January 22, 2008 GMT
Luanda, 22 January 2008

A 3 day palm blistering marathon ride through Angola and Iīm in the capital Luanda. All those `land of contrasts` cliches apply here more than anywhere. It has the worst roads Iīve encountered in Africa and the best. Terrible poverty and incredible wealth.

My Angolan visa appeared and it seems I was lucky as a couple of foreigners were rejected at the same time. I even got a full month instead of the usual five day transit. It seems a waste to head through the country quickly given this stroke of fortune, but if I am to get home as planned for Easter Iīve got to press on. Iīve decided that with ten odd weeks to make it back whilst hopefully enjoying myself and seeing some sights as well Iīll have to concentrate on some countries and skip through others. So, the plan is to ride quick until Nigeria where Iīll do a spot of sight seeing away from the Niger Delta to hopefully disprove some of the stereotypes the country has and then amble through Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso and Mali and then gas it again ītill I reach home....

I headed off from Windhoek and ran up into the rainy season just as it began in the North of Namibia. In Tsumeb I waited one day and then gave up and got a thorough day long soaking the next. The Angolan border was easy and someone senior helped me through. I had thought it was in the hope of a tip but it was just in the name of helpfullnes in the end. Iīve decided to make another challenge of the trip a mission to see if I can go through all Africa without paying a single bribe!

look M. Michelin a patch of tarmac!

The road up to the first major town of Lubango was truly a shocker. Monsieur Michelinīs īmost recently updated map of Africaī has it down as an asphalted major highway. He lies! If having the odd spot of lumpy asphalt every few kilometers which does no more than bottom out the suspension when you run into it qualify a road as a paved one then OK, M. Michelin you are right. A ten hour bone crunching ride and I fractured the poor Bulletīs sub-frame, bent the rear wheel rim, split a pannier and wore out the swinging arm thrust washers (yes really bike nerds!). I had GPS coordinates for the Catholic Mission to pitch my tent up at but Lubango was somewhat larger than expected and just asking didnīt give me a location. Angola is the first time Iīve wished I had a GPS on the whole trip and this not because I canīt find the roads but that all other travellers seem to only give coordinates when they pass on tips for places to stay now rather than addresses. In the end I tipped the security guard at a 24 hour garage and pitched my tent up on their lawn next to their diesel generator. Not that it mattered, dead to the world as soon as my head hit the pillow.

expert mechanics

nice spot for a camp

The next day and on to Lobito and more of M. Michelin`s asphalt. Not as bad as the previous day but still not great. On the way I had a chance encounter on the road with a bunch of 5 guys on bikes who gave me a great tip for a place to stay in Lobito. So towards dusk I rocked up to Lobito having enjoyed the last 50kms or so on new glass smooth road and got lost again. Then a kindly guy on a bike stopped, asked where I was going and then led me all the way to the īZulu Beach Barī where owner Louis let me put up my tent. A couple of beers and dorado and chips later and once again lights out.

encounter on the road

Another great surprise in Angola is that prices are just about on a par with Switzerland or indeed higher. Common with a lot of other African countries there seem to be two parallel economies going on. Those who havenīt who live at subsistance level and those who have who really do have, and tons of it. The next day riding out of Lobito in the morning light and I was amazed by just how many luxury villas there are dotted amongst the bombed out and decaying Portugese relics. There must be more Hummers per square mile than almost anywhere else, Arnie would be proud and George Bush delighted that the commies are so eagerly buying into civilianised American war machines. Angolaīs national flag is a take on the hammer and sickle with a 3/4 cog wheel replacing the sickle and a machete the hammer. Luandaīs streets are unusual in that every one is named after a revolutionary hero. There are absolutely no Bougainvillea Boulevards or Rue de Christosīs just Commandante Che Gueveras and Friedrich Engels Streets. My favourite is Commandante Dangereux though. Donīt mess with him gringo! So, Angolaīs regime is dedicatedly Communist and has one of the greatest disparities in incomes around where some can pay 3 US Dollars for a bottle of water and some donīt earn that in a week. Nice one lads! Still, in the tried and tested formula for keeping the masses happy of dictatorships worldwide, beer, bread and petrol are cheap.

If Lobito had a funky vibe to it with its Havana style architecture and beach culture then Luanda is just funky and thatīs in the nasty funky rather than hip funky sense. Angolaīs infrastructure is still in early days of recovery after years of war. Remnants of mined armoured personel carriers and tanks dot the roadside, almost every brick structure in each village bears the scars of gun battles and traffic signs are non-existant. Meaning, when I reached Luanda I got very lost again. To my relief the journey here had been a smooth one, with a beautifully surfaced new road almost all the way. I did have the address of a campsite about 100kms before Luanda but couldnīt find it so pushed on. Yes, again I arrived at dusk and got very lost. Traffic was terrible, roads crap and dust and pollution closed visibility down to about 100 metres. On the verge of losing the will to live altogether I asked a motorcycle cop for directions. Seeing the despair in my face he then led me to my destination with blue lights flashing. Despite all that has happened to them Angolan people have been fantastic, overwhelmingly friendly and helpful.

baobab in bloom

Iīm sleeping at another freebie (youīve got to when even a grotty hotel charges at least 50 US), the Club Nautico. A few fellow travellers had recommended this highly. In terms of facilities it doesnīt quite hit the hype as it is essentially a pitch in a car park but itīs a nice mellow place and you canīt knock the hospitality of the guys there who have been great. The view from my tent is wonderfully Angolan with the yatch clubīs gin palaces in the foreground and guys fishing in dug-out canoes in the background.

Itīs quite hard to like Luanda but Iīm trying. Humidity must be near 100% and every action is accompanied by profuse sweating. To get to the Gabon Embassy for my visa application I walked along the Marginal (harbour / beach road) and almost wretched from the fetid stench coming up from the waters whilst a middle aged woman in a vest and hot pants speed walked past me for her daily exercise routine and a vagrant lay on the pavement next to his own filth. But after coughing up a steep 150 US for my Gabon visa I had a tortilla and coffee in a nice cafe and then strolled to the commercial centre and admired the crumbling colonial architecture, modern high rises and the sights and sounds of the folk from the barrios in town to hawk their wares and earn a kwanza or two.

Iīll be here a couple of days to recover and patch the bike and then on through DRC and Congo to Libreville in Gabon to get the Camerounian visa. It looks like being a tough week or two but Iīm assured that from Gabon on itīs smooth going all the way if thatīs what I want....

Posted by Richard Miller at January 22, 2008 02:08 PM GMT

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