Angola turned out to be more of a challenge than any of us expected. I suppose that the primary worry about Angola always was, judging by previous trans travelers’ stories, obtaining the visa in the first place. That was no problem. Piece of cake in fact, and cheaper than we had originally budgeted for. After that we didn’t stop to consider what the country actually had in store for us. 

The border was time consuming but ultimately painless. This was a welcome relief after spending 3 hours at the D.R.C. border. Before we knew it, we were off! Off on what became the WORST road of the trip. The logging road was just a warm up for what Angola threw at us. It didn’t take long before we had our first flat tire of the trip. I, myself, thought that was pretty impressive that we’d gotten that far without one. But a flat tire is a flat tire and we had to stop and change it. 

That fixed, we carried on but it wasn’t long until an air hose burst under the truck. Gav and Mac fixed it up with a bit of hose and duct tape quickly so we could avoid the oncoming rainstorm. Once again we bumped along the “road” slowly, slowly careful not to break anything on the truck including Dave’s back. We pulled up at a small village and asked to camp there for the night. 

We must have been the biggest thing the village had seen in years. Every man, woman, child, goat, and canine turned out to watch German and Carolina cook tuna patties. I suspect they’ll be talking about it for years, the time the “Tribe of Mustachioed Men” visited the village. 

In case I haven’t mentioned it, the men of M772OOP have decided to don mustaches until Cape Town. It’s unsettling. Really. One man with a mustache is fine. Three men in a group with mustaches, you wouldn’t really think about it. Fifteen mustaches sitting around a campfire or lining up at an immigrations office. I don’t know why but it just doesn’t feel normal. Anyway……

Bright and early the next morning we departed and we eventually ran into our first bog. After D.R.C. and Congo we had become quite proficient at rectifying these types of situations. It took a lot of tree branches, a few rocks, and a bit of time but we made it out. The road ahead, however, was very rough traveling and required some seemingly impossible maneuvering by Gav and more physical labor on the part of the rest of us. We filled in ruts, and dug out narrow passages just like on the logging road. We were not making good time. 

The second night we pulled up in another village. Despite the fact that we encountered a bit of rain, water sources were scarce in the area. Those of us who needed a wash had to resort to a recently formed rain puddle to clean ourselves in. Jerry cans for cooking and cleaning had to be filled up in another cloudy rain puddle. 

That night was great despite the tough day. All the local kids came over to the truck and we entertained them in exchange for them entertaining us. It started out with Phill introducing the Village People to the village people with the “YMCA”. Now, Phill’s a Kiwi and he taught them the Kiwi version of the hit song. 
“Why…” He would say
The kids would repeat him “Why…”

The kids would sing one of their songs for us and we’d come back at them with something else. Mr. Paterson gave them a rousing rendition of “Tie Me Kangaroo Down”. Lucy and Chris showed them the Charleston. 

This happened to be Greg’s birthday as well, so Sarah taught them to sing “Happy Birthday To You”. They did a good job for only just learning a song in a foreign language. I don’t think Greg will have another birthday where he won’t look back fondly on the time he was serenaded with “Horee Burgha Oo Bao” by a group of Angolan children. Horee burhga, Greg. 

The next day: The road didn’t improve. It got worse. It got wetter. On day 3 we came up against the biggest challenge we’ve encountered on the trip. There was as stretch of mud. It appeared that if we kept our momentum up we wouldn’t have a problem. We had a problem. We sunk right down and bellied out, our left rear tire was more than half buried. That didn’t go exactly how we had hoped. 

Most of us got right in there and started digging. And digging. This was just a reflex for us now. Pete and I were well and truly filthy after crawling under the truck and trying to dig out her front axle. Mac and Gav did their best to jack the truck but the mud just kept swallowing up the blocks we used to support the jacks. We attempted to put the sand-mats under the jacks. That just bent the sand-mats. This was not looking good. 

We were in the middle of nowhere. No trees, no shelters, no villages, no beer. This was a dire situation. Mike, Phill, Mr. Paterson, and Sean decided the hike off into the unknown (OK, not really, just the last village we passed, several kilometers away, where we thought we may have seen some heavy machinery.). What a sight it was to see the four of them waving heroically from the back of a large dump truck a couple hours later. This looked like salvation. 

It wasn’t, unfortunately. The truck tried to pull us out. With one more tug after we made some adjustments we could have made it. They wouldn’t wait for us though. They took off yelling over their shoulders that they’d be back sometime tomorrow with a bigger truck. Oh! The frustration. 

It was 21 hours before we finally emerged from the dismal bog. The next day a large tractor did come and managed to pull us out for the price of about $30 and a half carton of cigarettes. 

It was a rough day, being stuck in the mud and the heat. We lost 2 in the process (temporarily). One individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, was feeling less than stellar over these few days in Angola. By the time we got stuck he was feeling horrible and decided to hitch a ride to the next town with a hospital. We could pick him and his companion up if and when we ever got un-stuck. We met them in Tomboco and found out that tests confirmed he was our first malaria victim of the trip. 

Once again, we thought we had done pretty well: we had had 2 cases of dysentery (myself and Gav, who may have become a little too accustomed to drinking tap water in Africa), and a few nasty stomach bugs and colds that had gone around the truck but no malaria. By this point in the trans, there’s usually been at least one case. We thought that we were on the home stretch, that we’d just been extremely lucky. Nope.

Now, the word malaria strikes fear into most any traveler (or traveler’s parent, friends) who hears it. Most of the time the prophylactics work, they’re definitely worth taking, but every once and a while they don’t do their job. Malaria can be a terrible, not to mention fatal, disease. But malaria is certainly not always the monster most people think it is. The real malaria monster preys on the stubborn who don’t go for treatment or, more commonly, on locals who unfortunately can’t always get to a suitable health care facility or who don’t have the funds to pay for tests or treatment. If it’s recognized and attended to early it is quite easily treatable. For the traveler who has access to transportation to a hospital and money to pay for the treatment, this isn’t a problem and the suffering is limited to something akin to a really bad flu. Gav and I have had malaria 3 times each since arriving in Africa and we’re still alive and kicking, as is our malaria victim #1, fully recovered now. 

Our Anglolan adventures didn’t stop with the Massive Bog of 2010, though. Three years ago a suspension spring on the truck broke. It was a huge ordeal. It took Gav and two other men a whole day just to get the U bolts undone. One of our greatest fears ever since has been breaking another spring. Gav was taking it slow and easy over the bumps and ruts but the constant battering was just too much for our poor truck. We hit a relatively mild bump.

Gav and I just looked at each other with identical looks of dread and defeat. We knew. 

Indeed, one of the springs had completely sheared in two. We pulled up at the next village and started work. This was going to be no simple task. The first hurdle was retrieving the spare spring from the storage area inside the truck, under all the firewood.

The men of the truck were able to get it out and pass it around to the side of the truck. Sean and Mr. Paterson were lugging it around to the side when a hand slipped and Gav’s finger got stuck. He was left with a very deep cut that Sarah and Carolina attended to. He decided to hitch a ride to Caxito, the next big town and get it stitched up. Mr. Smith was feeling a bit under the weather decided to join him and see a doctor, just in case. He turned out to be our malaria victim #2. 

At this point, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves “Where are we going!? And why are we in this hand-basket?!”. All the punches were hitting us at once. Most everyone was in high spirits, oddly enough. At this point in the trip almost all of us had become familiar with the philosophy of TIA. This is Africa: You just have to roll with those punches and enjoy the ride. 

The spring took several hours to fix. We lost about a day to the repairs but it took a lot less time than we anticipated. Thank goodness! 

We arrived in Caxito and picked up Swiss Mike (who had accompanied the guys into Caxito in an effort to find an internet café) and the two invalids and carried on. Suddenly, the road became a magnificent, modern highway. This seemed too good to be true. It was. There would be 100 kilometer stretches of this beautiful road and then another 100 kilometers of terrible, rough, nightmarish glorified goat paths. It was the most schizophrenic road system I have ever seen. It went on like this for an eternity. 

Had the roads not been so dreadful and had we been allowed to stay more than 5 days in the country, Angola may have been one of the most spectacular places we visited. The people were friendly, the countryside beautiful, the police stops tolerable. We had to zoom right through it all, though, as 5 days was no time at all to travel 2000km, especially tackling the roads and problems we did. 

After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to the Namibian border. This was a major step for me and Gav. Back on our “home” turf. For the rest of us, some of the bigger adventures were just around the corner…..