The trip to the Ivindo National Park was long and exhausting but yes, we managed to reach the Kongou camp in one piece. Accompanied by three guides and a France-based Gabonese tourism student (gladly displaying her bikini to anyone who would look), we arrived at the three little huts the camp consists of. We were excited, embarking on yet another jungle adventure, looking forward to being compensated for the nightmarish journey. Details and tips concerning the trip coming right up!
A boat from Makokou takes you down the Ivindo river and to the Kangou camp (address: in the middle of nowhere). It takes over three hours to get there, so remember to put on a lot of sunscreen. A raincoat won't be a bad idea, as water enters the boat easily, especially while crossing the wilder parts of the river. The wooden benches are not very comfy but if you're lucky you might see, as we did, a python having a siesta on the river bank, or an elephant feasting on the rich green plants.
Basic but located right next to the waterfalls, so that you can hear their humming at all times. The camp consists of a couple of wooden huts, containing beds and mosquito nets. Clean sheets are also provided. We used a spray which supposedly kills anything that moves on/in your mattress, just in case. No electricity, no running water - instead, romantic oil lamps and a crazy shower in the natural waterfall jacuzzi. You can also view the waterfalls from a wooden terrace overlooking them, and enjoy your meals in the wooden dining-room gazebo, listening to jungle sounds mixing with the splashing river. Food is simple but tasty, abundant in the morning and evening. Lunches are rather monotonous (bread and canned tuna), so it's good to bring some snacks. And the two bottles of wine we'd brought proved to be an excellent idea!
Finding a good guide in Gabon is never simple. The ones we met in Invindo were average and let me explain why. Of course, they knew the forest and all the plants very well, they could see a python where we saw nothing but branches, and they could hear a monkey from an incredible distance. They would, however, take this knowledge for granted and seemed surprised to know that, apart from seeing the elephants, we wanted to learn about plants, traditions and the like. Getting them to share what they knew proved to be a mission nearly impossible. Morever, they showed little flexibility. No options are offered, as the guides follow the same plan they have been following for years. Finally, they wouldn't eat with us or spend time with us unless specifically asked to. This, however, probably results from the attitudes of most tourists, for which the Gabonese are not to blame. Consequently, you can imagine the surprised gaze of one of the guides when we accompanied him to the river bank to assist him while he cleaned the day's catch of fish!
We spent two nights in the camp and I think it is the perfect amount. The first morning is entirely taken up by the boat ride and then you go for a short hike in the afternoon. The guides take you through the forest to a spot on the river bank which allows you to see the nearby waterfalls in all their beauty. We got extra-lucky: for half an hour or so we watched an elephant peacefully chewing on the plants by the waterfalls, just to go up them afterwards. A magnificent spectacle!
On the second day, you take a walk through the forest, you cross the river in a little boat and, after another jungle hike, you reach a place right at the top of the huge twin waterfalls called Buya Na Gonde. In Kata, the local language, it means Sun and Moon, and reflects the tradition of giving twins complementary names. Standing on the very edge of the water, just a couple of metres away from the great force of the waterfall, is an unforgettable experience... For a few moments nothing else exists, only you and nature - you can hardly avoid feeling grateful for being one of the few lucky people who get to see it.
After such an eventful morning, we were taken to see the abandoned Chinese camp; you see, a few years ago the Chinese cut through the forest to build a road, all this in preparation to building a dam on Ivindo. Who gave them permission to destroy this place and how much they paid for it remains a mystery to me, but we were relieved to know that the go ahead had been withdrawn before more damage was done. If only Gabon cared more about its natural heritage! If only they bet on tourism instead of ridiculous buisness schemes!
On our third day, another hike through the forest finished our visit of the park. We admired enormous trees and learned something about their role in the traditional medicine. Tired, dirty and extremely happy we got on the boat and went back to Makokou.
Yet again, Gabon managed to stun us with its natural, unspoilt beauty. The whole trip was remarkable and I have hundreds of pictures to prove it. The moment we got on that boat we forgot about the train ordeal and it just got better and better as time passed by. Ivindo is an absolute must for residents in Gabon - it makes you realise what on Earth you are doing so far away from home.