We took off northwards rolling between two walls of mopani bush along a dusty single lane track towards a destination unknown to any of us. The grand Angolan Adventure has begun.
We have covered some four and a half thousand kilometres since leaving home and in Angola we have taken a route from Ruacana to Cahama, to Lubango, north-west to the coast, descending two thousand two hundred metres to Benguela and Lobito, south to Dombe Grande, Lucira and Namibe. The driving has been arduous but then we have had some small surprises of newly laid bitumen, thanks to the Chinese. Access to the coves on the coast is very rough. To travel here you have to be totally self-sufficient and have experience of remote driving, without support. Mercifully the Crowther families have been under cars and bushwhacking for generations. Water is accessed in some villages through their wells; fuel supplies outside the major towns is unreliable. Markets have been the source of bread, fruit and vegetables.
This is an unlucky country. The ravages of war have stripped the slightest prospect of improving the majority of Angolans lives. Comfort and poverty stand only steps apart. Yet, as elsewhere in Africa, we are greeted with beaming smiles as we creep, jolt and bump through the countryside.
At checkpoints, of which there are many, entering and exiting small towns, we were stopped on occasions. As we approached the coastline the police have become more relaxed, waving us past, sporting shining aviator sunglasses. The World Cup is blaring out of these stations through grainy television sets and battered radios. Once, when we were stopped in the interior, a glum, vacant looking Angolan with skin so black that it shades towards violet, achingly fills out names and passport details on a dirty scrap of paper. We wait in the sweating heat patiently, and the girls in the party entertain the local children with some improvised dance moves.
The infrastructure for tourism is non-existent and since crossing the border, we have seen no foreign vehicles. Our fly-camps have been in dry riverbeds, on the edge of granite koppies and expansive beaches. We have approached locals, as a courtesy, to seek permission to camp. As we are a curiosity the herdsmen and local children will often hover some yards away, unobtrusively. We have seen next to no wildlife and birds. According to reports the Cubans, during the war, used to climb into helicopters and shoot anything that moved. The game has been decimated and is not recovering.
As we drive south from Benguela we hit the desert; white and glimmering like a salt spill, without a blade of grass, devoid of redemption. Settlements are stuck together lackadaisically with clay and dung, hammered out of plywood and tin, swarming, stuffy and miserable. Local marketwomen set out their wares on scraps of linen: meaty bananas, hens eggs, red pili-pili, dried corn.
So far our aquaculture specialist, Señor Stubbs, has been heading the table for fish; Charlie has been shredding his fingers on banks of giant mussels; Wendy’s cackle and energy has been keeping the local tribes alert ; Julie has willingly absorbed a needle in Lobito, administered by a student doctor; James has been master of the Dogcatcher, dismantling the carburettor on a remote beach and leading us through the routes; Winnie has been spouting forth Afrikaans jokes around the fire; Catherine has mastered the art of washing hair under a village water pump. The children have amused themselves inconspicuously and thown themselves into activities with relish.
The trek has breached its half way point and we have been joined at Flamingo Bay, halfway between Namibe and Tombua by Mike and Sabine Bosman, Lisa, Aimee, Nicky Crowther and an old Angolan hand Gerhard Franken. Mike has flown them up to join us for a few days of fishing and bring in some welcome provisions, bubbly on ice and an enormous chocolate cake which has passed through three airport scanners and perplexed customs officials.
We head south on the 29th of June to tackle the remote and treacherous sand beach to the Kunene mouth with some trepidation, as in the last few days two vehicles were swamped by the Atlantic: one recovered and one has joined the wrecks off the Skeleton Coast. A bedraggled couple wait at Flamingo, who have been offered seats with Mike to Cape Town tomorrow. All for now… All in good spirits and looking forward to the adventurous route to the mouth.