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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

EXPLORING ANGOLA


Now that we are in Angola, I am not going to bore you with border crossings or road conditions. But I will mention that diesel is the cheapest on this trip at 42 cents Aus per litre. We head across the country after checking the best route to Luanda with the locals. It takes us down to the coast, and it is lovely to camp right beside a gorgeous, nearly deserted beach. It is nearly even litter free.

In the morning we wander the beach and finally head off when locals start arriving. The main road continues south through lush forests with heaps of boab trees & what we call Dr Seuss trees. Occasionally we get close enough to the coast to see fishing villages. By lunchtime we head out to Shipwreck beach near Panguila, to look at all the wrecks that have been scuttled there. Quite an amazing site – there are dozens of them. Lunch break over we head to the city of Luanda. It is Friday afternoon so we are prepared for crazy traffic, but get side tracked when we spy a large supermarket. We really need to stock up. Then continue on the main road (and yes, it is an awesome road) with not much traffic, all the way in to the centre of the city and to the Yacht Club where we can camp for free! Awesome. Extra bonus: the views are amazing across yachts to the high rise of the city.

We are delighted that there is a German Overland vehicle there and we spend the evening & the next morning chatting to Christine & Thierry. Then we head our separate ways. We drive past the sights – the fortress (which looks pretty modernised), the Obelisk and the Presidents Palace. We are heading to the money changers street near the airport. The black market gives a much better rate than the bank – and as you know John can’t resist a good deal. Then we head out of this massive city (of over 8 million people- fortunately they don’t all have cars!)

We are heading to Angola’s famous waterfall, but with so much talking we really won’t make it today. We check on I-Overlander and find a spot off the main road. Perfect. We discover that our side road goes out to Pedras Negra (Black Rock) that Christine recommended, so we alter our plans and head out there first. Despite the drizzle they are pretty amazing rock formations. Here we meet a Lebanese guy who stops to chat. Always interesting to get a different perspective on a country as he has worked here for 7 years. Then we head up to the lookout for awesome views. As we leave, we stop to see the owners of another Overland truck we have spied camping in a scenic spot. We spend a while chatting to the four South African guys who are doing their dream trip combined with some serious rock climbing & drinking.

Then we head off to the waterfalls – Quedas de Calandula. We are heading to the Pousada that is on the eastern side of the falls where we can camp. We overnight in the carpark, walk to the bottom of the falls and have dinner in their rather expensive restaurant. The food is good, but no one else is there. In the morning we can’t resist taking GR2 down the track to the bottom of the falls for some photos. It would be a great camp spot, but it is a bit muddy at the moment.

When we head out in the morning we decide to go to the other side of the falls _ and this proves to be another magical perspective of the falls. Finally, time to retrace our way back towards N’dalatando and then start heading south. Such a variety of scenery as we pass through jungle, undulating farmland dotted with trees, countless thatched villages and of course people everywhere. The street is their zone to meet and chat, to sell their produce and for the kids to play. After many hours driving we pull over in a huge flat quarry for the night just north of Quibala. It is very peaceful. Foot traffic stops soon before dusk as the workers head home, shovels over their shoulders.

Today is a driving day with great road & magic scenery. There are huge smooth granite boulders and rows of mountain peaks. Awesome high alpine countryside. Occasionally black storm clouds roll over bringing bursts of rain. We reach the town of Huamba with its devasting history of many years of Civil War. Many of the buildings are still in ruins. It is also the food bowel of the country and there are crops everywhere, plus men, women (often with babies on their backs) & children working in the fields. Here too they are using their cattle to help with the ploughing. And it is here at Huamba that we have to decide which route to go. Both a policeman and the road signs point the inland road and all looks great for a while with brand new road, but then we get diverted off the new road and do not get back on it. For over 50km we trudge along a nasty rutted muddy track. Suddenly the seal starts again – much to our relief, but it is getting late and we need to find a campspot. The landscape is flat & there are villages & people everywhere. Not a quarry in sight! Finally, at the edge of the town of Caluquembe we see a petrol station. Perfect – we just need to give the guard a bit of cash and all is good. As it then proceeds to pour with rain, we are glad not to be in a quarry.

This morning when we stop for coffee, we meet some more Overlanders. A German couple in their huge MAN truck coming from Namibia. They stop and we swap travel info, before we head on to Lubango. We head right through the city and towards Namibe. We want to drive the iconic Leba Mountain Pass. First, we stop at the lookout for photos, then we tackle the drive. As we are not planning to go to Namibe we turn and head back up the pass. The sun is still high so we head to Tundavala Gorge with its great rocky escarpments to explore and we can camp here for the night at 2300 metres.  It is nice to have a cold night for a change

As we head further east the landscape gets dryer & the villages poorer. We see a lot of ladies in traditional garb, but find it very hard to snap a sneaky photo of them. In the end John asks for a photo!  We have a little detour out to see a giant Boab tree (32m in diameter) and rows of Russian tanks left over from the war. We could camp here but it is a bit early to stop so we carry on to a Catholic Mission not too far from the border (our very last this trip). The singing of the boys from the Seminary is lovely. Tomorrow we will head to the border.


ANGOLA - PHOTOS

Camping on the beach

Sunset

Catch of the day

John gave this lady a koala for her baby and she popped it here

Shanty town

Shipwreck Beach

Those Dr Suess trees

Our view from the Yacht Club in Luanda

Thierry & Christine with their rig

More housing

Pedras Negras/Black Rocks


More new friends

More villages

At the bottom of the falls

What a magic spot

From the other side

Drying ground up yams



Village meeting


Collecting water & gossip

Ploughing


Himba ladies in Lubango

The Leba Mountain Pass

Our sneaky photo

Making baskets - they use coloured plastic bags to add colour

Russian army tanks left here from the war

And that Boab tree

Sunday, December 1, 2019

FASTTRACKING THE CONGOS


Our first Congo is the Republic of Congo. We cross the bridge and they lift the barrier. And so, the process begins. All our details are taken by numerous people in different offices, one stamps in our carnet and the last stamps our passports. We are in and now have 280km of dirt track to traverse. We met a truck a few kms back and the friendly driver assured us that we could get through. But the first humongous puddle we come to we find a stranded deeply stuck in the mud truck. We have no choice but to plough right through the sticky deep middle. Fortunately, it is the worst. There are of course sections of mud, potholes, narrow bridges…we just keep moving. Numerous little villages with hundreds of kids running after us with their hands out. Then bigger towns as we get to cross large rivers. Finally, roadworks – they are simply dumping truckloads of dirt on the track to fill the huge wet patches. No rollers – the end result is not really much help. Then there are logging trucks turning onto our road – end result potholes & chewed up track. We won’t make it in one day so we pull off the side of the road. No traffic except logging trucks and some other overlanders who stop to chat for a while, the first ones we have seen for ages.

We head off bright and early to finish this track. There are more roadworks so one day this will be a good road. To our surprise they have already installed fancy toll booths- surely, we won’t have to pay. Fortunately, not! Then we turn to head to Pointe Noire on a fabulous new road and sadly this does have toll booth for real. The first one charges us truck rates (I really try but can’t talk him any less -over $36), but the second I get away with bus rates $5. But it is a magical drive through lush mountains. The only other traffic is trucks – perhaps half of them broken down. Finally, down the mountains and in to the city of Pointe Noir. We take the “scenic/longer route” past the markets & port before heading to our camp spot at La Brassiere del Mar right on the beach. The friendly owner lets overlanders camp in his carpark provided they eat in his restaurant. The beach is great (we go swimming) the deck chairs excellent, the sunset OK & pizza awesome. There is a night guard on duty, the night club down the road doesn’t stop us sleeping, but it does pour with rain in the night. Glad we have finished those bad tracks!

Monday morning sees us heading to the border bright and early – it is closed over the weekend. We have to navigate the busy streets, but fortunately the traffic is mostly going in to the city. The have countless minibus’ and taxis here. All the taxis are gorgeously painted blue & white with lots of swirls. Most of them stay sort of on their side of the road, but it is not unknown to meet some on the wrong side. Near the end of town, we find the intersection a Frenchman warned us about.  One big huge roundabout that looks like a lake. Water is being pumped out but more is rushing in. The unseen holes in the depths are massive. Just as well we have a high clearance.

Our excitement for the day over, we reach the border. This would have to be one of the nicest borders – so friendly & helpful and no one hassling us! Bonus. An hour and a half and we are in the Cabinda side of Angola. Crazily enough this is a section of Angola surrounded by the 2 Congo’s. We think maybe Angola hung on to it because of all the oil wells offshore & gas onshore. We plan to stay in Cabinda for the night rather than tackle another border today. The roads are great and Cabinda is a lovely town. We find a Sim and head out to the Catholic Mission where we can camp under a mango tree. We can relax, listen to choir practise and watch the sunset over the ocean.

Well time for our second Congo – this time the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC. They have a reputation for refusing visas not issued in your home country – so fingers crossed. It takes nearly an hour to get out of Angola and then another 5 hours to get in to DRC. They make us sit and wait as our request to enter goes up the chain. We are interviewed and our whole route planned. Eventually we are stamped in. YAY!! But it will now be too late to get to Matadi as planned, and we discover it will take a lot longer when we see the track/road. It is all sand – in places very soft. Sometimes it is hard to find the correct track. Believe it or not there is even a toll! So instead of Matadi we head to another Catholic Mission at the beach at Moanda.  Once in town we have to wind through sandy tracks to find the Mission. In the end a local hops in to guide us there. Today we drove a mere 54km.

In the morning we head to the main road and find tarseal for the first 500m, then churned up sand tracks. Miles of sand, red dirt, mud & potholes. It is very slow going. As we continue, we reach patches of roadworks. The guys are racking dry cement on the road & a machine is following with the tar. Not sure how long that will last. Finally, there is more seal than potholes and we can increase our speed, but we won’t reach the border today. At Boma there is a lovely brand-new road through town. We stop at a small wrecking yard in town for a no plate. After finding John the most beat up one, they can, they want 1000. (Peanuts). But when John hands them a 1000 note (Congolese franc) they say “No no, $1000 dollars!” Sorry buddy – no way. Keep it! A gun going off back up the street has everyone racing up the road to see the action. We high tail it out of there.

On through some truly lovely mountain scenery before dropping down to the massive Congo River. We can see the huge city of Matadi up ahead. Glad we are not staying there – traffic is appalling. All the trucks from Kinshasa (the capital) have to crawl through the city to the port on the river. Markets overflow, cars are parked and so in sections there is only one lane open! Absolutely crazy. Finally, through the city we head towards our border at Luvo. There is another Mission at Songololo where can stay – it is perfect. We will be ready for the border in the morning.

It pours in the night. We don’t think anything of it until we head to Luvo. Yet another soggy narrow track. Well at least the border will be quiet right! Coming out of the track we see a road (they tell us it is not open – but I beg to differ – how the heck did a massive town grow here with the only access that tiny track!). Well we are here now and engulfed in humanity! People everywhere. Carnet stamped we hunt for Immigration. Finally stamped out, but next is the bridge. It is only one way and trucks are pouring over. People, tuk-tuks, trolleys are shoving on our side to cross. Total African CHAOS!!! Finally, over to slightly more organised Angola (who speak Portuguese just to add to our challenges).  Paperwork done we are let through the gates.

Hello again Angola.


THE CONGOS - PHOTOS

Heading in to Congo - it was much worse than the photo looks!!! And that truck was stuck

Love this slushy slippery stuff!

By the roadside

And on the road

Gas wells 

Driving in to Pointe Noire

Ahhh the beach and our camp spot

Collecting another no plate...not sure where they will fit!!!

The famous flooded intersection in Pointe Noire

Back to the villages - now in Angola (the Cabinda section)

And the beach


Seat belts!!! Please what are they for?

The Church & Mission we stayed at in Cabinda

Oh yes we are now in DRC......love the sand roads! And the local taxis. Yes he is on the drivers side!

Poor little car!!!!

Still sand and slush

Oh and road works

And towns

Gossip while fetching water

Veges for dinner


Looking across the mighty Congo River to Matadi

The toll bridge to Matadi

7 or 8 inside so the last one has to sit on top

Last campspot in DRC - another Catholic Mission

Goodbye DRC

After that track we didn't expect so many people at Luvo town on the border - utter chaos