the display cases of many more masks that are lodged in the Louvre. If I remember rightly there are a fair number in the British Museum too.
And that’s the end of my tour. Except that there is now a little moonlighting, as we park up at the Embassy of the Ivory Coast and Laurent dons a FedEx cap. He then leaps out and delivers a package - or at least he tries to. They’ve all gone to prayers and we have to wait.
Libreville, I have to report is entirely nondescript, and has very little to recommend it except for the beach. The sun has come out and I’m happy to spend my last few hours relaxing by the Atlantic.
I almost didn’t make it over the starting line to visit Gabon. Afrijet has its own terminal, but it’s not equipped to deal with the issue of visas. So, I have to wait till everyone else is stamped in and then I’m bundled into a black police car and driven round the airport. It’s not the most auspicious of beginnings and it’s a bit scary. Especially as they then refuse to accept my authorisation of visa documents as they are a copy of the originals printed out from an email. Thank goodness I’m now in a French speaking country rather than Portuguese. No-one here has any English. I give them the phone number of my contacts in Libreville and amazingly someone arrives with acceptable papers. (Or a bribe - I'm not sure which.) Half an hour later I’m allowed in.
I’m supposed to be met by a man with the unlikely name of Fifi. He’s elusive, but eventually I bump into a Robert, who is asking around for a Suzanne and he has access to a Man with a Van, who takes me to my hotel and agrees to fetch me again in the morning for my flight to Loango Game Park.
Gabon has rich reserves of manganese, iron, petroleum and timber and offshore oil was discovered in the 1970s, helping to make Gabon one of the most prosperous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In spite of this five percent of the population still live below the poverty line.
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