Archive for the ‘DRC & Angola’ Category

Russell writes on 18/3/11 (Photos by Darren)


Red sky at night...still rains every day though

Democratic Republic of Congo: The calm before the storm of Angola, which is strange as Kinshasa is one of Africa’s most infamous cities, but all I remember was a great breakfast – toast, real butter, eggs and a good coffee. Our stay at the Catholic HQ in Kinshasa was our last bit of luxury for, well, we’ve not had the next bit yet, we’re still camping. It took so long to get out of that city, it sprawls forever, but Darren’s navigational skills kept us on track and no problems with Kinshasa to report. We camped on the border having sussed the customs and immigration for an early start at Angola. We got to know the friendly officials who looked after us by letting us camp by the night guards and took Darren to the village clinic with an infected insect bite on his arm. It can’t have been pleasant; they first dug around the wound pulling bits out and then injected him with penicillin in each buttock. A massive oozing crater on his arm and the mad dash across Angola to deal with, but on he bravely goes.

Angola; the task is massive, 1400 miles with only a 5 day visa and a 150$ per day fine if you go over, oh, and roads from hell that just want to kill you. And that’s what nearly happened as we rode on a knife edge to get to the Namibian border on time.

Angolan skies

The start was quite smooth and sophisticated; this was the first time our passports had been scanned into a national computerised system, but that meant there would be no escape if we were late to the border. The road to the first main town was track, but it was dry, the surface firm, this was ok. The next section would take us on a more direct route south trying to avoid a lengthy pass through the capital Luanda. The track was quite reasonable, you had to watch the assents and descents as the rain they get here washes gullies into the road and are best avoided. I hit one going downhill, the bike spat me forward and I ended up underneath it between the wheels, I’ve still got the swollen hand from that one. It was funny because we got 40 miles down this track to discover it just ended at a village, there was no bridge(probably blown up some time during their war) or possible boat crossing at the river, so the road just did a big U turn. Back to that first main town then. However, this is where we found a lovely tar road, only this was the route to Luanda and some notorious bad sections. Cruising along our lovely tar road at 80, trying to put some miles down, my bike suddenly starts revving and slowing down – my chain broke! I had been ever tightening it but it always went slack, and now I find out why, it was disintegrating and taking my rear sprocket with it. A poor quality chain from Cameroon and my lack of attention to it would be the main cause of our Angolan migraine. Thankfully Darren was able to insert some spare links on the roadside and we went on for a few more miles into the night before bush camping and catching some z’s after a long first day.

Miles of bad roads await

The next day saw the end of our tar and the start of the ‘bad’ section as we headed south from a town on the coast. This was the mud rut section, and mercifully it wasn’t raining. Lorries use this road so it has deep ruts and water filled craters reducing our speed to 30 mph max. Lunch was interesting, Cobra stew, didn’t realize they had so many little rib bones, must have been a big fella too. Back to it and now it’s very hot with added chain misery. The back wheel is on its limit for chain tensioning but the chain is so slack now it keeps coming off the sprocket every 10 minutes. When the inevitable chain break happens we’re still a long way from Luanda and out of water. It took us (well, mostly Darren, I just filed metal pins) most of the afternoon taking links out, putting ones back in and stopping people to give us water before using up the last of our spares. I should thank Darren here as he was the chain master able to bodge together parts from 3 chains to get me going again. The road now was a pain, small sections of pot holed tar then back to pot holed track, but the average speed was on the up and the prospect of ever improving road pulling me forward. Then joy of joys, back on smooth tar, and better for my delicate chain. But the fun wasn’t over as we hit Luanda at night and discovered the roads in the capital are made of dust, so dust and dark and oncoming lights! Still, we managed to find our free camping on the harbour at the Nautical Club and set the tent up in front of quite a contrasting sight in Angola, with high rise buildings, bright lights and flash yachts.

Luanda, Angolan capital

Day 3 and we started by looking for a new chain, but being Sunday no one was open! The prospect of completing the rest of Angola on this chain was now comical in its lunacy. Maybe the next city tomorrow would have one, so on we went. I managed a hundred miles, and it did better than expected, but it was all over now, the links were collapsing and there was nothing more we could do, except bring the axe out. Then the lunacy grows to a new level, being towed by Darren with a 2 metre luggage strap! Yes, we really did this, and yes it worked! We had arrived to the knife edge of riding; Angolan roads at night, towing and being towed! We both look back at this section and laugh, absolutely crazy, and God kept us, somehow, from being hurt.

By any means!

The fourth day I was towed all day, we did stop in a city to find a chain, but nothing besides a young lad wanting 200$ for 2 worn chains that we would then have to fit together. I saw bullet holes on some of the run-down buildings and it dawns on me that only 10 years ago these people were still at war and it was a shame only to charge through the country and hardly scratch the surface of culture and history. The road soon descended into rough track, interspersed with wet muddy sections through the forest. It was now impossible to be towed and so we flagged down a truck to take my bike through until the road improved. Unloading the truck I was getting ready to pay but the driver refused and I hugged him!

Can't tow in mud!

After hours of track and a crash I was praying for a runway to appear, and suddenly it was like being back in Europe with smooth tar, white lines and reflective markers. ‘Great!’ we thought, we can put some miles in before bedtime. But even the good roads in Angola are bad. Coming down a dip to a bridge (they are usually detours over a big pipe) and seeing the way was clear we kept speed up to take the climb on the other side. Then with no warning we both bounced up into the air, the back end kicking up and thankfully landing without any dramas. We pulled over to see the ramps on the bridge and to wonder at how we got away with it. Back up to speed, about 50 mph on this ‘good’ road, round a bend, but this time we didn’t get away with it – BOOM! The road became dust and troughs and we were up in the air again. I knew we weren’t going to land this one when Darren’s bike turned left in mid-air, the next thing I knew both bikes were on their sides, panniers off and their contents spread over the road. Someone must be watching over us because we only came away with only a bruised wrist, scuffed body armour and torn clothing. The lengths we went to to try and get through Angola in the 5 days they’d given us. We look back at the craziness with a shake of the head and think ‘what on earth we were doing’.

A contrast to the capital!

Day 5 and the drama deepens. We get to Lubango to look for a truck going to the Namibian border, but not just for one bike, now its two. By towing me 400 miles through Angola Darren’s bike had done a lot of work, too much work actually, and the head gasket finally let go. Again, the lengths we went to to try and get through in 5 days. It took all day to wait for our truck to finish loading before the most uncomfortable journey ever, 6 people crammed in the lorry cab with no proper seat over bad roads with a block of wood holding up the suspension. We arrived at a town 30 km from the border at 11am (day 6) having agreed that we would be first off, but no, we had to wait for them to visit the different drops to unload the goods first. We had saved our last dollars to pay for this truck, not even any left to buy food or water, but they didn’t care, didn’t respect us and only took us to the border because Darren refused to pay up until they delivered us. Thankfully some people did care and we were given some water, a bit of food, and to stop us camping in the street, a free room in a motel on the border.

Angola got both bikes in the end

Finally at the border, it wasn’t quite over, our passports were scanned into the central system and sure enough a fine was handed out. A day’s fine of 150$ each, and there was no getting out of it, no one was bothered by our story, it was pay up or be banned from the country and have 150$ added to your fine each day its unpaid. However, someone did hear our story and was bothered. We had no dollars left for the fine so a very kind Angolan lady lent me 400$ so I could pay the fine and have some left over until we could get to an ATM. Angola was certainly a country of contrasts, the people, the roads, the cities, the weather and the countryside. It left us exhausted, injured, with two broken motorcycles and with no experience of Angola other than the pressured journey on terrible roads from north to south. The 5 day visa is a real shame, a beautiful country by-passed. This chapter lingers on in Windhoek as we deal with the aftermath, fixing bikes (changing the head gasket ourselves), ordering parts and mending panniers. But I made it through Angola, thanks to Darren and a luggage strap!