Friday, October 7, 2011


Road works

Entering Gabon was a little complicated: first we were interrogated by a policeman, who gave us permission to proceed to the Gendarmerie. Then we were free to go on to the town, Bitam, 32 kilometers on, where we had to do the immigration and also the customs procedures. At Customs there was nobody, and the Immigration officer, a very important man, deigned to tell us that we could also do the Customs procedures in Oyem, but fortunately after taking almost an hour at getting the passports stamped the someone had returned, and our carnets processed.

Into Gabon
Then we took a beautiful road down to the south. We thought we would try to sleep in Mitzig, but we were there just after one, and could not see any hotels, so decided to press on to Njole, two hundred kilometers on. And guess what? The road fell apart, and we had to duck and dive, earning our Gabonese PHD (Pot Hole Dodging) degrees before getting into this bustling cross-roads town. The recommended Auberge St Jean was silent, only a watch-lady could be found, doing her washing in her underwear, so we looked for alternatives, and found the Hotel Papaya.

Logging trucks
They did not have a generator, as their neighbouring competitor had, but at least they had a rather large courtyard, where the 'camping cars' could park.

Recrossing the equator, going north
The guys sleeping in the cars were entertained by disco music from two sides till early morning, we slept in a room and heard nothing. The next day we crossed the equator, dipping into the southern hemisphere before going north again, towards Libreville.

Not so good road, approaching the capital
The road, good again, deteriorated as we approached the capital, and now we began to encounter blockades from the Road Security, from traffic policemen, and other people, all wanting to inspect the papers, needing to ascertain that the South African insurance is paid up, and that we carry the security equipment. They did also stop mini-buses, making the passengers alight in the rain, to ensure that they were not overloaded!

Then we met someone who led us into the chaos of the Capital, where good roads, bad ones, new double highways and road works combined to give us a special experience. With police in between, pulling us over to check the papers once again.

Accra spring modofocation
We spent the next few days squatting with friends, while trying to, and succeeding against the odds, to obtain our visas for the two Congo's, one being the most expensive yet, and this for a two day transit. And we also had several visits to the Angolan Embassy to try to get in writing that our single entry visas would be good for entry both into Cabinda and Angola proper. All we got was solemn assurances, so we have to go and see.

Scored brake shoes and drums
I also obtained brake shoes for the rear brakes which had to be replaced, and when I took the old ones off I could see why they were so badly eroded by the sand that got into the drums. The rubber covers for the inspection holes were not there. The fact that the circlips were also clearly the old ones make me think that the experts that had installed the brake shoes screwed up this job also. The problem with the automatic tension adjustment was clear: a spring was loose.

Do these parts look new?
New shoes in, with the old circlips, and the automatic adjustment seems to work, although it did not take up the slack as fast as I thought it should. The brakes work ok, but I guess it would need some seating too, as the drums are also rather scored.

At the same time we started planning to visit the parks and lagoons in the south, a rather complicated affair as we have to pass through one of the oil fields. Permits we have, but we must advise in advance what times we expect to come in and out, and to find someone that understands is not easy.

Brake works: note missing plugs
Then we took the road to Lambarene, and whizzed over the equator for what we thought would be the last time. At Lambarene we had made up our minds not to stop but to push on for Mouila, from where we hoped to take the piste through the oilfields the next day. But that was not to be.

We stopped at a natural spring, and the Land Rover would not get into gear. There was something wrong with the clutch, and the only solution was to tow it back to Lambarene, and seek advice. There we fell in with the French Army on maneuvers, and since they have Land Rovers some of their mechanics took a look.

But in the end they all agreed that the only thing to do was to get it back to Libreville, since any work would entail that the gearboxes come out, which requires special handling equipment. In any case the parts would have to be ordered, it was unlikely that they would be available in Lambarene or even Libreville.

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