From DR Congo to Angola! - the last of Central Africa
It's a strange thing to realize that going to every country in the world isn't exactly about that at all
So last week I left you in Kinshasa, DRC, while I was still staying in Liliane's house waiting for Andrew to arrive. Andrew and I had a chance meeting in Brazil back in 2014, when we shared a bus for a while. To my great shame I don't remember much of that. But my memory started coming back after we finally met in Kinshasa. What I do remember is that Andrew had provided me with great lengths of help since October 2015. I was struggling to get the paperwork and permissions to cross the Congo River and Andrew reached out to me over Facebook. Later on I was struggling to get a visa for Equatorial Guinea. Andrew was again helpful with ideas and contacts. So it was great to have the chance to see him in Kinshasa, where he works for the UN.
I'm not going to bore you all with the long list of kindness and hospitality I received from Liliane (Andrews landlord) and from Andrew himself. Just trust me when I say they made my stay extraordinary comfortable! :)
Andrew finally showed up and we teamed up with his friend Ziad and Dominic to go and visit the Lola ya Bonobo reserve a little outside Kinshasa. "Lola" can be translated to "heaven". It's was easy to reach and the drive only took around 2 hours. I had been interested in visiting the Bonobos ever since I stayed with Thierry in Benin. He used to live and work in Kinshasa and told me it was a must see. He was very right! Coincidentally he also told me, that my upcoming ventures from Benin through all of Central Africa, was nearly mission impossible and that it would be very hard. I'm starting to think I should listen more to Thierry! ;)
Bonobos share over 99% of their genome with YOU! And simply observing them from a distance quickly gives a good understanding of how similar we are.
They are famously promiscuous and resolve all conflicts with sex. Do you think that would work out well for Hillary and Trump too?
If you are curious and want to know more then I'll provide you with this great little TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_savage_rumbaugh_on_apes_that_write
The Bonobos are 100% native to DRC and are found in no other countries except within captivity. Their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years so visit while you can!!
After the Bonobo visit we headed out to a nearby lake to enjoy some fish...and some beer. I got a little drunk. What happened next was disastrous! I LOST MY HAT!!
This is the last picture we have of my hat. And frankly it's a bit of a mystery what happened?
I wore it in this picture as you can see. The picture is taken at the lakeside after lunch when we went for a short walk. Afterwards we walked back to the car and I got out of the car 2 hours later at Liliane's house.
The next morning I couldn't find my hat anywhere?
It had to have been with me in the car. There was no reason to take it off before I got inside.
But it was dark when we reached the house, so I wouldn't have thought about if I wore it from the car to the house. You see; the hat shades my eyes from the sun, so I'm always aware when I'm not wearing it in daylight. But not at night. So could it be in the car?
I offered the driver a $50 finders fee which is equivalent to half a months salary. So he certainly did what he could to find it. In fact he chose to drive all the way back to lake just in case.
We turned the house inside out! Starting off with all the obvious places and then progressing to looking in the refrigerator, the waste bin, under the sofa and in rooms where I have never been. We have looked everywhere. I even searched the garden 3 times. And the search party got pretty big towards the end. Gone?!?
What happened to my hat?
I bought my hat in 2006 from a proper hat store in Copenhagen before summiting Mount Kilimanjaro with my dear friend Ann-Christina (the media coordinator for the Saga). Since then it has been to the Great Wall of China, the Sahara, to Everest base camp, on a motorcycle journey and lately to 101 countries within the Saga. It even had bite marks from the chimpanzees I met in Guinea Equatorial...
But it's just a hat...right?
Life goes on and I needed to make my way to Luanda in Angola. Liliane made that easy for me. And by the way; when I lost my hat Liliane even went to get her husbands old hat and gave it to me! Her husband passed away 4 years ago so I couldn't take it from her. It didn't feel right. But she really wanted to give it to me.
Anyway, Liliane introduced me to Fernanda and Luis who just happened to be in Kinshasa and were driving to Luanda in Angola!
Fernanda and Luis were willing to help me. But due to separate immigration paperwork they were worried that we could have trouble with authorities in DRC just by being in the same car. Very plausible I would say, as you do risk getting harassed by the officials and it can run up in costs. So instead they suggested to meet me at the border.
I took a bus the next day to the border of DRC/Angola where we met once again.
Fernanda and Luis took very good care of me, they fed me, they arranged for my room at a hotel midway on the route, they entertained me and delivered me right to the door of the hotel in Luanda (which my girlfriend had booked for me as a present).
When I wanted to pay for some of the petrol Fernanda and Luis just laughed! They wouldn't take anything but a hug from me. Great people!!
Now looking back at everything I just wrote...do you need more proof that a stranger is a friend you've never met before?
Angola is a drop dead beautiful country! It's as simple as that. It's quite large and borders the Atlantic Ocean. The civil war ended back in 2002 - so in a way that seems like a long time ago. But that was a long war and I noticed that it came up several times in conversation with different people. "The war" was a reference in time for many things. "After the war..." sentences like that.
Angola is also that country that made it difficult for me to enter. Haha: "that country"...as if there only was one? ;) But Angola had some special tricks up its sleeve. The Angolan embassy in Brazzaville rejected my passport photos because I wasn't wearing a shirt in them. So I had to get new ones. But that wasn't the worst. The most annoying part was when I was told that my 6 empty pages were not enough to apply for a visa. I had to have at least 5 empty pages! Nope, that's not a mistake in my writing. I had 6 pages and that wasn't enough because I needed to have 5?!? It makes no sense.
But all is forgiven when you lay your eyes on the beautiful landscape of Angola, when you shake hands with your first villager and receive your first smile. Never confuse bureaucracy with a countries population.
I absolutely love what I've come to learn about Angola!! People have been sweet and kind everywhere. The food is great. It's hard to beat the music. The scenery is extraordinary. And both culture and history is well worth looking into too. A few fun facts include that both dreadlocks and Samba come from Angola. Samba originates from Angolan Semba.
The local currency is the Kwanza (which sound kind of cool) and the common tongue is Portuguese although Angola, like nearly all other African countries, has plenty of languages to pick from. Regarding the currency then you can trade your USD through the official channels or you can do it on the street. Usually there is no big difference. But like with Argentina and Venezuela (in 2014) you currently get a much better rate on the street in Angola. USD 10 pays out 1,591 kwanza through the bank. But on the street you get as much as 4,000 kwanza! Too fully appreciate that you need to understand that an $80 hotel costs you $32. Or that a $10 meal is only $4 for you. And that is good for visitors because Angola is generally a very expensive country. But then again that statement depends on where you go. I bought 4 mandarins for as little as $0.20.
Before I reached Luanda I heard someone say that it's very modern. That was followed by a: "It's just like London". Hmmm...Angola is an oil rich country and for a while it had the worlds fastest growing economy. But to say that Luanda is like London is stretching it. I could however understand that sentiment if someone flew in and spent all their time in the downtown area. Downtown is quite modern and hard to compare with any city in Central Africa. Just keep in mind that Luanda is a city of 6-7 million people and that everything surrounding Luanda's large city center is more...not like London.
As mentioned my wonderful girlfriend sponsored me a hotel stay. She booked it near the Red Cross office so it was supposed to be easy. But unfortunately the Red Cross has changed location and the webpage hasn't been updated. It's now 25 km out of town. And traffic in Luanda is not something you want to mess around with.
It has to be said that Angola has a serious problem with garbage. But that can be fixed.
Frankly I didn't get to see too much of Luanda besides what I saw from a car being stuck in traffic. I spent some time at the hotel taking advantage of the insanely good internet connection. A connection which has been unmatched since I stayed with Adam in California's Silicon Valley. I don't hate much here in life...but a poor internet connection can surely get me fired up!! Luckily internet is fairly good in at least half the world. I'll update you again on the rest in a few years...
I did however spot a local place where I had lunch a few times. They were a bit astonished to see me there as I guess not many visitors are willing to leave their comfort of fancy restaurants and expensive clubs. But surely Angola is more costly than other countries so I cut down on meals. The hotel had breakfast included (a great one) and with a late lunch I could skip dinner for a few days. That's not healthy...but you know...a $20/day budget adds limitations...
The football stadium to the left and the hockey stadium on the right. The world championship of hockey was held in Luanda.
A bus was supposed to get me from Luanda to Santa Clara at the border with Namibia. It's a 1,000 km trip but the roads are fairly good and the busses are comfortable so it should have been okay. Unfortunately I boarded the "party bus"? Not really however my seat was in the back along with a group of young people who had alcohol, music and no sense of sharing a common space. That party got louder and louder until they crashed within their drunkeness around 03:00am. One of them even got a little hostile towards me when I kindly asked for them to take it a little more easy. I probably shouldn't have made my request during their rampant stomping and singing though. Bad call. Because one of them pull out an ID card from his bag to prove that he was a government official. Go figure?
Then the bus broke down. To be fair I don't think that it happens too much in Angola. The bus company (Macon) looked very professional and modern along with all their terminals. And the busses were also modern. Unfortunately as the economy of Angola is following the oil prices one might argue that maintenance might not be tip top these days. At least the bus didn't have a complete breakdown on the side of the road. The driver noticed that something was wrong and stopped at a nearby terminal. Within an hour we switched to another bus and continued. But the trip had already lasted much longer than anticipated. However it is not a big problem when the scenery is so breathtaking!
The bus left Luanda at 8pm and reached the terminal at Santa Clara the next day at midnight. So I spent a night on the bus. The border to Namibia had already closed at 6pm and wouldn't open until the next morning at 07:30am. So the next night was spent sleeping on the floor at the well lit bus terminal. We've had worse before ;)
The next blog will start with Namibia. Because now we are done with Central Africa. I do not feel as victorious as I thought I would? I feel more like having left a battlefield and wanting to go back. It's strange. Maybe it's my hat calling?
But honestly Central Africa has been extraordinary!! Culture, history, people, music, food, scenery, flora, fauna...you name it! Just don't try to visit all those countries without flying while arranging for visas as you go. Be a tourist. Fly in and fly out. Arrange for visas from home. You'll be fine and you'll have the adventure of a lifetime...or a relax full time at the beach with outstanding service. Your choice.
Let's round this up with an interesting observation. Because as I wrote last week we would have crossed the "middle" by reaching Angola:
203 countries in total.
DRC was country 101.
Angola was country 102.
2 X 102 is 204.
So, Angola is over halfway - right?
While I was in Angola the Saga was exactly in the middle!!
Before we reached Angola I was in the DRC. And that was country number 101. Then I reached Angola which was country number 102. And with a total of 203 countries there must then be 101 countries left - right?
So with 101 countries behind us...and 101 countries in front of us; Angola was THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN!!
And I'm finally on my way home! :)
Let's dance!! :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - out of Central Africa!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga