Angola – we made it! (April 2014)

 

Driving the few kilometres to the Angolan border felt like hours. We were stuck in heavy truck traffic which crept up and down the hills on a muddy piste. Once in a while we were rewarded by views over the vast River Congo. The batteries of both of our vehicles had suffered from the tough African conditions and long periods of standing so we had to leave the engines running once arriving at the small border post. Formalities were handled in the usual African manner with nobody being in a hurry. The health officer who would usually only check the yellow fever certificates became a bit uneasy when he spotted Guinean entry stamps in our passports. Ebola had just broken out again and as it first occurred in the DRC his worries were understandable. Luckily he remembered that the incubation period is much shorter than the time that passed between our visit to Guinea and entry to Congo.

Entering Angola took its sweet time as well and for the first time in ages we hit some serious language barriers. None of us knew a word of Portuguese but with a mix of English and French we managed. Unfortunately the border post’s printer had given up and we were not allowed to leave without handing over copies of our passports and visas. There was supposed to be a printer somewhere back on the Congolese side. So we crossed the border illegally on foot, asked around and got eventually led to a small shack a bit down the hill which was full of electronics and looked like storage for stolen goods. But there was a working printer there. Back with the Angolans we had to follow a guy on a motorbike down to the police station where all our details had to be recorded again – this time without anybody who understood a word of French or English. So once that obstacle was taken it was already late in the afternoon and we set up camp in the courtyard of the police station. We managed to drive an amazing distance of 7km on that day. Nevertheless we were finally in Angola! No more visas, no more time pressure and a whole month to explore this country!

After a noisy night with police cars coming and going and loud discussions we set off towards M’Banza Congo. The potholed piste soon gave way to road constructions and later brand new Chinese tarmac. The small town is home to the oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa in form of an old church. Not much more than a few walls remain though. Angola is unfortunately still a drive-through country for most overlanders. One of the reasons are the supposedly terribly high prices. Well we ended up in a supermarket anyway and were positively surprised – especially in comparison with the unaffordable French supermarkets in West Africa. At least beer and chorizo was cheap and what more does one need to be happy? 🙂

On the way to the coast we were looking out for a bush camp for the night. Angola is still one of the most heavily land mined countries in Africa and therefore we always looked for a place where humans or animals might have been before. We ended up once again in one of the gravel pits previously used by the road construction crews and were treated to an amazing sunset.

The following day we hit the coast again at N’zeto where a storm was raging. Already bored by the good tarmac road we took a coastal piste to the small town Ambriz where many signs of the almost 30 year long civil war were still visible in form of ruined buildings. At the fish market we tried our best to negotiate a fair price for some fish to put on the grill later but communication was once again difficult. A small boy made us the best offer and we left in search for a quiet spot at the beach. What we found exceeded our expectations by far – a sheltered bay with beautiful cliffs and beach which we had completely for ourselves. What a perfect spot to relax for a while.

Initially we wanted to leave out the capital Luanda as it is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Africa with horrible traffic and we were for once not in need to apply for any visa anymore. But we wanted to catch up with Andrew and Tina, who we had been in contact with for a while. Andrew grew up in Angola and both of them also circumnavigated Africa in a Landrover a couple of years back. We headed south along a fun off-road track with everything one might expect – from sand, over deep ruts to mud. At one point we found ourselves in the middle of a shooting practice of the military who were luckily not too bothered by us. We could still hear the bazookas being fired from afar. At a fork in the road we split up with Marc & Doro who wanted to search for a nice spot along a river and avoid Luanda. For the first time since Abuja in Nigeria we were on our own again but we really enjoyed the time spent together with these two and would have never imagined being able to travel with somebody for such a long time. Thanks again for all the nice evenings, vehicle recoveries and shared visa troubles!

On the way back to the main road the track deteriorated with deep, water filled mud holes. There were usually two tracks at the worst sections surrounded by dense bush so you had to choose the better one by instinct. This went completely wrong once when we found ourselves in one deep mud hole after the other and eventually got stuck in one with water as high as the bonnet. Only with a lot of luck and a screaming engine did we manage to level the area out while going back and forward and eventually reverse out of this mess. In the meantime we were constantly attacked by nasty tsetse flies. Jasmine got bitten in the stomach which was painful but not too bad. Only once emerging from the bush onto the main road she had some heavy allergic reaction and a nasty rash was beginning to spread over her entire body. In less than half an hour she looked like she was 90 with red blisters covering every inch of skin. At that point we were still hours from Luanda and Jasmine almost went mad with pain and could not even bare the touch of clothes on her skin anymore. Driving as fast as possible we tried to reach a hospital but did not have much hope in this sparsely populated area. When being stopped by the police at a checkpoint Fabian tried to make the officers understand our urgency and after a disgusted look at Jasmine we were waved through. All of a sudden some sign and a large building turned up on our left in the middle of nowhere. After a sharp U-turn it turned out to be a government hospital. Sometimes you just have to be lucky! A Cuban doctor was called to assist us who spoke a tiny bit of English and a tiny bit of French. Jasmine got two infusions and the rash started to retreat slowly. The medication knocked her out completely though and she could barely stand on her own feet when she was released. Late in the evening we arrived in Luanda being spared the worst of the traffic as it was a Sunday and headed for the local yacht club to meet Andrew. Happy to have a bed waiting for us we went to his place, Jasmine passed out shortly after and Fabian had a fun evening with the guys.

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