Monday, June 25

Angola - The untravelled North

Brett: Crossing the border from DRC is a dramatic change - it suddenly becomes peaceful and sparsely populated. The buildings at border control are all new and it took a while to figure out where to go. The guys at immigration seemed to take a while to work out what to do with us, too. The customs guy was very friendly, giving us tips on the best places to go dancing in Luanda. He was very meticulous as he stamped the carnet and filled out the custom document in Portuguese that we would need to show at roadblocks. Someone then came to search our car - we could see he was very curious about our setup, but also too polite to ask too many questions.

We changed some money in Luvo and had some lunch. We instantly liked the place and it was starting to feel fairly familiar and Southern African rather than West African. The little shops were a bit more expensive than other countries, but very friendly and nobody around was begging. A guy selling sodas in a bucket came over to us singing and dancing. He had a huge smile on his face and when we said no, he left still singing, dancing and smiling.

The road from the border starts out as good tar through great scenery. There was still no fuel at Mbanza-Congo. At the checkpoint in town, the police signaled us to wait a little while, but didn't ask too many questions, and then waved us through. As we left town, a police pickup passed us with its lights flashing and were waving for us to follow them. We quickly figured out that they wanted to escort us, so we kept driving slower and slower and finally stopped - we were lucky enough to not have a transit visa and so had no time constraints. Apparently they were ordered to escort us because a tourist had been killed in the North once and that they would be in trouble with the police chief if they let us travel alone. With a big language barrier (made bigger by the fact that they didn’t want to understand our arguments), we eventually managed to phone the police station and speak to somebody in English. We convinced him that our safety was our own responsibility and that we could go on our way. Our police escort reluctantly agreed and we drove off, but just before we were out of sight, they started following again at a distance. We pretended to stop for the loo and they passed us. Just as they went out of sight, we turned around and raced back the way we came, turning up a side road which lead up to a cell phone tower. This was a perfect spot for freecamping, with great views, so we set up camp just before sunset (S6 28.841 E13 57.089). We felt like fugitives as we played cards that night (Luke and Shell taught us 500 and Black Mariah) and at about 10pm, the police finally found us. They were quite friendly, and joked with us about sneaking away from them, but they wanted to leave someone camping with us, and we were back to square one with not wanting a police escort. Eventually after a lot of back and forth and going over the same ground, they suddenly gave up, and with massive smiles, waved and left. We had a peaceful night and at sunrise, the care taker / guard of the cell tower turned up. He pretty much ignored us, turning on some music on his radio and getting on with his chores. We made him some coffee and tried out our appaling Portugese on him, before setting off for the day.

We stopped for a snack at Tomboco - the dough balls in the market are highly recommended. Everyone was extremely friendly and wanted us to take group pictures with them. There were a few more police checkpoints that were expecting us - someone had radioed ahead telling them that we were coming and they all wanted to give us an escort, but they didn't argue too hard when we told them we didn’t need one. We got some petrol in Nzeto for $1 per litre from a plastic barrel - it was expensive for Angola, but cheap compared to most other countries. All the other fuel stations had either run out or were still under construction. We also managed to fill up our water at the town bore hole – with the pumps running it was too noisy to talk to each other, but when we showed them our jerrycans they knew what we were after and were happy to fill us up. We found a great spot on the beach just south of Nzeto and camped there (S7 18.05 E12 53.053). A school group turned up for a few hours, but ignored us – what a pleasure it was to be back in the land of easy freecamping! Angola still has some land mines in places from the war (mosly in the South Eastern corner of the country), but it was easy to find well used tracks to good free camp spots.
In the afternoon, a helicopter flew directly over us and we joked that it was the police again, come to check on us. We were suddenly back in the land of cool evenings, but we played a fairly drunken few games of pictionary until late into the night anyway.

What remains of the famously bad road is between Nzeto and Barra do Dande, but a new road is being built. The bumps are large and rounded, so driving over them feels a lot like a roller coaster. We drove through amazing dense baobab forests, with great and varied scenery through the day. After a long day, we reached the tar at Barra do Dande and set up camp at the top of a hill (S8 27.18 E13 24.065), overlooking the bay and the palm forests.

Mary: We had a lazy morning, and left late after a good breakfast. I bought a radiator cap from a guy on the side of the road thinking that it would solve the mystery of the disappearing water (no visible leaks). It didn't, really, but we had no issues carrying on if we topped up the water level every morning. The first proper petrol station was just north of Luanda, very modern and with a brand new bank & ATM next door, near the turn off for the Bay of Wrecks. It was about 950km since the last petrol in Brazzaville, and we hadn't filled up our jerry cans there, but we had seen diesel on the way at Songololo. We also found an accurately named shop called Bom Pao (Good Bread), where we stocked up on beautiful Portuguese rolls straight out of the oven. We drove down to the beach and then along it a short way to where the wrecks are. Apparently the Portuguese wrecked their ships here rather than letting the "enemy" have them when they abandoned the country. We still had some individually wrapped portions of decent French butter filched from a restaurant in Gabon, so we treated ourselves to some hot bread and good butter for lunch. There were some fishermen pulling in nets that were a few hundred metres long, so we watched them for a while and when the catch eventually came in we bought some fish for dinner. We bought some groceries on the outskirts of Luanda, but couldn't convince ourselves to brave the traffic and check out the most expensive city in Africa – despite knowing the name of the best nightclub from the guy at Customs. On our way past we stocked up with more “bom pao” – somehow we had eaten our way through about 8 Portuguese rolls at the beach. We are definitely back in the land of plenty, with shops, petrol, & cash getting easier to find.

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