The Hidden Valley
I write this in the comfort of the Cardboard
Box, in Windhoek, where I now know how lucky I was to find that elusive
Shangri-La that is the route from DRC to Angola.
It's largely down to the infamous Southern
and Central Africa Michelin Map (current edition of course). Who could
imagine that a piece of paper that cost £4.50 in Stamford's could cost us
all so much in fuel, time, bribes, extortionate barge rides, and
super-extortionate crane fees (Brazzaville, of course). This map is largely
fiction - to bother updating each edition without actually checking to see
if a road has actually existed for the past ten years or so is unforgivable.
But then maybe it's just a French plot - perhaps only Stamford's get this
'special' edition. That must be the case, because the alternative is even
more scandalous. And if you think that's me finished with venting my spleen
- forget it - I've only just started... He'll need those bloody tyres as
airbags once I've finished with the kicking I'm going to give him when I get
back to Europe.
Richard and Roxana, unbeknown to me, had
taken the Matadi route - big no-no - you cross the border to find there is
simply no road South - they took a boat to the coast at $60 each.
Karl, Meindert and Ed Headed South from
Kinshasa, and ended up in no-man's land when they were refused entry at the
non-existent border post that was clearly marked on the map. And lucky old
me stopped for breakfast near Luvo and chatted to a few truck drivers - Luvo,
a tiny town on the Michelin map, is the only route from Kinshasa that I've
been able to find.
Now you're going to have to
either excuse me, or skip this country, because most of it's about the route
- as far a I know I'm the first Discovery to make it North to South through Angola, and what
follows is largely for those who want to feel their way along the same route
(though hopefully at a more leisurely pace.
So to continue - the Camel and I negotiated
the officials on the DRC side (why do they always expect me to confess to
carrying guns to protect me from wild animals?) and continued into Angola -
country of endless war until it ended a year ago, land of diamonds and
Portuguese colonists and Colonel Callan.
Carnet? What's a carnet?
The first obstacle - immigration - was
easy, but the carnet proved a bit more tricky - they had never seen one
before. Eventually I was press-ganged into a convoy to M'Banza Congo, 60km
away along a road that would clearly have been impassable in the rains. Two
hours later I arrived with a car full of horrible red dust (the joys of
convoy driving), and for the next two hours experienced the delights of
Angolan bureaucracy as I was passed around like a hot potato. In the end I
grabbed my carnet, explained that it wasn't obligatory as Angola wasn't
listed on the back (actually, it wasn't listed because it wasn't valid), and
rode hastily off into the setting sun.
At dawn of day two, after another night in
a village en-route to N'zeto (Border to Xamindele 5 hours actual driving
time (HADT) I continued to the coast with an increasing sense of
anticipation - I don't know exactly why but it was reminiscent of those
weekends of my childhood where as we got close to the coast I could almost
sense the sea - and when a beautiful blue apparition finally grew out of the
horizon I was not in the least bit disappointed. I never really thought of
Angola as being beautiful, but the coast drive, even with crappy roads, is
one of the great coast drives. The climate for some reason seemed to
remind me of summer in Spain - a clean dry heat that warms your bones and
puts you into a generally good mood. All in all spirits were high as I
continued down appalling roads which fortunately got a little easier until I
arrived at Caxito, where I stayed at a horrible brothel/disco where you were
glad of the loud music as it drowned out all the other sounds. (12 HADT).
Luanda, and it's a bank holiday
Day three began with an established pattern
of a ridiculously early start, with the intention of finding a coffee in
Luanda, as well as maybe Richard and Roxana. All three proved elusive -
after driving around town in search of an internet cafe or a cafe I
eventually turned up at the plush Meridian where, although I was dressed as
a tramp - and one of those dirty ones at that, they let me use the free
internet, and I managed to get myself an excellent, if expensive, coffee. No
news from R&R - had they survived? I set off armed with excellent directions
from an expat on what began as an excellent road Southwards along the coast.
Barra do Kunaza was beautiful - I stopped there for a steak lunch to make up
for a few days of bad eating, and continued along the picturesque route
through Porto Ambion, and Sumbe.
After the magnificent sea views I decided
that I just had to sleep on the beach, so some 30km South of Sumbe I
followed a track past several villages and after questioning the locals
found out that a Frenchman was living on the beach. That's how I met
Jean-Claude, who offered me the hospitality of his lovely beach, and shared
a well appreciated whisky with me as we chatted about life as a fisherman in
Angola. Dog tired, I retired to my tent at about ten, and slept to the sound
of the surf (er, that's 12HADT).
I awoke early once more - I was
increasingly aware of the days ebbing quickly away - day four of the five
permitted on my visa. South to Lobito, then the pretty Benguela where I
stopped for lunch and found an expensive and very slow internet cafe. From
my mail I found that R&R had already arrived in Windhoek, but frustratingly
they hadn't told me which route they'd taken. On then to Quilengues along a
road where pot holes had grown into craters, then into scale models of the
rift valley - thank god it was dry. 30km South of Quilengues, and totally
exhausted, I pulled into a campement, and as it was after 10pm set up my
tent and collapsed without introducing myself. (13HADT)
The Final Run
My final dawn was announced with a loud
"Bon Doi" and I emerged cold and bleary-eyed to a friendly welcome from the
local militia, whose camp I had infiltrated in the night. We shared some
biscuits, and then it was more of the relentless slog South. I knew from a
hitch hiker that I'd picked up the previous day that the road was lousy as
far a Lubango, then improved a little (It's funny how everybody in Angola
gave me accurate directions, reports on road conditions, and even spot-on
information on the number of kilometres to places - why was Chad so
At Cacula I picked up a sprightly lady on
the way to market with a heavy load (she tricked me). Fernanda helped guide
me along hte pistes which by now had deviated from the original (impassable)
road - we were driving on sand tracks and at times I hit a scorching 60kmh.
Then, near Hoque, I caught a whiff of diff oil. I checked the breather pipe
that had separated in Mali, but it was still in place. then I turned
to the rear, and to my horror saw that oil had sprayed all over the tyre
from a ruptured bearing seal. With no other option I continued to Lubango,
and hopped out to ask a Defender driver if the was a decent Land Rover
garage in town. As courteous as were all Angolans, he let Fernanda and I
follow him to an amazing sight - a real land Rover franchise complete with
an amazing workshop. With a bit of persuasion the garage agreed to skip
lunch and start work straight away, and Fernanda, disappointed, had to find
an alternative means of getting to the market.
At three I left in the knowledge that the
border would be closing at six, and it was a full eight hours drive away. My
plan was to sleep close to the border and blame the officials for closing so
early. Again, it was a long hard drive along generally good roads that would
suddenly dissolve into rubble - once the sun had set the brilliant Hella
spots (all six) made night driving a lot easier than day driving, but it was
a very tired Peter and Camel who pitched up at Ondjiva at 10pm.
I rough camped in a beautiful spot a few
clicks North of the border and slept soundly, and the following morning,
after a lie in as the border didn't open until 8am, I failed miserably to
find fuel (at 6p a litre versus 30p across the border), ran over a nail, and
successfully slipped through immigration into Namibia without anybody
noticing that I was a day over my visa. Result. Except for the flat tyre.