Three trains, 3 planes, 3 cars and 3 doxycycline later, I’m finally at the CIRMF (Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville) in Franceville, Gabon. I wish I could have polluted less and have done it all by bike but neither the 3 years of my PhD nor my supervisors would have allowed me. Anyway, here is my first story in Gabon, and I hope it will provide useful tips for future travelers…
"Dieu merci, vous êtes tous arrivés sains et saufs !" (Thanks God you all arrived sound and safe!), yell a yellow jacket in charge of welcoming us down the stairs of the plane at our arrival in Libreville. I first wonder if this man is joking or if he knows some passengers in the plane - but he doesn't. He seems sincerely relieved. Sure, we have 2 hours delay and it's past midnight but who cares? I'm trying to imagine the same situation happening at Roissy Charles de Gaulle in Paris. I laugh, no, impossible. I realize that it's not because the news announced a "missing plane" between Kinshasa and Libreville but probably more because of some Gabonese customs that I'm not used to yet.
A good start: I got my luggage and I have my yellow card (vaccination records, essential to enter the country - what I didn't know). The customs are not too curious regarding the content of my bags - good for the hundreds of chimpanzee and mandrill faeces I'm planning to collect and for the hundreds of fake plastic poops I carry. Once outside, nobody with my name on a board - normal since the hotel didn't respond to my pick-up request and since the CIRMF agent in Libreville was not reachable. Alright, first mission: to withdraw money. I didn't expect that neither Osaka nor Istanbul airport would sell Central African Francs. So, I try the first ATM, broken; the second: broken; and the third: bingo! At this point, I'm still hoping to exchange my yen at an exchange money counter the next morning, so I only withdraw 50 000 CFA for the hotel and a taxi.
This time, I booked a hotel online to avoid having too much adventures while on a research trip... "Excuse-me Sir, do you know where VillaFlora is? It's a hotel, it shouldn't be far." "VillaFlora? Hmmm, let me ask." After few taxi drivers and security staff around the airport for whom, the name VillaFlora didn't make any sparks fly, the station manager of South African Airways himself drives me around Libreville, trying to find my hotel. "VillaFlora, I would see it that way..." After 10 minutes, we arrive in front of a bunch of apartments, with written on the grid: "Residence Floria". Not quite the same and not looking like a hotel. We still get down the car, wake up the watchman sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the marble floor and ask whether there is some kind of hotel around. He just says that there are some French living here and that perhaps they know. Waking up some people I don't know in the middle of the night to ask whether a hotel exists? Not a good idea. I have to come to the fact that this VillaFlora was probably a trick and that a B plan has to come in action. I remembered the name "Tropicana" from the last email of a friend familiar with Libreville. Tropicana isn't a cocktail - not in the mood right now, but the name of a hotel near the airport. Again, the station manager drives me there. "We just have one room left, Madam." "How much?" "70 000." Shoot. "Ok, I have 50 000 CFA and 19 USD" "Ok." I give all my money left (I could have got the room half price from what I learn later...). The station manager makes sure I'm okay, leaves me 2000 CFA for internet, and his business card. Having no cellphone, the 2000 will be either for Internet, to inform my collaborators that I arrived in Gabon or for a taxi back to the airport the next morning. I opt for the latter. Tomorrow will be another mission: go to Franceville…
Leave a Reply.