The day before had been a long one: we had been on the road from 5am and arrived in the border town in the south of Cameroon at around 11pm. The next morning, finding a minivan to the market just at the border was easy enough, and after we got our exit stamps, we walked around the market, and then found a shared taxi that would take us to Bitam, the first town in Gabon. Instead of taking a pirogue across the river, a new bridge made the crossing a breeze - but on the other hand, there were 6 more checkpoints, three for each country (on the Gabonese side, our driver paid several police officers, instructed by the fat lady sitting next to me who probably was afraid her goods in the trunk would be checked); and even then, we did not have our entry stamp yet. Instead, we had to present a document we had received at the police in Bitam. A direct bus to Libreville was waiting ahead of us. But things were not that easy, of course. First, our driver did not give the correct change, claiming that the border crossing had taken "a lot of time". When he finally paid according to the deal we had made, the next obstacle was the police itself: they demanded we make a copy of our Gabonese visa first. Conveniently, there was a copy shop across the street, but there was a powercut that would last until late afternoon. Another shop made the copies, but asked a ridiculous amount of money (10 times the going price), so we walked around town and indeed, found a place asking the regular price of 50 francs. Getting the entry stamp now seemed a formality, but even then, by mistake the police put two stamps in my passport.
By now, of course, the direct bus to Libreville had left, and we found a minivan with two people in it. We first had breakfast, all the time looking at the minivan, but it was still there when we got out. According to the guy selling tickets, it would leave "tout de suite", so we bought a ticket. He asked a price that seemed steep, and then offered a discount - pretending he was doing us a favour. But the only favour was that he asked the regular price everyone else paid. An agence down the street also had a bus planned for Libreville, but it was not in town yet; the only bus at the station was in need of some serious repairs. We ventured on short tours into town, bought water, had a look at the market, but always with the thought that our bus would be leaving "anytime soon", and had our bags inside. A Cameroonian prince was patiently waiting in the bus, claiming he did this route every week, and that this minivan was a trustworthy one. According to him, it would only take us five hours to get to Libreville, as it would take the interior road, skirting the border with Equatorial Guinea, and avoiding the 110 checkpoints on the main road. His father had just deceased, and he was supposed to take over the reign of his small empire in central Cameroon. Another traveller arrived, and left on a shared taxi to Oyem. We considered doing the same; but then, the ticket guy was adamant that we were just waiting for the ladies to return from the market, and would be on the way soon. A direct connection to Libreville sounded convenient. When the ladies finally returned with taxi loads full of wares that were all put behind the minivan, the driver realized he needed gasoline. The engine did not start, and 6 guys had to push the van to get it started. Not a good sign. The van did another run, getting even more stuff - but they did not even start loading it on top of the van. By then, we had spoken to others, who had told us that it was impossible to reach Libreville in 5 hours, and calculated that even if the bus would leave soon, we would arrive in the city at an ungodly hour. We decided to ask our money back, but this proved not that easy. The ticket guy suddenly claimed he did not have money, and that we had to wait. But I was done waiting - we had been doing so for more than 7 hours already. A quarrel ensued, also between driver and ticket guy; they gave me only part of the money, and had made the receipt I had presented, "disappear". I continued blocking access to the van, until they gave me the right amount of money, and we were off to the shared taxis to Oyem.
We were on the way within five minutes, but were then confronted by the first police checkpoint. The official found a "problem" in my passport, claiming the picture on the passport did not match the one on the visa. I had to see the "chef". She copied my personal information, and then asked for 2000 francs for the "registration". I refused, grabbed my passport, and walked to the car, but the official who had stopped me, now forced the driver to reverse. Another discussion followed, in which he allowed me take snapshots of him and his name badge. At one point, however, it seemed he was getting nervous about it, and ushered us away. Welcome to Gabon! Before we reached Oyem, some 70km down the road, we had 5 more checkpoints, but at none of them anyone asked for money anymore. We had a short night, because there was supposed to be a bus direct to Libreville at around 5am the next morning, but it turned out to be full - and was the only bus to leave that day. Fortunately, there was another agence in walking distance, and we finally left around 6am. We had been warned about a broken bridge at Kango, badly damaged because a boat had rammed into it. Apparently, a boat now ferried vehicles across, but according to the tide, which, according to most people we spoke, was different every day and "depended on God". From the start, we were very happy we had not taken the night van from Bitam - we would have missed out on the awesome scenery on the way. As our van negotiated the unsealed road through the tropical forest, we got glimpses of fog lifting up from the forest, of strange mountains that dotted the landscape like humps, and of small villages. Every village had its checkpoint, and we could see some of them working hard to see something missing in our passports, but we passed them all without too much trouble. We had various stops, giving us opportunities to explore the remote villages a little bit. Otherwise, the road was in a good condition, and we reached Libreville in around nine hours.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Bitam to Libreville (Gabon). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Bitam to Libreville.
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