AngolaWritten by admin on January 21st, 2010
Wednesday 23 December
We said goodbye to tar roads at the Ruacana border between Namibia and Angola. After a relatively smooth border crossing and a small bribe we bounced along the bumpy, vague tracks of Angola hoping to make it to Namibe in one day. The pretty much non-existent roads and marshy swamps made it slower going than we expected and when we finally got onto one of the main roads through the country it was probably even worse! The GPS described it as badly potholed but this was an understatement and we drove most of the way on the muddy side tracks. We stopped briefly to winch out another 4×4 that had got stuck in the mud and, having long before abandoned the idea of reaching Namibe in a day, just made it to Lubango as darkness fell. We found a campsite marked on our GPS, but were sure we were in the wrong place, as we pulled up into the carpark of the posh Casper Lodge. To our surprise they did have a camping area, although we quickly learned camping in Angola, as with most things (diesel excluded), is not cheap!
Whilst the driving was slow going, the scenery of Angola is beautiful and varied and the roads definitely make it interesting!
Friday 25 December
Yesterday we made it to Flamingo Lodge in the desert just south of Namibe. This place really is in the middle of nowhere, but situated in a good spot overlooking the coast and surrounded by sand dunes and canyons. To be honest our first impressions were not amazing, as we thought back to the previous Christmas kite-surfing in Zanzibar! Many reviews we had read described this as the highlight of most people’s visit to Angola and we were slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead! However, as the manager and our guide, Bruce said when we were out driving it grows on you. And we had to agree as we pulled up into an impressive canyon, having spent the morning driving along the deserted coastline; either that or the Christmas beers were taking effect!
We started our Christmas Day cooking up pancakes in the desert and ‘Flashing Santa’ was up early! Bruce had also invited us poor campers up for a free Christmas dinner at the lodge and despite still finding campsites in Angola pricey this was one of the first all-inclusive we had been to! It was a fantastic fish buffet, including oysters the size of your hand, from a spot we stopped at that morning. The others guests were a mix of nationalities and great company, the hospitality at the lodge was exceptional and we had a very memorable and enjoyable Christmas.
Sunday 27 December
After Flamingo Lodge we drove along the coastal road to Baia Azul. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains, although again with little tar it was slow going and we got a puncture on the way. We made it to the beach and were told it was fine just to drive down someone’s driveway onto the beach and camp there the night. It was a pretty little bay, a nice beach and free, the only drawback being the unusual private house/club we had parked next to started to pump out loud dance music not long after we climbed into the tent!
In the morning we went for a swim before pottering along the coast to Benguela. We found a lovely place run by an American lady, named Nancy, who didn’t have camping facilities, but said for Christmas we could stay in a room for the same price as we would normally pay for camping. We enjoyed the luxury of an ensuite with hot showers and with internet access to try to make some plans for our route and visas!
Friday 1 January
We left Benguela on Tuesday to continue north to the capital, Luanda. We enjoyed being on one of the very few tarred roads in Angola and stopped briefly along the way at a beach called Caba Ledo where we were considering staying for New Year and Miradouro de Lua; a viewpoint with strange rock formations just outside the city. Our only other brief delay was at one of the police checkpoints we were stopped at. The policewoman wished us ‘Bon Fete’, which means Happy Christmas/Holidays, or give me a present! This started a game of us playing extremely dumb, unable to understand any language and simply repeating everything she said: “Bon fete” “Bon fete”, “Para mi” “Para mi”, “Bon fete para mi” “Bon fete para mi” “Dinero” “Dinero” ……… until she got a bit bored and wondering how such stupid people had ever got here indicated that we carry on.
We were a little apprehensive about Luanda, as the most positive comments people had made until now were “In the top 3 worst cities in Africa” and “Avoid at all costs!” However, we were lucky to have been invited to stay with a lovely French couple, Benoit and Coralie, who we met at Christmas and found their condominium quite easily. Their house was really nice, with a swimming pool and a gym and large pool on the complex. We made the most of the luxury for a couple of days and they looked after us very well. The first day Benoit even arranged for his driver to take us into town to sort out our Congo visas, so we travelled into town in air-conditioned comfort. The following day we went to collect our passports and Congo visa on our own and despite crawling back in traffic with our windows wound halfway for security and sweaty pants again without the A/C we agreed that Luanda was not really quite as bad as had been made out.
We saw the New Year in with a couple of bottles of champagne and a midnight dip, refreshed and ready to continue our journey on New Year’s Day!
Sunday 3 January
We knew the roads heading north were not so great and so we planned to make it across the boarder to Matadi in two days. We stopped the first night at Nzeto, quite a big town, but without much in it! Despite seeming a little odd we found the people friendly and felt safe, so we drove on to the beautiful stretch of beach and a little north of the town and camped there for the night. Felicity’s main worry was the size of the monster crabs that started coming out at sunset and seemed willing to stand and fight if you approached them.
We had a bit of a delayed start yesterday trying to find gear oil in Nzeto. After paying quite a lot for a couple of litres we were not too convinced was gear oil and refusing their hugely inflated diesel (no pumps up here at all), we found another guy who very kindly gave us some of the oil that he had for his lorry, so we topped up an carried on.
After about 100km of good resurfaced road we turned off toward Nqui, the border town in Angola, with about 150km to go and were soon questioning who actually crosses this border, as it was a small rocky, muddy, hilly track through the jungle, not passable by the majority of vehicles. As we plodded along we started to realise that we may not make it across to DRC; not our ideal situation between Angola and DRC! However, we were a little reassured by how friendly the people were as we drove through the small villages; the adults and kids would suddenly give beaming smiles, double handed waves and cheers.
When we passed a big truck stuck in the mud the guys waved at us to help them out and feeling we would quite like to have some new best friends about now we decided to put Bob to the test. We hooked the winch on to their lorry and slowly, but surely and to the delight of the drivers and few passengers Bob dragged the vehicle from the mud – our new best friends were secured! We carried on ahead until at one bad uphill there was a huge explosion. We stopped to find that one of our shocks had broken and sliced through the sidewall of the tyre. With the light starting to fade there was no time to hang around, so we quickly set about changing the wheel and removing what was left of the shock. During this time the guys in the lorry had caught us and stopped to check we were OK, then confirmed that they would find somewhere for us to stay when we reached Nqui.
We followed on now in the dark and when we got there the guy who owned the lorry parked up between a few homesteads and directed us to park alongside, a little out of sight and with our broken French confirmed we would be perfectly safe camping here for the night.