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Camel World  




Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home


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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles


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 difficult?).

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.