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Angola

August 5-14

An Emotional Home Coming
With Philippe leading in the Landrover, we drove no more than 15 yards along the rutted sandy track to where the Angolan flag fluttered in the midst of a motley group of dilapidated buildings. Entering Angola after all we had been through was quite an emotional moment for all of us, but especially so for Philippe and Suzanne. They looked bemused, almost stunned, as we walked towards the squat brick hut where our passports would be checked. Susanne burst into tears and we paused to allow her to compose herself; Philippe hugged Susanne and then his excitement overcame him and he wanted to take photos of everybody and everything. However, as friendly as the officials were, this was not allowed; after all Angolan national security was at risk!

Election Fever
As we left the border town of Songololo, we passed a sports stadium crowded with people and decked in MPLA flags and bunting in red and black, the colours of Angola’s ruling party. On wooden staging a group of dark suited men sat listening to a speech being made by a man who held a megaphone in one hand and punched the air with the other to emphasise the points he was making. It was our first encounter with campaigning for September’s democratic parliamentary elections; the first such elections since 1992 and a crucial step on the road to recovery from decades of civil war.

The route out of Songololo was lovely; a narrow sandy track passing through low sun drenched hills covered, as in the DRC, with the yellows of parched vegetation. We were obviously on the route to be taken by the MPLA party officials; at the roadside in each village we passed, groups of people stood waiting patiently, some began to wave MPLA colours as we approached, only realising their mistake as we drew alongside. All villages flew the MPLA flag, in some cases alongside the Angolan flag and from a distance it was quite impossible to tell which was which. This was hardly surprising as the Angolan flag has remained, since independence some 33 years ago, no more than a modified version of that of the MPLA’s; the only difference being the addition of a crossed cog wheel and machete ( an African version of the hammer and sickle!) on the national flag.


Brick Village


Brick Kiln


Village Brick Kiln

With few exceptions the huts in the villages we drove through were made from fired mud bricks; amongst the huts stood the small kilns that provided the bricks, very much as it had been in the DRC. We were wary of somehow becoming a political football and though we enjoyed watching the children as they ran out to wave at us, the adults were less welcoming and we were keen to keep moving on.


Village children enroute Tomboco

Oranges

There were no vehicles on the track apart from a few trucks laden with oranges. This was obviously the orange season and although we saw very few orange groves, they certainly must have been in abundance somewhere deep within the shrubby undergrowth. The oranges had been picked and then heaped in piles by the roadside and by some marvel of African logistics, a truck appeared and the oranges were loaded by the waiting villagers and taken away. It was a remarkable exercise as there was no cell phone coverage and no scales to weigh the oranges; so how did the truck driver know when to turn up, the villagers that he would do so and how was payment made and to whom?? The system, whatever it was, worked; although the odd pile of rotting oranges signalled that it was not fool proof.


Oranges en route to Tomboco


Orange truck! enroute Tomboco


Oranges piled beside piste, enroute Tomboco

We were making very heavy going of the badly maintained narrow piste; our progress not helped by the fact the piste was also used as a footpath and a cycle track by those who threw commonsense to the wind, meeting an urgent need to fulfil their death wish and had also become an area where livestock could meet, stop to chew the cud, lie down, or go into a trance and become oblivious of our advancing vehicles. This route to the Atlantic coast was notoriously bad and little used, which was why it had appealed to us.


Piste en route Tomboco

We had guesstimated that taking this ‘scenic route’ did not impose too severe a time penalty; time was at a premium, with only 6 days allowed on our transit visa to reach the Namibian border nearly 1,300 miles due south as the African Pied Crow flies; add to that calculation spending at least a day at the orphanage Philippe and Susanne supported, another day at Philippe’s birthplace and at best an average speed throughout of about 30 mph .... well, work it out; 6 days, no way Jose! A potential problem loomed at the border.

Where to Bush Camp

Eventually after passing through numerous villages not known to cartographers and best guessing the route at Y junctions, with some relief we reached Mapale, the first small dot marked on the map. By now it was late afternoon and leaving Mapale behind we began looking for a suitable place to bush camp for the night. Rarely an easy task, in Angola this was a nightmare; firstly it was increasingly windy and the surrounding countryside was alight with the same type of destructive bush fires we had seen in Gabon; secondly, and perhaps more alarmingly, successive civil wars had left the country littered with unmarked minefields.


Off road camping Savanna fire en route Tomboco

Where was it safe to go off the main track? Peter’s suggestion that we should line up with our fingers in our ears and advance tapping the ground with our feet did not go down well; Liz’s suggestion that we use a track or area that other vehicles had used, did. We found a little used narrow track and parked along it, one vehicle in front of the other, and far enough away from the piste so as not to be seen. When night fell some of the bush fires looked dangerously close and Philippe climbed onto the top of his Landrover to better gauge the threat and declared that we were safe. He was right, we spent a perfectly safe and comfortable night with none of our fears being realised, thank heavens.

We were woken at dawn the next morning by the sound of a distant bell ringing which we later discovered was a large Heath Robinson style gong created from a car wheel that stood in the centre of many of the villages we passed through and was rung as a wakeup call for the villagers...not a fire alarm!! We were on a plateau about 4000 feet high; the night may have been cool, but the early morning was decidedly cold; we shivered and shook as we prepared breakfast, so it was on with our jumpers and fleeces again.

Blowing Kisses

The smell of burnt savannah accompanied us as we drove slowly along the bone shaking piste and we were amazed how close the fire had come overnight and at the extent of the blackened landscape around us. As we passed through the scattered villages lining the route, we were for the first time somewhat intimidated by the looks we were getting; the demands for food and money were made in an aggressive fashion, perhaps not helped by Liz who thought some of the men were blowing her kisses and duly blew them some back, only eventually to discover they wanted cigarettes! The piste was just awful and gave us all quite a battering, so much so that Susanne was developing a very painful back.


Landy awaiting spares! Enroute Tomboco.

Tombocco
After a lunch break and a welcome rest for Susanne’s back, we reached the small town of Tombocco and stopped first at a roadside store to try to stock up on a few essentials. We spoke no Portuguese and we had no Angolan money. However our mix of Spanish, English and phrase book Portuguese along with some pointing at items on the shelves behind the counter worked and in Angola almost everything could be paid for in dollars and here was no exception...success!


Left: Checking the Portugese for chicken. Tomboco marke
Right: Choosing a pineapple


We then pulled over at a small market in the centre of the town to see what was on offer; Liz and Susanne selected some pieces of chicken which were promptly grilled to perfection on the stall holder’s homemade BBQ. Whilst waiting for the chicken to finish grilling, Liz asked around (in Spanish!) where bread could be bought and was immediately whisked off to a nearby brick hut with one wall disfigured by the bulbous shape of the back end of a bread oven. Liz was taken through the living area and ushered into the bakery; as her eyes became accustomed to the gloom she could make out a large pile of baguettes on the dusty mud floor by the oven. The smell of freshly baked bread was just too mouth watering for words; Liz left laden with a pile of warm, delicious baguettes; mysteriously half of one baguette was missing by the time she got back to the market stall!


Young stallholder, Tomboco marke

Crossing the Mebridege River
Much to our relief, in particular Susanne’s, the track heading from Tombocco to the coast began to improve somewhat; becoming a busy mix of tar, potholes and incredibly dusty gravel. By now we were well into the 2 hour period before sunset when we would normally seek out a bush camp spot, but there were no turn offs and the land alongside the road was fenced in one Heath Robinson way or another. To add to our concern, we were not sure if the approaching crossing of the Mebridege River was by ferry or bridge. If we carried on and it was by ferry, they normally would stop at sunset and the ferry area would not be the best place to camp overnight. Luckily, with the sun having set and only a mile before the crossing, we found a spot close to the road but one where we could just hide ourselves behind some trees. Relief all round!


'Petrol station' and smoking attendant! Enroute N'Zeto.

The morning of the 7 August was pleasantly cool and, as we sat eating breakfast, we were puzzled by what sounded like the sea in the far distance; was the coast really that close? Leaving our overnight camping spot we passed the rusting hulks of military vehicles, the detritus of civil war defenders of the river crossing.Then the confusion over the crossing was resolved in favour of overlander’s hearsay and not the map; it was a bridge and the rapids over which it crossed were the source of sea-like noise. The confusion was understandable; the mangled remains of the previous bridge, destroyed by an airstrike in the civil war, were lying in the riverbed close to where its replacement now stood.


Mebridege bridge enroute N'Zeto.

We threw caution to the wind and with total disregard for Angolan national security, took photographs as we passed over the bridge and again on the far side of the memorial to the MPLA defenders: an ancient Soviet BMP flying the MPLA flag and standing atop a small hill overlooking the crossing.

N’Zeto and Baobabs

Driving west towards the coastal town of N’Zeto, we passed through a vast, unending area of Baobab forest. It was so unexpected and the huge baobabs were so magnificently other worldly; the enormity of their squat, fat trunks accentuated and dramatised by the weird, twisted, Medusa-like hair styles of branches on top. They were just so different, so unlike any other tree and it is no wonder that African bushman legend tells us the god Thora took a dislike to the Baobab growing in his garden; so he threw it over the wall of Paradise on to Earth below, and although it landed upside-down it continued to grow!


Baobab tree, enroute N'Zeto

Baobabs really are remarkable trees. Each creates its own ecosystem; supporting the life of countless creatures, from the largest mammal to the smallest insect. For the African they have a myriad of uses; amongst others its fruit can provide tartar sauce, vitamin C or when roasted, a coffee like drink; its fire resistant bark when pounded makes mats, rope, paper and cloth; glue can be made from its pollen; and the leaves when boiled are eaten or made into a soup. The trunk can hold up to 120,000 gallons of water, enough to survive the periods of drought in arid regions and at the same time, when tapped, provide water for nearby villagers.


Cactus forest, enroute N'Zeto


Boabab forest, enroute N'Zeto

The bark of these Baobabs was so pale that it looked almost a wintery white and seen en masse they lent a quite ghostly sheen to the rolling hills they covered. To our further surprise, mixed amongst them were what could only be called cactus trees. Certainly the tallest cacti we had ever seen! We reached N’Zeto, a rather down at heel coastal town with its drab and dusty streets lined with MPLA and Angolan flags, and made a quick detour to take in the small harbour, close to which was a small villa that was, well, just
so Portuguese it had to be a relic of the Portuguese colonial period. Its state of dilapidation was somehow very poignant.


N'Zeto Market

China Inc.
Keen to put in as many miles as possible, we pressed on heading south and following the coastline towards the Angolan capital Luanda. Increasingly we came across the impact of the Chinese investment in the Angolan infrastructure as part of their successful £3.5 bn strategy to gain preferential access to Angolan raw materials: the old and unbelievably appalling main roads were being ripped up and replaced by ones constructed by Chinese engineers, using Chinese machinery and, in the main, Chinese labour. They were just everywhere and, combined with what we had seen in countries to the north, were an impressive display of Chinese intent in Africa. We were not complaining; it was just heaven to leave the unending, bone shaking potholes behind and make up time, travelling effortlessly on perfect tar surfaces!

Barro do Dande

Satisfied with the mileage achieved and feeling exhausted, we called a halt to our journey in mid afternoon and stopped on the coast just north of Luanda. Barro do Dande was a large bay, shimmering turquoise blue in the sun and lined by pristine white sand over which palm trees arched gracefully, their leaves swaying in the gentle breeze. Bliss! We followed a track down to the sea and set up our bush camp on the deserted beach, under one of the palm trees. Even more bliss!!


Beach, Barro do Dande

We had our swimming cossies on in no time and then had a lovely swim, effectively a salt water bath, giving us all a jolly good clean. Oh boy, how good it felt to be clean again! Watching the sun sink slowly towards the horizon and bring a new day to the Americas, we had a delicious meal around Philippe’s driftwood camp fire. Then, under a clear star speckled night sky, we went to bed with the sound of the sea in our ears. Now what could be nicer than that!


Beach fashionista and chef! Barro do Dande

We woke up at about midnight and could see through our boudoir window that the sea was once again alive with the glow of phosphorescent plankton. This was too good an opportunity to miss, so we decided to get up and experience it at first hand and, Louisa, you will just have to guess if we were wearing cosies or not! As we made our way to the water’s edge, even our footsteps on the wet sand created glowing circles in the sand. We ran into the sea and it was quite astounding how our bodies glowed as we splashed water over ourselves and then around us on the sea’s surface was a sparkling green light coming from every move we made; nature’s spectacular son et lumiere was not over, as we moved into deeper water, we disturbed fish feeding on the surface that then darted ahead, leaving a sparkling green trail behind them and looking for all the world like a shower of little rockets shooting off in front of us. We sparkled as we walked back up the beach, our every footstep lighting up like magic. What a wonderful, wonderful unforgettable experience.

The following morning we found a fisherman sitting in a pedadillo of all things with his fishing net out, close to the beach and our camp site! He came ashore and showed us his catch, asking in French if we would like to buy any of the half a dozen or so fish he had caught. We bought the four largest for that night’s supper at the equivalent of 20 pence each; what a bargain!

Saved by Manchester United
Thus far we had spent four days travelling about 280 miles through northern Angola; it was now the 9th August and we were running out of time. We decided we would not spend time looking around Luanda; instead we would drive through the city, only stopping there for lunch before then continuing to head towards the orphanage near the port of Lobito about 300 miles further south. For a short while all went well, then the journey became increasingly problematic as we entered the outskirts of Luanda; unending road works and unsigned detours gave licence to all and sundry to indulge in a most horrifying and intimidating display of Neanderthal driving skills, all the while conducted in a pall of dust and choking black fumes.


Taxi, Luanda style!

We were trying to stick close to the brake lit back of Philippe and Susanne’s Landrover and failing abysmally to deter anyone from barging into the gap between us, when we were pulled over by a policeman. He obviously had a Portuguese ancestor or two, was moustachioed, ‘tall, dark and handsome’ and was wearing the most enormous pair of jodhpurs tucked into shiny brown leather boots. Imperiously, he demanded to see Peter’s driving licence.

As is common overland practice, we had numerous photocopied and laminated copies of the credit card sized driving licence to hand; on occasions the police at roadblocks have been known to retain a driving licence and demand a ‘release fee’. Whenever we were asked to show a driving licence we handed over a copy; we could thus refuse to pay and drive off leaving the copy in the hands of the corrupt official. Normally a roadblock would be manned by police without transport or any form of communication, so, the theory went, in these circumstances ‘doin’ a runner’ was a safe response!

Unfortunately in this case, pedestrians and traffic surrounded us and our large and, it has to be said, very smart policeman had a motorcycle and was now demanding to see ‘original’. Peter began to explain that it really was the original and that all English driving licences had a hologram that didn’t work; at the word ‘English’ the policeman’s moustache began to waltz up and down as his face broke into a beaming smile, then a hand reached into a jodhpur pocket pulling out a snazzy looking cell phone. ‘Manchester United! Manchester United!’ was followed by ‘Ronaldo! ... see, see ..’ as the policeman switched his phone on and, after a few seconds of button pressing, showed Peter first the football club’s badge and then Ronaldo, both in glorious technicolour on the phone’s screen. After a handshake and some minutes discussing English football and Manchester United’s win over Chelsea in the recent (remember .. Togo!) Champions League final, another handshake, another beaming smile and we were waved on our way!

Luanda
As Luanda’s outskirts morphed into the city centre and we began to approach the port, a floating mosaic of equipment necessary to extract the offshore black gold, the dust and squalor seemed to intensify; shanty towns of wood, cardboard and plastic sheeting clinging to the passing hillsides looked down on streets ankle deep in rubbish and windblown sand, where teams of impoverished looking men and women were making herculean attempts to redress the balance in favour of the tarmac and kerbstones with shovels and brooms so worn out that they were barely up to the task.


Luanda Port Area


Sea Promenade

Through the smog and beyond the port area we could just make out the tops of the buildings lining the sea front promenade. Driving along it gave us a glimpse of past colonial glories and of the potential for the future; there still remained vast old Portuguese colonial mansions overlooking the bay with their terracotta tiled roofs and shuttered windows, neglected reminders of a cruel colonial past and now in a state of crumbling dilapidation; the arc described by the never ending promenade was lined with dead palm trees and in amongst the mansions were more recent commercial buildings built in the gaunt functional and depressingly ugly architectural style once so beloved by Soviet Union and its acolytes.


Hillside shanty town Luanda

It took us two hours to get through to the southern side of Luanda, by which time we were exhausted and hungry and with a distinct lack of choice we stopped at a large, new service station cafeteria. Belying its gaudy yellow and orange plastic exterior it contained what must have been one of the most expensive restaurants in Luanda and where we ate probably the most expensive meal we had yet had in Africa! We were surrounded by groups of well heeled expats and on two walls hung huge television screens. The Chinese patrons outnumbered everyone else by about 2:1 and were all staring in misty eyed rapture at the events unfolding on the screens above and around them: the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing!


Street laundry, Luanda


Street vegetable stall, Luanda

Never Forget Your Glasses

After parting with a large sum of dollars, we went into the adjacent service station shop to buy some drinks and groceries for the evening meal. Peter, delighted to come across some wine and cursing the fact that he left his glasses in Boris, squinted at the bottles until he found one bottle of red he liked the look of and at a price not to be missed. As both of us are mathematically challenged, we accepted the surprisingly large amount of dollars needed to pay the bill, assuming it was all to do with a terrible exchange rate. It wasn’t until later when Liz looked more closely at the receipt, still wondering why we had spent so much money and if we really had been ripped off over the exchange rate, that she discovered Peter’s ‘not to be missed’ priced wine was actually nearly £50. Without his specs Peter had somehow lost at least two noughts!! Cue red face, humble .. no, grovelling!.. apologies and a promise NEVER to buy anything EVER again without his glasses on. Hells bells and buckets of fire, Peter!

Bush Camp in the Dunes

We grilled the fish (thank you Philippe for the fire!) that night at a perfect bush camp off the main road and 2 miles down a steep sandy track, on some dunes next to the sea. It was a lovely isolated spot, but unfortunately the huge crashing Atlantic rollers ruled out any swimming.

Driver
Problems
The following morning we decided to return to the main road using a 12 mile route along the dunes described to us by some Lebanese ‘entrepreneurs’ who were having a Carlsberg assisted fishing weekend nearby. Despite the adrenalin rush of beach and dune driving, this was probably a bad choice! Travelling the 12 miles took us about two hours. Driving on the soft dune sand was a real strain for Boris and his driver; stopping several times so that both could cool off. On one occasion the shovel had to come out when we sank up to our axles in the soft sand; Peter blaming some large lumps of sheet anchor creating plastic debris that had got tangled up underneath Boris and not his driving skills! Oh yeah, pull the other one!!


Stuck, taking advice


Landy problems!

When we did eventually reach the main road, it was Philippe’s turn to have problems. He and Peter spent the best part of an hour underneath the Landy re-assembling a steering rod; then we were off. We made good progress thereafter moving quickly along a good surfaced road continuing south and running alongside a coastline that reminded us a bit of the Algarve in Portugal; yellow cliffs, treeless and hilly.

Lobito

We reached Lobito in the late afternoon; a large, polluted ramshackle city enclosing a large commercial port and a reputation for little in the way of affordable accommodation. As darkness fell the city lived down to its reputation and we had to plump for a rather nasty little place called the Hotel Turimar. It was the weekend and we ended up in the only available room; on the 7 floor with no room to swing a cat, no hot water, and, as there was no lift, a long and exhausting haul up 12 flights of dimly lit stairs, encountering en route all manner of unsavoury characters the worse the wear for drink!. It did though have a great view of the port and, surprisingly, we did have a reasonably good night’s sleep.


Living in the ruins of Portugese colonial mansion, Lobito

SOS Children’s Villages Orphanage Benguela

The next morning, Sunday 10 August, we drove to the other end of town to rejoin Philippe and Suzanne who had spent the night in the car park of the most expensive hotel in town! Together we left Lobito and following Philippe we drove the short distance to Benguela and the SOS Children’s Villages orphanage that he had been supporting for a number of years. The Charity was founded by an Austrian in 1949; initially focused exclusively on supporting homeless children orphaned as a result of the 2 World War, it had since the early 1960’s become a global children’s charity. It has two ‘villages’ in Angola, the one at Benguela was completed in 2005 and has purpose built homes catering for up to 100 orphaned or abandoned children, a nursery school, a primary school and an outreach programme that provides support for children in the local community.

Naturally, he and Susanne were excited about the visit; we came to the security fence and after a short explanation were waved through the gate by the security guard. Following his directions we made our way past a collection of well built bungalows set to one side of the small one storey school complex, to the village director’s house. Unfortunately he had recently broken a leg in a motor car accident, but from his sick bed kindly arranged for the village administrator-cum-accountant to come in and guide us around after church.


Meeting our guide,SOS Children's Village


Touring SOS Children's Village

This pleasant and enthusiastic young man explained how the orphanage was run, where the money came from, and of course about the children. There were twelve homes, each a bungalow and set in groups of four around a central courtyard of compacted sand. Each home had a ‘mother’, a trained full time carer, who looked after five or more children and were totally responsible for the running of their house.


Murals primary school SOS Children's village


Murals SOS Children's village


Murals SOS Children's village

We were taken to a couple of the homes and met the very cuddly and rather oversized jolly, totally dedicated mothers who were delighted to see us. One of them had twin four month old babies to care for, along with six other children aged between 4 and 8. We were then shown the kindergarten and school buildings; the school had computers and someone had invested a lot of time and effort painting murals on the outside walls, encouraging hygiene and hard work. It was all very impressive and it was evident that the charity was well funded and generous with its income; all so unlike the struggling little local orphanage Liz and Susanne had visited in Brazzaville.


Baobab postbox, SOS Children's village

The tour ended at about midday and we were able to have our lunch in the orphanage grounds, sheltered from the broiling sun by a huge Baobab tree. The holes and cracks in the trunk were where the orphans left messages of hope and requests for their future. Lunch over, we paid a farewell visit to the manager, who manfully hobbled to the door of his bungalow to wave us on our way as we left, and began the second part of our Angolan journey. Leaving Benguela we headed inland towards the vast central highlands and the remote town of Caluquembe and where, we were not sure exactly where, stood the hospital that, some 36 years ago, was Philippe’s birthplace.

Heading to Caluquembe Hospital

As we left the coast we passed through a yellow-brown, desiccated, rolling landscape that reminded us of southern Andalucía. The road didn’t; rampant Chinese road re-construction meant we were turned onto a parallel temporary dirt track. It was dusty and quite awful and having to share it with large aggressive lorries turned our journey into a nightmare. Thankfully, after 2 hours of nerve wracking travel, we turned off the ‘main’ road onto an equally dusty but quieter piste. We bush camped close to it, in what appeared to be a mine free area and spent a quiet, but rather chilly night...well, it was late winter!


Preparing breakfast, enroute Caluquembe

The following morning, 11 August, we had planned to get to Caluquembe by taking a cross country ‘short cut’ that would also allow us to get away from the dust. No such luck! Although there was a choice of two routes as marked on our map, we just couldn’t find either of them and the locals we asked were unable to help, so obviously they no longer existed. Oh dear; back to the dust in our hair, our eyes and a layer over everything inside Boris.

Caluquembe Hospital

After a long tiring journey we drove into the outskirts of Caluquembe and to our relief, set back off the main road, there was the hospital. Not having a telephone number, Philippe had been unable to warn the hospital of our intended arrival, so there was no welcoming committee! We left our vehicles outside the wide entrance to the hospital and walked amongst curious patients and visitors into a central open ‘concourse’.


In front of the hospital

The hospital was a small collection of long one storey buildings set around a two storey centre piece that housed the emergency, outpatient and operating theatre areas, as well as some of the technical, teaching and administrative facilities; in general it was surprisingly well resourced and maintained for a rural third world hospital and was still obviously benefitting from its continuing links to a European Protestant charity. This charitable funding had reduced somewhat since the time that Philippe’s parents had been working there but fortunately since the civil war ended, the shortfall had been made up by support from the Angolan government whose health service benefitted from the fact that it was a teaching hospital and the trained medical staff it produced.


In the hospital complex


Patients and staff

The arrival of four white faces had not gone unnoticed and as we walked between the single story buildings a portly figure in a dark suit beckoned us over. His name was Ezekiel and he spoke good French and a smattering of English, he was both the director and hospital administrator. On hearing Philippe’s story he became very excited and kindly, as he was about to give a lecture to a class of nursing students, he made sure we were well taken care of in what was the staff canteen, a nearby small room with four chairs and a low table, and said he would meet up with us when he had finished.

Philippe found the inactivity hard to bear and so we went off to look for the building where his parents had lived, in the hope it still remained. We came across a rather dilapidated accommodation complex for student nurses; Philippe immediately recognised the large bungalow like complex from family photographs. He was ecstatic and was able to point out the rooms occupied by his parents and the steps where proud parents had posed for a photograph with their baby.


On the bungalow steps

At 5 o’clock we met Ezekiel, who immediately took us on a tour of the hospital. He explained that during the civil war the town of Caluquembe was often on the front line, the whole hospital had been evacuated and then badly destroyed; how fortunate that the bungalow had survived! After the war was over and with help from both the charity and the government the hospital was rebuilt. As we were being shown around, a grey haired member of staff introduced himself to Philippe and said he remembered working with his father. Amazing!


Saying farewell to the member of staff that knew his parents

Ezekiel insisted that not only we share supper in the staff house, but also stay the night. We couldn’t refuse and felt humbled by this generosity and the way that no one complained about the reduced evening meal facing them on the table as four unannounced guests sat alongside them.

The next morning was bright, sunny and decidedly chilly; after porridge for breakfast to warm ourselves up, we said our farewells, and before beginning our final two day trip to the Namibian border we ventured briefly into Caluquembe. Although there was not another vehicle in sight, the mud compacted main street was a colourful hive of activity; cattle being herded down to the river where the destroyed bridge stood as testament to the war that had swept back and forth through the area; ox carts rumbling along the high street; men and boys pulling hand carts with wooden wheels; and to one side in a earthen square, passengers waiting for bush taxis.


Caluquembe

Lubango
With bodies jolting and heads rocking we drove south, pot hole dodging and cursing past a succession of hand painted ‘Perigo Minas’ (beware mines) signs and bullet riddled, deserted buildings and wrecked military vehicles until we reached Lubango. In this very civilized and attractive town, its Portuguese style mansions covered in cascades of Bougainvillea and the well maintained roads awash with road signs and working traffic lights, we discovered a remarkably good little covered market that sold pretty mats and baskets which we bought as Christmas presents for some of you lucky people back home!



Minefield sign, en route Lubango


Civil war debris, BMP-2 enroute Lubango

The Last Supper
We continued on the road towards Namibia, now only a day away. As evening approached, we looked for somewhere to bush camp. Having left the battle zone behind, we were no longer worried about landmines and turned off the main road parking in a lovely secluded spot off the infrequently used track. Sadly, so very sadly, this was to be our last night with Philippe and Suzanne as they were taking a different border crossing to meet friends in Botswana. We had a feast of a moonlit meal beside ... you’ve guessed it ... a Swiss campfire; Susanne was the chef de cuisine and cooked a superb Swiss dish made of potatoes and eggs in a creamy sauce. This was followed by a long promised semolina pudding from the sous-chef, Liz. It was all washed down with Peter’s very expensive bottle of red wine; he winced every time someone took a sip, muttering, ‘there goes another fiver’!! We were a mix of emotions; relived to be making it to the ‘safety’ of Namibia the following day, yet strangely saddened as we recounted the favourite episodes of our joint adventures over the past 3 months. What a great time we had had together, what a great team we had been.

Border Bound
13 August we woke up to a bright but cold morning. We soon reached the small town of Cahama where our routes to the border diverged. We all did lots of embracing; the men smiling in a good stiff upper lip way, whilst Liz and Suzanne couldn’t hold back the tears! We assured each other that we would meet up again in South Africa sometime before Christmas and again in Europe after their return to Switzerland. Then we climbed back into Boris and turned off the main road onto the narrow cross country piste that would take us to the border at Ruacana. At last we could leave behind the main roads, the lorries and the dust that seemed to have been with us all the way since N’Zeto and our whistle stop crossing of Angola.


On Our Own Again

We couldn’t have made a better choice for our last leg to the border; it just seemed so right to finish the ‘real’ Africa part of the trip travelling on a badly maintained piste, with that superb feeling being alone in the bush .. of exploring .. of going where few other overlanders go. The landscape became increasingly mountainous; the piste ever more vertiginous and rocky; the colours brighter and their contrasts stronger under the cloudless blue sky.


En route, Ruacana


En route, Ruacana


Piste En route, Ruacana

We were now travelling through the tribal areas of the Herero people; here they were in the main nomadic pastoralists, the women were brightly dressed in short layered skirts and glowing red bras, the men wore little round top hats and long coats. They were very welcoming and waved and smiled as they watched us drive past. By late afternoon our slow progress had brought us to within forty miles of the Namibian border; we decided we would have to bush camp one more time in Angola and worry about any problems with our out of date visa when we got to the border.

We stopped at about 4.30pm and bush camped in an idyllic spot on a flat isthmus surrounded on three sides by a fast flowing brook. The banks were covered with lush vegetation above which magnificent tall tree spread their branches. Some of the trees were wild fig, providing a final evening feast for a large group of 25 vervet monkeys. They eyed us suspiciously, initially making alarm calls and their small heads darting from one side to other to check on the potential danger. However they soon accepted our presence and moved into the trees around us, continuing to feed and going from tree to tree until, as the sun set, the whole group moved into the upper braches of a nearby huge jackalberry tree for the night.

After supper, well wrapped up against the chilly night air, we sat in our chairs and just gazed and gazed up at the myriad of stars above us; the African night sky never failed to enchant us and the clarity of the air gave the illusion of being able to reach out an arm and pluck a star from the intense blackness surrounding it. How magical it seemed, how lucky we were, what a wonderful night for star gazing. With no light pollution at all they looked quite magical. It was a cold night though and coming down from our cosy boudoir in the morning was a chilly one to say the least.

On to the Border

Our 10th day in Angola, dawned bright but cold, the vervet monkeys emerged from the depth of the jackalberry tree to sit exposed high up where the orange warmth of the rising sun was beginning to kiss the upper branches trees. There they sat for a good 45 minutes soaking up the sun, the adults grooming one another and around them bored children were playing and mock fighting.


Herero visitors, En route, Ruacana


Herero woman and child,enroute Ruacana

Whilst having breakfast we were visited by three of the Herero people, a man and two women one carrying a baby, who had spotted us from the nearby piste and had come to investigate the strange vehicle with a house on its roof. The women were dressed in their colourful traditional attire, providing Liz with a photo opportunity not to be missed. In exchange for allowing photographs, Liz offered to tend to the baby’s eyes that were red and half closed with what seemed to be a bad case of conjunctivitis. This relaxed close encounter with these friendly and peaceful people was a wonderful experience and one we shall never forget.


Beaded waist bands and wandering hand!Enroute Ruacana


Herero oxen pulling sledge.Enroute Ruacana

With increasing concern and trepidation we drew closer to the border; working out the worst case scenario arrived at either a fine of over $400 or arrest! Gone was the bravado that surrounded our plans for travelling through Angola .. overstay and hang the consequences! The Ruacana border crossing point was a surreal exercise in governments thinking big; the border can only be reached by a near impassable piste, yet to look at magnificence of the modern buildings at both the Angolan and the Namibian border crossing points one would assume it was dealing with 1000’s of vehicles a day, not the odd one or two. We walked into the immigration office to be greeted by a pleasant young uniformed officer who seemed to be doubling up as the customs official; he took our passports, we opened our mouths to begin a series of rehearsed excuses which were never uttered, never needed. Without any comment both of our out of date visas were stamped and a few pleasantries later we were back in Boris and crossing the border into Namibia. Phew! Easy-peasy and after all that worry and Liz quite sure we would be imprisoned at the very least!

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