Northern Angola, somewhere between Tomboco and the Congo Border
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Angola Trip Journal from March 28 to April 08, 2008

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Country: Angola
Duration: Mar. 28 to April 08, 2008.
Distance Traveled in the Country: Approx. 2400km on the motorcycles, of which 1800km on dirt roads.
Most Memorable Impressions:
A country that we will never forget.  It took all our strength, willpower and mental state to make it through.  We thought we were prepared, but the real Africa caught up with us.  Tourism is non-existing.  The roads are bad, but for the most part passable.  The rainy season from August to May means torrential rains every day.  The people reserved, but curious.  Villages and towns once lined with colorful Portuguese houses are dilapidating and turning into ghost towns.  Our worst nightmare became reality as one of our motorcycles broke down 85km from the Angolan/Democratic Republic of Congo border on the worst road we had ever experienced and in the midst of a jungle without any other traffic.  We told ourselves, if we would make it out of here we would make it any where.
Our Favourite:
- Leba Lookout
Fuel Cost: 40KZ/litre ($0.53CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
Accommodations: Wild camped (7) nights, paid camping (2) nights for 2000KZ/night ($27.00CDN/night) and two (2) nights hotel for 2000KZ/night ($27.00CDN/night) and 14250KZ/night ($190.00CDN/night).
Exchange Rate: 75 Kwanza (KZ) = $1.00CDN
Border Formality Costs: Angola Visa = $100.00CDN/person, Motorcycle Customs = N/A at entry from Namibia.

Mar. 28, 2008. We enter Angola from Namibia at Oshikango Border Crossing.  It is a busy border with lots of traffic, people and illegal smuggling.  I stay with the motorcycles while Mike goes off in search of the immigration office.  We say good-bye to English and Bom Dias to Portuguese.  The passports receive an entry stamp and we are advised that the motorcycles do not require any paperwork.  The first 100km from Oshikango is paved, then the road is mainly under construction until it deteriorates into a trail, with huge mud water holes. Evidence of the recent war are still visible everywhere.  Abandoned tanks and other military equipment are left to waste away on the side of the road.  Running into the bush for a bathroom break is not that easy, as land mines are a serious problem.  We stay on well cleared and compacted grounds, following the foot prints of locals.  Bush camping is out to the question.  Just before sunset we reach Cahama, a small settlement.  Fueling up with gasoline we inquire for near by accommodations.  A so called Pension is straight ahead.  With rain looming over head our best option.  The room without bathroom is $25.00US/night.  No mosquito netting, the bedding was questionable, but two (2) condoms were provided on the night stand.  We used our sleeping bag and applied 80% Deet all over our body.  The bathroom was an experience, no running water, the toilet had no flush, the sink no taps.  A bucket of water is all that is provided.  We are starving and a meal of rice and some tough beef is 2000KZ ($27.00CDN).  Prices are definitely steep compared to what you get especially compared to other eastern African countries.  As the sun sets, the generator kicks-in and the Disco starts only meters from our room.  It did shut-down at around 5am, allowing us to sleep for a couple of hours.

Mar. 29, 2008.  Realizing we are back in the real Africa, we set out on our merry way toward Lubango.  The approx. 200km stretch is mainly under construction and slow going.  Along the way we encounter many traditionally dressed folks.  A specific instance has stuck with us.  We were riding past a river and numerous women were cleaning themselves.  As we approach they were jumping up and down waving excitingly at us.  There is something unique about half naked women showing there bouncing boobies.  We both had the biggest grin on our faces.  Too bad it was not caught on camera.  Lubango is a larger town, surrounded by a high plateau.  A replica of the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro has been placed on a hill overlooking Lubango.  The town itself is easy to navigate.  The town center still has a strong  resemblance of a Portuguese town.  The church at the center is probably the largest reminder of a once Portuguese colony.  The GPS waypoint we have leads us directly to the Casper Lodge.  We inquire about camping at this upscale Lodge.  The adjacent campground is under construction and closed to the public.  We convince reception to let us stay anyway on the grounds.  The bathroom facilities are useable, but mainly under construction.  We try bartering for a discount, but are stuck to pay 2000KZ ($27.00CDN)/night.  After setting up the tent in the rubble beside where the staff cleans the rich and famous vehicles, we ride into the center of town in search for some cheap food.  No such luck, the rice and liver meat (which we could not eat) was 1800KZ ($25.00CDN).  We were baffled to how the locals could afford these prices. The lodge we camped at was 12000KZ ($160.00CDN)/night for a room.

Mar. 30, 2008.  The 190km road from Lubango west to the coastal town of Namib is paved and in good condition.  From Lubango we climb to over 2000m in elevation and ride along the high plateau for about 30km, than the most spectacular view appears.  At the Leba viewpoint, we pass a gated check-stop.  The road splits and follows the rim of a vertical 1000m drop-off to a look out point.  The view is totally amazing.  A perfect engineered road winds its way via switchbacks from the high plateau to the valley below.  In the far distance the Atlantic Ocean.  It is early morning and the sky still without a cloud.  We did not expect this.  As we descend the switchbacks we encounter an upside down mini-bus crashed into the side of the cliff, left here maybe to remind these maniac mini-bus drivers to slow down.  The descent is over 20km long.  The green lush scenery changes to desert.  The coastal town of Namib is situated around a port with sand as far one can see.  Prior to reaching Namib we drop into a river canyon.  Temperatures increase.  A festival is in full swing and has taken over the only campground in town.  The GPS Coordinates for another Overlander place led us to a now abandoned/shut down complex.  The only pension that had a room available was 7200KZ ($96.00CDN)/night.  A couple of large ship wrecks line the beach.  The town itself a ghost town, maybe because it was Sunday.  Traffic is non-existing as we cruise up and down the one ways of this once nice Portuguese town.  We spot a sandwich shop in the middle of the boulevard and take a wrong turn down a one way for 50m. After parking the motorcycles a police officer approaches us and requests to see our passports.  Mike instantly is suspicious and hands the officer his passport without letting go of it.  There is a bit of a struggle, but Mike insists in holding on to the passport.  Our suspicion is correct, he outlines that we went down a one way the wrong way and Mike played dumb.  He was not going to get any cash from us.  We ignored the officer and walked to the sandwich shop to purchase some lunch.  With accommodations out of our price range, we decided to return to Lubango.  There was not much else to see in Namib.  Late afternoon we arrived on the outskirts of Lubango and detoured to the Statue of Christ the Redeemer for a close up look.  Then we set up camp at the same spot in the Casper Lodge for 2000KZ ($27.00CDN)/night.  After a home cooked (Mike cooked) meal we head for bed.

Mar. 31, 2008. When asking the locals about the road conditions ahead or how long it takes to reach a certain destination, the answer should be taken with a grain of salt.  The stretch from Lubango to Huambo is approx. 400km. Locals reply that normally it takes about four (4) hours, but with our motorcycles it should only take about three (3) hours.  It actually took us 13 hours with one break of half an hour for fuel.  Not one vehicle past us on this stretch of road (main highway through Angola).  We realize that no one actually travels these roads and therefore are clueless to their conditions or how long it takes.  We were forewarned by Robo that Angola had the worst roads in Africa and that the potholes were endless. At the time we said that we can get around potholes pretty easy, and make better time then vehicles.  In reality the potholes were not leaving much of the pavement visible.  What was left of the pavement was more a hindrance then useful.  There was no getting around potholes.  Some could have swallowed the entire motorcycle.  Conditions changed constantly.  The potholed road gave way to deep mud rutted groves within a thick forest.  We took everything in stride and after the sunset we decided to continue riding.  We arrived late in Huambo. Scanning each building in search for accommodations.  Tired, exhausted and hungry we found a sign "Hotel Nino".  We park the motorcycles in front and another vehicle pulls up behind us.  Local business man approach Mike, excited about us and the motorcycles.  Meanwhile I arrange a room for the great price of 14250KZ ($190.00CDN)/night.  Did we care? No. The room did have a nice bed and a TV.  For another 3600KZ ($48.00CDN) we had an excellent meal. It felt good.

Apr. 01, 2008.  Several sources had told us that the road from Huambo to Luanda (Angola's Capital) was newly completed.  Nice Pavement greeted us for the first 60km and then it was back to construction, detours etc.  Out of the 600km stretch only half was actually tarred.  It took us all day to reach Luanda.  It rained on and off.  We arrived on the outskirts of Luanda at around 5pm.  The GPS indicated 30km to the city center.  Traffic came to a crawl and it took us four (4) hours to reach our destination.  The Nautica Sailing Club lies on a Peninsula, but due to the rain and construction the road leading to it was completely clogged up by traffic.  After another brutally long day we had made it.  We set up our tent in the parking lot.  There was a constant stream of vehicles entering and leaving the parking lot.  A gym was located on premises running classes from 6:30 to 9:30pm and a restaurant.  We were exhausted and glad to have a spot to sleep.

Apr. 02, 2008.  In the morning before 8am we walked the 2km or so to the centre of town along the waterfront.  There is a lot of construction occurring and it seems that the waterfront is being expanded as sand is deposited at the shore.  Downtown we buy a meat/cheese sandwich from the street vendors.  A man helps with the communication.  As he speaks English we ask him if he can help us by calling the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Embassy to confirm the address.  His cell phone is out of minutes and we purchase him 900KZ worth of minutes from Anabella.  The phone number from the Lonely Planet for the DRC Embassy is no longer accurate.  Anabella, the phone minute vendor, helps out by giving David a number for someone who works at the DRC Embassy. After a call, we have now the new address for the Embassy.  David explains that two (2) separate taxis are required to get close to the location, but then we have to ask for directions.  As he is on his way to work, we thank him for his help. We buy a couple of Coca Cola and eat our sandwiches.  All along discussing how to proceed on getting these different taxis figured out without any knowledge of Portuguese.  Suddenly David reappears telling us that he spoke with is boss and he was free to take us to the DRC Embassy.  We proceed to the taxi pick-up area.  Taxi's look like normal cars and we would have never figured out the system.  In no time we are at the Embassy.  Jake at the Embassy pulls us into an air conditioned sitting area and we complete the paperwork, plus copy of passport, picture and $130.00US/person.  David helps with the translation of the forms.  We are advised to return at 4pm to pick-up the DRC Visa.  Back on the street we waypoint the location on the GPS and David finds the right mini-bus to take us back Downtown for 50KZ ($0.67CDN)/person.  We thank David by purchasing him more minutes for his cell phone.  We walk back along the waterfront to the Sailing Club Campsite.  Taking the motorcycle we return to the DRC Embassy by 3:30pm to pick-up our passports.  But there is a problem and my form indicates that I do not have a valid Angolan Entry Stamp and the Visa can not be processed.  We show them the Angolan Entry stamp in my passport.  Then we are told to return to Windhoek in Namibia to apply for the DRC Visa.  Mike explains to the official that we are traveling around Africa and it is not possible to leave Angola, because of Visa issues and not to mention traveling back on those wonderful roads.  This person was pretty ignorant as he spoke to us only in French.  We finally were told that if we got a reference letter from the Canadian Consulate in Luanda, they would process our Visa.  We had no idea where the Canadian Consulate was located, but Jake came to our rescue.  On his way to pick-up his daughter from school he dropped us off at the Canadian Consulate.  Julia, returned from lunch, and we explained our dilemma to her.  It was interesting talking to her.  She told us some of the history of this Consulate.  It was originally the first NGO organization in Angola.  Her and her husband opened the office in Luanda.  The main goal was humanitarian help.  There is a great write-up in their Newsletter outlining the last 25 years and their accomplishments.  Julia, wrote a letter in Portuguese, indicating that we were tourists traveling on motorcycles from Angola to Congo.  Two (2) letters in hand we registered with the Consulate before continuing back to the Sailing Club parking lot. During the night we received yet another torrential downpour.

Apr. 03, 2008.  It is Mike's 43rd Birthday.  Besides a Birthday card I do not have much to offer (not that I want to mention here).  We head straight for the DRC Embassy and wait for a couple of hours to be seen.  With all the paperwork now in order we are assured that the Visa will be issued by 4pm.  Apr. 04, 2008 is a Public Holiday, which is followed by a weekend.  If we did not receive the Visa today, it would mean waiting around another three (3) days.  We return downtown to get some cheap street food and I to get a picture of Anabella, the helpful always smiling and happy, cell phone minute vendor.  Miks's motorcycle is cleaned on the side walk as we eat away our sandwiches (100KZ/sandwich).  In the afternoon we return to the DRC Embassy.  The doors are closed and we both get an "Oh no" feeling.  The guard recognizes us and we are waved in.  The Visa's are ready, but first we are kept waiting for a few minutes in suspense.  Everyone there seems as happy as us that we received the 30 Day DRC Tourist Visa.  At the Sailing Club I treat Mike to a "fancy" dinner at the restaurant.  The food was excellent.  Prior to the meal we take a stroll along the beach and watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.  A kite surfer passes along the waterfront.  We are finally ready to continue toward the DRC border.

Apr. 04, 2008. We left Luanda early in the morning, yet again after a huge downpour during the night.  It took us almost two (2) hours to get out of the city, passing through some very bad and poor areas of town.  The roads were total mud with waterholes the size of the motorcycle.  Tin shacks cover the area on each side of the road.  Living conditions are very sad.  Each gas station we pass was either out of gasoline or there was a two (2) hour line up of vehicles.  Approx. 30km outside of Caxito, we finally find a gasoline station that is only a 10 minute wait.  We had heard that there was no gasoline available from Caxito to Matadi, 478km.  In addition to our four (4) litre canister we filled (4) 1.5 litre water bottles with gasoline and strapped them to the motorcycles.  Here we also met a truck of Brits and Norwegians on there way to Ambriz.  They confirmed the gasoline shortage and road conditions.  It started to rain heavy before Caxito and the road turned to slippery mud.  At least we were moving ahead, through only at 20km/hr.  It took us all day to N'zeto, approx. 300km.  After the Ambriz turn-off there was a gated check-stop to confirm that we had a Democratic Republic of Congo Visa, otherwise we would not have been able to proceed. We also took the opportunity to purchase another eight (8) litres of gasoline from the black market at 100KZ/litre ($1.30CDN/litre), normally 40KZ/litre ($0.53CDN/litre). The town of N'zeto is a ghost town.  Dilapidated Portuguese buildings line the main road.  One can tell that it used to be a pretty town on the coast at one time. We actually find an English speaking person who tells us to set up camp at the police station, which we did.  No toilets or running water. We make ourselves some supper and get some rest.

Apr. 05, 2008.  The 80km to Tomboco only took us 2 1/2 hours, at this rate we should make it to the border by the end of the day.  We stopped at the local "market" in Tomboco and I picked up some cookies, banana's and bread.  Just outside of Tomboco the road splits and that is were the fun started.  We spend seven (7) hours to cover 60km.  The road turned into a mere trail leading through thick jungle with the occasional settlement of a few mud/brick houses.  Besides muddy roads, every couple of hundred meters was a huge water hole.  Each ascent and descent had massive washed out ruts.  The battery on Mike's motorcycle was giving us trouble and we had to boost it every time it stalled.  Then one waterhole was actually deeper than the air intake on the motorcycle and we sucked in water.  At 99.9% humidity and 30+Deg Celsius in the blazing sun we took out the spark plugs and air filter to dry out.  It took an hour to get the motorcycle going again.  At this point we had stripped down to only riding pants, boots, helmets and gloves. We walked every water crossing to ensure the motorcycles would make it.  In addition we did not shut off Mike's motorcycle in case it would not start again.  At 5pm it started to rain heavy, we decided to continue riding but it was impossible.  Instead we pitched the tent in a small settlement in the rain.  Everything was soaked, but we required rest.

Apr. 06, 2008.  The road did not improve, we passed through Lufico.  Mike's motorcycle gave us trouble again and we boosted it.  The previous day we had met a total of three (3) vehicles on this road.  Luckily we had booster cables on us.  Stopping yet again at a muddy waterhole the motorcycle stalls and will not start again, even with the booster cables.  We switch batteries to ensure that it is a battery problem and not something else.  It confirms that the battery is done.  From the GPS location we are approx. 20km from Lufico and 28km form Mpala.  As we had past through Lufico, we knew that there were no services that could assist us.  Our only hope was Mpala.  Mike takes my motorcycle to see if he can find another settlement close by, while I stay with the motorcycle in the jungle.  The bush and trees were so thick on the side of the road that though I heard voices I could not see anyone.  We did not want to leave the motorcycle behind without anyone watching it as we had seen what happened to other abandoned vehicles on the side of the road.  Within a few hours there is only a frame left and everything else has been salvaged. Mike returns after an hour and tells me that there is a small settlement only 2km away, the road is bad and he had gotten stuck twice.  We decided to ride one motorcycle with gear to the settlement, remove the battery, walk back the 2km and then ride the other motorcycle.  At least we were with some type of civilization.  While Mike walks back with my battery to his motorcycle I hang out with the local women.  Sitting among them, I helped remove peanuts from their shells.  It was very interesting, as they treated me as one of them. They started looking for lice and ticks in each others hair.  I remember getting itchy watching them.  Then they used an empty beer bottle and ground the Peanuts into Peanut butter.  A few Peanuts were roasted for me and Mike. There was no power or other services available at this settlement.  We were able to communicate our problem and someone led us to a generator.  Mike negotiated to pay $20.00US to charge the battery for a couple of hours via the generator.  The cost of gasoline on the black market this remote is 1500KZ/litre ($20.00CDN/litre). After a couple of hours they noticed that the charger on the generator was not working.  But there is another guy with a smaller generator who also wants $20.00US.  Another two (2) hours pass.  We realize that we will have to spend the night and pitch our tent in the mud.  The settlement is called Bemfica, of course not on any map.  The battery was not holding the charge, our worst nightmare had came true.  We had covered 23km, to add to our worries we were using a lot more gasoline then anticipated.  Riding all day in first gear increased the fuel consumption.  Our water supply was down to 1 1/2 litre.  The water from the rivers was a murky brown color and we really did not want to start drinking that.  There were no toilets or showers.  A local woman took me into the bush to show me were everyone went to the bathroom.  I was mainly concerned about the landmines and kept to the well cleared foot path. Three (3) full days had past since we left Luanda.  We both were exhausted and tired, realizing that it was a dangerous situation to be in.  We only had met one other vehicle all day going the other way.

Apr. 07, 2008.  We decided to ride two up on my motorcycle to Mpala 26km from Bemfica to arrange for a truck.  It took us over two (2) hours to reach the settlement.  Every couple of hundred meters I would jump off the motorcycle, walk through the water crossing or check-out the best route to go through washed out road sections.  From the distance we could see the settlement of Mpala and we both became worried that there were again no services.  Mpala is made up of no more then 20 houses with no power.  But we were in luck, two (2) large construction trucks were parked at the entrance to the settlement beside the police check point.  Prior to leaving in the morning we had sketched up on a notepad what we required.  A broken down motorcycle, a truck, the towns name where the motorcycle was and where we needed transportation to.  We stop at the check-point and are instantly surrounded by people. We show them our sketch and it works.  To our amazement the mechanic of the construction trucks speaks English.  He had studied English at University in Luanda.  We both thought "And what are you doing in this place?".  It all made sense later.  I negotiated with the boss of the construction outfit $500.00US to pick up the motorcycle in Bemfica (26km) and take it to Nogui (85km) at the Angolan/DRC border, as there was no other settlement large enough to have any type of services (ie. Battery). At first the boss said he was busy, but after talking money it was arranged.  The construction company is actually from Luanda and hired on by the Government to build a school and other various buildings in Mpala.  As there is no water close by, they truck it in and the truck which was supposed to move the bike was loaded with large water containers.  It took another couple of hours to unload the truck and then six (6) guys jumped on the back, equipped with shovels in case we would get stuck.  It took us 1 1/2 hours to drive the 26km to Bemfica.  Arriving in the settlement we were happy to see everything in one piece.  We took the tent down and loaded the motorcycle.  The straps I had been carrying since Germany, finally came in handy, but it still took six (6) guys to hold it upright on the way back to Mpala.  We had decided to load both motorcycles on a bigger truck for the road from Mpala to Noqui.  It was late afternoon as we made it back to Mpala and there was no point to continue until the next day.  Instead we set up camp in the police check point yard.  The construction company provided us with fresh oven baked bread and juice.  Day 4 had passed and we were starting to run out of water and we had not had a real meal since Day 1.  All we could think about was to get the hell out of here.  The original plan to load the motorcycles on the bigger truck was scratched as the only way to get them into the truck was via a crane (not available).  Instead it was decided to use the smaller truck.

Apr. 08, 2008.  We were supposed to be ready by 6am, but on the way to pick up the construction workers the truck got stuck in the mud and then broke down.  At that point I wanted to cry.  To spend another night in these conditions was overwhelmingly depressing.  We walked into the settlement to see if there was another truck available.  Nothing.  The previous day we saw no traffic pass by, except one land cruiser.  57km from Noqui, civilization.  It seemed unreachable.  Back at the construction site they had the filter torn off the truck and who knows what.  We decided to wait until 11am before proceeding to Plan B, which was to take my motorcycle and ride to Noqui to arrange for another alternative transportation.  This would take at least two (2) days, to cover the 57km return, due to the road conditions, but there was no other option.  Our prayers were answered as by 10am we were able to load the motorcycles on the truck.  We arrived in Noqui five (5) hours later.  The road did not get better, we had gotten stuck twice in the deep mud and had to dig ourselves out.  Every km passed was heaven.  The motorcycles had to be re-strapped three (3) times, as the bumpiness of the road shook the hell out of the motorcycles.  The side luggage bags took most of the hits and the poor motorcycles looked like they had been through a lot.  Another truck came toward us the other way.  The passenger was an Asian girl/tourist very excited to see another tourist "us".  I definitely did not feel like a tourist at this point of the journey.  We unloaded in front of the Angolan immigration/customs building in Noqui.  We could not been happier.  Vivian, a wonderful friendly Angolan lady, provided us with cold Coca Cola's and helped me change some money.  Finally someone else who spoke English. Immigration/exit stamp took about 1/2 hour.  When we entered from Namibia, customs did not ask for the Carnet.  This became a problem as we now tried to leave Angola, as customs was very upset that we did not have the Carnet stamped in.  After everything we had been through, they now did not want us to leave.  The officer wanted us to return the 2400km to the Namibia/Angolan border for the entry stamp in the Carnet.  Yeah right.  A not very happy customs official told Mike finally to get out of his office. We pushed the motorcycle to the DRC border post.  Good-bye Angola.

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