The windowless, mudbrick room that sufficed as DRC customs was in stark contrast to the clean, modern office with functioning printers that constituted the Angolan customs office. It was absurd that within the space of twenty arbitrary meters things could be so different.
Nomadik and Co: From Ireland to South Africa - Part VIMotorcycle Diaries
The square-edged slab of tarmac that extended into our future demarcated the border between the DRC and Angola. Right on the line, the washed-out, haggard tracks of the DRC ended and Angola began.
Exiting the DRC involved searching our bags for I don’t know what, and once into Angola, we needed cash to pay the temporary import visas for the bikes. Unlike every crossing before, there was no border economy here. There were no hustlers hawking goods, fuel, candy, assistance or currency. It seemed that few people wanted to go where we had just come from, and few people were welcome from where we had just come from.
Richard eventually managed to find someone willing to exchange US$50 and we were on our way, purring along the smooth pavement, winding through the rolling landscape. It was refreshing to be able to sit down again and to be in a country where there seemed to be due process and relative order.
As we crested a rise, we saw a checkpoint up ahead. Normally we would ride right through checkpoints. It was easier than the back and forth of refusing to pay bribes and “taxes”. But with the efficient customs and relative order at the border, I felt that maybe this wasn’t the place to run fast and loose. Unable to coordinate with Richard over bluetooth due to flat headset batteries, I decided to stop and get a feel for the situation.
As we stopped, two men in uniform with fingers very obviously resting on the triggers of their weapons stepped into the road and immediately turned off the ignition and removed the keys from both bikes. A moment later, a red car screeched to a halt and the man Richard had exchanged money with jumped out briskly.
The man was agitated and spoke loudly to the soldiers, pulling out the fifty dollar bill Richard had given him, waving his arms in our direction. If the situation wasn’t tense before, it was now. No-one spoke any English, or French for what it was worth. As a former Portuguese colony, Angolan is a Portuguese speaking country. One soldier took the bill and inspected it, holding it up to the sun to discern something we couldn’t know. He came over and began questioning Richard. With my travelers Spanish I was able to glean that the man thought he had been given a fake. And he wasn’t happy about it. It was a brand new bill. Not a crease in it and carried all the way from the UK but he didn’t like it.
I told Richard to calmly take his wallet and offer the man another note. If they took all our money, well then we were just going to get to it quicker than if we held out, but it seemed to prove we weren’t shysters might help to calm the situation. Richard offered him a slightly crumpled note, not quite as crisp as the original. He studied it and seemed pleased enough, giving back the original bill. And like that the tension eased. It turned out that the clean bills Richard had gotten from the bank had yet to make it to this part of Africa as yet so any updates to the watermarks were unfamiliar.
Now that things had settled down, the soldiers relaxed their trigger fingers and everyone was in a jovial mood. They found it incredible that we had ridden from Europe. Through broken Portuguese and Spanish, we were very welcome in their country and they wished us a great voyage.
Relieved, but shaken we set off again. Of all the checkpoints that we had run, we couldn’t have known how it would have ended if we decided to blast through this one. Glad to have listened to our spidey senses, we put it behind us and kept on the throttle to put some more miles down. We had four and a half days to travel almost 2000kms. It was totally possible without any issues, but if we have learned anything, it is to get it while the getting is good.
We made a good pace through Angola, camping with locals and otherwise only stopping for fuel and food. The only real hiccup proved to be 200kms of fesh fesh—dirt the consistency of talcum powder—that concealed rocks and engulfed us when passed by trucks rumbling in the other direction. It was hard going and dangerous. After 100kms we had to stop and clean our air filters.
It proved to be the exception thankfully and we made it to near the Namibian on our fourth day. With the sun beginning to dip in earnest, we made what would be our last camp with local farmers. We approached a collection of small mud huts, and like every time before that, we were welcomed to pitch our tent. We shared some sweet biscuits we had in our panniers and they shared their water well and the heat from their fire which was necessary as we had climbed to almost 1000m above sea level.
Progressively the temperature had dropped as we crossed Angola, but that night Richard’s small sleeping bag didn’t cut it. The tropics were now long behind us and the cold of the desert in Namibia awaited. Pounding grain with the ladies helped to warm our bones in the morning, but Richard was adamant he needed some extra insulation so we set about finding him a blanket to top up his sleeping bag.
After spending the morning scouring the local market, the best we could find that was warm yet small enough to pack on the motorcycle was a children’s blanket with a princess on it. It was a comic contrast to the road-hardened rider that Richard had become but it seemed it would do the trick. In a vain attempt to defer some of the ridiculousness, he proclaimed it was a gift for his unborn daughter back in Ireland.
With the penultimate country in sight and no more time left on our Angolan visas, we crossed into Namibia near Ruacana. While we would certainly miss the intimate experiences with people, we were also excited to be in a country with some more modern conveniences and hopefully some other travellers to exchange tales with.
After the near-direct line we had drawn through Africa in a bid to make it to Cape Town in three months we had prioritized making progress over detours and sightseeing. But Namibia was to be our reward for staying the course—the icing on the cake. The big game animals of Africa awaited, the vast dunes of Sossusvlei loomed on a distant horizon and the Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in all of Africa, lay ahead. And beyond that, South Africa and our final destination, Cape Town.