A low in the African rainforest – Gabon on a Bike

Entering Gabon

She had been in the forest that morning. With her machete and her basket she had walked deep in the greenery to collect the special leaves she needed to make “manioc sticks”.

Women go to the forest to collect leaves to make manioc

I was sitting in her kitchen, a hut made with pieces of wood and corrugated iron. In a corner, there was a gaz cooker sitting unevenly on the earth floor but she was cooking on a wood fire. There were two of them burning in the hut that was filling up with smoke making my eyes water.

The kitchen

A blackened pot sat on a tripod above one of the fires, inside there was a huge rodent like the ones I had seen on sale  hanging from pieces of wood by the side of the road. Every now and again the woman took the animal out of the pot and scrubbed it vigorously with a sharp blade, its hair came off uncovering the grey skin underneath. As far as I could tell, the animal hadn’t been eviscerated yet. I wondered whether the creature was one of the protected species I had seen in a poster at the border crossing.

Bush meat for sale on the road

Sitting on low stools we chatted. “The forest is generous” she told me “it provides everything we need – drinking water, meat, fish, leaves to make manioc sticks, fruit… “ I asked her about the dangers of the forest and she told me how she would never venture into it without her machete and how she was always very careful where she put her feet. Should a snake be on her path, she would bring her machete down and “wham” cut it in two.

Manioc sticks on sale

After a while, she asked me whether I wanted to wash before it got dark, stood up and went to a big oil drum with a bucket that she filled with water. She then showed me to an enclosure with a wooden floor. Along one of its sides there was a  low wooden stool where I could leave my things.

The shower room

After the shower she showed me where I could find the toilet. This time the facilities were “interesting”, huge gaps on the floorboards gave full view of the pit below alive with what looked like blowfly maggots.  I prayed that the floorboards had not been weakened by termites and looked around to see whether there was anywhere else  I could go to avoid setting foot in that place.

I prayed for those floorboards to be strong!

There may not be water in the villages and the sanitary facilities could be improved but in a lot of them I saw very new looking, bright orange satelite dishes. Billboards in some houses read “Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages”.

No water, no electricity but… Digital TV!

The idea of the China-Africa Cooperation project was to reduce the digital divide in African rural areas by giving villages access to digital television. In their vision, through television the villagers would acquire useful information about the world to expand their horizon and help them to get rid of poverty.

In another village I saw what the project in action. I was cooking my evening meal when someone arrived to set up the equipment. From the village chief’s house a projector and a decoder appeared, a folding screen nailed to a wall was unfolded. A solar powered battery made the whole thing work and images of a newsreader appeared on the screen. The evening TV show had started.

I questioned the relevance of the programme

A woman came with her plastic chair, sat for a while and then left. After her a man came and plugged his phone in one of the USB ports of the equipment and sat waiting for it to charge, then left. In the end, only the man who had set up the equipment and one other villager stayed. I went into my tent with the sound of an involved political debate in the background. No wonder there were no takers!

In the morning left the village to enjoy another glorious day in the African forest. The forest in Gabon is impenetrable and it is beautiful – huge columnar trees, climbers everywhere, ferns, huge clusters of bamboos providing thick cover and where there is enough light purple and yellow flowers everywhere.

The forest was magnificent
And with light flowers
Everywhere

The sounds from the forest were wonderful too, birds, monkeys and buzzing insects. The bike moved silently and the sounds surrounded me, I listened to them trying to figure out whether the cry was from a bird or a monkey but the only sound I recognise was the squeeking of the springs of my saddle.

The crossing of the Ecuator was in the middle of the forest. It was nothing fancy like the ones in Kenya or Uganda but for me it represented a huge milestone. I was back in the Northern hemisphere, I was getting  closer to home.

Crossing into the Northern Hemisphere

It was after crossing the Ecuator that I allowed the wave of tiredness that for a couple of weeks had been threatening to engulf me to finally reach me. I let it wash over me and acknowledged that I was getting tired – tired of  dirt and discomfort, tired of villages with no running water or electricity, tired of smelly (or worse) latrines, tired of crappy guesthouses where the only way to have a comfortable night is by setting the tent on the bed, tired of being the centre of attention, tired of feeling cheated. I had hit a low.

44 thoughts on “A low in the African rainforest – Gabon on a Bike”

  1. Sorry to hear you have been feeling low. Hopefully a clean guesthouse with a decent shower and a cleaner pit latrine will help. I remember dreading having to go to the toilet in the family I first stayed with when volunteering in Tanzania, full of flies and smelly and then I experienced a proper pit latrine which was fine!

  2. Oh Blanca ,
    Big hug . May everyone’s positive thoughts help you over thus and power you on your onward journey . You’ve done soooo much and achieved so much . Hang in there and know people are with you and supporting you. Lots of love Alison xxxx

    1. Hi Blanca. Thank you for giving us this lovely honest raw window into your day on the bike in Gabon. Wishing you a comfy bed, clean water and friendly folk over the next few days. Keep going.

      1. All credit to you that it has taken you this long to get so tired. You have incredible resilience. Having travelled a lot myself I know I would have bugged out long ago. Hope this is a temporary feeling but if not, sounds like you would be welcomed back home, and that really is something to look forward to x

  3. I think we are of a similar age. I find your journey very inspiring particularly because you are doing it alone which is something that terrifies me and has kept me from doing a very simple tour from Fort Bragg California to San Diego. Originally I was going to go with a riding partner that I rode with last year from Vancouver Washington to Dillon Montana but I got sick with a cough and had to stay behind so now I’m in a quandary about whether I should go alone. I don’t know why I’m so terrified I have done a solo trip from Champoeg Oregon t o Eugene Oregon with no problem whatsoever but for some reason now I don’t have that confidence. I think it’s because it’s a alongside Highway 1 on the California coast through some very busy cities: San Francisco -Los Angeles -San Diego.
    Anyway I find your journey and courage outstanding and inspiring.

  4. Hoi Bianca,

    I know exactly what you mean. In june I returned to Spain from Morocco in a hurry after just 2 months. So I actually have not even been in Africa but the people’s mentallity, the Securitee and the garbage in Morocco made me feel so negative already. So no Africa for me, and I now have to come up with a new longdistance plan.

    You can (and should) be proud of yourself considering what you already have accomplished !

    1. I really enjoyed South America, when you keep away from the busy roads less dirt, lots of wild camp spots, and the possibility to shit in nature which I way prefer over dirty toilets.

  5. Hi Blanca. Thank you for giving us this lovely honest raw window into your day on the bike in Gabon. Wishing you a comfy bed, clean water and friendly folk over the next few days. Keep going.

  6. So looking forward to seeing you – you have had the ups and downs of your journey and I am sure in reflection the ‘ups’ have been more plenty!
    Think of all your famliy and friends and how much fun it will be to meet up with us in the not too distant future – and more important with you family – especially your wonderful daughter Amaya and her partner John who have cared for the garden and your house so well!What lovely neighbours they have been!
    We will miss them when you come back but we will be so pleased to see you again!

  7. Well, feeling low certainly hasn’t negatively affected your ability to provide us with a lovely description of Gabon. And I would say you have proved your strength, stamina and perseverance many times over so what’s to stop you from coming home if that is what’s calling to you? Having said that, not sure who would want to endure the politics of England at the moment – perhaps equivalent to dirt and lack of mod cons. But at least you would have friends and family to embrace you. Sending a big hug and kisses, Patricia

    1. Ha! This was a similar note to what I was going to write to Blanca – a little ‘at least it’s not the UK and its willful self-destruction! Sending love and good vibes for some better days. X

  8. boiled gut of rodent sounds even worse than a pit of maggots beneath the rotten flooring…… you are bloody amazing my dear friend – but sounds like there will be treats ahead in Ghana. Great big hug!

    1. There is me, living in West Yorkshire, still enjoying my cycling in my 70’th year & thinking that I am being adventurous by cycling out to unknown locations 20 miles away.
      Wow Blanca!!!! HUGE RESPECT to you
      I am so impressed with the tales of your single cycling adventures in Gabon.
      Keep up your enthusiasm , God bless & good luck for the future.
      All the best
      Bob Newton. West Yorkshire.

  9. Dear Blanca. Let me bring a smile to your face. On my tiny (2,5k km) trip this summer, I also started feeling down and tired. Tired of endless rocky, unpaved roads and forests. I was in Southeastern Norway! Ha! I can’t imagine all you’re experiencing. I do know, however, from following you for quite some time that this will also pass. I hope you soon find a clean and comfortable place for a break.

  10. Gosh a it seems ages since I saw you were in Gabon… I think you’ve cycled through a number of different African countries since then. And that’s the reality of The Lows – they take a long time to process, accept and to be able to write about them. Sounds like even recalling that part of your trip was very tough
    Before you know it – you’ll be in Europe and still with a number of weeks to cycle AND proper recognisable comforts.
    Big big hugs special lady xxxx

  11. Hola Blanca, son muy interesantes tus relatos de hoy, la experiencia de vivenciar la cultura de pueblos que aun viven como viviamos a miles de años atrás, nutriendose de las florestas…. hoy dia tal vez no en tanta harmonia como antaño… pero bueno, es asi como lo consiguen ahora. También gracias por compartir tu estado de ánimo, pues es una larga jornada en la cual estas andando y es normal que llegues a tocar bajones. Pero te envio mucha fuerza e energia de alta frecuencia para que se te haga leve y sigas adelante en tu jornada. Estas vivencias que relatas son magnificas para los que te seguimos. Un fuerte abrazo y que cuidate mucho

  12. I’m on the edge of my seat, wanting to hear what happened next. I so love your blog posts my dear friend. Hope the days are easier now. So looking forward to seeing you soon. Big hugs xx

  13. Thoroughly enjoying your adventure. Sketchy bathrooms are the worst, especially when you can see maggots. Yikes. Big hug from me to you. Home is getting closer. Thanks for letting me enjoy your adventure with you.

  14. Everyone who has ever been on a long tour, especially in underdeveloped countries, has experienced ups and downs/highs and lows, whether they write about it or not. Your honesty, courage, and perseverance continue to inspire and amaze. Thank you for sharing your life on the road and please know we are all thinking of you and sending encouragement from afar.

  15. The low points that give you the deepest sigh highlight the experiences that have taken your breath away.

    How about a summary blog of the top 10 moments on your trips to date. (I expect meeting me and my family in Hong Kong and walking to the peak to be rated first of course – just joking,)

    Keep doing what your are doing – first for yourself and second for the inspiration and courage you bring others.

    My 14 year old daughter was talking about cycling Landa end to John o Groates in 2020.

  16. How amazing Blanca that after the massive Africa journey you have done to only just feel this weariness now. Your energy, enthusiasm and stamina has been incredible!!
    I do hope you allow yourself a treat soon – somewhere clean to rest and recharge for a couple of days with hot water and yummy food. No rodents!
    Sending you hugs and warm regards, Kim

  17. Hi Blanca,

    Thanks for sharing another great blog post and great you have made it to Gabon. Having pedaled some of the same route you did I can relate to the weariness at being a constant centre of attention. Hopefully with some rest you can re-energise for the next section. I wonder which way you are planning through west Africa?

    All the best on the roads ahead!

    Julian

  18. I know i am not a traveller, i hate camping even on the French camps sites with the best wooden showers/toilets/sinks for laundary. I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT. Or how the people that live there do regardless of it being because they have to or know no other way of being. You are amazing, no wonder you hit a low at times. Bloody well understandable. Please would you consider writing a volume of books about your travels when you have hung up your bicycle clips for a while, but long may that day come however and you keep on keeping on for as long as this madcap adventure takes you.

    Love reading your blogs as do the remaining Mac lot, Ed (now in Glasgow), Maria, Martin, Andrew, Sarah, and of course the lovely Dean.

  19. Dearest Blanca, it’s good to read your blog again and to know that you’re not only surviving this amazing journey but you’ve still got your humour, your understanding of privilege and a sense of perspective. It sounds awful in parts, and I’m sure wonderful in others. Your tiredness must be exhausting but I know you’ll push through this and move on. Take care dear friend and hope you get some comfort and a decent latrine soon. Much love xxx

  20. Lovely reading Bianca. You are an inspiration to many.
    “Life is like a light switch, sometimes up, other times down”. Yes it’s a dumb phrase from a 90’s portuguese TV comic series.
    I imagine Africa is very tough, specially after so many months.
    But I think you have kept the “switch up” for more than most people entire lifetimes, in our daily routines.
    Hope you find a nice comfort zone to rest and recharge.
    All the best!

  21. Hi Blanca. You still amaze me with your ability to ‘carry on’. Remember every kilometer ridden is 1 km closer to home. I hope you find better conditions the closer to home you get. Hang in there, you are a super star. Sending love and hugs

  22. Ho, my god! What an experience. Like to live entrance living but sounds hard to live with. Think that human live their life always! Hopefully you you are in better ground. The experience of living lower ground is not easy. I wonder how I could write my feelings…. thank you for having the abilities to express yourself. It’s walkways with administration that I am reading your aventures. Hope you’re feeling better and strong,, and share. Think of you next story. Gratitude

  23. Hi Blanca,
    You’re probably well beyond your dip, but in case it comes up again, one of the things that gets me out of a dip when I am abroad is handwriting letters. I always feel like I am actually with the person I am writing to, in that I can sense them and am paying attention to how I am wording my letter for them. An afternoon spent in this way is like escaping the here and now and what is around me. Its like having a holiday from my trip. Receiving handwritten letters is also nice too when you are travelling. What is your next postal address?

    In the meantime, sending you lots of love
    xxx
    Gillian

  24. Hi Blanca,

    We are sending you love and blessings from Yorkshire! Heidi has just got back from her adventure in India and I am enjoying the conservatory as usual!

    Truth Simplicity and Love.
    Mel and Heidi xxxx

  25. how magnificent you are after so many incredible highs it must be so hard when you hit the low but I know you will find a way to rest and recharge …. if it is extreme …. take a little flight to somewhere you think will fill the with a bit of peace and comfort – we all have taken holiday while at work – think you are owed a holiday from your travel to recharge

  26. Well Blanca what took you so long? I cannot believe how resilient you have been when travelling. The physical challenges and the mental challenges taken together are bound to be very very difficult sometimes. Some of our worst moments are also our best stories. Remember that you are closer to home now than you have been for a long time. We are all rooting for you. Make sure you do stay somewhere comfortable for respite as soon as you can! Love Sonia

  27. I would have felt that way a long time ago. I only managed 4 months in Africa. You are an inspiration.

    But if you are tired and over it then simply leave. You have nothing to prove to anyone, life is about doing what you want, listening to your body and changing plans as required.

  28. Querida Blanca:
    ¡Qué super orgullosa que estoy de ti! A pesar de los bajones, sigues mandándonos preciosas descripciones de los sitios… ¡ay, a veces no tan preciosos! Pero muuuuy interesantes. Y puedes con todo, eres muy especial. Te deseo mucho ánimo para seguir adelante. Te mando mil besos y un fuerte abrazo, Margari

  29. Hi Blanca
    You are strong lady, traveling alone amazes me.
    Well done dear, soon you are home with lots of experience and comfort. and regards from Namibia

  30. Love hearing your stories as always. I know no-one else with your resilience, determination, resourcefulness and heart. Your journeys would defeat the overwhelming majority of people in weeks….at most. Look after yourself Traveller (with an Olympian Capital T).
    Love Jo xxxx

  31. Hello Blanca,
    I’m sorry you hit a low and I hope all the encouragement from your followers will raise your spirit. I’m looking forward to your stories and I hope they make their way back to China so they can rethink their foreign aid policies!

    Regards

  32. And then you realised that it is privilege that allows you to have these rich experiences of culture and soul and that privacy is a luxury. Pedal on friend and grow stronger

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