This is part of the twelfth section of our around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Namibia
20/7/06 The Angolan border near Ondjiva is still operating out of temporary offices but our visa details were efficiently entered into the computer, the carnet was stamped and no payments were asked for except by the kid who was pointing me to the correct offices. Money changers were everywhere and offering a slightly better rate than the Angolan bank and petrol was available, well when the electricity comes on, cheaper than in Namibia. The first 40 km to Ondjiva was excellent asphalt, driving on the right hand side, but the next 100 km to Xangongo was broken up with potholes limiting our speed to 50 km/hr most of the time. Unfortunately we again lost the kitchen, the new one, the one we have only had for two months, well stocked with food, too heavy it bounced out of its straps and again some lucky local will be pleased with the extremely early Christmas hamper. It will be more difficult and expensive to replace here than it was in Madagascar. We found a hotel, not cheap either, nothing is, except petrol, in Angola, in Xangongo and tried to get used to the Portuguese language spoken here.
21/7/06 The forty years of war that Angola underwent only finished just over four years ago and the country's infrastructure is still reeling from that devastation. Land mines are a problem to development and agriculture, and we are warned not to wander off the road, even to go to the toilet. Today's 300 km to Lubango was a variety of slow, 20-30 km/hr bouncy dirt, some badly deteriorated asphalt to a reasonable road the last few km's into town. We rode carefully and it took eight hours of travelling time to cover the distance. Along the way we met two 4x4's with western travellers, having welding done to their vehicles, having come all the way from England. We exchanged valuable border and road condition information before proceeding to be stopped shortly afterwards by a Namibian man working in the area who offered us more information and a drink. The route from East to West Africa or vice versa has been difficult for the last decade or so with conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Angola blocking most opportunities. Now Angola is the easiest crossing, by coming south, and there are many travellers. We had earlier passed four well equipped 4x4's on a tour heading south, videotaping as we passed and with a military escort they were travelling in comfort and taking no chances. We had been told of eight motorcyclists on another organized tour coming through the country. These specialised tours are becoming more popular, particularly to remote or perceived more dangerous regions. As we entered Lubango, buying petrol, a local man simply offered to pay, he spoke almost no English and we had only exchanged a few words before the offer. Later when the planned campsite was not available we stopped at a large farm and asked if we could use a piece of ground for the night for our tent and were offered a bed and hot shower at the farmhouse. An offer too good to refuse, it turns out the owner had a brother in Australia.
22/7/06 Angola seems to be just getting started. Like many countries coming out of a long war there are the rich and the poor with almost no middle classes. The rich have new 4x4's, nice houses and relax in expensive hotels. The poor have nothing, living from what they can grow. The problem is we fit in between, where there are now few hotels or facilities or middle class restaurants. We headed off the escarpment towards Namibe, the region's port town and beach destination. The magnificent views from the winding road back down to sea level stunning in early morning with fog lying in the valley. The countryside soon turned to desert with an oasis along the river growing vegetables. Namibe is a quiet town at the moment, it is winter, and the campground right on the ocean we had to ourselves, at least after the wedding reception ended in early evening. The bright sunshine we have been experiencing lately gone with the sea fog and cool wind that blows off the Atlantic and we are across Africa again.
23/7/06 Again we are the only people staying at the campground but now there are two police at the gate and it is closed to stop locals from coming in. It is a quiet town on a Sunday, but pleasant enough to relax in. The view from the hill overlooking the bay revealed a humpback whale lazying offshore, probably resting on it's migration north, and later over dinner we noticed a sea lion swim past.
24/7/06 The 200 km road back to Lubango has been recently rebuilt as a donation by the European Union and was again a pleasure to drive along through the coastal desert and up into the mountains. We changed money and bought supplies for the rougher and more isolated roads north east towards Quilengues, the road everyone was advising as being in the best condition to Luanda, via Benguela and then along the coast. The road out of Lubango for the 90 km to Cacula was bad. The asphalt had long ago broken up and trucks gouged large bog holes in the wet season leaving a dry roller coaster ride at about 30 km/hr as we weaved around the worst patches. It was along here we met a British bicyclist, Tom, on his 3 yr trip, so far, from England through Africa, more valuable information exchanged. After Cacula the road improved to quicker dirt as it smoothed out. Quilengues had no accommodation and after buying petrol from a drum we headed on. It seems we are a year or two early as most towns have petrol stations under construction. As the sun started to bob near the horizon we found an area, well trafficked by stock and people, presumably no land mines, and near the road but out of it's sight, where we could pitch the tent. The locals moved past on sunset herding cattle and goats, a couple of children watched for a while but otherwise we were left in peace and slept from sunset till sunrise.
25/7/06 At the time of independence in 1975 Angola had 23,000 km of asphalt roads. Now it has less than 10% of that amount and despite it being Africa's second largest producer of oil the best road in the country was built by the European Union, such are the effects of prolonged war. The road didn't improve for the 200 km to Benguela and where the asphalt still partially existed potholes spread across the entire road making progress a fast, slow event. We have only encountered two sections of roadworks so far and no general repair crews patching potholes allowing reasonable sections of asphalt to disintegrate with the increasing traffic flow of post war boom. Private enterprise, as usual, is well ahead of the government. Taking the coast road north of Lobito started with reasonable asphalt but was only 50% sealed to the town of Egito where we again camped as there were no hotels functioning. The new petrol station however was well equipped and allowed us to use their showers and toilet. We camped on lush grass and their security guard watched over us all night, free of charge, an excellent spot.
26/7/06 At the brief times I have been able to look sideways at the scenery it has been quite varied. We have ridden up into the mountains, passed through lush growth and savannah and just south of Sumbe is a lovely gorge cut by the river where small farms of banana grow on the down river plains. Today's roads slowly improved. The first 30 km was dirt, the next 270 was broken and bouncy asphalt and the last 100 km a pleasant approach. The road is raised, riding along a low plateau overlooking the ocean and then tucked in behind a long sand spit it weaves around the coast before getting to the hustle and bustle of an unplanned overcrowded sprawl. We had been told that both Clube Naval and Clube Nautico, situated next to each other on the Marginal, the esplanade that makes up Luanda's city waterfront, offer travellers free camping in their parking lots, better than the $US 80.00 a night cheapest double hotel room in town. Toli, the commandant, at Clube Naval welcomed us, offered a city map and directions to the embassies we require. The facilities are basic, a shower and toilet, but the location right on the waterfront overlooking the city is stunning. The entry to the city marred by seeing a woman pedestrian hit by a car on the busy streets. It is rare we actually see accidents happen, we usually just see the wreckage but two days ago on a bridge two buses sideswiped each other right in front of us. There was no need for the accident, just that neither would give way to the other. The rear wheels of one bus bounced precariously off the road edge, the bus almost toppling while the passengers of the other climbed out the smashed side windows. The traffic here is aggressive and the pedestrian woman was struck, bounced off the bonnet, smashing the car's windscreen before landing on her feet hopefully without permanent injury.
27/7/06 If we think we are approaching a particularly difficult embassy we arrive early and park the motorcycle in a visible location hoping the embassy staff will see it, generating some interest. We also dress in our best clothes. Gabon embassies have a reputation for being difficult so this morning we arrived early. We were rewarded. The normal requirement for an onward ticket was waived, as was the need for photocopies of the passport and the helpful lady accepted our applications, plus $US 100.00 each fee, and the visas should be available tomorrow. The Congo Brazzaville visa was similar, $US 90.00 for a tomorrow delivery but it took a couple of hours to locate at it's new office in the Hotel President near the port. The city traffic again slow as motor vehicle use speeds ahead of the government's ability to control it. The cheap price of fuel doesn't help deter the large 4x4 vehicles. After three days of difficult riding and moving quickly Kay and I are both ready for a few days rest but grocery shopping and internet occupied the rest of the day.
28/7/06 This morning while we waited to collect yesterday's visas we took the opportunity to feel out the visa situation for Nigeria and Algeria, again difficult ones to obtain. After discussions with staff at the Nigerian Embassy they agreed to present an application to the Consul on Monday provided we wrote a letter explaining our trip. The fee however, again $US 100.00, nice round number. I am not sure how much is official and how much persuasion money, this we will find out, assuming the visa is issued, when we ask for a receipt. More discussions with the Algerian Consul who finally accepted our applications but gave himself the opportunity to reject the visa saying he needed approval from higher authority. Both applications will hopefully get a result Monday. The Congo and Gabon visas were collected without problems although no receipt was issued by Congo? This took almost all day in the traffic packed city.
29/7/06 We have now settled in pretty much to our city carpark camping spot at Clube Naval. The bread lady comes each morning for the workers making us tinned sausage bread rolls for breakfast and we buy extra rolls for lunch. The fruit and vegetable sellers walk the streets with apples, bananas and avocados and with the occasional coffee and a local restaurant meal life is reasonably comfortable. Water is readily available for washing clothes but the ocean fog that hangs around till lunch time makes drying slow. We get computer electricity from near the club offices where there is a table and chairs but the biggest distraction is the constant city noise humming across the bay or from the nearby road. The local discos run till 4.30 am with their boom boom base drone requiring good earplugs for sleeping.
30/7/06 Doing things for yourself in many cultures is seen as a sign of having no money. If you had money you would get someone else to do the job. We washed our clothes in a bucket this morning and in the afternoon I gave myself a haircut with the battery operated trimming clippers we carry and then had a beard trip, in front of the motorcycle mirrors as the bathrooms here don't have any. The local workers at the club, guards, cleaners and caretakers would not do their own washing, that is work for women, and the office workers would have staff at home to do those chores. They would also get someone else to cut their hair. But as I set up the computer and started touch typing the diary, worked on this seemingly expensive motorcycle, you could feel their questioning of another culture where one person has the knowledge and ability to achieve many things. This ability has been given to westerners by the high cost of labour and the broad education they receive. It has also been taken away from people living in cheap labour countries where there is always someone to do any menial or semi skilled task for little money. To have money yet sleep in a tent, doing your own washing, all seems incongruous to the rich or poor in these countries.
31/7/06 We took some extra papers to the Algerian embassy this morning but despite being incredibly helpful they could not issue us with a visa. It seems the kidnapping of 32 German tourists in the south of Algeria in 2003, taking six months for the release of the last one, has brought about the requirement for all tourists to use an official guide in the border area. The guide is expensive and has slowed the number of travellers using the route from Niger. We will need to reassess our route and will likely try to enter Algeria from Europe. The Nigerian visa was issued today as promised and a receipt issued for the full amount. The one month visa can be used within the next three months giving good flexibility. Annabella, a Uruguayan and Ritter from Switzerland riding a BMW 1150 from Europe rode into the boat club this morning and decided to stay a day. Again the opportunity to speak English, exchange travel information, and a bit of philosophy on the side.
1/8/06 Left out carpark campground on sunrise to head straight into the morning rush hours coming the other way. We had entered the city from the more wealthy end but were departing through shanty towns. For the first time more than half of the world's population now lives in it's cities. Luanda certainly has it's share. We were heading towards Soyo for a boat to the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, across the Congo River. The road to Caxita was asphalt then slow broken asphalt taking most of the day to get to N'zeto back on the coast. The Ambriz bypass, about half way, has an immigration checkpoint with police backing. The immigration officer was appallingly rude, the bad guy, while the police played the good guy routine. He created problems with our papers and shouted at us, would not listen to explanations, asked for money and would not allow me to see his identity papers. Ultimately we glimpsed his ID number 5091 and openly photographed him, see photo. Our papers were, after about an hour, returned only if we deleted the photo, which we pretended to do. This is one of the worst situations of an open extortion attempt we have encountered. I would encourage other people to photograph corrupt officials and identify them on the internet. Mobile phone cameras are small enough to do it discretely. We had no concerns about lying about deleting the photo after the incidence in Sudan recently when we were promised a receipt for border payments if we deleted similar photos, which we did but then they refused to issue a receipt. Deal with people how you are dealt with. A friendly man in N'zeto helped us find some food and water for the onward journey. The town has recently had cholera problems and was quiet. The ferry at the crossing to the north of town is not operating and it is necessary to head 40 km towards Tombaco then back to the coast at Mucula. We found a small unused side road along this section and set up the tent for the night.
2/8/06 Exhausted, we both slept well but were underway by 6.30 am. The road was all dirt and became sandier but early morning fog and light drizzle kept it firm enough to travel quickly and with the last 20 km's being asphalt we were in Soyo before 10.30. Straight to the port to check boats and one leaves tomorrow, usually at 8 am but will be delayed till mid afternoon. A local man offered to take us to the agent for tickets and we could stay in his house for the night, welcomed as hotels here are ridiculously priced for services provided. Passengers are $US 25.00 each but the motorcycle is a hard negotiation. The best we could achieve was $US 100.00 after starting price of $US 210.00. It may have been more prudent negotiating directly with the captain. Petrol in small towns in Angola has only been available from drums and by asking around. There used to be petrol stations but they were no longer operating. Soyo however is a large place and despite having a couple of petrol stations there was no petrol available. Petrol is however available openly along roadsides being sold at twice the official price. It seems there is no shortage. Last time we noticed this was in Nigeria where corrupt officials bought entire region's supplies and sold much of it into Cameroon and the rest at black market prices. This close to the Congo border the situation seems similar. Meanwhile everyone in town has to pay double the official price, yet oil is being pumped from wells on the town's boundaries. It seems ironical that they should be paying twice as much as everyone else in the country, yet the politicians would likely be surprised if the locals attacked oil installations, as has happened in similar situations in neighbouring countries.
3/8/06 Luis's home is a two bedroom unit at the rear of his landlord's house in a nice area of town. There are about six units, all sharing the one toilet and shower. He lives with up to three other friends and insisted on giving Kay and I his bedroom for the night. He also gave us two of his meal vouchers and we had a great breakfast at the oil company base where he works and where internet access is free to be used by anyone. The boat usually runs from Soyo to Cabinda on Tuesdays and Thursdays leaving at 8 am and returns Mondays and Wednesdays with a trip to Luanda on weekends but seems to be a bit flexible. It was again delayed from the 1 pm scheduled departure and we lay on the green grass reading and waiting, not leaving the base all day. About 60 passengers boarded for a 4 pm departure and the motorcycle was craned aboard onto the back deck. A fast boat and with the Congo River's help pushed us up the coast past dozens of oil rigs standing as metal monsters rising from the brown waters and onto the Angolan enclave of Cabinda past the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just three hours but now after dark we docked, the motorcycle efficiently unloaded by the boat's crane, immigration and police checks and to accommodation at the Complex Simulobanco, a conference centre 5 km north along the road to Congo Brazzaville and reportedly the cheapest in town but still $US 40.00.
4/8/06 Even though the air conditioning doesn't work, the hot water system is broken and the movie channel, in English, stopped during the day because the account hadn't been paid, it was comfortable enough to spend a rest day here and the rate would be reduced to $US 30.00 if we didn't want a receipt. It seems the boss is away so management runs their own business, and people wonder why there is no money to repair things. We only left the room for food but met three more travellers, Europeans in a 4x4, five weeks out of South Africa and still enthusiastically excited with their adventure. These are the last we are likely to meet as the wet season has been under way to the north for a while slowing downward movement and deterring northerly travel.
5/8/06 A relaxed departure with the road to the border about 50% dirt and under repair, the most roadworks we have seen in the country. After two more immigration checks along the way we arrived at the small border crossing with money changers in abundance and more consumer goods than we had seen anywhere in Angola. Polite and efficient immigration and customs had us over the border in twenty minutes.
Move with us to Congo (Brazzaville)
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