Discovering new roads in Angola
Angola is not in tourist must-see catalogues
Angola – You only have to know these two words to have locals crack a broad smile and even hard-ass police officials won’t be able to keep a straight face. ‘Beer’ and ‘Thank You’ are what these Portuguese words mean, very important stuff!
The last time I visited Angola it was more of an off-road ride. Five of us took on the “Doodsakker” on the Angolan coast; this harrowing ride on the beach can only be done with extreme low tides.
That ride was also where the idea was born to make our own motorcycle advenduro soft luggage panniers. All the advmoto gear we used till then just did not survive the abuse of adventure riding trips.
This time around it was to show Elsebie this wonderful country and to try and mix with some of the locals. Elsebie also wanted to see the place where her brothers fought the Commies during the South African border war years ago.
Angola is a damn fickle mistress! This time she gave me a hard time, let me give you the absurd before I get to the good stuff. We were supposed to enter Angola at Ruacana but the more we spoke to the locals at Ruacana which is the route to Cahama, the more we were advised to stay away and use the main border.
It was the rainy season and the roads were so bad that we would not be able to get to Cahama in a day, this is why we wanted to cross at this small border as it is generally easier and less stressful than the main border posts. Eventually, we decided to cross Oshikango, the only major border between Angola and Namibia. Major bloody mistake!!
Angola is a damn fickle mistress!
We gave the Angolan embassy in SA the letters of invitation Jose, our Angolan friend sent to us for the issuing of the visa. Now these numbskulls at the border wanted a copy of it! How in hell must we get copies now, and we already have the visa so the letter is irrelevant!?
We tried to explain but the officials, who could quote from their system the name of the person who issued our invitation would have none of it, they wanted the letter! In the end, a local fixer leisurely behind us under a tree said he will go and fetch the fax on the Namibian side at Nedbank.
Thanks to Moses, who helped us the rest of the way, with his fee of about US$40 and 6 hours later we finally entered Angola. The border officials also did not know what a Carne-de-passage was, nor an International driver’s license and topped it off by telling Elsebie not to sit on a bench that was under the tree as it is only for officials.
We are used to difficult border posts but this fickle mistress Angola had me hot under the collar and to add insult to injury it was bloody 40C outside. Angola is not a tourist-friendly country. The bureaucracy is mind-boggling and the communist psyche is everywhere. Sounds stupid but that is why we are drawn to these countries, a lot fewer rules and still not besieged by tourists, you get a true taste of the local flavour of the country.
We have never paid a bribe, but there is a general saying among overlanders that says “we do not call it bribes we call it dealing with bureaucracy”. We just played it out, lost 6 hours but got an interesting look at the ‘daily workings’ at the border.
We found it damn expensive to stay in lodges or B&B’s and proper restaurants equally expensive but at least beer and fuel were cheaper than in SA. Camping and being self-sufficient are key to travelling this country. Roadside eateries offer food at affordable prices and some have really tasty goat and rice dishes.
Angola is the best-kept secret for advenduro motorcycle travel in Southern Africa
Our first destination was Lubango the home of Jose, the man that not only fought against South Africans in the border war but also the guy that hosted us in 2007 on our Foz du Cunene trip. We were greeted by Jose with a huge smile although he only really placed me about two days later due to my new Brad Pitt look-a-like long hair.
We were planning a trip to Namibe for a stay over; Jose decided to escort us to Namibe for a day trip and that evening arranged a braai and entertainment by the Falcon band. Josef, the Louis Armstrong look-a-like wood saw artist, Jose – a Johan Stemmet look-a-like bass guitar player and Nando – Al Debo look-a-like guitar player were on form and gave the audience a stellar show, the equal of a good ZZ-top performance.
The generosity, warmth and friendliness of the Angolans know no bounds. We felt it everywhere we went. People do not look miserable and unhappy, in fact, they look quite content with their lives in this recovering country. Make no mistake Angola is still a very poor country and typical of African countries the connected elite and government cronies try their best to empty the coffers for their own benefit.
The common folk know they have to do things for themselves in order to succeed. Adults and kids wave to us, no stone-throwing or outstretched hands – begging, so unlike the Namibian Himbas and Ethiopian kids. Maybe that is the trademark of a tourist country versus a non-tourist country. They jump up and down with excitement when we wave back or stop for some photos. They are easy to talk to and eager to help.
The generosity, warmth and friendliness of the Angolans know no bounds.
Angola also features jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes and in summer even more so. You can go from a tropical to the desert landscape in 170km and the seawater temperature at Namibe is close to 25 degrees. I understand why so many people and especially Portuguese people immigrate to this country, even though it is hell hard to do business in Angola. The locals have a saying “nothing in Angola is easy”.
The day after our welcome party, which ended around 3am, we went to Jose’s beach spot just north of the town at Bias dos Pipas, Namibe. It is a colourful small little community that resembles Hentie’s Bay (no shops and tourists though).
Jose and his family left about 8pm for Lubango, we stayed behind to enjoy a night on the beach. How many places can you still park your bike on the beach and sleep there without a worry in the world? This place is a paradise, in fact, worth dealing with some of the bureaucratic nonsense; this country offers many freedoms but at a price. Rules are really mere suggestions.
From Lubango to Namibe is the famous Lebo pass and a statue which resembles Christ the Redeemer an Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Apparently, there are three in the world, this one, one in Portugal and then Brazil. There is so much to see and experience in Angola.
We met up with Agusto in Namibe the next day, he is a friend of Jose and a 40-year-old fisherman who co-owns fishing boats with his dad. To our surprise, he rides a Harley he bought into Angola 20 years ago. He was waiting for four of his friends from Portugal, they shipped their bikes from Portugal to Mozambique and then rode all the way to Angola and will be shipping the bikes back to Portugal again. They were apparently inspired by our previous trip report written by Metaljockey (Erik) -“Angola not what they said”. One of them had never ridden a bike and not to miss out on this epic expedition decided to try it on a quad.
Agusto invited us to his parents’ house for a local fish braai. This was the strangest darn thing, and maybe it is because dual-purpose riders are sort of cut from the same cloth. Yes, yes, generalisations, but to date, all these bike riders we have come to meet have become friends of ours. These guys felt like my friends from school I last saw 20 years ago, not like complete strangers that only met 30 mins ago.
We just knew we would see them again in the near future even if we have to fly to Portugal or them to SA. This is what it is all about, meeting people, making friends and seeing new places………. life is great!
Agusto invited us to his parent’s house for a local fish braai. This was the strangest darn thing, and maybe it is because dual-purpose riders are sort of cut from the same cloth. Yes, yes, generalisations, but to date, all these bike riders we have come to meet have become friends of ours. These guys felt like my friends from school I last saw 20 years ago, not like complete strangers that only met 30 mins ago.
We just knew we would see them again in the near future even if we have to fly to Portugal or them to SA. This is what it is all about, meeting people, making friends and seeing new places………. life is great.
Namibe is a pretty small fishermen’s village on the coast around 300km up from the Namibian border from Foz de Cunene. It has beautiful art deco buildings and a waterfront with colourful cement arches for beachgoers. After lunch we set out to a camp spot on the outskirts of Namibe and barely 1km out of town we saw missiles pointing south towards SA, well the locals said it is supposedly pointed to SA to keep us in check. There is for sure some pointing towards the USA but for some reason, I doubt when they hit the button those missiles will go further than the town’s municipal border.
More bizarre were the security procedures. I rode up to the derelict gate, no fences, where the officials were lazing around, I asked whether it was possible for me to take pictures of the awesome firepower………noa, NOA!! No,no! They said, no surprise there.
No fences – I can walk in there at night and take a missile as a souvenir. Nobody knows if it is a stunt to get Google Earth to pick up on it and make the USA and other countries believe Angola is a force to be reckoned with or if it’s just a memory to the war. Whatever the reason I hope for the inhabitants of Namibe that those old rusted missiles have been disarmed.
Part of the allure of Angola is the feeling of a country captured in a time capsule. The buildings and architecture are still from the colonial era with an art deco style. Some are beautifully preserved and gives a ‘Cuba’ like feeling. Many buildings still show the scars of the Border war and are left like that.
It is a very stark and sad reminder that there are no winners in a war. Relics of the war are scattered along the road, tanks and personal carriers, reminders of the utterly devastating effect that the war had on this country.
Even though riding in Angola leaves one with a bit of a lump in the throat, especially so as a South African, the resilience and attitude towards life of the Angolans are remarkable and will ensure that the country will eventually prosper.
Camping in Angola is special, one can camp virtually any place along the road, quite safely, as most locals will tell you, probably the biggest reason campsites don’t exist. We had set up camp one evening when a leathered old man named William, with a shy smile on his face approached us. We asked if it was okay to camp there and he immediately made some gestures which we understood as being all good to camp. But then in very broken English, he asked if we speak Afrikaans. We nearly choked on our N’gola beer.
When we replied in Afrikaans he switched and told us in proper Afrikaans how he learned the language from the SA soldiers he helped during the war. Absolutely flabbergasted in the middle of bloody nowhere in Angola this man speaks Afrikaans! He assured us it is safe to camp next to his small village. The kindness of strangers is just amazing. And this we experienced all over the places we visited.
Angola must be the last country that is part of SADEc that is not geared for tourism … still needing visas and such intricacies. For those that still want to explore a less developed country, Angola is the place for you … at the current rate of progress and Chinese build infrastructure, it is not going to last forever. Angola provided us with a wonderful time. We will hopefully be able to go back in the future. Angola and its people have a way of creeping into your heart.
Words & Photos: Michnus Olivier