Wild Dog Adventure Riding

Riding: Plan, Report and Racing => Ride Reports => Topic started by: NiteOwl on August 29, 2019, 02:16:44 am

Title: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on August 29, 2019, 02:16:44 am
A significant part of the earth’s oxygen gets replenished from carbon dioxide in the rainforests along the equator. For every person on our planet there are currently more than 400 trees, but they are disappearing - part of the price paid for relentless economic development. As a result, carbon dioxide is accumulating in the atmosphere and we are experiencing the effects of global warming causing increasing swings in the world’s weather. With even Cape Town experiencing a severe drought in 2017/18, what is happening to the equatorial rainforests in Africa?

We’ve been up the east coast of Africa to Zanzibar, but no further than Kaokoland along the west coast. We haven’t seen Angola at all, and never crossed the equator by road, but we’re not spring chickens anymore. Then I came across this at a local dealer and started to contemplate the possibilities.


A few Voetspore episodes later a route northwards began to take shape and gradually the dream became a reality.

With a lightweight bike everything changes: they are cheaper to maintain, have lower fuel consumption (even without fuel injection), less tyre wear, are easier to manoeuvre, easier to pick up and still have enough capacity to carry our usual kit. After a few months of commuting on it, I started looking for another Tornado. For mrs Owl.


April found me queuing for a new passport at the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) offices. According to their website, it takes 10 working days to produce one.


With the general disdain that most South Africans have for their public service, one would be sceptical to believe this claim, but within two weeks we both actually did have brand new passports and could apply for the necessary visas. For this:


Not many people seem to visit the Congo rainforests and their inhabitants, and even Lonely Planet is rather taciturn on the region (Angola merits only two pages in the Africa edition). Hopefully we can assist in expanding the knowledge base a bit.

In the relentless quest for resources, the habitat of many animals living in this region is disappearing, endangering the very existence of those that have survived the civil wars so endemic to these countries. Even South Africa has not escaped this malaise – it just happened two centuries earlier and has been papered over by the development of game reserves and private game farms (we are the leading export country of CITES-listed trophy items). So maybe we can see some endangered wildlife north of the border before it’s all gone.


We’ve done the bosveld route through Limpopo many times before. As this is still the start of the trip, it’s an opportunity to sort out the packing of our stuff, shake down the mods on the bikes, the new equipment (we got new intercoms that are not properly fitted in our helmets yet) and hopefully improve the fuel consumption. It doesn’t start too well with mrs Owl’s Tornado running dry a few km before Vaalwater, with just over 200km on the odo. Oops- with that kind of range we may need those jerrycans more than we would like.

The target is to get into Botswana before nightfall, and with about 6000km to go, there is every reason to get to the border as quickly as possible. After turning off the N1, we stick to the tar as the Waterberge loom large in front of us.


Ellisras (Lephalale) passes under our wheels after crossing the Mokolo river, from where the road roughly follows the path of what is now the Limpopo river near the Groblersbrug/ Martin’s Drift border post (can anyone explain why we have FIFTEEN border posts with Botswana and only ONE with Zimbabwe ??). Electioneering is in full swing, but unfortunately we won’t be able to participate this time around:


Thirty kilometres out of town we cross the Tropic of Capricorn before turning north through the Waterberg coalfield:


Much of the region around Ellisras is game farming country (despite fact that Eskom is building the Medupi power station here, which will use all the current surplus water from the Mokolo Dam), and every now and then you can spot the animals from the road, like these sable antelope.


An hour or so later it is time for a final refuel before exchanging the green grass of home for our neighbour’s donkeys. We make a few last phone calls and send  some messages before crossing the Limpopo to perform the usual foot & mouth disease ritual in Botswana, in the dark.


The current rate for a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) is now R217 (even for a small bike!), but formalities are reasonably efficient and by 19H00 we are off on the last stretch to Kwa Nokeng. After paying for camping, our Pulas don’t quite cover two P165 buffet dinner fees, so we share a (big) plate. It has been a long day after the usual rush of last-minute activities that went before it, so we turn in early. Gradually the distant roar of the trucks coming to and from the border fade away in the distance.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Ian in Great Brak River on August 29, 2019, 02:26:47 am
Following with interest.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: IanTheTooth on August 29, 2019, 02:39:24 am
Good subject and the right amount of detail. Looking forward to the rest.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Noneking on August 29, 2019, 06:15:15 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Captain Cook on August 29, 2019, 06:19:42 am
Sub  Looking forward to following this
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Lem on August 29, 2019, 06:19:53 am
I remember following this on facebook, now for the report  :deal:

This one's gonna be good  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: stcomza on August 29, 2019, 07:19:03 am

Will gladly ride along  :biggrin:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: edgy on August 29, 2019, 07:43:37 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Oubones on August 29, 2019, 07:47:00 am
Following with a lot of interest as I am looking at getting a smaller lighter bike for adv riding!
I also have Angola on my bucket list!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Koet on August 29, 2019, 07:53:56 am
Sub!  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Grunder on August 29, 2019, 07:56:30 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: the ruffian on August 29, 2019, 08:10:08 am
Already full of articulate insights...
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: goblin on August 29, 2019, 08:10:27 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: katana on August 29, 2019, 09:01:05 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: ChrisL - DUSTRIDERS on August 29, 2019, 09:34:22 am
Sub!! Eager for the rest!! :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: cloudgazer on August 29, 2019, 10:01:10 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Offshore on August 29, 2019, 10:13:18 am
me too.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Steekvlieg on August 29, 2019, 10:32:26 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Shaun M on August 29, 2019, 10:44:02 am
Sub  :ricky:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Black_Hawk on August 29, 2019, 10:53:58 am
Thanks for sharing, looking forward to the rest of the report.  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Fudge on August 29, 2019, 11:39:39 am
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Bommelina on August 29, 2019, 12:05:56 pm
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: BullFrog on August 29, 2019, 12:14:39 pm
Lekkers Onno!!!

Following for sure..
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: skydiver on August 29, 2019, 01:33:32 pm
I see quite a few WDs were awake at around 02:00 this morning  :patch:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Goingnowherekwickly on August 29, 2019, 08:56:38 pm
Looking forward to more :)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: exkdx on August 29, 2019, 09:51:17 pm
living the dream :ricky:
Waiting in anticipa.....tion
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: ETS on August 30, 2019, 08:44:38 am
Following with interest thank you! By the way,are those not Roan antelope  ::) ;)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: punisher on August 30, 2019, 09:12:22 am
 O0 :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: RobLH on August 30, 2019, 09:24:33 am
Following with interest thank you! By the way,are those not Roan antelope  ::) ;)

No definitely Sable, just young animals.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Offshore on August 30, 2019, 10:05:45 am
The Afrikaans Name "Swartwitpens" is very apt.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: GeenSand on August 30, 2019, 10:20:03 am
Die is 'n swart-witpens.. (https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20190830/96aa77534791266c27163a70d0c66657.jpg)

Sent from my SM-A605F using Tapatalk

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Andyg on August 30, 2019, 11:32:52 am
Looking forward to this.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: ButtSlider on August 30, 2019, 12:39:58 pm
 :thumleft:Sub :sip:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Wanderer on August 30, 2019, 03:14:07 pm
Looking forward for more

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Brink on August 30, 2019, 04:34:12 pm
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on August 31, 2019, 11:15:32 am
I see quite a few WDs were awake at around 02:00 this morning  :patch:

I must refer you to my avatar....

On a different note, it looks like most subscribers here ride singles.

Regarding the swartwitpens, the facial markings differ quite bit from those of the roan antelope. I'm not familiar with the Richelieu model that was posted, but will keep my eyes open for one. 
Title: Onward to the Okavango
Post by: NiteOwl on August 31, 2019, 11:37:15 am
We are up with the traffic the next morning (difficult not to) to find everything wet from last night’s light rain. We drag over a table from one of the chalets nearby to unpack and sort our stuff (this process took a few repetitions before we finally got the packing part sorted). Everything that should be here appears to be present and correct. Good!


Nothing has come loose or fallen off the bikes, but mrs Owl’s GPS stopped working near Modimolle (Nylstroom) when the Zumo’s battery ran out and the USB cable I bought there made no difference. On her bike I installed the standard Garmin power cable with filter and inline fuse, so presumably that’s where the problem lies. A quick check with the continuity indicator confirms this diagnosis. Unfortunately I did not pack any 1A fuses, so a 10A one will have to do.

My GPS now exhibits the same problem as the Zumo on mrs Owl’s bike. As soon as I turn the bike’s USB power socket on, the display says “SAVING TRACKS…” and at 4% it dies. I did not pick this up before we left, because I had cleared the tracks before the trip (so there was nothing to save). Clearly, it’s a cable problem and the GPS is trying to write data to a non-existent recipient on the bike. Fortunately, there’s WiFi and an hour or so later it’s clear what the problem is and how the GPS can be “told” that there is no computer to write all that data to.


While the regular USB connector has four contacts (+5V, Return and Data +/-), the mini USB has five contacts and the extra one is used to distinguish between regular charging connections and data comms. The likelihood of sourcing a 17.3 KΩ resistor out here in the gramadoelas is zero and likewise the probability of finding any soldering tools required to make the required link. But…we have some aluminium tape and after trimming a thin sliver of this and carefully prising it into the USB mini connector with a tweezer, I eventually manage to push the connector onto the GPS with the tape still in place and the GPS is happy at last.


It’s noon by the time we finally get going towards the Makgadikgadi pans. At Palapye we are able to draw some Pula whilst refuelling. It looks like Uber Eats has also taken root in Botswana.


Annoyingly, I find that that Tracks4Africa is nearly 250m out with the turnoff in Serowe, and its detail further north also left a lot to be desired. With the late departure there’s only time to show my wife the entrance of the Khama Rhino Sanctuary before moving on. It must be one of the very few reserves with a 100% anti-poaching record; the remote location must surely be a factor.


Unsurprisingly with the bit of rain we had, the countryside looks more verdant than I have ever seen this part of Botswana. After an hour or so we stop for a “fuel break” and snacks. It’s about 240km from Palapye to Lethlakane, so we filled up one jerry can apiece as there are no pumps after Serowe.


Traffic is almost non-existent and even the usual hordes of donkeys appear to have found greener pastures elsewhere.


We stock up on water and fuel at Lethlakane and start looking for a camping spot along the road in the twilight. There’s a detour around the Orapa mine where a service road splits off the tar. A few hundred meters in we are almost undetectable from the main road, so we pitch the tent next to the track.


It turns out to be great spot and we enjoy a lappiestort from the water bag we filled up in Lethlakane with some rather oily looking water. We have a great night’s sleep at last as we start to get into the groove of life on the road and finally manage to get going at a more decent time. We see no soul until eight the next morning, when a TLB rumbles past, the driver waving a friendly greeting. By now we have also found a handy use for our tripod:


An easy stretch along the southern edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans awaits on our route for the day to Maun. It’s the usual washed-out  sandy pan scenery through Mopipi , Rakops and Motopi….


…interspersed with villages where rural life goes along as it has done for centuries. In fact, the next 1500 km to the Angolan border are all as flat as a pancake at an elevation of around 3000 ft.


It’s become noticeably hotter, vaaler and dryer since this morning and there is no water on either side of the bridge across the Thamalakane river in Maun as we head northwards out of town. Fortunately, the Motsana Arts café is still in business and we sink into the plump couches to enjoy a great cappuccino. A proper oasis!


Audi Camp is only a few hundred metres down the road and we check in to the campsite at 90 Pula per head (R120) after navigating the sandy access road.


The reception is very friendly although there’s visible decay in the bathrooms since our last visit. Aren’t these great smiles??


Mokoro trips into the Okavango are not possible as the delta is unseasonably dry. Along the edge of what little water is left, the camp’s boats lie waiting for the rains in Angola to make their way southwards.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Koet on September 02, 2019, 08:12:35 am
For some reason I can't see any of your latest post's photos.  May just be our corporate firewall IT gods being dicks?
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Clockwork Orange on September 02, 2019, 08:54:45 am
I cant see them neither
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Grunder on September 02, 2019, 09:29:47 am
For some reason I can't see any of your latest post's photos.  May just be our corporate firewall IT gods being dicks?

Yeah. saw the first post, but 2nd post's photos can't be seen
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Fuzzy Muzzy on September 02, 2019, 05:40:35 pm
Sub.. hope the pics come through. this is one area im keen to see from a bikes perspective.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: punisher on September 03, 2019, 07:11:26 am
i am seeing the pics

 :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft: :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Koet on September 03, 2019, 09:13:06 am
Can also see the pics now!   :ricky:
Title: Through the Caprivi
Post by: NiteOwl on September 03, 2019, 11:58:14 am
Before departing, I use the opportunity to patch our threadbare helmet linings and line up the intercoms. Today’s destination is Drotsky’s Cabins along the western edge of the Okavango, an old favourite.


After another leisurely cup of coffee down the road it’s time to get moving. The bikes are fine, but my GPS fix appears to have worn out. Whilst trying to get a Garmin power cable at Riley’s Garage, the manager offers the use of his workshop and the foreman walks me to the back. There’s an industrial-size soldering iron and a thick piece of solder on the workbench. By opening the metal shield of the mini USB connector I manage to get enough space for the soldering iron and after one or two attempts I have a thin blob of solder across the last two pins. A permanent fix this time. 

Once again we hit the road rather late. Our first stop is Lake Ngami, about 120 km to the southwest.


We were last here in 2015, when we camped at the end of the track at the edge of the water. This time, there is no water and the dusty road runs all the way through.


After refuelling we follow the road along the western edge of the Okavango delta. There’s still some 300 km to go to Drotsky’s and this is a pretty boring road only livened up by the multitude of potholes that have opened up. It’s dusk by the time we reach Drotsky’s, navigate the sandy approach road and settle in at our allotted camping spot. It’s too late for a sunset cruise, but there’s a boat ride on offer for the short hop to the dining room for a buffet dinner.


A great thing about these overlanding spots is that you get to meet some interesting folks, like these Germans with their Deux Chevaux. It’s a regular two-wheel drive but they have managed to drive through most of Africa including the Sahara with it, no doubt with copious use of those sand ladders. Sticker on the rear window: This is not a car…it’s a way of life!


Although Maun is dry, up here the delta is still navigable and we use the opportunity to get taken for a short cruise by Zebra.

This place is a magnet for kingfishers and within minutes we spot a malachite, a brown-hooded, some pieds and a giant kingfisher.


Also the notoriously shy green-backed heron, some bee-eaters, a pair of fish-eagles…


All too soon our hour is up and we have to get a move on to the Mohembo border post where we get stamped out of Botswana and into Namibia. A painless process, but not costless: there’s another Road Fund to support and it’s R188 per bike. Unlike Botswana’s, which is valid for 90 days with multiple entries, Namibia’s is payable for each entry. Again a country with lots of border posts:


There’s a 20 km stint on gravel through the Bwatabwata Park before joining the B8 main road through the Caprivi Strip. Since we have to stop to sign the register at the park gate anyway, we make use of the visitor's table to have a snack.


We make a brief detour over the bridge across the Okavango river before refuelling at Hombe. Plenty of water at this end.


At the filling station a taxi driver comes over to chat. He turns out to be Angolan and is able to give some travel advice: the road from Katwitwi to Menongue is tarred, but in bad condition with no fuel en route. The better option is to ride to Oshikango, from where the road is good all the way to Lubango with lots of fuel available along the way.

We reach Rundu in time for a late lunch at Debonair’s because here, as in many other towns we rode through, the Wimpy has closed down. The road basically follows the course of the Okavango river and if you happen to have a plot along the wetlands, you’ve pretty much got it made. Unless there’s a flood.


With plots along the river being so popular, there aren’t really any camping spots but fortunately Taranaga Safari Lodge comes to the rescue. There’s a sandy tweespoor track leading to an oasis a few km off the main road. We put our feet up for a beer and savannah before cleaning up in an open air shower and turning in for the night. The cost: R150 per person.


For those locals who missed the prime plots along the river, life looks rather dry.


But, unexpectedly, we come across a few centre pivot irrigation points that must have been financed by some serious investment. The kind that is unfortunately so rare in Africa.


I had expected that we would have to cover the 500-odd km from Rundu to the Angolan border on gravel, but it turns out to be a good tar road. But again, our fuel range lets us down when we have to back-track to Nkurenkuru after the locals tell us there’s no fuel at the Katwitwi border post.

Herding goats along the road is still a dusty business.


With the lack of access to steel fencing here, natural materials get harnessed to contain domestic animals in demarcated areas.


…and sold as hardehout bundles for cooking.

It’s not long before closing time when we eventually reach the Oshikango border post. A swarm of runners close in on us, offering to arrange a speedy transit and a good rate on Angolan kwanzas. We decline rather unkindly but unnecessarily, as the rate they offer later turns out to be better than what is available at ATMs. There is little traffic, but not many signs either. Undeterred, our unwanted assistants point to a small air-conditioned cubicle along the road where a fat immigration official presides in air-conditioned comfort while we have to stand outside. It’s too late to get through Customs, but the official there is much more affable and explains the significant amount of paperwork that is required before we may set foot on our Marxist neighbour’s soil. 

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Baiesukkel on September 03, 2019, 12:19:22 pm
Lekker Onno, ek ry saam  8)
Title: Entering Angola
Post by: NiteOwl on September 15, 2019, 07:37:44 pm
So we need Photostats of IDs, driver’s licences, vehicle registrations, photos of ourselves and the bikes plus a copy of the immigration stamp deposited by the sloth up the road in our passports a few minutes ago- tricky one, that. No doubt there will be a copying centre back in Oshikango doing good business from all this, and it does not take long to find one. But it is now after six, so it’s closed.

We backtrack to look for lodging, but everyone wants cash and we have spent most of ours at the last refuelling stop. After a few circuits up and down the main (only) road, we find Pisca’s Hotel. It’s only 500m from the border, with a bar as the main entrance, but behind it is a courtyard (complete with armed guard) with secure parking and a chicken coup. It’s run by a mrs Rochas -who looks seriously undernourished- but she has a soft spot for bikers (her son’s F650 is parked near the chickens), so we get a discount. And free use of her PC and printer! To top it all, she accepts credit cards.


We manage to change our credit card settings using Pisca’s wifi and draw money at the ATM nearby, so we that can (hopefully) pay for Angola’s road tax, as it is not possible to buy Kwanzas at South African Banks.

Speaking (writing?) of South Africa- we are now 2 400 km away from home. About 1 ½ times the distance from Pretoria to Cape Town.   

After breakfast we find a queue of cars outside as we head for the border again. Since we’re done with Immigration already, we ride through to Customs again, and get spotted by last night’s runners before we can park the bikes in front of a hangar nearby. (Sorry, no pics- it’s a sensitive area here)


The same customs man is on duty again, and despite the fact that all the paperwork is not quite up to scratch, he performs the necessary edits, hands me two small strips of paper with a number on each and instructs a truck driver to show me where the bank is, so we can pay our Road Tax of 6336 Kwanzas (R285) per bike.

Unfortunately, this has to be paid in the local currency.
Fortunately, I spot a credit card machine on the bank official’s desk.
Unfortunately, it’s out of order and he apologises.
Fortunately, there are lots of money-changers hanging about and he calls one over. Four hundred and forty Namibian dollars buys 13 000 sweaty Kwanzas and the use of Angola’s roads for the next 90 days, or until we exit the country. Two receipts with the magic numbers are printed out in the adjacent customs office to seal the deal and we are sent back to the customs guys manning the boom.

They apologise, but now the bikes need to be inspected to check the chassis numbers against the registration papers and we have to unpack our bags to show what we are carrying into the country, especially… money. We are carrying Euros for our end destination, and dollars for emergencies (everybody seems to like the greenback!) but they are satisfied with the explanation and there is not even a suggestion of a “gift”. The official takes a picture as we leave, promising to send it to his colleague in Luvo, where we will exit Angola.

The boom lifts and we are waved off, not sure what to expect next as we enter Angola. 


It's hard to dissociate the name of the country from the 27-year civil war in which South Africa played a significant part. How did it start and how did we get involved?

When the Carnation Revolution displaced the established order in Portugal, it spelt the end of the Portuguese colonial empire. When a date was set for Angola’s independence at 11 November 1975, it set off an intense conflict for the control of the country that was to last until the death of Jonas Savimbi in 2002.

Prior to 1975, three Angolan liberation movements had tried to wrest control of the country from their colonial masters. With the withdrawal of their common enemy, they soon turned against each other and the civil war that followed became a proxy war between the Cold War protagonists. The USSR wanted the MPLA in control in Luanda, while the USA supported the FNLA in the north and UNITA in the south of the country.

South Africa’s apartheid government wanted to prevent the establishment of communist neighbours (die Rooi Gevaar) on its northern borders, from where incursions into Namibia were conducted by the Namibian liberation movements (mainly SWAPO- die Swart Gevaar). In response, the South African Defence Force conducted increasingly aggressive cross-border raids on SWAPO bases deep into Angola and Zambia. 


By the middle of 1975, the MPLA (with Soviet support) had dished out a series of crippling defeats to both the FNLA and UNITA and it became obvious that Angola would come under communist rule by the November deadline unless something drastic happened to the balance of power. South Africa’s response, with US (CIA!) encouragement, was Operation Savannah and so the guerrilla conflict escalated into conventional warfare and Cuba entered the fray. Although SADF troops got as far north as Porto Amboim, it was too late to prevent the MPLA from being endorsed by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and early in 1976 the SADF withdrew back to their Caprivi bases.


South Africa continued to support UNITA as part of a strategy to counter SWAPO, while the MPLA tried to wrest control of the southern part of the country. The ensuing arms race cost Angola about 50% and South Africa some 16% of its GDP by the time a settlement was eventually reached in 1989 and Namibia gained independence. As a result, both Angola’s and South Africa’s economic development were severely curbed (by comparison, only 1% of South Africa’s GDP is spent on defence today- 2019).

While most of my generation were called up vir volk en vaderland in the eighties, the majority of the current economically active population of Angola were not even born at the time. We’re from different eras; Life has moved on.

Back to the present: since 2017, Angola has had a new president and, unlike his South African counterpart, he is actually making a difference. Tourism is now encouraged (South Africans don’t need a visa to enter the country anymore), the officials are courteous and helpful and in the towns and cities people are sweeping the streets. It’s a menial job, but it makes a subtle difference in one’s perception that becomes stark when you reach the Congos. Bribery and corruption are no longer tolerated and, to prove the point, ex-president Dos Santos’ son has been incarcerated for fraud related to Angola’s equivalent of our Public Investment Corporation and his daughter (Africa’s richest woman!) is in exile.

Actually, little of this matters today as we enter the country. What does matter is that the local time zone is one hour behind CAT (we’ve gained an hour) and we have to adjust driving on the right (wrong??) side of the road. And now we need money and fuel.

The queue at the filling station not surprising - fuel here is half the SA price. As we have enough (hopefully!) to get to the next town, I get Kwanzas at the local ATM while my wife is garnering a fan club. Women don’t seem to drive anything around these parts, let alone a motorbike.


Something has subtly changed on both bikes and from here onwards the fuel consumption improves towards the levels I had hoped for. We comfortably make it to Ondjiva (40 km from the border) where the queue is short and the bikes get filled almost immediately. Something typical of all Angolan filling stations: the Armed (to the teeth) Guard. It’s the result of the fact that all fuel transactions (and there are many) are cash-based. So robbery must be very tempting in a country where most citizens are quite poor and AK-47s are a dime a dozen.


Apart from the generally clean impression of Ondjiva, the multitude of motorcycles versus the paucity of motorcars is striking. The road looks newly tarred and is as smooth as you could wish for- GS country! ;-)

Just outside Ondjiva we come across the first war relics- armoured combat vehicles and personnel carriers that seem to have been immobilised by artillery. These look like a couple of Soviet BRDM-2s, stranded on either side of the road, with a BTR-152 APC between them.




A bit further on there is a war memorial paying tribute to the fallen soldiers who defended the town of Mongua nearby. An abandoned T54 tank stands sentinel nearby with a broken track, its gun barrel pointing aimlessly over the passing traffic.


We stop a few kilometres further for coffee and some of the Maria biscuits we bought when we refuelled. It’s getting hot, but there’s shade along the side of the road opposite a small village from which some curious kids emerge to check us out. We share the remainder of the biscuits with them, and they are well received- we saw lots of kids in Angola, but no fat ones.


We get overtaken by some older kids on unusually-new looking bicycles. Judging by the branding, some early indoctrination by the ruling party.


Around us we see quite a lot of water puddles where cattle drink and kids play. We are approaching a river.


One hundred kilometres from Ondjiva the EN 105 road crosses the Cunene river at Xangongo. Although the water level is low, it’s clearly a huge river, with a bridge to match.



Something else about Angola- there are lots of road markers, river identifiers and signs indicating the destination, distances and road numbers and they generally look quite new. What’s less obvious is what is not there- bullet holes. I don’t think this is accidental, but part of a strategy to cover the scars of the civil war and move on. In the towns, most buildings have been patched up as well. It makes a lot of sense.


A few minutes later we pass a freedom memorial with a quote by Fidel Castro; the paint is as faded as the message, the structure and uhuru chains are rusted, the plaster is patchy and overgrown with weeds. A footnote in history.

The scenery changes; the Mopani bushes and palm trees give way to succulents as the landscape turns more arid and the soil more sandy as we approach Cahama….


… where we refuel. This time, we’re in more of an extended village than a town and there is no Sonangol sign in sight. Instead, we find a queue of bikes lined up at a converted ISO container with a fuel pump at the one end, and a fuel tank inside. At the back, a generator running off the same fuel is powering the whole contraption. Quite a handy way of distributing fuel to rural areas. Also, as at most Angolan filling stations, there is a well with potable water. We fill up our tanks and our bottles.


Every male around here (and in the Congos, as we later noticed) has a machete that goes everywhere with him, like this guy on the right. It must be an initiation gift when they come of age. The luggage rack seems to offer a handy storage place.


Later in the afternoon, we almost miss this great fresco of Fidel Castro, Agostinho Neto and Leonid Breznev. The central characters in the MPLAs ascension to power here.


Clouds gather overhead as we approach Lubango. It looks threatening but we miss the rain.


Unfortunately we don’t miss nightfall as we enter the outskirts of Lubango, and it turns out to be quite a big town. It’s too late to look around for accommodation, so we turn to T4A. There are not many options, and only one offers camping: Casper Lodge.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: katana on September 15, 2019, 08:41:14 pm
You two rock!!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kortbroek on September 15, 2019, 09:32:00 pm
This is awesome  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: eSKaPe on September 19, 2019, 04:24:29 pm
Great story line to go with the excellent pics
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: DRme on September 19, 2019, 05:58:24 pm
Thank you for a well written and complied Rider Report, Onno.
It is a pleasure to read and to view the photos.
Looking forward to the rest.
Title: On the Angolan Highlands
Post by: NiteOwl on September 22, 2019, 02:03:29 pm
Despite the “camping” label, Casper Lodge is anything but a budget establishment. The fellow at reception wears a neat suit and shows us where we can shower: in the gym. There’s also a glossy restaurant where we sit down for the cheapest meal on the menu- omelettes. There's also a swimming pool, but no sunbathers. In fact, not many patrons at all and we are the only campers.


Our “campsite” is actually part of the lawn between the chalets forming part of the real Lodge, and our toilet and kitchenette look suspiciously like servant’s quarters. But we have a corner of the garden to ourselves (not to mention the gym!) and there’s a steel frame where we string up a rope to do our laundry the next morning. According to the guards at the gate (the entire compound is walled), there is a large shop down the road. It turns out to be a Shoprite, and it’s very well stocked indeed. Unfortunately, most Angolans do not have enough disposable income to buy more than a half-filled handbasket and the country’s high inflation rate and dependence on oil are not helping. The slump in Shoprite’s latest results is not surprising. https://www.theafricareport.com/16430/shoprite-slumps-as-consumers-struggle-in-angola-and-nigeria/ (https://www.theafricareport.com/16430/shoprite-slumps-as-consumers-struggle-in-angola-and-nigeria/)

To say that Angola is not exactly a tourist Mecca is an understatement. Never mind Pam Golding, even Lonely Planet hasn’t discovered the place yet:


So, most of the information about the country is buried in trip reports and programmes like Voetspore. Most South African who have visited the country have done so via Lubango, so the sights around here are rather well known. We have to wait for a light shower to subside before heading out to the northwest of the city in the early afternoon. En route, yet another uhuru statue:


The cobblestone road (“gravel”, according to T4A) rises fairly steeply past the waterfalls below the Mapunda dam from which the local N’gola beer is brewed:



Higher up, it looks like a giant child threw its toys out – rocks litter the rough landscape, puddles of water are in between.


At the top is a parking area and a lookout on the edge of the Tundavala gap- a sheer drop of nearly a kilometre down the escarpment where the clouds shroud our view of the coast.


The best way to get an impression of the sight from the lookout is with a video, but I won’t spoil it for the readers planning to visit the area  Trust me, it’s well worth a visit! There’s a track circling around the northern side of the Gap where one could set up a rather nice camp with a spectacular view.


There are some women patrolling the area in search of money from the few tourists who have come to admire the sight. Their hair coating is a lot like that of Himba women, made from a paste of animal fat and locally ground stone, but they are considerably lower is stature and the facial features are less refined. They belong to the local Mumuhuila tribe.


The Christo Rei statue is on the opposite side of the city (southeast). A narrow road follows the edge of the ridge overlooking Lubango.


We dismount for the obligatory photos. This statue is actually modelled on a similar (bigger and better) one in Lisbon. The artwork is rather basic, even if one ignores the damage to the face. There is no sacred heart either, and no lightning conductors- clearly not a concern around these parts.


View over the city:


Next up we go looking for what remains of the Dorsland Trekkers around Humpata. T4A indicates a site about a hundred metres from the main road, but there’s little more than a plaque leaning against the fence of the run-down house:


Camping is supposedly on offer nearby, at the farm of a Basie Prinsloo. It proves tricky to find among the tracks here, but when we do locate the farmhouse it turns out that it was abandoned a few months ago. There is a backpacker-like shelter about a hundred metres away with toilets, showers and a braai area. It must have been great in its heyday, but water is unlikely to ever flow through the taps again.


The Dorsland Trekker Monument, erected in 1957, is a little further on. The chains that used to surround it are gone and weeds are overgrowing the paving around it. The Trekkers were another important motivation to visit Angola, as I find the very idea that people would pull up their roots to cross a thousand kilometres of desert with ox-wagons for an unknown “promised land” fascinating. It has taken us a week to cover a similar distance on modern transport and paved roads!


My first exposure to their history was at Swartbooisdrift during our Kaokoland trip in 2011, where there is another monument commemorating their journey:


The Dorsland Trekkers crossed the Cunene river (the same river that we crossed at Xangongo the previous day) there in early 1881 with their wagons and oxen to settle in Humpata - seven years after starting their journey- right where we are now. More than half of them perished during the journey; the impoverished survivors never really integrated into their new country and had a tough time making a living on their own. In 1928 they turned back south to settle in Ovamboland (Namibia) and the last five hundred bittereinders fled the country at the outbreak of the civil war in 1975.


The present-day residents of Humpata are out in the street on their way to church. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday finery for the Easter service.


It’s disappointing to have come all this way for nothing more than a monument, but at least there's still time to look for alternative accommodation. We’re actually on the road that leads down the Leba Pass to Namibe (formerly Moçâmedes), but the coastal route is part of our return route. Right now, our next destination is Huambo (Nova Lisboa in the old days), nearly 400 km from here. It’s too late for that today; the best we can do is to stock up on some bread and look for a campsite alongside the road before nightfall. 


We manage to do sixty kilometres out of Lubango when we find an ideal spot behind a water tower. It’s the first of many bushcamps in Angola, and it’s relaxing to be able to do our own thing without any worry about the cost as we cook our supper without distraction. Properties here aren't fenced (land annexed by the Portuguese colonialists became state-owned after 1975, and although a Land Law was passed in 2004, there is no freehold), so camping is a pretty simple affair as long as you don't mind the lack of facilities. Very few people travel after dark and most vehicles (especially the motorcycles) don't have functional headlights.

At sunrise we are up. Since we are still more than 5000 ft above sea level, the air is crisp and there are no mosquitos about. We make an early start and the riding is pleasant in the cool air. We pass an FAS (Fundo de Apoio Social= Social Support Fund of Angola) primary school sponsored by the EU at Vihamba.


A class (with pupils that look rather old for primary schooling) is in progress under a tree within the compound, but outside the building. WTF?


Although the road is good, some of the bridges are temporary with steel plates rattling as the traffic passes over them. War repairs?


It’s the start of the week and we pass many village markets along the road.


Vegetables, fruit, flour, chickens, eggs… are on offer.


Bananas are a dime a dozen here- we buy some for lunch.


By the afternoon the weather is getting overcast again at our fuel stop in Caconda, but this time we don’t escape the rain. Unfortunately, it coincides with the end of the paved road and things quickly get very slippery and our good progress takes a turn for the worse as the rain buckets down. After a short wait, we decide to carry on, but slowly. Things can only improve if you move!


Half an hour later the rain subsides and shortly after that there are only puddles here and there. There are detours around new bridges under construction.


Going by the markings on the structure and fasteners, I would say that these are not Chinese- donations from the IMF or EU, perhaps?


Despite the fact that we are still on the highlands, the first sugar cane is on offer (we saw lots of it further north):


Although we are on the main road, houses are built right next to it in the villages and kids are playing in front of the structures. It’s typical for Africa, where the roads are actually a public socialising area. Needless to say, you cannot speed through here and hence a smaller bike works very well. We actually attract surprisingly little attention.


As we get closer to Huambo, road construction is further advanced and there is a tempting black ribbon running parallel with the many deviations, but nobody rides on it- so we don’t either.


A popular “scooter” used by many of the kids. Rather different to the shiny bicycles we saw near Xangongo.


It gets noticeably busier as we approach the city….


…. which we reach once again after dark with the intercom batteries flat. This time, T4A does not have any useful suggestions, so we head for the city centre to see what we can find. Our yellow spotlights turn out to be very handy to stay together through the hectic traffic.

We locate the Nova Estrela hotel near the plaza. It looks a bit run down on the outside, but is presentable enough inside and has WiFi to boot. 10 000 Kwanza (about R450) buys us a stuffy room on the ground floor with an air-conditioner but no windows where we dump our bags.


There’s courtyard at the back where the bikes are safe and a restaurant with hot trays has mixed grills and beer on offer. We are hungry! It’s popular, but not full, and one of the patrons translates for us. He was to become an important actor later in the trip ...

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Minxy on September 22, 2019, 07:51:03 pm
Angola is soooo on our bucket list, would love to visit this mysterious country. Keenly following :sip:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on September 22, 2019, 08:12:44 pm
Fantastic report.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: wildside on September 24, 2019, 05:12:26 pm
I am really enjoying this ride report. Very interesting and useful information. Your photos are awesome and you have captured some lovely scenery. looking forward to learning more about Angola. Well done to you both.
Title: Across the Benguela Railway Line
Post by: NiteOwl on September 29, 2019, 05:31:49 pm
Huambo is the second-largest city in Angola, and owes its origin to its strategic position on the Benguela Railway, which links the Katanga copper mines in the DRC to the port of Lobito. It served as UNITA’s stronghold during the civil war when Savimbi declared it the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Angola in counterpoint to the MPLA’s rival People’s Republic of Angola. Violent street battles took place here until 1994, when UNITA moved their headquarters to Jamba. If you look closely, there is still evidence of the past conflict on many walls.


Today, most of the obvious war damage has been repaired, excluding one important building, as we soon find out. The railway was reconstructed between 2006 and 2014 by the Chinese, at a cost of $1.83B.


A short aside: originally, our plan was to get to the Rift Valley via Angola, by following the road (?) from Luanda to Luau into the DRC on to Lubumbashi. From there, it looks feasible to reach Lake Mweru and Lake Tanganyika, but it’s virtually impossible to find any information on the road conditions, and rebels seem to be a nuisance along the way. The Benguela Railway, however, may well offer a suitable route as there should be a service road next to the railway line…all the way from Huambo to Luau and from there to Kolwezi/ Coluwezi.

We walk the short distance to the plaza with traffic whizzing around the circle, mostly carrying people to work on motorcycle taxis (without helmets).


Government buildings surround the plaza, and they are all painted in a kind of salmon-pink colour. The same paint is used throughout the country, even schools, making it easy to spot the halls of officialdom. Like the Post Office here:


In the centre of the plaza is an obelisk with a bronze statue of Angola’s bespectacled first president, known as the soldier-poet in front of it. Thus we see Agostinho Neto sitting in battle fatigues with an AK-47 slung over his shoulder and a notepad cradled on his lap.


There’s a strong military feel to the place with lots of men in uniform and there’s a compound just off the plaza with colourful walls and a sentry outside. They don’t allow photographs, so we walk further until we find a small café nearby and order two espressos from the young barista.


Back at the hotel we come across the owner of the hotel’s restaurant. When we ask about Jonas Savimbi’s house, he invites us into his car and drives us there. It’s quite a few blocks away, and we are not the only visitors. The place is riddled with bullet holes and mortars have blown out big chunks from the roof, which are dangling off the exposed rebar.


A steady throng of visitors move through the compound, and it's free (a missed business opportunity)! Inside, a band is practicing. There is no epitaph to identify the ex-owner anywhere- clearly, the MPLA don’t want to make a martyr out of the rebel leader.


Huambo was the only place where we saw beggars on the street, many walking with crutches and with missing or artificial limbs. We pass an old man shuffling along, leaning on his crutch. Probably a war veteran, but with little reward for it.


Back at the hotel we pack our bags and ask if we can leave them in the lobby- no problem. We are not done with Huambo yet, and want to see more of the city on foot. Down the road there is supposed to be a supermarket, which also has a small cafeteria serving coffee. Inside, the shelves are well stocked with wines (including the more common South Africa varietals).


Along the way, some typical street scenes. It's typical Africa … not many white faces around these parts!

One of the ubiquitous Chinese Keweseki / Kiwisiki/ Kawisiki three-wheel “bakkies” used to carry anything and everything here:


We decide to return to our hotel via the botanical garden, and pass a Roman Catholic church compound, signposted as “seminario”. It looks like it may well be an option for free accommodation in Huambo.

The entrance to the botanical garden is right next to the seminario. There’s a good cobblestone road running through it, and a phalanx of potplants fill a small nursery alongside. The garden was probably quite a sight in its heyday, but today the place is in disrepair. Grass and weeds are overgrowing the pavement, litter is strewn around and the water feature is green with algae while some women are washing laundry downstream.


From the exit, we pass a statue of Deolinda Rodriguez, known as the Mother of the Nation (Angola’s Winnie Mandela?) who founded the women’s wing of the MPLA.  She was a cousin of Agostinho Neto, was captured near Cabinda and gruesomely executed by the FNLA in 1967, aged just 28.


Back at the hotel, we change into our biking gear and meet up with our translator of last night. His name is Nelson, and he’s a Portuguese TV tech covering a host of sporting events in the country. Like us, they came from Lubango yesterday, but via the Benguela road, which is in good condition. Like us, they are also heading northwards, to Uige, but their driver insists that there is no road northwards from there to the DRC- even though our Michelin map shows one.

Nelson offers his help if we get stuck and after exchanging telephone numbers, we are off. By now we have covered 3000 km and our bikes need an oil service, so we buy oil at the Sonangol filling station nearby.


There happens to be a small open workshop for tyre repairs alongside it, and we get permission to use it. As usually happens in Africa, watching maintenance work is much more entertaining than performing it, and a small audience rapidly lines up for the show.


One of the filling station attendants brings a bucket and we set to work draining the oil and replacing the filters.


There are no clean funnels around (no idea what that might be called in Portuguese either) so our hotel receipt is converted into one.


An hour and a half later we are on our way. Shiny new electricity cables run parallel with the road.


Heavy clouds soon gather overhead- it seems to be a feature of the Angolan highlands to have overcast afternoons. We stop for a coffee break in a disused sand quarry.

More titties along the way at the hot water spring of Aguas Quentes. Very practical.


Did I mention that there are a lot of kids in Angola?


We are heading for Wacu Cungo when the sun sets. The sky is still pregnant with rainclouds, so a roof over our heads (and tent) seems like a great idea. And lo and behold, we pass a shelter next to a church just off the road. There’s no-one around, so we pitch our tent before it’s too dark. There's a warm glow in the air.


The view from our “stoep”. Not too shabby, hey?


We had hoped to reach a village, but that clearly hasn’t happened and so we haven’t stocked up on water. There are some huts across the road where we get told it’s OK to camp at the church. My request for agua elicits a nod from a young woman and I get led down a narrow path to a well that has pretty clean-looking water in it. She fills our bag and we’re in business!


We have a few small gifts for people who assist us, and we bring her a small torch with a solar cell charger- it’s useful here, and well received.

We park the bikes next to the tent and prepare our supper. It rains during the night, but everything stays dry!

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Rooi Wolf on September 30, 2019, 05:12:56 am
Really enjoying this.  :thumleft:

Nice history lessons mixed into the whole adventure.

And beautiful pictures all along.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: african dust on September 30, 2019, 10:54:13 am
great read, thanks for sharing.  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: captain jack on October 04, 2019, 09:34:38 pm
Looking forward to next installment :sip: Once the kids are out the house, my wife and I will tackle this :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: wildside on October 05, 2019, 02:53:35 am
This is such an awesome RR...really enjoying it.... you have captured some great images and covered some great distances. Looking forward to seeing and learning more. Well done.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on October 05, 2019, 03:15:50 am
Awesome, subscribe  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: MRK Miller on October 10, 2019, 06:25:43 am
Love how you are doing this, the camp anywhere style. Just got my wife a little honde 250 tornado as well, and she is loving it  The little rectangular things next to the forks look like little solar panel. Are they. Cannot wait for your next part
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: woody1 on October 10, 2019, 07:49:00 am
Thanks for sharing.  :ricky:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on October 10, 2019, 02:40:17 pm
The little rectangular things next to the forks look like little solar panel. Are they.

No. Those are a special reflective tape. Black by day, white by night.

Solar is redundant with the Tornado's huge alternator ;-)
Title: Descending from the Plateau
Post by: NiteOwl on October 10, 2019, 06:07:16 pm
A small crowd of schoolchildren collects next to us as we finish packing in the morning. We are not the centre of attraction, though- we have unknowingly hijacked their school!


Note the plastic chairs- a common feature in Angola; for school (and church) you have to bring your books AND a chair.


A notable change since we left Huambo is that the rivers now flow from east to west (to the coast, as you would expect), where their currents ran in the opposite direction from around Lubango. We cross the Keve river and floodplain:


We pull up next to some women selling produce along the road- it turns out to be regular maize meal. There are babies galore- Angola still has a very high fertility rate of 5.6 children per woman (from a high of 7.5 in 1975) while life expectancy increased from 43 years to 62 years over the same period. Which is why one doesn’t see many grey heads.

The next moment, a bakkie pulls up and six heavily armed men jump out. What now?


Fortunately, they are just stopping for some banter on their way to the next town.


Everyone is suitably impressed by their swagger, until an approaching truck blasts his horn and slams on the brakes: one of the many kids has wandered off into the road. The truck driver narrowly misses it as the mother freezes in horror. The father emerges and scoops up the child, which is unaware of the averted danger.


There are more roadworks and a detour further on, and concrete is getting mixed for the culverts. The road is arrow-straight.

The landscape has changed since yesterday: round rocky protrusions and a few spires surround us and at the foot of one is a resort of sorts: Lupupa Lodge. The location is spectacular, but rather remote. Conferences anyone?


Closeup of the rocky dome behind the lodge:


Mrs Owl is a real coffee aficionado and left her beans and Bialetti pot behind with a heavy heart. To compensate, she has used a significant part of her duffel bag for a large stock of Nescafe cappuccino sachets and each morning, after the first hundred km’s or so, we pull off the road to stretch our legs and make coffee. Something to look forward to every day. But she has discovered that most of the “formal” filling stations have an espresso machine that can brew a mean cup.


Like this one in Waku-Kungo. According to the advert, if you buy 9 coffees and the tenth one is on the house!


The same armed guards we met a short way back are deployed outside, while the day’s innings are collected. As I mentioned earlier on: all that cash must be tempting. I walk a safe distance across the road after they have roared off to shoot a video that gives a good feel of the vibe in the small towns. Quite relaxed.

And so we reach Quibala by lunchtime. This where we have come from:


This area used to be the breadbasket of Angola; it reminds me of Masvingo in Zimbabwe, which went the same way. There’s a supermercado (supermarket) at the entrance of the town and we need food.


No vehicles are parked outside. The shelves are well stocked, but there’s only one other customer. They have a bakery, but no bread.


They also sell coffee from Gabela, a town about 75 km west of here. Angola used to be Africa’s largest coffee producer but the civil war, followed by centralised planning, has put paid to that. We would have liked to visit the once-famous plantation, but 150km is too much of a detour.


We turn off the main road to look for a padaria, and manage to get some of his last rolls.


Along the way is another leftover from the war, almost overgrown by the weeds. It’s not the only one- many landmines still remain in the region, too.


We have actually passed the Brug 14 battle site that lies halfway between Waku-Kungo and Quibala without noticing, but there is no signpost-  it’s probably of little importance in Angola’s long war history.

Back at the main road intersection, we cross over to the church at Quibala. The Voetspore manne raved about it, but it’s underwhelming. The clock is stuck at twenty to eight. And will be for the foreseeable future.


We are let in by the caretaker, who waits at the door.


There is some fine leaded glass work inside, and the traditional crucifixion statue behind the pulpit.


Leaded glass detail (probably imported?):


A mere three kilometres on is a Franciscan church with a welcoming driveway leading to its unfinished entrance that turns out to be a lot more charming, even without a bell (or clock) in the steeple.


We park under the trees for our lunch and take a walk around the grounds afterwards. The animated priest proudly shows off the inside- it’s all handmade by the monks, and though modestly finished, looks like it is actually used. No caretakers required.


At the edge the town are the remnants of a Portuguese fort. Instead of a garrison, it now sports a cellphone tower.


The elevation has slowly decreased since we left Tundavala, but after Quibala, the descent is rapid and noticeable.


So far, it’s been subsistence farming all the way but then we come across this:


Clearly, someone has come up with the necessary investment for a commercial farming operation to grow some crops at scale. Tomatoes, perhaps? With the Longa river next door, water won’t be a problem.


About 90% of Angola’s oil is exported to China. In return, about a quarter of a million Chinese in Angola are beavering away rebuilding bridges, rehabilitating roads and railways and developing the ports. It’s a closed system, with Chinese financing for Chinese construction companies using Chinese labour. Housed in industrial blue compounds like this one:


The sign outside indicates that this setup is for the rehabilitation of the EN120 road we are on, all the way back to the Keve river.


With the descent towards Dondo, our progress speeds up as we drop from 5000 to 500 ft over the next 100 km and the vegetation turns tropical and lush. It also gets hot and humid.


There’s a large bridge across the Cuanza river with a police checkpoint at the end. We stop to look for the rapids upstream, but they are not visible from the road. The police wave us on and we pass the Cambambe dam where there are camping spots for fishing along the edge of the water.

The town of Alto Dondo hugs the Cuanza river downstream of the dam.


It’s a poor neighbourhood.


There are two great sights east of here: the black rocks of Pedras Negras and, north of there, the Lucala river’s Calandula waterfalls. There’s a good road all the way there from Dondo and, according to our “guides” in the Huambo hotel, all the way up to Uige, about 300km away in the northern corner of the country.


Our Michelin map shows a road from Uige to Mbanza Congo, from where we want to reach the DRC. T4A shows nothing, and in Huambo we were told that there is no road.

We refuel and ask around. The pump attendants confirm the “no road” statement. It would be great to visit the falls and the black rocks, but it would take two extra days if we cannot carry on to the DRC from there. Reluctantly, we turn towards the coast. We hit roadworks straight away and ride on the newly compacted foundation next to the temporary road like the local bikers. There are obstructions to block traffic, but it’s much better that the dusty track alongside where big trucks are rumbling along.


Apparently we are riding through a park, and rows of baobabs line the side of the road. The vegetation is dense.


Eventually the detours end and patches of tar reappear under the sand. We take a break at another open air market. There’s some strange white fibrous pulp for sale that we have never seen before (but we see plenty of from here onwards).


It turns out to be the fruit of all those baobab trees, from which juice is also made.


It’s time to start thinking about our next camp, so we stock up on cold beer, cider and water (yes, they have fridges out here in the sticks).


Our next campsite appears soon enough when we follow a side road and double back through a clearing. The air is humid and our clothes are soaked from the heat. We pitch the tent and peel off our smelly kit.


After another lappiestort and a cold drink or two things are looking (feeling) rather good and we even get a visitor!


(I think it’s a slant-faced grasshopper- perhaps one of our entomologists can confirm?)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on October 11, 2019, 05:34:10 am
Fantastic report.   

Did you eat that boabab pulp?
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on October 12, 2019, 04:29:06 am
Love this adventure, keep on sharing please  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: David.H on October 14, 2019, 02:35:16 pm
I am enjoying your photos. What camera equipment did you take?
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: roxenz on October 14, 2019, 07:33:37 pm
Great adventure and a beautiful, interesting RR. Thanks for taking the trouble. Really looking forward to the rest.

I have been to Angola a few times in the last 18 months (in Saurimo at moment), and the country is really growing on me. Just have to get my Portuguese up to speed. If things work out, I'll be kinda relocating here for next 3 years or more.

What I really like: virtually no tourists. And friendly people.

Roads can be bad, a 300km stretch last week took 9 excruciating, bouncing hours in the Cruiser. Some lovely bush roads, which just cry out for dual sports riding. And motos everywhere! I've been pillion on some tracks (footpaths where Cruiser cannot go). Frigging uncomfy on the back of such a small bike.  :P.  ;D
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on October 20, 2019, 11:36:16 am
Camera equipment

We took quite a bit of kit, as recording the experience (especially at our final destination in this case) is a major objective of these trips for me.

Most of the shots were take with a Canon G7x Mk1- fantastic little camera, easy to carry.
For the wide and tele photos I carried a Nikon D7200 in the tank bag.
My wife had a GoPro mounted on the handguard.
We both used iPhones for panoramas, street scenes and some covert pics.

...the country is really growing on me...

Ditto. The varied scenery, relaxed locals and friendly cops (yes!) were an eye-opener. We could go back in a heartbeat.
I had expected much worse road conditions, and was pleasantly surprised at the daily progress we could make.
Communication is the biggest hurdle, as almost no-one in the rural areas speaks English.
I have tried to give some pointers in this report for others who may be planning something more than the Doodsakker, which we had no desire to do.
Refer to the post at Huambo regarding the Benguela railway line- that will take one right into Moxico, where the Zambesi originates (apart from the very first bit in Zambia).
I will cover the northern coastal region in the next post, and the southern coastal route on the return leg.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Poenabul on October 24, 2019, 04:07:01 pm
Nice stuff
Title: On to the Coast
Post by: NiteOwl on November 01, 2019, 12:40:32 am
It’s sticky and there are loads of mozzies around. An hour after turning in, it starts to drizzle and reluctantly we put the outer sheet up- now the tent is like a sauna and we don’t have any Doom!

We awake to the call of some Piet-my-vrou birds and I get the runaround from a few whydahs flapping nearby whilst trying to photograph them.


It hasn’t rained much, but the weather is overcast. After packing up, we take a quick look further down our sideroad, and cross the railway line that runs parallel to the main road between Luanda and Dondo.


It’s the northernmost line in the country (see the Benguela Railway map) that runs (ran?) from Luanda to Malanje. The tracks are rusted and buried in the sand, the signals too. Another job for the Chinese, No doubt.


There’s a lot of water all around- it looks like our campsite was next a wetland. And so is the road. Lots of puddles, like a mangrove. We are clearly entering the tropics.


Since this is a sort of park, with lots of greenery, there is some game around. It’s up for sale – our first taste of the bushmeat trade that we read about before the trip, and it does not look very savoury.


Not much is sacred when people are struggling to survive. A message that hits home when this “ninja man” approaches with his catch of mud turtles while we refuel.


To most conservationists, this animal trade is deplorable. It’s certainly a jarring sight, but thousands of elephants, lion, rhino, etc. were killed by the great white hunters from the late 1800’s after the invention of cordite.

While I was initially under the impression that Angola’s game got decimated by the civil war (and landmines), I’m now leaning more toward the likelihood that the business and, later, sport of hunting from a century ago had a far greater effect on the fauna of Africa. Like this:


The roads around the major cities are usually in good shape, and that holds today as well as we descend to the coast and the capital.


The baobabs give way to nabome (euphorbia conspicua) that rise above the undergrowth.


Back on the main road we now approach Luanda. Much has been said and written about the hectic traffic (due to rapid urbanisation) and the burgeoning population in and around the capital: 8 million and counting- a third of the population! To our Gauteng eyes, it still looks pretty mild.


Our map shows a ring road around the capital, and since we have no need to go into the city, that’s what we need to find. It turns out to be easy and shortly afterwards, we pass a well-known sign.


Shoprite seems to follow a standard formula for their shopping centres in Angola: they cover all the major cities (34 and counting) with the supermarket as anchor tenant, flanked by a Hungry Lion (restaurants, not real ones!), MediRite, Standard Bank and local retailers such as cellular operators. We finally buy a SIMcard at the Unitel counter. Only back home do I discover that previous president Eduardo dos Santos’ daughter Isabel owns 25% of it. Darn!

The eatery does not look that appealing, but across the road there’s a cozy café.
In case you haven’t picked it up yet, coffee bars are like a magnet for my wife…. We scoot across the main road and park outside for coffee and a snack.


North of the city, we close in on the coast soon enough. The roads are good, but some of the bridges look a little dodgy. There’s a police checkpoint, but we are waved through.


It’s time to hit the beach, so we take the turnoff to Barra do Dande. A narrow road skirts the Dande river and its adjacent marshes until we reach the village. The bridge over the river overlooks the boats in the bay and the shacks behind them.


Lots of small shops line the main road.


Racks of dried fish adorn the market displays at the edge of town.


A kilometre further, we find paradise. Or rather, the Paradiso Lodge. It takes a while to convert the Kwanza rate into the equivalent number of Euros, as the receptionist has no clue of arithmetic and is proposing a ridiculous exchange rate. But it actually turns out to be a pretty good deal. Kz 24 000 (eventually = €70 = R 1100) buys us not only an air-conditioned chalet on the beach, but dinner and breakfast for two as well.

With the negotiations finally completed and the money handed over, we get let through the fence onto the beach to park in front or our home for the night. There’s no laundry room on offer, but we set about washing our dirty clothes in the shower and string a line to the nearest palm tree to hang them out.


Hundreds of crabs play peek-a-boo on the beach, disappearing in their holes whenever one gets close.


Deck chairs are lined up along the edge of the water, overlooking the bay and the boats. We seem to be the only guests.


After a swim in the surf (nice temperature here) it’s time to crack open a cold drink and watch the sun set over the Atlantic. After nearly two weeks of riding we are now within 300km of the Congo river mouth - progress is good!

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on November 01, 2019, 05:42:39 am
Awesome. And lovely photos.
Staying tuned for the rest.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: OomD on November 01, 2019, 09:53:23 am

Awesome stuff!  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: EssBee on November 01, 2019, 10:58:09 am
Just love those palms so close to the waters edge!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Noneking on November 01, 2019, 01:27:45 pm
Loving this adventure!
Thanks for posting!  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: I&horse on November 01, 2019, 01:52:28 pm
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Bottelboer on November 01, 2019, 04:55:54 pm
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Goingnowherekwickly on November 03, 2019, 05:38:47 pm
Great stuff! Loving this report  ;D :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: reinton on November 17, 2019, 07:09:17 pm

Hi Night owl,

where's the next instalment, please.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on November 18, 2019, 09:55:01 pm
...next instalment...

Sorry, caught up in project work- gotta pay for these trips somehow...

Next chapter to follow shortly.

Here's a teaser ....

Title: To the Kongo Kingdom
Post by: NiteOwl on November 27, 2019, 09:08:31 am
As in the towns, cleaners also sweep the beaches to remove what gets washed up and dropped down. It looks like wheel rims are in short supply- or maybe suitable axles are. Crabs scurry along the beach, popping in and out of their holes, rushing along the edge of the water.


We take a look around our paradise, and find the lodge’s generators behind a screen. They are running flat out (like our aircon), making quite a racket. But with fuel aplenty, this is the way electricity is generated in most of Angola.


There’s bar at the deck and we sit down for the (free) continental breakfast. It’s surprisingly wholesome, as is the coffee! Only two other guests checked in last night, a French dancer who has a local "guide" in tow to show her around.


A cursory check on the bikes reveals a potential problem, which we remove just in time before it becomes a real one:


As we are about to depart, the receptionist comes over to ask where we are going. We want to go further north, but there seems to be a problem. After a lot of hand-waving it’s clear that there is no fuel until N’zeto, more than 200 km away. There’s no filling station in Barra do Dande either, but the lodge’s Kewiseki driver gets commandeered to show us where to get some.


There’s a car packed with containers of fuel next to this “depot”. Pretty dangerous, the place reeks of fuel. Of course, there is a handsome markup on the pump price, but we buy extra to take an entire 20 litre container.

It’s after noon by the time we finally get moving. Initially, the progress is slow as the road is severely potholed and there's a fair number of trucks about. Not to mention the usual foot-, bicycle and scooter traffic. But soon enough we rejoin the main road, and can really open up. Despite the warnings to the contrary from our hosts, we find a fully equipped filling station just before the turnoff to Ambriz, the next coastal town. The vegetation is dense and varied.


A quarter of an hour later we cross the Rio Pontas Freitas Morna (“warm river”) to enter Zaïre province- the same name by which the DRC was known during Mobuto Sese Seko's reign. The overlapping of names in this region is common, as the local tribes ebbed and flowed from one conqueror to the next until the borders of the African colonies were fixed during the Berlin conference in 1885.


Upstream, there’s an old bridge with half of its girders missing. At the end of the new bridge, there’s the usual interprovincial police checkpoint but we are waved through.


It’s time for something to eat, but the vegetation along the road is pretty dense until we find a short side road with a hut next to it. It’s very hot, and tsetse flies descend when we take our jackets off to decant the remaining fuel.


The hut is deserted.


Some meagre belongings litter the area around the bed. The mosquito net does not look like it will repel the kind of flies zooming around here.


Progress is swift (some extra ponies from that dense sea-level air!) and  it’s well before sunset when we pull up outside a bank in N’zeto. It’s a substantial place by local standards, complete with street lamps and a double carriageway leading to the port.


We have to make a call- stay or go? A man in a suit at the cellular shop speaks English (hurrah!) and says he is visiting his parents. He recommends the local hotel. It sounds tempting, but we really want to get across the border tomorrow- and that is still nearly 300 km away. So we decide to carry on until it is dark and stop at the supermarket at the edge of the town to get supplies for supper.


The local wheels look well used- quite a contrast with the MPLA models we saw near Xangongo. The tube is just about peeking out of the sidewall and brakes are a distant memory. Somebody kicks it over and a wheel falls out…



The next coastal town is Soyo, right on the mouth of the Congo river. It’s also the northernmost town of Angola, apart from the two main border posts with the DRC. At this point, the Congo river delta is 12 km wide, so a ferry ride is risky.

Further inland, Matadi used to be the main thoroughfare and we have a dummy booking for $120 at the Hotel Fortune there, which was required to obtain a visa into the DRC. Just outside this town is a suspension bridge across the Congo river, but the approach from the Angolan side is in a very bad state and we were advised against it.

The recommended route is inland from N’zeto through M’banza Kongo, so that’s where we are heading…and then promptly get flagged down by a police patrol. They’re friendly and helpful, and the senior officer speaks English. We had hoped to refuel en route, but once again get told that there’s no fuel (until M’banza Kongo), so we have to backtrack to the Sonangol filling station on the outskirts of N’zeto.

A welcome sight greets us at the pumps, and we chat to the driver, Nico van Niekerk:


He is also en route to Luvo and confirms that there is no other practical way into the DRC at present. We exchange mobile numbers- you never know in a foreign country – and he also gives us the contact number of his fixer at the DRC border.

By the time we get back the police patrol is gone. Compared to the coastal road, we’re back on the straight and narrow here.


With this kind of dense vegetation we need to find a camping spot well before dark, and we don’t make much progress before we pass what looks like a deserted quarry. There’s a nice clearing behind the boom gate, ideal for pitching the tent. 


But the place is not deserted- an AK47 appears behind the boom, followed by its owner. Despite the firepower, he’s friendly enough and we’re let in. After handing over two Amarulas to the guard and his friend, all is well and we set up camp to enjoy a cold beer and cider as the sun sets.

After supper, it’s time for some light painting- bless this house!


Our local version of Eskom glowing in the dark- no load-shedding here!


There’s a bit of a coastal fog as we make our breakfast the next morning, but it clears as the day warms up.


The flat coastal terrain gives way to hills and valleys- exhilarating riding!


We pull over on a side road to enjoy the scenery.



The first inland town worthy of the name is Tomboco. It boasts a dilapidated park with a statue of Agostinho Neto (who else?) opposite the police station.


Sometimes surprises appear in the most unlikely places. Like the shops lining the streets on the other side of the park, where an artist has painted some charming murals on the walls facing the passing traffic.


We pull over at a bakery to stock up on some fresh coffee supplies from a French merchant. The shelves are pretty full, and you can even get a Celine Dion DVD here!


Although there’s no filling station (as mentioned by the cops) there’s bottled fuel aplenty on offer on the opposite side of the road as well as fresh fruit.



Angola is still unspoilt by tourism- although the kids will look at you when you pass by, there's no expectation of anything as is often the case closer to home.


The route remains entertaining as it weaves up and down through the villages.


Once again pulling off the road for a coffee break is almost impossible until we spot a small side road opposite a set of cellphone towers. Easy to miss with the dense vegetation. Not so easy to miss is the throb of the generators powering the towers- as in most remote of Angola, they’re an easy choice when there’s no electricity but lots of fuel around.



More villages line the approach to M’banza Kongo (City of Congo) until the road climbs noticeably to the town proper. This used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo, founded around 1390. In 1482 the first Portuguese explorers arrived and later they renamed the city to São Salvador.

The Kongo rulers soon became dependant on European support to maintain control over smaller tribes, but the only commodity that they could trade for this support was enslaved prisoners of war, and they soon became an international currency.


Angola became the principal source of slaves forced into the Atlantic Slave Trade to Brazil and the Caribbean, where they were in demand for the labour-intensive tobacco, cotton and sugar industries. These commodities were shipped to Europe, from where manufactured goods completed the trade triangle back to Africa.


After the independence of Brazil, Portugal abolished the slave trade in 1836 and this forced the shift to alternative sources of income like rubber and the ivory trade. The Kongo kingdom ceased to exist in the early 1900’s when it was integrated into the Portuguese colony of Angola.

Today, little of the city’s past glory is visible, but worse than that: the bikes are on reserve and the pumps at the city entrance are dry!


Navigation proves tricky, due to (of all things) one way streets! At the upper end of town is an incongruous Soviet-style statue featuring a couple who have tamed the country: “Monument dedicated to the peasants of the kingdom of the Kongo”. The alsation on the leash looks rather out of place.


Rounding the statue we eventually find the way out and join the road to the border. I expect to see more filling stations here, and am not disappointed.


What is disappointing is the long queues of vehicles lined up for fuel. Most are not from Angola, but the DRC and we soon learn why.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Rooi Wolf on November 28, 2019, 06:15:39 am
Stuff of legends. Really enjoying this,thanks..!!  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on November 28, 2019, 01:26:28 pm
Nice report, please continue  :)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Fuzzy Muzzy on November 29, 2019, 12:55:53 pm

Loving this thread.. makes me lus to go North
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Amsterdam on December 01, 2019, 04:28:33 pm
Very interesting RR.  Looking forward to the next instalments on the DRC.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on December 03, 2019, 04:58:52 pm
Legend RR  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Dustman on December 04, 2019, 01:54:14 pm
Great RR!  :thumleft: :sip:
Title: From Zaire to Zaire
Post by: NiteOwl on December 20, 2019, 12:22:00 am
The queue at the Sonangol pumps is not very appealing, so we sneak past the barrier tape of the local Puma filling station, ostensibly to buy some coffee in their chilly air-conditioned shop (so comfy that the place is packed with non-customers fiddling on their phones).

Outside, looking forlornly at the row of idle pumps, one of the pump attendants takes pity on us. After a few shouts, a key appears and the pump is unlocked to fill our tanks! So more like fuel rationing than dry pumps, after all.

We set off on the 60 km to the border. It starts well enough, but the potholes forecast by our new friend from Orion Transport are soon evident.


The conditions alternate between strips of tar and patches with potholes. Nothing too hectic, however, the suspension just soaks it all up.


Luvo (Luvu locally) is actually a town on the Angolan side carrying the same name as the river (Lufu!) that divides it from the DRC. The main road through the town leads straight to the border post, and it’s packed with people, buses, hawker stalls, more people…. you get the idea.


Angola and the DRC have been the nemesis of many an overlander due to their visa requirements and inflexible immigration officials. We don’t really know what to expect other than lengthy delays. The road leads to a steel gate manned by a soldier, who helpfully points us towards the immigration office.


Since today is Saturday, it’s Market Day- hence all the activity. It literally goes on like this for a few kilometres. The salmon-pink Angolan migracio estranger offices are buried in the middle of all this commerce, with a secure fence around it. We seem to be the only people that need to report here- estrangers!


An official in a T-shirt approaches, and in good English demands our passports to check that we have visas for the DRC. We get told to wait in an office. The occupant is rather set on his air-conditioned comfort and insists we wait outside and close the door. At least there is a usable toilet down the passage.

After about half an hour our paperwork is completed and we are free to exit Angola. It’s a narrow opening through a second steel gate:


There’s a sea of humanity heading downhill, so we go with the flow, trying to stay ahead of the beggars and pickpockets.


It leads to a Bailey bridge that spans the Luvo river. Most of the goods are carried manually, some of it is in handcarts and the lucky (rich?) ones drive the ubiquitous Keweseki trikes- no bakkies in sight. It feels like a time warp.


We get halfway across the bridge before a customs official directs us back to the Angolan side. What now?


There’s more waiting, but all they actually need is to record our bike registration numbers into a ledger and photograph them- like when we entered more than 2 000km back (why do officials get issued with dark uniforms in these hot places??).


This time we do get across the bridge to enter a fenced compound with a single office building. A police officer in a pale blue uniform sitting at a desk seems in charge of this border post. He too speaks English, and tells us that they need to copy our passports. A man in civilian clothes duly sets off with our documents and arrives back half an hour later. Our visas are stamped and we are good to go- no tax, no TIP!


It’s a short loop through the mud in front of Immigration before we cross a boom, a gate and… we are in a new country. We have left Zaire province in Angola for the country known as Zaire in the days of the Rumble in the Jungle (you have to be older than 50 to remember…).


Not exactly a tourist Mecca nowadays, if you believe the FCO advisories.


***** Some background on our new country*****

Belgium’s king Leopold II commissioned Henry Morton Stanley (he of “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” fame) in 1879 to scout the area around the Congo river and sign treaties on his behalf with local chiefs. Leopold exploited the area he called the Congo Free State for ivory and rubber to finance its administration. It is fabulously rich in minerals, but this has proved to be a mixed blessing for the country as these have been plundered from within and without.

By 1960, African nationalism was in full swing and Patrice Lumumba was elected as president of the new Republic of the Congo. After various crises, Lumumba was murdered and Mobutu Sese Seko came to power. He soon moved to eradicate Western influence in the country by banning suits and ties, nationalising foreign-owned companies and renaming it the Republic of Zaire. Mobutu publicly executed rivals and eased himself into an opulent lifestyle while most of the country lived in poverty (he had the runway of the airport near his palace at Gbadolite extended so that he could charter the Concorde for shopping trips to Paris!).

Production dwindled after independence, not helped by nationalisation of the country’s largest mining conglomerate: 440 000 tons of copper and cobalt production in 1989 fell to 35 000 tons from the “transformed” Gécamines, which had generated 85% of the DRCs export earnings in its heyday.

In the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, many Hutus (who had been supported by Mobutu) fled into the DRC to escape reprisals. When they regrouped to try to overthrow the new Tutsi-led government, the Rwandan army countered by supporting a rebel movement headed by Laurent Kabila in what became known as the First Congo War. It ended when Kabila’s rebels took over Kinshasa but flared up again a year later in the Second Congo War. Although most people are aware of the Rwandan genocide, few know of the millions of casualties that resulted from the Congo Wars – the deadliest conflict since WW2. UN peacekeepers are still kept busy around Goma to this day.

When Mobutu was ousted in 1997, he left behind a country burdened with debt, devoid of infrastructure and a dysfunctional public service. Little has changed.


Although the DRC’s inflation rate is similar to South Africa’s, the currency isn’t tradeable- even the money-changers at the border only deal in kwanzas and dollars. And so, due to the low level of official export commodities, the country is not able to import any meaningful quantity of manufactured goods from their origin. This explains the busy trade across the border with Angola and we run another gauntlet before the mêlée of people finally thins out. It literally goes on for kilometres- check out the video below.


There are two police roadblocks along the way. We get waved through the first one, and get asked for a bribe at the second. We  act dumb until they let us go in frustration.

Despite being twice the area of South Africa, which has comparable mineral riches, there are only 3 000 km of paved roads here. South Africa has fifty times more. There’s a 20 km stretch of smooth clay to reach this network from Luvo. Slippery when wet stuff.


Since it is dry, we soon reach the main road from Matadi to Kinshasa at Songololo, where there’s surprisingly little traffic.


Songololo is a one-horse town that mainly subsists from the sale of the goods carted across the border behind us.


Our first few kilometres on the DRC’s N1 highway (we’d call it a regional road) proceed rather well.


The first major town en route to Kinshasa is Kimpese, about 100km from the border. It makes up for the lack of traffic in spades. We look out for an ATM to get some Congolese Francs for fuel, food and accommodation. Fortunately, there’s one along the main road. First problem solved.


It’s hard to tell what is produced in the DRC. Apart from building material like cement, even food staples like this rice (from Thailand, via Angola!) and wheat flour (produced in Angola) are all imported.

It is obvious that bush camping along the roads here will be almost impossible with the dense population, so we try scour the areas along the road for signs of an auberge or a suitable campsite (wishful thinking). Right on the outskirts of the town I spot a green lawn that looks promising.


It turns out to belong to the local hospital. A friendly woman at the gate says we can’t camp here, but commandeers one of the young guys hanging around to show us to the local guesthouse. Problem 2 solved?

His blinged-up bike is still partially wrapped in the factory plastic, and he looks reticent to get it dirty, but she is quite adamant and he sets off with us in tow. After a couple of false turns, we end up at the back of a house. A rather dismal sight greets us, but the owner helpfully directs our guide to the guesthouse next door.


Fortunately, that is in better repair and it even sports a new coat of paint.

Both our guide and the receptionist seem to have mistaken us for a Dollar-ATM as we get offered a room for $75 while the guide expects us to refill his entire tank for the one kilometre he’s covered. I hasten to correct the misconception, and discover that a major problem with paying in USD here is that everything is rounded up to the nearest five dollars. One dollar bills (watch this space) are scoffed at. Just as well that we drew some local currency, but it won’t last long at this rate.


After settling the room charge, it’s time to unpack and unwind. We’ve been going for more than twelve hours straight, with a border crossing to boot. Although our room is air-conditioned, the supply of water is timed for a few hours in the evening and a few in the morning. Fortunately we have arrived in time to shower- Problem 3 sorted.

Problem 4 requires a ride back into town to source some food. I get directed to the BHP restaurant off the main road. It looks OK and I order two buns with eggs, cheese and tomato. Beer is on offer along the main drag, but beer bottles are sold in bottles here, which are recycled and therefore carry a deposit. So they have to be consumed on site. I promise to return the bottles first thing in the morning and get allowed to cart them off to our room!

The beer and cider are great, but the buns turn out to contain a vile-smelling polony filling with no eggs, no cheese, no tomato… we cook one of our instant meals instead. At least the bed-linen is clean and the room is cool and comfortable.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on December 26, 2019, 10:38:16 am
Please keep it coming!!  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Goingnowherekwickly on January 19, 2020, 06:50:01 pm
 Loving this report, looking forward to the next installment
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on January 19, 2020, 09:21:46 pm

What an adventure.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: reinton on January 20, 2020, 07:08:28 pm

 Come on Night Owl, don't be so cruel to us!  :)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Clockwork Orange on January 21, 2020, 10:28:09 am

 Come on Night Owl, don't be so cruel to us!  :)

Agreed, we need our fix :deal:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: dirtyXT on January 21, 2020, 12:27:38 pm
 :sip: wow!
Title: Funny Money
Post by: NiteOwl on January 24, 2020, 04:24:41 am
We are up well before the kitchen opens- delayed by a power failure. It’s a good opportunity to grease the bike chains and return the beer bottles. And the smelly buns.

Although our breakfast is a little spartan (no salt, no pepper, no butter, instant coffee), fresh baguettes and tasty omelettes are served.


Our next objective is the “other Congo” (the Congo Republic, a former French colony) so we need to get across the border between the two countries. Which happens to be the Congo river. Due to rapids, it is not navigable from capital to coast, but apart from the huge bridge at Matadi there are ferries at various points upstream where the water flows slower and wider.

The “official” crossing is the ferry between Kinshasa and Brazzaville, but it has a daunting reputation for red tape and greenbacks, i.e. bribery. The alternatives are via Luozi, west of Kimpese, and closer to the capital at Pioka. The roads to both are apparently badly eroded, but as long as it does not rain this should be manageable. And more enjoyable than a run-in with the notorious bureaucracy and local traffic.

The only sightseeing on the DRC menu for us is the botanical garden at Kisantu, which is near my coordinates for Pioka. So we give Luozi a miss. That turns out to be a mistake.

Between the towns there is almost no traffic, and our initial progress is encouraging. But the gaps become closer as we approach Kinshasa.


Travelling in the DRC turns out to be depressing and stressful. The entry to each town is lined with rubbish that is simply strewn along the side of the road, just past the first trading stalls.

Nobody drives fast, but the flow of bicycles, motorbikes, taxis and trucks is dense and incessant. And every vehicle is overloaded- having passengers and cargo hanging out and over a vehicle is par for the course.



There are actually four men on this taxi (count the feet!):


Some affectionate grooming in the shade of a truck…Africa is never dull.


Buildings remind one of a past era- almost all window panes have been replaced with paper or cardboard in this magistrate’s court if you look closely.


We pass more roadblocks where the police openly ask for money after the usual interrogation of passports, carte grise (vehicle registration papers), where are you going to/coming from etc. With our intercoms we can co-ordinate our actions and the most effective tactic is to stop side by side in the middle of the road when we get accosted, effectively blocking the traffic building up behind us.


“Welcome to the Lukala Toll.” As everywhere else in the world except South Africa, bikes don't pay toll fees here.


Hawkers offer food to the travellers that have to slow down for the toll booths, but when you try to buy just a few bananas you can only buy half a tree.


Filling stations are not common, but we manage to fill up at a pump in Mbanza Ngungu. No adjoining café with coffee here- just the basics! The contrast with Angola is stark.


After crossing the Inkisi river and passing the medical faculty of l’Université Kongo we turn off the main road onto a gravel road to the botanical garden at Kisantu.


Voetspore made it sound like a place worth visiting, raving about the Jesuit priest who established the garden in 1900.


Things start well enough for us but end in disappointment when our 5000 Congolese Franc note (to use a camera inside) is rejected after we have filled in the visitor’s book! The offending bank note was dispensed from yesterday's ATM and has been issued by the Congolese Reserve Bank, but apparently it is only legal tender in Kinshasa. Crazy!


We end up only paying the admission fee, but there are no guides and half the drinks on the restaurant’s menu are unavailable.


We leave with a bad taste, without bothering to explore the flora. This place is simply anti-tourist. There are more toll booths after we rejoin the main road to Kinshasa and stop for lunch. Tyres are repaired in an open-air workshop alongside.


At this point we need to find a turnoff to Pioka, where there is supposed to be a ferry across the Congo River to get to Brazzaville. We ask around, but it must have another name in the DRC- nobody knows about it.


After a half-hour excursion up a narrow track that initially looked promising, we turn back to the main road to navigate the Kinshasa traffic.


It’s a Sunday, so things can only get busier tomorrow as all the shops we pass are boarded up except some open-air furniture shops. Note those nasty open gutters along the sides of the road (a local feature to deal with rainfall of some 1.5m per year).


It is as if there is a traffic cordon around the city, and we have a repeat of yesterday’s experience. Yellow taxis fill every inch of road, with pedestrians and bikes threading between them. Riding a motorcycle without a helmet but with flip-flops is de rigueur here. The coolest dudes ride with the balls of their feet on the pegs while the flops hang below the pegs.

Abruptly, the road opens up and offices and schools replace the multitude of shops.


It leads onto the Boulevard du 30 Juin (the date of the DRC’s independence from Belgium) where traffic is sedate and sparse. Quite an anomaly.


Government offices and banks straddle the boulevard, but it lacks a focal point- probably the missing statue of a deposed leader. Instead there are some defunct fountains surrounded by acres of tiles at the triangular city centre.


Although the fountains were clearly functional when the square was completed in 2010 by the Chinese, this barren city has no vibe. Or maybe we just didn’t pick it up.


We round the corner past the railway station towards Kinshasa port, in the hope that we may nip across on the last ferry of the day. But the gates are closed: it’s Sunday and they have closed early (16H00). “Come back tomorrow morning.”

So now we have to find accommodation in this city where rooms are notoriously expensive. The GPS indicates a camping spot nearby, but it turns out to be the Eye Institute. My wife chats up the watchman (who looks sympathetic), while I go around the block to look for a guest house near the South African embassy. It’s a pretty spread out place and looks inviting, until I glance at the price list (those are USD prices). Ouch!


Mrs Owl has had better luck and after an hour or so of waiting, the Eye Institute’s boss has given the OK for us to camp on their small lawn. As long as we are gone by eight the next morning.
That won’t be a problem. We start to unpack and share our last remaining Amarulas with the helpful watchmen.


The tent is only just pitched when the first raindrops plop down on the canvas. We hastily grab everything and relocate under the adjacent carports.


There’s a café at a Total filling station around the corner that I spotted whilst looking for lodging, but by the time we reach it they’re locking up and the heavens open up. We’re drenched to the skin before we are able to duck into a sports bar half a block away. Tropical rains!

My wife is not a fan of beer, but cider is not available so we down a Primus lager apiece before asking the barman if he serves cheese and egg sandwiches. He tells us to wait and disappears down the sidewalk. A good 20 minutes later we each have a plate in front of us and tuck in. There’s cheese (a rarity here) but no egg.

When it comes to settling our bill we learn the realities of the local economy: no credit cards accepted, only cash. We don’t have enough Congolese Francs, so we need to find an ATM. Our host is very understanding and lets us go in search of an ATM. It’s easier said than done – even after scouring the area for nearly an hour we cannot find a single  ATM that is both serviceable AND contains cash. Since dollars are accepted (preferred) here anyway, we end up fetching a few bills from our luggage to settle. It’s $12, but for some weird reason the barman rather wants the $2 part paid in Congolese Francs (http://www.wilddog.za.net/forum/Smileys/default/shocked.gif).


For every input there is normally an output, and back at the Eye Institute I have to scurry for the toilets. They are the excruciating (for me) squat models. Running water is a distant memory here and everything is filthy. A large insect crawls out of the bowl as I flush with a bucket from the nearby drum.

The showers are little better, but at least some water trickles from the open pipe above my head. It’s worth taking Crocs on a trip, if only for the risk of athlete’s foot in places like this. A distinct itchiness between my toes lingers long after the shower.


It drizzles on and off through the night and the air is hot and sticky. Since we are under the carport, we can remove the flysheet and unleash the can of Doom we bought in Luanda to control the mosquitos circling around the tent for a taste of our blood. I sink into an uneasy sleep, mentally bracing myself for the inevitable verbal sparring that is bound to follow when we get back to the port.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: lowrider on January 24, 2020, 07:19:30 am
What an adventure, thanks for sharing!   :sip:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on January 24, 2020, 10:20:43 am
Yes hotels are just ridiculously expensive in the DRC and years back - 2004 - I spent a night there on the street. Was sitting right in front of the hotel against the wall and managed to sleep a couple hours and moved on to the airport in the morning. South Sudan also crazy expensive on hotel accommodations.
Sad to read about the Botanical garden experience as well.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on January 24, 2020, 01:12:58 pm
Thnx for sharing,


Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Clockwork Orange on January 24, 2020, 06:50:08 pm
Great to see an update. Thanks for sharing.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: roxenz on January 28, 2020, 12:55:31 pm
Ja, this is a very interesting trip - fascinating!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: nicolasbahm on March 12, 2020, 04:51:20 pm
When is the next episode due? I’m looking forward to it!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on March 12, 2020, 08:26:39 pm
also looking forward to it !
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on March 14, 2020, 01:32:40 pm
My apologies for the slow updates- perhaps I should blame it on the corona virus, but in truth life has moved on and I am trying to set up a small business in the only part of the economy with good growth prospects ;).

The next post is imminent.
Title: From Congo to Congo
Post by: NiteOwl on March 14, 2020, 03:09:50 pm
There used to be three Congos during the colonial era:
The Belgian Congo (formerly Zaire and now called the DRC, which we are leaving), the French Congo (now called the Congo Republic, which we are entering) and the Portuguese Congo (now called Cabinda, an exclave of Angola- more on that later).


The next morning is a Monday, and patients start queuing up on the pavement outside from six o’clock while we get dressed and pack our tent and damp sleeping bags. Over breakfast we discuss tactics, as there is no doubt that significant bribes will be demanded to exit this warren of bureaucracy. After agreeing on the maximum amount of dollars we are willing to part with, we divide the notes between ourselves in order display as little of the potential booty as possible.


On the way out, we make a short detour past the South African embassy. It’s rather unassuming on the outside and still securely locked (diplomatic hours mustn’t be too taxing) but on the opposite pavement the street vendors are in full swing.

The port office is not yet open for business by the time we get there, but a friendly policeman, who introduces himself as Matthieu, assures us that it will be plain sailing as soon as Mr Hofman arrives. We get regaled with most of his life story as we wait.


The great man duly arrives and ushers us into his office. He’s in plainclothes (like most officials here), speaks good English and gets straight to the point: ferrying passengers with motorcycles is a complex business that he can organise on a canot rapide (local “speedboat”) which will cost $300. Just for calibration, that's more than a flight to Cape Town from Pretoria. For two people.

We insist that we don’t need a private speedboat and were hoping to catch a ride on one of the regular boats for much less.

He wants to know how much we would like to pay for the ferry trip across the Congo river, and “As little as possible” makes little impression on this icon of officialdom. He’s seen it all before and insists on a number. $100, perhaps? After some toing and froing we agree on a price and he sets off with our passports after pocketing the greenbacks.

We are guided through a gate and then another one, close to the edge of the river, and are told to wait. Hoffman returns after a quarter of an hour, introducing us to our captain. After another fifteen minutes he’s back: there’s a problem. The ferry captains is not keen due to the complexity of taking two bikes across the water. I remind him of his status at the port and express our full confidence in his ability to organise our transit.

An hour later, he’s managed to negotiate a solution, but we must go on one boat and the bikes will go on another. This sounds like a scenario where we will never see our bikes again and I suggest he tries harder. Another hour and he has a better solution: we must each go with one bike, on separate boats. It makes little sense, but at least this is acceptable, so I prepare to ride my bike down to the jetty.


A phalanx of porters appear and start grabbing parts of the bike, to carry it down. This will cost more dollars – they want $10 per bike, so I try to ride up the stairs to the ramp. Halfway up and I’m stuck, so I start to remove the luggage. More negotiations follow and the price drops to 5000 Congolese Francs. Ten jobs are created on the spot as the bike gets carted off.


Soon enough both bikes and our luggage are on the jetty, and I produce yesterday’s rejected CF 5000 bill to pay the porters.


A near riot erupts and once again the offensive note is rejected. Grudgingly, I part with my last dollars and everyone is happy. We get told to wait back on the parking lot until a boat is ready to take us, and wait in the sun, keeping an eye on our kit down by the river.

A ferry arrives from the other side with no less than FOUR big bikes on the deck – so where’s the problem? A stud in shorts and flip-flops bravely rides his GS1200 up the ramp and gets stuck on the opposite side of the stairs, which are pretty steep. More business for the porters!


With loud revving the four bikes, including two superbikes, are parked near us while the paperwork gets sorted. They’re going to tour the DRC, (haven’t seen many roads for that around here) and don’t carry much luggage.

Just before noon Hofman returns with Mrs Owl’s passport and ticket (note the price!), and tells her to embark. I’m not allowed to go down to the jetty again, so that my wife is forced to pay more portage to get BOTH bikes and all our luggage onto the boat. I'm quite disgusted by Hofman's tactics.


Half an hour later the boat returns, and it’s my turn to depart the DRC. Since we paid so little (!) we are second-class passengers, which means you ride on the rear deck of the boat without a life-jacket (unlike the first class, seated under a roof).


As the boat is about to set off, Hofman and the reticent captain appear. He suggests a small cadeau for all his and the captain’s efforts! I mention that we had already rewarded him rather handsomely, and can honestly say that I am fresh out of cash, when I remember the infamous CF5000 notes . They certainly will not be of any use outside the DRC and, by the look on their faces, not much use in the DRC either. It feels good to get out of this Congo. There's a cargo port alongside the ferry port, but it is bereft of any signs of activitty.


Apart from the canots rapide plying these waters, many locals use wooden boats. They look equally speedy.


At the ferry point, the Congo river is nearly 3 km wide and some 150 m deep. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the port in Brazzaville, capital of the Congo Republic.

More porters and runners pounce on the foreigners disembarking, offering to carry, guide, help… by now I’m quite fed up with this fleecing and send them packing. Officials (again in plainclothes) wait at a table up the ramp and once more my passport is taken away. Immigration is a manual process, with every entry painstaking written out in longhand. But after getting directed to the chef’s office, my passport reappears, gets stamped and that’s it- no charge!

By the time I reach my wife she has packed the bikes, but is harassed by a swarm of runners demanding to be paid for their services (carting the bikes off the boat). She’s already given her last dollars to a guide who said he would sort everything out for her, but he has pocketed the money for himself. Now they want money from me and the police get called over.

It’s an unhappy start to our stay in the new Congo, but there’s no point in trying to discuss this- we make it clear the we can not pay another cent and ride off to look for our hotel.

Brazzaville immediately has a better vibe than Kinshasa. There’s quite a bit of traffic, but most buildings are only two or three storeys. We follow the GPS and 3 km later pull in at the Hippocampe Hotel. It’s meant to be an overlander hotspot (like Jungle Junction in Nairobi), but there’s no sign of rugged vehicles, let alone bikes. Perhaps it is because the original owner, Olivier Peix, has moved to Vietnam.

We book a room for two nights and unpack before sitting down for a very welcome cold beer, cider and lunch. We have no local currency yet, but are allowed to run a tab. The rate for a room is CFA 28 000 (about R 700); breakfast is CFA 5 000 extra- worth skipping. Oh, and there’s wifi.


It’s time to do our laundry again and we waste no time stringing up a washing line and scrubbing our riding gear under the shower.


By late afternoon we walk down to look for an ATM, but we can only find VISA terminals, so we cook the last of our instant meals and dive under the mosquito net- môre is nog ‘n dag!


Brazzaville turns out to be quite an oasis. Since this was the French Congo before independence transformed it into the Republic of the Congo, French influence is ubiquitous. Apart from the language and street names, French products line the shelves in the upmarket supermarkets. The currency here, as in the rest of Francophone Africa further north and west, is the CFA franc and it is guaranteed by the French treasury. The rate is fixed at CFA 655.957 = Eur 1 and therefore freely interchangeable with it. No need for US dollars here!

But the Chinese are making inroads to wean the Congolese off French influence, in order to gain access to the region's oil and forestry reserves. Initial populist tactics like this poster declaring support against the imperialists of 1964 ….


…. have given way to more subtle approaches like sponsoring hospitals and study at Chinese universities.


Politically, the Republic of the Congo has fared little better than its neighbours with a history littered with coups d'état and a president (Denis Sassou N’guesso) who has changed the constitution to cling to power for the past 27 years. Quite a contrast to Pierre de Brazza, the Italian who established France’s foothold in the region.

Everything we need is within walking distance of the hotel, but the gutters along the roads are real booby traps at night.


Religion is pervasive, and Brazzaville boasts a rather striking church near the city centre, the Basilique St. Anne du Congo, built by the French some seventy years ago. The walls echo with the melodic sound of a choir practicing.


Next to the canals, a much more informal form of worship takes place.


As for us- we are more interested in food and coffee, and discover an oasis of both at La Mandarine:


Real cappuccino!


Spaghetti bolognaise here is about R120, half the price of our hotel, and with visibly more meat. The menu prices and quality are very reasonable.


At the Geant Casino around the corner we are able to stock up our larder again. They even sell cheese and long life milk- we haven’t seen those for a while! As in Angola, South African wines compete with Europe's finest; but at double the price they are back home.


I’ve taken new spark plugs along as both bikes tended to “hesitate” during commuting (although a dyno test showed good power delivery) before our departure. It hasn’t been a problem on this trip, but we want to reduce our baggage a bit, so we might as well fit them. Both bikes came without tool kits (what happens to those things??), so I bought a socket with a 3/8 drive and ground the top to fit my size 17 hex axle spanner before we left. But the gap where the plug fits between the cams is less than a 60 degree arc so I can’t turn the plugs out. Luckily, there’s a car workshop around the corner from the hotel and they allow me to use their grinder to grind 12 sides on the socket (to halve the arc).


But my grinding is too uneven and now the spanner slips. Despite not knowing us from a bar of soap, they let us walk off with their 3/8” ratchet, which is fine enough to replace the plugs. The difference is negligible, but we’re finally able to dump the old plugs.

Our sleeping bags are way too hot for this climate, so we dump one and buy a sheet at Geant instead- much cooler, less sweaty, less luggage!

Blocks of flats surround the hotel, and for some reason none of their balconies have railings, even seven floors up. I snap a picture but note that people shout when they see a camera. It gets serious when I lift my iPhone a bit further on, to focus on a kid playing on one of these open balconies while we are walking through a shebeen where some soldiers are having a drink. I get apprehended and they demand to see what’s on the phone. Luckily, I didn’t get a shot so there is nothing to find on the phone, but the aggression is surprising. Signs of a police state with a governing party desperate to stay in power.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Hermit on March 14, 2020, 09:43:38 pm
Yeahhh ... some action at last ! 😀👍
Lekker !
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on March 15, 2020, 03:29:58 am
Yeahhh ... some action at last ! 😀👍
Lekker !

+1  :3some: :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on March 15, 2020, 06:41:59 am
Best report I have read in years.

Thank you so much.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on March 15, 2020, 12:38:21 pm
Glad it's back !
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on March 15, 2020, 08:08:16 pm
My apologies for the slow updates- perhaps I should blame it on the corona virus, but in truth life has moved on and I am trying to set up a small business in the only part of the economy with good growth prospects ;).

The next post is imminent.

Which part is that? The funeral business?

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Shaun M on March 17, 2020, 01:18:13 pm
Jeeeeeezzz I am so enjoying this report.

Keep up the great work, looking forward to the next installment.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Sam on March 17, 2020, 04:59:47 pm
Thanks for the update!

I must admit........I don;t think that I have the patience or temperament to handle that rubbish at the border.....! Hats off to you.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on March 18, 2020, 01:05:36 am
For all of those confined to staying at home and still manfully wrestling through this yarn- another page turner coming up.
Title: Lefini
Post by: NiteOwl on March 18, 2020, 01:27:13 am
All too soon our two rest days are over and the town feels eerily quiet as we depart from the Hippocampe around noon. It’s Mayday- a public holiday. We need cash for fuel and food along the way, but the ATM we previously used is now depleted so we have to hunt for another one on the way out. It takes quite a while to find one that accepts Mastercard.


The area north and east for the city centre is clearly poorer. As the houses thin out the road becomes a dual carriageway, built on piles above the floodplain of the Congo river flowing alongside.


The water is not far away from the road and the vegetation is lush.


It takes quite a while to finally exit Brazzaville (the Pool region) through a police checkpoint- a feature of every provincial border, as we discovered. They check passports, but it’s routine. The land undulates as the road rises to the Bateke Plateau- which feels like KwaZulu Natal.



At PK Rouge we get our first confirmation that we are on the right road and the distance to go: we are heading for Ouesso, where the Congo Republic meets Cameroun and the southern tip of the Central African Republic. Why? All will be revealed after the next post.


The RN2 (Route Nationale) is the main north-south highway, while the RN1 is the main east-west artery connecting Brazzaville and Pointe Noire on the Atlantic coast. The “highway” part needs to be taken with a pinch of salt- this is Africa after all.

Not having any idea what the road conditions here would be like, we are expecting to reach Ouesso in three days. And we haven’t booked any accommodation (not that I could find much). Initially, progress is pretty good- maybe we were too pessimistic? But then things change.



This is a high rainfall region (1500 mm per year) and the combination of all that water plus the heavy trucks that are carting off the rainforest take their toll.


Not to be outdone by their DRC neighbours (or the trucks), the local taxis also get loaded to the gills. (They all have a "panda" paint scheme, according to their home city; green and white for Brazzaville, Blue and white for Pointe-Noire).


Fortunately, it doesn’t last that long and there are roadworks in progress to lay new asphalt with better drainage.


Although we pass plenty of villages, the distances between towns are quite a bit further here, and consequently fuel is not readily available. Few people have cars, and the local motorbikes are just for commuting. Most of the sparse traffic comprises trucks and the odd bus.


Despite being in the higher Plateaux region, the weather is hot and humid. 170 km outside Brazzaville we see our first filling station and are told by the man chatting to the pump attendant that we are in Lefini, named after the river passing through the town and Reserve of the same name.


It turns out that we are talking to the town’s main businessman, and when we ask about accommodation around here, he informs us that he owns the local inn (auberge). Conveniently, it’s right across the road from the filling station and it is nearly dusk. We ride across to take a look.


Once upon a time this was probably a nice hostel, but the plumbing and wiring is no longer functional. There’s a bucket shower and a bucket-flushed toilet around the back. We get offered to camp in the covered picnic area (?) for CFA 10 000 (R 250). We accept, pay and unpack.


Down the road are stalls where all sorts of food and drink are on offer: fish, bread, sweet potatoes and fritters (fried on the spot), fruit, eggs, cold beer… we drift from one stall to the next and gather our supper.




Back at the auberge we heat up some of the patats while boiling the eggs- it’s a pretty substantial meal- before braving the rather dodgy bathroom facilities...


….which have probably not been exposed to any cleaning for decades, but they compare rather favourably with the Kinshasa experience.

As mentioned before, our host is the main entrepreneur in town. Not only does he own the auberge, he also owns the adjacent sports bar. Which boasts the town’s only TV.

And on this night of all nights, Liverpool is facing Barcelona in the UEFA Champion’s League semi-final. Not long after washing up, the crowd starts filling up the courtyard as the TV gets pride of place in the bar. Football is a big deal around here too, and everyone is a Messi fan. The boisterous entertainment lasts well into the night.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on March 18, 2020, 12:09:20 pm
That toilet.....

Couple of swipes with some Mr Min and it's good as new.


Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: ChrisL - DUSTRIDERS on March 19, 2020, 12:21:54 pm
That toilet.....

Couple of swipes with some Mr Min and it's good as new.


Ek verstaan nie hoe die eienaar van die plek nie fout sien met daai toilet? :o
Laat my dink sy toilet by die huis lyk ook so.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Hermit on March 28, 2020, 07:54:19 pm
Trip full of challanges, but most enjoyable to read.  :o   :thumleft:

Makes me realize its time ...   :ricky:
Title: Re: From Congo to Congo
Post by: MRK Miller on March 30, 2020, 08:15:35 pm

Our sleeping bags are way too hot for this climate, so we dump one and buy a sheet at Geant instead- much cooler, less sweaty, less luggage!

Where/ how did you dump your sleeping bag
Title: Zero Latitude
Post by: NiteOwl on April 01, 2020, 06:43:58 pm
Despite the noisy night, we’re up early to see what the new day will bring. The stalls are still lit, but deserted.


I take a look around the back of the auberge to see what the well looks like from where the water in the bathroom comes. It turns out to be the edge of the Lefini river. Due to the high rainfall and low population density in the Congo, the water’s pretty clear.


Here too, beer bottles are returnable and after breakfast we drop the empties off on the way out of town.


At the edge of town there’s another police checkpoint- we are transiting to the Plateaux region.


Nobody’s manning the booms, however, so we manoeuvre through the obstruction and head for the big bridge spanning the Lefini river. 


It’s a massive dark water mass, the likes of which you do not see in Southern Africa, flowing swiftly eastwards to join the Congo River running parallel to our route.

The mist hangs heavy in the valley beyond the bridge; for a change we are moving before the sun is out. The air is crisp and cool- riding at its best!


The road climbs steeply and the scenery is beautiful. There is no traffic other than a lonely labourer walking past as we stop to take it all in.


Not all of the trucks here make it to their destination; as the road levels out a rusty wreck lies forgotten next to the road, surrounded by its cargo. There are probably no cranes around to load those massive trunks onto another trailer. Note the S-shaped nailplates to prevent the wood from splitting.


There are plenty more abandoned wrecks along the road. We pull over on a side road for the morning’s coffee break. It’s strictly self-service in the Congo.


Today’s route entails a few towns that are between 50 and 100km apart, interspersed with villages bisected by the EN2 road. Due to the low traffic volume and its recent construction, the RN2 is actually in very good condition here. At most villages we pass through, there are water tanks in the colours of the national flag. They’re made by Asperbras, and are the Brazilian (!) equivalent of our JoJo tanks.


Despite the high rainfall in this region, these tanks are filled from solar-powered pumps locked inside boreholes behind the tanks. Clearly, theft is a problem. As is maintenance- quite a few of the tanks along the road are dry. What is really puzzling is how few houses actually have gutters to catch the rainfall around here, which is plentiful and falls regularly.  :o As a result, only about 1/3 of the rural population has access to clean drinking water.


Outside the towns, the roads are all in great condition. They tend to be overgrown by the dense vegetation, except where villagers have cleared the areas around their huts. It makes riding here a unique experience. Soon enough we reach Ngo, a town that is not to be confused with an NGO! We’ll get to know it a bit better in the way back. .

We cross more big water (tributaries of the Congo), which the locals navigate with long boats carved out of those massive tree trunks.



Gamboma lies on the Nkeni river, and its busy main street is lined with shops and buses, with people milling about between them.


Here we come across another weird Soviet-style statue. Gucci handbags anyone?


On the outskirts of town we finally get a SIMcard at a grocery/ pharmacy/ butchery/ mobile shop. I opt for Airtel, but it turns out to be a poor choice as their coverage here is inferior to MTN’s.


The local FICA process is quite practical: there are no forms to fill in, the agent just needs to forward a copy of the customer’s ID document to the police network for approval. The practical solution to this requirement is obviously a cellphone pic. But my shopkeeper is no Yousuf Karsh and it takes four attempts and the best part of an hour before he’s managed to send a copy that is legible enough to allow him to release it.

The next town is Oyo. It’s an important place: the president’s home-town and nearly halfway to Ouesso. For the first time since leaving South Africa we see horses and cows in green pastures. It’s not a commercial operation, however, but the prez’s private vanity project. The only milk we saw in the Congo was in Brazzaville supermarkets, imported from Denmark.

Despite its remote location and modest population, Oyo is artificially stimulated with an international airport opposite a deserted five star hotel that none of the locals can afford. Its key asset is its location on the Alima river port, forming a gateway between Franceville in Gabon and the waterway connecting it to the Congo river. Like the RN2 road, it’s a project built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).


On the northern outskirts we find an SNPC filling station, and pull over to fill up. Apart from a taxi, there are no other customers. The attendant warns us that this is the last fuel until Ouesso, so we do a quick check on the likelihood of making it. That’s still nearly 450km- quite a stretch even with the jerrycans we now fill. And because we haven’t managed to find anymore EcoBank ATMs, we are now running worryingly low on cash.


A word on fuel in the Congo Republic: the pump price is fixed throughout the country at CFA595, about 10% less than in South Africa at the time.

Despite the warning in Oyo, the next town (Owando) does actually have a filling station, so we top up. With full tanks and a jerrycan each we should now be able to cover the remaining 350 km.

At Makoua there’s yet another huge waterway. Unused boats are moored zig-zag fashion along the Likouala riverbank, making for an interesting image.


We are now approaching Sangha province, where the Congo Republic’s premium wildlife conservation area is located: the Odzala-Kokoua National Park. A rusty poster tries to encourage conservation of the region’s great apes for future generations.


Steam rises from the road after the day’s showers, so I ride ahead to get a shot of my wife approaching through the spray. As she passes, she asks how far we now are from the equator.


I check my GPS and find we’ve actually arrived in the northern hemisphere without any sign or signal. We turn around to backtrack to the equator, which should be just about one nautical mile back:


Back over the bridge there’s a deserted building that actually turns out to be the town hall (le mairie).


Behind the town hall is a traffic circle with a police station on the opposite side and a brass globe in the centre. A band around it bisects the African continent, with the Congo Republic highlighted in gold. The equator!


According to our GPS, the actual equator line is 100 metres further south. AA Roadside Assistance out here is unlikely, but I can tick off another box for this trip’s objectives:


Mrs Owl tries the coriolis test on either side of the zero latitude line with some leaves in a cup, but it’s inconclusive within such a small diameter.


Not long after Makoua we pass another roadblock. It demarcates the entry into Sangha province, as well as the southern edge of the Odzala-Kokoua park. They are more strict here, and record our passport and vehicle details in a register.


By now, sunset is not far away and although we have food for supper, we need water and villages have become quite sparse. Fortunately there are still a few street vendors opposite the police tents selling water and fried patats.

Now to find somewhere to sleep. We are down to our last thousand CFA, so another auberge is out of the question. Although there are plenty of trees around, the undergrowth is so dense that you cannot even see beyond it. Then we suddenly pass an open patch to our right- a roadwork clearing. We turn around, park at the edge of the trees some 100m from the road, and pitch our tent.


So here we are right opposite the Congo’s most exclusive reserve, under the stars, at an ideal camping spot that won’t cost a single cent or CFA. How lucky can you get?


A few words about our neighbour: Odzala-Kokoua is one of Africa’s oldest parks and covers an area of about 13 500 km2 (70% of the Kruger Park’s area). Despite its diverse mammal and bird population, less than a hundred visitors make the trek annually due to the high entrance fees and limited infrastructure. Only the ultra well-heeled can afford to spend $1000+ per day here, so most of the visitors are actually conservation and research staff, funded by EU and US grants. It’s obvious that without this money, the whole operation can’t possibly be economically viable.


The main attraction of the park is the great apes, specifically the Western Lowland gorilla and the Central chimpanzee. The Congo civil war (1997-1999), followed by Ebola from 2001-2005, decimated the local gorilla and chimpanzee populations to the point that they are now critically endangered. On top of this, poaching is a major problem here as well.


Despite our proximity to the park, we have not seen or heard a single mammal all day. Or night.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Offshore on April 01, 2020, 08:20:49 pm
Awesome Report, thank You. :thumleft:  :sip:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Amsterdam on April 02, 2020, 04:22:01 pm
Thanks for taking the time to do this write up.  The Congo is one of those places that holds a mysterious fascination for me.  But, after reading all this, I am not so sure if it is worth the time and trouble to go there.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Rooi Wolf on April 04, 2020, 08:21:53 pm
Absoluut classy!

I've been to many of the places you write about in my work capacity, Kinshasa, Brazzaville, Pointe Noir, Kabinda. But have never seen it through the eyes of a fellow biker.

Thanks for a brilliant read.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on April 05, 2020, 02:15:42 am
Absoluut classy!

I've been to many of the places you write about in my work capacity, Kinshasa, Brazzaville, Pointe Noir, Kabinda. But have never seen it through the eyes of a fellow biker.

Thanks for a brilliant read.

Ditto  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on April 07, 2020, 12:41:21 pm
Thanks for the positive comments, it makes the effort worthwhile.

Thanks for taking the time to do this write up.  The Congo is one of those places that holds a mysterious fascination for me.  But, after reading all this, I am not so sure if it is worth the time and trouble to go there.

Life is a tradeoff. Is it about the journey or the destination? Bucket list item? Childhood fantasy that needs closure…?

I’ve hinted in previous posts how this route evolved, but let’s just say a seed got planted in my early childhood when I got this book…
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: eSKaPe on April 07, 2020, 01:14:45 pm
Excellent RR
Many more roads to travel
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: EssBee on April 07, 2020, 01:27:03 pm
Simply brilliant RR, thank you for going to the trouble to share!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: JMOL on April 07, 2020, 02:29:14 pm
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful RR with us.

To be honest - I read each and every sentence / word - I was hooked from the start.  Even followed on Google Maps  :deal:   :biggrin: 

Cannot wait for the rest to follow.  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on April 07, 2020, 08:01:11 pm
Prachtig verslag. Ga door !


Title: Into the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on April 08, 2020, 12:50:55 pm
The next morning everything is covered in dew and we have lots of visitors lapping it up! Fortunately, no mosquitos here.



Shortly after resuming our ride, we pass the main gate to Odzala, and more police checks. Progress is smooth- they’re still setting up shop. The air is  deliciously cool so early in the morning.


This gives some idea of the density of the bush here…


…fed by all that natural water.


By the time we stop for coffee at an MTN cell tower, Ouesso is only half an hour away.


As we get closer to the town, we note palm trees on either side of the road. Only later do we learn that they are not indigenous, but were planted here by ATAMA Plantations for the establishment of a palm oil industry that should have generated thousands of jobs.


In reality they appear to have been used as a smokescreen for the illegal harvesting of timber instead.


Rusting earthmoving machinery is parked in a deserted compound on the outskirts of the town and the bungalows are boarded up. Probably leftovers from ATAMA’s forestry operations, as the Chinese would have used their own blue trucks instead of Caterpillars for the road construction. Whoever the owners may be, there’s a few million Rands worth of machinery getting covered by weeds here.

At the turnoff to Sembé there’s another police checkpoint, but after making a show of checking our documents we’re allowed to move on. There's a Total filling station on Ouesso's main street, but we carry on to look for money first- we're platsak!

A welcome sight greets our eyes within a stone’s throw from the pumps- an Ecobank with an ATM booth outside. It’s hot out in the street, but the booth is air-conditioned! We take our time inside, enjoying the cool air, until a teller comes to check if we’re OK.


We’re close to our destination for the day, but from here our maps are sketchy, and T4A is lost. We need to get to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) camp at Bomassa, supposedly only 100km further. I have a GPS coordinate, but there are no road signs around here. We call up our contact, Zanné, who is the media consultant for their Congo programme.

She’s South African, and really organised: she sends us a map via WhatsApp and then patiently explains the route that we have to take through the forest roads. Their camp is on the edge of the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, and they can provide accommodation.

Encouraged, we stock up on cash and splash out for our lunch at the shops down the street. They even have yoghurt! Then it’s back up the road for fuel before coasting downhill to the Sangha River. Another biggie.


It turns out that we need to go through Customs first, even though the opposite side is still part of the Congo Republic (and the same province). Their office is up the hill overlooking the ferry operation, and our passport numbers are copied into a book. There’s no stamping and no payment is required.

Back at the ferry point, we get directed to the front of the ferry, next to a police Land Cruiser. The cops are friendly enough, and don’t mind my camera (I've become rather katvoet after the experience in Brazzaville). An entire horse and trailer, as well as a truck and some pedestrians follow us on board. A young fellow comes round to collect the transit fee: it's CFA 5000 per bike (R250 for both).


The Sangha River forms the border between Cameroon and the Congo north of Ouesso, and between the Central African Republic (CAR) and Cameroon north of Bomassa. From Ouesso it flows southeast, to join up with the Congo River some 400 km south of here. Infrastructure is a problem in the Congo: there’s no bridge here, even though it’s a major thoroughfare to Yaoundé, the capital of the CAR, 500km to the north.

Due to the state of the roads, most goods are transported along the rivers in pirogues. The only railway line in the country runs from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire in the south.


As soon as the ferry is loaded up, a tug pulls up alongside to nudge us across the current. It doesn't take long and, being at the front, we get off first.


We ride up the embankment to take in the new surroundings. It’s a forest, with a decently graded road straight ahead. It seems like a good idea to get a move on while the track is clear, but the Police bakkie soon roars past in a cloud of dust.


We reach Pokola 40 km later, where we have to turn off to enter the forest reserve. The police manning the boom are quite friendly, even giving us a bottle of very welcome water. Customs across the road is less affable, and they want another tithe (CFA 5000 per bike) before we may enter.

And so we are let into a concession of 1.4 million hectares of rainforest, the proverbial Lungs of the Earth. It is operated by CIB (Congolaise Industrielle des Bois), a wholly owned subsidiary of Olam International (Singaporean, not Chinese!), a global food and agricultural business. For sustainable logging, trees apparently get felled selectively here instead of clearing large swathes.


We take the first turn easily enough, but two wrong attempts take a while before it’s obvious that we are not converging towards our waypoint. The logging company operating here has actually done a great job of maintaining the roads and we gain confidence as the canopy flits by.


This forest covers a vast area, comparable in size to the Odzala reserve. Kabo, the next village, is the best part of 100 km from where we entered in Pokola. It's enjoyable riding, although you have to watch out for the camber and the damp patches.

There’s a T-junction, with the village (and port) to the left and the road…er track, to Bomassa to the right. Unaware of Kabo’s importance, we turn right. It starts well enough and we pause for a drink.


A few km further the road climbs and is heavily eroded. A local man on a Chinese bike stops to warn us that the track ahead is dangereuse. Fortunately it’s dry, but I can see that this won’t be so easy after some rain (no time for pics here). Progress slows down a lot but finally we reach the home stretch and turn into Bomassa.


Which is actually just a small village; some kids direct us around the corner to the WCS camp.


The sun is setting over the Sangha river when we finally pull into the camp. We find Zanné enjoying a sundowner over by the river and she introduces us to Emma, who has come over to visit from the WCS law enforcement office in Ouesso.



We’d originally opted to stay over at the village, but the temptation of a clean room, hot shower and cold beer is too much. We fetch our luggage, plop down next to Emma and unwind. Cheers!

The WCS camp lies between the forest reserve and the edge of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park; it’s used as a base by the WCS staff, park rangers and various researchers. They’re an eclectic bunch and arrive in dribs and drabs as the night falls. Most have got a PhD or are working towards one, and this kind of setup is their bread and butter.

We get introduced to all kinds of nationalities: Camilla, who is French and heads the financial department, is here with her husband Rayo, who is Colombian. 

The Belgian director of the camp, Eric, is away on business but his wife and children are about. Emma’s just gotten a puppy that keeps the kids entertained. It makes us long for our own dogs back home with the house-sitters!

Terry hails from Arizona and is director of research with a longstanding interest in primates. She’s also managing the Elephant Listening Project (ELP), run by Cornell University, that uses acoustic arrays to track the movement and calls of forest elephants. It’s also used as an anti-poaching tool, as it can detect and locate gunshots.

Merel is Dutch and has come over from Pokola, where her partner (a doctor) works at a hospital run by CIB, the concession holders of the forest we’ve ridden through. They administer vaccinations and contraceptives, provide treatment for malaria and HIV, and also operate a clinic at Kabo.

Zanné’s boyfriend, Forrest (a fresh-faced Welshman), arrives late from the airstrip at Kabo after a surveillance flight over the park in the WCS plane. No poachers today.

It’s all very sociable with the beer flowing freely once a fire is lit. Supper is a buffet of rice and beans, potatoes, cabbage salad, bread and chocolate spread from Cameroon. And some Dutch delicacies from Merel.


It’s a pleasant change from our lonely travels of the last three weeks.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on April 08, 2020, 09:20:42 pm

I have said it many times on this thread, but allow me to say it again:  Fantastic.

This a part of Africa nobody I know ever visits, and I know nothing about it.
Reading this report had broadened by mind and I am constantly scrolling around on Google Earth to look for the places you mention.

Awesome. Just awesome. Thank you so much for posting this report.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: D man on April 09, 2020, 01:25:50 pm
To Mr and Mrs NiteOwl, what an epic trip and stunning ride report. I always have such admiration for anyone travelling into the less obvious parts of Africa. It takes massive kahunas. Respect!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Amsterdam on April 09, 2020, 01:31:39 pm
Thanks for the positive comments, it makes the effort worthwhile.

Thanks for taking the time to do this write up.  The Congo is one of those places that holds a mysterious fascination for me.  But, after reading all this, I am not so sure if it is worth the time and trouble to go there.

Life is a tradeoff. Is it about the journey or the destination? Bucket list item? Childhood fantasy that needs closure…?

I’ve hinted in previous posts how this route evolved, but let’s just say a seed got planted in my early childhood when I got this book…

Some 40 plus years ago, when we were planning our trip, I often looked at that big green space on the Michelin maps of Africa and wondered why we didn't plan our route to take us through there.  So yes, an unfulfilled fantasy I suppose.
Title: Up the Sangha River
Post by: NiteOwl on April 10, 2020, 08:14:02 pm
(https://tinyurl.com/sbh3rgo)    Some background on the Wildlife Conservation Society: The WCS is an American organisation founded more than a century ago to preserve wildlife and their habitats. Unsurprisingly, one of its founding members was Teddy Roosevelt. It is well funded, with an annual budget of more than $300M, and operates worldwide in 84 locations (31 in Africa), employing some 4300 people. For comparison, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which was only founded in 1961 and has a similar budget and reach, employs nearly double the number of people (but does not run any zoos).

In this region, the WCS is focussed on trying to eliminate poaching, the bushmeat trade and the illegal export of exotic animals as pets. It’s a battle that is hard to win in a desperately poor developing country.

The WCS camp is the base for the game rangers that protect the animals in the park. It’s a war, just like in Kruger. Every morning starts with a parade where the day’s tasks are assigned by the camp director after a flag-raising ceremony. We’re asked not to take photographs, as they don’t want the rangers to be identified… so here is an incognito picture from WCS’ website.


We’re greeted by a downpour the next morning, and get told that it’s the start of the short rainy season. It ends as suddenly as it started. My mind wanders to that last bit of road we covered yesterday.  :o


We get shown around the camp by Zanné after breakfast and there’s a surprise around the back of the workshops: African Grey parrots (sorry about the poor pic, but the mesh is dense and people aren’t allowed inside the cage).


But they’re not pets, quite the opposite in fact: these are birds confiscated from poachers and they are being rehabilitated before release back into the wild. The parrots get caught by luring them with a feticheur, a parrot which has had all its flight feathers chopped off (or whose wings have been dislocated). Its noisy calls then attract wild parrots, who sit down on glue-covered branches – and get rounded up by the poachers.

We’re told that there are four varieties of apes in the trees around the camp, but we saw nothing last night and it’s not much better today. What we do learn over the next few days is that one’s attention needs to be high up in the trees in this region; not at ground level as we are used to for game spotting down south.

We had arranged with Zanne to leave our bikes at the WCS camp before we left home. She had been apprehensive at the time, expecting us to arrive on big 1200s. But now that she has seen our very modest 250s, she directs us to the back of her office and suggests we park the bikes on the porch next to the camp’s Chinese Bushlander. There’s plenty of space, and we can leave the riding gear, camping stuff and other things we won’t need inside the office. Great!


We’ve arranged for a pickup to our final destination at ten. It’s going to be by boat, and up the Sangha River. Our skipper is Blaise, and he moors at the WCS “wharf” on time. Despite having slept over in Bomassa village last night, his uniform is crisp and clean. We say our goodbyes and pack our much-reduced luggage on board.


And so our holiday starts. We are in the middle of the Sangha Trinational protected area, which encompasses three adjoining national parks straddling the border area between Cameroon (Lobeke NP), the Central African Republic (Dzanga-Ndoki National Park), and Congo (Nouabale-Ndoki NP)- where we are now. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


We finally get to spot some wildlife- a sitatunga running along the sandy riverbank. It's an antelope very similar to the lechwe found in the Okavango.


We pass the sawmill at Libongo, marked by a mountain of sawdust next to the river.


We have to go about 120 km up the river to get to the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, which is in the Central African Republic; yet another border crossing plus visa away. Fortunately Blaise is well versed in the ritual and although tedious (different landings for immigration & customs, visa and finally police) the process is fairly painless. All the officials have a formal stamp and rudimentary offices, but no uniform. It looks like our fees (about R1000 per head in total) make up most of their salary.


The boat is still new and despite slowing down for sandbanks every so often (“the water level is very low”) we rip through the water at 40 km/h on the straight bits!

No local can afford this sort of speedy transport, though. It’s all hand-carved boats and paddles for the villagers and fishermen. Everybody’s very friendly- no doubt more because of Blaise than because of us.


The youngsters seem to get the second-hand canoes…


WCS packed a light lunch of buns filled with cucumber and mayonnaise that we finished after the last stop and stamp routine. Half an hour later we finally pull up at Sangha Lodge: the end of our trip. Some fishermen next to our landing are busy mending their nets.


The fuel and water tanks are offloaded across a floating ramp…


… which leads up to the dining/ bar area where a very welcome welcoming juice  awaits us. We get introduced to Tim and Saartje, a Belgian couple who manage the Lodge.


We get shown to our hut, which has its own bathroom despite the wooden floor. Two cool bottles of filtered water are on the table- nice touch!


The hut is built from rough-cut planks (no guessing where that comes from) and the roof is woven from leaves. A large double bed, draped with a mosquito net fills much of the room.


There’s a small research hut at the high end of the compound, where we get introduced to Dr Maja Gudehus. She rehabilitates rescued animals, like this genet. My wife is in her element- she loves animals and this part of the trip is for her (really had to work for it, though).


After being shown around, we get left to cool our heels in the hut till dinner time. There’s no cider in the bar, but the beer and gin & tonic go down well with the salted fried banana chips that the kitchen has rustled up. They become our firm favourite during our stay here. Outside is a deck with a great view over the Sangha River.


At supper we meet Tamar Cassidy, and her son Alon, the owners of Sangha Lodge. They’re South African, too, and her husband, Rod, is away on business back home. We’ve corresponded by a bit of email and a WhatsApp call when we put this trip together, after a work colleague made me aware of this remote location. We’re probably the first visitors since Kingsley Holgate to ride up for a  visit to the lodge (most visitors fly in from Bangui), and Rod has given us a special rate for our stay. Even so, we can only afford three days here.


We learn that Sangha Lodge used to be a hunting lodge, and the Cassidys bought it in 2008 to develop it as a sustainable tourist destination. It hasn’t been an easy ride for them: there are no shops around here, and hardly any roads worthy of the name. Most supplies have to be flown in from Bangui, at huge expense. This is the beating heart of Africa without a five star sugar-coating, run by people who are in this business for all the right reasons and who are not scared to get their hands dirty. Or of getting malaria: everyone seems to have had it at least once.

We turn in for an early night; tomorrow we’re going on our first outing into the adjacent park. Like proper tourists.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: dw1 on April 10, 2020, 08:42:20 pm
Fantastic report. thnx for putting so much effort in to show us a part of the world most will never see.
Kudos for having the guts to embark on such a trip into the real unknown.
Title: Red Ivory
Post by: NiteOwl on April 25, 2020, 09:19:54 pm
Today we are visiting the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, which covers some 680 000 hectares and was only proclaimed 30 years ago, like the Sangha Tri-national park south of here. The Reserve is located near the southern tip of the Central African Republic (CAR) and its eastern boundary is also the border with the Congo Republic.


It also happens to be the home range of a few thousand members of the local Baka pygmy tribe. Some of them still live deep in the forest, but most live in villages around Bayanga. They are hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers and most are unemployed, but they are gradually being drawn into the tourism industry as guides, trackers, drivers… Sangha Lodge has become a major employer in the region and also assists with schooling.

As in the case of Angola, Lonely Planet offers just a couple of pages on the CAR; Wikipedia does a better job of it. This is a landlocked country, about half the area of South Africa, with grasslands in the north and rainforests in the south. It is sparsely populated and has considerable natural resources, but is amongst the poorest countries in the world, surviving mainly on foreign aid.

Most transport is done along the waterways, which also provide hydroelectric power. Despite the lack of industrial pollution, life expectancy is severely limited by tropical diseases and poor medical facilities- only 53 years or so. Not an ideal retirement destination.

Like most former French colonies, the CAR has also had its fair share of coups d’etat; remember “emperor” Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who made Idi Amin look like an amateur? The most recent religious and ethnic civil war that started in 2012 is still not resolved; sporadic attacks continue. Fortunately, mostly in the north of the country.



It’s an early breakfast of fruit, rolls and coffee for us. Tim and Saartje are joining us on the trip as they have not had the opportunity to go out to the park yet.


Our transport is a Toyota Hilux with a double cab. It’s seen better days- a plastic sheet has replaced the roof lining, some lights on dash doggedly stay red and the keys are more for decoration than necessity.


Our driver is pretty skilled at navigating these slippery two-tracks and manages to avoid sliding into the deep ruts worn out by prior traffic. The bush extends right up next  to the tracks and the leaves and twigs slap over the roof as we pass.


A couple of villages line the road to Bayanga. The huts are made from wood and clay, the roofs from leaves. (sorry, too difficult to photograph with the bouncing on these roads). The local airstrip is also nearby, but we turn off before it.


The first stop is at the Dzanga-Sangha Park reception. The lodge has arranged the bookings and tickets, so it’s a quick process. And there are no other tourists around. Given its remoteness, it’s not surprising that this area only sees about 100 visitors per year.


A couple of the park’s guides hop aboard and we’re off to the bai- a local term for a clearing in the forest. It’s a bouncy ride through more thick vegetation, after which the last few kilometres are covered on foot, because of all the standing water.


We end up on a raised platform overlooking the clearing. Apart from the forest elephants, there are also forest buffaloes (with narrower horns to move through the trees more easily) and bongos. There are also lots of sweat bees making a proper nuisance of themselves.



Forest buffaloes:

The elephant found in Central Africa are different to those found in Southern Africa [L] and India [R].


For one thing forest elephants are smaller, their tusks are darker and relatively long: this is highly prized red ivory, and the reason why these elephants are also under threat. Here’s a big bull which has just taken a mud bath, leaving him distinctly yellow-looking.


Here's is a sample of the dung produced by these elephants. Very different from the bristly piles of African elephants.


The elephants congregate here to dig up salt, which they do by loosening the soil with their tusks and blowing up the water with their trunks.


The youngsters follow their mothers to learn how it’s all done.


Between the puddles are some woolly-necked storks, a grey heron, yellow-billed egret and a hamerkop foraging for food and sunning themselves.


We get to chat a bit with Tim & Saartje whilst ogling the animals and learn that they are overlanders who hit the pause button for a year on their Africa trip, to earn some money before continuing on their journey with the bakkie they bought back in SA.


Although the view from the platform is great, there’s only so many ways you can photograph elephants and after lunch the sweat bees seem to think we owe them some too. It’s time to head back to the camp.

This time, I sit on the back of the bakkie with our guides. I can’t help noticing the lack of toenails- worn away by walking through all the undergrowth?


We almost make it back without mishap when a tyre bursts within a kilometre from the lodge. It’s pretty worn, and the spare is hardly in better shape. I’m not too familiar with Toyota bakkies, but I’m sure there are meant to be a pair of brake shoes around that hub- my respect for our driver grows!

The temperature around the equator is actually not that high, with little variation through the seasons and even through day and night. The humidity, however, makes the perceived temperature rather higher and sweaty.


It’s an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos, army ants, butterflies… and all those nasty tropical diseases that conspire to lower the life expectancy of the people here.

Back in camp we have some time to clean up before supper. The wind builds up rapidly, bending the trees and within minutes the rain is pelting down. It lasts less than an hour before it stops, but the sky remains overcast. This could disrupt tomorrow’s plans.

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on April 25, 2020, 10:23:15 pm
What a trip

Did you take malaria tablets? Any other precautions?

The greenery is unbelievable.
Did you see any carnivores or apes?
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on April 26, 2020, 03:00:37 am
Amazing, keep sharing please!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on April 26, 2020, 11:03:55 am
Super  !!
Title: Carte Jaune
Post by: NiteOwl on April 27, 2020, 06:40:09 pm

Did you take malaria tablets? Any other precautions?

The only vaccination requirement for entry into the equatorial countries is yellow fever, but only the DRC police bothered to check (only once) our carte jaune.

HOWEVER, when we went for the shot, the doctor recommended a polio booster (the childhood vaccination wears off after ten years!) as well as a meningitis vaccination. Bearing in mind the difficulty of getting medical treatment in this area, we ended up as very good customers since the risk just wasn’t worth it.

Ditto for malaria, which is endemic in this region, for which we took Malanil/ Mozitec tablets every day from our entry into Angola until our exit (when we had run out anyway). Everyone at Sangha Lodge had already contracted malaria multiple times as the prophylaxis can be hard on your kidneys (never mind your wallet), so it’s better to treat the fever when you get it than trying to prevent it. They said recovery after chemotherapy (with Coartem, I think) took about two days.

We did get stung by lots of mosquitos and other insects, but fortunately did not even catch a cold on the entire trip.
Title: Primarily Primates
Post by: NiteOwl on May 02, 2020, 03:34:36 pm
Today is yesterday’s tomorrow. It’s overcast, but we’re going on another outing.


It is considerably further to today’s destination, and last night’s storm has blown quite a few trees over. Most forest trees here seem to have fibrous roots and the forest floor is soft, muddy and covered with decaying leaves and branches. Soon enough we have to stop as the track is blocked by some saplings, and our BaAka  guides jump off the bakkie and spring into action. Every man in this region (from Angola on, actually) seems to own a machete and they deftly hack an opening through the green curtain blocking our way.




All clear!


There’s another visit to the park offices for permits and to pick up our guides for the day. There’s a striking wood carving outside, cut from one of the abundant logs.


Further on, some small trees have fallen across the track, which clearly does not see a lot of traffic.



The trees are pretty tall around these parts:


Our next obstacle is a huge tree that has toppled over, obliterating the tracks. For this job, machetes are useless but there’s a super long chainsaw that gets fired up to cut this into manageable pieces.


It will take a while to cut and clear the tree, but we are only about a kilometre from the camp we are heading for. The lunch boxes and water flasks get distributed and we continue on foot.


Soon enough we reach a clearing in the forest. There’s a cool, clean waiting area in the middle.


After dropping off the foodstuffs, we have to get sanitised to prevent the transfer of human bacteria and viruses (refer previous post on ebola epidemic). The shoe dip is a bit like the procedure applied in Botswana to counter the spread of foot and mouth disease.


After signing the register, we’re off for a few kilometres through more wetlands and narrow footpaths until we meet up with trackers for the last stretch to guide us through the thick bush and see this:


Closer …


Closest …


It’s Makumba, the patriarch of this gorilla troop. When the males get to thirteen years or so, their backs go grey and these are called silverbacks. Silverbacks compete for females and will take on any challengers for the mating rights, but tend to be quite caring fathers. These are Western Lowland gorillas, a species slightly smaller than Mountain gorillas of Rwanda and rather more abundant. Adult males are considerably larger than females, weighing up to 200 kg.

Although gorillas are primarily vegetarian, Western Lowland gorillas also eat ants and termites, breaking open their nests to eat the larvae.

Fortunately this troop is not aggressive; they pretty much ignore our presence.


Due to the low nutritional value of the greenery that comprises most of their diet, they need to eat more than a tenth of their body weight every day and therefore they move around a lot. Seen from below, they have a rather prominent snout that isn't obvious from a full frontal view.


Most of the troop is up in the trees picking fruit. To get downstairs they don’t bother with climbing too much, but just drop down and use the branches to slow their fall.


We’re not allowed to go closer than 10 metres. We’re also supposed to wear face masks, like the trackers, but they have run out so our Buffs will have to do.



Since we can’t get too close and the gorillas keep moving about, we have to peer through the leaves from different angles whilst following them to see what’s going on. To complicate photography further, the tree canopy blocks the daylight, making for slow shutter speeds and high ISO numbers, as flashguns are not allowed. And if the gorillas turn their back on you, you aren't supposed to try to get their attention for a decent mug shot...


It’s late in the morning already, and this female is getting ready for a siesta. Gorillas need a lot of sleep: about twelve hours a day.


Finally a clear line of sight and a memorable, dreamy facial expression.


In order to habituate gorillas to people, trackers initially follow them around at a distance, gradually building up trust. This takes two or three years, after which tourists can gradually be introduced to view these amazing primates.

Only two people are allowed to approach the troop at a time, so Tim, Saartje and Birgit had to wait their turn and we get led back to the camp while they view the gorillas.

The trackers following the gorillas work in relays to stay with the troop, so they have to camp out here for extended periods. Tourists like us provide a welcome opportunity to show off their charges and make a few bucks from donations. From the visitors book it’s obvious that that does not happen very often. In fact, half the cost of tracking and protecting the gorillas is carried by the WWF; the remainder is covered by the park fees from the 500-odd visitors that arrive here annually. It's a far cry from the 15 000 visitors that Rwanda managed to attract to their Mountain gorillas in 2019 (for a fee many times higher).


After lunch we pack up to board the bakkie, which managed to drive around the fallen tree. On the way back, we get a live demo of freehand plank-cutting in the forest. Stihl seems to be the chainsaw brand of choice here.


By the time we reach the Lodge, it’s nearly time for supper, which is interrupted by Alon arriving with the weekly supplies. He’s been driving all day to collect it from near the Cameroon border, where the driver of the delivery truck lost control on the slippery road and rolled it. We were to see some of that first-hand on our way back.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: David.H on May 04, 2020, 01:46:24 pm
Thanks, a great read!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on May 05, 2020, 08:35:33 am
The photos make me think of all the Tarzan books I've read as a boy.

The dark heart of Africa.

What an experience!

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: FIXER on May 08, 2020, 12:22:34 pm
Uitstekend en baie dankie vir die moeite. To be able to do a trip like this, and with your wife as a companion! Really something special, on so many levels.
Title: Scaly Creatures
Post by: NiteOwl on May 12, 2020, 03:19:16 am
Apart from offering sightseeing trips into the Reserve, the Lodge also runs a rehabilitation program for injured animals and birds confiscated from poachers or saved from the bushmeat trade. Maja is the (Swiss) veterinarian in charge of this, and she is assisted by Komo (a pygmy from the local community). One of these animal species has been the prime motivator for us to make this long trip:


This is a young black-bellied pangolin (ietermagog), whose mother was a victim of the bushmeat trade. She wasn't well when she was brought to Sangha Lodge, so she is being nursed here until she is ready for release back into the forest.


Most of the rescuees are pangolins; the most trafficked animals on earth. They cannot harm anyone as they have no teeth, but get hunted for their scales, which consist of keratin- like rhino horns. The market is the same; potions in Asia to heal ....what exactly?


As if the slaughter of these poor creatures for their scales is not enough, the meat is also traded as a delicacy. Since pangolins are endangered as a result, any trade in them is illegal. It's not a very successful ban, however, and confiscations occur too late.

There are eight pangolin species in the world (all threatened), of which four occur in Africa.


The most common of these in this region is the black-bellied pangolin, the only specialised arboreal (tree climbing) pangolin. They grow to a length of about 70 cm and weigh up to 2½ kilograms. Pangolins have super-long, sticky tongues which they extend to pick up ants and termites.


Pangolins are solitary creatures, and little is known about them because most species are nocturnal. The black tailed species are active by day and night, but are difficult to observe through the dense foliage. In order to get warm, they climb to the top of the tree canopy early in the morning to bask in the sun before looking for breakfast.

They have an exceptionally long tail that they use almost like monkeys to climb trees. Or stairs.

Pangolins are really difficult to look after in captivity- their diet consist exclusively of ants and termites, and collecting enough to feed them is no easy task, so at Sangha Lodge they are kept in an enclosed area at night and released into trees during the day to feed, where they are tracked by Ba'Aka pygmies. They catch ants by pushing their sticky tongues into ant-nests that they break open with their claws. Their scales grow out of their skin almost like our hair does (only in flat bunches) which protects them from predators. When threatened, they roll up into a ball to hide the only part of their body that is unprotected- their bellies.


Here's what a scale looks like from close up:


Although they may look like reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals. The females have two teats from which their young suckle, and they carry the baby around on their tails. Although their scales protect them from predators, they also provide a hiding place for parasites: ticks, to be specific. Part of the task of rehabilitating pangolins therefore involves removing these ticks. It's done with tweezers.


It's a time-consuming process which has to be done in short stages to avoid stressing the animal.


All done for the day!


After the cleanup, this youngster gets carried into the forest and put onto a tree trunk, which she scales with surprising agility.


Later in the day Maja takes us for a walk into the forest nearby with two trackers to show off her released charges that are now fending for themselves. It happens to be butterfly season, and we disturb clouds of them drinking from the puddles in the muddy tracks leading to the lodge.


On the forest floor, army ants move along a track. Their soldiers are the largest ants on earth and they do not nest but move constantly, consuming vast quantities of insects in their path. Due to their numbers and aggressive behaviour, they can be dangerous even to larger mammals, and are not part of a pangolin's diet.


Ba'Aka trackers are employed to follow the pangolins and make notes of their observations. Reaching them through the dense growth takes quite some ducking and diving.


One of the tracked pangolins is resting on one of the lower branches of a tree, where it's pretty dark.


Another one is looking for food high up in the canopy, using his tail as counterbalance:


Unlike the WCS camp at Bomassa, Sangha Lodge's rehabilitation effort is privately run, without the support of a major sponsor and they rely on scientists who are prepared to support the programme on a voluntary basis in exchange for the unique research opportunity.

In order to attract more visitors, there's a significant upgrade project on the go. Bas has been hired to coordinate the construction project. On the one end the pub and dining area are getting expanded ...


... while at the other new chalets are under construction. With all those trees around, wood is the cheapest and most authentic building material, but cement for foundations and interior fittings have to be brought in from Cameroon- no Builders Warehouse around the corner here.

The new design is more upmarket, to meet the expectation of European visitors. There's also a verandah overlooking the river, and a much better all-round view through the mosquito netting.


All good things come to an end, and our stay at Sangha is no exception. Because Bas also needs to get back home (his family lives in Zambia) he is joining us on the return trip, together with Alon, who has to collect a vehicle in Ouesso. Blaise is again at the controls.


Needless to say, we have to repeat all the passport rubber stamping (and associated payments) of the "up" trip. We pass Doli Lodge, a similar establishment to Sangha, on the way to our first stop at Bayanga.


Bas has made himself at home on the bow of the boat, enjoying the sunshine. It's out of necessity too; his toolboxes fill much of the space in the boat that isn't taken up with fuel and water.


The trees lining the river make for a spectacular and memorable panorama as we pass. And yes, those are rainclouds darkening the sky.


It does not take long before our path crosses the curtain of rain bucketing down. There's a scramble to cover the luggage and peel out raincoats and it gets pretty cool. The rain stops as suddenly as it started.


Despite the fact that we are now moving downstream, our speed is only 15 km/h due to the extra passengers, luggage and fuel. It's slow going, made worse by the extra care now required to avoid the sandbanks.


The trip takes the entire day, and we only reach the WCS camp at dusk. Fortunately for us, the visitors they were expecting have been delayed, and there's accommodation available for all of us for the night. My dreams are filled with the gurgling of a 40 HP outboard motor.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on May 12, 2020, 04:13:09 am
Amazing, so grateful for people taking conservation at heart
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: RobLH on May 12, 2020, 08:13:20 am
This really is an incredible report and opportunity you had, thank you for posting.