We received double entry transit visas for Angola as we were entering this country twice, once to visit Cabinda in the northern enclave, where we just missed the carnival celebrations in the city by a few hours. The second entry was through the border town of Matadi where we spent six days bush camping and rushing from the north to the south of Angola, covering an incredible amount of territory in a ludicrously short amount of time, trying our best to beat the deadline for our 5 day transit visa which proved to be an impossible feat. We passed through the towns of N’Zeto, Caxito, Luanda, Dondo, Huambo, Lubango and Ondjiva before finally reaching the border crossing town of Santa Clara. All in all it was a rushed journey, but we were happy to experience our Angolan adventure, which consisted of receiving warm greetings by welcoming Angolans, contending with bullying and surly Angolan police, getting rejected by bureaucratic officials in Lubango who denied our visa extensions, carefully treading by the roadside in full alert of Angola’s numerous land mines, battling against the dreaded tsetse flies which were intent on giving us sleeping sickness, and admiring the beautiful countryside views as we made our way from the north to southern end of this massive country. What a journey!
Note: We received a double entry transit visa for Angola as our overland route took us from Congo to Angola (the Cabinda enclave), back out to the Democratic Republic of Congo, before returning to Angola at the Lufu/Songololo border, before our eventual departure from Angola into Namibia at the Namacunda border crossing. Trip notes are for both entries into Angola.
6 Mar: After getting stamped out on the Congo side of Nzassi, we had to fill out forms before getting stamped into the Angola border town of Massabi. Welcome to Angola! A friendly money exchanger was offering decent rates for the US $ (95 Kwanza for the US$) versus crap rates for the Euro (100 Kwanza for the Euro) so we had Lucky change us $10 worth since he owed us that amount in CFA. The roads were impeccable, and we zoomed along until Chris found a suitable spot for a brief lunch. The sun was beating down on us ferociously and we all tried to minimize our time in the sun. Nancy made a lunch time announcement that since the roads were so good and we were doing so well on time, we would head to the town of Cabinda to have a look around. Yeah, a new town to check out! Becky’s 10 year old Lonely Planet had a short blurb on Cabinda touting its music and bars, but stating that foreigners were targeted for kidnapping. Sounded interesting enough for us! Once we hit Cabinda, Chris drove us all around so we quickly got a feel for the city. Unfortunately for us, it looked like there had been a lively carnival festival in the morning, as everyone was still in face paint while carrying on with their merry making. We had just missed the party…gutting! Since it was a Sunday, the town appeared dead post-Carnival celebrations. We joined the group wandering around in search of a bar and ended up ditching the group to briefly check out the waterfront. The Angolan kids were having a beach party and it looked like an evening concert was getting set up by the beach side. We linked up with Pam and Norma and told them about the bar we had found next to the Cathedral so off we went to link up with everyone else. Beers were priced at 100 Kwanza for a 0.33L bottle and we opted to split a cold one between us before rushing back to the truck for our 4:30 pm departure. Our bush camp was a particularly fine one, nestled in the middle of a tree reforestation project. All was well until an irate man in a taxi cab pulled up, claimed he was from the military, and informed us that we were prohibited from camping here as it was in the middle of a military zone. Since he was dressed in civilian clothes and acting agitated, Nancy asked him for some ID and once she verified that he really was a solider representing Angola, she tried to reason with him. He insisted on taking her to see the chief, and her last words to us were “if I don’t come back or anything happens to me, tell my mom I love her”. Since Becky was on cook group, she thought it would be prudent to avoid starting the fire until we knew for sure if permission to camp here would be granted or not. About 20 minutes later, Nancy returned with 4 Angola visitors and we were told that the Chief had granted us permission in Portuguese. Thankfully, Nancy’s proficiency in Spanish was sufficient to understand everything that was being said, and once given the green light, we started cooking dinner. The vegetarian meal came out quite well, which was surprising since a whole lot of random spices (paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, basil, oregano, vegetable stock) were added to give the meal a bit more flavor (the soy mince was a plain one). Nancy had us fill out FCO forms indicating that we were aware that we were traveling through a no-go zone and aware of the insurance stipulations after dinner, and it was a hot sweltering night spent with armed military escorts who took 3 hour rotations to ensure our protection all night long.
7 Mar: When we woke up after a restless night’s sleep, it was to the surreal scene of Angolan soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs (AK 47s) patrolling the campsite. They kept to themselves and we were busy preparing breakfast so we could have an on-time departure at 8 am. The leader of the soldiers started chatting with Nancy and he asked for permission to take a photo with us, so we happily obliged. That seemed to open the flood gates as requests to pose with our protectors were now forthcoming and they were happily obliging. How cool that we could take photos with these guys who selflessly protected us all night long? We felt badly that we couldn’t even offer them a bit of breakfast to thank them for taking care of us. After bidding our new found friends goodbye, we drove towards the border. Expecting that it would take an hour, we were all taken aback when the border was literally within walking distance of our campsite, a mere 3 minute drive away. No wonder we had armed guards watching over us all night long! It was evident we had been in the middle of a military zone now that we realized the border was right here. It took no time to get stamped out of Angola, but entry into the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) took about 3 hours at the entry town of Yema.
10 Mar: By 7:45 am, we were ready to leave and shortly after 8 am, we crossed out of DRC, entered no man’s land and waited for the Angolan officials to be ready to receive us. The Angolan side eventually wanted to inspect the vehicle, making us all get off while they gave the truck a cursory glance. After two painfully slow hours, we were finally stamped into Angola and on our way, beginning the start of a 5 day mad dash through Angola to reach the border crossing into Namibia and hopefully not overstay our impossibly short transit visa . We passed the town of Do Luvo, and than drove about 30 KM before stopping for lunch of hummus and couscous…yum. At one point on our drive, we saw a signpost for the city of “Mbanza Kongo”, which was a further 9 KM away. Becky had read about this historic town in the excellent book “King Leopold’s Ghost” by Adam Hochschild, where she learned that mbanza means “court” and Mbanza Kongo served as the capital for the Kingdom of the Kongo, a territory that was about three hundred square miles that had been in place since 1391, a full hundred years before Portuguese explorers arrived. Unfortunately, our Angolan transit visas didn’t allow for any sightseeing, as we were in a race against time to reach the border crossing town of Namacunda in just a few days time. So on we drove and after lunch, we finally hit tarmac and were starting to make good time, but were stopped and pulled over by Angolan police who yelled at Chris for not stopping at a check point (he had been waved through), and ridiculed those that were on the beach waving to the locals, saying that it was not allowed. How random is that? We were able to drive a further 150 KM today and started a late afternoon truck party for Luke to celebrate his 25th Birthday in Angola. Robby made a concoction of Pina-gin-lada and Kendra and Ruth showed their artistic ability by drawing a kneeling Monica Lewinsky next to our Senator Clinton gin bottle. Good times were had by all. We pulled into a bush camp at 6:30 pm and had the tents set up by a watering hole. The boys made Angolian BBQ for dinner (2 hotdogs each), and the frogs kept us up all night with their loud croaking. Total distance drive today: 236 KM.
11 Mar: It was an ungodly wake up call (4:30 am) for breakfast at 5:15 am so we could be on the road at 6 am sharp. In fact, since everyone was cooperating, we were on the road by 5:55 am and setting a good tone for our duration in Angola. About thirty minutes into our drive, Angolan police stopped us to complain about Matt, Bree and Lars being on the beach. Nancy resorted to coming over the intercom and telling us to keep a low profile as the police were just itching to create problems for us. We made good time on the tarmac road but after reaching N’Zeto, the road disintegrated to a poor dirt road path. At about 10 am, the war against the dreaded tsetse flies began, as they are attracted to large moving vehicles (Nala is bright yellow and a massive moving target), and are particularly drawn to dark blue hues. They started swarming our vehicle and attacking us in droves and soon everyone picked up a flip flop as a makeshift fly swatter and began our counterattack. Lucky racked up an impressive kill ratio of 60 tsetse flies by the end of the day, trailed by Luke who scored 20 confirmed kills and Mattie whose bragging rights included swiping and killing two tsetse flies with one blow. Game on! Whenever we would let our guards down, even for a minute, we’d notice that the tsetse flies would just land on us and start sucking a massive amount of blood. Unfortunately, we couldn’t feel their bite so we had to keep our guard up all day and did a fine job at warning everyone once a fly landed on them. Our lunch stop was a brief respite from the battle, as we were no longer moving, hence were no longer an attractive target for the flies. Lunch consisted of guacamole and tuna fish sandwiches. The latest water supply was particularly nasty even with a healthy dose of tang, but at least it was drinkable. The bumpy road continued after lunch and the tsetse flies continued to pummel us in a series of wave attacks. It got to be where we would all cheer loudly whenever one of us would kill a fly, but we had to make doubly sure they were really dead as we found them to be resilient little buggers, pretending to be dead and then resurrecting back to life when we let our guard down. In the late afternoon, Chris was pulled over yet again by an Angolan police force, with no less than 3 vehicles full of about a dozen police officers. It was an arbitrary stop and they had no reason or cause to pull us over, but did so just on a whim. One of the policemen asked Chris for food, stating he was hungry and rubbing his belly. This fired Chris up and he complained bitterly to the female police chief, who was adamant that none of her police would have dared ask us for food and we must have misunderstood. However, Chris was not to be deterred and he singled out the guilty official, who immediately lied and said he was telling us he had stomach problems, and that was why he rubbed his belly. Whatever! Maybe with that dose of embarrassment in front of his peers, he won’t be so quick to ask tourists for food next time. It was a long drive day today and at 7 pm, we finally pulled over to the side of the road and camped near a military signpost in the town of Ambriz. Inevitably, the police came to check us out but Nancy fed them a tale of us resting here for the night as our truck had a simple mechanical issue, and we would be on the road bright and early the next morning. She embellished the story even more by telling them that the reason we chose to camp so close to the military base was that we knew we’d be safe all night long…go girl! The police chief bought the story and gave us permission to camp for a night but we still kept all the truck lights off and practiced light discipline so we wouldn’t be too noticeable from the road. Sean and Marie made pasta for dinner.
12 Mar: It was a rude early morning wake up when torrential rain poured down at 4 am, forcing Robby into the cold to peg down our window flaps. Breakfast was supposed to be at 5:15 am but due to the heavy rain, Nancy made the command decision that we would eat on the road. Instead, she instructed us all to get up and pack up, as we were moving out. Good thing we didn’t dally as the ground quickly became a muddy bog hole and everyone started tracking heaps of mud onto the truck. We pulled out and drove to a nearby gas station in Panguila where we got gas, emptied our trash bin, and Nancy had a shoving contest with an armed guard who tried to prevent us from filling our gerry cans with water. She literally elbowed him out of her way, bellowed that she had already cleared it with management and for him to take it up with them if he had a problem with it! Go Nancy, she was not playing around. We took advantage of the water puddles in the parking lot of the gas station to rinse off our muddy feet and absolutely looked the part of the grungy overlander! Sean spied a car in the fuel line queue that had french baguettes so Robby headed over to inquire how much they cost (30 Kwanza per loaf) and he bought a dozen to split between us and Luke/Dowelly. This set off a mad buying spree as everyone was hungry for french bread after eating muesli for breakfast over the past few days. While we were waiting on filling the gerry cans, a quick breakfast was eaten off the side of the truck, and shortly before we left the station, a beautiful rainbow appeared on the horizon. Today was another long drive day, passing by Luanda (the capital of Angola) and the town of Dondo, where we had a brief stop for Nancy to stock up on some fresh onions, tomatoes, and bananas. Since fuel was so cheap in Angola, we made another pit stop in another gas station shortly before lunch, and were able to spend some of our extra Kwanza buying snacks. Lunch was a simple meal of pasta with tomatoes, corn, beans and we had plenty of leftovers to eat on the back of the truck afterwards. The scenery today was pretty spectacular, with thatch roofed houses and interesting rock formations that caught our eye. At an afternoon stop at yet another gas station, we could smell delicious street meat and hear loud music from a nearby store, but Chris wasn’t letting anyone off the truck as we had to keep pressing on to meet our deadline. Rain clouds showed that an afternoon rainstorm was imminent, and we had a brief stop so Nancy could buy some pineapples and pull on the beach cover before the rains came down and drenched us. Our campsite tonight was just north of Huambo, and Norma and Katherine made a vegetarian curry for dinner. Tim reported that according to his GPS, we drove a whopping 540 KM today, which gave us hope that perhaps we could transit across Angola on our 5 day visa after all!
13 Mar: The early morning breakfast routine was easy to get used to and we were on the road by 6 am, driving past the town of Huambo at 7:40 am. The beautiful rock formations continued to impress us, and we spent a lot of time gazing out at the passing scenery from the beach and the side windows. Last night’s curry took a vengeance on us today as Luke lit up a series of absolutely horribly stinky farts that kept the entire truck on its toes and with burning eyes. Smelly Luke is now banned from ever eating chickpeas or soy mince again! Today’s road were absolutely horrible, as the good distance we drove yesterday was but a memory as we fought against dismal roads to make some progress. Lunch was in a nice shady spot under Eucalyptus trees and Robby made an impromptu shady spot on the beach with his laundry line and a grass mat. We had to tackle muddy pot holes and bumpy terrain, and were so slow going that we were even passed up by a guy riding a bicycle dressed in a fancy suit! Eventually, we hit tarmac road again (thank God) and attempted to guess how long we would drive before Chris called it quits (the times ranged from Sean at the low end with a 6:40 pm guesstimate and Norma with a 9 pm end time). Sara guessed correctly as we drove for less than an hour on the tarmac before finding a campsite for the night at 7 pm. Becky, Sara and Lucky made a yummy pumpkin-tomato pasta meal which went down well. Meanwhile, Bree and Luke volunteered to fry up some prawn crackers as long as cook group did the dishes so it was a deal. After dinner, cook group served up a treat by making a yummy peach custard desert which was well received but took a while to prepare. Total distance drive today: 264 KM.
14 Mar: Breakfast at 5:15, left at 6 am. It had been a chilly night, and as a result, everyone was huddled in warm clothes for the drive. We drove straight to Lubango where we had hoped on filing for our visa extensions. After looping around the scenic town, complete with its own Christ statue at the top of a mountain range, we ended up parking at a gas station to refuel, fill gerry cans and offer Nancy an opportunity to head over directly to the customs office to check on our visas. After a brief wait, Nancy came back to brief us that our extension request had been denied, because with transit visas extensions weren’t possible (only tourist visas could be extended). With the bad news in hand, we had a mere 5 minutes to conduct any last minute shopping to rid ourselves of excess Kwanza, and then we drove as fast as possible towards the border. Becky’s cook group brought all of our lunch stuff on the truck so we could eat while driving to save time. It was a fun (albeit windy) lunch of corned beef, crackers, pineapple and tomatoes. We drove on and on and started a truck game to guess how long we would drive before Chris called it quits (the times ranged from Sean at the low end with a 6:40 pm guesstimate to Norma’s guess of a 9 pm end time). Sara guessed correctly as we pulled up to our campsite at exactly 7:02 pm. Our bush camp was on the side of the road about 150 KM from the border where we enjoyed a nice sunset. Dinner was a simple ravioli meal and we fell asleep knowing that tomorrow would be a challenge as we still had rough roads to contend with before reaching the border to Namibia.
15 Mar: Breakfast at 5:15 with our usual 6 am departure. We had a brilliant sunrise which warranted a few predeparture photos. It was a rough road and we got stuck in a mud hole at 8 am. Everyone got off the truck and armed with shovels, we scrounged around for rocks to fill in the hole. After twenty minutes worth of sweaty labor, we were able to get the truck unstuck and continued on our way. At around 9 am the road improved and we drove to a gas station in Ondjiva. After that, the road deteriorated again and there were wetlands on both sides of the road along with people fishing with baskets, making for picturesque scenery. Finally, the border crossing at Santa Clara was in sight, and much to our delight, we found out that we would be able to cross with no penalty fee from Angola for being late (apparently our 5 day transit visa consisted of 5 x 24 hour periods to cross the country so technically, the morning of the 6th day, we were still considered on time).