For over 200 million years turtles as a species have inhabited this planet. Of the 222 species of living turtles, 7 are classed as ‘sea turtles', normally spending most of their lives out in the vast blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, except for one period in the year where breeding the females head towards the shore line to begin one of the most astonishing natural marvels. And Gabon is one of the best places in Africa to witness it, so myself and my ever intrepid partner set off up the West Coast in a 4x4 to try and film them.
Even though we had been given a pre-warning that the route there was nearly impassable, caution went up into to the wind and we bounced off into the bushes. Following our GPS and one sketchy drawn map we eventually found a glorified goat track, which we were hoping had at the end of it Niyafessa camp base deep in the Gabonese jungle, and the turtles.
Halfway down the road disappeared into a quagmire of tree trunks and mushy bog thanks to a couple of elephants who had obviously decided that some nice wallowing would be far to tempting and now had left an entire track in muddy tatters.
Trying to find our way through this we attempted to reconstruct some of the usable pieces of the bridge, maneuvered our cruiser’s front wheels into position, and then promptly slide off and straight into the bog. Our entire undercarriage was wedged firmly into the mud. So we did the only thing we knew how to, dig and winch. To get the car moving we had to dig out the wheels , one at a time, trying to slide some of the flatter tree trunks along with our sand grates and bits of tree, leaves and whatever else we could find to try and create traction. With the winch lashed around any large tree we could find we would haul the car onto the tree trunks, one wheel at a time, inch by inch.
Then the winch broke.
And it started to get dark.
And we had shared our only beer.
We were heading towards our 9th hour of grueling digging and to make matters just that much more entertaining, our only chance of help was our friends in Mayumba village, a 6 hour drive away, and the entire town’s electricity had just been cut, rendering all phones useless.
All we needed was for it to rain.
Magically the travel gods smiled down on us and our luck began to turn. Mike managed to jimmy the winch back together. Like a movie clip from Indiana Jones, our wheels were finding traction on hidden patches of solid ground and our vehicle was beginning to eat up the inches every half hour.
It was now pitch dark, and every time we had to turn headlamps on and the car lights on we were obliterated by every manner of jungle bug that descended on us like a free buffet. But we were moving. In one final heave, 11 and a half hours of winching and digging later, at 3am, the car was released from the muddy muck with a satisfying ‘plop’ and we danced the kind of happy dance that only those who have been in similar situations will understand. As if on cue, the heavens opened up and we were drenched by a tropical thunderstorm.
That night all of our effort was rewarded. We spotted a relic of a prehistoric time arrive, heaving itself with grunts onto the beach and up the sand to lay its eggs.
Africa is the kind of continent that can bring you back down to earth, especially when you get a bit too big for your travelling boots. It can surprise you, shock you, and remind you that there is no other place quite like it on earth. Never underestimate her and never take her for granted or she will bite you in the butt with a vengeance, or a horse fly, either way.
Oh, and if you plan on doing this kind of thing, make sure you have more than one spade.