Day 273: A Gold Star And A Jellybaby

30.09.09: It was a comfortable night on Tashia's couch, interrupted only by the once-an-hour shrill of my mobile phone waking me to change the video tapes that I was uploading onto my laptop. I would be going to DHL later to send the tapes to Australia and I didn't want to let them go (especially after what happened to me in Congo) without making sure I had a back up. In the morning, Tashia left me to my own devices. Soon I had all of my tapes uploaded and I was ready to go. The bus for South Africa left in the evening, so there was no rush. Tashia came back around lunchtime – her kid had fallen ill and had been admitted to hospital. Nothing too serious, but it looked like he had a bout of food poisoning and the doctors wanted to keep him…

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Day 272: There Is Such Thing As Normal

29.09.09: Arrrrrrgh! ANOTHER get-up-at-5am-bus-leaves-at-11am day. I tell you, good information is priceless. Cliff and I wound up hanging about for hours before we actually left, but when we did hit the road, it was the sum of bliss. When I crossed the border into Namibia yesterday, I didn’t just cross into another country, I crossed into another world. The developed world. And God I’ve missed it. A word of clean toilets, hand-dryers, fast-food (I haven’t seen a KFC since Spain), sealed roads, traffic lights, road rules, roadworthy vehicles; roads bereft of hawkers, beggars, goats, chickens, those f***ing police checkpoints and of the ubiquitous mounds of litter and crap that mark the entry point to human settlements. I guess in hindsight I will look back over my four-month slog through West and Central Africa with affection. But not today. I’m just glad to be out. Namibia was…

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Day 271: Exit, Stage Left

28.09.09: Got up at 6am. Bus left at 9. If you think there’s a pattern emerging here, THEN THERE IS AND I’M GETTING A LITTLE BIT SICK OF IT. The journey was uneventful, but was tinged with tension – my visa expires today. I HAVE to leave Angola today or I might well find myself back in jail... The border closes at 6pm. Stupidly, the bus is scheduled to get in at 5pm. Why it didn’t leave a couple of hours earlier (seriously, what difference would it make?) is quite beyond my programming. So every time we stopped, I found myself jiggling my legs, chewing the inside of my mouth and repeatedly looking at my watch. After a few hours, I had a thought. What if the border closes 6pm Namibia Time? Namibia is an hour ahead of Angola. That would mean that the border would…

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Day 270: Gung Ho-Hum

27.09.09: With less than 48 hours left on my visa, Emilio’s wonderful driver, Yuri, picked me up at 5am to drop me off at the bus to Benguela, half-way to the Namibian border. Once again, the bus didn’t leave until 9am, so I was once again duped out of a decent night’s sleep. It was a whopping FORTY QUID for a seat on the bus, but at least the road was good and I got a seat all to myself. I think. Actually, I’m writing this two days after the journey and I’ve got to say that I really don’t remember anything other than the fact that I arrived in Benguela in good time, it only taking a few hours to cover the same distance that earlier this week, took me three days. In Benguala, I hopped on another coach only to discover that I would…

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Day 269: Luanda House Party

26.09.09: I woke up resoundingly NOT in Luanda. We hadn’t moved all night. Peter was nowhere to be seen. I was determined to get to Luanda by any means necessary. A 4x4 pull up and once again, I ran over to the driver to ask if he could take me to the next town. Get in, mate, no problem. The 4x4 took me all the way to the minibus area outside Luanda where I said my Thank You’s and jumped a mini bus the rest of the way. I arrived in Luanda at 11am, three days since I crossed the border. Three days to go the same distance, which could’ve taken three hours had the road have been good, there were no checkpoints and the vehicle was remotely roadworthy. I contacted Emilio, my CouchSurf contact, and he came to pick me up through Luanda’s perennially grid-locked…

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Day 268: Breakdown

25.09.09: So I slept a second night in the truck cab. Again I was awoken at 6am; why, I have no clue, as we didn’t set off until after nine. Apart from the beautiful silver, fatty, fat, fat trees, the landscape is remarkably unappealing. Charred by war and slash and burn farming, much of it is blackened and barren. Angola has a lot of flat, fertile lands, but because its government is wearing oil goggles (1.4 billion barrels exported a DAY), they’re not interested in farming. Which is a shame, as otherwise Angola could easily feed itself and those around it; but as in all resource-rich, cash-poor African states, a mixed economy is beyond the capabilities of the drongos in charge. They can’t see the profit in it. We reached the Mbenzi-Congo junction at around lunchtime, turning towards Luanda, but then pulling over at the side…

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Day 267: The Go-Slow

24.09.09: I was roused at 6am and thought great – we’ll be in Luanda tonight. My phone had stopped working and I needed to get a Angolan SIM card, but there was nowhere selling them, which meant that I was incommunicado for the day. We got as far as the edge of the border town of Noqui before we were all told to get out. Which we did…and waited. And waited. They had gone back to DR Congo to pick up some sand. Once that was unloaded, I grabbed my bag, ready to get going. But hang on, we’ll be back soon - they returned to DR Congo to pick up some more sand. When they eventually returned, it was midday. I helped them unload the sand, but we still hung about for an hour while, oh god knows why. Then... finally... we set off. The…

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Day 266: Anglin’ Fer Angola

23.09.09: 5am! Are you having a laugh? The bus didn’t leave until nine!! I could have had a good lie-in, although this will form the pattern of the next week of travel. The trip to the Angolan border was fairly uneventful, but I was happy that I got a seat all to myself, I wasn’t squished like a sardine, three people to a seat. And – shock horror! The driver’s mate gave out sandwiches and Cokes to everyone on board! How cool is THAT? Must be the first time that has happened since I was in Central America back in February. At the border. I didn’t have any of the hassles alluded to in the Lonely Planet. It did take them an hour to stamp me out (the ‘chief’ wasn’t there!) but apart from that, I got over the border without any problems, and (amazingly) no…

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Day 265: Hen’s Teeth

22.09.09: I returned to the Angolan embassy, fingers and toes crossed. I hung about for an hour or so before somebody came to help me. I was taken into the back room again and – miracle of miracles – was given my passport back with a shiny new ANGOLAN VISA IN IT. Woooooooooooo!!! It was only a transit visa, and I had only been given five days, but my word THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE. But someone up there likes me. I headed back over to MSF HQ waving my golden ticket around like Charlie Bucket. I’m sure everybody was duly impressed. The bus to the border leaves very early, so I missed the one for that day. No worries - Alex, Michael and I headed out for a meal (we found a great little Chinese restaurant – mmm... I haven’t had Chinese food for…

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Day 264: Visas and Viruses

21.09.09: Okay. Today was my DAY OF ACTION. I headed down to the Angolan embassy first thing in the morning, armed with my passport my old visa, my letter of invitation, my onward flight ticket (don’t worry – it’s just for show), photos, photocopies, vaccination certificate and a nice, shiny new $100 bill. There was no rhyme or reason as to who was ‘served’ first, so I just stood in the middle of the room full of people looking a little lost until somebody came to help me. They looked at my stuff and said that I needed a letter from my Embassy saying that I wasn’t an escaped serial killer or something. So I jumped a ‘taxi’ (a private car, but there are no real taxis in Kinshasa, so that makes every car that isn’t a 4x4 a taxi) to the Embassy and asked Parul…

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