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Angola, Watch out for the mines

26th April – 14th June 2005

We crossed the border at Luvo and were now in Angola proper with a country side full of mines and now with a bigger problem the “Marburg” disease, a form of Ebola that can be contracted through contact with an infected person. So we will have be careful with all the meeting and greeting, this can be difficult in particular at border crossings and police checks were the officials are keen to make contact with tourists.

With regard to the mines, a lot of areas have been cleared but you always have to be on your guard. I found what appeared to be a good spot just off the road for some bush camping only to find out that it was already occupied by a live mortar shell and there was no telling what else was lying about undiscovered. Blanca wasn’t keen on taking the shell along as a souvenir! As a result we have taken to camping beside the road and hope that we don’t get hit by a passing truck as we sleep.

The Belgium’s who were now travelling with almost no breaks, despite adjusting and cleaning them, had decided to go it alone, slowly and drive longer days. They set off at first light, before we were up, oh! the joys of a camper van with nothing to pack away ie. get up and go. Blanca must always have some breakfast first, or she can be a nightmare for the rest of the day. So as a result we set off a few hours later, still catching up with the Mercedes in three hours or so. I think people really under estimate the 101’s off road capabilities and the Belgium’s were no exception and were surprised to see us so soon. We were back on our own again. The Angolan roads are not the best, 40 years of  war, neglect and mines have taken there toll and what little asphalt that remains is a mess and badly pot holed.

The Angolans are a stalk contrast to the Congolese and seem really pleased to see us giving us the thumbs up, smiling and waving as we pass by. None of the we are suffering, give us food and money, they are just getting on with their lives and getting back to growing vegetables, etc and a real self help attitude.

Petrol or the lack of it was beginning to concern me but a chance meeting with the Belgium’s early in the morning, while we were having breakfast, at least ensured that we had enough to get to Caxito and the first fuel for over 1000km.

It was still early when we entered Caxito so we decided to carry on to Luanda and a Yacht club where we had read that it was ok to camp. What we hadn’t bargained on was the traffic! As we entered Luanda we were caught up in a huge traffic jam, which are apparently typical here.

In contrast to most other West Africa countries this was the first place that I have seen a lot of Land Rovers with most of the marque being represented including a huge number of light weights.

As usual my inshala navigator took the route through the heart of the rough part of town, more” Mad Max” than capital city!

Why is it Africans seem so laid back but put one behind the wheel of any form of vehicle and they are immediately transformed in to Nigel Mansel, and a two lane street can become a six lane highway in a matter of seconds!

Fortunately we had a GPS point of the yacht club and by turning a corner were suddenly transported in to a modern metropolis. Nelson the deputy manager at Club Naval gave us permission to camp and use their facilities. We had a good nights sleep despite the local karaoke club featuring the Portuguese Elvis being close by. The next morning we met Anatoly, who later it transpired is the Russian Ambassador, he advised us of a few places of interest that Luanda has to offer and then gave us a lift to the local supermarket. On the way back we spotted the Belgium’s and got them to follow us to the club. Then we met “Rambo” the Mr. Fix it, a Portuguese Angolan who said, any problems, he could help us sort them out.

My problem was changing the rear break shoes, somehow my spare set of shoes were for a 109 and not a 101, similar but not similar enough. A quick chat with Nelo, who has a workshop next to our camping spot, said it would be no problem and that he could get them relined in a day, thus saving us another DHL moment! Sure enough the very next day he arrived with the shoes relined and wouldn’t accept any money for them. With the shoes fitted there was nothing to keep us here apart from my birthday which I opted to spend here in Luanda chilling and doing tourist stuff, the Natural History Museum, Castle etc. In the evening we had planed to go out for a quiet meal for two but were invited by Rambo to come along to the yacht club next door Club Nautico de Luanda for the sport fishing prize giving sponsored by Chevron Texaco with free beer and buffet, how could we refuse! The cheesy evening would have to wait. It was a fantastic evening and we got to meet all sorts of people as well as gather info on the route south to Namibia, as well as the names of contacts along the way.

I must say this is the first place we have stayed in west Africa were the locals and the colonials appear to be  fully integrated as opposed to the usual huge divide between rich whites and poor blacks. I guess it also helps that most of the local Portuguese have been here for generations, and were encouraged to integrate by Salazar a Portuguese dictator, with many considering themselves Angolan as well.

The next day we thanked everybody for their help said goodbye, fuelled up and headed out of Luanda. It was a good feeling to be on the move once again and on reasonable asphalt, quite a novelty here in Angola. Good roads allow you the chance to relax a little and check things over, does the steering still point in the right direction, suspension ok and all that kind of thing. We were heading for the bridge over the River Kuanza when I noticed a slow drop in power accompanied by black smoke from the exhaust, it was when Grommet struggled up the hill on the other side that I decided to pull over and check things out. Strange but there was nothing obvious! While we were parked up we chanced upon Guy Crofton, the military attaché to the British Embassy in Luanda, who had stopped because he was intrigued by the fact of seeing an English registered 101 in Angola. Guy said during our chat that there was not much between here and Namibia and that if it was a big problem it would be better to turn back to Luanda where we would stand a better chance of getting it fixed. He also mentioned that we could stay with him and his wife should we decide to turn back. Half an hour or so deliberating, we made the difficult decision to turn back. At least in Luanda we had some contacts who may be able to help us out. So we crawled slowly back to the city, arriving after dark. Grommet was by now being very difficult, he would not tick over and would cut out as soon as I took my foot of the accelerator. This made crossing the rough part of the city quite an “interesting” experience indeed. It is a bit like driving with a load of Italians from Milan, on a tank range, in the dark. Luckily we had the GPS and could find our way to the castle and Guy’s house. Guy was surprised to see us but assured us that we had made the right decision. Gilly his wife prepared the spare room for us along with a little supper. A really hot shower and a clean bead this was luxury indeed.

A quick call to Chris, at RPI the V8 engine experts, pointed me in the direction of the carbs. While I worked on the car stripping carbs, cleaning, checking and changing things, Guy and Gilly were very supportive keeping us fed and watered,  but there was nothing visibly wrong. Guy called Mark a mechanic, who keeps the embassy vehicles running, to come and take a look, again the same conclusion carbs. He sent along his carburettor expert, who basically repeated all the same steps that I had. But at least he managed to get it to tick over and run but was a little concerned by oil fouling the plugs and suggested it may be a problem with the rings.

Guy and Gilly were expecting guests so we had to vacate our luxury accommodation, we had both enjoyed staying at Her Majesty’s pleasure and are very grateful to Guy and Gilly for their kindness, hospitality and help.

We contacted Rambo (Mr Fix it) and he organised a space for us at the other Yacht Club, Club Nautico with no mosquitoes, hard standing and electricity, the perfect place for an engine rebuild. Inocencio the club president made us very welcome saying we could stay as long as we liked. I was beginning to fear that it could be quite some time!

The following day I began the engine strip down, carbs off again, I was becoming quite an expert at this, followed by the inlet manifold and finally the cylinder heads. With the heads off I was relived to see that the bores were in fine fettle. Mark popped round to see how things were going and lent me some grinding paste so I could re-seat the valves and clean up the heads while they were off.

Question, how do you remove the valves without a spring compressor? Answer. The African way is with a large socket and of course a hammer, a sharp hit to the socket with the hammer pops out the collets. With all the valves out I set to cleaning the heads, removing all the old carbon and re-seating the valves. I was glad that I had my drill with me to speed things up. The next problem, how do you put the valves, springs and collets back together, well the African way is with two screwdrivers and an assistant with small fingers to slip in the collets. Job done! Now that everything was clean all I had to do was put it all back together, luckily I’d got a gasket set from Jonathan at Crozier 4x4 just before we left. With everything together time for a test, the result was the same just a little better as a result of the clean. Carbs off again, the general consensus from my ever growing team of experts was that the needles and jets were worn and should be replaced. After a fruitless day spent chasing around Luanda in search of the parts I called Burdin Fuel Systems in the UK for an SU overhaul kit and some extra needles and jets. The next problem was their currier service Federal Express wouldn’t deliver car spares to Angola for legal reasons. So we got Burdin to send the parts to our friends Siobhan and David in London who repackaged them as water filter parts and sent them DHL Express to Luanda. Luckily we didn’t have a repeat of the leaf spring episode and the parts arrived in three days. Carbs off again, new needles and jets fitted another test, another disappointment. One of my team of experts suggested taking an angle grinder to the valve tops! I wasn’t convinced still believing it to be a carb problem. So when Artur another mechanic and very keen fisherman, suggested a weekend trip to a nearby beach for some fishing, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity for a long road test and to set up the carbs.

We set of Friday evening with Artur, Katia his girlfriend and an Italian couple Stefano and Teresa in convoy. Once we had left the traffic of Luanda behind Grommet was struggling again, smoking, no power and to make matters worse was drinking petrol at an alarming rate of one litre per kilometre. With only 100 litres on board we would struggle to make it to the beach let alone back again. Once again we had to go back to Luanda, we were beginning to feel that the only way Grommet was going to leave was in a container ship for Spain!

We didn’t miss the fishing though, after all the weeks of hard work we both really needed a break, we called Nelo and arranged a lift the following day.

Despite the lack of  fish we had a brilliant time, eating and drinking at a beautiful spot on the beach with great company, who could ask for more. It was also good to have a break from Grommet and his mysterious virus! Can cars get malaria?

Monday morning refreshed after the weekends fishing, Artur, Fernando an outboard engine mechanic, Jose Manuel and I had another look at the problem. This time cleaning and replacing all the components of the ignition system, stripping down the carbs yet again but this time we took everything apart and by replacing the o-rings in the chokes seemed to do the trick confirmed by a road test around the streets of Luanda. It is hard to imagine that such a small part overlooked as insignificant had caused so much trouble. We had spent so much time in Luanda we had even considered taking on staff, cook, cleaner, guardian, etc. We had been there so long we now had to extend our visa for another month to give us enough time to leave Angola.

Artur still wanted to catch a big fish before we leave so we made plans for another weekend at the beach as a farewell from Luanda with Katia, the Italians and Nelo.

Once more we left Luanda in convoy. Grommet was back to his old self, well in fact better than he had been for ages. All was going well until we stopped to buy some beer and cokes. Water was literally poring from the front of Grommet. Was this Grommets last stand! He really didn’t want to leave and go back to the piste and African asphalt he’d had enough of that in the Congo! Investigation revealed a small rubber hose behind the water pump had split, I had a spare so it wasn’t long before we were rolling once more. We arrived at the beach in the dark and found a spot and set up camp and then prepared the rods. Artur was determined to catch a fish and these fish aren’t small, imagine something that looks like a sardine but weighs 30 to 40kg or a fish that looks like a carp and weighs 70kg. BIG FISH! And that’s what we were here to catch.

By Saturday lunchtime there were groups of fishermen all along the beach, it is quite a sociable thing so every now and again one has to go and find out how every body else is doing, check out their catch if they in fact have one, have a beer and talk of the one that got away or fish that I’ve court.

Sunday morning we were woken up at 6 am by a very excited Artur, shouting Nelo’s got a fish and after a bit of a struggle there it was a 30kg snapper. We at last had a fish and a big fish at that. Later that day the guys from the yacht club turned up Jose Manuel, Fernando and Rambo. What a fantastic send off, surrounded by some of our new friends from Luanda. When it finally came to the time to say goodbye Blanca even became a little emotional.

We had an absolute blast in Luanda, we had been there so long we had become part of the family, being wined and dined by Jose Manuel, eating Angolan hamburgers by the road side with Artur and Katia, an impromptu dinner party with Stefano and Teresa in front of Grommet in the boat park, Mino the guardian and of course all the “one beer’s”. The kindness and generosity of the people we have met here in Luanda really has been overwhelming and will remain in our hearts forever and who knows we may even be back if we can find the right contract and of course if we can persuade Grommet.

Monday morning we said farewell to our friends, Artur and Katia and headed south, although it was good to be on the move again we felt sad leaving all our new friends behind. The road was good and we headed for the beach at Sumbe. Blanca had a GPS point of a good spot to camp from another web site. The beach was beautiful, as we arrived I spotted an Ifa parked in a secluded spot, so we headed over to say hi thinking that it may be Ralph and Judith. It wasn’t, but it was another German couple Arthur and Swantje in an Ifa L60, which is slightly more modern than Ralphs L50, but with a lot more power. It was funny, they new all about us and had been following Ralph and Judith’s progress from their web site. What a small world!

We parked up, set camp and talked late in to the evening. It transpired that they wanted to do the cost route to Lubango via Lobito, Benguela and Lucira as well, so we decided to travel together setting of the following morning. As usual the good road quickly became bad pot holed asphalt and rough stony piste so it was getting late by the time we had filled up with fuel, bread and vegetables in Lobito. On the way out of town we met Edgar an Angolan who had spent some time in the east end of London and was keen to discuss our trip as he was planning on doing the same but in reverse. So we headed for the beach in front of the Sol & Mar restaurant so we could meet up later. Unfortunately he had a problem with his car and didn’t show up until after we had gone to bed. Lobito is like a faded old rundown colonial town frozen in time, a bit like Havana, Cuba but with modern cars, 4x4’s and trucks as opposed to 50’s Americana.

We left Lobito the following morning passing through Benguela to join the coast road, on route we were surprised to see a working train carrying passengers. Considering that the war in Angola only ended a few years ago we have been surprised by the lack of police control/check points and the odd one that dose exist has had no interest in us, usually waving us on.

After Benguela the African asphalt disintegrates in to a stony, rocky, dusty piste. The guys at the club had pre warned us about this route and it’s steep rocky climbs and descents. At first the route didn’t appear to bad Grommet handling all with ease, the scenery was breathtaking. The landscape is far dryer now and more desert like with a lot of green scrub. Blanca was very happy as she wasn’t that keen on humid central Africa with all its insects, etc. We found a great spot for the night in a little valley with hills all around, it was incredible how quiet it was. Arthur and I collected wood for a post dinner fire to keep the cold at bay. This was definitely one of the most spectacular routes so far. The rocky climbs were now very rocky and steep, more like rock climbing than driving. The Germans found it amusing that Blanca always chose to walk up rather than accompany me in Grommet! On a badly corrugated sandy section between climbs there was a sudden loud hissing sound and hot water everywhere. A quick investigation revealed a clip had been shaken lose on a heater hose, it was quickly replaced so we could continue. Then an hour or so later while taking a particularly steep rocky decent, so steep I had Grommet in 1st gear low ratio, when there was a bang followed by a very loud exhaust sound. The right hand exhaust manifold had split just after cylinder no 4, I am getting quite good at bush repairs and managed to hold things together with some long jubilee clips and aluminium duct tape, with luck it should hold until we reach Namibia and I can get it properly sorted out. For now we sound a bit like a tank, but at least we are still on the move. At the next climb I somehow managed to miss a “softer” alternative route up and we were stuck! Grommet was refusing to climb the hill wheels spinning, struggling for grip on the very lose surface, not helped by the fact that the diff lock wasn’t working. Blanca was out like a shot it was all proving too much for her. I reversed a little to have another try when the rear wheel mounted the bank. Grommet was now rocking on two wheels and about to tip over at any minute. I thought this was it, we were going to roll. With Blanca and Arthur literally holding Grommet up I gingerly got out to review the predicament. With Blanca holding Grommet to stop him from tipping, Arthur and I quickly cleared all the loose earth and rocks from the right hand side. Then with Arthur and Blanca hanging of the side like a sailing yacht, I climbed back in and edged him slowly forward until all four wheels were firmly on the ground. I tried the climb again but again the wheels just span. There was nothing for it but to try and winch him up and use the 9 tonne Ifa as an anchor as its tyres were too worn to get enough grip for a tow. The next problem was the winch cable jammed, so I had to take the winch apart to free it. The cable was just about long enough to reach the Ifa, now to see if it would work. I hadn’t used the winch before so I engaged 1st gear and hopped for the best. Slowly Grommet began to climb the hill, near the top I engaged drive and Arthur towed. We had made it and just about survived to drive another day. It had all been a bit too much excitement for one day so we set camp at the top of the hill. This was definitely turning out to be one hell of a route.

The piste eventually gave way to good asphalt, in fact a fantastic road which was to last all the way to Lubango, and the climb to Lubango high on the plato was breathtaking and look like something from the “Italian Job.”

Lubango is another faded colonial town surrounded by farms of all kinds. We stayed long enough to stock up with supplies and fuel and headed for the bush once more. The Germans were short on time with their visa and with a sick Grommet we would have to save the parks in the south for another time. The road after Lubango quickly fades away to badly potholed asphalt and piste and we were back to banging crashing and groaning along! There are however stretches of sandy track beside the “main road” giving car and body a well earned rest. Still the scenery is wonderful and for the boys there are the odd war relic to investigate, tanks, armoured cars and trucks lie rusting and abandoned. These of course have to be inspected, as it isn’t every day that you get a chance to climb all over a tank! It’s a pity most of the souvenir’s had been stripped away long ago. Arthur was on the look out for some Ifa spares but again not much remained of them either.

We had bush camped all the way from Luanda apart from one night in Lobito a had not encountered any mines, that isn’t to say that they and the threat doesn’t exist, I guess that we have been lucky and that the locals and the bovine mine clearance had already done the job.

In Ondjiva the last main town before the border I saw my first 101 of the trip, it was a GS being used by funnily enough one of the mine clearance teams. It had been converted to run on diesel with a non turbo 2 ¼ and considering this is Africa was in a fairly reasonable state. The two African guys that I’d woken up inside seemed a little confused by my interest in their 101 and left very quickly after I’d taken a couple of photos, probably just in case I came back and asked some more questions.

Blanca’s latest obsession has been bread, its not that its scarce it is available everywhere, its just that we never see to have enough of the stuff especially since our latest Germans like to stop for as snack and a rest at midday. So each day the quest begins again…..

Arthur and Swantje, if you understand German you can follow their trip at www.geu-on-tour.de had been great company and help in our moment of need and Swantje is a great cook. For desert on our last night together Swantje prepared apple crumble, English style, with custard. It was if I’d died and gone to heaven and since Blanca doesn’t do puddings there was even more to go round. Once in Namibia we will be saying good bye to them as they have been to Namibia before and are off to explore Botswana and Zimbabwe before going to South Africa. We on the other hand will be trying to coax our sick Grommet on to Windhoek, stopping at Tsumeb and Etosha along the way.

So 1 month and 19 days after we entered Angola we crossed the border in to Namibia.

What, more mud!!

So much for wide road


Souvenir anyone?




Miss Luanda

Fixing the breaks

Artur. Nelo and the guys


The mirador

Problem finding

Guy and Gilly

Sunrise at Club Nautico Ilha de Luanda

What? No spring compressor?

Seems OK to me

Out on the boat

Jose Manuel

Beach life

Girls fishing


Grommet at the beach

Our fish

Girls fishing again

Artur and Jose Manuel


Grommet and the new German Ifa


Steep descent!!

The hill

Blanca holding up Grommet

Strong man contestant

Arthur and Swantje


The Italian Job

Another tank

Boys toys

More boys toys

There is even more boys toys

Another 101!!