Gabon was resuming normal activities after the disputed elections and there was a football match in the afternoon. The only train to Lopé and Franceville had left the night before and the local travel agent said there were no flights to anywhere I needed to go.
I had a morning meeting with the dynamic Michael Adande, Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism and National Parks. Then we were joined by Omar Ntougou, who I’d last seen at the Entebbe workshop on ape health. He’d said he would help and he did by kindly offering to drive to Lopé with me in the afternoon.
Given that most of the population was settling down to watch the big match, this seemed above and beyond the call of duty, but we made some preparations, bought a few supplies and set off, with the car radio tuned to the commentary. Cameroon won 2:0, but that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits in the car, where Omar and Joel sang and played air guitar (and keyboards and brass section) to keep awake.
It was after midnight when we pulled up outside the warden’s house. I would have quietly found our accommodation but Omar knocked on the door until the warden emerged rubbing his face sleepily. “Do you know it is the UN Year of the Gorilla?” asked Omar enthusiastically. “Yeah, I’ve seen the T-shirt!” came the laconic reply.
My host for the night was agronomist Michael Allan, who served us all a delicious midnight feast and chatted over a whiskey into the early hours. He had been hired by ECOFAC, an EU-funded programme that is developing selected protected areas across Central Africa, and had been wrestling with the difficulties of keeping local road repairing contractors on schedule. Gabon’s National Park network is still in its infancy, having been created only in 2002, but Lopé has been receiving ECOFAC support and attracting visitors for years.