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Published: September 10th 2012
We left Matadi at 07:30 and wound our way up and around mountains to the Angolan border. Narrow streets meant we were quite close the morning hustle and bustle so the going was slow. Most of us were at the windows waving and taking photos of the houses that dotted the mountainside which was fine until we picked up speed and it became quite chilly. Road conditions were good until the final 10km when it switched back to unsealed roads and we bounced along; those who were lying down already adept at holding on and sleeping at the same time.
We waited on the truck for DCR to clear us through and then for unknown reasons, we had to walk to Angola. Stopping to collect our passports from the policeman, we walked across the bridge to where an Angolan soldier stood and Denise and I jumped across a break in the cement that we took for the border! Maria and Toby followed suit which gave the soldier a laugh. Ah the small things.
Clearing immigration, we got back on the truck and drove slowly to the customs building, silently looking at the tape that marked an area
full of mines. Grass grew taller than I and hid it's deadly secret with ease. We all knew that Angola still has areas that haven't been cleared of land mines and here we were.
Suse was told that we needed a police escort to the first town and no amount of reasoning would persuade them otherwise. Defeated, she was asked to sit in the truck and wait. And so we waited. And waited. People went to the bathroom several times just to break the monotony. Patience was soon in short supply. No one would - or could - tell Suse how long it would take.
And finally, faintly at first, the sound of sirens. We stood up and looked out the windows to see a police vehicle, sirens and lights a-blazing, heading towards us. Two policemen sat on the open back, a fully automatic Uzi beside each one of them.
It was clear to see in the clumsy way they jumped down that they'd been drinking. Even more obvious when they couldn't walk in a straight line. In the side mirror you could see Suse looking on with a mix of despair and disgust. But there's was nothing we could
do and it meant we could get going. And so, with lights and sirens switched back on, we pulled out of the car park behind the police and took off.
At first it was amusing but that lasted all of a few minutes. Being forbidden to take photos or slow down through villages, we were soon a bit peeved. It was even worse when we pulled into a town for Britt, Jareb and Toni to go cook shopping. The police didn't want them going to the market, wouldn't let the rest of us off and kept the locals away from the truck, sometimes with force. It was horrible. We sat at the windows waving and smiling, playing peek-a-boo with a bunch of children but we were unable to explain that we didn't want the escort or agree with their behaviour.
Once the trio were back, we backtracked to an intersection where we turned to head towards Luanda. Pulling over soon after, Suse thanked them for their assistance but firmly told them it was unnecessary. The police had been told to accompany us all the way to the capital but that was several hundred kilometres away and we needed to find
somewhere to stop soon for the evening. Giving them a Congolese phone number that didn't work (where did they expect us to get an Angolan SIM if we weren't allowed off the truck?), Suse drove slowly as they turned around and headed back the way we'd come.
Minutes later, we found a suitable clearing to spend the night, partially hidden from view and put our tents up on tracks that had been made by other vehicles, all very much aware that although there were no signs, it didn't mean there were no mines. It was an eerie feeling in the darkness, being unable to wander far.
It felt like I'd been asleep for an hour or so when my alarm went off at 04:45 this morning. I lay under my sleeping bag aware of the cold for several more minutes and then pulled my clothes in to warm them up before getting dressed. It was dark while people ate breakfast and by 6am we were on the move.
Most people slept until the sun came up but I spent all day dozing. We had smooth roads for the 200km to Nzeto but from there on
in, dirt roads that barely allowed Suse to accelerate beyond 15km/hr. It was going to be a long day.
Apart from bathroom breaks, we didn't stop until a small village, split by the road and situated high enough on one side so curious children could see into the truck. On the opposite side a man held up a skinned bush rat, happy for us to take photos. Some wandered further into the village where Toni met a woman with an albino baby tied to her back. We've seen several albinos along the way, squinting in the sun or hiding under hats and umbrellas. Toni took a photo of the two of them and showing the mother, said she seemed pleased with the picture.
It was another free camp this evening; a large area well hidden from the road so we could spread out. Baobab trees added to the scene as the sun set behind them, all of us tumbling off the truck with cameras as soon as we were let out. Maria and I picked up the huge seed pods from under the tree and proceeded to have a fight, whacking them until they cracked. They're solid and smelly and
I won, mine holding together much better! It was then deposited in the nearest tent (Talbot's) as a surprise gift. Obviously, he was thrilled.
Back onto the bumpy roads, we had just reached tarmac when a police checkpoint stopped us and requested that they compare our passports with all of us. Not an unusual request but asking to see inside all sixteen lockers is.
We arrived in Luanda around 08:30 and drove straight through to the other side. More or less. Okay, so we may have taken the scenic route. The plan was to go to a lookout point 30km beyond the city and wait for morning traffic to subside before coming back in around lunchtime. Traffic was bad and the going slow but there was plenty for us to look at. Huge slums populated vast areas, unlike anything I'd seen before. Men and women dressed in suits for work emerged from alley ways, children played in the dirt or kicked footballs, women sat with baskets full of bread or barbecued chicken on small grills over charcoal. I saw men on crutches, missing half a leg and wondered if it was from a mine. A
young girl carried a younger sibling on her back, holding her mother's hand who also had a baby on her back and a large basin on her head. I wanted to take photos of so much but didn't feel it was appropriate. Others did and Toni got in trouble with the police for doing so, even removing his memory card and handing it to me, just in case. Thankfully Suse spoke to them and we were allowed to go but it was a lesson to all.
Around the bend and away from the shops, we were parallel with the coastline. Baobab trees, their unique shapes now a favourite of mine, grew haphazardly on both sides of the road. A church stood on a small island, its whitewashed walls a stark contrast with the surrounding earthy tones. Roadside markets bursting with colour sold everything from fruit and veg to clothing and household supplies.
Eventually we turned off the road into a small car park and saw why we were here. From the cliff we were standing on you could see beautiful rock formations. Waves broke on the shoreline in the distance and locals stood taking photos of each other, like we
Now part of the house
The car looks like it's been there a while...
were about to do. People approached us and asked us to be in their photos as well and we managed to get most of the group into a photo. I've realised that most recent photos have me in my Cameroon football jersey, reason being it's easy to wash and dries quicker than anything else!
Stopping for lunch and food shopping at a local market, we then continued back into the city. Skirting around other slums, we turned down a street which led to huge houses, new apartment blocks and an enormous construction site where the National Assembly building was being built. It was HUGE. Driving onto an overpass with the CBD off to our right and the water ahead, perfectly manicured lawn filled the empty spaces and we veered off to towards the yacht club. Our home for the next two nights may have been a car park and our tents put up amongst boat trailers, but it boasted one of the most amazing and unexpected views. Beyond the boats docked along piers was a city skyline that would rival any major city I've ever seen. The central bank sat on the water's edge, lit up beautifully at night. Skyscrapers
were also lit up, some with flashing billboards on top. It was such a stark contrast to what we'd seen only minutes before.
We met Ricardo who managed the club and showed some very grateful travellers where the showers and toilets were and then Denise, Suse and I got to work. Toni was finishing here in Angola, flying home to Berlin tomorrow (well, 3am Monday morning) and Denise had picked up a white t-shirt we wanted to decorate. Hiding on the truck while he showered and then went looking for beer, I wrote The Godfather on the back while Denise and Suse coloured it in. The front was also decorated and then presented to him with a flourish. With a hearty laugh, he put it on and posed for photos and we sat with a drink to watch the skyline light up until it was time for my group to cook. Once dinner was done and out of the way, we huddled around the charcoal burner until one by one, we drifted off to our tents.
I woke up with good intentions for the day. Wash clothes, shower, head into town. I only managed one
of those things but that was okay as Suse had decided to stay an extra night. Everywhere was closed (it being Sunday) so we'd have Monday to explore town.
Several people wandered over in our direction and said hello, checking out the truck and asking how we were going. Tourists travelling by road are rare as visas are so hard to get so we became the attraction. We met Manuel and his daughter Nina who was visiting from Brazil, followed by two Portuguese guys who kindly offered me a hot shower on their boat. My first hot shower since Ghana! We sat on the deck afterwards and they told me about life in Luanda. The second most expensive city in the world behind Tokyo, there was a huge divide between rich and poor as we'd seen for ourselves only yesterday. Experiencing their third water shortage this year in their apartment, they were staying on their boat until the water came back on.
Although Manuel had suggested a restaurant to us and kindly gave us his business card that told the chef to treat us well, Toni opted for burgers at a small local place for his last meal. Followed up
with ice cream (I bloody dropped mine) as we walked back along the coast, we again pulled up chairs and watched the view while Toni packed and Suse organised a taxi.
It turns out that taxis in Luanda finish at 8pm on Sundays, if they work at all. One driver volunteered to do the four mile drive for the bargain price of $USD150. Another said he'd do it for $60. In the end, Ricardo drove Toni but it meant leaving much earlier than he planned, missing dinner. It was a rushed goodbye and he'll be sorely missed.
Today was washing day, at long last. My filthy cargos were no longer black but more of a permanent shade of dirt. Filling the tub up and sitting near the pier, we were soon asked to move as we were destroying their image! Denise and I found it amusing enough and moved back to the truck and hid our dirty washing there.
Suse worked on the truck and Nico, Denise and I kept her company until lunch time. We'd decided to splash out on lunch at the yacht club and it didn't disappoint. Four steaks cooked as requested
and served with a Roquefort sauce, fries and rice. It was the most heavenly meal in a long, long time, up there as one of the best steaks ever.
With Toby asleep and Nico not well, I went with Denise to help her shop for dinner. Walking into town we found someone who spoke english who could direct us towards a market. Failing that, a supermarket. Prices weren't too bad and stuffing the backpack full, we made our way back.
With two people having finished the trip in Luanda and today being the first drive day, it was definitely more noticeable that we were now only thirteen people. It meant, among other things, that those who wanted to lie down had plenty of space to do so without having to worry about other people!
Nico and I sat up the front though and I spent time flicking through guide books, reading about what was to come. Etosha NP is less than a week away and we're all ridiculously excited. It's the only game park where we're able to drive around in our truck and spot animals AND sit at the water hole all night. As
it's coming up to the dry season, hopefully the animals will come in. Can. Not. Wait!!
Leaving the city and heading south, we're free camping this evening about 50km from Lobito, en route to Benguelo and then Lubango to see the statue of Christ. We've found a great spot well off the road, hidden from view and collected firewood with a bemused local who came upon us with his own stash of wood. Dinner didn't take too long with the fresh charcoal we stopped for on the side of the road and then we sat talking around the fire. I can still hear people chatting but I'm ready for bed, lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets and traffic...
I left the rain sheet half unzipped last night and having been woken up by the sound of trucks rumbling past on the uneven roads, I lay watching as the sky changed to pinks and purples. A mountain range in the background appeared and trees in the foreground began to take shape. Slowly, the sounds of mattresses being rolled, sleeping bags being stuffed away and people coming to life became more consistent and it
was time for me to make a move as well.
After breakfast we spent a bit of time collecting firewood for the next few nights. Space was made in a locker for the larger logs and smaller kindling was put in empty crates and upstairs under an empty seat. Thankfully the rather large spider made himself known whilst still outside and we could leave him behind.
Back onto the road, it wasn't long before we were in Lobito amid rush hour. Small houses made from sand bricks blended with the sandy hills on which they were built, their tin roofs held in place by many rocks. Amongst the houses were bursts of colour: people, on their way to work or going about their daily chores. They waved and asked us where we were going (we think. None of us are yet fluent in portuguese after barely a week so I usually yell 'tourists' or 'Australian' or 'Namibia' and hope I answered their question correctly!) and everyone was in good spirits.
Through town and onto Benguela, we didn't stop until a small village alongside the new road being built. Here Rhys, Talbot and I did exceptionally well on yams, tomatoes, green
peppers and bread but not so well on onions (at the equivalent of fifty cents each, they were really expensive). Some chicken and yam chips for lunch, washed down with a can of Coke and off we went. Unfortunately the smooth new roads aren't completed yet and we had to detour onto some pretty uneven roads. Lying down doing sudoku became impossible and so I sat hanging out the window staring at the dusty surroundings while others played Warlord using the esky as a table and wedging the cards in between the pages of a book so they didn't fly away.
I'd moved up front and sat next to Denise playing word games to amuse ourselves as the truck slowed behind a couple other vehicles. A truck was parked across the road, blocking our path as workers and machinery moved ahead of it. I assumed they had us waiting while the grader or bulldozer got out of the way but then out of the corner of my eye, a cloud of dust and rocks went up, followed a split second later by a loud BOOM that shook the truck and us. They were blowing up rocks to make way for
the new road less than 300 metres in front of us with absolutely no warning. Awesome.
Calming racing hearts, we started looking for places to camp not much further down the road. Finding a large area of the road, we were in the middle of dinner when a car drove slowly towards us and a man jumped out. They were police, coming to check us out. Suse greeted them and explained who we were and what we were doing and they welcomed us and said we were safe here. Wishing us well, they left us to enjoy our dinner and the clear evening sky.
It was a chilly night and I slept poorly, caught unawares without my Moroccan blanket that was buried in the locker. Being on breakfast duty meant getting up that little bit earlier and my numb fingers felt useless as I connected the gas bottle and burner. I guess the upside is that the tent wasn't wet. It was however, 'crisp' as most of us described it, making it difficult to roll up.
In actual fact it wasn't that cold. Yoshi has a thermometer which said it was 8C. We haven't had
any super cold nights since Morocco but they would now become the norm until we left Botswana. Time to pull out the beanie, gloves and djellaba!
We were in Lubango early in the morning and pulled into a petrol station where Suse got us a minibus to drive us to Cristo Rei, the statue of Christ perched high on a mountain on the outskirts of town. Built in the same fashion as the one in Rio de Janiero and Lisbon, Suse told us that a Portuguese sailor built the three statues to represent his family. His wife and son had been coming to see him when the boat they were on sank and they perished. The one in Rio represents him, the one in Lisbon his wife and the smallest of the three, here in Angola represents his son. All three statues face the spot where the boat sank. Now. A quick search online brought up nothing of the story so I need to look into it a little further. But I like it which is why I decided to share it here and see if anyone knows anything about it! I'm thinking I'll try and get to Lisbon after
this trip and see that one and then cross Rio off the list some other time.
It was cold up there and if the morning mist hadn't been there, it would've been an amazing view of the city below. It was cool anyway and as we were wrapping up our photos, the caretakers invited us to go up the top! Climbing the circular staircase, we arrived at the feet of the statue with the wind blowing us back several feet.
After loads of photos (and having the taxi driver take a group photo of us and cutting off Jesus' head), back down we went, riding the brakes the entire way. Back on the truck and out of the city we hit crap roads but they were lined with baobabs which made it slightly better (okay, not really). Livestock started appearing amongst the trees: goats, cows and donkeys, roaming free with cow bells around their necks and the occasional shepherd wandering along behind.
With the sun beginning to set, we turned off the main road and parked beside a huge baobab tree that must be thousands of years old. Thinking we only had minutes until the sun was gone, I had
everyone climb the tree for a group shot. Then after tents went up, a huge bonfire was lit and people sat shielding their faces from the intense heat. It was the best fire by far and we soon forgot how cold it was when we stepped away.
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