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 earthís 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 worldís weather. With even Cape Town experiencing a severe drought in 2017/18, what is happening to the equatorial rainforests in Africa?

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yynxn65b)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyknyf8y)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6xfsl4r)

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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y6gxbp83)

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 Ė 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 itís all gone.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5vxkkh8)

Weíve done the bosveld route through Limpopo many times before. As this is still the start of the trip, itís 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 doesnít start too well with mrs Owlís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6bsooau)

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/ Martinís 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 wonít be able to participate this time around:

(https://tinyurl.com/y2romhmj)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yyfevrhs)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyrkcnuk)

An hour or so later it is time for a final refuel before exchanging the green grass of home for our neighbourís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4wz4sa5)

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 donít 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.

 :thumleft:
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
Sub!
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
Sub
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Oubones on August 29, 2019, 07:47:00 am
 :thumleft:
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!
 :sip:
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
 :sip:
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
 :sip:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: katana on August 29, 2019, 09:01:05 am
 :ricky:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: 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
subscribed
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Wolzak 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
 :peepwall:
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
 :happy1:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Bommelina on August 29, 2019, 12:05:56 pm
.
hh
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: BullSmit 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
Subscribed
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: Wolzak 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
 :sip:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on August 31, 2019, 11:15:32 am
Subscribed
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 nightís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/y6ydngy9)

Nothing has come loose or fallen off the bikes, but mrs Owlís GPS stopped working near Modimolle (Nylstroom) when the Zumoís 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 thatís 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 Owlís bike. As soon as I turn the bikeís USB power socket on, the display says ďSAVING TRACKSÖĒ 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, itís a cable problem and the GPS is trying to write data to a non-existent recipient on the bike. Fortunately, thereís WiFi and an hour or so later itís clear what the problem is and how the GPS can be ďtoldĒ that there is no computer to write all that data to.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxctt7db)

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. ButÖwe 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3e3dcvp)

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5pslldk)

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 thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3c4lbg2)

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 ďfuel breakĒ and snacks. Itís about 240km from Palapye to Lethlakane, so we filled up one jerry can apiece as there are no pumps after Serowe.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3ac9je2)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yyz4vdr7)

We stock up on water and fuel at Lethlakane and start looking for a camping spot along the road in the twilight. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6mhpraq)

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 nightís 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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y3ujdh5e)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5tqh6c6)

Öinterspersed 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2v86fbs)

Itís 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 cafť is still in business and we sink into the plump couches to enjoy a great cappuccino. A proper oasis!

(https://tinyurl.com/y5aosgtl)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yy28sytx)

The reception is very friendly although thereís visible decay in the bathrooms since our last visit. Arenít these great smiles??

(https://tinyurl.com/y5r7dq6h)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yyf54pxj)
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. Todayís destination is Drotskyís Cabins along the western edge of the Okavango, an old favourite.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4php3o3)

After another leisurely cup of coffee down the road itís 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 Rileyís Garage, the manager offers the use of his workshop and the foreman walks me to the back. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2dr25pr)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yywfj8n3)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3ctlogs)

A great thing about these overlanding spots is that you get to meet some interesting folks, like these Germans with their Deux Chevaux. Itís 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 carÖitís a way of life!

(https://tinyurl.com/y3lxzo2y)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yy6v5pyw)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2c2c9t3)

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: thereís another Road Fund to support and itís R188 per bike. Unlike Botswanaís, which is valid for 90 days with multiple entries, Namibiaís is payable for each entry. Again a country with lots of border posts:

(https://tinyurl.com/y5cc8bba)

Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2x8hf6l)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4hkmbde)

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 Debonairís 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, youíve pretty much got it made. Unless thereís a flood.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5hw8sud)

With plots along the river being so popular, there arenít really any camping spots but fortunately Taranaga Safari Lodge comes to the rescue. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3s45w5o)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4wc6kvs)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4tpebku)

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 thereís no fuel at the Katwitwi border post.

Herding goats along the road is still a dusty business.

(https://tinyurl.com/y67onma9)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2543v7h)

Öand sold as hardehout bundles for cooking.
 
(https://tinyurl.com/y6ynawuv)

Itís 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. Itís 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 neighbourís soil. 

(https://tinyurl.com/y3f6m52g)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Shortcut123 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, driverís 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 itís 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 Piscaís Hotel. Itís 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. Itís run by a mrs Rochas -who looks seriously undernourished- but she has a soft spot for bikers (her sonís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3msanxf)

We manage to change our credit card settings using Piscaís wifi and draw money at the ATM nearby, so we that can (hopefully) pay for Angolaís 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 Ĺ 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 weíre done with Immigration already, we ride through to Customs again, and get spotted by last nightís runners before we can park the bikes in front of a hangar nearby. (Sorry, no pics- itís a sensitive area here)

(https://tinyurl.com/y5blyfzu)

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 officialís desk.
Unfortunately, itís 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 Angolaís 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, especiallyÖ 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 ďgiftĒ. 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. 

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 Angolaís 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 Africaís 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. 

(https://tinyurl.com/y3kaaad3)

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 Africaís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y62h9bpv)

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 Angolaís and South Africaís economic development were severely curbed (by comparison, only 1% of South Africaís 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. Weíre 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 donít 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. Itís a menial job, but it makes a subtle difference in oneís perception that becomes stark when you reach the Congos. Bribery and corruption are no longer tolerated and, to prove the point, ex-president Dos Santosí son has been incarcerated for fraud related to Angolaís equivalent of our Public Investment Corporation and his daughter (Africaís 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 (weíve 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 donít seem to drive anything around these parts, let alone a motorbike.

(https://tinyurl.com/y656uuh7)

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. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5npbtbt)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4ubz6wx)

(https://tinyurl.com/y5qrjq2s)

(https://tinyurl.com/y6qelkmo)


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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3qoc2yy)

We stop a few kilometres further for coffee and some of the Maria biscuits we bought when we refuelled. Itís getting hot, but thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5fl3gmj)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5cwhgf4)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yy25s6p2)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y24qr5pc)

(https://tinyurl.com/y5oufogj)

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. Whatís less obvious is what is not there- bullet holes. I donít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2uqujh9)

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 CahamaÖ.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6o5qvva)

Ö where we refuel. This time, weíre 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yya8748v)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5goj3fj)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5gteja8)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4spn63c)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2zsqdth)
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.
Henry
Title: On the Angolan Highlands
Post by: NiteOwl on September 22, 2019, 02:03:29 pm
Despite the ďcampingĒ 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. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y33e76u6)

Our ďcampsiteĒ is actually part of the lawn between the chalets forming part of the real Lodge, and our toilet and kitchenette look suspiciously like servantís quarters. But we have a corner of the garden to ourselves (not to mention the gym!) and thereís 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 itís very well stocked indeed. Unfortunately, most Angolans do not have enough disposable income to buy more than a half-filled handbasket and the countryís high inflation rate and dependence on oil are not helping. The slump in Shopriteís 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 hasnít discovered the place yet:

(https://tinyurl.com/y6aguebe)

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:

(https://tinyurl.com/yxokokuf)

The cobblestone road (ďgravelĒ, according to T4A) rises fairly steeply past the waterfalls below the Mapunda dam from which the local Nígola beer is brewed:

(https://tinyurl.com/y3hpxpq5)

(https://tinyurl.com/y4fw3blf)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2cmuhqo)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6tgn3ny)

The best way to get an impression of the sight from the lookout is with a video, but I wonít spoil it for the readers planning to visit the area  Trust me, itís well worth a visit! Thereís a track circling around the northern side of the Gap where one could set up a rather nice camp with a spectacular view.

(https://tinyurl.com/yycwpj48)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4csey82)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5qzzjzt)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y59tjpdy)

View over the city:

(https://tinyurl.com/yxz3wwgw)

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 thereís little more than a plaque leaning against the fence of the run-down house:

(https://tinyurl.com/y5pcef4q)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3dv4hq7)

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 ďpromised landĒ fascinating. It has taken us a week to cover a similar distance on modern transport and paved roads!

(https://tinyurl.com/yxtkehab)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4sh33we)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5s848hv)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxdopoql)

Itís 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. Weíre actually on the road that leads down the Leba Pass to Namibe (formerly MoÁ‚medes), 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. Itís 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. 

(https://tinyurl.com/yybt6qxs)

We manage to do sixty kilometres out of Lubango when we find an ideal spot behind a water tower. Itís the first of many bushcamps in Angola, and itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yydlh5vd)

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?

(https://tinyurl.com/y3a9oon8)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yywumstn)

Itís the start of the week and we pass many village markets along the road.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3npuvlx)

Vegetables, fruit, flour, chickens, eggsÖ are on offer.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx8o9dql)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y64ln3yb)

By the afternoon the weather is getting overcast again at our fuel stop in Caconda, but this time we donít 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/yyh2jb6d)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y49z6kgs)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3584yxg)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3g5nneh)

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. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y54ce52r)

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 donít either.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4hxjpx4)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4occenc)

It gets noticeably busier as we approach the cityÖ.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxwkafbd)

Ö. 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yybtwazx)

Thereís 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! Itís popular, but not full, and one of the patrons translates for us. He was to become an important actor later in the trip ...

(https://tinyurl.com/yy8uztye)
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.
More!!
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 UNITAís stronghold during the civil war when Savimbi declared it the capital of the Democratic Peopleís Republic of Angola in counterpoint to the MPLAís rival Peopleís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3ctmrkk)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5h2jp9o)

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 itís 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 lineÖall 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/y5rlksyv)

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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y5xkg2ec)

In the centre of the plaza is an obelisk with a bronze statue of Angolaís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxkxcp2a)

Thereís a strong military feel to the place with lots of men in uniform and thereís a compound just off the plaza with colourful walls and a sentry outside. They donít allow photographs, so we walk further until we find a small cafť nearby and order two espressos from the young barista.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyod8tn3)

Back at the hotel we come across the owner of the hotelís restaurant. When we ask about Jonas Savimbiís house, he invites us into his car and drives us there. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyp8wntf)

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 donít want to make a martyr out of the rebel leader.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2khqmwe)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyvoe2xt)

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).

(https://tinyurl.com/y6gmy2sq)

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


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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2jmzbvu)

We decide to return to our hotel via the botanical garden, and pass a Roman Catholic church compound, signposted as ďseminarioĒ. 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. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxbnhnrx)

From the exit, we pass a statue of Deolinda Rodriguez, known as the Mother of the Nation (Angolaís Winnie Mandela?) who founded the womenís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yy3oc4fa)

Back at the hotel, we change into our biking gear and meet up with our translator of last night. His name is Nelson, and heís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxgrsb9a)
 
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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y56w9vpp)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y575g6uw)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5vezkve)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3e5rqtt)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5p2f5ls)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4mrossx)
   
More titties along the way at the hot water spring of Aguas Quentes. Very practical.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyn98vsy)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y27u26mw)

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. Thereís no-one around, so we pitch our tent before itís too dark. There's a warm glow in the air.

(https://tinyurl.com/y48zyahb)

The view from our ďstoepĒ. Not too shabby, hey?

(https://tinyurl.com/y22tnt6a)

We had hoped to reach a village, but that clearly hasnít happened and so we havenít stocked up on water. There are some huts across the road where we get told itís 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 weíre in business!

(https://tinyurl.com/yyz6yqwh)

We have a few small gifts for people who assist us, and we bring her a small torch with a solar cell charger- itís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/yy8gsgdj)
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!

(https://tinyurl.com/yxvg2akm)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yyodh6og)

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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y5ohepzu)

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 doesnít see many grey heads.

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y6a8cm47)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3rhk8xq)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2p4jsup)

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?

(https://tinyurl.com/y6h2s3ev)

Closeup of the rocky dome behind the lodge:

(https://tinyurl.com/yyld5a4f)

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 kmís 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 ďformalĒ filling stations have an espresso machine that can brew a mean cup.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyc2ttee)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3926665)

The same armed guards we met a short way back are deployed outside, while the dayís 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:

(https://tinyurl.com/yxm9kobf)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y6x3ltwa)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4onu7dx)

They also sell coffee from Gabela, a town about 75 km west of here. Angola used to be Africaís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y45s2uu2)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yxbnz9eq)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y6p3bftc)

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

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yywvca78)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5hrokpf)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y228dkss)

Leaded glass detail (probably imported?):

(https://tinyurl.com/y5whns9j)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxua6yg6)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yxcml4es)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5wrua8l)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2thrrvw)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4mtt2js)

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 wonít be a problem.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyqxky4h)

About 90% of Angolaís 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. Itís a closed system, with Chinese financing for Chinese construction companies using Chinese labour. Housed in industrial blue compounds like this one:

(https://tinyurl.com/y5gphw42)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yys5ce45)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3q3txau)

Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5vpj3d5)

Itís a poor neighbourhood.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4gqt5nu)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yyqj5pk5)

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 ďno roadĒ 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 itís much better that the dusty track alongside where big trucks are rumbling along.

(https://tinyurl.com/y42ggo7w)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y23q74ah)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yysywyhl)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yxcg3g5h)

Itís 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/y6xaqyec)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4dlge8p)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yxanoo3h)

(I think itís 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
Quote
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.

Quote
...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
Itís 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 donít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4f7muta)

It hasnít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5fxge6t)

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6a3454l)

Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3byxydo)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y6xqw7yd)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5x2ptg8)

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

While I was initially under the impression that Angolaís game got decimated by the civil war (and landmines), Iím 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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y2eq4buu)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2ups5m5)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yyoj9glr)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6x88u3u)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3dkdfj2)

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 Santosí daughter Isabel owns 25% of it. Darn!

The eatery does not look that appealing, but across the road thereís a cozy cafť.
In case you havenít picked it up yet, coffee bars are like a magnet for my wifeÖ. We scoot across the main road and park outside for coffee and a snack.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5py8qg4)

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. Thereís a police checkpoint, but we are waved through.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxr7v7dx)

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5sdm8av)

Lots of small shops line the main road.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6swtemz)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4pqud9a)

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 = Ä70 = 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. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y55f8ggk)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4po7yf9)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5zvx3ws)

After a swim in the surf (nice temperature here) itís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/yxgvoomx)
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
Sub-a-dub-dub!

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
Sub!!!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Bottelboer on November 01, 2019, 04:55:54 pm
 :ricky:
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
Quote
...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.

(https://tinyurl.com/v467gwm)

We take a look around our paradise, and find the lodgeís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rf5xp95)

Thereís bar at the deck and we sit down for the (free) continental breakfast. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vyt66b2)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/qu8uwea)

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 itís clear that there is no fuel until Nízeto, more than 200 km away. Thereís no filling station in Barra do Dande either, but the lodgeís Kewiseki driver gets commandeered to show us where to get some.

(https://tinyurl.com/quvyee2)

Thereís a car packed with containers of fuel next to this ďdepotĒ. 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.

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/tud53eo)

A quarter of an hour later we cross the Rio Pontas Freitas Morna (ďwarm riverĒ) to enter ZaÔre 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vo5pk2b)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wfualfr)

Itís 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. Itís very hot, and tsetse flies descend when we take our jackets off to decant the remaining fuel.

(https://tinyurl.com/wer2bdj)

The hut is deserted.

(https://tinyurl.com/uvrt9m2)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wmgyvc4)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/w35b6ch)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/uktuaxv)

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 outÖ

(https://tinyurl.com/su4c426)

(https://tinyurl.com/wc9taga)

The next coastal town is Soyo, right on the mouth of the Congo river. Itís 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 Nízeto through Míbanza Kongo, so thatís where we are headingÖand then promptly get flagged down by a police patrol. Theyíre friendly and helpful, and the senior officer speaks English. We had hoped to refuel en route, but once again get told that thereís no fuel (until Míbanza Kongo), so we have to backtrack to the Sonangol filling station on the outskirts of Nízeto.

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

(https://tinyurl.com/vd4l746)

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 Ė 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, weíre back on the straight and narrow here.

(https://tinyurl.com/tcg7gsa)

With this kind of dense vegetation we need to find a camping spot well before dark, and we donít make much progress before we pass what looks like a deserted quarry. Thereís a nice clearing behind the boom gate, ideal for pitching the tent. 

(https://tinyurl.com/yxyxkss8)

But the place is not deserted- an AK47 appears behind the boom, followed by its owner. Despite the firepower, heís friendly enough and weíre 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, itís time for some light painting- bless this house!

(https://tinyurl.com/uf4wxcp)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wewdpr7)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/uaftnjo)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/rymwd2l)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/uvk85pv)

(https://tinyurl.com/t29kojf)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t3uptw2)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/tbzpmmn)

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!

(https://tinyurl.com/scgsx3v)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/vjphly4)

(https://tinyurl.com/tlxewpt)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vdpc2kf)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/ujpwlov)

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, theyíre an easy choice when thereís no electricity but lots of fuel around.

(https://tinyurl.com/wl9y6xh)

(https://tinyurl.com/tmpfqp8)

More villages line the approach to Míbanza 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 S„o 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t8c7huf)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ttlbome)

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 1900ís when it was integrated into the Portuguese colony of Angola.

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wnn4htm)

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: ďMonument dedicated to the peasants of the kingdom of the KongoĒ. The alsation on the leash looks rather out of place.

(https://tinyurl.com/rakrdc9)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx5l2cb2)

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
 :happy1:

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/sb82s8y)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/s9tsv8h)

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 itís packed with people, buses, hawker stalls, more peopleÖ. you get the idea.

(https://tinyurl.com/u4c8qy5)

Angola and the DRC have been the nemesis of many an overlander due to their visa requirements and inflexible immigration officials. We donít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rrzxzfd)

Since today is Saturday, itís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/w4rurjb)

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. Itís a narrow opening through a second steel gate:

(https://tinyurl.com/yx66xlum)   

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wnuu9ce)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vytqaf6)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/r4wdtdx)

Thereís 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??).

(https://tinyurl.com/vqpljtv)

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!

(https://tinyurl.com/slsplde)

Itís a short loop through the mud in front of Immigration before we cross a boom, a gate andÖ 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 rememberÖ).

(https://tinyurl.com/td5o89u)



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

(https://tinyurl.com/syvr8pu)


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

Belgiumís king Leopold II commissioned Henry Morton Stanley (he of ďDr Livingstone, I presume?Ē 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 countryís largest mining conglomerate: 440 000 tons of copper and cobalt production in 1989 fell to 35 000 tons from the ďtransformedĒ Gťcamines, 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 Kabilaís 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 Ė 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vumzmp2)

Although the DRCís inflation rate is similar to South Africaís, the currency isnít 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 mÍlťe of people finally thins out. It literally goes on for kilometres- check out the video below.

(https://tinyurl.com/sac99e4)

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. Thereís a 20 km stretch of smooth clay to reach this network from Luvo. Slippery when wet stuff.

(https://tinyurl.com/qs9kyq8)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/vcbb7jr)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/rh478ov)

Our first few kilometres on the DRCís N1 highway (weíd call it a regional road) proceed rather well.

(https://tinyurl.com/trqp6fm)

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, thereís one along the main road. First problem solved.

(https://tinyurl.com/s4pyf49)

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t8ot79c)
 
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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx4fqzrr)

It turns out to belong to the local hospital. A friendly woman at the gate says we canít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/txy2nvx)

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 heís 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 wonít last long at this rate.

(https://tinyurl.com/vadtmwd)

After settling the room charge, itís time to unpack and unwind. Weíve 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 tomatoÖ 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
Fantastic!


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. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wgjb2zc)

Our next objective is the ďother CongoĒ (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 ďofficialĒ 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wvuostw)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/uowwtbg)

(https://tinyurl.com/vcp7w3w)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/v8ja5t8)

Some affectionate grooming in the shade of a truckÖAfrica is never dull.

(https://tinyurl.com/vo5tsst)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/r3t64kl)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t3v4uhs)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/qojpv98)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rgh2lde)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/swfg5kq)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/s79bmna)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/t5a8xdd)

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 visitorís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/uyq5v5c)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/sp6ale6)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/sduvqvf)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ssyunze)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/sw635y3)

Itís 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/rhs5uy2)

It is as if there is a traffic cordon around the city, and we have a repeat of yesterdayís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx88pr45)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/r468yck)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/uenqdkg)

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 didnít pick it up.

(https://tinyurl.com/t8ffcs3)

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: itís Sunday and they have closed early (16H00). ďCome back tomorrow morning.Ē

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. Itís a pretty spread out place and looks inviting, until I glance at the price list (those are USD prices). Ouch!

(https://tinyurl.com/rhlwlss)

Mrs Owl has had better luck and after an hour or so of waiting, the Eye Instituteís 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 wonít be a problem. We start to unpack and share our last remaining Amarulas with the helpful watchmen.

(https://tinyurl.com/t6lb9yy)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t4xmqr2)

Thereís a cafť at a Total filling station around the corner that I spotted whilst looking for lodging, but by the time we reach it theyíre locking up and the heavens open up. Weíre 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. Thereís 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 donít 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. Itís easier said than done Ė 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. Itís $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).

(https://tinyurl.com/rm3p7tt)

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. Itís worth taking Crocs on a trip, if only for the risk of athleteís foot in places like this. A distinct itchiness between my toes lingers long after the shower.

(https://tinyurl.com/t735x8q)

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,

Greetings,

Toine
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? Iím 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 oíclock 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vxessj6)

On the way out, we make a short detour past the South African embassy. Itís rather unassuming on the outside and still securely locked (diplomatic hours mustnít be too taxing) but on the opposite pavement the street vendors are in full swing.
 
(https://tinyurl.com/qnsrd72)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ufyef7c)

The great man duly arrives and ushers us into his office. Heís 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 ďspeedboatĒ) 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 donít 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 ďAs little as possibleĒ makes little impression on this icon of officialdom. Heís 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 heís back: thereís 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, heís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/qkru8ql)

A phalanx of porters appear and start grabbing parts of the bike, to carry it down. This will cost more dollars Ė they want $10 per bike, so I try to ride up the stairs to the ramp. Halfway up and Iím 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t63u6kx)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/tfls3ak)

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 Ė so whereís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/yx2dk9vz)

With loud revving the four bikes, including two superbikes, are parked near us while the paperwork gets sorted. Theyíre going to tour the DRC, (havenít seen many roads for that around here) and donít carry much luggage.

Just before noon Hofman returns with Mrs Owlís passport and ticket (note the price!), and tells her to embark. Iím 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wcrqb5d)

Half an hour later the boat returns, and itís 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/vrc4wkx)

As the boat is about to set off, Hofman and the reticent captain appear. He suggests a small cadeau for all his and the captainís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/slod7bm)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/udrp2wt)

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, helpÖ by now Iím 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 chefís office, my passport reappears, gets stamped and thatís 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). Sheís 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.

Itís an unhappy start to our stay in the new Congo, but thereís 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. Thereís 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. Itís meant to be an overlander hotspot (like Jungle Junction in Nairobi), but thereís 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 thereís wifi.

(https://tinyurl.com/tvmorh8)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/vlaanq5)

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- mŰre is nog Ďn dag!

(https://tinyurl.com/sfrlo38)

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 Ö.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx89j8mr)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/tyhcgmt)

Politically, the Republic of the Congo has fared little better than its neighbours with a history littered with coups d'ťtat and a president (Denis Sassou Níguesso) 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 Franceís foothold in the region.

(https://tinyurl.com/waxob2f)
 
Everything we need is within walking distance of the hotel, but the gutters along the roads are real booby traps at night.

(https://tinyurl.com/rmfhm6h)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vjajgn8)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/r8rfwe3)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/t2s4r7t)

Real cappuccino!

(https://tinyurl.com/vla6tq3)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vf6gqgg)

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 havenít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/r3ertsu)

Iíve taken new spark plugs along as both bikes tended to ďhesitateĒ during commuting (although a dyno test showed good power delivery) before our departure. It hasnít 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 canít turn the plugs out. Luckily, thereís 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/rzoktua)

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 3/8Ē ratchet, which is fine enough to replace the plugs. The difference is negligible, but weíre 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 whatís on the phone. Luckily, I didnít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wdkj244)
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. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/soyj3f4)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/shuwft7)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/v3xzjda)

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 itís routine. The land undulates as the road rises to the Bateke Plateau- which feels like KwaZulu Natal.

(https://tinyurl.com/wgsgqcs)

(https://tinyurl.com/yxxdpegp)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/w6dmaay)

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 ďhighwayĒ part needs to be taken with a pinch of salt- this is Africa after all.
   
(https://tinyurl.com/rsmx449)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/rxs75wr)

(https://tinyurl.com/tm9azfn)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/te69oqz)

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).

(https://tinyurl.com/r7bxoh8)

Fortunately, it doesnít last that long and there are roadworks in progress to lay new asphalt with better drainage.

(https://tinyurl.com/wmrh2xq)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wfdsr83)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/sh5rl5n)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/ton5koy)

Once upon a time this was probably a nice hostel, but the plumbing and wiring is no longer functional. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ujkg9ck)

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 beerÖ we drift from one stall to the next and gather our supper.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxxqszba)

Fresh!

(https://tinyurl.com/wnydun4)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/umo984t)

Ö.which have probably not been exposed to any cleaning for decades, but they compare rather favourably with the Kinshasa experience.
.
(https://tinyurl.com/unr68s4)

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 townís only TV.

And on this night of all nights, Liverpool is facing Barcelona in the UEFA Championís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/tw62kt8)
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.

 :biggrin:




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


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

 :biggrin:




More!!
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, weíre up early to see what the new day will bring. The stalls are still lit, but deserted.

(https://tinyurl.com/svd29cv)

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 waterís pretty clear.

(https://tinyurl.com/rqqza5e)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/stawzlk)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/qluac8j)

Nobodyís manning the booms, however, so we manoeuvre through the obstruction and head for the big bridge spanning the Lefini river. 

(https://tinyurl.com/vy4et96)

Itís 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/wvtquwa)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rzrgqeu)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rnxejml)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wlfskph)

Todayís 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. Theyíre made by Asperbras, and are the Brazilian (!) equivalent of our JoJo tanks.

(https://tinyurl.com/spf7aho)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/uxnhp6p)

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! Weíll get to know it a bit better in the way back. .

(https://tinyurl.com/sebrk8z)
 
We cross more big water (tributaries of the Congo), which the locals navigate with long boats carved out of those massive tree trunks.

(https://tinyurl.com/u6tpudp)

(https://tinyurl.com/v8mf693)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wf4eyl7)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/vl6qwhp)

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 MTNís.

(https://tinyurl.com/tjq6n6h)

The local FICA process is quite practical: there are no forms to fill in, the agent just needs to forward a copy of the customerís 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 heís managed to send a copy that is legible enough to allow him to release it.

The next town is Oyo. Itís an important place: the presidentís home-town and nearly halfway to Ouesso. For the first time since leaving South Africa we see horses and cows in green pastures. Itís not a commercial operation, however, but the prezís 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, itís a project built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC).

(https://tinyurl.com/v69zy8l)

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. Thatís still nearly 450km- quite a stretch even with the jerrycans we now fill. And because we havenít managed to find anymore EcoBank ATMs, we are now running worryingly low on cash.

(https://tinyurl.com/rjx4qqo)

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 thereís yet another huge waterway. Unused boats are moored zig-zag fashion along the Likouala riverbank, making for an interesting image.

(https://tinyurl.com/vmrw4uc)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/reerh8j)

Steam rises from the road after the dayís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/w6ch2n2)

I check my GPS and find weíve 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:

(https://tinyurl.com/vzs7jrs)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/std2sga)

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!

(https://tinyurl.com/senz7dn)

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 tripís objectives:

(https://tinyurl.com/roda72b)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/sqc5o2t)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/u6pjaoc)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/v8z8jjn)

So here we are right opposite the Congoís most exclusive reserve, under the stars, at an ideal camping spot that wonít cost a single cent or CFA. How lucky can you get?

(https://tinyurl.com/w8t67vd)

A few words about our neighbour: Odzala-Kokoua is one of Africaís oldest parks and covers an area of about 13 500 km2 (70% of the Kruger Parkís 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. Itís obvious that without this money, the whole operation canít possibly be economically viable.

(https://tinyurl.com/us8hons)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wjyzt8j)

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: Wolzak 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 closureÖ?

Iíve hinted in previous posts how this route evolved, but letís just say a seed got planted in my early childhood when I got this bookÖ
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 !

Groet,

Toine
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.

(https://tinyurl.com/qqddzp5)

(https://tinyurl.com/r4fj52m)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wwxzqc6)

This gives some idea of the density of the bush hereÖ

(https://tinyurl.com/rxof32n)

Öfed by all that natural water.

(https://tinyurl.com/v62vsws)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/wc47fox)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rrenk87)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/vpmvj3r)

Rusting earthmoving machinery is parked in a deserted compound on the outskirts of the town and the bungalows are boarded up. Probably leftovers from ATAMAís forestry operations, as the Chinese would have used their own blue trucks instead of Caterpillars for the road construction. Whoever the owners may be, thereís a few million Rands worth of machinery getting covered by weeds here.
 
(https://tinyurl.com/wvo7jve)

At the turnoff to Sembť thereís another police checkpoint, but after making a show of checking our documents weíre 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 stoneís throw from the pumps- an Ecobank with an ATM booth outside. Itís 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 weíre OK.

(https://tinyurl.com/tdp6l7p)

Weíre 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 Societyís (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, Zannť, who is the media consultant for their Congo programme.

Sheís 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 itís back up the road for fuel before coasting downhill to the Sangha River. Another biggie.

(https://tinyurl.com/wrtmfq7)

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. Thereís 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 donít 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/vu4dl5m)

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: thereís no bridge here, even though itís a major thoroughfare to Yaoundť, 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/vlg8mfd)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wnbjfvr)

We ride up the embankment to take in the new surroundings. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/r5jz8a7)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/rzzv2hd)

We take the first turn easily enough, but two wrong attempts take a while before itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t65wa39)

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.



Thereís a T-junction, with the village (and port) to the left and the roadÖer track, to Bomassa to the right. Unaware of Kaboís importance, we turn right. It starts well enough and we pause for a drink.

(https://tinyurl.com/r3hj5up)

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 itís dry, but I can see that this wonít 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/v9zfhoc)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/u58enht)

The sun is setting over the Sangha river when we finally pull into the camp. We find Zannť 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/s627775)

(https://tinyurl.com/wsvybl2)

Weíd 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/tpdn2ek)
 
The WCS camp lies between the forest reserve and the edge of the Nouabalť-Ndoki National Park; itís used as a base by the WCS staff, park rangers and various researchers. Theyíre 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. Emmaís 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. Sheís also managing the Elephant Listening Project (ELP), run by Cornell University, that uses acoustic arrays to track the movement and calls of forest elephants. Itís 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 weíve ridden through. They administer vaccinations and contraceptives, provide treatment for malaria and HIV, and also operate a clinic at Kabo.

Zannťís 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.

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx5x2zem)

Itís 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 closureÖ?

Iíve hinted in previous posts how this route evolved, but letís just say a seed got planted in my early childhood when I got this bookÖ

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. Itís 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. Itís a war, just like in Kruger. Every morning starts with a parade where the dayís tasks are assigned by the camp director after a flag-raising ceremony. Weíre asked not to take photographs, as they donít want the rangers to be identifiedÖ so here is an incognito picture from WCSí website.

(https://tinyurl.com/spkhgaa)

Weíre greeted by a downpour the next morning, and get told that itís 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

(https://tinyurl.com/s6rnjl2)

We get shown around the camp by Zannť after breakfast and thereís a surprise around the back of the workshops: African Grey parrots (sorry about the poor pic, but the mesh is dense and people arenít allowed inside the cage).

(https://tinyurl.com/vrws3mf)

But theyíre 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 Ė and get rounded up by the poachers.

Weíre told that there are four varieties of apes in the trees around the camp, but we saw nothing last night and itís not much better today. What we do learn over the next few days is that oneís 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 campís Chinese Bushlander. Thereís plenty of space, and we can leave the riding gear, camping stuff and other things we wonít need inside the office. Great!

(https://tinyurl.com/s9ylq72)

Weíve arranged for a pickup to our final destination at ten. Itís going to be by boat, and up the Sangha River. Our skipper is Blaise, and he moors at the WCS ďwharfĒ 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/w6vsf68)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wkcrnue)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ugyde8c)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/sjcrxau)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/qrbm2t9)

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



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

(https://tinyurl.com/vfj3p6r)

The youngsters seem to get the second-hand canoesÖ

(https://tinyurl.com/rscc2dx)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/wy32t2p)

The fuel and water tanks are offloaded across a floating rampÖ

(https://tinyurl.com/tswfxbb)

Ö 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/trjy558)

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!

(https://tinyurl.com/u5ftm6j)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/t42jtlm)

Thereís 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/udc5wu4)

After being shown around, we get left to cool our heels in the hut till dinner time. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/tp6m7v6)

At supper we meet Tamar Cassidy, and her son Alon, the owners of Sangha Lodge. Theyíre South African, too, and her husband, Rod, is away on business back home. Weíve 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. Weíre 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/qw3nsdy)

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 hasnít 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 weíre 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7ca3fht)

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, driversÖ 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 díetat; remember ďemperorĒ Jean-Bťdel 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybbeaer6)

**********************************************

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7qusose)

Our transport is a Toyota Hilux with a double cab. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yc3cgard)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yc7k6fr6)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ycynm99h)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y8ckadzc)

A couple of the parkís guides hop aboard and weíre off to the bai- a local term for a clearing in the forest. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7awv6w7)

Bongos:
   (https://tinyurl.com/y8er8k4c)

Forest buffaloes:
   (https://tinyurl.com/ybj3qfd6)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yc9qdwyw)

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. Hereís a big bull which has just taken a mud bath, leaving him distinctly yellow-looking.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7r92vd4)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yb9nxb6y)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9t3s2qs)

The youngsters follow their mothers to learn how itís all done.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8kpasnb)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yataj4g5)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yc5bsmon)

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

This time, I sit on the back of the bakkie with our guides. I canít help noticing the lack of toenails- worn away by walking through all the undergrowth?

(https://tinyurl.com/ybzec2aq)

We almost make it back without mishap when a tyre bursts within a kilometre from the lodge. Itís pretty worn, and the spare is hardly in better shape. Iím not too familiar with Toyota bakkies, but Iím sure there are meant to be a pair of brake shoes around that hub- my respect for our driver grows!
 
(https://tinyurl.com/y993yyjj)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ycywq5wh)

Itís an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos, army ants, butterfliesÖ 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 tomorrowís plans.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7x9cjew)
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 wasnít 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 itís 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 yesterdayís tomorrow. Itís overcast, but weíre going on another outing.

(https://tinyurl.com/yae93ryw)

It is considerably further to todayís destination, and last nightís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9c755vr)

Chop-chop.

(https://tinyurl.com/yaxy5kgc)

All clear!

(https://tinyurl.com/ydam8n8c)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/ybrkpyvd)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y85hma3v)

(https://tinyurl.com/y77w4vfx)

The trees are pretty tall around these parts:

(https://tinyurl.com/yc5n8jbz)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y6ubzqlg)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8pbsgog)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y9b3q7hn?.jpg)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7w7zga6)

After signing the register, weíre 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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y9f2eaxe)

Closer Ö

(https://tinyurl.com/yd3747ka)

Closest Ö

(https://tinyurl.com/yag9wdrl)

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8b9x2oa)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yb4p9sor)

Most of the troop is up in the trees picking fruit. To get downstairs they donít bother with climbing too much, but just drop down and use the branches to slow their fall.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7fz7qvo)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/ycrlkqz4)

(https://tinyurl.com/y7bl228d)

Since we canít get too close and the gorillas keep moving about, we have to peer through the leaves from different angles whilst following them to see whatís 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...

(https://tinyurl.com/y949kr6l)

Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9qdhdd5)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y95vx9ax)

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 itís 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).

(https://tinyurl.com/yd75deue)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ycq9d57o)

By the time we reach the Lodge, itís nearly time for supper, which is interrupted by Alon arriving with the weekly supplies. Heís 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:

(https://tinyurl.com/y8kl8vbt)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7gnse44)

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?

(https://tinyurl.com/y6vuahzg)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ydysnrbp)

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 2Ĺ kilograms. Pangolins have super-long, sticky tongues which they extend to pick up ants and termites.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9l5reaa)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yaekh9j7)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yawzulwh)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yb4uebrv)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yaycdauk)

All done for the day!

(https://tinyurl.com/y7kqc56k)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y8g7g6zp)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yaonhh5x)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yben5cvx)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y97y3x66)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y83hrbxu)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y7s46cqd)

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 ...

(https://tinyurl.com/yd8mlxt3)

... 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9q3s58h)
   
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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ydhcpl26)


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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yckrodfh)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ya8vdf5e)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7a5447r)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yckxat6j)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybhz3ztw)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/ycnxqe5g)

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.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Three Dawg on June 14, 2020, 11:51:35 pm
Really enjoying this report, looking forward to the rest!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Fuzzy Muzzy on June 15, 2020, 11:27:41 am
I love seeing some amazing conservation efforts.Well done.. awesome stuff.

Conservation is going to have an uphill battle in the next generation, the Chinese are starting to buy whole sections of countries to strip for their insatiable appetite,


https://www.businessinsider.com/ecuador-selling-its-rainforest-to-china-2013-3?IR=T
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on June 16, 2020, 12:23:17 pm
Happily, our tour operator had already washed and loaded up the bikes when we arose after a sumptuous breakfast the next morning.
All we had to do was to hop on the plane and head back h... oops, wrong thread (http://www.wilddog.za.net/forum/Smileys/default/color.gif)

Return leg to follow. Shortly.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Wolzak on June 16, 2020, 03:57:27 pm
Great Adventure, thank you for sharing. :thumleft:
Title: Left or Right?
Post by: NiteOwl on June 16, 2020, 11:26:20 pm
Each journey to a distant destination holds the tantalising challenge of a return leg.

A worrying thought has been gnawing away at us during our stay at Sangha Lodge- our DRC visas were issued for multiple entry, but are only valid for one month. That month started ticking away on our departure, which wasÖ. one month ago. Oops.

The internet is awash with sad tales of overlanders meeting their match at the DRCís border posts without visas. Together with Angola, these two countries have diverted many a traveller eastwards due to their dogmatic visa requirements. At least Angola is no longer an issue for South African passport holders, but the DRC is holding out as a bastion against tourism. I scoured various forums and blogs to see how others had managed this hurdle while at Sangha Lodge, but the list was a short one.

  


(https://tinyurl.com/y9b833xu)

Left or right- which is right? We basically have two options for our return leg:

    *  Reverse the route southwards through the Congo that brought us here

    *  Head west to Sembť and cross over into Gabon at Mazingo

The former is a familiar path, the latter a new country with new unknowns and two additional border crossings- never a great prospect, even though South Africans donít need a visa to enter Gabon. Not sure why?

It would be great to see more animals in one of Gabonís parks and visit Lambarťnť (Albert Schweizerís residence) but parks / reserves along the coast tend to be really pricey and we have a time constraint: mrs Owl needs to get back to the office.

The familiar comforts of Brazzaville are enticing and it seems logical that an extension of our visas for its neighbour should be easy to arrange there. So we settle on the low-risk option and aim for the RN2 again.

After breakfast the next morning we say our goodbyes to Alon, Bas and Blaise who will do the trip to Ouesso by boat that we will cover by bike.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9xep9gn)

We underestimated the distance to Bomassa on our way here, so we need extra fuel to make it back. There are no pumps along the way, but the WCS has a depot and they are prepared to sell some. So, after a quick lube of the chains we ride down to the fuel store. A funnel is inserted into my tank and the fuel gurgles downwards.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7md5c8t)

All goes well until a small green snake falls out of a tree in front of mrs Owlís bike. To her surprise, a ranger tramples it to a pulp in an instant as the fuel filler beats a hasty retreat. So much for wildlife conservation.

(https://tinyurl.com/y798u27y)

Thereís some action high up in the surrounding trees today, and it turns out that they are primates. Even with a telephoto lens, they are hard to make out in the foliage. We manage to identify a troop of grey mangabeys and some moustached guenon monkeys playing. Proof of life, at last!

(https://tinyurl.com/yc5frrmk)

(https://tinyurl.com/y84oj5kg)

After collecting all our kit from the office and settling our bill, we can repack the bags and saddle up. Ray, the husband of the financial manager, takes an interest in our vehicles and later mails us some pics:

(https://tinyurl.com/y78n4yxl)

Although it hasnít rained during the night, Iím worried about the potentially slippery tracks from here to Kabo. In fact, it was a major concern when choosing the tyres for this trip, as I expected much more rain. Whereas almost any tyre will work in sand, itís a well-known fact that mud sticks to tyres way better than the other way round!

(https://tinyurl.com/ycfc3j9q)

Especially when thereís camber involved.

(https://tinyurl.com/yc8wm5uj)

Forest elephants may be endangered but there are plenty of signs that they are in the vicinity today.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7beoq68)

Their diet is on display in the piles of dung lying about- quite nutty!

(https://tinyurl.com/y9sevph4)

Fortunately the forest roads after Kabo are well drained and dried by the time we reach them. We make good progress until we pull over at the entrance to the forest, before tackling the last stretch from Pokola back to the ferry.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybgejq46)

Within an hour we are back at the river once more, where thereís a queue of trucks. When we get to the front, itís clear why: a welder is busy repairing the ramp. So everybody has to wait.

(https://tinyurl.com/ydbtuh5n)

Along the side of the road a truck with cooking oil aboard has flipped over: slippery when wet?

(https://tinyurl.com/yb7ue4cz)

Around the ramp, people have sought shade under the trees, munching snacks whilst watching the welder. Three pigs have been tied up and theyíre squealing so their owners cool them down with water from the river. We buy cold drinks from an ice tub while waiting for the repairs and chat with a truck driver carting timber from Cameroon. He says the Congolese are lazy and donít produce anything. From what we have seen itís hard to argue- just about everything here is imported.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9cdlwlk)

After a few hours the ferry is ready to resume service and we get directed to park behind the three pigs.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybf3nr7a)

And so we cross the Sangha. On the Ouesso side, we return to the registry office to sign back into the province. It doesnít go well.

(https://tinyurl.com/y737ly6j)

The official isnít happy with our passports and I get escorted to an immigration office nearby. After a few minutes an official arrives on a moped and invites me inside. The problem, and this is repeated a number of times to emphasise the seriousness of the situation, is that we did not get exit and re-entry stamps for the Congo after visiting the CAR. That was all supposed to happen in Kabo...

Happily, thereís a solution when Money is involved and despite a stubbornly dry inkpad, the requisite exit (backdated!) and entry stamps are expertly added to our passports after a few thousand CFAs have changed hands. Itís basically the same amount we would have had to pay in Kabo and I get a free lift back to the registry office on the rickety moped to boot.

All of these delays have taken up most of the afternoon, and after refuelling and restocking in Ouesso itís clear that we wonít get very far out of town before dusk.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8qwpws9)

In fact, we manage only 50km before scanning the side of the road. Having gotten a taste of wild camping in the Congo, this is now our accommodation of choice. Obviously, itís also much cheaper. But finding a gap in this foliage is not that easyÖ

(https://tinyurl.com/y7vjz4c5)

..and where there is a gap, there are people.

(https://tinyurl.com/y77okze6)

After a false start down a soggy forest road, we spot a deserted container next to the road with a clearing around it. It looks ideal, with enough vegetation to hide us from the passing traffic. But as we unpack, a fellow appears. We cannot camp here: his boss will fire him if we do. But hey, thereís a solution: he just happens to have a veggie patch just on the opposite side where we can camp for a nominal fee, and itís un bien meilleur endroit (a much better spot). Hmmm.

Grudgingly, we follow him to his jardin. It seems rather close to the road and a bit muddy, but itís getting late so we settle on a few hundred CFA and pitch our tent.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7zbp3q6)

Weíre woken by the traffic at first light and itís obvious that we are clearly visible from the road. Everything is quite soggy from the dew, and every vehicle duly slows down to check us out before continuing. Itís clearly time to get a move on.

(https://tinyurl.com/ydbogqhl)

Weíre still getting dressed when a local policeman pulls up on his scooter and calls me over. Heís surprised at my underpants, but recovers quickly to ask for our documents. Then he wants to know the usual where-to-where-from stuff before finally pointing at his bikeís fuel tank and our containers, suggesting we contribute to filling it. Itís time to do the universally understood shoulder-raising ne comprends pas mime; this country is expensive enough without bribes.

(https://tinyurl.com/y89b3j4a)

As usual, itís a great ride till our first coffee stop with the air crisp and cool.

(https://tinyurl.com/yawt2y3j)

(https://tinyurl.com/yb3sj9fb)

Except that this stop is not just for coffee: our bikes have done 6 000 km by now, which means another oil service. Part of the attraction of last nightís container was the opportunity to also do an oil change out of sight, as we bought oil and extra fuel in Ouesso.

(https://tinyurl.com/yatyd8jg)

After an hour our opportunity presents itself at a large clearing next to the road, with empty bitumen drums and piles of gravel scattered around. We pull in a fair distance from the road and after emptying our fuel containers, I set to work on the drain plugs while an army of mosquitos sets to work on our faces. Even with our hats and Buffs, we still get stung and our insect repellent dissipates too quickly to have any lasting effect.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8z8akbl)

With all the bitumen around here, a few litres of oil in the soil wonít make much of a difference, so the whole process is fairly quick.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8y9krgf)

Back on road, we check the tyres; theyíre still in great shape. Another benefit of lighter bikes.

(https://tinyurl.com/yc5f2a5f)

Once again, we pass the roadblock at Odzala Reserve, and this time we get herded to a tent to have our passports checked.
Progress is good, and by lunchtime we cross the equator once more. We take a closer look at the monument this time.

(https://tinyurl.com/yaxsmdj4)

And hereís a panorama of the Congo Republicís equator marker in all its glory:

(https://tinyurl.com/yagrljt6)

The rest of the day proceeds without further complications, although the weather is often overcast- a feature around Central Africa.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8p37l3t)

We refuel in Owando without even hitting reserve (330 km), and top up again in Oyo (111 km further). By now itís time to start planning for supper, so we also stock up on water, eggs and bread.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7h2hs9g)

We need to find a camping spot, and there are ominous clouds in the distance. Perhaps wild camping will not be such a famous idea if we get hit by a heavy rainstorm tonight, so as we pass a sign for a Roman Catholic church we decide to try our luck. It turns out to be good move: two elderly men walk up and ask if we need a place to sleep! Instead of the open church, we get led to the adjacent building which has, apart from a generous verandah, a reasonably clean toilet and bucket shower as well. 

(https://tinyurl.com/y848dow7)

The price to be paid turns out to be a couple of young fraternity members who park themselves in front of our tent to watch every move we make. We get given a bunch of bananas and reciprocate with some biscuits while we make supper, and after showering we are finally left alone.

Although we could see the curtains of rain in the distance before darkness fell, our area stays dry.
Title: Re: On the Angolan Highlands
Post by: petri oosthuizen on September 07, 2020, 09:17:43 am
Despite the ďcampingĒ 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. Thereís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y33e76u6)

Our ďcampsiteĒ is actually part of the lawn between the chalets forming part of the real Lodge, and our toilet and kitchenette look suspiciously like servantís quarters. But we have a corner of the garden to ourselves (not to mention the gym!) and thereís 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 itís very well stocked indeed. Unfortunately, most Angolans do not have enough disposable income to buy more than a half-filled handbasket and the countryís high inflation rate and dependence on oil are not helping. The slump in Shopriteís 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 hasnít discovered the place yet:

(https://tinyurl.com/y6aguebe)

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:

(https://tinyurl.com/yxokokuf)

The cobblestone road (ďgravelĒ, according to T4A) rises fairly steeply past the waterfalls below the Mapunda dam from which the local Nígola beer is brewed:

(https://tinyurl.com/y3hpxpq5)

(https://tinyurl.com/y4fw3blf)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y2cmuhqo)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6tgn3ny)

The best way to get an impression of the sight from the lookout is with a video, but I wonít spoil it for the readers planning to visit the area  Trust me, itís well worth a visit! Thereís a track circling around the northern side of the Gap where one could set up a rather nice camp with a spectacular view.

(https://tinyurl.com/yycwpj48)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4csey82)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y5qzzjzt)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y59tjpdy)

View over the city:

(https://tinyurl.com/yxz3wwgw)

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 thereís little more than a plaque leaning against the fence of the run-down house:

(https://tinyurl.com/y5pcef4q)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3dv4hq7)

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 ďpromised landĒ fascinating. It has taken us a week to cover a similar distance on modern transport and paved roads!

(https://tinyurl.com/yxtkehab)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4sh33we)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5s848hv)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxdopoql)

Itís 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. Weíre actually on the road that leads down the Leba Pass to Namibe (formerly MoÁ‚medes), 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. Itís 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. 

(https://tinyurl.com/yybt6qxs)

We manage to do sixty kilometres out of Lubango when we find an ideal spot behind a water tower. Itís the first of many bushcamps in Angola, and itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yydlh5vd)

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?

(https://tinyurl.com/y3a9oon8)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/yywumstn)

Itís the start of the week and we pass many village markets along the road.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3npuvlx)

Vegetables, fruit, flour, chickens, eggsÖ are on offer.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx8o9dql)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y64ln3yb)

By the afternoon the weather is getting overcast again at our fuel stop in Caconda, but this time we donít 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!

(https://tinyurl.com/yyh2jb6d)

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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y49z6kgs)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3584yxg)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y3g5nneh)

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. Itís 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/y54ce52r)

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 donít either.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4hxjpx4)

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

(https://tinyurl.com/y4occenc)

It gets noticeably busier as we approach the cityÖ.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxwkafbd)

Ö. 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.

(https://tinyurl.com/yybtwazx)

Thereís 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! Itís popular, but not full, and one of the patrons translates for us. He was to become an important actor later in the trip ...

(https://tinyurl.com/yy8uztye)


I know that Guy with the black AT.............Errol Eksteen???
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: BullSmit on September 07, 2020, 09:28:13 am
That's Errol, yes!!!!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Clockwork Orange on September 07, 2020, 03:11:43 pm
Fantastic as always. Thanks for the update :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: DUSTRIDERS on September 07, 2020, 05:47:30 pm
What is the mileage on those two Tornado's now?
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Sam on September 16, 2020, 02:37:55 pm
Thanks for the update - looking forward to the rest!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: roxenz on September 16, 2020, 04:42:44 pm
Thanks for the update - looking forward to the rest!
Likewise! This is a fascinating RR, especially it gives one a sense of place. Really enjoying it.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on September 19, 2020, 01:17:46 pm
Thanks for the update - looking forward to the rest!
Likewise! This is a fascinating RR, especially it gives one a sense of place. Really enjoying it.

True that!
Title: Re: On the Angolan Highlands
Post by: NiteOwl on December 09, 2020, 09:06:57 pm
Thanks for the positive comments and sorry for the tardy postings, but we will get to the end eventually.

I know that Guy with the black AT.............Errol Eksteen???

Hi Petri, you don't need to quote the entire post to ask about one photo...

What is the mileage on those two Tornados now?

They have both done just short of 20 000 km. Loop soos stroop. Great choice for this trip.
Title: Back in Brazza
Post by: NiteOwl on December 09, 2020, 10:48:44 pm
While we pack the next morning, one of the church elders comes over to hand us two papayas as padkos. The hospitality of this community accommodating two perfect strangers, with no expectation of reward, is humbling and the only payment they eventually accept is a donation to their church. Wow!

(https://tinyurl.com/yyrxhas5)

Before setting off, I take a picture of our host and the signpost of his church: itís the St Joseph Fraterie.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3n3kozt)

Itís the short rainy season, and it's still a bit damp when we stop for coffee, but luckily we stay dry for most of the day.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx9kqpzm)

And so we carry on. The bad patch of road is now waterlogged from the rain, and puddles of water litter the road.

(https://tinyurl.com/y52wj2bh)

Some we ride around, some we ride through. It slows down our progress, but with the high ground clearance of our bikes we hardly get our feet wet. It would have been a different story on the secondary roads (this is the main north-south highway).

(https://tinyurl.com/y2rpnfl7)

Water, water everywhere.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4m24bwd)

In Gamboma we buy buns and airtime. Itís a Saturday and thereís a bustling market around the main street.

(https://tinyurl.com/y32hh2pm)

When we stop to buy lunch in Ngo, mrs Owlís rear tyre looks a bit flat...

(https://tinyurl.com/y2655mnp)

Itís no illusion: we have our first puncture and at a deserted backyard, next to the road on the outskirts of town, we pull off to fix it. Thereís a handy brick terrace where we can unpack the luggage before setting to work.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2brkf76)

I donít get why people take out a bikeís wheel to fix a puncture (unless you have to replace the tube, which is rarely the case). By laying the bike on its side, one can break the bead to access the tube without the hassle of opening the brake caliper or exposing the axle and bearings to sand. So thatís what we do.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6m3lzf3)

The cause of the leak is not a thorn, but a friction tear caused by a fold in the tube. So much for professional fitment- I always check this process, but missed the guy doing the rear tyre when the new tube on the front wheel disintegrated during the tyre fitting for this trip.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4s7uuot)

Only a small patch is needed to seal the leak, and after a quick spin up and down the road to make sure the bead is seated properly, we inflate the tyre fully and repack the luggage. By this time, some people have arrived and start demanding payment for the use of their ďfacilitiesĒ. Since the place was deserted when we arrived, itís hard to feel obliged.

Trucks have a harder time of it than motorcycles where the road surface is damaged or under (re-)construction. While we are directed onto the new gravel bed, people pack grass in front of the tyres of the trucks that are stuck in the detour running parallel to the new section.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxqsewjy)

With the steep inclines and heavy rainfall, itís easy to see how these roads get eroded so badly, especially without proper stormwater drainage.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3n65ks3)

We make good progress until we approach the heavy traffic around Brazzaville. Once again we check in at the Hippocampe Hotel and enjoy the familiar comforts of the Mandarine for the remainder of the weekend.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxboz6n6)

On Monday morning we set off early to the DRC embassy nearby to attempt an extension of our visas. The hotelís watchman gives us directions, but laments the fate of a cyclist who recently spent 2 weeks trying to get a visa- in vain.

A stone wall would appear flexible in comparison to the DRC embassy when it comes to visas: their policy only allows the granting of visas in oneís home country, so they suggest we fly home to apply. Go figure.

After an hour of frustration, itís clear that they really donít need tourists in their country and we pack it in. But then I remember that there is a South African embassy across the river in Kinshasa, and google the contact number. After some to-ing and fro-ing, we get referred to Sidwell, who is apparently very well connected in Kinshasa. He does sound very sympathetic when we get hold of him- he knows this kind of problem and will call someone who can assist. I SMS our passport numbers and we wash the remainder of our kit whilst waiting for Sidwell to weave his magic.

By the time our laundry is dry thereís still no response from our man in Kinshasa and his phone goes unanswered. We canít hang around here for two weeks, so I leave a message and we set a deadline for noon the next day. It duly passes without any visa progress, so we check out, draw money (easier said than done with a Mastercard) and refuel the bikes.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5at3cbz)

When the DRCís borders were mapped, a slim 37 km coastline was included to avoid the country being landlocked. That strip is adjacent to Angola in the south and Cabinda (an Angolan enclave) in the north. As we donít need visas for Angola, our best option now is to head for Pointe Noire or Cabinda and try to get a ride on a boat along the coast (see previous post of other overlanderís experiences) or catch a flight on a military cargo plane to Luanda.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4neeozn)

But first, we have to get to the coast. Our friendly watchman advises us to avoid the old Kinkala route, saying that there is a beautiful new tar road all the way to Pointe Noire, the Congo Republicís west-most city (waving his hands to mimic a magic carpet ride). For the third time we ride north out of Brazzaville, and find the turnoff to the west at PK Rouge about 50 km out.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2ht7ea9)

Although the Congo river flows all the way from Brazzaville to the coast, the rapids on this part of the river make navigation impossible. The French built a railway to the coast and developed Pointe Noire as a deep-water port for imports and exports, but the rail service has been disrupted by rebels. The Route Nationale (RN1) runs parallel to the railway line, and was upgraded only a few months ago: the magic carpet ride our hotel guard was talking about. Itís even possible to pull over onto the shoulder of the road for a snack:

(https://tinyurl.com/y56oflsl)

Every now and then the sun bursts through the low-hanging clouds accompanying us.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2nu5h83)

The initial flatland of the Pool province gives way to the rolling hills of Bouenza. Itís great riding!

(https://tinyurl.com/y3n5tgvd)

It looks a lot like South Africaís eastern coastal regions (KZN, EC), with settlements here and there, but not right next to the highway (as on the RN2).

(https://tinyurl.com/y6c6eqpv)

Wherever the road cuts through a hill, thereís the risk of mudslides. Hence these constructions:

(https://tinyurl.com/y6oy8zkb)

The road is excellent, but we nearly get caught out by the complete lack of filling stations. Itís getting late by the time we reach Mindouli, but instead of a town, thereís just a bunch of trading stalls lining the road. When in doubt, ask, and sure enough we hear that the village is just off the main road, and there is fuel.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyjjlqbn)

Unsurprisingly it turns out to be bush petrol, decanted from 25 litre containers into 1 litre bottles (for measurement!) before getting transferred into our tanks by the owner and his son. Itís heavily marked up, but it sure beats pushing. We buy 5 bottles apiece.

(https://tinyurl.com/yydaah23)

Itís dusk by the time we get back onto the highway, and now we need to find a camping spot before itís completely dark.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2zjr45d)

Once again the deep culverts  and the dense undergrowth right along the edges make it look like an impossibility, but within 10 kilometres we spot a small clearing with concrete strips across the culverts leading into a roadwork site. We park behind some elephant grass - completely out of sight from the road- and pitch our tent. Itís a perfect campsite.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2dkbwhp)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on December 10, 2020, 03:32:59 am
Now am I glad you are reporting again, thank you very much!!  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on December 10, 2020, 01:00:54 pm
Brilliant as ever,

Thnx,

Toine
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Just In Time on December 11, 2020, 10:23:26 am
On the edge of my seat waiting for the next episode.
Title: The Black Point
Post by: NiteOwl on December 11, 2020, 08:57:06 pm
Itís about 500 km from Brazzaville to Pointe Noire, and weíre roughly halfway. How's that for a campsite?

(https://tinyurl.com/y4f82avz)

Öand a visitor dropped in during the night.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3bvlq3p)

Since 5 AM weíve heard the odd truck, but there is very little traffic here. We manage a fairly early getaway after getting spotted by a goatherd who wants food for his village. How can we possibly do that?

(https://tinyurl.com/y46erjms)

The RN1 passes by Dolisie, so we just fill up and move on. My wife gets all the attention. It must be the red bike.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5g6wvn7)

We have a particular interest in this area, as 30 South African families have been given 30 year leases on 1200 hectare farms that were abandoned by the French in the 1960ís at Malolo, 50km north of Dolisie.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4m4hdp3)

Itís a government initiative to reduce their reliance on oil money to pay for imported food, and it started in 2009 when they approached Wynand du Toit (more on him later) to persuade some South African farmers to settle here to help provide food security for the country.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5nn48j6)

As in much of Africa, commercial farming is a rarity here; most peasants are subsistence farmers who grow just enough for their own needs. Itís 50 km north of Dolisie, which we pass through in the late morning.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3q3vfy9)

Friends of ours were among the lucky recipients in 2011, but itís a capital-intensive undertaking in a country with almost non-existent facilities of any kind. Without commercial funding, itís not a viable proposition unless you have plenty of capital. Since they have neither, they have not been able to make the move.

Although we sent emails to our countrymen when we first arrived in Brazzaville, there have been no replies. And we have no phone numbers. So, sadly, we have to pass up the opportunity to drop in. Back home I investigate and it sounds like the whole exercise went sour- by 2014 only 9 farmers were still farming here. Dorsland Trekkers dťjŗ vu?

(https://tinyurl.com/y39utrmw)

We come across a few forlorn toll booths. Thereís little truck traffic and bikes have free passage. As it should be.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6fu4ucn)

Thereís the odd refreshment stall that primarily caters for the passing truck trade. At least the fruit is fresh.

(https://tinyurl.com/yy5ybcwq)

From Dolisie the road passes through the Dimonika Reserve before dropping steeply on the last section, and by lunchtime we start descending the spectacular route down the escarpment.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxeuf3bf)

itís fantastic riding.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4h4bzq8)

We pull over at a short side road for a bite to eat. A very healthy diet we have here ;-)  Buns, sardines, cheese, bananasÖ

(https://tinyurl.com/yxdj86bv)

...and two healthy travellers as well.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxmh43oz)

It starts drizzling as we pull away, and I nearly miss this bushmeat trader:

(https://tinyurl.com/y6c6s72r)

From a distance, I nearly mistook the pangolin scales for those of a fish. As I ask if I can take a picture, the hostile hunter yells ď10 000CFA!Ē. It seems a bit rich for a photo, but it turns out that this is the price for his pangolin, which is suspended from one hind leg. When I tell him weíre not interested in a dead one, he pokes it in the belly, making it curl up in a defensive ball.

My mind is made up instantly and I pull out a wad of CFA notes. The hapless animal is cut down from the branch and stuffed into a shopping bag. And so we become the owners of a white-bellied pangolin and get entangled in the wildlife trade.

(https://tinyurl.com/y374m6a4)

So what is the best option for the survival of this poor animal? If we release him too near his captor, he will be for sale again tomorrow. If we get caught with it, we might face arrest! We carry on for a few kilometres before turning off onto a dirt road towards a school. After making sure we havenít been spotted, we take the pangolin among the trees to release him. After wriggling out of the bag, he is down a burrow before I can even get a good photo of him (her?). Thereís gratitude for you!

(https://tinyurl.com/y3j3xlll)

Soon afterwards we hit the outskirts of Pointe Noire. Itís mayhem, and we are pretty tired from travelling most of the day.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3cbsl49)

We pull over to regroup and to locate the coastline, where we hope to be able to find accommodation. It looks like we have to carry straight on and the turn at the harbour. Along the way, some bizarre memorials- how could this small republic possibly have an interest in the World Wars?

(https://tinyurl.com/y3k6ymx4)

We cross the rusty railway lines en route to the beach. The tracks are overgrown and only the wagons on the left look they are still in use.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3k49a82)

And suddenly we are at the beach. Itís a sight for sore eyes. At a larny looking restaurant facing the sea the bellhop invites us over, assuring us that we can park at the entrance and the bikes will be fine while we head for the bar. The sight of the sea is worth a small celebration and we plop down.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5b9mv37)

The view may be great, but it turns out that accommodation here will cost a pretty penny. We decide to look for accommodation a short distance away from the beach, and find the Logis Manthey. Itís ideal: thereís a wall around the building and we can park the bikes on the lawn inside. The price is almost 40% less than the beachfront.

(https://tinyurl.com/y37c9s4p)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on December 20, 2020, 09:18:13 pm
Bushmead  :'( :'(

Thanks for saving it
Title: In and Out of Cabinda
Post by: NiteOwl on December 25, 2020, 06:43:39 pm
So: where to next?

(https://tinyurl.com/y72f9gjk)

Pointe-Noire is still 150km from the northern edge of Angola, at least a day by boat from here.

Cabinda is the logical destination where our return path will be decided. The GPS says itís 137km to the capital (also called Cabinda).

(https://tinyurl.com/y8xuwzhf)

Itís a misty morning and traffic is thin on our way out of town. We spend our last CFAs to refuel the bikes before setting off for the border at Nzassi. Itís not a long drive, along a narrow road that cuts through the dense vegetation. We pass a couple of villages and lots of school kids along the way.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7vvzce7)

The border is a guarded boom at the end of a road lined by shops and stalls. Money changers close in as we dismount, but we have no CFAs left to exchange. They direct us to the police station, where they copy the details of our bikes in a book. Next itís customs, who write out a release for the bikes, and finally immigration who stamp us out of the Congo.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7gnewsw)

Officialdom on the Cabinda side is quite spread out and the process is rather drawn out, but it is similar to Oshikango and the officials are friendly. Thereís a long passage to Immigration where passports are checked and our bikes are photographed. We again pay Customs Kz 6336 for each TIP, and after getting a police clearance we are allowed to enter the country.

(https://tinyurl.com/ycccyajm)

Once though, there are two checkpoints manned by heavily armed soldiers where our paperwork is carefully checked. Why all the fuss? The answer if FLEC- the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda. Itís a liberation movement with its roots in the decision by the Portuguese to incorporate the erstwhile Portuguese Congo into Angola even after the Carnation Revolution.

For Angola, the oil-rich enclave is a strategic asset that contributes 60% of their oil revenue. The natives have cottoned on that they could all be millionaires if this revenue went to them instead. With the artificial attachment between the two regions, itís a conflict that is likely to simmer on until the oil runs out. Unsurprisingly, given the direct neighbours, the culture and language is distinctly more French than Portuguese here.

During South Africaís involvement in the Angolan War, a recce team of nine men was dropped off from a submarine to blow up the oil tanks in Cabindaís harbour. In order to make it look like a rebel attack, they wore Unita uniforms and were tasked to attack from inland, which required a lengthy march behind enemy lines. They were discovered the next morning and in the ensuing firefight, two men were killed, their leader was wounded and captured while the remaining six managed to escape.

That leader was captain Wynand du Toit, and he was held in solitary confinement for more than two years before being released in a POW exchange. The same man who led a group of South African farmers to Malolo in the Congo 24 years later. How the wheel turns!

(https://tinyurl.com/y9s89kom)

After the second checkpoint, the scenery becomes rural and we stop at a large mangrove swamp to take a look at the fishermen bringing in a catch. The small fish are scooped up into plastic shopping bags and sold to passers-by.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9z75d9r)

Gradually there are more signs of human settlement as we approach the coast and pull up for lunch on a rusty pier at Landana where the waves crash around us.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7ur3rqc)

As the housing changes from branches to bricks it's clear that we are approaching Cabinda city.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8algldv)

The first sign of city life: the national football stadium, which hosted the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

(https://tinyurl.com/y78cxwsy)

Cabinda city is considerably smaller than Pointe Noire. There are really only two roads of interest: one from the city centre to the airport and another along the coast. A flight out of here on an Antonov (as described by Kristo Kššrmann - http://kaarmann.com/angola-back-in-the-ussr/ (http://kaarmann.com/angola-back-in-the-ussr/)) would be first prize, so we head for the airport first.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7gplv2z)

We end up at a guarded gate next to the passenger terminal. The guard says there may be a flight tomorrow, but we need to speak to his officer, who will only be available tomorrow morning.

So we will need to find accommodation for the night. Thereís only one hotel that the GPS knows about, near the beach, and itís not much at that. Diagonally across is a Roman Catholic church where we may be able to set up our tent. We ride over to ask, and after speaking to the priest we get permission to camp under the trees behind the paderia. Thereís even a bucket shower and toilets around the corner where we can freshen up, and a supermarket next door.

(https://tinyurl.com/ya5wao3g)

A semicircle of statues face the church from the playa; they are even illuminated at night.

(https://tinyurl.com/yawpujs8)

As the sun sets, the flares from the offshore oil platforms can be seen on the horizon while the local choir practices outside the church.

(https://tinyurl.com/y72s77ne)

Itís lucky that we pitched our tent under a leafy tree, as we wake up (early) to a drizzly morning of what will prove to be an exhausting day.

By 08H00 we are back at the airport gate, but the officer is not yet available (hurry up and waitÖ) so we have a look at the options at the airport. Thereís an evening flight to Luanda (as on most days) for Kz13 600, but itís not for cargo. Like our bikes. Oops.

(https://tinyurl.com/y8nqw2ef)

The guard is not comfortable with our bikes so close to his gate, so we wait in the airport parking lot until the officer eventually arrives. He makes it clear that there are no Antonov flights for civvies, but that we can fly to Soyo (Angolaís northernmost town) and get the bikes shipped there by boat which will arrive the next morning.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybof8n25)

A local taxi biker is instructed to take us to the beach, which proves to be quite a little labyrinth. Six local cargo boats, called chatas, lie on the beach. Some are getting loaded, others are getting unloaded. They look pretty sturdy, but their 40hp outboards seem rather inadequate. Our guides:

(https://tinyurl.com/yab8uheu)

We are led to the well-fed owner, Mpungi, who confirms that the bikes can be shipped to Soyo, but not passengers! So we will have to hand over our bikes to complete strangers on unseaworthy-looking boats, catch a flight of less than 100km for ourselves and hope that we will be reunited by tomorrow evening. It requires a huge leap of faith, but there does not seem any alternative. Fortunately, there is a police post on the beach and despite the language barrier, the officer in charge is sympathetic and assures us itís all above board.

After some negotiation, we agree on sixty thousand Kwanza and hand over another ten thousand Kwanza to our guides to complete the paperwork. During the uncomfortable wait on the beach, I decide to quickly ride back to the airport to make sure that there is actually a flight to Soyo today. Itís just as well: the next flight is only in four dayís time!

But there is a flight to Luanda. So itís back to the negotiations with the shipper. Surprisingly, Luanda is no problem but of course the fee nearly doubles. Mpungi looks affronted when I insist on a receipt, but after another hour and another thousand kwanzas we get one. He is getting agitated, because the tide is coming in. But thereís another problem: all the contact details are in Cabinda, so how are we going to find our bikes in Luanda? Grudgingly, he writes down the names of Joruny (Jeremy?) and Afonso with their mobile numbers.

We finally relent and ride the bikes to the Chata for loading and remove the luggage. At least eight volunteers emerge from the crowd and grab wheels, handlebars or footpegs to carry our precious bikes aboard.

(https://tinyurl.com/ydgcstwm)

The process looks rough, but the bikes are quite sturdy and nothing gets damaged. Will we ever see them again?

(https://tinyurl.com/yaatzy4g)

After our experience at the Kinshasa ferry, weíre not surprised when the porters start mumbling about compensation, but the shipís mate nips it in the bud. Thatís a bonus! By now itís late afternoon and we have to get back to the airport to catch a plane, but we have no more transport. Our guides call a taxi, but Mpungi offers us a lift in his huge American SUV. As we load our bags, the taxi arrives and insists on payment for the call-out, the fixer needs some money and our guide is also expecting some compensation. Itís not unreasonable and we cough up our remaining Kwanzas.

After sweating it out on the beach for most of the day, the air-conditioned comfort of the Cadillac is a welcome relief as we get whisked to the airport. Just when it looks like everything has fallen into place, Mpungi says our dollar bills are not legal tender. :o The problem is that the US treasury changes their design every few years, and our bills date back to 2003. Fortunately, a passer-by overhears the conversation and swaps our $100 bill for a ďfreshĒ one, saying he will exchange it at the bank.

Our saviour speaks good English as well, and escorts us to the ticket counter where we hit the next snag: the flight to Luanda is fully booked! But this is Africa, and in short order a tout appears from outside, saying he still has two tickets for the next flight. Itís a rip-off, but now we really need to get to Luanda rather than hang around Cabinda for another day. We draw the necessary kwanzas from the ATM in the Departure hall and head for the check-in desk.

Itís at times like these that you really appreciate a luggage solution that you can carry with all your biking gear on. The weigh-in is a farce and we get squeezed into the rearmost seats of the little Beechcraft 1900 with our belongings above, below and behind us.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7deyxot)

Itís dark as we descend towards the capital over the fuel storage tanks near the port.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9hmc6bb)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: DUSTRIDERS on December 25, 2020, 07:26:30 pm
More please!!! :thumleft: :drif: :drif:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on December 27, 2020, 07:29:58 pm
More please!!! :thumleft: :drif: :drif:

+1  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: roxenz on December 27, 2020, 08:31:58 pm
Truly epic, this trip! :hello2:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: David.H on December 28, 2020, 08:28:18 am
Thanks for the great TR.
Not a single wheelie or burn-out on this trip  ;D
Please keep it coming, I know it is a lot of prep work.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on December 29, 2020, 09:25:50 am
Best ride report I have read in years.

Thank you so much for posting. It is truly inspirational, and shows that the spirit of real adventure is still alive.

Title: The Most Expensive City in the World
Post by: NiteOwl on January 01, 2021, 02:57:39 pm
Weíve given little thought to the small matter of finding accommodation in what is rumoured to be the most expensive city in the world (yeah, really) and home to some 8 million people. One option we know of is the yacht club, where one can reportedly camp for free, but trying to locate and negotiate that at night may be tricky.

Luandaís airport is rather modest and after lugging our kit to the waiting area outside, we decide to regroup before finding a room for the night. I fetch drinks from one of the snack bars nearby, and with the little bit of airtime left on our Angolan SIMcard, we manage to locate the Soleme Guesthouse. Itís near the airport, family-owned and has a good review as well as an empty room.

Although our taxi-driver gets lost and has to do a long detour, the manageress, Maria, is very caring and quickly produces two omelettes for us. She has been to South Africa, also speaks French and a bit of English so we chat a bit before turning in for the night- itís been a very long day and we are bushed.

(https://tinyurl.com/yakogepn)

The lounge and dining area:

(https://tinyurl.com/y7fr7mk2)

In the morning we get a better feel for the layout of our lodging. Itís actually quite central, and over breakfast we meet some of the other guests. They are here on business, and most speak English, too. The food is fresh and tasty, but the fare per night is Kz 34 000 (R 1500) and who knows how long it will take for our bikes to arrive? So we decide to wash our clothes and then look for a coffee shop, explore Luanda and hopefully check out the yacht club (where you can camp for free, remember). Before long, clear signs of Chinese infrastructure:

(https://tinyurl.com/yd6ph59p)

This is part of Chinaís Digital Silk Road strategy, a $200B leg of the Belt and Road initiative (Google BRI for details), Chinaís grand scheme to migrate from manufacturing dominance to leadership of the 4th Industrial Revolution. SADC countries feature strongly among the recipients.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybjqtfn9)

Our walk starts badly, when we attempt to turn up a street with some soldiers in front of a house. There are no specific signs, but entry is verboten and we are quickly shepherded away. It takes a while to figure it out- we happen to be staying within two blocks of president Jo„o LourenÁoís pad! In fact, there is a whole compound of government buildings between our lodgings and the port. We do eventually find a decent cafť hidden amongst them and savour the fare.

(https://tinyurl.com/ybkcurfh)

With all this officialdom around, carrying a camera seems like a really risky idea. I leave it in our room as we navigate down to the esplanade- so unfortunately not too many pictures of Luanda other than a few cellphone shots.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9msvw46)

We follow the beachfront along the waterís edge. The streets are very wide, and there are some impressive buildings around, paid for by all the oil that drives this economy. A huge poster of the prez adorns the military ministry: he used to be the minister of defence before getting the top job in the party and the country.

After a walk of about 5 km, we enter the yacht club and take a look around. A gaggle of young sailors are wheeling in Optimist dinghies to rinse them down before parking them along the edge of the marina opposite the bar.

(https://tinyurl.com/ycwye8gh)

(https://tinyurl.com/ydecsys4)

There are open spaces between the buildings, but nothing that looks like ablutions or a camp site. And there is an overpowering stench of fish. Maybe it is possible to camp here, but lugging all our stuff here or locating our bikes from this place (no wifiÖ) compares rather poorly with our newly acquired home. We decide to stay put and rather try to negotiate a better rate.

(https://tinyurl.com/y7fxukuu)

If weíd walked a few kilometres further south and taken a little more interest in sightseeing here, we could have seen this, too (photo from Tripadvisorís website):

(https://tinyurl.com/y7k254ak)

Itís Agostinho Netoís mausoleum (shipped straight from North Korea, no less) rising 120m above the cityscape. His stature here is comparable to that of Mandela back in our neck of the woods. There's a museum underneath the spire that should be quite interesting.

Luanda has a striking number of half-finished construction projects, their cranes breaking the skyline like giant insects. They are part of the dos Santos governmentís over-reliance on oil revenues and the resulting economic crisis LourenÁo inherited in 2017, three years after the oil price tanked.

(https://tinyurl.com/yd2ttbsk)

Some snapshots of the Angolan capital along the way back to our rooms. Here is the eye-catching unknown soldier memorial:

(https://tinyurl.com/y77e8khr)

Graffiti:

(https://tinyurl.com/ydz9gfsy)

There are supermarkets quite similar to those of Brazzaville here, and after drawing some more kwanzas (we will soon need quite a few) we stock up on food, as supper is not normally part of the fare at the Soleme. Back at the guesthouse, we extend our stay before tucking into our new supplies.

Having explored a bit of the city, we are starting to feel more at ease in Luanda , but thereís the lingering worry of our bikes: when, if ever, will we see them again? Itís Saturday, and we tried to get hold of Jovany and Afonso since this morning- with no response. Afonsoís phone is off-line, Jovany has yet to read my message.

I decide to contact Nelson, who helped us with translation in Huambo and is presently filming a basketball tournament in Luanda. After explaining our predicament, he asks me to send him a copy of the invoice. He pronounces it ďgenuineĒ and says we should get our bikes delivered, even though it may take some time.  He promises to try to get hold of our missing shipping men, but nothing comes of it.

After lunch we send a message to our shipper in Cabinda, who replies late in the afternoon. Google Translate to the rescue:

(https://tinyurl.com/yahbftzx)

Proof of life! Itís now clear that part of the transport will be by road. Luanda is some 440 km from Soyo, so itís unlikely that the truck will be here before Monday- this is Africa after all. We spend a tense night nevertheless, as three (or more ?) nights in this place is going to be longer and more expensive than we had hoped.

At breakfast the next morning, we strike up a conversation with the ladies around the table, who are quite interested in our trip. Barbara, who sits opposite us, is originally from the Czech Republic. She works for SADC, has spent a few years working in Johannesburg and is married to a Mozambican lawyer. So apart from English, she can speak Portuguese as well, and is prepared to assist us. She proves to be a godsend.

(https://tinyurl.com/y82g2q3b)

Barbara gives a sobering view of the difference between South Africa and the rest of the SADC countries. Despite the poor infrastructure here, itís easier to get things done (in Angola) than in South Africa. People in Angola are less self-absorbed and more sharing. Whereas South Africa is structured to keep rich and poor areas apart, itís the opposite here. That is reflected in the gini coefficient, which is much lower here than in South Africa. Part of this is because Angola has a very young population, due to the high birthrate: the median age here is under 17 years, SAís is nearly 28.

After breakfast, the first step is to go and buy airtime, as some phone calls will be required. Back at the Soleme, we join Barbara for coffee. She is calm, focussed and persuasive as she calls Jovany, who has been waiting for us to call(!) but canít tell us anything about the whereabouts of the cargo. That turns out to be Afonsoís domain, who says our bikes will arrive shortly, but he canít say where. Barbara insists on specifics and he promises to call back in an hour. We eventually learn that the dropoff will be at the military air cargo terminal near the airport, in 1 or 2 hourís time.

There's no point in hanging around now- we pack up, get dressed and settle our bill. Then a pleasant and unusual surprise: the bill is less than advertised and with a free ride to the airport to boot! Barbara offers to come along and gets directions from Afonso en route. Luandaís notorious traffic is a breeze, as itís a Sunday.

(https://tinyurl.com/y9cptfaw)

We end up at a military warehouse on the edge of Luandaís airport, where Barbara convinces the guard to let us wait inside while she returns to the hotel with the driver and our profuse thanks. Afonso arrives less than 30 minutes later, saying the bikes are being offloaded across the road! My wife jogs across the road and soon roars into the parking lot, grinning from ear to ear. What a relief!

(https://tinyurl.com/y7m55d2e)

My bike is standing on the pavement behind a large truck opposite the military terminal when I get across the road. Thereís no damage to the bikes other than some bent mirrors, and nothing is missing- not even our water bottles or fuel containers. My distrust of the shipper was clearly misplaced, he has delivered as promised. A humbling experience. Welcome to Angola!

(https://tinyurl.com/yao92r2q)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: dw1 on January 01, 2021, 10:40:56 pm
faaaantastic report - one of the best
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: RrP on January 02, 2021, 01:16:23 pm
Finally finished reading this from the start today what an adventure, you must have abnormal patience to handle the africa factor, well done for saving the pangolin, and please get home now !!

Sent from my SM-N970F using Tapatalk

Title: The Coastal Route
Post by: NiteOwl on January 12, 2021, 03:30:26 pm
It does not take long to strap our luggage back where it belongs, get our bearings and head for the coast. We chatter through the traffic about our good fortune to have met Barbara and getting our bikes back again. Both Tornados still run like clockwork and itís great to be moving once more- we still have 4000km to go.

(https://tinyurl.com/y4kvwwuf)

As we are to learn quite soon, the views along the Angolan coastline are a revelation. Each time you crest a rise, a completely different landscape unfolds in front of your eyes- the best riding of the trip. Mussulo Island (actually a peninsula) is the first distant vista to catch the eye:

(https://tinyurl.com/y2lkxrty)

For some reason the GPS is insistent that we should hold left, towards Dondo, while we really want to follow the coast southwards (all will be revealed).

Half an hour later, the stately baobabs on the edge of the QuiÁama (Kissama) National Park make us pull over for some photos.

(https://tinyurl.com/yx9pq6dl)

Itís Angolaís only functional park and covers 3 million acres. The civil war decimated the large mammals that used to roam these plains, in particular the giant sable antelope (only 8 survived). Although restocking efforts (similar Gorongosa in Mozambique) are underway, it will probably take decades to re-establish the fauna here as the country has more urgent priorities.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3k24ouh)

Across the road, the salt works of Salinas de Flamingo glisten in the sun.

(https://tinyurl.com/y273yftb)

Only a few kilometres further, this colourful erosion, marked as "Lunar Landscape" on T4A. Thereís a lookout point and a 4x4 route from the main road down to the beach as well.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3k3kwpt)
At Barra do Cuanza we top up our remaining fuel from Cabinda, before crossing this cable-stayed bridge across the mouth of the Cuanza river.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyw3b3xz)

Itís an impressive construction, 400m across, and saved from collapse in 2013 just before the oil price collapsed. Many bridges were damaged during the war, hampering economic recovery even now. Since most of Angolaís large rivers are too deep to cross by vehicle, ferries are the only option until repairs or (in most cases) reconstruction, are completed.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6f5bm9x)

The coastal road is the EN100, and although itís a modest single road (like our regional roads), itís in pretty good condition and we make steady progress.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxp4f6zw)

Traffic is surprisingly light, with occasional pockets of vehicles. No scooters or motorcycles here, except for a BMW tour group we passed late in the afternoon.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5od69bx)

Thereís the odd detour where repairs are in progress. Not really a problem in this region, where dust is more common than mud.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3zegx5c)
 
The rest of the afternoon passes all too quickly as we swerve inland before the coastline reappears over the horizon. Rolling hills:

(https://tinyurl.com/y2l22ke7)

(https://tinyurl.com/y3doq6bh)

Itís dusk by the time we reach Porto Amboim. Its port served to export the coffee produced at Gabela, 70km inland from here. Now, it looks more like a small fishing port.

The main road runs right through the small town, but after our luxury stay in Luanda, itís time to look for a camping spot. Thereís a Puma service station on the outskirts of the town where we refuel and buy supplies for supper. My steering feels heavy as we pull away, and slowly gets worse- another puncture! Although the front tyre is deflating, the sidewalls prevent it from collapsing.

It takes us 4 km to find a side road with no sign of habitation. After pitching the tent, I set to work on the tyre while mrs Owl gets to work making supper. And the mozzies make a meal of us both. We must be near a swamp!

(https://tinyurl.com/y43ynal6)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: EssBee on January 13, 2021, 12:38:29 pm
The adventurous spirit in you guys is something to behold! Thank you for sharing!
Title: Africa's Best Kept Secret
Post by: NiteOwl on January 27, 2021, 02:13:05 am
Itís an uncomfortable and sticky night as we fight a running battle until our insect spray runs out. By daybreak the tent floor is littered with our tormentors who paid the ultimate price.

(https://tinyurl.com/y69fsmpr)

We are indeed at the edge of some marshy bog and have a hurried breakfast for an early departure.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6k8aaex)

We cross another bridge over a large river: the Queve/ Cueve/ Keve, whose tributaries contributed to last nightís discomfort. There are huts on either side of the river, and hereís how you get across from the one side to the other over that inky water.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6m9gs9a)

As the road rises, the riverís floodplain glistens in the early morning sun.

(https://tinyurl.com/y26h77n6)

The rest of the day feels like a National Geographic movie, with a new view after every rise.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6eqr4rs)

The name of Sumbe (Novo Redondo, Ngunza Cabolo) is derived from the local Kimbundu language, meaning ďto tradeĒ. The houses on the outskirts are built on a steep sandy slope.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3mb6shd)

Once down onto level ground along the dusty detours, we come across the local supermarket and itís a Shoprite! Every major town in Angola has a one, but most locals donít seem able to afford whatís on the shelves.

Outside the town: more water, carving through a dolomite canyon (the Cubal river gorge).

(https://tinyurl.com/yxo8bou3)

Angola has a fault line running diagonally across it. In the northeast this line is rich in gem-grade diamonds, but here in the southwest it mainly holds minerals suitable for cement and fertiliser. Only a few km inland from Sumbe are the Sassa caves, which we unfortunately missed.

With all that water around, itís not surprising when we run into waterbirds, like this black-headed heron:

(https://tinyurl.com/y4ehputd)

Most of the road is in brand new condition, with the markings not yet done and the culverts still being finished by local workers- despite the Chinese sign.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2aq85xh)

(https://tinyurl.com/y63xb5bx)

Culverts are one thing, but these half- bridges could pose a nasty surprise at night. There must have been a serious communication gap at some point in the project.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3bun4p4)

Although the coastal route crosses many big rivers, their contents originate in the highlands to the east- the landscape here is actually semi-desert. If you like Namibia, you will love Angola.

(https://tinyurl.com/y36z6klq)

(https://tinyurl.com/y5nestfz)

The road swings back to the sea at Lobito, which unfolds in front of us as we crest the surrounding hills.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5zh63jw)

Thereís another Shoprite and we make lunch under the trees in the parking lot.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyoce8va)

Itís a dirty place, with shacks and villas standing cheek by jowl overlooking the lagoon, where people are (making a) living between makeshift salt pans.

(https://tinyurl.com/y36vf9s8)

(https://tinyurl.com/y4apb3zt)

That changes abruptly where the road crosses the Catumbela river via a striking fan style cable stay bridge that looks strangely out of place.

(https://tinyurl.com/y42yhk7h)

Benguela, the terminus for the Benguela Railway, is only 30km from Lobito. It has a completely different character, looking rather modern and clean in comparison to Lobito. Itís hard to reconcile this image with the port that served as the gateway for the slave trade to Brazil.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5b78yt7)

South of Benguela are more salt works, similar to those near Luanda. Efforts to expand them so that the country can be self-sufficient in its salt requirements have stalled due to lack of investment.

(https://tinyurl.com/y3hwa3s7)

We reach Dombe Grande, an agricultural town with a palm tree-lined boulevard that has seen better days. The mill here used to produce rum from the locally grown cane juice, but that industry hit the skids when alcohol was banned in 1911. Attempts to switch production to sugar were unsuccessful, probably because the machinery was unsuitable.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5xmpy5a)

Then we get to this sign, for which no dictionary is needed.

(https://tinyurl.com/y6qabsvk)

And indeed, 500m on, the tar road ends with an unfinished bridge neatly lined up to connect to it. Despite the construction starting in 2010, the project did not get completed before the money ran out.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyrw8www)

(https://tinyurl.com/y49km9u6)

Thereís a reason for those bridges though- the road through Dombe Grande Pass is quite steep. Itís also quite bumpy, and soon one of our water bottles slips out of the cargo net and splits when it hits the ground. That may become a problem as this area is deserted; we only passed one Land Cruiser here.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5rpje9y)

At Dombe Grande town there was sign that said that the next fuel is 200km further. It looks like that may be in the village of Lucira, which we cannot reach before nightfall and there are no villages in between. By dusk we pass a cell-phone tower where the two guards confirm that thereís fuel about 80 km from here.

We ride on for another fifteen minutes, and then make a camp between the bushes just off the 4x4 track to Santa Maria (Binga Bay). The sky is crystal clear.

(https://tinyurl.com/y458z8h8)

The soft sand makes for a good nightís rest, but by breakfast time the entire area is enveloped in a thick coastal fog and everything is damp.

(https://tinyurl.com/y2m3vg4m)

The fog is so dense, that my glasses are coated in condensation. Itís worse than riding in rain!

(https://tinyurl.com/y32lxsvf)

Gradually, the mist clears as the sunís rays penetrate.

(https://tinyurl.com/y5ywzezc)

After a while, signs of roadwork appear, and we ride up the newly compacted road deck next to the old track. Although there are wide mounds across it every kilometre or so, theyíre easy to cross on the bikes, while we enjoy the scenery.

(https://tinyurl.com/yxuulmdg)

(https://tinyurl.com/yycamlhh)

We almost make the mistake of turning towards Lucira when we spot a Puma filling station ahead. Itís indeed 200km from the sign outside Benguela, and a brand new tar road welcomes us all way to Namibe, another 200km to the south.

(https://tinyurl.com/yyab8fe9)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Kaboef on January 27, 2021, 07:36:14 am
Magic, magic.    O0


What types of cruising speeds did you manage on the bikes?

Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Tom van Brits on January 27, 2021, 08:59:22 am
Magic, magic.    O0



Yes  :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: BullSmit on January 27, 2021, 09:42:02 am
In awe, Onno, in awe....
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: JMOL on January 27, 2021, 01:18:21 pm
What a RR.   :deal:

Thanks.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Berden on January 27, 2021, 01:56:30 pm
Super RR

Greetings,

Toine
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Clockwork Orange on January 27, 2021, 02:06:05 pm
Those scenes from Angola are amazing. Thanks again for the updates :thumleft:
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Amsterdam on January 29, 2021, 11:39:22 am
With travel being severely restricted at the moment reports like this at least let us dream.  Very nice so far.
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: NiteOwl on February 03, 2021, 05:37:29 pm
Thanks for the positive comments.

This trip report may be getting rather long, but when I did the planning I found information about Angola beyond the Doodsakker, as well as the equator region, really elusive.

Hopefully this report will provide a better insight into a country that is still there to be explored, with virtually non-existent tourist infrastructure. The flip side of that is, of course, that is still unspoilt by the inevitable march of development, with great vistas especially along the coastal route. Although this is supposed to be a malaria area, the southern semi-desert area (Namibe) and the highlands are probably quite safe.

As a bonus, you can camp just about anywhere so it's possible to save on accommodation and fuel (which is about half the price in South Africa). Despite the widespread poverty there is virtually no begging, and we found the police very helpful.

The main stumbling block, apart from the present covid crisis, is the sheer distance involved just to reach the border- around 2400km. Even on a big bike, that would take at least three days from Gauteng.

I will provide some statistics at the tail of this tale.
Title: Canyon Country
Post by: NiteOwl on February 03, 2021, 11:49:45 pm
There are some people who will actively seek out gravel tracks, sand dunes or riverbeds to get their biking kicks. Iím not one of them. For the long trips that we do, I will take the most suitable and interesting roads to balance pleasure, effort and risk.

So we happily hit a pristine tar road again, which winds its way through more spectacular landscapes all the way to Namibe (MoÁamedes).

(http://tinyurl.com/y664bmh8)

The wind erosion and iridescent mineral layers are reminiscent of South America.

(http://tinyurl.com/y5j9aytb)

(http://tinyurl.com/sbf1hawm)

The variety is amazing.

(http://tinyurl.com/y3krvttf)

(http://tinyurl.com/1k80uegt)

(http://tinyurl.com/b042qwbn)

So come along for the ride!



Time for some lunch in a shady spot ...

(http://tinyurl.com/1sh9qyya)

... before the descent down to the coast.

(http://tinyurl.com/465zs3oa)

We refuel on the outskirts of Namibe, and head for the boulevard along the beach.

(http://tinyurl.com/47tlkuce)

Itís a classic Portuguese layout, with colourful buildings lining the street.

(http://tinyurl.com/2cskbr8u)

Of course, a visit to Flamingo Lodge is de rigueur for any SA biker worth his/ her salt, so thatís where weíre heading next. Since we havenít done the Doodsakker route, we pass the airfield toward Tombua to turn off at the Rio Flamingo riverbed: the ďstandardĒ approach.

(http://tinyurl.com/y3s37opo)

Looking at the Dakar guys, there must be a way to ride this loose stuff once you pick up enough speed, but the combined lack of horsepower and talent count heavily against us. And our clutches.

(http://tinyurl.com/tralke8u)

I rarely turn back on a route- if it starts badly it can only get better- but after one kilometre in the riverbed we leave the other 22km behind us and get back onto the Namibe-Tombua road. Today, discretion is the better part of valour.

According to T4A there is another route over the dunes from the airport, after which it should be possible to ride along the beach. Sounds much easier, right?

(http://tinyurl.com/z2gutvyz)

Twenty minutes later, we find a firm gravel road heading seawards- the beach road. Initial progress is good, but as Iím about to pat myself mentally on the back for my discretion, we hit the dunes.

(http://tinyurl.com/dobtn59x)

Instead of heading straight towards the sea, the tracks run southwards, parallel to the beach. Itís thick sand and our progress slows down to a crawl. It takes another kilometre or so before we can see the sea, and I cut across the dunes to reach the beach.

(http://tinyurl.com/4e6s6tdb)
Unfortunately itís high tide, and the sand is soft everywhere. Better to stay on the fishermen's tracks.

(http://tinyurl.com/1vc0l7r0)

Most of the time the rear tyre digs in and the only way to move is to help the bike by paddling it along.
Every now and then we get some traction, and on the GPS Flamingo Lodge slowly creeps closer. Itís dusk when we see a huge sandy hill looming in front of us.
Progress on a level track has been tedious, but this is a bridge (hill?) too far, even with our tyres deflated to 1 bar.

I park my bike and climb to the top whilst waiting for my wife to catch up. The lodge is still 10km from here, but unfortunately there is no cellphone signal even up at the top. Oops.

(http://tinyurl.com/1s8lvoqq)

We explore the options, but going around this obstacle is not possible because the water is right up against the rocky side, and navigating that in the dark is a bad idea.

A local fisherman passed us early on the sandy track, but we have seen no-one since. Then, in the distance, we see a bakkie labouring towards us. Itís got Gauteng plates, and inside it are three South Africans on a fishing holiday; a father and his two beefy sons. They are on their way back to Flamingo Lodge. Suddenly, help is at hand!

I hop on my bike and follow the bakkie, with a son on either side pushing for all theyíre worth. I spray them with sand, and manage to get to the top without dropping the bike. Weíre all a bit out of breath, butÖ thereís another bike to get up here. Itís hard work for men and machines, but eventually we are all at the top of the hill.

Weíre now on the gruispad to the lodge. From here, itís ďless hard, I did not say easyĒ, the father explains. Indeed, this pad is just as sandy as the tracks that got us this far. Itís funny how, in stressful situations like this, one does not always think of ways to make your life easier. Like dumping our luggage on the bakkie! Instead, we do lots of pushing, paddling and spinning for the next two hours with our helpers patiently leading the way.

(http://tinyurl.com/14pmlvhh)

Itís eight oíclock by the time we pull up at the well known entrance to Flamingo Lodge. Weíre welcomed by the owner, Rico Sakko, but heís unimpressed with our sand riding skills.

(http://tinyurl.com/opvkdxmw)

A touring party from Bredasdorp is finishing their dinner, and we are invited to help ourselves to the buffet on offer. Itís a generous spread, and the beer is even more welcome.
Itís great being able to communicate without a language barrier, and Rico knows this country intimately. He has been here right through the civil war, seen it all, never left.

(http://tinyurl.com/16ks8ur5)

The touring party is camping, so all of the chalets are available. Weíre sweaty and smelly and despite the steep price, the thought of a hot shower and a proper bed after the effort of getting here is too much to resist. Thereís the niggling problem of getting back out of here, but thatís tomorrowís problem.

(http://tinyurl.com/3lkbjw4u)
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Rooi Wolf on February 19, 2021, 01:10:54 pm
Such a good read. Beautiful pictures to boost!

Thanks for taking time out to share ur epic journey!
Title: Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
Post by: Crossed-up on February 19, 2021, 08:37:04 pm
I am so enjoying this "Role of Honour" RR!

Looking forward to the rest.
Title: AN ALPINE PASS IN AFRICA
Post by: NiteOwl on March 03, 2021, 04:56:04 pm
We need to get make progress in getting home, and although the setting of the lodge is pretty, itís wet and windy.

(https://tinyurl.com/p67dahzc)

If youíre not a fisherman, itís difficult to find a reason to hang around here, and we really donít want to repeat last nightís effort to get back to Namibe. Rico says it will be a doddle if we ride along the beach, as low tide is approaching and the sand is kliphard.

(https://tinyurl.com/4z9mksyf)

After breakfast, I ride out to the beach test this statement and sure enough, once I get close to the waterline, traction is good. To put the cherry on top, the lodgeís bakkie has to fetch supplies from Namibe and will guide us along the beach. And take our luggage. Whoohoo!

Back at the campsite, the tour group is just getting their breakfast. Our guides of last night, the Carstens, are nowhere to be seen- gone fishin' !

(https://tinyurl.com/9dfas37k)

It looks like only Toyotas are allowed to come along Ö

(https://tinyurl.com/y99as9cc)

Soon enough Emile, who works at the lodge as a guide, pulls up in a Voetspore-branded Land Cruiser (another Toyota!) in front of our cabin.

(https://tinyurl.com/228fanp6)

We load up our luggage, settle the bill and off we go. Itís way easier than last night and actually good fun. With decent traction we can really let rip along the edge of the waterline, following Emileís tracks.

(https://tinyurl.com/rsawbww9)

But itís not all plain sailing. Every kilometre or so there are rocky outcrops which force us back onto last nightís tracks.

(https://tinyurl.com/27r48hz5)

Itís fine if you can maintain momentum, dismal if you stop. Spot the paddleprints.

(https://tinyurl.com/42t4nh6s)

Other rocky sections have gaps that we can get through, while the bakkie has to do a detour.

(https://tinyurl.com/3auspk87)

All too soon we are back on the clay track towards the airport, where Emile stops to hand us our luggage back. After re-inflating the tyres, we do the last bit back to the tar and in Namibe, Emile directs us to a washbay as we need to get rid of that salt water. Once again, everything is unpacked and the bikes get a thorough hosing.

(https://tinyurl.com/cbwkssn4)

Our destination for today is Lubango, due east from here, but we need to stock up on a few things before we go. Namibe also has a Shoprite, and when we pull into the parking lot we find two packmules:

(https://tinyurl.com/3pwvkmkw)

Itís not hard to spot the owners inside the supermarket. They turn out to be two friends from Cape Town who are on their way to Croatia, via Morocco and Spain. Marcel and Caz have come through Lubango from Namibia and even managed to ride up van Zylís Pass with their overloaded KLRs packed with every conceivable widget and gadget, including a drone and some sponsored wazoogies! But they wisely decided to give Flamingo Lodge a miss. You can read about their trip here:   https://www.instagram.com/thewestcoastwander/?hl=en (ftp://www.instagram.com/thewestcoastwander/?hl=en)
We exchange stories and discuss the route via Dombe Grande pass.

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We depart together, taking each otherís routes in reverse. Our second treat for the day is the Serra da Leba pass.

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The initial section is fairly flat, with rocky outcrops scattered around. More great scenery.

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Near the foot of the pass it gets a bit touristy- the first time we experienced this in Angola- with arts and crafts for sale in artisan stalls lining the road.

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What I didnít realise is that there is some eye-catching graffiti along the way. Fortunately we can view it at our leisure on the GoPro video afterwards.

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As many people have reported before, itís a spectacular pass that just gets better as you get higher. A quirk of engineering in an otherwise undeveloped land.

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This video gives a good overview of the experience (filmed by a family with a camper truck):
 


The sun is close to the horizon by the time we reach the top. Our target for the day is Lubango, which is still 50km away, so we donít get to explore the view from the rim and reach the Shoprite there only just before it closes. We refuel the bikes opposite the shopping centre, but after last nightís splash-out, we canít afford Casperís again. Our bikes also need their final oil service, so we ride out of town to look for a free camping spot.

It takes all of 24km of risky night riding before we find a suitable clearing beyond the city limits. Itís below the road deck, so we pitch our tent close to the shoulder, where there is some undergrowth and where our tent is less visible. By the time the oil is changed, the traffic has gone silent and we enjoy our last supper in Angola. With the increase in elevation has come a welcome decrease in mosquitos, but itís also noticeably cooler.

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