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November 8, 2010

Why Gabon?

Where do I start?  A life-long knowing and longing of travelling in Africa?  Intermittently I find myself coming back to reading and researching:  Africa.

Well, yes, I already live in Africa, and my own country, South Africa, is ridiculously beautiful – however, in addition, I plan to travel elsewhere on this vast and incredible continent.

My heart is in Africa.

Sunday morning, grey weather, coffee and a laziness to get out of bed – a National Geographic magazine article:   “Saving Africa’s Eden”,  the story of ecologist and explorer Michael Fay (my hero – I’m super serious –  have you heard of the “megatransect”? – okay, more later) and biologist Lee White, their presentation and recommendation to President El Hadj Omar Bongo, 2002, in Libreville, Gabon which resulted in the designation of more than 11% of the nation’s territory to be part of its national park system (with 13 parks in total), one of the largest proportions of nature parkland in the world.  Their best hope had been to sign off one park for starters.  My heart is overwhelmed by the success of their endeavours.

So I had to get out of bed, switch on my PC and start researching Gabon.  Because this is what you do on a grey Sunday morning.  On the way I tell Jean the story, showing the photographs in the magazine with:  “Fuck the rest of the world, I’m travelling in Africa”.  (Okay well, he already knows this and it’s not altogether true anyway because the world is a big and beautiful place.)  I say:  “… and one of the best parts:  it’s on the coast.” [trying to sell it to a surfer].  Jean:  “Yes, but the water’s probably very cold, it’s the Atlantic.”  “What do you mean?  It’s on the equator!”  Meanwhile he has already opened a search on his side for “Gabon” + “surf”.  “You see?  Sea 27 degrees!  All year!”  Jean:  “Ok, so I won’t get cold.  But look at that:  a whopping 2 foot of swell.”  Me:  “There are surfing hippos in Gabon!”  Jean:  “What?!  Now I’m definitely not going!  Do you know that hippos kill more animals in Africa than any other animal?”  “Me:  You mean apart from human-animals?”  Jean:  “Well yes.”  Damn!  Why did I have to mention the bloody hippos?  Later – me: “appa-ren-tly, hippos only surf in the national park.”  “Really?”

Follows, half a morning of Gabon-ing on the internet.  And I just have to share some of it with you.  🙂


  • More surfing photos and video clips here.

From Wikitravel & Wikipedia:  Gabon

Gabon is a country in Western Central Africa. It lies on the Equator, on the Atlantic Ocean coast, between the Republic of the Congo to the south and east, Equatorial Guinea to the northwest and Cameroon to the north.

A small population, as well as oil and mineral reserves have helped Gabon become one of Africa’s wealthier countries. The country has generally been able to maintain and conserve its pristine rain forest and rich biodiversity.

Located on the equator, Gabon has an equatorial climate with an extensive system of rainforests covering 85% of the country.

Climate Tropical; always hot, humid. During the months of June to September, the climate is a little cooler (20-25°C).

Terrain Narrow coastal plain; hilly interior; savanna in east and south.


Coastal Plain (Libreville, Gamba, Loango National Park, Kango, Mayumba, Tchibanga)
flat riverplains and lagoons with dense rainforest on the Atlantic coast as well the capital city and majority of the population
Central Highlands
the Cristal Mountains and Chaillou Massif with huge tracts of highland rainforest
Jungle Interior (Franceville)
the eastern region mostly bordering Republic of the Congo; more rainforest.

Map of Gabon with regions colour-coded

Capital city Libreville

(Photos:  City Pictures)

(Photos:  Dave Liggett)

View from the train window:  green!


( Photo)

Lope National Park (photo)

I literally want as many people on Earth as possible to see this place and fall in love with it.

For 15 months Wildlife Conservation Society biologist J. Michael Fay hiked across central Africa (map)—2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) through dense forests and remote villages—to Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Along the way Fay and his team surveyed the land and wildlife of the Congo River Basin, recording animals and plants that may well become threatened as humans press into the wilds.

Using digital cameras and a lightweight computer system, Fay documented his trek through frequent dispatches to this site … building a record that he hopes will convince others to preserve what he calls “the last wild place on Earth.”

via National Geographic

Michael Fay, a research scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Geographic Society, walked from the eastern edge of Congo to the western edge of Gabon during 1999 and 2000 — a 456-day trip past a stunning range of animals and animal habitats. In Congo, he saw examples of the damage done throughout Africa by logging companies. In Gabon, he saw the promised land, Nielsen says.

“Blue seas, white sand, elephants, whales, sea turtles, monkeys, bush pigs, unbelievable scenery,” says Fay. “Gabon has it all. It has everything that everyone ever dreams about in paradise, as far as I’m concerned.”

Fay and a photographer named Michael Nichols met with the leader of Gabon after the trip was over. Fay says President El Hadj Omar Bongo was enthralled by Nichols’ pictures. One of Bongo’s favorite shots showed a gorilla in the forest. The gorilla is shrouded in shadows and lush vegetation, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

A plan to preserve biodiversity and draw more tourists to Gabon by creating a chain of nature parks was reportedly sitting on Bongo’s desk when he saw these pictures. At this week’s United Nations meeting on sustainable development, held in South Africa [2002], Gabon announced that it would soon create 13 new national parks on roughly 10,000 square miles of land. Logging leases on those lands would be bought out or cancelled.

When these parks are up and running, Gabon will leap from last to first in an important environmental category: As a percentage of total land mass, this will be the largest park system in the world.

via NPR (2002)

African Megatransect/Congo to Gabon

Unexplored vistas of pristine environments still untouched by the hand or foot of man exist today only in the Megatransect. The Megatransect is a length of unbroken rainforest that covers a distance of 1,200 miles between the southwestern part of coastal Gabon to the northeastern corner of the Republic of Congo.

Shortly after the hike, Fay lobbied alongside the President of Gabon to create 13 new national parks, a project that was successful.

via Fragile earth (2007)

Map (Ouside Online)

Loango National Park (photo)

Returning to Gabon’s Loango National Park, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Mike Fay observes new wildlife that has flourished as a result of his efforts to preserve the area.

via WLIW21

More about Gabon here & here.

But first:  Zambia (April 2011)!  🙂

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