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Friday, 20 August 2010

Angola - Caxito, Lubango and more on our whistle-stop tour...

Angola...the ultimate drive-through experience. The country was ravaged by civil war until about 10 years ago and so is still very much unvisited by tourists. There are still old, abandoned army tanks on the side of the road and bullet holes riddle all the buildings.

A tank

Another tank

3rd tank

Final tank
Bombed out buildings. (Note man pouring water from the wall in the middle.)

Our objective was to get from north to south within 10 days to keep to our schedule. So we drove for full days and just admired the ever-changing scenery from the truck. The only big worry in Angola was all the unexploded landmines. We never felt threatened by the people and it really did contradict any opinion of the country that we had anticipated.

We crossed over into the Portugese-speaking territory and headed straight along the main road. The main issue with finding bush camps was avoiding any untrodden ground and the landmines beneath. So the first spot Marjane found for us was obviously truck stop central where there was a small truck-sized clearing off the road. Unfortunately for us this also meant that we were sleeping at the only toilet spot available for truckers within a 100km radius. So after finding a tent-shaped spot without any soiling...we all slept pretty well!

The landscape was absolutely, and sadly unexpectedly, beautiful. It changed from savanna to lush greenery to mountains withing a couple of days. Many photo opportunities (as the photos above demonstrate). The next night in camp, AK and Dave decided to challenge themselves to a Bear Grylls extravaganza. They were attempting to make fire using just 2 pieces of wood. 2 hours and about 7 buckets of sweat later, we had smoke. But no fire.

AK and Berbs attemping to make fire using 2 twigs and a lot of elbow grease.

Berbs getting a sweat on.

AK: so much fire.

Sonya woman: Make fire. Ug ug.

So AK went to bed defeated. That was until about half an hour later when from a distance I was summoned across camp. We appeared to have our second worm experience. It had burrowed its way into the sole of his foot and just looked like a little black splinter peeking out. That was until he squeezed it. I was peering in, fascinated as ever by anything gory, and a big yellow lump of puss like substance came shooting out. We tweezered out what we later decided was a 'jigger flea' (read more about them in the third installment of our Cameroon entry) and it left a gaping crevice in his foot where wormy wormstein had made his home and laid a sack of eggs (the puss-like substance we'd squeezed out). Unfortunately it was too dark for any worm photos. However, the below photo diary shows another kind of wormy experience altogether as Squirt samples some dried caterpillars that Berbs had  bought in the market earlier that day.

Shortly after eating the caterpillar, Squirt turned into one.
The next day, Mark drove us out back towards the coast again and we arrived for the night at a stunning cliffside location. The white sandy beach stretched along from the base of some sandstone cliffs, which lead to a huge lagoon at it's base. If it hadn't dropped down to about 10 degrees the last couple of days I'm sure we would have all been in swimming. We ended up just trekking down to the beach with our cameras, avoiding landmines and sitting down to chill out and watch the sunset. AK and Kylie cheffed up a delicious dinner of fresh baked sweet-potatoes over the fire although some of us were feeling pretty full from lunch (or I might say our stomachs were not happy with eating much after our lunch of stewed bush cat.....complete with paws and all!)

Bush camp on the Angolan coast.

Stunning setting next to a lagoon. Note all tents on the path to avoid any landmines...

A terrible picture of me AK is making me post to show writing this blog entry in camp :(

Sonya writing her blog with a cup of tea in one hand and the LP (The Bible) in the other.

Karen becomes the second Jigger flea victim after AK. Check the toe!!

Keeping warm by the fire.

On the road the next day we were driving along and stopped to check out a crashed helicopter. It must have been shot down and was pretty much still intact except that the back end was totally blown out. The boys went for an explore inside and even got to have their photos taken sitting behind the still complete pilot controllers.

Crashed chopper 10 metres from the road.

Controls still intact gave Kylie and Dave some fun times living out their Airwolf fantasies.

This is AK's hand firing one of the missile launchers. (Thank god no longer functioning!)

Everything worth pillaging had long gone out of the chopper.

Sonya took this awesome photo of  the 4 brothers from other mothers. (L-R: Leon, AK, Dave and Kyle)

Along the road we had to find a camp and hadn't seen any possibilties for a mine-free bush camp. So we decided to pull into a tiny village consisting of 4 or 5 huts and lots of chickens. It must have been an extended family and they were more than happy for us to camp in their front garden. As Son and I cooked up dinner, Kim and Kay went and sat next to the family's camp fire with the kids, and gave them some Milo (posh man's equivalent of Cadbury's chocolate, and raved about by our South African buddies). In the morning we bought a huge bag of charcoal and honey from the family which is how they made their living, and headed off to a town called Caxito where we had to sort out a visa extension.
These 4 huts comprised the village we stayed in one night. The population of the truck at least doubled the population of the village.

Beforehand, you can only get permission to enter Angola for a maximum of 7 days. However, for this transit visa it was not possible for the truck to make it through Angola. So on the last trans trip, the guys stopped in Caxito, paid 30 US dollars at the police station and got a visa extension for another 5 days to see them out of the country. So when we arrived in the town, Mark (Marjane) and the other Mark (Dave/Berbs) bumbled off to the embassy and the rest of us explored the town. When Dave and Mark got back they were not impressed. At all. Mark looked like he wanted to punch someone and just wanted to get the fadook out of there.

They had arrived at the station and sat at a guy's desk to explain what it was we needed. On his desk there was a list of prices and different types of visas you could apply for, and unbeknown to the official, Dave was busy roughly translating the list using his Spanish. The extra transit visa we needed was listed at 60 dollars (twice the price of the year before, but along the way 80% of everything we had done was twice the price so he wasn't so surprised...) The chap then tried to tell the boys that the visa we needed was going to be 100 dollars. Dave pointed out that we were not actually dumb-ass tourists to be ripped off and showed him on the list the 60 dollar price. The guy then hid the list under some other paperwork and said 'No - it's either 100 dollars per person or nothing.' Marjane proceeded to rant and rave in English at the Portugese guy - there's nothing more annoying to us then being ripped off by people....To this the official stood up and walked out of the office. Soon after another officer arrived and said the same that it was either 100 dollars each or all of us would not be allowed out of Angola and would be stuck in the country illegally. So after paying an extortionate price of $120 for the original visa and another $100 for the extension we hot-footed out of there mightily pissed off. It just seems like such a shame that after so much conflict, tourists want to start visiting the country again and yet they make it damn near impossible to visit within a reasonable price. AK suggested that Angola should be renamed 'Asshola' as a tribute to the mighty work the Angolan police do.

Woman selling fruit in a market we stopped in for lunch.

The local hospital.

Driving past a tiny village on the way through to Caxito.

Statue of Jesus built on top of the hill over-looking the city of Lubango. (This was as close as we got.)

We cruised along another stunning road the next couple of days. One of the really noticable things as we drove along was all of the burnt-out churches we came across. During the war it seemed as though the churches had been targetted and destroyed. But nobody has demolished them or fixed them up since and they still stand as memorials of the strife the country suffered.

One of the many bombed churches in the country.

THE most scary bridge I have ever seen...

...let alone driven across in an 18 tonne truck!!

Random shot of Kyle on a toilet stop playing the air guitar.

An even more random picture of Kylie living up to his name of Homeless.

Checking a dead snowy owl on the side of the road. The farmers poison their crops to keep the rats etc away and the owls die by accident. Dave being Dave picked it up to have a 'proper' look.

The only other thing that made Angola the great experience it was, was all the bush camps. As you can imagine there are few campsites in the country and so we found a new, interesting spot each night. We stayed in a couple of quarries, a new housing development (where half of it was still land about to be dug-up), on a crossroad where an old road met a new road and had become the thouroughfare for the local villagers, and another where we saw the most stunning African sunset anyone could ever wish to see.

Kimmith and a whole load of kids.

The kettle - our saviour.

A stunning African sunset. Thanks to Sonya for this AMAZING (real life) photo!

And again.....thanks Sonya. (AK: this reminds me of Karate Kid suit.)

As the girls took pics of the sunset, Kyle, Marjane, AK and Berbs have a go at chopping the firewood.

Berber Dave complete with axe.

Always showing off!

Son and I were making pumpkin soup. Mmmmm.

Kay was having a bit of a jive to the truck music with the kids. Lots of new friends.

Kim and Kyle's tent in prime position.

I had to include this picture of AK (or should I say Ewan McGregor??!) (AK: I f**king hate Ewan McGregor!)

Just another example of the ever-changing beauty of Angola's countryside.

And we camped right in front of it. Awesome.

We also hit a lot of police checks along this road. The difference between this and the other country police checks was the Angolans needed all of the passengers every time to get off the truck and go to the office to be checked and stamped and stamped and stamped again. I think I lost 2 pages of my passport to the over-zealous Angolan police! One particular stop was by a stunning river side location. We were planning to stop for lunch and saw the police post in the car park. They came over and started checking the passports etc as a few of the passengers disappeared off to bush toilet. A lot of shouting and hand gesturing later, we realised that this was a really bad area for landmines and even the trodden path was not safe to be on. We all thought these guys were pretty helpful until Mark was called into the office where he realised all the police were stinking drunk. They were all trying their damned hardest to bribe us and get whatever they could from us. After another bout of swearing furiously in English at them Mark managed to tell them in not so many words to f*** off and, again, sped to fadook out of there.

I managed to get this sneaky picture of the lake by the police stop (don't tell Marjane, he'd be real angry with me!!)

Over the last couple of days in Angola, the roads deteriorated rapidly. They were once tar sealed roads, but now consist of 5 potholes to every metre of road. In true African fashion, instead of fixing the road, they seem to have spent an equal amount of money to create two new sand side roads alongside the original road for the traffic to avoid potholes. Although these sand side roads slowed us down twofold, at least we were going to save Ruby a couple of blown tyres.

Forest landscape totally different to anything we've really seen in Africa so far.

Monkeys off the road in the trees.

On the last road we followed on our way to the border, we experienced our last and probably wierdest police stop in Africa so far. We went through a routine stop and gave over our passports and truck insurance/passport stuff (apparently called the 'carnet.') They went through us passengers until they got the Prof (Neal). They were chatting away in Portugese and pointing at Neal and then his passport. Off they got from the truck and starting talking to the other police on the side of the road. Next thing, they were waving Neal out of the truck and were gesturing at his beard and making scissor movements. They were not going to allow us to continue along the road unless they could cut his beard off. (Not just any beard....his two foot long, double plaited, 5 years in the making, splendour of a beard.) For no apparent reason than for a laugh it seemed. Ordinarily, Mark would have just driven off and left them to it, but this clever/annoying bastard had a couple of passports and the carnet in his pocket so we were screwed unless we cooperated. Considering it had taken Neal 5 years to grow his beard and there was absolutlely no discernable reason why he should do what they wanted, Mark decided the only way for us to win was to sit it out. So we pulled up next to their office, parked up the truck and proceeded to start putting up the tents. We had all the time in the world......This seemed to do the trick. I guess they hadn't been ready to deal with our seasoned trans driver who wasn't going to take any crap from anyone, and he quickly gave back the documents and we disappeared behind a multitude of middle fingers.

A snapshot of the beard extraordinaire. Still in tact I have to reiterate.

That was our final day in Angola and the police really were the only down-side to the country. The landscape was stunning, the locals were extremely friendly and I'm so glad that tourists are starting to visit again, if only they would make it easier for us to enter the country in the first place it was a wonderful place to see.


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