Travel overland in Gabon

June 16th, 1980    The African Experience: You asked for it, 24 hours later.  Well, it all started on a Monday misty morning. There I was up bright and early at 6:15 AM, waiting, waiting, waiting......until noon .  Why the delay? The driver is going all over town(Oyem) picking up riders going to Libreville and wanting to maximize profits, he is now waiting for more riders. We can't leave until the van is full.  Oh well, a late start but I am grateful that we are finally moving.  To my left and to my right, green, green everywhere occasionally interrupted by a small village. The route is hilly and wildlife exposes itself, many beautiful birds I can not possibly identify and a fleeting monkey. There is a cry of disappointment in the van as the monkey crosses the road because nobody has a gun to stop the potential meal.  Further on down the road and many times more are hanging monkey parts along the route waiting to be sold, bought, and eaten. This trip is turning me red.  The movement of passing cars in the other direction are creating dust storms that we are driving through. As we eat and inhale the dust our skin is changing colors. The hair and eyelashes of the Africans are orange and I look like I have a nice tan.  I was pleasantly surprised by a stretch of paved road, a reprieve from the clouds of dust.  This paved road was built by the logging companies to facilitate the removal of trees. Along the sides of the road are HUGE logs waiting to be trucked to the coast for a trip to France.  They are so big I wonder how they got them out of the jungle to the road side. Will the jungle recover from this violation?  Passed part of the Gabonaise railroad that is being built. They are cutting through mountain sides to lay track.  It is getting dark now and the driver refuses to turn on his lights, hoping to prolong the life of his headlights and shorten our lives in the process.  There are more delays lasting more than 2 hours, from getting gas, engine problems, a flat, the driver has to eat, and so forth.  Finally moving again and the driver notices that everyone in the car is napping a little. Our driver pulls over and stops.  What is wrong now?  He informs us, that if no one is going to stay awake while he drives, then why should he?  We are all furious and inform him that we had paid him to drive to Libreville and that is what he better start doing.  It is now 2:30 AM  and we are still in route to Libreville when we have our second flat of the evening.  Stranded ~15 km outside of the city and no cars are passing by at this unholy hour.  At about 5 AM a  truck loaded with bananas approaches and I flag it down. I have to get to Libreville because Howard might be leaving early and there is no way I am waiting for our psycho driver to go into town and return with a new tire. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. I am really pissed at the driver's contribution to the many delays and I tell him I am not going to give him the 8,000 CFA he wanted for the trip.  So, I ask the banana truck driver how much he wants for the trip to the capital, 300 CFA.  I decided to pay the driver minus what I had to pay to the banana truck to finish my trip.  The driver didn't have change for my 1000 CFA, so I told him, he wasn't going to get the reminder of his money. Finally someone offers change.  I was  yelling and swearing at this guy in English. He was shook up. The ambassador wouldn't have been proud of his Peace Corps Volunteer. Grateful to be moving, even if  I am  sitting on a pile of banana regimes, we  passed through 2 police checkpoints to get into the city.  The first checkpoint had a light overhead so that I could see that I was sitting right next to a dead porcupine with its guts coming out of the abdomen. I moved.  Twenty-four hours later, I am in Libreville. I find the hidden key to the Peace Corps office,  wash off all the red soil and lay down for about an hour. What a journey.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.