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Cruising along rugged Lubango

2006-07-24 12:59
DAYS 54 to 56: 18 July to 20 July

SENGAL: Dakar - Kaolack - Tambacounda - Kidira MALI: Diboli - Kayes - Diema - Didiena - Kati - Bamako - Bamako - Segoué - San - Djenne - Mopti - Douentza - Timbuktu - Sévaré - Mopti - Dogon Country: Bandiagara - Sanga - Bankass BURKINA FASO: Ouagadougou - Kantchari NIGER: Niamey - Birni Nkonni NIGERIA: Kano - Bauchi - Yankari Game Reserve, Wikki Warm Springs - Maiduguri - Banki CAMEROON: Limani - Mora - Maroua - Garoua - Ngaoundere - Tibati - Banyo - Foumban - Bafoussam - Bamenda - Ring Road: Bafut - Wum - Bamenda - Limbe - Douala - Yaoundé - Mbalmayo - Ambam GABON: Eboro - Bitam - Mitzic - THE EQUATOR - Njole - Bifoun - Kango- Libreville - Lambarene - Mouila - Ndende - Doussala REPUBLIC OF CONGO (BRAZZAVILLE): Ditsandu village - Nyanga - Loubetsi - Kibangou - Pointe-Noire - Nzassi CABINDA: Cacongo - Futila Beach - Futila Beach DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC): Muanda - Boma - Mutadi ANGOLA: Noqui - Lufico - Tombouco - Nzeto - Caxito - Luanda - Porto Ambio - Lobito - Dombe Grande - Bentiaba - Leba Pass - Lubango - Cahama.

Our Toyota Fortuners and Land Cruisers have proved their reputation as Africa-s toughest 4x4s. After Lobito we stuck to the coast, travelling past Benguela and Baia Farta to Dombe Grande and then on a road that actually doesn-t deserve the title.

If it was a 4x4 route it would be graded three or four: we were in and out of low range, idling over rocks and up and down steep ascents and descents with loose gravel. Just 162km took well over five hours - the last 60km took three and a half - so we didn-t get even close to our destination, Lubango.

Just before sunset we pulled off the road (the risk of land mines, we figured, was low since we were seriously in the middle of nowhere, and hadn-t seen another car or person for several hours), and set up camp in a dry riverbed.

Despite a roaring fire we realised we-re definitely getting close to the wintry south - we broke out the fleeces and warm tracksuits.

The testing 4x4 route continued on Day 55, with the last 90km taking almost four hours (although we stopped often to take pictures). It was slow and rugged, but the Toyota Fortuners and Land Cruisers took it all in their stride, gently negotiating stony climbs over sharp ridges of rocks.

There was white quartz scattered everywhere - in some places it looked like there-d been a sprinkling of snow. After a while the terrain opened up into a flat plain that led us back in sight of the ocean, where rivers have carved dramatic courses to the sea, leaving beautifully eroded cliffs.

Then we hit glorious cream-coloured tar and the pace picked up to over 100km/h, and it-s a long time since we clocked that kind of speed.

The end point, just as the sun was sinking to the horizon, was the magnificent Lebo Pass - designed by a female engineer - which is a serpentine stretch of hairpins and switchbacks that climbs a thousand metres in just 20km.

It-s a marvel of engineering: from the viewsite at the top it looks like a ribbon settling back on itself in a series of folds. What a contrast of roads in the same day! We camped at the viewsite overlooking the pass, on top of a rocky cliff.

Just before Lubango the next day, we stopped at the graveyard and monument commemorating the Dorsland Trekkers, a group who left the Transvaal in 1874 and after a shocking journey through some of the driest parts of Botswana and Namibia, finally settled in this fertile corner of Angola.

And then we met some living history: two elderly sisters, both in their seventies, with the unlikely names (for the area) of Martha Botha and Anna Roberts. Their grandfather had travelled with the original Dorsland Trekkers, and they both spoke fluent Afrikaans.

After a stop at the Christ statue on the hill above Lubango - it-s the same as the one on Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio, and a third statue in Lisbon (only those aren-t peppered with bullet holes) - we set off for the Angolan border.

There have been several contenders, but the bulk of that route probably takes the prize as the worst road we-ve encountered in almost two months and 10 countries: more potholes than tar, and they stretched virtually from edge to edge.

We spent a lot more time bouncing along next to the road than actually on it. We gave up at seven that night, well after dark and after four hours of pushing had eaten up just 100km.

Exhausted and dusty, we pulled up in Cahama, a real one-blink-and-you-ll-miss-it town that nevertheless dished up all we needed: Pens-Kahama had comfy beds and a great dinner, even if the showers were colder than the beers.

Adelle Horler and Geoff Dalglish

Visit the Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain Web Log for updates and photos at http://blogspace.mweb.co.za, or go to www.mweb.co.za, click on Blogs, and look for Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain.

With thanks to our sponsors Toyota South Africa, Megaworld, African Outback Products, Pertec, Garmin, MWEB @ Home - iPass, African Stuff, Toshiba and DataShuttle. Special thanks also to CFAO Toyota dealerships in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso and to Cami Toyota in Cameroon and Toyota Gabon in Libreville for their enthusiastic assistance.

*Catch the television series on this expedition on SABC TV3 on Sundays, starting on September 3 at 5:30 pm.


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