The trip to Mayumba started a bit earlier than planned. Initially, we were going to fly to Tchibanga and continue to Mayumba by taxi. Our flight to Tchibanga was scheduled for Monday, 27th December, but on Christmas Eve La Nationale politely informed us that it had been cancelled but we were welcome to fly as early as Wednesday, 29th December. We had thus two options left: either looking for an alternative means of transport or staying home.
As far as an alternative means of transport was concerned, again we were presented with two appealing choices: 1) taxi-brousse (bush taxi) and 2) teleportation. Not being skilled teleporters (am I making up words again?), we opted for the former. Now the new plan was ready, all we had to do was to get our money back for the airlines, find out how the taxi-brousse business worked, get a phone number, book ourselves one of these babies, and we were all set! Lucky us that travelling is so simple in Gabon.
After a few phone-calls, we managed to lay our hands on the number of a transport company. We were assured that a comfortable pick-up truck would leave on Sunday, 26th December, at 7 am, heading for Tchibanga, and we were welcome to get on board. We booked our seats and tried not to think about the fact the trip would take ten to twelve hours - if everything went as planned, that is.
On Sunday, we left our house at 6:15 am. We took a taxi to PK8 (or Point kilométrique 8), where all the transport companies and a large number of pickpockets are based, and proceeded to find the man we'd spoken to on the phone. Needless to say, we were the only white people in the vicinity, carefully scrutinized by tens of curious eyes. We paid for our three seats and sat down, prepared for a long wait (of course we weren't going to leave at 7 sharp!).
Yes, you've read correctly and I did not make a mistake when I wrote that we'd paid for three seats. To find out why, you need to ask yourself a simple question: how many seats are there in a regular car? Let's see... The driver. The co-pilot. Three people in the back. Wrong! In Africa, the co-pilot's seat is deux places (yes, two people in the front!), while in the back you can easily squeeze four. There also additional places in the back of the truck, where you can stand holding on to the piles of luggage and get covered in dust and mud for twelve hours. Consequently, we bought three seats out of four, which ensured a comfortable trip not only for us, but also for the gentleman who bought the fourth place.
Now all that was left was to build up the incredible pyramid of luggage. The loading of everything from garlic and manioc sacks to our backpacks took an hour. Then, the six unlucky souls loaded themselves next to the luggage, while we took our luxury seats inside the air-conditioned truck. The third passenger positioned strategically between us (no seatbelt in the middle), we began our 12-hour long journey to Tchibanga.
It was more comfortable than expected. The air-conditioning turned out to be a blessing. We often stopped to stretch our legs. The driver knew the road inside out and drove surely, safely and quickly. Only two things stood between me and full happiness; one was the extremely loud African music that the driver would play incessantly during the whole trip (hits such as Chanter à Libreville and Doucement, vas-y doucement will stay in my mind forever); the other was a horrible cramp in my thigh, which would stay with me till the very next day.
Nevertheless, as I've already said, we were lucky to have many thigh-stretching stops. Some of them, however, were not a mere whim of the driver. During the twelve hours of our trip, the police stopped us around twelve times. Each and every time the driver had to pay a little bribe (between 1000 and 5000 CFA), in order to continue without problems. Otherwise, the policemen might stop us for as long as they pleased, controlling our papers, luggage, the state of the car, etc. If you want to arrive on time, pay up my friend! We were appalled.
We thus arrived in Tchibanga - backs hurting, thighs cramped, mouthing the lyrics of unknown songs - around 6:30 pm, exhausted but satisfied with the trip. The driver was nice enough to take us to our hotel, where we discovered that our bags sported distinct smells. Mine, which spent the whole trip on top a frozen smoked fish sack, was now wet and smelled of - can you guess? - frozen smoked fish. Jandro was even less fortunate, as his backpack had been placed upon a garlic sack. One smelly hotel room that was!
To wrap up, two pieces of advice: 1) Always buy an extra seat in a taxi-brousse! No European back is made for travelling the African way! 2) Put your backpack in a plastic bag if possible. I'm pretty sure my parents will recognise me by the smell of smoked fish when I land in Warsaw two weeks from now!
The first picture shows our Libreville - Tchibanga taxi. The second - the taxi we took to get from Mayumba back to Tchibanga.