Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Enjoying 6 Weeks of "Africa Light" in Libreville, Gabon, Equatorial Africa


From December 29, 2021 to February 6, 2022, Annette and I spent almost 6 weeks in Libreville, Gabon. Our daughter Cornelia lives there with her husband Chris and their 2 children Viatrix and Ernst. Chris is the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the American Embassy in Libreville, and Cornelia, who has a Ph.D. in political science on China and Africa, consults from there all over the world.

We visited Chris and Cornelia right in the middle of the Corona/ Omicron wave. As a result, Annette and I limited our in-country trips and stayed most of the time in Libreville, enjoying quality time with our grandchildren and the pool at the residence of Chris and Cornelia as well as the pool at the American compound. In addition, due to a medical problem of Christian right at the beginning of the visit, we reduced our wine consumption to zero. 

Compared to other African cities, you can label Libreville as "Africa Light", as the DCM of the German Embassy in Libreville suggested. 

I am releasing 3 posts with regard to our visit.

Enjoying 6 Weeks of "Africa Light" in Libreville, Gabon, Equatorial Africa

The Fine Cuisine of Residential Chef Thierry: Lunching for 6 Weeks in Libreville, Gabon, Equatorial Africa

Paying Respects to one of the Last Century's Great Heroes - Visiting the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, Equatorial Africa


BBC: Gabon, located on the west coast of Africa, is one of the region's more stable countries.

Since independence from France in 1960, Gabon has had just three presidents. The late President Omar Bongo ruled for more than four decades until his death in 2009.

During Omar Bongo's rule, Gabon maintained a close relationship with France under a system known as "Francafrique", receiving both political and military support in exchange for business favours.

But relations have cooled since his son Ali won a contested election in 2009 and the French authorities launched a long-running corruption investigation into the family's assets.

Gabon is a major oil producer but a third of its population live in poverty, according to the World Bank.

World Bank: Gabon, a central African country, is rich in natural resources. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, it borders Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of Congo. It is sparsely populated, with a population of 2 million (2017) and forests covering 85% of its territory.

Gabon nonetheless has one of the highest urbanization rates in Africa; more than four in five Gabonese citizens live in cities.  The capital, Libreville, and Port Gentil—the economic capital of the country—are home to 59% of the population. One in two Gabonese citizens is under the age of 20, and according to the 2012 Second Demographic and Health Survey, the fertility rate in urban areas is four children per woman against six in rural areas.

The Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti démocratique gabonais PDG) dominates the political landscape. Omar Bongo held the presidency for 41 years (1968–2009), and his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, won the presidential election in August 2009, against the backdrop of social crisis.

The opposition boycotted legislative elections in 2011, but later competed in municipal and departmental elections in December 2013 and in the Senate election in December 2014. Still, all these elections were won by the party in power. On August 31, 2016, the incumbent president, Ali Bongo, was reelected in controversial elections marked by a fairly low voter turnout of 59%.

Legislative and municipal elections were held in October 2018. The ruling party—despite losing 15 seats—maintained its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, winning 98 of 143 seats.   The elections followed an April 2018 constitutional court ruling that dissolved parliament (because elections had been postponed for too long) and forced the government’s resignation in May. A caretaker government took measures (contained in an amended 2008 Budget Law) to address slippage in Gabon’s macroeconomic performance and contain its bloated wage bill.

On January 7, 2019, taking advantage of a prolonged absence by the President of the Republic who was convalescing in Morocco, several soldiers attempted to seize power. This attempted coup culminated in the arrest of its ringleaders.

In January 2019, a new government was sworn in and then reorganized by presidential decree on January 30, June 10, and in December 2019.

Gabon is an upper-middle-income country. The fifth largest oil producer in Africa, it has had strong economic growth over the past decade, driven by its production of oil and manganese. The oil sector has accounted for 80% of exports, 45% of GDP, and 60% of fiscal revenue on average over the past five years. However, as the country is facing a decline in its oil reserves, the Gabonese government has decided to diversify its economy. ...

Lonely Planet: With an impressive 11.25% of the country proclaimed as national parkland, Gabon offers a spectacular array of wildlife in its dense rainforests and open savannah to enthrall nature enthusiasts. Add to that superb white-sand beaches, rushing rivers and ethereal landscapes, and you have an Eden-like travel experience in an unexplored part of Africa.

Gabon is the region's most progressive and traveler-friendly destination, although tourism remains extremely DIY. You'll either have to put yourself into the hands of a travel agency or negotiate the rough roads, infrequent transport options and the almost total lack of reliable infrastructure yourself. Outside the cosmopolitan Libreville and Port-Gentil, the country's largest cities, Gabon is an undiscovered wonderland not to be missed.


Bradt`s Travel Guide: Gabon’s capital lies in the far northwest of the country, splayed haphazardly along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean for close to 30km. Libreville – or Elbévé, as the locals call their home town (just pronounce L-B-V in French) – is a beguiling hodgepodge of a city: a grab-bag mix of gleaming, vainglorious government buildings, modern tower blocks turned black with tropical mould, and singlestorey shops and tin-roofed shacks of the style found across the African continent. While the architecture may seem incoherent, the welcome is well established – Libreville is a laid-back capital city and the Librevilleois who call it home are warm, genuine, and inevitably intrigued to hear that you’ve come to their town as a tourist. 

Arriving by air in the daytime offers a fantastic view over the riotous greenery and labyrinthine creeks of Akanda National Park to the north, and by night you see the city’s isolated glow – surrounded by the Atlantic’s inky blackness to the west and Gabon’s famous forests to the east. You can sometimes even spot the eerie fires of oil platforms burning off excess natural gas offshore. The runway is no more than 500m from the palm-studded shore, and the tropical humidity will have you in its pillowy grasp before you’re down the boarding stairs. From here, the city is your oyster, and Libreville has a little something for everyone, whether you’re after glittering nightclubs and fine gastronomy or traditional art and secretive ceremony.

Much like the rest of Gabon, Libreville has seen a general slowdown in business activity over the past few years thanks to depressed global oil prices – known locally as la crise (the crisis) – and the city’s considerable reliance on the industry, but it nonetheless continues to be a magnet for immigrants and young people seeking a better life.


The Residence of Cornelia and Chris in Libreville 

The home of Cornelia and Chris is located in the Sablière district, close to the beach and close to the USA Embassy. In fact, Chris can walk to his job. 

December 29, 2021

We arrived safely in Libreville, Gabon. 

First thing we did was to go to a local supermarket in the district where our daughter lives with her family to stock up on Bordeaux and Champagne. Most impressive selection at a supermarket! Back in the French wine world. Interestingly, about 80% of the reds is accounted for by Bordeaux. And the prices in Libreville are below Washigton DC prices.

Thursday, December 30, 2021


Reflecting the duties a DCM has in terms of hosting and representing the country, Cornelia and Chris are provided with a residential chef. As a result, for most of the time of our stay, Annette and I were pampered by Chef Thierry with equisite lunches.  Chef Thierry, who hails from Togo, put a focus on French classics and Africa dishes. At the request of Cornelia, they were always light.

I am reporting separately about:

The Fine Cuisine of Residential Chef Thierry: Lunching for 6 Weeks in Libreville, Gabon, Equatorial Africa

Communal Pool in Sablière

As guests of Chris and Cornelia we had access to the communal pool of the US Embassy in Sablière, which is 5 minutes away from the residence of Chris and Cornelia by car. We went there almost every day for an hour of exercise, mostly just the two of, but often with Ernst and also with all of them. 

The pool is located right at the beach.

Friday, December 31, 2021  

Cornelia and Chris had planned a New Years Party, but had to cancel it due to covid. Instead, the 6 of us went to the US compound for a sundowner.

And celebrated new year`s eve at home "en famille". 

Saturday, January 1, 2022 and Sunday, January 2, 2022 

Chris and Cornelia share a little beach house with 2 other couples. It is located at a beautiful beach, about 45 minutes away from Libreville by car. We went there for an overnight stay on the first weekend, but had to cut it short because of a medical emergency. Also, as a result, I stopped drinking alcohol for the rest of the time in Gabon. 


Monday, January 3, 2022 to Wednesday, January 5, 2022

In the days following the medical emergency I spent quite some time at the Polyclinique Dr. Chambrier in Libreville for tests.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

I celebrated my 70th birthday with Annette, Cornelia, Chris, Viatrix and Ernst and the outstanding food of Chef Thierry, but without any wine.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

For the first time, after a week in Gabon, we went out for lunch. Cornelia took us to Tropicana, a basic beach restaurant, which serves excellent fresh local fish. 

The kids had capitaine, a local fish well known all over Africa anf the adults had gambas. Over the follwing weeks, we went back to Tropicana several times.    


Friday, January 7, 2022 and Saturday, January 8, 2022

Pongara Lodge in the Pongara National Park

Annette and Cornelia went with Viatrix and Ernst to Pongara National Park for an overnight stay at Pongara Lodge. It is 60 minutes away from Libreville by boat. Pongara Lodge is located right on the beachfront in Pongara National Park.


Chris and Christian in Libreville

Friday was a normal workday for Chris. I spent the day by myself at home.

Chef Thierry prepared lunch only for Chris and me: Merou (fish) and a vegetable puree.


On Saturday, I accompagnied Chris to a tennis match with friends, followed by a classic French breakfast at one of the several Paul`s in Libreville. It had not
been at Paul for a long time and never outside of Paris.

Annette, Cornelia, Viatrix and Ernst back in Libreville

In the late afternoon, Chris and I went to the port to pick up Annette, Cornelia, Viatrix and Ernst. It was close to dinner time, so we decided to stop at La Voile Rouge, a nice beach restaurant, very popular in the expatriate community of Libreville.

I enjoyed a carpaccio de capitaine, Annette nachos with a Régab, the national beer of Gabon brewed by the only brewing company of the country since 1966. It's a really famous pale lager and you shouldn't go to Gabon without having tried it because it's one of the symbols of the country.

Before going home, we could watch the sunset and, surprisingly, the Bundesliga match Eintracht Frankfurt contra Bayer Leverkusen.

Monday, January 10, 2022

For food, Cornelia has 4 sources. First, she can get food from the US through the USA Embassy. Second, Chef Thierry goes regularly to the fish and other markets. Third, there a hypermodern supermarkets where you feel like in Paris. Fourth, there are local stores. 

We went by foot with Cornelia to a basic local vegetable and fruit store. In Gabon, an unusually large part of the vegetables and fruits are imported.

On the same day, we also went to a hypermodern supermarket with a very nice fish department.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Lamb chops for lunch by Chef Thierry.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Passe-moi le piment, s'il te plaît!

Thursday, January 13, 2022

During these 6 weeks in Gabon, we spent quite some time with our grandkids Viatrix and Ernst.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Sundowner at Tropicana. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Bois des Géants

Gabon is home to some of Africa's most biodiverse rainforests. With around 80 percent of the country forested, Gabon is one of few places on Earth where primary tropical rainforest extends all the way to the beach. Gabon`s is part of thr Congo Basin’s tropical forests, which are the second largest in the world after those of the Amazon Basin. It covers 198 million hectares (ha), and span over six countries of Central Africa.

The Bois des Géants project is located in the Mondah National park, 20 km north of Libreville, Gabon. The objective of the project is to educate visitors about the natural wonders of the forest environment and the fascinating ecology of the Gabonese landscape.

Lunch at Le Miondi

After enjoying a couple of hours the natural wonders of the Bois des Géants, we had lunch and spent the afteroon at Le Miondi, a restaurant at the beach about 30 minutes away from Libreville.

On the way back to Libreville, we had a technical problem with our car, but fortunately the husband of the owner of Ernst`s school lives there and was able to help us.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Picking up Ernst from School

One of the chores Annette and I enjoyed very much in Libreville was to pick up our grandson Ernst from school. His sister Viatrix is brought back home via school bus.


Ravinala is an endemic plant to Madagascar. It is also called ''traveler's tree'', owing its name to its ability to store water at the base of these leaves and to help thirsty travelers. I have seen many of them in Madagascar, when we used to live there. There are several of them in the school of my grandson Ernst in Gabon.

Pizza at Le Moulin d'Okala

For dinner, Pizza at Le Moulin d'Okala.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 

Projet Tortues Tahiti Gabon

Early this morning Annette and I joined the people from the Projet Tortues Tahiti Gabon for their daily baby turtles rescue operation on the city beach of Libreville.
Sea turtles around the world nest on beaches in warmer places such as on the city beach of Libreville/ Gabon.The female goes ashore, digs a body pit then and a nest (or egg chamber), lays the eggs, and finally covers up the nest. After that, they will camouflage the nest, covering a big area with sand, to hide the nest, and then head to the water. About six or seven weeks later, the hatchlings will emerge and then head to the water.
Now is the period when the hatchlings emerge and here, at the city beach of Libreville, they regulary run into problems finding their way from the nest to the water. This morning, we discovered about a dozen of them that were borne during the night and had run into troubles. They had gotten all tangled up in some netting. We rescued them and assisted them reaching the water. They would not have had any chance to survive if the turtle watchers would not have noticed them.


Residential Chef Thierry was back behind the stove today after the long weekend and he prepared a delicious gambas meal for lunch for us. 
Gambas are large shrimps. 
Shrimps are small crustaceans that have ten legs and long antennae. Shrimps have a thin-segmented shell covering a tapering body, and a large head about the size of the body. Caught in great numbers and the most popular seafoods.
Shrimp is the English/American name of this creature and Crevette the French; large shrimps are called Prawns in the UK and Langoustines in France. In Germany, shrimps are called Garnelen and the very small Garnelen from the North Sea are called Krabben. When they are larger, they are called Scampis in Germany. In Spain, shrimps are called Camerones and the large versions Gambas. The Italians call shrimps Gamberettis.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022 


For lunch today, I asked Chef Thierry to prepare a French Classic for us: Salade Niçoise.
The best place to eat Salade Niçoise is of course in a brasserie in Nizza in the Provence, with a Rosé de Provence. Annette and I eat it quite regularly in McLean and Frankfurt. From time to time Annette serves it with pan-fried fresh tuna. And she always puts lots of green beans. I noticed that Chef Thierry left out the olives. 

Afternoon Snack in the Neighbourhood

Viatrix and Ernst had grilled corn from a local vendor.

Thursday, January 20, 2022 

Baby-turtle Rescue Trip in the Morning

In the morning, we went for another baby-turtle rescue trip, this time with Cornelia`s friend Lea, but did not find any baby-turtles in trouble  We walked up and down the assigned stretch of the beach but did not find any baby sea turtle in trouble. However, we saw lots of broken eggs suggesting that during the past night a number of sea turtles had been borne and they all had made it safely to the ocean. No need to intervene.

African Dish for Lunch

At my request, residential Chef Thierry prepared an African dish today for lunch. He chose Gboma Dessi, a spinach stew that is typically served with meat, shrimp, crab or smoked fish. It is one of Togo`s signature dishes. Togo is a small country in West Africa. Chef Thierry hails from Togo. Togolese cuisine is a combination of African, French, and German influences.

"Stammtisch" in the Evening at La Voile Rouge 

Monthly regular meeting/ "Stammtisch" of the Germans in Gabon at La Voile Rouge.  

Friday, January 21, 2022

After the US Embassy closed in the afternoon, Chris and Cornelia went to their beach house for an overnight stay, while Viatrix and Ernst stayed with their grandparents.

With the parents at their beach house tonight, Annette and I played a round of monopoly with Viatrix and Ernst before going to bed.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Without a car, we could not leave the house and spent quite some time in the pool of the house. Actually, when Chris and Cornelia came back from the beach, they joined us at the pool.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Today was a full day at the beach, including lunch with a group of expats, arranged by Elise, about 45 minutes north of Libreville. 

We were there at low tide, but the water started to come back in the early afternoon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022 

At the beach t 2 days before I sat down in the shadow of a coconut tree to rest. This turned out to be rather careless. I realized this when a coconut fell down near me. 

I took the coconut home and asked Chef Thierry to open it for me. We enjoyed the coconut water as well as the coconut meat. The coconut meat was hard. The meat begins to harden after the coconut is 7 months old and reaches full hardness at 12 months.

The coconut which I brought from the beach inspired Chef Thierry to prepare a "Soupe Thaïlandaise de Poulet au Lait de Coco"/ Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk for lunch today. 
With the coconut meat left-overs he made coconut sweets.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022 

Senegal Souvenirs - Thieboudienne, the national dish of Senegal, where Chris and Cornelia used to be stationed before moving to Gabon, is a boldly flavored rice-and-fish platter. 
Originating from the city of Saint-Louis in the Northern part of Senegal, today you find it all over West Africa. Thieboudienne was added to food-related items on the UNESCO list in December 2021, which includes dishes such as pizza from Italy and couscous from the Magreb. 
Traditionally it is eaten in a large communal dish with the hand. It is also the symbol of Senegalese terranga (hospitality): Family, visiting friends and guests gather around a single dish (called a bolus) from which everyone eats using a spoon (couddou Pulaar) or a piece of bread. 
Chef Thierry`s take of Thieboudienne was a more refine version, but as boldly flavored as it is in the home of a Senegalese family.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Chris and Cornelia hosted an official dinner at their residency, with members of the diplomatic/ expatriate community of Libreville. Because of corona, they had not done this for quite some time. 

Chef Thierry prepared a delicious 3-course meal. In particular, I liked the salmon tartare. The mousse au chocolate was a classic, but made with haut de gamme chocolat from Sao Tomé-et-Principe, which Chris and Cornelia visited recently. 
Of course, as the DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) of the American Embassy in Libreville, Chris served only American wines (and an American Whiskey as after-dinner-drink).

Saturday, January 29, 2022 and Sunday, January 30, 2022

Over the weekend, we went through the Central African rainforest to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital at the River Ogooué in Lambaréné. We stayed overnight in one of the buildings of the historical hospital complex, which dates from the 1920s, and ate there.
The distance from Libreville to Lambaréné is 232 km. The road is all the way paved. But some parts are in very bad condition. It took us 4 1/2 hours. 

Stop at a Local Market
We stopped at a local market for a break.

Lunch in Bifoum
On the way through the Central African rainforest from Libreville to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, we stopped in the town of Bifoum and went local for lunch: Fish with rice and fried plantains. The latter had a crispy, caramelized texture and an irresistibly sweet taste. In the Caribbean fried plantains are served with almost every meal. Fried plantains are also enjoyed in other parts of the world, like Gabon. 

At the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné
The Albert Schweitzer Hospital is located at the River Ogooué in Lambaréné. It is comprised of a modern hospital complex and an historical hospital complex, which dates from the 1920s. The former is a fully functioning hospital, including departments that focus on research. The latter is a museum now, with the former hospital rooms serving as hotel rooms for visitors like us but also researchers staying there for a longer time.  
Visiting Lambaréné was very moving, it was a sort of pilgrimage paying respects to Albert Schweitzer, one of the last century's great heroes, and to marvel at and remember his life and legacy. 

We arrived at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné after a 41/2 hours car ride through the jungle of Africa.

After checking in, we took a guided tour of the old part of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, including the house where he used to live and where he died.


After the tour, we rested a bit in our rooms and then took an aperitif in front of our rooms, before going to Lambaréné for dinner.

The next morning, we had breakfast in the Albert Schweitzer Hospital. Except for me, everybody else took a boat tour on the River Ogooué.




In the meantime, I toured the modern part of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital.

When the others came back from the boat trip we had lunch and we left. They cooked quite a bit of food. As it turned out, they cooked not only for us and a few other hotel guests but for the whole staff of the Albert Schweizer Hospital.

Crossing the Equator
I have crossed the Equator many times in my live, an estimated 100 to 200 times. But always in the air in an airplane.
On the trip to Lambaréné, I crossed the Equator for the first time with the feet on the ground, when we went from Libreville in the Northern hemisphere to Lambaréné in the Southern hemisphere.
Actually, Annette and I were standing there with one foot in the Northern hemisphere and one foot in the Southern hemispheres.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

With our stay in Libreville coming to an end, we visited the "Grand Village Artisanal Biram Diouf" in the center of Libreville for some souvenir shopping today.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Icecream with the grandkids at Le Moulin d'Okala.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Chris and Cornelia took us to the arguably current #1 restaurant in Libreville, Roma Restaurant. 
The food was delicious, the service impeccable and the wine selection very strong, with a focus on French wines, in particular classified Bordeaux wines. I started with a tout cru de la mer and had spaghetti aux fruits de mer as main course.
It was an amazing dinner. 
In addition, Chris, a cryptocurrency believer could settle the bill with Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. The owner and Chris agreed on Ethereum. It was fascinating to watch the transaction, with the owner and Chris both using their smartphones. It took about a minute for the transaction to go through. Chris was the third client to pay with cryptocurrency and the first to use Ethereum.



Thursday, February 3, 2022
Dinner in the neighbourhood tonight, at the Beach Club Libreville. Cornelia and Chris are regulars there. 
We had the Carpaccio de Capitaine, Gambas Royale and Salade Thai avec Crevettes. And the local beer, Régab.

Friday, February 4, 2022
With Chef Thierry on annual leave, Noelle, the Dame de Menage (Haushold Manager) of Chris and Cornelia, offered to prepare a typical Gabonese lunch today, comprising fish (capitaine), rice, manioc (with shrimps and smoked fish), plantains and ignam (yam). It was delicious. Thank you Noelle.  

Saturday, February 5, 2022
After the covid test we needed for the flight, we spent the whole day at the Communal Pool in Sablière, with members of the USA community in Libreville. One of them had bought a whole bunch of plantains, mistaking them for bananas. Indeed, they look like bananas. We took 9 of them on our flight to Germany the next day.

Final evening in Gabon at the beach, at La Voile Rouge.

Final glass of Chandon. 

Thank you very much Cornelia and Chris for an amazing 6 weeks in Gabon.

Sunday, February 6, 2022
We left Libreville at 11:00 in the morning, arrived in Paris at 19:00 and in Frankfurt at 21:45. 

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