The Road Chose Me – Southern Angola
Ecology meets economy
From Kalandula Falls I move south through the heart of Angola. Every morning I’m greeted with a spectacular sunrise before meeting friendly people and seeing beautiful places. In the evening I find out-of-the-way wild camping and enjoy the evenings with very little humidity. The dense West African jungle has finally given way to open forests. Farther from the capital, signs of the civil war are more evident, with destroyed bridges, bullet holes in buildings, and even a disabled Russian tank sitting on the side of the road.
In the city of Benguela, I extend my one month Angolan tourist visa. The process is not difficult or expensive, and one of the officers speaks English and is happy to help me through all the forms and copies. After about two hours and multiple copies, I submit the application along with USD 9, and the extension is ready two days later.
Needing to exchange some cash into Angolan kwanzas I drive around town and soon spot the tell-tale guys standing on the street corner with fancy-looking knapsacks. When I nod they quickly come to the jeep and we get down to business changing money. I want to change large amount, so they have to call their boss, an amiable and jovial guy. He is carrying a monster stack of bills – I estimate it’s worth over USD 10k.
I sit in the driver’s seat, and we negotiate with the calculator on his iPhone because I can’t seem to get the big numbers across in Spanish (they speak Portuguese). Soon we agree, and the big guy is more than happy to count off a massive stack of bills and hand them right to me. He patiently waits while I count the entire stack twice, all while still holding my US dollars. When satisfied, I hand over my stack, and he counts it all twice. When we are both happy, we warmly shake hands and thank each other before parting ways.
I have always imagined changing money on the street would be a tense and scary affair, always worried about being ripped off. My experience here has been typical of my entire time in West Africa – extremely friendly, relaxed and not a worry in the world.
In the extreme south, I prepare to venture deep into the Namib desert, close to the Namibian border. The maps and GPS show few roads and not a single store or gas station for a very, very long way. For days I drive through the most spectacular desert scenery of my life – wide-open sandy sections, rocky canyons, small rocky hills – absolutely everything. In the late afternoon, I pull off the road a hundred yards and make camp. I never see another vehicle for the entire time I’m out, so I am not at all worried about someone stumbling across my camp.
I endeavor to find what is possibly the world’s biggest welwitschia plant. These plants can be over 2,000 years old (this one is maybe the oldest in the world) and are fascinating. Usually, they are barely a few inches off the ground, though for whatever reason this one has done well. The stars at night are staggering, and the silence in the desert is absolute. I make a point to walk up to the nearby hills at sunset and sunrise when the scorching heat of the day fades away.
I set out on tiny tracks to locate the Rock Paintings of Tchitundo-Hulo. After some doubt and a scramble through spiny bushes, I am happy to see the first of the rock paintings right on the side of the hill. They are mostly circles with lines and dots, and I even spot a few drawings that might be four-legged animals. Out in the open, the art is mostly carvings; designs and patterns scratched deep into the rock. The exact age of these features is unknown, and are estimated to be around 20,000 years old.
Angola has been just breathtaking, and I’m sure I will be back!
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