“West Africa had increased our self-confidence, so right after we crossed the border we began wondering whether we should do the obvious and take the beautiful asphalt road into Libreville, or opt instead for the shorter dirt road leading through the jungle. Half our maps suggested that this road passes through Equatorial Guinea, but we asked at the police checkpoint near the start of the road and they confirmed that it doesn’t – no need to worry about visas. They also warned us, however, that the road was in pretty bad shape, and it was unsure whether the bridges would still be standing. Right at the turn-off a dump-truck was waiting, and we questioned the driver about the state of the road. He said that the start it was good, then got worse, then worse still. And a bridge had collapsed, so we would have to ford the river. But our car could surely manage it. Did we have a snorkel exhaust pipe, and a winch? Uh…no, we didn’t. For safety he gave us his phone number, if we needed help, though there’s no reception in the forest… Undeterred, we opted for adventure.
And the route really was beautiful: forest, forest, forest. Flowers by the roadside, and little red-bellied birds flying all around us. Then there were butterflies, and grasshoppers travelling a few kilometers on our windshield or hood before hopping off. The roadside villages were also very different to what we’d been used to in other countries: here, around a flagpole bearing the national flag, were little brick-shaped clapperboard houses painted bright colors, with neat lawns and flowerbeds. At this point, however, we’re already starting to get nervous about what we’ll do when we get to the river. There’s no traffic, and the road itself is the biggest challenge: serious overflows of water make it difficult to find a path wide enough for our car, and its horrendously bumpy. We get a real scare when we almost go head-on into an oncoming car. We could only have been going around 30kmph, the oncoming car perhaps 40, on a single-track road, with vegetation several meters high growing on either side, making it impossible to see anything coming round the bend. When we saw one another Csaba stood on the brakes, while the oncoming car just let his car go about a meter-and-a-half into the roadside brush and carried on without slowing. Our techniques had collided: he clearly expected us to veer right about a meter into the brush on our side and keep going, while we had expected him to brake like us, so we could slowly edge past each other – after all, we had no idea what all that dense vegetation might be concealing. In any case, he clearly understood the local driving customs, so afterwards we drove more cautiously, ready at any moment to swerve into the bush.
We left Libreville as soon as we could, though nobody in the city knew how disappointed we had been. We headed south, and when we reached the equator, all our previous irritation vanished. Now this is something! We soon got used to everything being upside down, and after replacing the wheels with the roof canvas we were off again.
The next stop was Lambaréné, where we saw the original buildings and equipment of the Albert Schweizer Hospital, as well as a fantastic photograph collection. With all due respect to Stanley, Livingstone and the other great explorers, we think the greatest achievement of a European in Africa belongs to Albert Schweizer, who single-handedly established a hospital in the middle of the jungle, a 14-day raft journey from the nearest ocean port. (2017)