To celebrate the release of our new Gabon guidebook, we catch up with the book's author Annelies Hickendorff, to discuss the country, travel-writing and irresponsible tales.
Why did you first Gabon, a destination firmly off the beaten track?
I set first foot in Gabon during an Africa Overland trip in 2006. Starting in the Netherlands, I drove more than25,000 kmin my twenty-year-old Landcruiser to finally reach Durban in South Africa. After 6 months on the road I finally crossed the river Ntem, the natural border between Cameroon and Gabon.
What are the three experiences that visitors to the country should not miss?
Can I name four experiences? Or maybe five?
- Point Denis and Pongara National Park
- Lopé National Park
- Loango National Park
- Albert Schweizer Hospital
Gabon hopes to become the ‘gateway to Equatorial Africa’. Is this tourism expansion something you welcome or should Gabon remain one of Africa’s lesser known secrets?
I believe that ecotourism could be the key to sustainable nature and wildlife conservation in Gabon (as well as in many other (developing) countries), hence I would very much encourage tourists to visit the country and its beautiful parks.
What is your earliest travel memory?
Ever since I was little, family holidays meant packing up the car with camping gear, cooking utensils and swimming clothes and just setting off, to wherever the weather was nice and sunny. As soon as the weather turned bad or we were bored, we would move on. My friends at school were usually surprised there wasn’t a fixed destination, but for me, this was ultimate freedom and triggered my sense of adventure. Actually, I still like to hit the road without knowing where I will sleep that night.
Do you have a tale of irresponsible travel, a narrow escape while out on the road?
My attempt to issue my own visa in Cameroon, certainly qualifies for the label irresponsible. I had applied for an one month extension, but after a week of hassle and hostile treatment the visa was refused. Taking into account that everything at Cameroon’s borders is done on paper and pen, I decided to take destiny into my own hands and slightly changed the handwritten expiration date into a more convenient one.
Unfortunately, even though I spent quite some time practicing the alteration, the final result wasn’t very convincing and the very first time my papers were checked, at a simple road block in the countryside, I was immediately taken to the nearest police station in order to explain the situation. I was terrified and had anxious visions of the notoriously overcrowded Cameroonian prisons. It took me all my persuasion skills and a little pourboire to convince the police officer that I wasn’t a forger. Furthermore I was extremely lucky the officials at the border with Gabon were more interested in a soap opera on the telly than in checking my paperwork.
What countries/destinations do you still dream of visiting?
I love exploring new destinations and I would like to go anywhere, having a small preference for tropical destinations off the beaten track. The Amazon Rainforest, Papua New Guinea and national parks in Central Africa are high on my wish list.