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Angola - real adventure awaits!

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ANGOLA - CERVEJA, OBRIGADO!

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, it is very important stuff to know!

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Angola is not a tourist country, years of debilitating warfare has left the country in ruins. Angola is not the sanitised type of travel places where hordes of suite case dragging, Ipad photo taking, tourists hang around. It is still one of the last authentic adventure destinations that will enthrals an explorer with real world experiences, with rich culture and landscapes with remote and solitude virgin wildlife parks. 

It sounds stupid but that is why we are drawn to these countries, a lot less rules and still not besieged by tourists, you get a true taste of the local flavour of the country. 

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The last time I visited Angola it was on an off road trip through desolate desert in Southern Angola. Five of us took on the “Doodsakker” (place to ambush ones enemy) on the Angolan coast; this harrowing ride on the beach can only be done with extreme low tides. The reason to revisit Angola this time around was to show Elsebie this wonderful country and to experience more of the local culture. Elsebie also wanted to see the place where her brothers fought the Communists during the South African border war years ago.

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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, the border post and town between Namibia and Angola, but the more we spoke to the locals at Ruacana which is the dirt 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, the why we wanted to cross at this small border is that it is generally easier and less stressful than the main border posts. Eventually we decided to cross at Oshikango, the only major border between Angola and Namibia. Major bloody mistake! This was one of the most difficult borders we have ever crossed.  Just plain unreasonable request and delays, but that is Africa for you. 

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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 a bloody 40C outside. We have never paid a bribe, but there is a general saying between 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. 

Angola is a rather expensive destination due to not being a tourist destination since the 1970's. Lodges or B&B’s and proper restaurants are equally expensive but at least beer and fuel were cheaper than the norm. Roadside eateries offer food at affordable prices and some have really tasty goat and rice dishes. Camping and being self-sufficient is key to travelling this country.  Wild camping is actually the best way and many villages have no issues to allow foreigners to camp outside the village. 

Our first destination was Lubango the home of Jose, the man that not only fought against us 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 a coastal town with hip colonial and beautiful art deco buildings and a waterfront with colourful cement arches for beach goers to relax. Eventually Jose decided to escort us to Namibe for a day trip and that evening arranged a barbecue and entertainment by the Falcon music band. Josef, the Louis Armstrong look-a-like wood saw artist, Jose on bass guitar player and Nando a guitar player were on form and gave the audience a stellar show. The equal of a good ZZ-top performance. Angolans are for some reason or another quite talented when it comes to music. 

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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 to 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 children. Maybe that is the trade mark 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. 

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Angola also features jaw-dropping beautiful landscapes and in summer even more so. You can venture from tropical coastal areas to desert landscape and spectacular waterfalls inland in 250km and the sea water temperature at Namibe is close to 25 degrees celsius.  Due to Portuguese influence you get a bit of a community-orientated lifestyle of southern Portugal in Africa. I understand why so many people and especially Portuguese people immigrated to this country, even though it is hell hard to do business in Angola. The locals have a saying “nothing in Angola is easy”.

Edited by michnus
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The day after our welcome party in Lubango, which ended around 3am, we went to Jose’s beach spot just north of the town at Bias dos Pipas, Namibe. Namibe is a colourful small little community that resembles something like Corsica or a Mediterranean island with a few hundred inhabitants. The beaches are super clean with turquoise warm water. It is as if time stood still in that area.

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Jose and his family left at about 8pm for Lubango, we stayed behind to enjoy a night on the beach. Angola has some 1700km of coastline. There’s not many places you can still park your bike on such expansive beaches and sleep there without a worry in the world. This place is a paradise, in fact, it is worth dealing with some of the bureaucratic nonsense; this country offers many freedoms, but at a price. 

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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 the plan was to ship the bikes back to Portugal again. They were apparently inspired by our previous trip that we wrote on a motorcycle forum. One of them had never ridden a motorcycle and not to miss out on this epic expedition decided to try it on a four wheel motorcycle.

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Agusto invited us to his parents’ house for a local fish barbeque. 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 as 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.

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After lunch we set out to a camp spot on the outskirts of Namibe and barely 1km out of town we saw military cruise missiles pointing south towards South Africa. Well the locals said it is supposedly pointed to South Africa to make sure they do not start some funny business. 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. They were old and definitely dated back to the cold war.  More bizarre were the security procedures at the military base. 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 fire power………noa, NOA!! No,no! They said, no surprise there.

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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, you know a nice to have, or Fidel Castro told them it must be trick to pull. Whatever the reason I hope for the inhabitants of Namibe’s sake those old rusted missiles have been disarmed.i-hj8LpQz-XL.jpg

On the road between Lubango to Namibe is the famous Serra da Leba pass an is pretty steep. The most challenging part of the climb is a short section of 1.7km, with 7 hairpin turns. It’s one of the famous hair pinned roads in the world.

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From the pass it is a short distance to 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. Well that’s the rumour anyway. The view over Lubango from the statue is incredible and you can hear the city noise which is like an injured beast. 

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 personnel carriers, reminders of the utterly devastating effect that the war had on this country. 

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Even though riding in Angola leaves one with a bit of a lump in the throat, especially so as a South African as we have been part of that war, the resilience and attitude towards life from the Angolans is remarkable and will ensure that the country will eventually prosper. 

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Camping in Angola is special, one can camp virtually any place along the road quite safely, like most locals will tell you, it is 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 spoke Afrikaans, one of South Africa native languages. 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 South African 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 in Angola. 

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Angola must be the last country that is part of Southern Africa that is not geared for mainstream tourism … still needing visas and such intricacies. For those that still seek exhilarating travel experiences and explore some real world raw adventure,  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.

Obrigado!

Edited by michnus

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