Back in Namibia

From the ridiculous to the sublime:

After our median-strip camp north of Katwitwi on our last night in Angola, we were thrilled to find a campground in Rundu that had large grassy sites. And power! And a camp kitchen with a sink with running water! And an amenities block with hot water for showers! We felt like we’d landed in the lap of luxury.

The Sarusungu Lodge is about 3kms out of Rundu, on the Okavango River. We had river views and could see Angola on the other side. It was close enough to town that Greg rode his bike there a couple of times, once to buy some things and then to book Clancy in for a wheel alignment.

We spent the weekend at Sarusungu. Greg did some repairs to Clancy, with the assistance of one of the campground’s groundsmen, who offered to lend tools, suggestions and probably learnt a fair bit about fibreglass in the process. I wish I’d taken a photo of the 2 of them sitting together on our green camping mat, peering up at the hole in the wheelwell and figuring out how best to repair it.

Meanwhile, I did many, many loads of handwashing, and felt very lucky indeed to have a sink with cold, clean running water and not have to trudge up to 2kms to get that water from the nearest tank/river/creek/dam/puddle. And then to be able to hang it on a clothesline I’d strung between several trees. With pegs! Angolan women spread theirs out on sand or rocks or grass or fence posts … no pegs there. Everything dried quickly so by the end of the day we had lots of clean clothes and bedlinen.

We really noticed a difference in Rundu, compared with when we visited 4 years ago. Back then it was a dusty town with only a couple of sealed roads. This time, lots of the town’s streets have been sealed, there’s new housing, new shops, new businesses, even a private hospital!

The first time we drove through this part of the country, we thought it was all quite primitive, with the compounds of thatched huts made of sticks or mud. Now we think they are all so neat and tidy after some of the things we saw in Angola. Perspective.

Last night we stayed at another good campground, the Mobola River Lodge just a bit west of Divundu. Once again, it’s on the Okavango River with lovely grassy sites and excellent amenities – power, outdoor shower and camp kitchen at each campsite, and we can see across to Angola. Seems like we’re not quite ready to let Angola go. When we were at Sarusungu, I heard a baby cry over  in the Angolan village cross the river. It was the first Angolan baby I’d heard cry! They spend most of their early lives being carried on their mothers’ backs, so their needs can be met quickly while the mothers are doing other things -carrying water, looking after their older kids, working in fields. Extreme multi-tasking!

We’ve added a new appliance to our kitchen kit – a single electric hotplate so that we don’t have to use our gas stove when we camp in campgrounds. I cooked dinner on it last night and am currently ‘baking’ our frypan bread rolls on it and it’s good. I just need to get used to the slower response time of cooking with electricity, and the temperature control, but haven’t burnt anything … so far!

We’re heading south across the border to Botswana today, and will probably be offline until we get to Maun in a couple of days. I love Botswana and have been looking forward to spending some more time there, in part of the country we haven’t seen yet.

Camped at Sarusungu in Rundu Namibia
extending the wheel arch one side because I didn’t make it long enough. The wheel was bottoming out on the suspension and rubbing away the fibreglass in one spot.
Clancy getting wheel aligned in Rundu
Camped at Mobola River Lodge
The Okavango River from the campsite
Sunset over the Okavango

 

 

Leaving Angola

We did it! 3 weeks in Angola and we didn’t get sick, injured, arrested or robbed. We really enjoyed (most of) our time there, and feel like we got to see a good cross-section of the country and managed to keep away from the capital Luanda which doesn’t seem to have anything much to recommend it. The Scottish oil worker we met at Arco lives there and he told us not to bother.

We’ve spent the last few  days without internet, so let’s have a quick catch-up.

We thought that rather than just head back over the Santa Clara border, we’d see a bit more of the country and cross over further east at Katuitwi / Katwitwi. Greg had saved a trip report of someone’s Angola tag-along tour from a couple of years ago and he gave good information about places they had camped along the way, the condition of the road south to the border and how long it took the group of 15 at each border post. The Angolan post had been recently completed when the author crossed it in 2016, and it had taken the group 8 hours to drive the last 250-ish kms on an unsealed road. So, slow going but we’ve been used to that in Angola.

Blergh, big mistake! The road must have deteriorated since 2016 and it took us a day and a half to do what the tag along group had done in 8 hours. To any overlanders reading this, Don’t Do It! Cross over at Santa Clara or Ruacana.

The author had also very helpfully mentioned a couple of quarries they had camped at along the way, and we stayed at them too, but as we realised the last section would take us more than a day, we had to find somewhere to camp about 60kms north of the border post. In this still-heavily landmined area we couldn’t risk just going off-road and finding something, and there were no convenient tracks for us to just head down, so we ended up on a narrow piece of land between 2 tracks where vehicles had driven to get from one to another. Basically, we camped on a median strip!

The border crossing at both the Angolan and Namibian posts was pretty easy, once we actually found where to go at the spiffy newish mostly unused Angolan post. There were 3 entry booths and an enormous commercial building, a bit like the one at Santa Clara,but it was all sitting empty and overgrown with weeds. No signage, so we just drove until we were stopped by a string across the road, then had to be shown where to find the single immigration desk hidden at the back of a building. It all went smoothly but we were a bit baffled that the customs lady insisted on inspecting nearly all our storage boxes. Um, we’re leaving, what could be in any of those boxes that might be of interest? Anyway, her English was good so I gave her my 2 Women’s Weekly mags. It’s such a quiet post, I thought she might need something to do to keep occupied.

The Namibian side was fine, but Greg had to show the Customs lady there how to fill in our carnet as they don’t get many of them. I noticed on the Immigration officer’s daily log that we were number 4 & 5 to pass through, at about 10.30am. And then when the policeman was checking our paperwork, Greg noticed that ours was the first vehicle for the day. For some reason, even though we had paid our road tax when we entered from South Africa and it was valid for 3 months, we had to pay it again because we were entering from Angola.

And then we were back in Namibia, driving on the left hand side of the road, on a sealed road with line markings and street signs and all that stuff were used to. It was bliss!

This is getting a bit long, so I’ll just add a few general comments about Angola – everyone we met, spoke to and even drove past seems happy and friendly. As a nation the population has a lovely disposition despite, or maybe because of, the incredible hardship of that long civil war and the ongoing poverty amongst the majority.

One of the saddest things we saw were small patches of shredded casava/manioc/yucca being dried on the margin of the main sealed road south before it became a rutted nightmare – what the South Africans call the ‘yellow lane’, the safety or breakdown lane. Better-off locals would dry it in flat baskets or on large squares of fabric within their compound. The poorest people just dried it direct on the bitumen and hope that no vehicle drives over it. When the manioc is dried, it is scraped up, pounded to flour and then mixed with water to make a grey porridgey gloopy mass that is consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner with small amounts of spice, meat and vegetables. Maize is treated in a similar way.

We saw so many abandoned or incomplete projects, buildings, roads, bridges, multi-storey hotels. This is not a poor country, thanks to its oil, but mismanagement, waste and probably corruption is on a scale we have never seen before.

Would we recommend Angola as a travel destination? Unless you’re an experienced Overlander and have visited other African countries … no. But if you are an Overlander .. absolutely. We’ll remember those 3 weeks for the rest of our lives.

casava/manioc/yucca being dried on the margin of the road
The terrible road to the Namibian border
One of the many abandoned buildings along the road
One of the few vehicles plying this road, a 6 wheel drive truck – broken down
The eroded sandy road to the border
Filling up the tanks with water from the Kubango / Okavango River

 

Getting water from the Kubango / Okavango River
One of the abandoned businesses that failed because the road building never finished
Abandoned construction equipment including a D6 Caterpillar and a abandoned road construction camp
Shower time at the sand quarry where we camped
Charcoal burning
Every cellphone tower had a guard. They usually lived in a grass hut, next to the latest in 21st century technology.
A frog that sheltered under our steps at the quarry campsite
Camped on a median strip, the last night in Angola
Our route in Angola
Camped at Rundu, the first camping ground after 21 days

 

 

Meeting the locals

We now have our e-visas for Angola, thanks to a lot of hard work on Greg’s part – scanning, applying online and emailing. The process was (fairly) straightforward, but there were a few hoops to jump through, in terms of getting the scan sizes right. Lonely Planet’s Thorntree forum has a very helpful thread/post on how to do it.

So, we are now committed to crossing the Namibian/Angola border at Oshikango/Santa Clara on Saturday. Distance from Windhoek to the border is around 750kms, which is 2 days driving for us. We did 420kms to Tsumeb yesterday, so we’ll have a shorter drive today. When we reach the northern border, we will have driven the length of Namibia, all on the B1 highway. Some parts south are pretty ordinary – just a narrow strip of bitumen with a line down the middle. And then there’s the new bit just north of Windhoek – new road, still being built, 2 lanes on either side, lovely.

There’s a police checkpoint a few kms north of Windhoek and we were stopped by a young woman wanting to check that we had paid our road tax. We had paid the N$295 AUD$29.50 at the southern border, so we just had to show her the official bit of paper, plus Greg’s passport and driver’s licence and that was all good.

There’s a particular form of greeting here that I’d forgotten about until our exchange with this lovely young woman

Her: Good morning, how are you?
Us: Good thanks
and then before we had the chance to enquire after her own wellbeing, she replied: I’m good also
Then got down to the reason for stopping us. It’s a friendly, efficient way of getting pleasantries out of the way. She also had a quick look in Clancy, because he’s interesting both in terms of where’s he’s from – South Australian numberplates, AUS sticker on the back – and what might possibly be behind the side flaps and door.

So, our first brush with a Namibian official was fine.

Later in the day we stopped at a SuperSpar in Otjiwarongo, which is near a couple of popular national parks – Waterberg Plateau to the east, and Etosha to the north. A lot of overlanders, travellers, tourists and buses stop there to get fuel, food and whatever else they need. The SuperSpar is big and very well-stocked, including a whole aisle of imported German food in cans, packets and jars. Anna, Henry and any other Germans reading this – it’s worth a visit if you’re missing anything from home.

As we were parking, a local man went up to Greg and started talking, asking his name, how it’s spelt, where he’s from, why we’re there. Then another man started the same with me, asking the names of my kids and if I had any grandkids. By the time we had locked the car and camper, the men had carved our names on pieces of stone that they wanted us to buy. Our standard reply to this kind of sales pitch is ‘we aren’t allowed to bring it into our country’, and these days I just don’t buy souvenirs, I don’t need any more stuff. So that went on for a short while, then I found a car guard who happened to be carrying a big stick, asked him to watch Clancy and we went into the retail haven that is SuperSpar. We didn’t buy much, having already stocked up at Food Lover’s in Windhoek – cold drinks, a South African power board, razors for my hairy legs (just checking to see who’s really reading this – ha!). Our stone carvers were still waiting for us when we got back to Clancy, but quickly changed to just asking outright for money ‘for bread to feed their children’. No, sorry guys, we don’t give money to beggars, although if they had just asked me to buy a loaf of bread before we went into the supermarker, I probably would have.

And so … onwards, towards Tsumeb and our final and most interesting encounter of the day.

We got about 80kms up the road and were stopped by another police officer. This wasn’t a checkpoint, just a single police car with a couple of cops parked under a tree near an intersection. He told Greg that we had been driving 86kms in an 80km zone. The speed limit on the B1 is 120kms, unless otherwise signposted, but this particular short stretch of road is 80kms because a lot of heavy vehicles turn into and out of the intersection.
Okay, so we missed the 80km sign, but Clancy doing 86kms on a flat bit of road is extremely unlikely, he just can’t go that fast unless we’re going downhill with a tail wind. Anyway, Greg was very apologetic and contrite. Cop asked for his driver’s licence, but no other paperwork, which seemed odd. He told us it was a N$400 AUD$40 fine, and that we would have to pay it at the town we had just left, 80kms south.
Us: oh gosh, well okay, that’s what we’ll do then. How do we tell the station what we have to pay?
Him: Oh, I’ll give you the paperwork, but you have to drive 80kms to pay it because we don’t have a receipt book here.
He made a big point of what a hassle it would be for us to drive all that way back.
Eventually he gave up waiting for us to just offer to give him the money, and he let us go without paying, so he could move on to some other poor sucker who would cough up on the spot.
We didn’t realise while it was happening, but as we were driving away, we figured it was a con. Greg was definitely not driving 86kms/hr, but because we appeared to be prepared to drive back to pay the fine, the scam came undone. A lot of people would have been needing to get to Etosha or wherever they were going before dark and would have just paid … we were intending to get to Tsumeb, but that wasn’t essential, so … sorry sir, we don’t give money to people in uniform just because they ask for it.

To anyone reading who might get caught in a similar scam in the future – tell the cop you’ll go with him to his police station so it can all be sorted out. If it’s legit, you’re doing the right thing. If it’s a scam, he’ll back right down and let you go on your way.
We stayed at a lovely campground just south of the town in Tsumeb, part of the Kupferquelle Resort. Grassy sites, lots of trees, swimming pool and probably heaps of other stuff that we haven’t found.

Camped at Tsumeb, its getting dark earlier and earlier as we get closer to the equator
Some slightly different Jam flavours