Introduction to the REAL Africa

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Well, what followed was so frightening and amazing at the same time that words to truly convey our experience fail me……maybe Stewie the journalist can do it better, but I will give it my best try!!

Admittedly, we were both nervous about this border crossing as we had been warned by several travelers to expect the worst. Why we decided to cross at Ruacana, is still a mystery but we arrived at about 11.30 being the first people to cross that day. At the Namibian side, the officials decided that they need some entertainment as it must be bloody boring to sit in 35degrees all day waiting for someone to appear. So they proceeded to try and find Stan’s engine number which seemed impossible to find whilst the customs guy asked us at least 10 times whether we were sure that we have no goods to declare!! Finally we made our way to the Angolan side and it was not so bad at all. Just the problem with the fact that the Angolan Embassy in CT decided to put Stew’s visa in his old passport took some explaining. But after having been send back to the Namibian side and more explaining, we got our stamps and were off into the unknown!

Well, if we said the Mozambican roads were bad…..well we were actually joking. There is no comparison to what awaited us on this journey. Before Stew gives you the lowdown I just need to warn any other LUNATICS that decide to take this road that the following are absolute essentials :

  1. Rescue remedy…..10 bottles if you can
  2. I-Trip, absolutely essential just to soothe the mind and to remind you that you are still alive
  3. A whole lot of patience
  4. Nerves of STEEL
  5. Humour in bucket loads
  6. Water Water Water and then some more Water, there is truly no joy when you have to fix something on the car in the blazing sun with temperatures of 40degrees and no wind nor shade

Despite being gatvol at times and despite the fact that at times I have been the scariest I have ever been in my life, despite me thinking at times that I am not made for this and that I will be unable to do this trip, despite my thoughts that we are truly in the middle of nowhere and that if anything happens to us here, our kids will never find us, I learned so much….

  • I learned to trust Stewart as well as Stan above all
  • I learned that nature is the best teacher
  • I learned that as in life, crossing a river is not the hardest, rather what waits on the other side, and how to get out on the other side. So, take the plunge, cross the river, but be prepared for what happens once you get out on the other side
  • I learned that no matter how long the night feels the sun will always rise and a bright new day will start

 

Day 1 Ruacana to 25km past Chitado

 

The hydro-electric dam wall at Ruacana was beautiful the water pouring under our car as we drove over the bridge.

 The dam at RuacanaLocals hangin' at Chitado - check the SADF bullet holes!!

The road from Ruacana immediately turned to dirt, about the size of a farm road that only gets used once or twice a day. Our first landmark was Chitado, a village 41 km away. The “road” twisted and turned following a general direction west. The absence of people was immediately apparent other than a few wandering Himba people, making their way from nowhere to nowhere through the dense bush. Chitado consisted of about 10 old houses some of them in ruins clearly showing the marks of the Civil War. From Chitado we headed north, closely watching the electronic map on the Garmin as we had to turn west at a fork in the road unmarked by a village or civilization. We stopped on the way to help a local whose motorbike had given up the battle with the road and had collapsed on him. I helped him as much as I could but eventually had to leave him to put it all together again as time was marching on.Then onwards, left at the fork in the road, towards Oncocoa. At  about 4.45 pm, we decided to camp  for the night, and pulled off the road under a giant baobab tree, and set up camp in the middle of nowhere whilst preparing our first meal on Angolan soil!

 Helping the locals    Bushcamp.....as you can see NO MORE glamour!!!

The Garmin was now our constant companion, to check the road maps, distance traveled, average speed, altitude and much other useful and useless information. According to “Mr G” ( the Garmin) we had traveled for 3 hours 50 minutes ,  covering 114kms.

 

Day 2 – Bush Camp to Bush Camp, via Oncocoa and Moimba

 

We left our first night’s bushcamp about 8am all set for a day of tough driving. First we encountered  a river crossing where the water was flowing shin-deep. After an initial walkthrough, Stanruza crossed with ease under the watchful gaze of a Himba lady that once again, appeared out of thin air! Annaliese tried to communicate with her and at least got her to pose for a pic after a reward of a mealie and a biscuit. We soon reached the village of Oncocoa.. Again consisting of just a few houses and huts, with old bullet marks scarring the brickwork , we dove westwards, at a steady 20-30kms per hour. The countryside was thickly grassed, and we encountered several herds of wild looking cattle, with some of them having huge horns that  the Spanish matadors immediately came to mind. But other than the people at the village, and again the occasional Himba moving like ghosts through the bush, there was very little sign of human habitation.

 Our Himba lady Well done !! Crossing one of the many rivers

The road to the Cunene mouth and the road we had chosen to head further north, were one and the same until just past Moimba.   Although the map showed us entering a National Park there was no discernable difference. Watching the map on Mr G, we knew we had to turn northwest at the next turn right – but there was no next turn , right or left!!  Mr G insisted we had missed the turn, so we retraced our steps, and found the faintest hint of a track heading northwest.

 

With no-one to ask for directions we had to trust  that this was indeed our turnoff.  We now were following a track that looked like it had last been used a few months back and our average speed dropped even further, as we struggled to follow the faint track through the bush. Every river crossing was now pure guesswork as there were no fresh tracks to follow into and out of the river beds. We had to stop at each crossing, walk through the river to the other side to try and find the slightest indication of a track.

 

As we drove on, we steadily dropped in altitude, and as we did the bush thinned  and there was less and less water in the riverbeds, most of them being bone dry. By now the road surface was deteriorating fast but we pushed on as far as we could, until we were forced to stop on the bank of a river with a particularly sandy crossing point, one which we decided to tackle in the morning. As we set up camp a wandering Himba appeared out of nowhere, asking for food and clothing. We gave him a few stale Pringle chips, and one of Zack’s old pink golf shirts, (a La Coste no less!!) which seemed to satisfy him.

 

Not knowing what lay in front of us tomorrow, but knowing we still had another 200km or so to Flamingo lodge/campsite on the sea, we had a very uneasy night. According to Mr G, we had only managed 177kms that day, which took us just short of 9 hours!

 

Day 3 – Bushcamp to Flamingo Bay

 

Waking after a night of little sleep with strange noises and no idea of what awaited us that day, we decided to get into Stanruza and on the road as quickly as possible, and just as well. The road deteriorated even further and the first 40km took us 2 hours!!! What made matters worse is that Annaliese was bitten by some weird insect and the bites that covered the bottom part of her legs, soon turned into blisters, made worse by the unbearable heat as well as our discovery that something went wrong with Stan. We stopped and in 40degrees had to try and fix the airbags as part of it dislodged and was clanging loudly as we went over every bump. We eventually gave up as we still had a long way to go and wanted to reach our destination that day still.

 Weird insects, weird place!!Where is the bloody road!!

The last 53kms was nerve wrecking as we had to drive very slowly to ensure Stan gets there in one piece, we ran out of water and the heat was unbearable. Despite all this, once we saw the amazing Arco Oasis in the middle of nowhere, our spirits lifted. This inland lake is absolutely stunning and for the first time in Angola, we saw the locals planting crops and working on very organized farmland. We later learned that this was the Kimbundu tribe. Surrounding the lake were the most amazing sandstone formations, very similar to the White Desert in Egypt. Truly amazing to see all this as it seems that Angola is a country with diverse vegetation, in one day we went from thick bush, to savanna grassland to arid desert with Welwitchia plants, to a lake and lush vegetation, back to desolate desert landscape.

 Desolation Inland lake

Best of all was our first sighting of …..wait for it…….a TAR ROAD !!!!! Yeah !! Only 2 problems….we had no idea which way to turn and as this is the first time we have been on a proper road in Angola, we were traveling on the wrong side of the road!! We soon realized our mistake, and eventually with the help of Mr G, found the turnoff to the lodge. Our trip on the tar was all of 13kms!! Unfortunately the end was not in sight yet as the road to the lodge once you turn of the tar follows a river bed and as luck would have it, we got properly stuck in the sand 1 Bloody km from the lodge!!! Well after a few attempts and murderous looks from Annaliese, we got the sandladders out and got unstuck. We arrived at the place and to the utter disbelief of the manager Ursula, told the story of the way we traveled……turned out that no – one has ever been on those roads!!!

Tar road at lastWe made it YEAHHHHH

We were so exhausted and filthy (Stew was at least 10 shades darker) that we decided not to camp and paid an exorbitant price for one night in the lodge to ensure a proper cleanup and a good nights sleep.

Flamingo LodgeOur camp Strandloper !

We set up camp the next day and spend the next two nights relaxing, going for walks on the beach and killing ourselves laughing at the jokes told by the fisherman that frequent the place. We were well entertained, first by a crowd from Vredendal who had a field day teasing “Die Engelsman en sy Landrover” ( It seems that everyone here are hardened Toyota fans) and then by a group of Paarl farmers who made no bones about the fact that we will never get to the end of the trip with a Landy!!

 Tanning in the dust ...between the fire and the coals......what a girl is reduced to !!

Stew partly fixed Stan with the help of the locals and after finally getting my equipment out, I could do my first massage on him in the desert!!  The next day we were surprised by a HUGE group of campers , all 48  of them. They were part of a tour organised by Radio sonder Grense  and just as well we decided to leave the next day as the place got a bit crowded. Big surprises at Flamingo though, we ran into family of Izak and Hester as well as Luffie Druker who grew up with me in Aus and whom I have last seen more than 30 years ago!!