A rest day in Lubango..... Tunda Vala, and Monumento Christo Rei!

"Into Africa" More than a Motorcycle Adventure
Howard Fairbank
Thu 27 Feb 2014 08:08




20th February, 2014


The night before we had both agreed that we would take a well-deserved, rest day and stay two nights at this pleasant residencial.


It was a nice idea to sleep in a bit, but as is my experience so often in this Africa trip, one is woken early by ‘the sweepers’ outside, sweeping the walkways, before sunrise, and often talk to each other as they do it…. This place was no different, and so we were denied the sleep in, and decided to try the breakfast included in our deal…. Well this was a great experience, a very comprehensive continental breakfast, with fresh bread and pastries, great fruit, and then, the traditional, ham, cheese, and salami cold plate. This all nicely presented in an outside garden setting. All very civilised, probably not deserving of two unshaven motorcyclists! We agreed, that I’d try and negotiate a better deal for the second night’s accommodation, so I went up to reception, where there was a ‘new’ woman present, who was very helpful… She asked me what price we had paid for the first night, and was clearly disbelieving when I told her what the two guys the previous night had charged us. It turned out that she was the owner, and said we should never have paid so much, and the room rate was 25% less than what we had quoted…!     

She was insistent that she would refund us the overcharge, and we could pay the lower rate for the second night… Gee, how nice was that, and she seemed visibly upset with her staff trying to rip us off! Experiences like this, bring hope expectations for us humans back up to the highest rung.


The sky was grey, and it looked like rain was on the agenda, making decisions on what to do for the day, quite challenging. We decided to head up to Christo Rei, the huge statue of Christ, high up on the highest hilltop of the range that forms a bowl, within which, Lubango sits. The statue is a smaller version on Cocovardo, in Rio de Janerio. It looked like quite a ride and climb up there, but we got lost, and couldn’t find the turnoff to get up there, being forced back into the nightmare traffic of Lubango. It’s a sizeable city, with heavily potholed roads, a few wide  colonial boulevards, but generally narrow, busy streets, with some roundabouts where it is just a bun fight to get around and out as quick as you can no matter what right of way of otherwise you may officially have. Clearly this area has a lot of rain, as the roads are laden with mud, and the potholes usually mini lakes, full with water…. Add to that the totally undisciplined motorists, who have no real regard for motorcycles, we had to be really focused while riding in the city. With my patience for this traffic running out, I suggested to Rob that we head out to Tunda Vala, volcanic fissures, which were about 17 kilometres outside Lubango, and recommended by our travel guide. With a light, ‘on / off’ drizzle this was always a high risk option, but we both agreed we HAD to get out of the city….


A very scenic ride took as into the mountains and then eventually onto a newly laid, stone cobbled road. School kids, all without rain gear were running down the hill clearly hoping to beat the heavy rain that was now a virtual certainty…! Fortunately we had a rain gear on, as soon we were in a massive down pour, and being ‘the recommender’ I was now feeling some ‘stress’ as to whether our target would be worth it, and whether we would even be able to see ‘it’ in this weather…??? Well, I was rescued, as 2km before Tunda Vula, there was a brand new sign, for what turned out to be a brand new lodge and restaurant….our place of refuge, and my saviour! We arrived like drowned rats, to this very nice stone lodge, with a wonderful restaurant, and we were the only guests. Being new, these guys really welcomed us in, and wanted to make an impression. The rain was pelting down and we were cosily imprisoned, with no short term end in sight! We were stuck there for 2 hours, and then a break in the skies, gave us the courage to head out, for the last 2 kilometres to see what Tunda Vula was all about… After reading the travel guide description over coffee, Rob, had now totally bought into the plan, so I was free of my solitary responsibility, for the team happiness!


Mother Nature, must have decided we deserved a significant reward for our efforts, because once up at 2300m on the plateau, the vistas that were presented to us were truly magnificent. The gorges formed by the volcanic fissures were spectacular. In some way the vista reminded me of the scene form Lesotho, at the top of Sani Pass. The specialness was enhanced by Rob and I being the only visitors. Best of all the rain had stopped and patches of bright sun and blue sky added to the spectacle.



We returned to our residencial for some, independent exploring of the city centre….: I was searching for an internet café, but nope, so many photocopy / print and fax places, but no internet facilities. As I went into each of these photocopy places, I did wonder how they all manage to stay in business, and why there is such a demand for this admin rich service? Turning to a possible 3G, SIM card alternative to get this blog out, I then went to the mobile phone company outlets, but as I have found everywhere, they are the busiest shops in town, and one has to wait ages to get to the front of the queue, and somehow I sensed they wouldn’t offer the micro SIM card I needed…..


Trying to order ‘my type’ of coffee, using my limited Portuguese, in a very cool coffee café / pasteleria, resulted in me befriending a ‘local’ who could help bridge my language hurdle. It turns out this guy, an Angolan, had been working in South Africa for 10 years, in the construction industry in Johannesburg, but had now returned to Angola because the job market was better than South Africa, and the pay much higher. I had been struggling to understand the micro economy here, as things are expensive, yet there are lots of normal people, doing normal jobs, and I wondered how it all works. From our discussion it seems like wages are high, and so the whole economy is on a higher level, than South Africa, or other African countries, I have visited, for that matter. It seems like Angola is in boom times, lots of government spending on infrastructure helping the economy, but lots of private investment too…. It seems like there is a shortage of skilled labour, and so salaries reflect this, but I am picking up stories of exclusive markets, where ‘connected’ people have entre to the cherry pickings…. More coffee shop, ‘research’ in the days to come…..


Late afternoon, we decided to head off on the bikes, out of our, low inspiring, neighbourhood for a different dinner / evening, experience. This decision being well thought through as we contemplated the gridlock traffic, pot holed roads, and unruly drivers! Rob reminded me that the decision would also have an impact on his ability to soften all this harshness with a few beers!


Leaving just before sunset, we decided to try and find the missing turn off to Christo Rei…. The Lubango’s answer to Rio’s Cocovardo!  We found it, and saw how the potholes and a detour had hidden it from us, maybe for our benefit, as we had a wonderful surprise now waiting…. It’s probably about an 8 kilometre ride, once again up the mountain, albeit the other end of the range, to the top of the plateau. Luck looked after us again, as we were treated with a wild sunset, and amazing views, standing dwarfed by this huge statue of Jesus Christ, as we looked down on the sprawling city of Lubango, and could see how rapidly it has grown. A sight we were clearly happy we hadn’t missed.


Sorry no photos, we both forgot our cameras!


Quite incredible actually, and once again the quality of the primary infrastructure (Rail, road, and air) connecting the city with the rest of Angola, stood out below, for us to really appreciate. The government have clearly spent a lot of money since the war days, getting the country back to work. It’s just within the city that fundamental service investment is lacking, but this could be associated with the rapid, and largely, unstructured, informal, growth of the city.


Back down from the plateau and we found a local hangout, which I managed to persuade Rob, that we sample for both its social and beverage offerings! As we walked in we clearly stood out as ‘different’, but were given a hearty welcome, and soon were enjoying the Angolan music, and had blended into the environment, now merely, as unthreatening, exotics!


From there we, ended up at an unlikely, upmarket restaurant, that I convinced Rob, we deserved. I wanted to see the other side of Lubango life, where the business people hangout….. With our motorcyclists’ look and mini-backpacks we were clearly misfits, and eventually concluded that our poor service experience was linked to our perceived ability to pay, company sponsored tips! It wasn’t cheap, yet busy, and clearly quite a few Chinese centred business groups around. Yet again, it astounded us to how this Angolan economy works, but having had our exploration, ‘treat’, into the higher echelons of its workings, we retired to our humble residencial, excited about the prospect of being back to our simple life on the motorcycles, and negotiating the Serra Le Bada pass on the way to our destiny with the South Atlantic Ocean, tomorrow..   


Life ain’t easy, and it’s certainly not boring!