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March 14, 2013 / samwilson60

In search of some downtime by the sea

We savoured the air conditioning and ‘free’ breakfast in the morning, then went to stock up at the supermarket before attempting to give the police the slip leaving town. We’d seen supermarkets in various countries, containing a wide variety of things we recognise and things we don’t, things that we wished we could splash out on and things that simply made us laugh out loud. In Angola it was Um-Bongo, much to Sam’s dismay. He’d remembered the adverts of old, it seems, and had thought how funny it would be to drink it in the Congo. Angola was infuriatingly close but not close enough, so we stuck to the staples of Laughing Cow, tuna and ketchup.

After consoling Sam and leaving the supermarket, we drove round in so many circles we couldn’t remember where the police we were trying to avoid would be but somehow we made it out onto the coast road without any escorts. The road to N’zeto was smooth, fast tarmac but the town itself was a dive. We’d been planning to camp on the cliffs but ended up stuck on the half-built road to Luanda with no means of getting off the corrugations and to the sea. What started as a hugely upbeat, ‘We’re loose in Angola’ day turned into the most frustrating in a long time, driving for what felt like a lifetime along what felt like the worst excuse for a road we’d seen to date.

We kept coming up with ideas, the plan having been to have a short drive followed by a long afternoon of pottering, relaxing and digesting our surroundings, but time and again our hopes were dashed. In the end it was getting late and we were running out of options – any minute now we could pass a checkpoint that would turn into a full blown escort service, taking us into Luanda into the night and no doubt to the most expensive hotel in town – so we settled for a much more economical hedgerow, off a piste not a million miles from the sea but not within view of it either. Almost as soon as we’d stopped, we were in a better mood and soon got excited again about what might follow (Angola is a very large country). If it hadn’t been for the insects, this would actually have made for quite a nice camp, but as it was we were on the move again by dawn, desperate for a more successful second day.

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We carefully plotted our route for day two to maximise our chances of a better wild camp and minimise the risk of disappointment. This meant skirting the edge of Luanda to a peninsula just south of the capital. The chances of a nice camp here looked high but we also had a surfer’s lodge about 50km further south as a fall back.

Once on real roads, the driving in itself was much less frustrating and the Luanda ring road was as easy as they get. The police rarely stopped us, and if they did it was to check nothing more than the driving license, so by lunchtime we were by the beach. Our planned route to the tip of the peninsula was intersected by a large village and what tracks there were looked very sandy. Having just pumped up the tyres that day and unsure what we would find on the other side even if we did make it through, we cut our loses at the village and turned back – expecting to make use of the surfer’s lodge after all, but happy we’d given it a go nonetheless, if only for the surprise flamingos (a new one for the silhouettes window).

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On our way back to the mainland, we tried just one more track, which led down to a beach lined with fisherman’s shelters but no people, or fish, in sight. Set back from the sandy beach was a great expanse of grass, perfect for an afternoon of relaxation and a cool night. But the day was also still young, leaving plenty of time for the local police or population to scupper our plans and force us back onto the road, potentially quite late in the day. After much um-ing and ah-ing we decided that the potential benefits outweighed the risk of disappointment so staked our claim to the perfect spot. The tarp came out for the first time in months and we felt great. We were even loving the (gentle) rain!

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Before long, a quad bike appeared on the horizon, clearly heading in our direction. We could make out the tell-tale policeman’s hat from afar and got up to greet him. We would do our utmost to make friends but were fairly confident he’d shoo us off. It had seemed a little too good to be true, after all. But as we stumbled through our repertoire of Spanglish and sign language, we fairly quickly ascertained that he had no problem whatsoever with us camping wherever we wanted, for as long as we wanted. He just had to know who was around and check everyone was OK.

This was unheard of in our book and better than we could ever have hoped. We thanked him as best we could and then kicked back. For the first time since leaving Libreville, we had some real down time. Blog-writing, wood-carving, pebble-picking… it was bliss, as was the sea.

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As the sun was setting and we were listing all the things we were grateful for and happy about at this particular moment, Sam jumped up on the roof for a photo of the rather spectacular sunset. This in itself is not unusual, but it had been raining so the roof was wet and after a few minutes of picture-taking, there was an almighty thud. Then nothing.

The first, most obvious, fear was that Sam had knocked himself out or worse. Sam’s apparent only fear was for the camera. And yet there was barely a scratch on either. It took us both a surprisingly long time to notice the real damage.

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Oh fiddlesticks (or words to that effect)!

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One Comment

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  1. leelee / Mar 15 2013 10:33 am

    yeeeeek! (on that last pic!)

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