AFRICA: Bon and Mari/Laxmi Can't Get Enough! Solar Eclipse in Gabon no Less! travel blog

We crossed from Cogo, Eq. Guinea, to Cocobeach, Gabon, on Oct. 31, Halloween

From Bonnie:

The next morning (10/31) we walked around the town center - it didn't take very long. It served to confirm our first impression that Bata is not a place on the upswing. Other than one old colonial that had been renovated and was now a high end hotel (at least that's how they advertised it), a newer bank building for the SGSSG Bank (that had a working ATM thankfully), one or two other restored smaller buildings, and a few big building projects that appeared to be stalled out, it looked to be generally on the slide. Again, oil money isn't filtering down to the people at large. We checked with the Gabon Embassy about tourist visas; theirs were 75,000 cfa ($155), the border was supposedly 40,000 cfa. We decided to wait for the border.

It was just after noon when we returned to the hotel. We'd seen all we wanted to of Bata. Since it was early in the day, we decided to go to Mbini, a town about an hour + towards the border that the LP said had a couple of budget hotels by the ferry dock, and that were less expensive than the hotel in Bata. The folks at the hotel helped us find the correct taxi and negotiated a fair price - 11,000 cfa ($24). When we got there, though, both hotels were closed. A new bridge had replaced the ferry's 2-3 years ago, and now there was no need for people to break the journey from the border to Bata, so no reason why anyone would stay in Mbini, it's just a small village, really. Our driver had left. We asked the 3 people we could find around the mostly deserted ex-ferry area if there was another hotel in town. They didn't know, but maybe down and around the road "that way". We started walking. It turned out we were 2-3 km from the town itself. We came

to a seemingly deserted large resort right on the banks of a lake or inlet we were now beside. They wanted 52,000 cfa ($109 usd) for a tiny little box of a room. We kept walking. It was mid afternoon by now, full sun, and we were hot and sweaty in no time. We passed one more hotel, it might have worked, but it appeared deserted. We walked on towards the town. Before long I was quite a way ahead of Mari (she had stopped to get sand as it turned out). The road to town turned left and I could no longer see her. I walked a bit up the road expecting her to come around the corner soon. There was the police compound on the left, and on the right a string of the very basic, bare wood houses most people have, with young kids playing outside with their sticks and one small ball, and chickens. goats and a pig wandering around. A few adults were walking home down the hill, but there was no traffic.

I finally decided to wait for Mari, and about the same time a rattletrap old car came by going the other way. The young man driving it stopped, backed up, and asked me in English (!) where I was going? I had decided that, given the situation now, and despite the fact that it was now 2:30 or so, we should probably just try to make it to the border. He hesitated, the border was 1 1/2 hours away or so, but said he would take us for 20,000 cfa ($42 usd). Way too much! He wouldn't come down, it was a long way. Mari caught up and we decided to go for it - what other choice did we have, really?. As his car clanked down the road, stopping occasionally (his clutch was going out) I hoped we would make it. When we got close he asked if we really wanted to go to Acalayong, or to Cogo. The LP we had said the piroques (boats) to the border left from Acalayong, not Cogo, so we told him Acalayong. He didn't seem to think this was the right answer, but he took us there. When we arrived, it was deserted - no immigration office, no police check out station ... what was going on?

There was a piroque just departing, and one coming down the inlet, that's all. We got out of the car just as two men came striding purposefully down the ramp to the dock. They very officiously demanded our passports. We asked our driver who they were since their t-shirts had no insignia of any kind. He said they were the police, and he was clearly a bit nervous. We gave them our copies of our passports. This of course was not what they wanted and they got more vociferous in their demands. They wanted to see our actual passports, and they wanted 20,k000 cfa. The piroque had now arrived and was standing off, waiting to see what was going to happen with our situation. The police were yelling at us and trying to grab our bags; we were fending them off and imploring the boatman to come to the dock so we could board. The boatman was unsure, some of the people in the

boat were encouraging him to dock, others not. We both realized we were going to have to show them our actual passports, but only SHOW them, not let them have them - they might not give them back, we both instinctively knew. We each showed our passport to one of them. I don't know about Mari, but I had to wrench mine back out of his hand when he tried to take it.

Somewhere along the line we realized our driver had left; we were on our own ... we HAD to get on that boat!! The boatman finally decided (while we were showing our passports to the police) to come to the dock, and the disembarking people were going through us and the police. This gave us our chance. We both headed to the boat. Mari got there first and dropped her bag into the bow. The police fellow tried to snatch it back, but she grabbed it first - nobody messes with Mari's packs!!! While they were distracted with Mari, it gave me the chance to drop my big pack into the bottom of the boat more toward the midships. The other policeman saw this and came to stop me, but I was already getting in and in the 2-3 seconds it took him to get there I was already in the boat. This gave Mari her chance to throw her pack in and get in herself. The other policeman tried to stop her as well, but was too late. They gave up trying to get us out of the boat, but still wanted their bribe. It was now 15,000 cfa. I turned to the man behind me and asked in Spanish, how much? He very carefully, using my body as a visual shield from the police, held out 2 fingers, pointing down so they couldn't see. 2,000 dfa each. Good. Mari and I both got out 2,000 cfa and gave it to them. They didn't like it, but by now not only we, but some of the people in the boat were telling them it was enough. They said something to the boatman, and what ever he replied I don't know, but they finally told him he could go. The boatman pulled away. We were off!!

We didn't know where we were going - we didn't think it was to to the border - but we didn't care; we were GOING! We laughed and talked about how this was a great border adventure! And that we were glad Tim wasn't with us - we both thought he would NOT see it as a great adventure but, rather, would be mildly (or not so mildly) freaking out by now. Best he hadn't come. Ha Ha! It turned out we were going to Cogo - where our driver had wanted to take us in the first place. We could see it in the distance, and then we saw the missing piece to the puzzle of Acalayong - YEP! - a new bridge had gone in, the road now went all the way to Cogo and as a result immigration, the police check, and yellow fever check stations had all moved to Cogo. Like Mbini, the bridge had changed everything. (the new 2013 LP no doubt reflects this). As we got closer we - at the last minute - realized we were going to pass at great speed under the concrete causeway crossing the inlet in front of the landing area for Cogo, and if we didn't duck our heads FAST we would never need to duck our heads again. We ducked! The landing area was choppy water by a sand and rock outcrop; tricky at best, but we made it just fine.

We still didn't know exactly what was to happen now, but the boatman and others kept yelling at us to go up the hill to the immigration. Quickly! We did. It was now 4:30 or more and getting late for the boat to the border. I got to immigration first, with Mari a bit behind. The immigration fellow, the police, and the Yellow Fever check fellow, didn't seem to feel the same need to hurry as the boatmen did down below. They almost - it seemed - delayed. It was a very strange feeling at that check out station. Nothing we could put our fingers on, but a rather ominous, not quite threatening, atmosphere. We both reacted by remaining friendly and up beat, complying with out complaint to their every demand.

The immigration man disappeared to a back room with our passports, saying to follow, but it didn't feel good to me. I turned and instead went to check with the Yellow Fever fellow - stalling for time. We hung around. Finally after several minutes the immigration man came back with our passports and said we could go. He didn't ask for a bribe, but there was still that strange vibe. I left asap, Mari followed more slowly. They had taken so long the boat had left. It was now almost 5:30 and dark was in 30 minutes or so. We thought we had missed the last boat, yet we were stamped out now so couldn't stay the night in town. This was interesting ...

The fellow who, apparently, was in charge of the boats reappeared and told us we could go on one last boat for 80,000 cfa ($170 usd!!) each! We both said no, that's way too much! The normal price was 8,000 cfa, but of course this was not a normal run now. He came down to 40,000 cfa. We continued to bargain - we needed to get to the border of course, but still ...! We said 20,000 cfa, he said 30,000cfa, no less because it would have to be a special boat. It was too much we knew, but he was right, it was a special boat, and we had to get there ... we agreed. He disappeared again. There was no boat around. We waited. He re-appeared and started loading cargo that had come on the last boat from Gabon into his car. We asked where our boat was. He said "don't worry, it is coming". But it's getting dark. "don't worry, don't worry". We decided not to worry! In another 15 -20 minutes indeed a boat showed up. We left in the dark.

The night shade was dropping as we left on the boat heading to the border, we thought ... until we changed course and started heading back to Acalayong! As soon as we realized it I thought "NO!!", and I could see Mari was thinking the same thing. We HOPED those two police fellows wouldn't be there still, or at least not so they would see us. No luck, as soon as we got close enough for them to see us they started yelling and making threatening motions. This time one of them had a machine gun over his shoulder. We gritted our teeth and tried to tell the boatman what they had done before, and urged him not to stop . But the one other man in the boat with us was getting off there, the boatman had to stop. The fellow disembarked and still the police were making a fuss, telling the boatman he couldn't leave. According to Mari the fellow who got off was a policeman from Cogo. He did seem to know the two, and had told Mari not to worry. But

although he was standing between the two of them, he was laughing and joking and didn't seem to be making much difference - the police were still saying we had to get off. We continued to urge the boatman to leave. He was in a tight spot, clearly, but he did start to leave. The police went ballistic; he reversed and backed into the landing area stern first. At least we weren't right next to the police that way. We were still frantically asking him to leave. He motioned for us to be quiet. We went silent. One of the police asked him a question. I have no idea what he answered but whatever it was, it worked. The police backed off and told him he could leave. We held our breath until we were well out of reach. That had been scary - the first time hadn't really been, but this time it had. The border couldn't come fast enough.

It was full dark as we exited the inlet heading for Gabon.

The water in the inlet was VERY choppy; we were bouncing and slamming up and down, but the boatman was a very good, careful driver. Nonetheless, Mari started to chant after about 15 min. of the 30 min. ride, and she continued to chant the rest of the way.

We landed bow into the beach. The immigration fellow on the beach asked who we were, and what we needed. We said visas, and he looked at his watch and raised his eyebrows, but led us to the immigration building. Fortunately the actual immigration officer was extremely friendly, helpful, and said it was no problem for us to get our visas there; 40,000 cfa. Just what we thought. Finally we could relax - we were there!! Gabon - the promised land! Ha Ha! It took about 30 min or more for the visas. We asked him about a hotel. He said, no problem, there was one right next door. And there was, he led us there himself and helped us tell the woman what we wanted, and our adventure came to a close. We could even get dinner there. WOW! Success!

It was Oct. 31, Halloween night ... how appropriate. Ha Ha!

We ordered our dinners: omelette and bread, and tea with milk for me, caffe au lait for Mari. What could be better? Well, what could be better was that while we were eating a gentleman came up - clearly a fellow traveler - and asked in French what language we spoke - Francei? Alleman? Engle? Italiano? When we said English he broke out in a big smile and said "are you from the US?" "Yes", I'm American also!" His name was Edward, he is from just outside of Seattle, WA, and he was just finishing up about 2 mo travel in Cameroon, Gabon, Rep. of Congo, DRC, and even the little northern area of Angola (Cabinda). We talked and talked. Not only is he a very nice man so fun to meet and talk with, he also was able to give us lots of invaluable info for our coming travels. What luck. He was flying home in two days, so unfortunately we wouldn't see him down the road, but it was great to meet him.

As it turned out we did see him one more time - a chance meeting in Libreville right outside our hotel the night he flew out, Nov. 2, just before he left for the airport. That was nice. Edward had travelled some of the time with an Aussie traveller he met along the way - Sally.

From Mari:

Hi I hope this works/

Oct: 31 Halloween Experience of crossing from Equatorial Guinea to Gabon:

We had planned to stay in Mbini and cross to Gabon the next day; but got there to find the hotel closed. Walked in light rain to find another only to find the tozn is dying due to the new bridge by pass. We could have stayed in a "sardine can" at a beach "resport" for 125usd; but instead hired a guy to take us to Acalayong; the crossing place for Gabon where the LP said there was a hotel_NOT! A lot has changed in 3 years since the LP was written and a new road with big bridges where ferries used to be: Bobby; our young driver tried to tell us to go to Cogo; but we followed "The Bible" and found the ferry is not ,ore and had to take a s,all boat to Cogo: OK; except an officious full of him self rip off cop with his machine gun toting buddy stopped us at the dock demanding money- a lot! 20k CFA = 40usd each! We fought him off and got into the boat- scqry; but thought past_NOT! Took the boat to Cogo through the mangrove islands and under a new causeway_ had to duck or get decapitated: Got out at an old rusty dock in Cogo and walked up to the border check out: Sketchy! Weird feelings from the police jerking us around: One female cop wanted my pearl bracelet; she didnt get it! Several guys wanted to look at our passports and yellow fever cards: It took so,e ti,e; but got our sta,ps and went to get another boat to go to CocoBeach; Gabon: The guy first wanted 160usd. Talked him down to 60 for both of us; but then had to sit on boqrd the s,all boat and wait while the sun was quickly going sown: Equator drop! Finally they came- the driver and his boat boy-with petrol. I had connected wthe the did when helped him hold the boat while unloading. It was drifting away and I reached out to pull him back. He gave us old life vests-no straps-and off we went: Felt OK until we had to drop off another guy back at Acalayong! And the cop shozed up again trying to inti,idate the boat driver. He so,e scary moments; but finally we left waving goodbye: It was rapidly getting dark and the crossing was really rough-large waves and crashing bangs. Threat of tipping over always-still beautiful inlet of Gulf of Guinea- clouds; but no rain. Salt spray and hanging on as we banged and crashed : I chanted "om Guru" with a little "Jaya Ganesha". The lights of Cocobeach got closer; but it seemed a long time: Finally had a beach landing in the dark-small waves-getting bags out difficult; but with the dids help ,ostly dry: Walked up to Immigration and met nice man who sold us visas-100usd. They wanted 150 in Bata. Hotel next door- we could finally relax! Went for omlete dinner and were joined by a man from Seattle! Edward Samson: He and his Aussie friend; Sally, came over just before us. We talked a lot and exchanged info: The had co,e up fro, DRC where he had been accosted in Kinshasa- thrown in a car zith a bag over his head; driven around for an hour being threatened with death and finally robbed -money only- and dumped out on the street some where: :0! He told us a lot of helpful things-esp. getting transit visa thru Angola in Matadi: Also a tour agency for trip to DRC safely and out! None of this ultimately came to pass; but at the time it seemed hopeful: The Cameroon man I sat next to flying to Malabo said we should be super careful in DRC and as Edward experienced; thats no joke! After lots of talk the gal ca,e and said "dormier" so we all went to our rooms: Ours was like an icebox due to AC: Couldn't adjust it so we froze all night. Bone thought it was good that we got out of EG when we did because All Saints Day may have gotten us stuck in Cogo. Not a bright thought: In any case it was an interesting Halloween.

That's it for now the place here in Pointe Noire is closing: The mosquitoes are as annoyin11/4g as this French keyboard: Forgive the typos due to that: Flying to Brazzaville in the morning: We cant get the Angola visa so are flying to Windhoek via Addis Ababa and J-burg! Lots of sky miles, but that is the only way to move on. Cheers; Mari

Mari sent:

Hi from Libreville. We went to the center line site yesterday with a thick cloud cover. Had met the group from the San Jose company and went to the place they selected:

Dropped off our passports at the Republic of Congo embassy this morning: Can't get them until tomorrow. They were closed on Friday (All Saints Day), so had to stay here longer: Hope to get to Lambergene for tomorrow night: That is where Albert Schweitzer's hospital is: Told we can stay there: All for now.

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