A long day, nearly lost.....Civilised Benguela, and back swimming in the Atlantic!
22nd February, 2014
Well, as planned we were up and off before sunrise, bikes full on egret pooh, but no doubt we will have some rain along the way for nature’s free bike wash!
As we have come to expect in the mornings, in this part of the world, fog was around, and so our ride out of Namibe and into the desert wasn’t as photogenic-ally friendly as I was hoping. The best part of it was the effect of the fog, filtering out the early morning sun, and making it look like a hazy full moon, until the sun won the game, leaving no trace of the battle, and only a pure, azure blue sky as its victory banner.
Even a second time around, the desert scenery never failed to connect to my soul, and as my mind was engulfed by nature’s harmonious thoughts, the kilometres sped by, and we were soon at the base of the Serra da Laba pass, this time for an up run….! Somehow it feels better to be riding up a pass, the bike seems to prefer it, the risk of coming off seems less, and looking up at the plethora of hairpins above, framed by the fissure scourged escarpment face, provided a breath taking combination of nature’s, seemingly insurmountable natural barrier, and then overlaid by man’s, masterly engineered, response solution.
All too soon, we were fighting the undisciplined, traffic chaos of Lubango again, and I’d targeted to best Pasteleria in Lubango as a reward for the ‘trauma’ of having to go the whole way across the city again….. The only problem was that in my excitement to get to the ‘coffee and pastry’ I had ‘forgotten’ the street it was on, so took Rob and I on a second tour of the inner city, until we finally found it… I had confused two rooads… Oh well, sometimes special rewards require real hard ork in order for us to appreciate them! Apprieciate them we did, this is one of those real decadent Portuguese Café / bakeries, where they have great coffee AND a huge range of ‘hungry boy’ pasteries that I only wish could defy the, bad cholesterol, test!
We were soon on our way, me leading in a rough direction out of the chaos, with our destination the coastal city of Benguela, some 300 kilometres away. Well, my gut feel took us out to a very busy, undisciplined roundabout just on the outskirts of Lubango. A rare sign post pointed to Benguela, but it’s direction was directly in the middle of two take offs from the roundabout…. Hmmm, why isn’t it as easy as it should be? I’d lsot Rob in the chaos, and I was off the one turnoff, and was hoping like heel he hadn’t interpreted the sign as the other turnoff…… A few minutes later he was with me, and we were off…. Sounds like nothing, but when you understand that there are no places to do U-turns, buses, cars, and taxi’s bumper to bumper hooting at each other and not giving an inch, losing your buddy down a wrong off take could cost hours of frustration…… Anyway off we go, some 25 kilometres on and the road is becoming less and less main, and significant we stop for a chat and Rob, with his detailed road map, is convinced we are on the wrong road. It does seem like it, so we head back to that roundabout, hoping we have missed a turnoff, that should be some 10 kilometres from the roundabout…. We don’t find it, and so do get back to that roundabout, close in tow this time, and I go a full 360 degree around the roundabout confirming that the sign to Benguela in the way we went…. Rob isn’t convinced, and while his map does indicate we are wrong, the sign is new and can’t be wrong! I see a cop, watching the traffic from the side of the road, so pull over, get off the bike, and ask him the way…. He confirms we are on the right road, and I can just make out that we will hit a roundabout after 70 kilometres and then we have to turn to go to Benguela. There is no doubt this time, but I do have to say both of us still felt something is wrong, versus Rob’s map. Oh well, we push on, I feel confident we are on the right path now, but only from the sign and what the cop told me……
A few minutes later the building, dark clouds, indicate they have given us enough warning and as the first rain drops hit, we stop and quickly don rain gear…. As we know very well know, happens in this part of the world, this time of the year, it was soon bucketing down and we full steam ahead, with minimum visibility on the road to oblivion! We didn’t complain, rose our game to the challenge and were soon rewarded with patches of blue sky and then a break in the rain….. Soon after that the ‘cop’s roundabout’ appeared, together with a sign saying: “Benguela” and now there were two happy boys!
We passed through a few small towns on the way, all like ghost towns with it being Saturday afternoon, and all the shops closed. Petrol infrastructure was great, as we have found all the while in Angola…. A big surprise for us, but then I guess being a growing oil rich country this shouldn’t be surprising.
A Chinese Kawasaki!
The country side was very pleasant, with the impressively rugged Serra o Chillengue mountains on the right hand side, and to the east, and then the familiar coast plain stretching off to our left. The road sometimes approached close to the mountains, giving us great forested greenery, and then other times it moved closer to the coastal plain, bringing more stark, desert scenery, just as we had seen the day before. In between, in the transition zone, wonderful baobabs were aplenty, all making for a very, very pleasant, and varied ride.
As we gained perspective on the whole route, it became apparent to us that both Rob and my maps were not correct, and the road, being fairly recently constructed, was significantly different from the maps, not even close to what was shown….. Oh well, this is Africa in real change hey!
We soon arrived in Benguela, and once again were very impressed with what we saw…. The Portugues certainly like their seaside towns, and this one, being quite a bit larger than Namibe, was a great example. Complete with wide, palm lined boulevards, a great, lively beachfront esplanade, and then a full on dense city centre, complete with very traditional Portuguese restaurants. What surprised us each time in the towns / cities is the new, convenient, banking infrastructure. New bank branches and ATM’s everywhere, and each cluster of ATM terminals guarded by ATM wielding security guards who manage the queuing process, and ensure there is an orderly and secure customer experience. It must be law in Angola to have armed security guards around all ATM’s as we have seen it everywhere, and without exception….
With accommodation as expensive as it is here in Angola, Rob and I re-visited our South American past, in sharing a double bed, but this time, voluntarily, with our eyes wide open. Way back then, as I homed by Spanish / Portuguese, I assumed a ‘kamer’ was the same as the Afrikaans word for bed, and so a Quartro must be a bed? So in my ‘brilliance’, of negotiating a room for Rob and I, I asked for accommodation consisting of ,“un kamer, and dos quartros”…. Well, Rob has never let me off this one, we got exactly that: The honeymoon sweet, one bed (kamer!) and two rooms, (quartro) the bedroom and an ensuite bathroom! At $140 per night, and no, two bed, rooms available, we took the ‘honeymoon suite’ this time…… It all worked out well, as the manager may have sensed our lack of passion, and surprised us with a foldup mattress as a second bed! Our honeymoon date, no date waits another day! The experience has given us more acceptance of this as a workable future solution, which will give us stronger bargaining power in this strangely overpriced market….
On the language front: There is very little English spoken, or even understood, in Angola so far, but no different to Mozambique, and I am much better equipped now, that those 1979, South America, days!
We were both quite tired from the long day, and after exploring the place, having a fairly informal meal and drinks at one of the food markets, we were early to those awaiting separate beds!
Luanda is getting ever closer now……