Potentially the worlds greatest wildlife destination, but I wasn’t going to find out…..

May 9, Royal Palm Hotel, Libreville, Gabon

In the next of a series of mad dictatorships – welcome to Gabon.  Omar Bongo was president for 42 years from 1967 until he died in 2009.  The reins were taken up by his son Ali Bongo who has been in power since, ‘winning’ the 2009 election with 42% of the vote.  Highlights of his time in office include apparently paying Lionel Messi £2.5m for visiting and laying the foundational stone for the Africa cup of nations stadium for 2017, and cutting the size of the Ministry.  The leader of the banned ‘opposition’ party, Andre Mba Obame died of unknown causes last year.

The airport worked and no bribes were solicited.  I got a taxi to the hotel, the windows didn’t work and there was no door handle, but the driver played terrific african samba music and serenaded me in between outlining his run-ins with over-enthusiastic police officers and government officials.  He also only overcharged me relative to the locals by about 50%, such a kind heart.

The streets are lined with big new 4WDs and some gleaming buildings – this is a town clearly awash with oil money.  The highlight of which is the presidential palace.  I have been warned not to take photos of anything, especially the presidential palace, as the police don’t like potential spies.  So I don’t have my own photo – but you can check it out on google.

I set out to visit ‘all’ of the tourist attractions (the lonely planet guide to Libreville lists two :-)).  Saw the presidential palace, and tried to visit the arts museum but it was closed.  The only other tourist attraction is the folk sculptures along the waterfront, which were relatively interesting.

Beachfront sculpture
Beachfront sculpture
Beachfront sculpture probably inspired by the presidents investment in the Tour d'Africa which is suppose to rival the tour de France
Beachfront sculpture probably inspired by the presidents investment in the Tour d’Africa which is suppose to rival the tour de France
It was a good albeit sweaty 10k walk there and back, and the locals were surprised to see me walking, everyone takes shared taxis everywhere.    Feeling a huge sense of achievement at having completed the tourist activities I retired to the pool for the afternoon.   I had contemplated the beach in front of the hotel, until on closer inspection I realised it was actually the rubbish dump.
Didn't inspire me to sunbathe
Didn’t inspire me to sunbathe
Note on ecotourism .  Gabon is unique amongst African nations, as the president created a 13 park network in 2002 which cover 11% of the country in 2002 (the highest percentage of land conservation in the world).  This kicked off a spate of investment in ecotourism and camps.  However, most of the investors in eco tourism have subsequently exited,  citing corruption and bureaucracy issues that were making it impossible to run businesses.  I had originally planned to visit Loango national park – a much heralded wild life destination with gorillas and surfing hippos.   However, it proved impossible to do so in any reasonable way as an independent traveller, but if you have a group together you might be able to get the logistics sorted.   Check out loango-safari.com.

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