Posts Tagged ‘Angolan Visa’

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!


Darren Writes 12.01.11

Nigeria, The Republic of.  You brace yourself as thoughts of extreme corruption, violence, robbery, gangs and elaborate scams, schemes up to take the dollar from the pocket of even the most seasoned and vigilant person, are conjured in your imagination. Road blocks, one after another, of police wanting to lighten your wallet and locals trampling each other to get ahead.  Bandits awaiting you on the potholed roads and a rip off on every corner are all the things you are preparing yourself to fight or endure.

Starting at the Nigerian embassy in Ghana the hoop jumping and much greater than average cost for the visa never helped to make you feel like you would be welcomed. Yet it was part of our route into central Africa and also a chance to obtain the elusive Angolan transit visa.

Green Turtle Lodge

With the Nigerian visa already secured and sitting neatly in our passports and with all our jobs done and bodies well and truly rested, it was time to pack our tents and leave the super chilled Green Turtle Lodge,  its palm fringed beach and warm waters. First stop was a garage in the first town we rode into and pressure water wash to rid of the salt covering the bikes from the sea breeze. The guys there literally fought to take on the job and the stronger elders won getting straight onto it. ‘Not there!’ I shouted as the pressure wash rose towards the radiator fins and again I repeated and finally threatened not to pay. Ok now they understand! Wow, afterwards, two shinny bikes.

Landy lift to get the bike

Back to Accra and the hotel we stayed at before was full so we negotiated a price to stay on the roof. Good news for our wallets and especially good as I managed to get a beer to share in with the price.

From there we decided to travel up the Volta region and into Togo through a smaller border, the route that would take us through Benin and finally Nigeria away from all the main and hasselfull Customs and Immigration posts along the coast. The only problem was we weren’t sure if we could get transit visas on these as you could on the main route.  So leaving Ghana we explained this to the Ghanaian officials before stamping out and one of them kindly walked us over the border to find out. The podgy Togolese official on the other side didn’t get up to greet us but spoke with the Ghanaian official and agreed we could enter.  Fine, so we checked out of Ghana and rode over.  A 10,000 CFA (15GBP) bribe was what the Togolese officer wanted in order to allow us, with his ‘lad’, to go into town to buy the 10,000 CFA Visa. We protested but each time, he gave us the choice to return to Ghana and go around. Knowing that we weren’t able to cross back into Ghana without a Ghanaian Visa (Which Ghana doesn’t issue on borders) he remained sat on his stool turning his back to us. Life in no-mans land was the only alternative. ‘Ok.. here, have your  10 Grand’. Still sat on his stool he barked instructions for the barrier to be raised and we could see exactly why he was fat! A bad start to Togo but one that was remedied by the welcome of other officials and warmth of the Togolese people. It was therefore a shame not to see more of the county than we did as the dirt road took us laterally across to Benin in a day.

Some are shy, most are not!

Here, a warm welcome and a visa allowing 2 days to transit though. It was getting late so 40 miles later we stopped to sleep. Our first beds in over two weeks were so comfy in a hotel in Amerbey. Onward, with one more whole day allowed, on our Benin visa, we wandered up to the Nigerian border, changed some cash with the money changers and then my heart sunk. Russell’s quickly sunk too as I told him I couldn’t find our carnets (our documents that allow temporary importation of vehicles into most African states).’ Opps… I think I left them on the Togolese/Benin border’. So back west across Benin we went! We had to ride pretty fast to get there and back before our visa expired all the time hoping we would find them. I ran into the immigration office and studied the desk we had previously sat. And there they were piled between some other papers. I rejoiced and then got roared at for my incorrect procedure but ironed things out with the official and off we sped back across Benin to the Nigerian border.

The start of a new Africa

We reached the border by 5 but with all the visa chasing and charging across countries we were quite tired but still bracing ourselves for what we were expecting to be one of the most difficult borders in Africa. ‘Ok so there’s the border. Where are the Immigration posts?’ We found nearby where we could stamp out of Benin and then crossed into Nigeria on a particularly bad dirt road into a Nigerian town of complete chaos. Riding around we couldn’t find the immigration so eventually stopped to ask one of these crazy Nigerians. We didn’t want to be shown the way as inevitably this would require a dash (tip in Nigeria). But lost and tired we agreed.

Smile, you're Nigerian!

In some isolated place accessed by narrow paths we were led to immigration. And then the first surprise… No dash required by our guide… He was just helping out some visitors to his country. And then we walked in to the immigration, met by a big smile and a hearty ‘Welcome to Nigeria’. The most friendly officials we had met were also bending over backwards to try and help us with our onward travel. Over  to customs to import the bikes and the same thing. Not even a hint of a dash or to pin something on us for a bribe. Is this Nigeria? The road there after had several road blocks where we were welcomed. We arrived to the next town, found somewhere to stay and were asked for N3000 (13GBP) for a dirty room without water. We said we couldn’t afford it but had N1500. ‘You are quests… that will be fine’. Is this Nigeria? So far such warm people and no sign of corruption.

Help at every turn in Nigeria

And so it was over the next 2 days and 500 miles to Abuja. Police waved us through road blocks with their thumbs up or friendly waves. Whenever we stopped we were surrounded by people glad to meet us and offering us help with our directions. And in Abuja, we are even camping in the back of the Sheraton hotel. Nigerians, as it seems, aren’t bad at all but in fact are the most welcoming in Africa so far. That said, every one warns against travel at night due to banditry and the travel along the roads Russ calls ‘Road Wars, if you lose , you die’ For Nigeria, though the most welcoming, has got to be the most chaotic, craziest place in the world. Towns go on for ever and are filled with bustling, music and crazy traffic.

Taxi bike, not even fully loaded.

The roads, though full of pot holes and congestion, are racetracks where even when we are at 70 mph we’re being consistently passed in places where you wouldn’t think possible. Oncoming traffic is often on your side of the road pushing off the road whatever is in its way and the verges are lined with the results… wreck after wreck. I couldn’t imagine what the road death toll could be. And we have agreed also that there can’t be any speed restrictions. We’ve passed police cars as fast as we can (after others of course) and no sirens.

"Darren, you've got a flat"

So a lot of fun to Abuja… only because we didn’t lose. One hiccup though in the form of a M12 (12mmwide) 80mm long bolt went through my tire and ripped the inner tube and rubber around the hub. But that was quickly fixed, tyre and tube, and off back to our game of road wars.

We haven’t really worked out what there is to see in Nigeria, but the culture and people here are worth so much more than almost any landscape!