Northern Angola

I realised that at the rate I was going, I’d reach Angola’s capital, Luanda, on a Friday and therefore be stuck waiting over the weekend. I decided to pick up the pace and aimed to arrive on Thursday instead.

That meant 550km in three days. I wanted to do longer days for the first couple, so that I wouldn’t be arriving in Luanda as it got dark. And so I set off cycling in the pre-dawn light.

Since the days are relatively short here, I needed to keep breaks to a minimum. I cycled for 3-4 hours, stopped for half an hour, and set off again. It was a fairly hilly day, and the scenery looked slightly more appropriate to the altitude than it recently had.

After a fairly uneventful but acceptably long day of 195km, I needed to find somewhere to camp. There was long grass everywhere, which made it difficult. There was a dirt track running parallel to the road and I made my way onto that to see if I could spot anything good. Sections of the track were so overgrown I decided it wasn’t used, and camped on one of the non-overgrown parts. It was only about 2 metres from the road but the long grass kept me from sight.

I set off before dawn again. After I’d ridden a couple kilometres I descended slightly into a valley, where a thick mist stopped me seeing very far. I was glad I’d stopped where I had rather than cycling on! The mist was dense enough that I got soaked.

The first few hours consisted of rolling hills with no major elevation charge.

A typical village

Late in the morning I began a long descent. It was not consistent, but over the next 100km I went from 1400m down pretty much to sea level. The temperature increased significantly; it felt like riding into an oven!

I passed through a couple of fairly large towns, Dondo and Alto Dondo. I’ve started to get a bit more attention as I go north. A few people call me branco (white), but mulatto (mixed race) is more common. Surprisingly mzungu is still occasionally used, too – Swahili for white person, used in East Africa. Far more often than any of these, people simply call me amigo (friend).

Crossing the river Kwanza

When people talk to me, they guess where I’m from. American and Russian seem to be the most popular answers; one guy told me my arm hair looks Russian. One man asked if I was Colombian.

When it came time to finding a campsite, everywhere seemed quite overgrown. I saw a hill with an electrical pylon, and there seemed to be some cleared space up there. I pushed/dragged my bike up there and found a nice spot.

The night was a lot warmer. That morning I’d been a bit reluctant to get out of the sleeping bag, as it was a bit chilly. That night, I didn’t even use my sleeping bag liner. It began to rain a bit in the morning but it was so light I didn’t bother putting the cover on. Besides, I would have been swarmed by the absolutely ridiculous number of mosquitoes.

Because of the mosquitoes, I changed my morning routine a little. Normally I pack away my tent then pack my handlebar roll, starting with the big items – tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat – then packing everything else around them. I didn’t want to be eaten alive by mosquitoes though, so I packed everything else while inside the tent. I put my tent in the framebag and wore a backpack with some things which would usually have gone into the framebag.

I expected the drizzle to clear up quite quickly. It didn’t, but after about an hour I stopped to eat and repack my bags.

Warning triangle, African style. People grab tree branches or whatever they can find to warn people of an obstacle in the road, usually broken down trucks.

It took anothe couple hours for the drizzle to stop, then longer for the clouds to go away. After a while I joined a busier road heading to Luanda, which had more traffic and more potholes.

The road improved after a while and then, as I approached the capital, it became a dual carriageway. With 8 lanes of traffic it wasn’t the nicest cycling experience. It didn’t feel unsafe – Angolan drivers are fairly courteous towards me – but it was very loud and busy.

It got busier than this, of course

There was a Kero supermarket on the other side of the road; thankfully there was a pedestrian overpass to get there. Unfortunately the supermarket was closed – rather, it had yet to open. I tried a couple more supermarkets which were also closed.

For about 40km I cycled this busy road, before reaching the city center where things calmed somewhat. I made my way to Cape Island – really a peninsula. There was a small supermarket there but it was quite expensive and poorly stocked. I bought a couple of things and made my way to my destination. Luanda’s naval club generously let’s travellers camp there for free. After initially mistakenly going to the wrong place (the nautical club), I reached the naval club and was shown somewhere I could camp. Since I hadn’t had much luck finding food, I went out for pizza. It was expensive but, well, so’s everything else.

The next morning, Friday, I set off into the city. After a few attempts I found an open supermarket, another branch of Kero. Like in Lubango, they had reasonably cheap, nice cheese. I bought a kilo to last me a few days of cycling. They had ham as well for the same price, of which I bought another few hundred grams.

Next I went to buy some contact lens solution. I’d bought some in Windhoek but until a few days ago had been using the remnants of my previous bottle. When I started the Windhoek one I found out that it was acidic, and was supposed to be combined with an alkaline solution. I cannot recommend the experience of putting un-neutralised acid in your eyes. I did manage to find some PH-neutral all-in-one solution.

Next I wanted to print some documents. The first place didn’t do that, but a security guard (everywhere has security here) directed me to a print shop. I sorted out the necessary documents and made my way to the Nigerian embassy.

The guys there were friendly. They looked over my documents and said I’d need larger passport photos than that. They said to wait for the lady in charge to check the details for payment. After a while it became clear she was out and wouldn’t be back soon, so I went and got the new passport photos, following directions from the guys at the embassy.

That’s not rainwater…

I returned and the consular officer came and checked my documents. Officially, Nigerian embassies only give visas to residents. The officials here are understanding toward Overlanders, and are willing to be lenient. Other travellers have provided vehicle documents as an alternative. As a cyclist I obviously don’t have such. Initially she wanted a letter from my government saying they approve of my travels. I got her to accept instead that I’d write a letter saying what I was doing and giving various bits of information about me.

She gave me the payment information and I went to a bank, paid the $160, then went and printed out this letter. By this point it was a little later than their closing time for visa processing, but she kindly sorted it anyway. Result!

I was very glad to get the visa here, no other embassy on my route would do it. Another cyclist didn’t come to Luanda, and couldn’t get it elsewhere. He’s cycling through the CAR, Chad and Niger instead. That’s a bit beyond my risk appetite so I’d have flown instead. With the Nigeria visa in hand, I’m pretty confident of being able to go the whole way overland.

Next stop was a bike shop. I got a lot of patches and glue, some bottle cages and a new chain. The guys at the bike shop were very friendly, and offered me a discount on account of being a cycle tourist!

I had a look around for some duct tape, mostly to repair some holes in my tent. I had some gorilla tape, but I think it got lost at some point while turning my bike upside down to repair a puncture. I’d searched in other towns and cities as well but to no avail. They only had some low-quality parcel tape, with very limited adhesive property. I couldn’t find any in Luanda either. It’s very difficult to find higher-quality products in Africa.

I returned to the naval club. It was late afternoon and I hadn’t eaten anything at all that day so I made a good start on the ham, cheese and huge load of bread I’d bought.

Since Friday had been quite busy, I took Saturday off as well for a proper rest day. In the evening there was some fairly loud music playing nearby but that doesn’t really bother me and I slept well regardless.

I packed up and set off at 6AM on Sunday morning, which seemed like a good time for minimal traffic. Indeed, the city center was deserted.

It’s like a different world

For a couple of hours I rode through urban areas. Then I reached a junction and turned north, and was back to the countryside. A sign said I was entering the green zone, which seemed an accurate description.

After some time riding through an empty landscape, I reached a fishing village. This seemed likely to be the last place I could buy food, perhaps for 200km, so I searched out a minimarket and stocked up on biscuits.

Then it was back to green wilderness for several hours. The road was pleasantly quiet, making for enjoyable riding.

A small roadside market

In the late afternoon I passed a petrol station, where I stopped to fill up on water. I rode on, cycling until sunset.

There wasn’t much clear space around; there was a lot of very long grass. However, there were occasional paths leading into the grass. They seemed to be providing access to some sort of underground gas line. The paths were about 2m across, and went up to 20m from the road. I made my way down one of these and set up camp. It wasn’t the most even of ground but I don’t mind that.

I continued riding parallel to the coast for most of the morning, until the town of N’zeto. I stopped there to get some bread, then turned inland. The road was even quieter now as it climbed a few hundred metres into the hills. This meant a welcome end to some flies which had been biting me through my clothes.

Late in the afternoon I reached a town, Tomboco. I was a couple days from the DRC border and wanted to make some photocopies. Tomboco was bigger than I expected and I had no trouble finding a place.

Past Tomboco I took a turning onto a dirt road. Initially it was quite busy with lots of pedestrians and motorcyclists, on their way to or from a couple of small villages.

Past the second village, it got a lot quieter. Both sides of the road were quite dense jungle, so it was difficult to find somewhere to camp. In the end the best I could find was some clear ground right next to the road. Only three motorcyclists went past and by then it was dark; I’m not sure they even saw me. I had to sleep on a bit of a slope, but that’s fine as long as it’s not sloping sideways as well.

In anticipation of the rough road, I deflated my tyres before setting off. The road was quiet – I had it to myself for the first two hours. It was also badly surfaced, at various times mud, gravel, sand or rock. The long grass leaned over into the road, annoyingly at head height.

There were frequent ant roads crossing the human road. Lines of soldier ants stand facing outward while worker ants walk in safety between them. Once, after cycling through one such ant trail, I ended up with several ants on my leg. They bit

After a couple of hours I started to see people. The first was a child, who turned and sprinted in fear when he saw me. Next were a pair of women, who did the same, running off into the long grass to hide. This was a common feature of the day; outside of settlements women and children frequently ran at the sight of me.

I saw a few more people, then crossed a river where a group of women were washing dishes.

Past that I came to a village, surprisingly large considering the rough track. There were a couple of trucks there, which gave me hope the road would be better on the other side of the village. It wasn’t, much.

The road on my map was singletrack for a while. I guess there was an alternative for larger vehicles.

From then on I passed a village once an hour, causing a big disturbance each time. A few people ran and hid, but most yelled out greetings to me, cheering when I waved back.

Around midday I reached a larger settlement, with a local government building and a police station. I stopped to ask the police if there was a shop, and they asked me to write my details. I doubt they’d have bothered if I hadn’t stopped.

Most Angolan schools are buildings like this. They are typically the largest building in the area.

I passed a school, and excited kids gathered around the doors of the classrooms to watch me. When I found a shop, they ran over to watch. I motioned taking a photo, and most ran off, so I did not take one.

The road was somewhat better past this town. People continued to run from me. One woman’s sandals fell off as she ran, and she continued to flee barefoot. It must have been quite painful on the gravel track. Another woman fled, until she reached two men and resumed walking, evidently trusting their machetes to keep her safe from the terrifying foreigner.

In the evening I reached another fairly large village and stopped at a shop. It had a satellite dish and a generator, and loads of people were crowded inside to watch a film.

I made the gesture of taking a photo and a few of the kids surrounding me ran off, but most were ok with it. The man who seemed to be in charge wanted me to take a photo of him inside the shop as well. He also asked if I wanted a woman!

I rode on and, at sunset, reached a junction where, rather to my surprise, there was a tarmac road. It was blocked off but people have made gaps and local pedestrians and motorcyclists use it.

I rode on until the edge of town, and then until there were no people walking on the road. I spotted a dry riverbed, climbed down, and set up camp.

From here it’s just 50km to the border with the DRC. My time in Angola is coming to a close, after about 2000km. I didn’t know much about the country before coming, but I enjoyed my time here.

May 17: 198 km

May 18: 190 km

May 19: 168 km

May 22: 181 km

May 23: 167 km

May 24: 99 km

(Note: I accidentally released this post a couple of days ago, without pictures. Sorry for the confusion)

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