Finally, at eleven in the morning, after much cheerful gesticulation with Senhor Santos and Senhor Batista at the Santa Clara border post, a Landrover Series I slithered into sight to deliver some post and supplies to the officials. The driver agreed to give me a lift back to his shop at the next village of Vila Pereira d’Eça. After some cheerful chat of which I understood not one word, we slithered off into the bush, sliding from one mud puddle to the next. The way kept dividing to avoid deeper pools and in places the driver simply flattened the saplings to create a new track of his own. It was thrilling to be setting off on this new adventure.
Seeing how in 4-wheel drive the front wheels spun, as they battled for traction in the mud, it made me think that if one bolted a drum to each wheel with a cable between them, one could winch the vehicle towards a tree or another solid anchor. (Later, I heard that our army was using such a device. Probably US Patent 4135681, filed January 1978, issued January 1979.) I mention this because there’s definitely something of the inventor in my make-up which is useful as a novelist when conceiving plots.
After what seemed to be forever, but by map was about thirty kilometres, we burst out of the bush into a small square with a statue of the General after whom the town was named. Antonio Pereira d’Eça (1852-1917) had been Governor General of Angola 1915-16.
The village was so colourful, compared to South African monochrome, with a plethora of red tiled roofs. Walls were pained light shades of anything across the spectrum, and, except for the churches, were seldom white. From this sight, I felt more truly to be in a foreign country than from the language that I could not understand. At the local hotel, I had thick soup, beef and rice. Quaffing Cuca beer, I waited all afternoon for a lift. Just as I was about to pay for a bed for the night, which would have cost me all of R1-00 (10/- at the time!) a truck driver heading for Sá Da Bandeira was pointed out to me. After a lot of gesticulating and grinning, we were off.
His truck was an Isuzu, a make-shift petrol tanker carrying Fina petrol. Twice, drums fell off the back, which meant going back to look for them. The road was still splitting every time we came to a deep puddle, forcing the truck to dive off into the dense mopane bush. We drove through a town, Vila Roçades, on the banks of the mighty Rio Cunene, but I saw little beyond the headlights. At midnight, some twenty kilometres further on, we dossed down under the truck at the side of the track.
Dawn came at 04h30. With a stretch, a yawn, a pee and a few farts, we were on our way again. Within a few kilometres, the track became a tarred road. Shortly after the village of Cahama, we came across a lorry wreck. The driver had fallen asleep. The truck, carrying barrels of tar, left the road and overturned. There was black, sticky tar all over the place. The driver was, however, unhurt and seemingly unconcerned.
We travelled on, with a breakfast stop in Chibembe at a bar, costing me R1-00 for both of us. 1: Steak, pickles, olives, bread and coffee, 2: Scrambled eggs, beer, bread and coffee. Odd, but good.
By Vila Joao de Almeida the bush was thinning out as we began the climb onto the plateau where Sá Da Bandeira lay. I bought and ate a local bunch of bananas for next to nothing and endured a long wait until I finally left in the late afternoon on a heavily laden Scania-Vabis which crept along at a snail’s pace. The drivers all seemed to know each other; they stopped to eat at the same places and often slept there, too. We stopped at a bar just beyond Caluquembe where I was treated as a sort of pet foreigner by all the drivers there. They would not let me pay for anything. Bless their wonderful, hospitable souls!
Cigarettes available were Swing, 8008, Senador, and Delta, all Tipo Americano, costing between five and seven Escudos including tax for a pack of twenty, which was at most about R0-20 or 2/-, on a par with the price in South Africa at the time.
We slept from 23h00 to 02h45, then were on our way again. Periodically clearing clogged fuel filters made us about four hours late, arriving in Nova Lisboa, a colourful, attractive town, at noon. After a lift in a car with a Hollander to Alto Hama where he treated me to lunch before he turned off towards Lobito, I got a lift in another Scania; this time loaded with cattle. It rained, intermittently. We crossed the Rio Cuvo ou Queve and went through a toll-gate, Portegem Peaçe, costing the driver 70 Escudos, through a few small villages to Lussusso where we stopped to sup on bife; steak, eggs, chips and olives, and wine. We went to sleep at midnight; I crawled onto some loose thatch under a lean-to in someone’s back yard.
Up at 05h20 and on the road again. I was dropped at a fork 5km south of Dondo, which turned out to be a very pretty village on the banks of the Rio Cuanza, all ablaze with red blossoms of the avenues of Flame Trees (Erythrina sp.) I got a lift in another truck, a MAN carrying logs that eventually dropped me on the outskirts of the city of Luanda. A twelve-Escudo taxi ride got me to the Hotel Sentral, two blocks from the Baia do Bengo bay, where I took a room for 70 Escudos a day, about R1-75, or 17/6- . No meals, though. First thing I needed was a bath!
All the drivers that I had met were Portuguese or mulattos; I never got to really talk to any black Angolans, although they were always waving a friendly greeting at the roadside.
Now here I was, 1500 kilometres from the border, and about 1600 miles since I had left Swakopmund, South West Africa, beginning my journey into the big wide world. This has been a bit of a travelogue, but for me, a journey of excitement and wonder. And I saw colonial Angola, before the war devastated it and seeded the countryside with landmines…