Two Weeks in Gabon


After the final Gabon group match in Libreville six of us went to a nearby restaurant in the dimly lit night. Though it was hard to read the menu, there seemed to be a lot of options.

We called the waiter over and he explained that the restaurant's speciality was wine.

On the menu in Gabon.

There were four items on the food menu, and two of them were off.
(Do not trust this menu!)

That should have made the choice easy, we took so long to decide that I suspect that next time we appear there will only be one item on the menu.

The choices were sausage and pork. We ordered 4 sausage meals between us.

We waited patiently (I have saved this phrase so I can type at the touch of one key). Eventually after they caught whatever they served they arrived with two plates. One sausage and one pork.

Gabon beach.

The waiter explained that the chef had just told him that this was all they had left.

We amicably agreed who would have what, before they arrived with two more plates of pork.

Meanwhile we heard a screech of car brakes and a crash. I turned round to see a telegraph pole wobbling.

Settling the bill seemed to take as long as the food, as firstly food that they didn't have was added to the bill. Then the adding up was clearly wrong. Then the Germans sorted out who had had what and announced how much person owed based on what they had - well you can't imagine Germans going Dutch can you?

Later we waited patiently for a taxi, and flagged one down just near the teetering telegraph pole. He he took a left turn round the roundabout to reach us. (Yes you guessed they drive on the right in Gabon.) Of course he wanted far too much for the fare and if that's how he drives then we made the right decision to carry on waiting patiently.

The next day I decided to stay in Libreville and had a lazy day. That was after my morning run and swim, sitting around under the palm trees at the Tropicana, attending Tunisia v Zimbabwe in the evening along with 1,800 others.

The final group matches were being played at the same time so now there is only one match to watch each day and tomorrow the action moves to Port Gentil and Oyem for two days.

I chose Oyem and made plans on how to get there. Of course I looked to see if there was a flight, but confirmation of these sometimes does not come through until after 9pm in the evening. I confirmed where the local bus left from and found that I should leave at 6am to get to Oyem for 2pm.

Thankfully the email confirmation came through in the morning saying I was booked on the next day's flight from Franceville to Oyem at 3pm.

Helicopter in Gabon.

Arriving at the airport terminal, the first thing I noticed was that the flight had been changed to 3.30pm. Then when on the plane they announced the flight time as 30 minutes. I was sure it had taken longer last time. Have you ever got on a bus and been unsure if it was taking you where you wanted to go? Have you ever been on a plane and sat there thinking this is not going where I thought it was!

Sure enough we landed at what appeared to be a military base in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea. We then disembarked our plane and walked across the tarmac to the waiting helicopter.

This must be the helicopter that was out of service four days ago! Inside it is just a shell with fold down seats along the sides. I quickly found a seat and attempted to fasten the seatbelt. It fastened, but it was for someone at least three times my size, and it didn't appear adjustable. There was some luggage and it was stacked loosely in the middle of the helicopter. Now all the seats were taken and it was standing room only for about twenty of our party.

Paul (!) fan of the match at Burkina Faso v Tunisia.

Not sure what make it was but it was Russian, at least second hand and at least 40 years old.

The overhead blades started to rotate and we seemed to taxi forward to get some momentum, then we slowly ascended over the trees and made our way to Oyem airport.

I had booked the same accommodation that I stayed at last time with Sebastiane for two nights, but I did not know how I was going to get back from Oyem to Libreville. I heard that there was a flight back this evening after the game at 23.30.

Port Gentil Stadium.

This made me wonder if my flight back would be at this time the next evening. This would present a number of problems, but if I could find out in advance I could work round it. So I sent emails to all the contacts I had to find out if there was still a flight on Thursday during the day.

Thankfully one of them responded and I was booked on a flight as I had intended.

But of course, nothing is straightforward. I arrived on the day of my confirmed flight from Oyem to Libreville to find the Ugandan team bus and delegation already at the airport. I tried to check in to get my boarding pass but was told I was on a later flight and should wait.

Looking around I felt very much on my own as I could see no familiar faces. Apart from the players Dennis Onyango and the captain Wasswa. I asked again, and this time was told my flight had been cancelled and that I should come back tomorrow.

Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville.

I had already arranged an evening out and meal that evening in Libreville. If I had known there was no plane I would have caught the bus which departed at 6am and would have been expected to arrive about 2pm but now it was 10am, and if I caught the bus at this time it would take longer. I was told I could be back around 9pm.

I decided to wait patiently. I confirmed that the Ugandan flight was full, and asked if there were any other options other than coming back tomorrow. The Mali team were due to fly at 3pm so I could wait and ask them.

So at the airport with the least facilities you have ever seen, I waited. Everyone else seemed to be on the Uganda flight. My dilemma was do I try and find if there is someone else in the same position as me, but if I do that they may get my place.

So I decided to stick on my own, Diana the local organiser called me over sometime later, she had arranged for me to travel with the Ugandan luggage some time today.

So I arrived back in Libreville, two hours later than expected, completing my travels around Gabon.

I was in Gabon for 15 days, taking a total of 16 plane journeys and one helicopter ride. I must have spent over one day just in airport waiting lounges. I attended 19 football matches, oh and I also found time to run the distance of a marathon up and down the Libreville beach exchanging bonjours and 1-2's on the way.

So apologies for anything I might have forgotten to tell you...... I can't tell you everything can I?

Finally a few observations on life in Gabon after two weeks.

I don't remember having to reach out of a car window and having to open the door from the outside so much because the lock doesn't work from the inside. A feature found in every city.

Volunteers turn up every day to promote the competition and help to serve their country (as they put it). They are also being paid to do this. Some have even been given time off from their normal vocation.

The president Ali Bongo has called for calm, and promised (!) to review the country's situation after the tournament.

Stade d' Oyem, Gabon.

I am told keyboard warriors have been arrested and I can see certain websites are blocked.

It is noticeable when you speak to the locals that they appreciate positive comments, but anything that is not is queried until they have some positive point.

The price of oil has had a negative effect on the nation's finances, as it the main source of income.

I spoke to one person who a few years ago was earning US$ 11,000 a month. Now with the price of oil being so low production has been cut back and they come out with only US$3,500. Family holidays to Paris are no longer affordable.

Stade de Franceville.

On a positive note it is making the Gabonese aware that they need to look for other revenue streams. They are aware they have scenic beach settings and an untamed jungle which they could use to their advantage to attract tourists, and income if they improve the internal infrastructure.

I was also told they are looking to grow their own crops as currently most things are imported. With seemingly 80% of the country covered by forest there is massive potential.

I hope they can look forward to the good life in the future

Ross Clegg

Afcon Gabon 2017

Afcon 2017 Images


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