DATES: 02 Jun – 18 Jun 2018
COST: £3,499 (TBC)
TEAM CLOSES: 04 Apr
This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass epic expedition to Gabon.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on the team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.
Arrive: by 2300 on 2 June 2018 into Libreville, Gabon.
Depart: leave any time on 18 June 2018 onwards.
Insurance: ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
Balance due: 90 days before on 2 March (or on booking if later).
The aim of this epic Gabon expedition is to complete an exploratory journey across the Equator in Gabon’s Ivindo National Park, on foot and in expedition-strength packrafts.
This journey – open to those new to rafting – follows the routes of the Djidji and Kongou rivers, at times still and flat and at times punctuated with heart-rate-rising Grade One and Two rapids. The Djidji river falls are equatorial Africa’s highest and the waterfalls on the Kongou are arguably its most impressive.
Rucksacks will be strapped securely onto the packrafts for the paddling phases. When more serious rapids or waterfalls mean that the team portages around them on land, the lightweight packrafts will be deflated, strapped to rucksacks and carried through the waterside jungles as the adventure continues. Having successfully paddled the Kongou, the team will move into trek mode for three days, plunging into shaded primary forests to forge a route south-east across to the Djidji river to complete the expedition.
This is a packrafting and trekking adventure rather than a wildlife safari, and any animal sightings should be considered a plus. The 2016 expedition team spotted gorillas and paddled within metres of elephants at the water’s edge, and spotted and heard many other smaller mammals and birds.
Undertake an epic amphibious adventure.
Cross the Equator under your own steam.
Navigate the Kongou and Djidji rivers.
Explore Gabon’s Ivindo National Park.
Trek Gabon’s equatorial jungles.
See Djidji waterfalls – equatorial Africa’s highest.
Stand beneath the spectacular Kongou falls.
Birdwatch in Africa’s epicentre of forest bird diversity.
Look out for gorillas, leopards and forest elephants.
Travel in local dug-out canoes (at beginning and end).
Team closing date
This team ideally needs to be confirmed by 4 April as we must confirm some things in-country at this point. (Later bookings can be accepted as there isn’t a protracted visa process for Gabon but, if serious about joining this team, do send in your application as soon as possible and before 4 April so that we can consider you in our initial planning.)
You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us, our destinations and use global buying power to save you money and offer security along with a 24-hour assistance helpline. Fill in a free, no-obligation Flight Request Form on our Flights page or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights.
It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.
You need to be in Libreville by 2300 on 2 June 2018 and the expedition officially ends after breakfast on the 18 June 2018 although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning. The 18 June is a travel day and due to road and vehicle conditions there can be delays, please be aware of this if you choose to book an early morning flight on 18 June which requires you to check in on 17 June.
Visas are your responsibility. Please check the specific requirements for your nationality. British nationals require a visa to visit Gabon. These can be applied for in advance at the Embassy of Gabon in London and you will need:
Completed visa application form
1 passport photo
Hotel booking (supplied by SC)
Copy of flight ticket
Copy of yellow fever vaccination certificate
Proof of address (bills, bank statement etc)
Visa payment (£60 for single entry tourist visa)
Self-Addressed Royal Mail Special Delivery envelope if you would like the passport returned by post.
Gabon has also recently introduced an e-visa system for certain nationalities who are arriving by air into Libreville. There have been many reports of problems with applying for a visa through the e-visa system so we strongly advise you to apply for a visa in advance through your local embassy/consulate.
You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and six months beyond with at least two blank pages. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.
Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the Travel Insurance page on our website.
Yellow Fever vaccination
All team members will require an original valid yellow fever certificate, issued more than 10 days before the start of the expedition. WHO advice now states that Yellow Fever Vaccinations are valid for life instead of the original 10 years claimed. Please note that this information is not widely known so if necessary you should insist on a medical practitioner issuing a new, valid certificate or extending the expiry on your existing one. Do not accept an exemption certificate as an alternative to a vaccination certificate, as these too are not widely recognised.
Day 1: Jun 4 – Libreville
Team arrive in Libreville by 2300. Airport transfers are provided to the team hotel where you will meet your leader for a quick expedition brief before bed.
Day 2: Jun 5 – Makokou
An early start today for the 11-hour drive to Makokou.
Day 3: Jun 6 – Ivindo River
The morning will be spent on an introduction to packrafting with a focus on skills training before the team uses a motorised canoe for the four-hour journey to the Kangou Falls.
Day 4: Jun 7 – Kangou Falls
Today will be spent on foot, exploring the falls and caverns in the area.
Days 5 to 7: Jun 8 to 10 – Ivindo National Park
Heading away from the river, you and the team will trek through the jungle of Ivindo National Park to reach the Djidji river. The distances covered aren’t huge but heavy packs and challenging terrain means the river, and the packraft journey ahead, will be most welcome.
Days 8 to 10: Jun 11 to 13 – Djidji river
Reaching the Djidji river, you’ll inflate the packrafts and settle in for the paddle downstream, aiming to cover around 17km a day through flat water and rapids of Grades 1-3 until you reach the Djidji falls, the highest waterfalls in Gabon.
Day 11: Jun 14 – Djidji falls
Collapsing the packrafts, you’ll portage around Djidji falls to find a safe launching point the other side to continue the river descent. Paddle across the Equator!
Day 12: Jun 15 – Djidji river
After a final day of paddling, you and your teammates will leave the river where it joins the trainline and the road.
Days 13 to 14: Jun 16 to 17 – Contingency
These two days act as a contingency to absorb delays from road conditions, river levels, weather, team speed etc. that have built up throughout the expedition.
Day 15: Jun 18 – Libreville
Meet the vehicles for the return drive to Libreville where your hotel rooms (and showers) await.
Day 16: Jun 19 – Contingency day
Today acts as a contingency or sightseeing day. Final team celebration.
Day 17: Jun 20 – Libreville
Team departs. Officially the expedition ends after breakfast today, however many flights depart early in the morning.
Note on this expedition itinerary
Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but will not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team may flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions encountered en route. An adaptable, team-centred approach is required.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.
Daily activity: varies but up to approx. 10 hours per day.
Trek: up to 10km a day.
Carry: up to 30kg in a back pack including deflated packrafts.
Terrain: through dense jungle foliage, on uneven terrain and off trail through vegetation, cutting paths for the majority of the time on foot.
Raft: paddle yourself down river for up to 25km a day, negotiate rapids and portage around obstacles.
Climate: a hot and humid environment.
Swim: be very comfortable in water and able to swim at least 200m unaided. Be comfortable with the prospect of being thrown into white water.
No previous experience of jungle trekking is necessary to join this expedition but team members would benefit from multi-day expeditions carrying up to 30kg for multiple days. You do not need to have any packraft experience, there will be a training session dedicated to packrafting skills at the start of the expedition. It would be beneficial to have some form of paddling experience eg. a taster session at your local kayak club so you can get a feel whether this expedition is for you.
The currency in Gabon is the Central African Franc. Euros and dollars are only accepted at the airport. Credit cards are not accepted in Gabon except in large hotels and there are regular incidences of credit card fraud. This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, just for a beer in the town and some souvenirs on the way or for (discretionary but always appreciated) tips.
Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful. All team members must have a valid Yellow Fever certificate. Additional recommended vaccinations are Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Polio, Rabies, Tetanus. Malaria is widespread – the recommended chemoprophylaxis is mefloquine, doxycycline or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™).
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
Foot care. On this expedition your feet will often be wet with sweat or river water. It is ESSENTIAL that you bring foot care items to ensure your feet do not deteriorate. Anti-fungal cream is essential and you will be pre-treating your feet morning and night with this during the expedition. Anti-fungal foot powder is also important, to dry your feet off quickly in a humid environment. It is also wise to bring rolls of zinc oxide tape to protect your feet against blisters and a pot of Vaseline.
Home to You. Secret Compass will have an Ops Room manned in the UK throughout your expedition. If your family need to get in touch with you due to an EMERGENCY your family can call the Ops Room on +44 (0) 207 096 8428. The Ops Room will ensure the message gets to the expedition within 24 hours. Unfortunately we are unable to pass routine messages between your family members and you.
You to Home. Secret Compass will have satellite phones for emergency use only and these cannot be used for personal messages home unless in extremis. Please reassure your family that we have their contact details (NOK information provided on your Booking Form) and that no news is good news.
Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Libreville but you should not expect any coverage for the rest of the expedition.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2018 expedition to Gabon. You will be required to carry all of your own kit for this expedition along with a share of group food and cooking equipment and the medical and communications pack as well as a packraft, life vest and hammock (all supplied by Secret Compass). Due to the weight of this kit, we advise keeping personal kit to an absolute minimum – please contact Secret Compass with any questions.
Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and sleeping
RUCKSACK: 60-70ltr, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack and have enough room for a hammock, food and share of group equipment provided by us as well as a packraft and lifevest.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack as it WILL get wet.
SMALLER DRY BAGS: As above, but smaller bags to put essential items in. The large rucksack liners sometimes leak so anything important needs to be waterproofed individually.
SLEEPING BAG: Rated to comfort +10°C. Lightweight and packs as small as possible.
WATERPROOF WALLET: For your passports, money and personal documents.
2x LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: Quick drying long sleeve (for sun and insect protection) shirt or top (not cotton).
1x TREKKING TROUSERS: Thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable.
1x SHORTS: (optional) Or combine with the above using zip-off trousers.
4x HIKING SOCKS: Light weight trekking socks that fit well with your boots.
WALKING BOOTS: Ensure your boots are worn in and comfortable. Specific desert or jungle boots are ideal. Try to avoid Gore-tex boots as your feet find it harder to breather and the boots do not dry easily when wet. Recommend you visit your local outdoors store for advice on fitting.
TRAINERS OR RIVER SHOES: Around camp and on the river. Ensure secure and comfortable. Must be robust enough to wear on the banks and when portaging through the jungle.
WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT.
GLOVES: Paddling or cycling gloves are great for preventing blisters when packrafting.
MUG: Metal mugs are great for use over fires.
SPOON: Long handled spoons are great for use with ration packs.
WATER BOTTLES OR BLADDERS: You need to carry at least three litres of water between a water bladder, bottles or a combination.
Health and hygiene
WASHBAG: This shouldn’t be large, only bring the essentials.
SOAP: Anti-bacterial and BIODEGRADABLE
WET WIPES OR BABY WIPES
ANTIBACTERIAL HAND GEL: Bring enough for the entire trip.
SANITARY PRODUCTS: Bring ziplok bags for carrying out.
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION
VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM
Small First Aid Kit
A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZING OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS.
MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4.
2 x CREPE BANDAGE.
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
DIARRHOEA TABLETS: Imodium.
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS.
PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
EURAX CREAM: For bites.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
SPARE BOOT LACES.
SMALL SEWING KIT.
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Frictions are often found with:
Local partners and bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and natural events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
Part of a team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed.
Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Incident management and medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has developed a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies on each expedition.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time, potentially up to 3 days. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
This expedition will venture deep into the heart of Ivindo National Park. This is dense, jungle terrain with few paths so progress will be slow with the team cutting their way through the undergrowth. The distances covered aren’t large but rugged terrain, heavy packs and jungle humidity make the trekking section of this expedition a challenge. Once in packrafts, the team will navigate a combination of flat water and rapids at Grade 1-2 with portages around larger rapids and waterfalls.
Gabon’s equatorial location provides a fairly steady climate. Temperatures in June average 25°C although this can feel warmer due to high humidity in the jungle and by the waterways.
On arrival in Gabon we will be accommodated in a comfortable hotel in the city centre, please expect double occupancy in twin bedrooms.
Throughout the expedition, except for the first night when the team will will stay outside the research station, we will be camping rough in the jungle and forests in improvised camp sites as we move along the route. Secret Compass will provide hammocks.
Occasionally people on our expeditions are not prepared for camping for multiple days. Living in these conditions can degrade your health if you do not look after yourself and increase fatigue if you are not used to living rough. You need to be highly organised so that your night and morning routine is done efficiently and quickly. If you are inexperienced at camping, it is essential that you get as much practice as possible prior to the expedition.
Airport transfers are provided from Libreville Leon M’ba International Airport to the team hotel. 4×4 vehicles and minibuses will be used to transfer the group to and from the start and finish point of the expedition. These road journeys will be over roads of varying levels of construction and will take the majority of the day, delays and breakdowns are likely.
After the packraft training, the team will access the start of the expedition route by motorised canoe down the Ivindo river to the Kangou falls. From there, the trekking element will be through virgin jungle, following animal tracks or breaking new trails. You will be carrying all of your essential gear and your pack-rafts.
The team will be using compact inflatable pack-rafts which are tried and tested on all water conditions from white-water rapids to still surfaces. There will be some sections where portaging (carrying the rafts over land) will be necessary to avoid extreme white water or waterfalls. All the necessary rafting gear will be provided. Training and a safety brief will be given beforehand but you should be comfortable on and around water and accept that you may capsize.
In towns, the team will eat well in local restaurants whilst dehydrated expedition rations will be used on the expedition – these are high-calorie and tastier than they look! Dietary requirements can usually be catered for but should be discussed with Secret Compass in advance. It is recommended that you bring a favourite snack or cereal bar for each expedition day as a morale boost.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.
I’ve never packrafed. Can I come?
Yes. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements and have an adventurous spirit and willing to work as a team, then you will have no problems. There will be a packraft training session at the start of the expedition but we recommend having a go at paddling before this to make sure it’s for you.
I can’t carry 30kg. Are there porters?
There are no porters. The expedition team will be self-sufficient throughout the expedition so lots of food etc. is unavoidable. You will have to carry your personal kit along with expedition food and a share of cooking equipment, medical kit and comms kit. A good way to reduce weight is to pack sensibly, bringing only the bare minimum of personal kit with you and making sure that is lightweight but still suitable for the expedition. Secret Compass has a Generic Training Programme with suggestions to train for carrying 25kg for eight hours a day for multiple days.
Can I arrive a day late?
As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the National Park where the training will commence, so start and end dates are not flexible.
Can I charge electricals?
Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration. Please also bear in mind that you will be carrying a lot of equipment already so pack sensibly.
Do you provide further advice?
You might find our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, travel insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.
How can I apply?
Use the buttons below to contact Secret Compass with your questions or to complete our no-obligation Application Form to join this team. Someone will get back to you promptly.