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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Final Angola

General things:
1.    Accurate information is very hard to come by. The maps we have do not reflect the ground conditions at all. The 2007 Reise know how map for Congo shows a major road to & from the border. The 2009 Angola map shows a major road to the border and a tar road immediately in DRC. In fact, the crossing is not suitable at all for vehicles. It is OK for pedestrians and dirt/off road bikes (I am not sure how a heavily laden road bike would go).
2.    The border crossing at one time may have been in good use as there are the remains of heavy vehicles and dilapidated buildings on the route. However, this must have been decades ago. Maybe it was a result of the infamous Berlin conference that “gave”the DRC to King Leopold.

 Angola
Overall we found Angola a progressive and nice place to be. Two things will stick; the people and the continual haze.
The best thing about Angola was the people. Initially the great people in our tour group, then as we became more comfortable, the Angolans. We found the local people always ready with a smile and to give a “thumbs up”. There were no security issues and the normally we felt safe leaving our stuff out in the open.
We were particularly impressed with the officials. The immigration people who went out of their way to give us additional time on our visa etc (as it turned out we did not need it, we passed through on te last day of our original visa).
In particular the police could not be more helpful. Koos and Jose said we should rely on them and we found this correct. That is a very comforting thought for travellers.
The big negative from our perspective were the roads. Coming out of 40 years’ war, this is understandable. However, it makes travel very tough.
From our experience, we would not recommend the Bradt Angola guide. Printed in 2010 it is massively out of date. Rating: 3/10.

Angola 4:
Day 18: today we started our journey south. Last night Koos presented us all with a certificate to recognise the achievement of making the Congo from the Cunene, all done over a few beers and a BBQ!
Today we covered the distance back to Musserra, and the camping area where Ray got bogged – so this time we camped on an area with green.
We stopped along the way to buy bread and some deep fried doe balls from a road side stall. We have noticed that there is little in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables in the north. Apparently the explanation is that with the bad roads, people will not take the risk of damage from bouncing around and delays (with associated degradation) in transport.
This was our last night by the beach, tomorrow we head back inland. Ray took the opportunity for a final swim. There were very loud waves for our last night.
The dust was incredible; we ended up with mm on the bonnet at the end of the day. So much for washing the car yesterday.
Ray’s turn to drive; 9 hours driving for 206 kms.S 070 34’ 35.4’’  E 0130 00’ 14.1’’

Day 19: Some drizzle in the morning, but we still have not seen the rainy season start in earnest –  but it may well be belting down inland. A long days drive back over the tar road that had been ripped by a bulldozer. That means – you got it; Avril’s turn to drive.
We got some fishing net wound around the rear driver’s wheel. This took some time to fix (with the assistance of a local chap (coach of the local soccer coach who had just lost 10:0) who was suitable rewarded). We needed to take off the rear wheel to get to the net and removed most, but not all of it. It seems to have impacted the good air bag! But, we will see over the next few days.
We are camped by a river (in a picnic area) in Caxito. After the isolation of the north, we need to get reacclimatised to being the object of curiosity and being openly stared at.
7 hours driving for 167 Km.S 080 33’ 00.9’’  E 0130 41’ 41.4’’

Day 20:Last night we dined captain’s table again; Isabelle’s lovely chicken a la king. Today was one of our more interesting days. We had a very pleasant drive to Uige. The route is marked in green on the Michelin map; the road takes you up the central Angolan highlands, through marvellous rainforest. The road has quite a number of low speed turns, so you can take time and enjoy the scenery; large hills (similar to the Otways in size) covered in rainforest and where agriculture had taken hold the long vista of rolling hills.
There were lots of fires from the traditional farmers (“slash & burn”). This made the longer view quite hazy. With the logging and farming now on encroaching the forest, you wonder how long the rainforest will remain.
The large number of wrecks at the side of the road reminded you that driving here is a serious business. We passed one crash only moments after it had occurred.
Today was also a day of police checks. At a one bridge the police copied down all out passport details (thanks Jose!). The next check (whilst we were filling with fuel) was a little more tricky. Clearly the local sergeant was looking for a bribe. The initial asking was really off the planet. Koos used his contacts to “phone a friend”; who instructed the local officer to let us proceed – but life is not like that. In the end we got our vehicle import papers back and some money changed hands. All very interesting for us.
Along the way we managed to get some fresh bread, bananas and tomatoes.
The road was good tar all the way (Ray’s turn to drive). 279 km. Tonight we are camping at the local airport (not in use at the moment). S 070 36’ 11.9’’  E 0150 01’ 46.5’’

Day 21: a bad night’s sleep as the police sent to keep watch over us talked loudly and made maximum noise with their vehicles at shift change.
A very frustrating day. The Land Rover on the trip decided to get a bad oil leak, so we all waited around Uige whilst the problem was identified and repair started. We took the opportunity to replenish some supplies.
At ~ 11:30 we started our days drive (sans the Land Rover who needed to wait for the repair to be finalised). We drove out with police sirens blaring to clear the way – this was fun until we released that the police had now decided we needed close personal protection for the rest of the day. We had about 30 km of good tar, and the police decided to maintain speed under 40 km/hr. When we changed from one police command area to the next, we waited ~ 45 minutes whilst a vehicle was found for the rest of the journey.
Tracks 4 Africa (T4A) described the road now as “broken tar/gravel”: translated that means lots of kilometres of hell. The road had deep bad pot holes or trenches across the whole road and one ~ 80 km stretch had a deep scar running down the center of the road. Often times the gravel track at the side of the road was a better alternative. To make matters more interesting, the police in the new area decided that formula 1 speed was appropriate. Going through the villages with goats, pigs and chickens running across the road was an additional danger. Poor Avril had a very tough time, but did an excellent job.
The country side probably used to be rain forest, but is now rolling grass lands denuded of almost all trees. It gives a wide/long vista and was really quite interesting – too bad we did not have time to enjoy it.
We arrived at our destination Kalandula water falls in time to have a quick look and make camp just before dark. At ~ 105 m high the falls are the 2nd highest in Africa. The are> 400 m wide and there is almost a veil fall over most of the width. As a connoisseur of water falls, these are a fantastic sight. Very glad to be here and to have seen them.
239 km. S 090 04’ 28.3’’  E 0150 59’ 55.3’’

Day 22: after morning ablutions, Ray headed out to take a better look at the falls. Then most of the group went up stream of the falls for a river bath – very nice.
We then drove on good roads to PedraNegras – black rocks. For Australians, the best description we can give is that, from a distance they are vaguely in similar in appearance to Katajuta National Park. They did not appear to be all that black. We went to a view point on the top of one of the domes for a fine view of surrounding domes and the country side.
Along the way there sugar cane fields.
We managed again to get fresh bread and some avocadoes from a road side market.
Then on to Dondo and our camp at the Kwanza River, on white river sand. Up to this point Ray’s record of having the easy roads was holding up. Then the road went down hill, the dust was very thick and made driving hazardous. With the potholes and wash out, it was not fun.

The layers on the side wall of one of our fairly new (expensive) Goodrich tyres separated and developed a bubble. We were fortunate that one of the others in the group noticed (it was on the inside) and so with the assistance of everyone we had a quick tyre change and were on our way. The Goodrich allterrain tyres have not held up well at all. I am not sure if it was a bad batch or other reason, but both of the tyres look badly worn. By comparison the Dunlop tyres on the front that came with the vehicle when bought it look good.
The high light of the day was seeing our very 1st Angolan road repair crew.
8 hours on the road; 298 km, S 090 45’ 25.2’’  E 0140 30’ 35.5’’

Day 23: As I write this I am surrounded by literally 50 kids, all keen to see what is happening. We are camped by a church at Waco Kungo.
A fairly easy day drive on tar road, so for once Avril got a relaxing day. Through some interesting mountains. With the fires and heat it is difficult to get pictures.
After a few cooler nights, the temperature has now increased. So we are sweating it out a bit.
In the morning Ray changed the passenger side rear tyre for a mud tread. After all the work,  into the river for a quick bath. Avril pumped the tyres by herself for the 1st time.
We went to one market for fresh fruit & veg and into another largish market for a look see.
Koos then showed us bridge 14, site of a 1975 battle between the FNLA/RSA & MPLA/Cubans and described the battle.
Then onto Waco Kungo, which interestingly is the site of a Kibbutz program run by the Israelis.
We can confirm that the air bag suspension on both sides in not operating – so all the folks in Adelaide can give the Mile End Opposite Lock a big raspberry.
120 Km of good tar. S 110 22’ 09.1’’  E 0150 07’ 00.0’’

Day 24: last night was our final night with the Angola crew, so it was a bit sad. Koos said a prayer for all of us and wished us well for the rest of the trip. Then we went around the brai circle and everyone said a few words. Every one wished us well for our trip and said they would pray for us – which is very comforting.
One of our towels was stolen from the line – which is a timely reminder of the need to be careful. We now have 1 towel; that is togetherness.
Today was a good day: We got up early as Koos altered the planned trip to go through Huambo to ensure we got a new spare tyre. When he was assured that we were OK, we said our farewells; we were a little teary. A week ago Peter (son) had asked what the best thing about Angola was and had Ray replied, the people on the trip. We really hope to see them in a couple of years when we are back down the RSA way.
The tyre process took ~ 45 minutes and we were on our way – alone. We drove through Kuito, and they did not have fuel; mmmmm. But then in some non-descript village, we found gasoleo! There was queue for gasoline & nearly WW3 with the people trying to get it, but no one for diesel, so straight to the front of the queue. Very comforting for Ray who stresses if the dial is marginally off full.At Kuitothe road degrades to a T4A “road”: translation in the this case is badly deteriorated dirt track. But, not as bad as we have been on before. The road passed through the middle of markets etc.
Then, there was a bridge down – with charades & mud maps we managed to find an alternative route, along bush tracks, through railway bridges;etc all the time asking passer byes the way. Finally we got to Quemba, on the road to the DRC border. We were going to look for a hotel (the map said there was one, but the maps have been very wrong up to this point), but happened on the police station 1st. Koos& Jose had said that we should ask the police for a safe place to stay and they would always look after us (Jose has written down a few critical sentences which came in handy at this point). So we are now camped behind an official residence (we think?), with a personal police guard and even a shower before dinner – what more could you ask for. We had a large group of keenly interested locals watch the tent go up, they were suitable impressed. A very good day!
Ray drove 487 km. S 120 08’ 48.9’’  E 0180 05’ 31.3’’

Day 25: after early rising, we made breakfast (including for our police guards – we am not sure what they thought of porridge). We then set out on what turned out to be our most difficult day driving – Avril driving of course. The “main road”, initially probably a track, has been turned into a construction track for the Chinese who are upgrading the railway. The initial track was probably OK for the few vehicles a day it took, but the 1,000s of vehicle movements now have made the whole route a complete mess. At times the road is closed as fill has been dumped on the road (we waited at one point for the bulldozer to spread out the fill so we could pass). The Chinese truck drivers pay no attention to others on the road and use their vehicle size to intimidate to the maximum. At one point we had to negotiate passing a truck – there was insufficient room and neither of us could change get out of the ruts we were in. We cannot work out the approach to the construction task; they have multiple work faces with no apparent connection between the various sections, the concept of an absolutely terrible construction road must be bad for truck cycles and maintenance, but that seems to be the way the operate.
We spent the whole day in difficult 4WD (feeling like we were permanently on a mechanical bucking bull), at time not really sure whether or not we would make it through. The air bag suspension would have assisted, but of course it is buggered. The whole thing was very, very stressful.
The area seems basically unoccupied, we passed 3 or 4 villages the whole day, and these had not recovered from the war. The buildings were all shot out and the villages had almost a ghost town vibe. A nice aside was that in one village the police stopped us and drafted a note to get through the remaining check points. Very sweet.
On a good note, this has forced us to take a look at the idea of passing through Katanga then up the N1. Koos put us in contact with Christo Potgieter (from Anglo American) who works close to Kolwezi. He has advised there has been heavy rain in the region and trucks are already getting stuck. We always said we would go directly north if the rains had started. We have fortunately not been rained on, however the big pot holes full of water in this area show that there has been rain in the area.
More importantly, today’s stress has allowed us to look at the reason we are here: people, villages, wonderful scenery and game parks. The route though DRC would not provide any of this. Rather it would be a 4 WD ordeal. We are OK for a challenge, but really do not see the point of ~ 4 weeks 10 hours per day very stressful 4WD driving. So we will now look to proceed north out of Angola.
We are in Luena. Unfortunately all the “decent” hotels were full, so a clerk at one of the hotels took Ray out to a more local hotel and we had no choice but to stay there. We are sitting having a nice meal of steak & chips and a beer/sprite.  Could be a very interesting night!
For our sins we also spent time with the local immigration people. They asked us to come back at 18:00, which we dutifully did, but they did not show up.
257 kms in 8 hours.S 110 46’ 51.9’’  E 0190 53’ 18.9’’

Day 26: after a restless night due to bar noise and the concern about the cleanliness of the hotel, we were up early and on the road by 06:00. For the 1st time we had breakfast on the road.
The road turned out to be a mixture of heaven & hell. 11 hours for 402 km: ~ 200 km was very good tar, 200km/hr, the hell was “broken tar” (T4A). That it was, massive potholes and bumps meant we rode the mechanical bull again today. It seems that the original construction had paving stones then bitumen on top of this (I am not sure how this complies with the flexible pavement concept). As soon as one stone comes loose a very sharp pot hole starts to develop. The hole develops into a gigantic, vertical edge, full road width monster. Some > 3’ deep!
We have not commented on the vegetation/scenery over the past few days; it has basically been quite flat and just “scrub”. So with the lack of side interests, we are preoccupied with the road!! Basically we are on our way to Kinshasa, and there is not too much in the middle.
That said today we did pass a very nice water fall on the Chiumbe River.
Sunday must be washing day, at all the creeks/rivers there were lots of people out washing bodies & clothes. In one spot there must have been 200 m2covered with clothes drying.
We drove a little late, but managed to get near Lucapa and camp near a police post, outside a ready mix works.
For the 1st time today we have had serious rain – so the decision to come north looks correct. Lots of lightning and thunder. We managed to get the camp up during a break in the rain and for the 1st time ate in-doors.
Ray drove (hence 50% good tar). S 080 28’ 10.7’’  E 0200 40’ 14.7’’

Day 27: a pretty awful day. We rose early full of expectations of entering the DRC. The road was very good to start with &Avril was driving, what was this then?? However, soon it deteriorated to a terrible mess of mud, potholes and bumps, so the natural order was restored! We got to Dundo near the border~11:00, but there were no signs to the border, so we kept asking the police the way & they kept giving directions. Finally we reached a dead end, so back to a police station, the commander then took matters into hand and personally drove to immigration whilst we followed – that was very nice of him.
At immigration we were ushered in to see the chief, which is a big deal. He looked at our passports and took us to a nearby room to wait. We chatted to the chap in the room about the border and he gave us very detailed instructions on how to get there – quite surreal given the following events. The chief informed us that the Lunda Nord – DRC border was closed, gutted cannot describe our reaction! We has spoken to numerous people along the way (including immigration officers) about our intention and not one ever mentioned the possibility of a closed border.
We now face 2 issues; our visas run out in 4 days. The chief assured us many times that we can get an extension easily in Saurima – Lunda south. We will see tomorrow.  We also face 7 – 10 days of terrible roads to make another border – some of it over the mess we thought we had left behind. It is the latter that gives us most grief. Whilst we are OK with the 4WD stuff, that is not the point of the trip, it is the means to get to attractions etc. So the thought of covering the same ground again is just painful.
A politically incorrect observation; along the road the local/Angolan drivers are always ready with a big smile & a wave. They will move over to let you past and have some idea of road courtesy. On the other hand, the Chinese drivers tend to use their vehicles as offensive weapons to demand the best road access. Rarely do the return a wave.
Given the appalling state of the road, there is amazing the level of commercial activity on the road. There are a large number of trucks and regular bus routes. Human endeavour is incredible. You get used to the sight of vehicles weaving all over the road like drunks and the normal safety distances cannot be applied, you can go quite close to an oncoming vehicle to avoid a chasm. We are getting near mm perfect on locating our tyres in the road. We also need to act as a team, one driving and one spotting the next hazard or identifying the better route.
We are back at the same camp site as last night, but this time inside the Chinese work site. All the Chinese workers came and had a look at the vehicle, marvelled at the gadgets and took photos. Just the tonic we needed after the poor afternoon.
S 080 28’ 10.7’’  E 0200 40’ 14.7’’. 261 km.

Day 28: we were up early and the 141 km to Saurimo took ~ 4 hours. Avril drove and along the way Ray used his new gadget (electronic translator) and phrase book to compose 6 sentences to define our predicament in (grammatically incorrect) Portuguese. We changed into long pants outside town and went to Immigration.
The people there could not have been more helpful, they phoned the immigration chief in Dundo and quickly we were filling in the necessary forms. 1.5 hours later we had a 30 day extension to our visas. Absolutely fantastic. They even assisted in filling in the forms. We could not be more thankful.
Overwhelmingly we have found the Angolan officials more than ready to assist if you ask. They look for solutions and not stoppers.
We then withdrew money from an ATM (Bradt guide says this is not possible), filled up with Gasoleo and were quickly on our way. Even though Avril was driving, the road was good tar.
We were stopped just outside Cucolo at a “political road block”; 2 blokes in uniform, one wanted food and one money. So, Ray paid his 1st bribe;    a packet of biscuits and $1.00.
We have now even gotten a change in scenery, we are driving through rolling hills with ~ 100 m from peak to trough, sort of like a big roller coaster. We drove through a fierce rain storm, reducing visibility to 10 or 20 m and speed to 40 km/hr.
Tonight we have parked in an abandoned gravel dump. Our 1st solo “wild camp”.
Avril drove 413 km.  S 090 28’ 46.8’’  E 0180 35’ 40.0’’

Day 29: a very bad nights sleep. It turned out that we were camped on the path to a charcoal workers camp. One of the workers came by late at night, clearly under the influence of, I do not know what. He then spent the next few hours wandering about talking at the top of his voice, looking for the way to the camp. A bit stressful at the start, he was probably also a quite a few shillings short of the full 10 bob.
We got off to an early start, Ray driving on very good tar. Initially the road was not all that inhabited, but then for one ~ 50 km stretch there were people walking along the road in both directions, quite colourful. However, a number of the towns have a very poor approach to cleanliness. We were a little disgusted at the putrid mess & smell left by people throwing all their waste into the street and then that being mixed with rain to create a floating sewer. Some of the villages make the effort to dig waste pits, but others do not seem to bother.
The road was narrow in places and we were more than a little terrified (I must get to understand Confucius better) by the antics of some truck drivers who demanded >> 50% of the road. At one point we were following a red (most popular car colour here) celica and a very small child ran onto the road. The celica stopped very quickly, waved us down to slow, then the driver got out with grabbed a stick with the intent of teaching some road sense to the elder children. May not be our idea of civic duty, but maybe they will not let the child go around unsupervised again, The tar of course eventually started to degrade with potholes and then to a single mud track (this is the main east ~ west road). But, we made good time and were in Malange by 10:00. 30 min to get gasoleo, fruit and bread and we were on our way.
Good and bad road on the way back to Uige. We were rewarded with a wonderful drive in the afternoon along a long green valley with great vistas. We got to Uige ~ 15:30 and Avril immediately tried to check into the best/only hotel in town. The initial answer was “we are full”, but she used all her charm to get us a room – pure luxury.
Then off to see the police Commander (friend of Koos). Again the police could not have been more helpful. The local commander guided us back to the hotel and checked on out vehicle security etc, We have also been promised an escort to just near the border tomorrow, which may slow us a bit, but is absolutely fantastic.
We are staying at the Grand Hotel, S 070 36’ 50.4’’  E 015003’ 09.8’’. 628 km.

Day 30: a good night sleep in a “proper” bed! Unfortunately, habit being the way it is, we woke up early anyway. We had paid someone to wash the vehicle, so we had clean bodies and clean clothes for once.
We had a full police escort out of town and to the next town. Unfortunately, the chain broke down there, as the next 2 municipalities did not have any vehicles, and the request for formal assistance could not be passed on (it seems that word of mouth is the way orders are passed on). That was to have serious consequences later.
The road was very good all the way to Maquela do Zombo. That was a very pleasant surprise. However, from then on it was badly down hill – it deteriorated to bush bashing. The last 26 km to the BanzaSosso border took over 3 hours. We picked up a passenger on the way, who sat on the roof. He was a local chap who knew the various tracks etc and that was helpful.Avril did a fantastic job, as really there was no road at all.
We were warmly welcomed at the border post and reasonably quickly had the police and immigration formalities completed.
Then: problem!! BIG problem. There is no customs post at BanzaSosso, apparently we were supposed to have our carnet stamped at Maquela do Zombo. Though how you are supposed to know that, we are not sure. No amount of pleading could change the situation. We do not want to drive back, and to be honest the vehicle could struggle up some of the more difficult slopes (that is how bad the 4WD aspects were).
So, now Ray needs to go back to Maquela do Zombo and get the carnet signed. He will go by motor bike in the morning.
We are camped at the border post.
303 km. S 050 52’ 28.1’’  E 0150 14’ 51.6’’. 628 km.

Day 31: Ray set off very early on the back of a Police motor bike. What took 4 hours by car was done in < 1 hour by bike. The bike can take foot paths and, one detour that took 1 hour by car (due to a massive road wash out) was taken at the side by the bike in 5 minutes. The carnet was signed in very quick time. More time was taken over some market shopping and the police officer visiting one of his 2 wives. There was a massive domestic dispute, which involved this wife taking a number of swings at the policeman. The ride back was a little less easy and clearly the police office was thinking about his wife and wanted to discuss this with Ray.
Ray arrived back at ~ 10:30, just as Avril was getting out of bed! Ray could hardly get off the bike and walk – sore knee and buttocks. All the crew at the post laughed themselves to a stupor at that. New respect for Richard Head.
Ray: “ having now travelled the route 2 more times, you can see what a fantastic job Avril did. Absolutely fantastic. Some stretches were very scary”
We then, finally, left Angola.

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