To Lopé National Park
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999 Days Around Africa: The Road Chose Me
I have been in Gabon for only a few days, and already I really like it. Somehow the jungle is thicker and greener, the trees are much, much bigger, the rolling hills spectacular, and the local people are as friendly as ever – maybe even more so. I have also immediately noticed more development here than I have seen in a long time. Buildings have front gardens with flowers and lawn that is being cut with motorized equipment. It seems most, if not all, houses have electricity, and in general everything I see is less rundown that I have become used to. The major North-South highway is as good as anything anywhere in the world.
I decide to take a turn into the heart of the country, and soon realize distances here are deceptive. I will have to carefully watch how much gas I have. I don’t have my reserve tank full, and so I am forced to drive forty miles to a station to fill everything (around 35 gallons), then return and turn onto a gravel road that will eventually lead to the mighty Lopé National Park.
Thankfully Gabon has done a superb job of setting aside massive amounts of pristine wilderness packed with wildlife as protected parks. From all accounts there is no end of spectacular things to see. Unfortunately, the President has decided to setup the parks as the excuse playgrounds for rich foreigners. Visiting many of the National Parks costs in the range of $400 – $800 USD PER DAY.
With that in mind I set off towards the park, not really intent on actually visiting, more just interested in checking out the area, and investigating if there is an “extremely low budget” option.
Immediately when mountains rise all around I know I have made the right decision. I roughly follow the monster Ogooue River, and drive through Jungle, open plains, forests and grasslands over a couple of days. At night I camp off the side of the road. After a spectacular sunset I am treated to the best lightning show of my entire life. Sitting outside staring at the sky I hear the trumpet of an elephant, causing my hair stand on end and a very wide grin form on my face.
Later, when the immense rain begins, the lightening is directly over the Jeep, which has me more than a little scared.
Gabon’s population is only 1.7 million people, and the country is just over 100,000 square miles. This means Gabon has only sixteen people per square mile, rating it among the top 20 least densely populated countries in the world. I am beginning to wonder if this contributes to everyone being so laid back and friendly.
Gabon is seriously impressing me already, I think I had better find a way into this National Park!