Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Our First Outing: A Boat Ride down the Ogooue River

Papyrus plants line some parts of the riverbank.
    If you google “Gabon”, you might find pictures of forest elephants, humpback whales, “surfing” hippos and the colorful primate, the mandrill.  The nation of Gabon is a unique collection habitats: dense forests, white sandy beaches, marshes filled with tropical birds and an extensive collection of wide rivers. For a much more eloquent (and complete) documentation of what Gabon has to offer, I suggest the National Geographic articles and videos as well as the documentary Gabon: The Last Eden (on netflix).
     Suffice it to say, Gabon is beautiful with tons to see. However, I work in the hospital from Monday through Friday as well as attending rounds on the weekends; so a four-to-five day trek to one of the national parks is something I haven’t had a chance to do. My roommates and I are planning a few trips, but, for now, we explore the areas surrounding the hospital.
     The hospital is located on the banks of the Ogooue River. In the time of Dr. Schweitzer patients arrived by piroque (Gabonese wooden canoes) and all supplies came from surrounding towns via the river. When I look out of my bedroom window, I can see the river and the dense forest behind it. Most of the time, I struggle to focus on my work and have to close the curtain to get anything done.  
The view of the Ogooue from our house.
     The river is deceptively calm (there are undercurrents that are quite dangerous) and it looks like a wide, mirrored surface. Every so often the calm of the water is disturbed by a passing motorized piroque. The river extends from the very heart of Gabon, part of the water system that feeds the breathtaking Koungou Falls in Ivindo National Park, and flowing all the way out to the ocean. The province I live in is called Moyen-Ogooue and by the time the Ogooue reaches this area, it begins to divide into a vast delta system. The river creates small lakes or zile where fishing villages have thrived for hundreds of years. One visitor described the zile as “stepping back into time”.

The fishermen spend their lives on their piroques, venturing into town only to sell their catch. Their children attend various public schools along the river and commute to school by piroque.

  The tourist centered part of the hospital (what remains of Dr Schweitzer’s original hospital and a small museum) offers day trips on the piroques. There are several destinations, but all trips begin on the banks of the Ogooue. All of the day trips are managed by the ever-friendly and jovial Yaya, whose wife also makes some of the arts and crafts sold at the bookstore. On the trips it is possible to see small groups of apes, a brightly colored reptile called a Varon, many birds and, in the dry season, you might even spot a hippopotamus. 
     Visiting students working at the hospital often join these trips, waiting for big groups so we can split the cost. (Each day trip costs about 90,000 cfa which is roughly $180. Split 6 ways, it is $30 per person.)
The second weekend I was here, I got a chance to take a day trip on the piroque. 
 My roommate and the other tourists getting into the piroque.

It is the rainy season so there were no hippos, but it was still an amazing experience. So many times during the trip, I looked out on the water and was overcome with emotion. I feel blessed to be working in such a beautiful country. I tried to take as many pictures as possible and here they are:


No comments:

Post a Comment