Every year the magazine National Geographic Traveller (UK) launches a travel writing competition. Entrants were asked to submit a 300-word entry on their most inspirational travel experience. Last October I entered.
Yesterday I discovered I was a runner-up, with my submission published on page 161 of the May/June edition.
You can read my entry below, and the other winning entries on the Nat Geo Traveller website
Gabon: An appointment with the doctor
The first time I cross the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere, I’m heading to hospital. It’s a four-hour journey along Gabon’s Ogooué River on a speedboat with eight roaring outboard motors, 50 other passengers and cockroaches wandering about the lifejacket beneath my seat. The old clapboard buildings of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital house a museum. Among letters from Eisenhower and Einstein stands Albert Schweitzer’s piano; the lid raised as if he’s just popped out to treat another patient. Already out of tune when Schweitzer was alive, the yellowing ivory now peels from the keys in the humidity. Had Schweitzer been alive, the sound of Bach would have rippled out into the immensity of the Congo Basin rainforests. The river is wide; the colour of tea spoilt by too much milk. Heading inland, I know the river should narrow as we near its source, but any change over those four hours is imperceptible. The captain shifts the boat from one wide tributary to another without recourse to maps. Perching on fallen poles, herons ignore the sound of engines. The curtain of green on the banks absorbs the sound, making it feel like we’re the only people on earth. At the hospital’s founding in the early 20th century, Lambaréné was about the most difficult place to reach on the planet. Downtown Lambaréné sits on an island dividing the Ogooué; the hospital on the right bank hidden among trees until the very last moment. Bridges cross the expanses of water, but it’s quicker to use a pirogue; along the way passing the grave of the man who gave his life to this tiny part of Africa.