Paul Godard Blog

Angolan Expedition 2023

Another photographic expedition around Southern Angola from Ruacana and visiting Epupa falls, Iona NP, Tombua, Namibe, Fazenda Cabuta, Pedras Negras, Calandula falls, Musseleje falls, Kwanza falls, Fazenda Rio de Uiri, Egito beach, praya Azul, Binga Bay, Santa Maria lighthouse, Farol do Piambo, Mariquita point, Praya de Soba, Leba Pass and back to Lebango & Xangongo.

Blog | safari | 06/01/2024

red rock formation
school girls walking along colorful houses
Kwanza river
waterfall

Mea culpa! I knew I should have done that police clearance and not listen to people saying it was not necessary to enter Angola anymore... but I was too busy and it's true.  

So when we arrived at the border near Ruacana, Namibian police refused to let us go through.  They even say you need a police clearance to go out of Namibia through any border!  Insane! We tried everything but nothing worked at first.  Even meeting with the regional chief of police in the swimming pool of a campsite in Outapi did not help the next day at the police head quarter... so we had stay another night in Ondangwa to wait for the original car registration paper to arrive from Windhoek, necessary to give us a police clearance.  

Bottom line, we crossed the border 2 days later and met our friends Debbie & Gary (D&G) travelling with their "Dudu" 6x6 Bucher Mowag Duro who had crossed 2 days earlier.  They have the same truck I bought in Swaziland, so it was very interesting to see it in action.  We found them at a very beautiful spot next to an arm of the Cunene river.  

Cunene river arm

In Calueque, we managed to fill up at the container service station where we also changed some Namibian (R1=N$1=AOA50) and US dollars (US1=AOA900) to Angolan Kwanza (AOA).  The diesel was exactly 8 times cheaper than in Namibia... 135 kwanza (KW) equivalent to N$2.70 for 1 litre!  Such a bargain.

Crossing over the Cunene river, it was big... much bigger than last year.  We were surprised to find better gravel roads.  The first night in Angola, we wild camped just after the Chabicua turn off.  The next morning we tried to follow a very newly made gravel road but unfortunately, it was ending at 2 recently developed dams... so we had to turn around and follow the fainted old track.  At the hand water pump on the side of the road, Himba people were giving water to their cows from a natural well.

Gary looking at himba boy with cows under tree near water well
Himba man getting  water from well to give to cows
cows drinking water

Dudu got stucked in soft sand.  Deflating from 7 to 3 bars helped a lot but as it was getting dark, it was better to camp there.  The original plan was to drive together to Epupa falls but as the track was getting narrower with more and more trees with low thick branches, Dudu could not continue.  So we continued alone to the magic falls.

waterfalls between baobab trees & rocks

After finding the perfect camping spot in the shade along an arm of the river, it was time to have a look at the falls.  The crossing of the few river arms was already challenging as the water was already running a bit high and disturbed small crocs were jumping into the water.  The falls are so beautiful from the Angolan side as you are in the middle of them. Next time I will definitely hike down and swim in the pools... with the crocs! 

waterfalls between baobab trees & rocks
waterfalls between palm trees & rocks

The plan was to return before sunset but when we tried to cross the river arms again, we realised that the level had came up significantly and that the flow was much stronger... so after a few trials, we turned around... that was a good decision because coming back after dark with photo equipment would have been quite a big challenge.  Back at the camp, the level of the river went up even more!

Anyway, as we laid down in the river so many times to cool down... this spot was really magic!  Last year we had so much fun and interaction with the local Himba that we decided to bring them a few gifts.  Unfortunately, the same family was not around but when I showed some pictures on my phone, the little boys immediately said "papa"... but we could not find him...  Himba are indeed nomadic people.  Bernette had a lot of fun with these boys showing them cartoons on her phone!

Himba Family

From Dudu's camping spot, we drove together to Espinheira, the HQ of Iona NP.  Again, we could not make the whole trip in one day.  So we stopped in a secluded riverbed before sunset and walked around to photograph large specimen of welwitschia.  These plants are everywhere and so much bigger than their brothers and sisters in Namibia (they are male & female plants).

Welwitschia mirabilis plant with male flowers

Welwitschia mirabilis plant with male flowers
Welwitschia mirabilis plant with female flowers
Welwitschia mirabilis plant with female flowers

At the parc HQ, I discussed with Oliver Poldermans, a Dutch ranger, about the possibility of organising a coastal expedition in the dunes next year.

pyramid hills & high clouds
dudu truck driving on track

The road from Espinheira to the North gate is definitely much better and with patches where driving around 60-80 km/h is safe, making the journey a bit faster.  At the gate, the hot spring deposits in the riverbed are perfect for creative photography.

salt spring water in riverbed
yellow crawler & green plants in riverbed
salt deposit in riverbed

salt deposit in riverbed
round stones in riverbed

After a stop at the not-to-be-missed-giant welwitschia and the picturesque Aka valley, about 20 km before reaching the coast, the vista opened to a large green belt on the horizon at the foot of a prestigious rock formation.  It was a large irrigated agricultural development where people were harvesting tomatoes and growing other vegetables.  The boss kindly gave us a huge bucket of tomotoes.

giant Welwitschia mirabilis
Debbie near giant Welwitschia mirabilis
pumkin plant & tomato field

Timing was perfect to reach the Collinas Rosas a bit before sunset, allowing plenty of time to find the right spot to camp at the end of the canyon and walk around these incredible rock formations.  This time, the drone did not crash like last time!  I realised that flying the DJI Air 2S backward is not a good idea as they are not sensors on the back of the drone!

red rock formation

Ranger camper camping in red rock canyon
Bernette & Ranger camper camping in red rock canyon
red rock formation

The next morning was a bit cloudy... There was an easy way to get to the top of the plateau and when the first sun rays went through the clouds, they highlighted the most beautiful vista of the canyons and eroded rock phallus.

red rock formation
Dudu truck camping in red rock canyon
red rock formation

Dudu truck & Ranger camper camping in red rock canyon

Tombua is quite a big town with big fishing activities.  The intention was to find the road to the Iona gate to the skeleton coast but as Dudu did not like the soft sand we abandon the idea quite quickly.  

For the same reason, we separated as Bernette wanted to go to the coast and stay one night at Flamingo lodge.  So we drove along the 35 km corrugated riverbed to the coast... which strangely felt much easier and more comfortable than driving it after dark last year.  This time we found the second giant welwitschia which is certainly living in harsher conditions looking at the shape of its leaves!

Ranger camper near giant Welwitschia miorabilis

At the lodge, we had good fun chatting with 2 Turkish doctors on holiday... One of them, an andrologist even tried to offer me a free consultation!  Hannes and his wife were as usual very lay-back... maybe a bit too much... but they treated us with very nice fish and crispy chips (this time).  Good spot for fishing but a bit pricey for what they offer... anyway it was a good stop over and a good opportunity to jump into the warm waves!

waves in sea
fishing boats at see

The timing was not good to drive on the beach, the tide was already too high... so driving was more inland many times.  

Namibe is such a nice town with very colourful old houses, it was a very prosperous town before the war.  At Shoprite, we met Dudu and some of their friends Isabelle & John from Switzerland.  This year, Shoprite had a large variety of goods (mostly from Portugal) and the prices were more than ok... what a difference from last year!  Of course the forex was a bit more in our favour this year, nevertheless we could almost find everything at decent price including wine bottles!  Jameson for N$250!

school girls walking along colorful houses

colorful houses
colorful houses
colorful houses

The rain came earlier this year, so it was wise to go straight inland instead of exploring the coastline.  iOverlander, a great app with thousands of suggestions for wild camping suggested a rocky platform on the way to Bibala.  There, the teacher of the Garganta village nearby who could speak decent english and his wife greeted us in the evening.  A nice overnight camp to explore the surrounding area with baobab trees before sunrise.

Dudu truck driving on flat rock at sunset
baobab tree at sunset
baobab tree at sunset

baobab tree on rock at sunrise

We continued driving in the plain at the foot of the escarpment and reached Lebango East from the pass.  It was a bit late when we found a nice green spot next to the road along a brown river.  As the sky was inviting the rain, we covered the camper with the big plastic sheet I had made for that purpose, not the most aesthetic option but certainly the most efficient one to protect us from the side rain.  In the morning, local people walked by en route to the fields.  It was so cute to see that little girl carrying her doll on her bag like the mom was carrying her baby.

huts & cumulus clouds
mother carrying baby on back & young girl carrying doll on back

The next destination was Pedras Negras, a mere 1400 km up North.  We drove on the same bad road as last year, which at some places lay next to the new tar road blocked by piles of soil or cut tree every 500 m.  The explanation given by Angolan people, is that the transport minister needs to be the first one to drive on the road but this man is very busy and the process can take years... ridiculous!

Dudu truck driving on old road near new blocked tar road

Debbie told us that the mountain on the side of the road near Gaiambuca was the famous Luvili rock, the one you see on bank notes.

Luvili rock (on bank notes)
people selling fruits & vegs at market

Along the road, local people were selling fruits & vegetables by the bucket, live chicken, eggs and bread... and these famous mushrooms.  Very colorful markets where taxi drivers on motorbikes or Kewasaki tricycles were very proud to pause for the pictures!

Kewasaki tricycles
motorcyclists at market
tricyclist at market
motorcyclists at market

people selling fruits & vegs at market
people selling fruits & vegs at market
people selling fruits & vegs at market

We often stopped to drink a cold cerveza at a local bar... a must to get the local vibe,  especially that one in Cruzamento Cassongue where we had interesting Google translated discussions with the guys who were depicting the Angolan political and social landscape.

Bernette talking to bar tender
Kids with toy

When we stopped for the night after Chitue bridge just on the side of the road, we were greeted by 2 guys on motorcycle.  People are so nice in Angola!  A nice spot for early morning birding or watch the traffic driving on the bridge.

bridge over river
motorcycle on bridge over river

Isabelle recommended an old coffee plantation, Fazenda Cabuta (fazenda=farm) where my travel companions decided to upgrade to a room while I preferred to camp... the mattress in the camper is so comfortable and the mozy net definitely works its best.  I was lucky to take a hot shower before the pipe bursed... no one else had that privilege that evening.  That place was a dormant coffee plantation with an impressive entrance road between giant palm trees.  It was a bit foggy in the morning, a relaxed time to do a bit of cloth washing before the sun cracked the sky open.

flamboyant tree in village
church on hill near village with palm trees

motorcycle on road & baobab tree

The deal at the coffee plantation was not bad for N$400 per room or N$200 for camping including a simple breakfast.

green trees covering hills & mountains
track between palm trees to coffee plantatioon
hut on rock near baoba tree

On these bad roads, Dudu's heavy 400 l diesel tank was giving some issues and breaking the bold on the bracket.  Our temporary solution done along the road worked fine until we could do a proper repair at the coffee plantation.  The trick was to lift the tank in the right angle!

muddy track
baobab trees in green field

The road, often a very narrow track, took us through nice villages in the green mountains with many baobab trees.  We had lunch at the oldest bridge built in Angola and took some time to take slow motion photos and videos of the impressive Kwanza river under a stormy sky.

Debbie & gary walking on old bridge
Dudu driving on old bridge

Kwanza river

As we were approaching Capanda dam which produce electricity for the whole province including Luanda, the sky got more and more dark and exploded in very heavy rain.  However when we reached Pedras Negras, the rain had stopped and the clouds even opened a bit for a welcoming sunset. 

flambyant tree near mud house in village
Dudu truck driving on road near electric line pilone under stormy sky

A policeman on motorcycle also came to greet us at the camp and ask for a AOA5000 contribution.  As we wanted the people at the village to benefit from our donation, we drove up to Pungo Andongo village and met the few people living there.  Bernette even took a ride on the policeman motorcycle who unfortunately refused to be framed (in a photo) as it is a violation where he is wearing the uniform.

tree on rock & valley at sunset

I parked the camper at the exact same spot as last year and we struggled a bit to secure the awning on the rock platform where very few loose rocks could be found.  The next morning, after crossing the little stream wearing flipflop twice with no problem, I badly injured myself and damaged a lens when I crossed at the same place wearing hiking boots and carrying 2 cameras...  Damage report: my old Nikon 17-35/2.8 is dead! and still today, my hip and elbow are still hurting a bit!

tree on rock & valley at sunrise

green trees & rock at sunrise
green trees in valley at sunrise
green trees & rocks at sunrise

Two days at Pedras Negras is the minimum to enjoy this exceptional location... also time to relax, wash cloths and even bath in the clear water of the little stream.  From the view point, it is a must to explore walking on top of these giant boulders and a great opportunity to take amazing shots between the mist. Flying the drone in these conditions was a bit challenging... no VLOS in that case!

green trees & rock at sunrise& rocks at sunrise
green trees & rock at sunrise& rocks at sunrise

trees & rocks in mist

trees & rocks in mist
trees & rocks in mist

A close look at the nature around, flowers and leaves with drops of water and interesting ant sculptures.  The birder ladies even spotted the endemic Rosso's turaco bird in a tree!

ant structures
ant structures
leaf wit drops

tiny re flowers in green grass
Rosso's turaco bird in tree
red flower

On our way out, the drone allowed to get an idea of the real size of the rock formation at Pedras Negras.  Not the best light but still interesting to see how big these rocks are!

rock formation & green trees

rock formation & green trees
rock formation & green trees

The Calandula falls were 3 times bigger than last year... still very impressive.  No chance to walk across the river on top of the falls this time.  While having lunch on the parking, one of the local guide speaking good english recommended to camp at Musseleje falls.

green field & waterfall
waterfall

road under stormy sky

We followed his advice... the road was full of potholes full of water and a bit slippery.  We were delighted to found the perfect campsite just at the waterfall.  Of course there were local people watching us setting up camp but they were quite respectful.  We gave a donation to the 2 guys who helped and cleaned the camp.  It is always tricky when there are many people who want to help and need a bit of money.  The next morning the ladies were interested to take long exposures of the falls.  It was the perfect spot to teach them that technique and composition rules.  The beauty of this waterfall is also that it is easy to walk under the falls and enjoy a very strong massage shower! I did that and the water tasted sweet.

Dudu truck on muddy track
Ranger camper under tree at campsite
lady sitting in front of waterfall

waterfall

waterfall
waterfall

The next day was a bit epic... we lost Dudu in Malanje, shopped at Shoprite, had a cocktail at O Quintal restaurant... and then, when we arrived at the village at the South of Kwanza waterfalls, private security guards stopped us to camp there due to diamond smuggling.  Oops!  It was sad as the local people recognised me from last year.  So we had to camp on the beach on the North side surrounded by hundreds of kids and many fishermen... not too bad after all but it wise to be cautious and keep an eye on some of these kids.

kwanza river at sunset

fishermen on boats on river
fisherman on boat on river in front of waterfall

This was our last spot inland.  We were now driving West to the coast on not-too-bad gravel road to Mussende then tar.  In the plains before the mountains, there is a lot of agricultural activities and big farms.  While having lunch on the side of the road, cute kids and pigs visited us.  

farm field under clouds
kids going washing pts in swamp
pig in water near bridge

swamp under clouds

In the afternoon, the old narrow tar road had many curves through the mountain, small towns and nice villages, particularly like this one illuminated by the sun just for a few seconds, just enough to take a good shot!

green plain & mountains under stormy clouds
houses on hill
houses on hill

village on green hill

At the previous coffee plantation, we met Ramon, a Spanish guy working in Luanda.  He strongly recommended another working coffee plantation, Fazenda Rio de Uiri... We arrived after heavy rain, and fortunately there was a cover area where I could park the camper... so no need to put the plastic over for the night.  

bridge over flooded river

We stayed 2 nights and eat at the restaurant, a very nice fish tasting like tuna and octopus the next day! The breakfast was a pantagruelic meal with at least over 10 different different locally made dishes.  All our clothes including the bed sheets of the camper were washed and dried between the showers.  It is a family business and the old lady is taking care of an amazing garden with thousands of flower pots. This place was a real gem and quite affordable!  The bill was about AOA50K per person including dinner, drinks, breakfast, room and laundry!

flower bud
pink flowers
2 yellow asteraceae flowers talking to each other
red flower

Dudu truck under red sunset sky at restaurant

red flower
mauve flowers  & buds
red flower bud

On the sinuous tar road through the mountains, young people "repairing" the road wanted some donation.  Nada, they were a bit too agressive so I drove on the tree the guy was holding and he had no choice than to let us go.  Even the local people driving on the road did the same.  We called them banditos! 

rounded monolith rocks

Just before the coast, there is an impressive canyon were apparently the river comes out of a cave at Grottas da Sassa.  As soon as we turned to the view point, a cloud of kids and teenagers ran after the camper... they were too many so we decided not to hike to the cave... the place also has a bad reputation on iOverlander.

gorge under clouds

I turned 64 on that day... 18 Nov.  Bernette was very kind to get me after8 chocolates she found at the new fancy Shoprite in Sumbe which was definitely not there last year.  

baobab trees & beach

At Egito beach, the elders kindly greeted us and gave us permission to camp.  G&T, nice wine with local mushrooms & zebra fillet on the fire... just a bit too much well done & whiskey to celebrate the old man birthday.

stony beach & cliff at sunset
woman carrying dead wood
Gary, Debbie & Bernette sitting between Dudu truck & Ranger camper at campsite at sunset

There was a lot of activities at sea and in the river the next morning.  Two kids were struggling to paddle their little wooden boat through the waves... hard life for these fishermen.

2 boys in small boat struggling to get over waves
people in fishing boat on river

South of Benguela, there is a very popular beach, Praya Azul, especially on a Sunday afternoon (we had no idea what day it was)... a very nice spot with clear and warm water... perfect for a refreshing swim!

sunday at the beach

We had been driving on decent tar roads for a while, especially these new ones along the coast but as last year, South of Lucira, the gravel road started.  In the camper it was ok but D&G struggled in their truck on the heavy corrugated and rocky road.  There have been building that new road for years and some bridges are already half built, but in this harsh mountain environment, it will certainly take another few years to be completed.  At the start of the gravel road, there was a policeman asking for water... He called all the elders around to see water coming out of a tap from the camper... they could not believe it!

dudu truck driving on track

We were glad to turn off to Binga bay to go to Meva beach... apart from the 15 km of narrow tracks that could have been avoided as the southern turn off is much much better... this was a jewel!  As soon as we stopped on the beach, a very polite young man introduced activities & camping at the beach.  He spoke a few words of French & good English.  Very well organised, camping only AOA1K... and they even offer boat trips!

fishing village near cliff at sunset
rocky seashore

The plateform on the East side next to the hill is a perfect camping spot!  Bernette was cooking spagetti bolognaise for dinner, a dish that became mutton curry with pasta after it was defrosted... apparently they look similar in the freezer!  We spent 2 nights, relaxing, snorkeling, swimming... and catching up with photos geotagging & capturing.  There was a turtle in the bay but it was too far to jump and swim with it.  

stone & water lines in sand

stone & water lines in sand
texture in sand
stone & water lines in sand

On the way out, there was an impressive little canyon cut through white rock and a lot of houdia in flowers.  The Santa Maria view point is quite spectacular but there is no access to the beach except going down to the very busy fishing village... looking more like a concentration working camp controlled by seafood boss.

rocky island in sea
houdia with flowers & rocky coastline
fishing village

Another recommendation from Isabelle was the Santa Marta lighthouse where they camped on the beach and saw whales jumping... but gate was locked... so we explored around, and while with were having lunch next to the old airstrip, the guardian of the lighthouse told us to come back and opened the gate for us.  We drove down to the beach where 4 species of turtles come to lay their eggs.  Marcello is a very nice guy who is looking after the turtles.  Every night he walked the beach to protect the new nests with pieces of wood... a turtle laid eggs during the night but we missed it! 

steep road from beach to lighthouse
cliffs on beach

small boat pushing fishing boat
small boat pushing fishing boat
fishing boat

One thing however I did not miss was to watch the crabs on the beach and one in particular which seems to like me a lot!

crabs crawling on rock

crab on beach
crab on beach
crab on beach

small crab on beach
small crab on beach

We left that magic beach for the natural pools but D&G wanted to stay another night.  We agreed to meet at Mariquita beach the next day or Praia de Soba the day after.  The scenery to the pools was spectacular.  We camped on top of the plateau and I went down to the pools several times through steps cut into the cliff.

arid lanscape & hills

I first went to lay in a small pool & watch how the strong waves were coming in.  Every 5 min, there was a series of big waves that overflew over the edge of the pools and filled them up... but nothing crazy... so after watching carefully how big the waves could be, I decided to go and lay in the bigger pool... but then the next series of waves were twice the strength of the biggest ones I observed before.  I was pushed away by the wave out of the pool, saw my crocks being taken by the wave although I had left them quite high on the rocks... then while I was trying to catch one, an even bigger wave arrived from the other side... again, I was pushed around against the rocks but fortunately no damage!  I thought I lost my crocs... but then while I was walking back in the huge pool which level had raised by at least 80 cm, the lost crocs just came to me floating!  These crocs will never die!

wave coming into natural pools
wave coming into natural pools

The next morning, I went down again to the pools. I watched the waves which were bigger and stood quite high to take photo/video... but not high enough when an enormous wave came over the pools from every sides and splashed again the cliff and made me completely wet!  I think I will never learn!

butter tree plant on basalt cliff

The coast is extremely scenic with cliffs that seem to be basalt hexagonal organ pipe like the ones in UK.  At punta de Mariquita, the views are spectacular but there it is not possible to drive down to the beach... a private property which belongs to a general, apparently!  Strangely, that was the only place where butter trees were growing on the rocks, the same butter trees we found in Iona NP.

seashore with bassalt cliffs
seashore with bassalt cliffs
bassalt cliffs
bassalt cliff

seashore with bassalt cliffs

On the plateau, there were billions of amazing lichens covering the stones... a macro photographer paradise!  We could not stop... every time we found a nice one there was an even nicer one a bit further!

stones with lichens in arid landacape
stones with lichens in arid landacape
stones with lichens in arid landacape

lichens growing on stone

lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stone

lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stone

lichens growing on stone

lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stone

From the plateau, there was a track in the canyon that look drivable... so as our intention was still to explore to the beach, we gave it a try but had to turn around where the track stopped at a huge hole, made on purpose to stop people to drive further... ok private beach... we got it now!

arid landscape

As the deal with D&G was to meet at Mariquita beach, we decided to have a look although there was a sign saying "no reserva no entrada"... to find a very nice resort but with no camping facilities (simple room at AOA90K for 2 people all inclusive but drinks... not too bad).

waves brakig on rock
cliffs on rocky seashore
waves braking on rocky seashore

butter tree on edge of cliff looking over sea

Praya de Soba is now a bit expensive: camping @ AOA9K & buffet @ AOA20K + drinks.  Again there was a problem with the water pipe (like last year) but we could use the clamping facilities.  The next day was cool as we had to wait for Dudu who could not get out of the beach as Marcello had left to town and forgot to unlock the gate!  Time for a bit of cleaning, fixing a few thing and swimming in the big waves after watching carefully a group of young people being rolled down in the sand.  The buffet dinner was ok but certainly not as impressive as the previous year.  It was a good evening anyway to celebrate together the last day of our trip.  The owner Chris offered 3 different shots!

Soba lodge next to big cliffs

waves braking on rocky cliffs
waves braking on rocky cliffs
waves braking on rocky cliffs

rock formation on cliff
rock formation on cliff

Bernette and I agreed to reach the border in one day as we both had good reason to come back a bit earlier (I personally wanted to spend some time with my son before he was going on a long holiday).  The driving to Lebango was very quick on that good tar road.  Unfortunately, Leba pass was under clouds.  After a quick shopping at Kero and filling up, we drove to Xangongo and from there took the gravel road to Ruacana.  We knew that the gravel road was full of potholes but last year we mostly drove on the side tracks... but this time it was a completely different story... everything was heavily flooded.  Driving on the sides was getting more and more difficult, sometimes impossible as the sand was getiing soft and muddy under the water!  So we had to drive on the top road where some of the potholes were close to a meter deep and full of water so it was almost impossible to drive through them.  On top of that the 4x4 was making a terrible noise, so I had to drive in 4x2 all the way!  Crazy!  

It was getting so dark that we had to stop but we were afraid that the rain would come again and make it worse... and that was exactly what happened during the night!

Around 4:30 however the rain stopped... we got up and found ourselves in a sea of water.  When the first car came, I stopped them and asked the guys to wait for us so we could drive together.  They were driving a Prado... also 4x2... and they got stuck twice... my winch was not working (too much water maybe) but I could pull them out with the kinetic strap.  

We finally arrived at the border town.  We made it safe!  There we had to wait for the immigration officer who arrived very late.  After that it was very quick and no hassle at all.  Back home safe around 4 pm.

red rock formationschool girls walking along colorful housesKwanza riverwaterfall

Mea culpa! I knew I should have done that police clearance and not listen to people saying it was not necessary to enter Angola anymore... but I was too busy and it's true.  

So when we arrived at the border near Ruacana, Namibian police refused to let us go through.  They even say you need a police clearance to go out of Namibia through any border!  Insane! We tried everything but nothing worked at first.  Even meeting with the regional chief of police in the swimming pool of a campsite in Outapi did not help the next day at the police head quarter... so we had stay another night in Ondangwa to wait for the original car registration paper to arrive from Windhoek, necessary to give us a police clearance.  

Bottom line, we crossed the border 2 days later and met our friends Debbie & Gary (D&G) travelling with their "Dudu" 6x6 Bucher Mowag Duro who had crossed 2 days earlier.  They have the same truck I bought in Swaziland, so it was very interesting to see it in action.  We found them at a very beautiful spot next to an arm of the Cunene river.  

Cunene river arm

In Calueque, we managed to fill up at the container service station where we also changed some Namibian (R1=N$1=AOA50) and US dollars (US1=AOA900) to Angolan Kwanza (AOA).  The diesel was exactly 8 times cheaper than in Namibia... 135 kwanza (KW) equivalent to N$2.70 for 1 litre!  Such a bargain.

Crossing over the Cunene river, it was big... much bigger than last year.  We were surprised to find better gravel roads.  The first night in Angola, we wild camped just after the Chabicua turn off.  The next morning we tried to follow a very newly made gravel road but unfortunately, it was ending at 2 recently developed dams... so we had to turn around and follow the fainted old track.  At the hand water pump on the side of the road, Himba people were giving water to their cows from a natural well.

Gary looking at himba boy with cows under tree near water wellHimba man getting  water from well to give to cowscows drinking water

Dudu got stucked in soft sand.  Deflating from 7 to 3 bars helped a lot but as it was getting dark, it was better to camp there.  The original plan was to drive together to Epupa falls but as the track was getting narrower with more and more trees with low thick branches, Dudu could not continue.  So we continued alone to the magic falls.

waterfalls between baobab trees & rocks

After finding the perfect camping spot in the shade along an arm of the river, it was time to have a look at the falls.  The crossing of the few river arms was already challenging as the water was already running a bit high and disturbed small crocs were jumping into the water.  The falls are so beautiful from the Angolan side as you are in the middle of them. Next time I will definitely hike down and swim in the pools... with the crocs! 

waterfalls between baobab trees & rockswaterfalls between palm trees & rocks

The plan was to return before sunset but when we tried to cross the river arms again, we realised that the level had came up significantly and that the flow was much stronger... so after a few trials, we turned around... that was a good decision because coming back after dark with photo equipment would have been quite a big challenge.  Back at the camp, the level of the river went up even more!

Anyway, as we laid down in the river so many times to cool down... this spot was really magic!  Last year we had so much fun and interaction with the local Himba that we decided to bring them a few gifts.  Unfortunately, the same family was not around but when I showed some pictures on my phone, the little boys immediately said "papa"... but we could not find him...  Himba are indeed nomadic people.  Bernette had a lot of fun with these boys showing them cartoons on her phone!

Himba Family

From Dudu's camping spot, we drove together to Espinheira, the HQ of Iona NP.  Again, we could not make the whole trip in one day.  So we stopped in a secluded riverbed before sunset and walked around to photograph large specimen of welwitschia.  These plants are everywhere and so much bigger than their brothers and sisters in Namibia (they are male & female plants).

Welwitschia mirabilis plant with male flowers
Welwitschia mirabilis plant with male flowersWelwitschia mirabilis plant with female flowersWelwitschia mirabilis plant with female flowers

At the parc HQ, I discussed with Oliver Poldermans, a Dutch ranger, about the possibility of organising a coastal expedition in the dunes next year.

pyramid hills & high cloudsdudu truck driving on track

The road from Espinheira to the North gate is definitely much better and with patches where driving around 60-80 km/h is safe, making the journey a bit faster.  At the gate, the hot spring deposits in the riverbed are perfect for creative photography.

salt spring water in riverbedyellow crawler & green plants in riverbedsalt deposit in riverbed
salt deposit in riverbedround stones in riverbed

After a stop at the not-to-be-missed-giant welwitschia and the picturesque Aka valley, about 20 km before reaching the coast, the vista opened to a large green belt on the horizon at the foot of a prestigious rock formation.  It was a large irrigated agricultural development where people were harvesting tomatoes and growing other vegetables.  The boss kindly gave us a huge bucket of tomotoes.

giant Welwitschia mirabilisDebbie near giant Welwitschia mirabilispumkin plant & tomato field

Timing was perfect to reach the Collinas Rosas a bit before sunset, allowing plenty of time to find the right spot to camp at the end of the canyon and walk around these incredible rock formations.  This time, the drone did not crash like last time!  I realised that flying the DJI Air 2S backward is not a good idea as they are not sensors on the back of the drone!

red rock formation
Ranger camper camping in red rock canyonBernette & Ranger camper camping in red rock canyonred rock formation

The next morning was a bit cloudy... There was an easy way to get to the top of the plateau and when the first sun rays went through the clouds, they highlighted the most beautiful vista of the canyons and eroded rock phallus.

red rock formationDudu truck camping in red rock canyonred rock formation
Dudu truck & Ranger camper camping in red rock canyon

Tombua is quite a big town with big fishing activities.  The intention was to find the road to the Iona gate to the skeleton coast but as Dudu did not like the soft sand we abandon the idea quite quickly.  

For the same reason, we separated as Bernette wanted to go to the coast and stay one night at Flamingo lodge.  So we drove along the 35 km corrugated riverbed to the coast... which strangely felt much easier and more comfortable than driving it after dark last year.  This time we found the second giant welwitschia which is certainly living in harsher conditions looking at the shape of its leaves!

Ranger camper near giant Welwitschia miorabilis

At the lodge, we had good fun chatting with 2 Turkish doctors on holiday... One of them, an andrologist even tried to offer me a free consultation!  Hannes and his wife were as usual very lay-back... maybe a bit too much... but they treated us with very nice fish and crispy chips (this time).  Good spot for fishing but a bit pricey for what they offer... anyway it was a good stop over and a good opportunity to jump into the warm waves!

waves in seafishing boats at see

The timing was not good to drive on the beach, the tide was already too high... so driving was more inland many times.  

Namibe is such a nice town with very colourful old houses, it was a very prosperous town before the war.  At Shoprite, we met Dudu and some of their friends Isabelle & John from Switzerland.  This year, Shoprite had a large variety of goods (mostly from Portugal) and the prices were more than ok... what a difference from last year!  Of course the forex was a bit more in our favour this year, nevertheless we could almost find everything at decent price including wine bottles!  Jameson for N$250!

school girls walking along colorful houses
colorful housescolorful housescolorful houses

The rain came earlier this year, so it was wise to go straight inland instead of exploring the coastline.  iOverlander, a great app with thousands of suggestions for wild camping suggested a rocky platform on the way to Bibala.  There, the teacher of the Garganta village nearby who could speak decent english and his wife greeted us in the evening.  A nice overnight camp to explore the surrounding area with baobab trees before sunrise.

Dudu truck driving on flat rock at sunsetbaobab tree at sunsetbaobab tree at sunset
baobab tree on rock at sunrise

We continued driving in the plain at the foot of the escarpment and reached Lebango East from the pass.  It was a bit late when we found a nice green spot next to the road along a brown river.  As the sky was inviting the rain, we covered the camper with the big plastic sheet I had made for that purpose, not the most aesthetic option but certainly the most efficient one to protect us from the side rain.  In the morning, local people walked by en route to the fields.  It was so cute to see that little girl carrying her doll on her bag like the mom was carrying her baby.

huts & cumulus cloudsmother carrying baby on back & young girl carrying doll on back

The next destination was Pedras Negras, a mere 1400 km up North.  We drove on the same bad road as last year, which at some places lay next to the new tar road blocked by piles of soil or cut tree every 500 m.  The explanation given by Angolan people, is that the transport minister needs to be the first one to drive on the road but this man is very busy and the process can take years... ridiculous!

Dudu truck driving on old road near new blocked tar road

Debbie told us that the mountain on the side of the road near Gaiambuca was the famous Luvili rock, the one you see on bank notes.

Luvili rock (on bank notes)people selling fruits & vegs at market

Along the road, local people were selling fruits & vegetables by the bucket, live chicken, eggs and bread... and these famous mushrooms.  Very colorful markets where taxi drivers on motorbikes or Kewasaki tricycles were very proud to pause for the pictures!

Kewasaki tricyclesmotorcyclists at markettricyclist at marketmotorcyclists at market
people selling fruits & vegs at marketpeople selling fruits & vegs at marketpeople selling fruits & vegs at market

We often stopped to drink a cold cerveza at a local bar... a must to get the local vibe,  especially that one in Cruzamento Cassongue where we had interesting Google translated discussions with the guys who were depicting the Angolan political and social landscape.

Bernette talking to bar tenderKids with toy

When we stopped for the night after Chitue bridge just on the side of the road, we were greeted by 2 guys on motorcycle.  People are so nice in Angola!  A nice spot for early morning birding or watch the traffic driving on the bridge.

bridge over rivermotorcycle on bridge over river

Isabelle recommended an old coffee plantation, Fazenda Cabuta (fazenda=farm) where my travel companions decided to upgrade to a room while I preferred to camp... the mattress in the camper is so comfortable and the mozy net definitely works its best.  I was lucky to take a hot shower before the pipe bursed... no one else had that privilege that evening.  That place was a dormant coffee plantation with an impressive entrance road between giant palm trees.  It was a bit foggy in the morning, a relaxed time to do a bit of cloth washing before the sun cracked the sky open.

flamboyant tree in villagechurch on hill near village with palm trees
motorcycle on road & baobab tree

The deal at the coffee plantation was not bad for N$400 per room or N$200 for camping including a simple breakfast.

green trees covering hills & mountainstrack between palm trees to coffee plantatioonhut on rock near baoba tree

On these bad roads, Dudu's heavy 400 l diesel tank was giving some issues and breaking the bold on the bracket.  Our temporary solution done along the road worked fine until we could do a proper repair at the coffee plantation.  The trick was to lift the tank in the right angle!

muddy trackbaobab trees in green field

The road, often a very narrow track, took us through nice villages in the green mountains with many baobab trees.  We had lunch at the oldest bridge built in Angola and took some time to take slow motion photos and videos of the impressive Kwanza river under a stormy sky.

Debbie & gary walking on old bridgeDudu driving on old bridge
Kwanza river

As we were approaching Capanda dam which produce electricity for the whole province including Luanda, the sky got more and more dark and exploded in very heavy rain.  However when we reached Pedras Negras, the rain had stopped and the clouds even opened a bit for a welcoming sunset. 

flambyant tree near mud house in villageDudu truck driving on road near electric line pilone under stormy sky

A policeman on motorcycle also came to greet us at the camp and ask for a AOA5000 contribution.  As we wanted the people at the village to benefit from our donation, we drove up to Pungo Andongo village and met the few people living there.  Bernette even took a ride on the policeman motorcycle who unfortunately refused to be framed (in a photo) as it is a violation where he is wearing the uniform.

tree on rock & valley at sunset

I parked the camper at the exact same spot as last year and we struggled a bit to secure the awning on the rock platform where very few loose rocks could be found.  The next morning, after crossing the little stream wearing flipflop twice with no problem, I badly injured myself and damaged a lens when I crossed at the same place wearing hiking boots and carrying 2 cameras...  Damage report: my old Nikon 17-35/2.8 is dead! and still today, my hip and elbow are still hurting a bit!

tree on rock & valley at sunrise
green trees & rock at sunrisegreen trees in valley at sunrisegreen trees & rocks at sunrise

Two days at Pedras Negras is the minimum to enjoy this exceptional location... also time to relax, wash cloths and even bath in the clear water of the little stream.  From the view point, it is a must to explore walking on top of these giant boulders and a great opportunity to take amazing shots between the mist. Flying the drone in these conditions was a bit challenging... no VLOS in that case!

green trees & rock at sunrise& rocks at sunrisegreen trees & rock at sunrise& rocks at sunrise
trees & rocks in mist
trees & rocks in misttrees & rocks in mist

A close look at the nature around, flowers and leaves with drops of water and interesting ant sculptures.  The birder ladies even spotted the endemic Rosso's turaco bird in a tree!

ant structuresant structuresleaf wit drops
tiny re flowers in green grassRosso's turaco bird in treered flower

On our way out, the drone allowed to get an idea of the real size of the rock formation at Pedras Negras.  Not the best light but still interesting to see how big these rocks are!

rock formation & green trees
rock formation & green treesrock formation & green trees

The Calandula falls were 3 times bigger than last year... still very impressive.  No chance to walk across the river on top of the falls this time.  While having lunch on the parking, one of the local guide speaking good english recommended to camp at Musseleje falls.

green field & waterfallwaterfall
road under stormy sky

We followed his advice... the road was full of potholes full of water and a bit slippery.  We were delighted to found the perfect campsite just at the waterfall.  Of course there were local people watching us setting up camp but they were quite respectful.  We gave a donation to the 2 guys who helped and cleaned the camp.  It is always tricky when there are many people who want to help and need a bit of money.  The next morning the ladies were interested to take long exposures of the falls.  It was the perfect spot to teach them that technique and composition rules.  The beauty of this waterfall is also that it is easy to walk under the falls and enjoy a very strong massage shower! I did that and the water tasted sweet.

Dudu truck on muddy trackRanger camper under tree at campsitelady sitting in front of waterfall
waterfall
waterfallwaterfall

The next day was a bit epic... we lost Dudu in Malanje, shopped at Shoprite, had a cocktail at O Quintal restaurant... and then, when we arrived at the village at the South of Kwanza waterfalls, private security guards stopped us to camp there due to diamond smuggling.  Oops!  It was sad as the local people recognised me from last year.  So we had to camp on the beach on the North side surrounded by hundreds of kids and many fishermen... not too bad after all but it wise to be cautious and keep an eye on some of these kids.

kwanza river at sunset
fishermen on boats on riverfisherman on boat on river in front of waterfall

This was our last spot inland.  We were now driving West to the coast on not-too-bad gravel road to Mussende then tar.  In the plains before the mountains, there is a lot of agricultural activities and big farms.  While having lunch on the side of the road, cute kids and pigs visited us.  

farm field under cloudskids going washing pts in swamppig in water near bridge
swamp under clouds

In the afternoon, the old narrow tar road had many curves through the mountain, small towns and nice villages, particularly like this one illuminated by the sun just for a few seconds, just enough to take a good shot!

green plain & mountains under stormy cloudshouses on hillhouses on hill
village on green hill

At the previous coffee plantation, we met Ramon, a Spanish guy working in Luanda.  He strongly recommended another working coffee plantation, Fazenda Rio de Uiri... We arrived after heavy rain, and fortunately there was a cover area where I could park the camper... so no need to put the plastic over for the night.  

bridge over flooded river

We stayed 2 nights and eat at the restaurant, a very nice fish tasting like tuna and octopus the next day! The breakfast was a pantagruelic meal with at least over 10 different different locally made dishes.  All our clothes including the bed sheets of the camper were washed and dried between the showers.  It is a family business and the old lady is taking care of an amazing garden with thousands of flower pots. This place was a real gem and quite affordable!  The bill was about AOA50K per person including dinner, drinks, breakfast, room and laundry!

flower budpink flowers2 yellow asteraceae flowers talking to each otherred flower
Dudu truck under red sunset sky at restaurant
red flowermauve flowers  & budsred flower bud

On the sinuous tar road through the mountains, young people "repairing" the road wanted some donation.  Nada, they were a bit too agressive so I drove on the tree the guy was holding and he had no choice than to let us go.  Even the local people driving on the road did the same.  We called them banditos! 

rounded monolith rocks

Just before the coast, there is an impressive canyon were apparently the river comes out of a cave at Grottas da Sassa.  As soon as we turned to the view point, a cloud of kids and teenagers ran after the camper... they were too many so we decided not to hike to the cave... the place also has a bad reputation on iOverlander.

gorge under clouds

I turned 64 on that day... 18 Nov.  Bernette was very kind to get me after8 chocolates she found at the new fancy Shoprite in Sumbe which was definitely not there last year.  

baobab trees & beach

At Egito beach, the elders kindly greeted us and gave us permission to camp.  G&T, nice wine with local mushrooms & zebra fillet on the fire... just a bit too much well done & whiskey to celebrate the old man birthday.

stony beach & cliff at sunsetwoman carrying dead woodGary, Debbie & Bernette sitting between Dudu truck & Ranger camper at campsite at sunset

There was a lot of activities at sea and in the river the next morning.  Two kids were struggling to paddle their little wooden boat through the waves... hard life for these fishermen.

2 boys in small boat struggling to get over wavespeople in fishing boat on river

South of Benguela, there is a very popular beach, Praya Azul, especially on a Sunday afternoon (we had no idea what day it was)... a very nice spot with clear and warm water... perfect for a refreshing swim!

sunday at the beach

We had been driving on decent tar roads for a while, especially these new ones along the coast but as last year, South of Lucira, the gravel road started.  In the camper it was ok but D&G struggled in their truck on the heavy corrugated and rocky road.  There have been building that new road for years and some bridges are already half built, but in this harsh mountain environment, it will certainly take another few years to be completed.  At the start of the gravel road, there was a policeman asking for water... He called all the elders around to see water coming out of a tap from the camper... they could not believe it!

dudu truck driving on track

We were glad to turn off to Binga bay to go to Meva beach... apart from the 15 km of narrow tracks that could have been avoided as the southern turn off is much much better... this was a jewel!  As soon as we stopped on the beach, a very polite young man introduced activities & camping at the beach.  He spoke a few words of French & good English.  Very well organised, camping only AOA1K... and they even offer boat trips!

fishing village near cliff at sunsetrocky seashore

The plateform on the East side next to the hill is a perfect camping spot!  Bernette was cooking spagetti bolognaise for dinner, a dish that became mutton curry with pasta after it was defrosted... apparently they look similar in the freezer!  We spent 2 nights, relaxing, snorkeling, swimming... and catching up with photos geotagging & capturing.  There was a turtle in the bay but it was too far to jump and swim with it.  

stone & water lines in sand
stone & water lines in sandtexture in sandstone & water lines in sand

On the way out, there was an impressive little canyon cut through white rock and a lot of houdia in flowers.  The Santa Maria view point is quite spectacular but there is no access to the beach except going down to the very busy fishing village... looking more like a concentration working camp controlled by seafood boss.

rocky island in seahoudia with flowers & rocky coastlinefishing village

Another recommendation from Isabelle was the Santa Marta lighthouse where they camped on the beach and saw whales jumping... but gate was locked... so we explored around, and while with were having lunch next to the old airstrip, the guardian of the lighthouse told us to come back and opened the gate for us.  We drove down to the beach where 4 species of turtles come to lay their eggs.  Marcello is a very nice guy who is looking after the turtles.  Every night he walked the beach to protect the new nests with pieces of wood... a turtle laid eggs during the night but we missed it! 

steep road from beach to lighthousecliffs on beach
small boat pushing fishing boatsmall boat pushing fishing boatfishing boat

One thing however I did not miss was to watch the crabs on the beach and one in particular which seems to like me a lot!

crabs crawling on rock
crab on beachcrab on beachcrab on beach
small crab on beachsmall crab on beach

We left that magic beach for the natural pools but D&G wanted to stay another night.  We agreed to meet at Mariquita beach the next day or Praia de Soba the day after.  The scenery to the pools was spectacular.  We camped on top of the plateau and I went down to the pools several times through steps cut into the cliff.

arid lanscape & hills

I first went to lay in a small pool & watch how the strong waves were coming in.  Every 5 min, there was a series of big waves that overflew over the edge of the pools and filled them up... but nothing crazy... so after watching carefully how big the waves could be, I decided to go and lay in the bigger pool... but then the next series of waves were twice the strength of the biggest ones I observed before.  I was pushed away by the wave out of the pool, saw my crocks being taken by the wave although I had left them quite high on the rocks... then while I was trying to catch one, an even bigger wave arrived from the other side... again, I was pushed around against the rocks but fortunately no damage!  I thought I lost my crocs... but then while I was walking back in the huge pool which level had raised by at least 80 cm, the lost crocs just came to me floating!  These crocs will never die!

wave coming into natural poolswave coming into natural pools

The next morning, I went down again to the pools. I watched the waves which were bigger and stood quite high to take photo/video... but not high enough when an enormous wave came over the pools from every sides and splashed again the cliff and made me completely wet!  I think I will never learn!

butter tree plant on basalt cliff

The coast is extremely scenic with cliffs that seem to be basalt hexagonal organ pipe like the ones in UK.  At punta de Mariquita, the views are spectacular but there it is not possible to drive down to the beach... a private property which belongs to a general, apparently!  Strangely, that was the only place where butter trees were growing on the rocks, the same butter trees we found in Iona NP.

seashore with bassalt cliffsseashore with bassalt cliffsbassalt cliffsbassalt cliff
seashore with bassalt cliffs

On the plateau, there were billions of amazing lichens covering the stones... a macro photographer paradise!  We could not stop... every time we found a nice one there was an even nicer one a bit further!

stones with lichens in arid landacapestones with lichens in arid landacapestones with lichens in arid landacape
lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stonelichens growing on stonelichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stonelichens growing on stonelichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stone
lichens growing on stonelichens growing on stone

From the plateau, there was a track in the canyon that look drivable... so as our intention was still to explore to the beach, we gave it a try but had to turn around where the track stopped at a huge hole, made on purpose to stop people to drive further... ok private beach... we got it now!

arid landscape

As the deal with D&G was to meet at Mariquita beach, we decided to have a look although there was a sign saying "no reserva no entrada"... to find a very nice resort but with no camping facilities (simple room at AOA90K for 2 people all inclusive but drinks... not too bad).

waves brakig on rockcliffs on rocky seashorewaves braking on rocky seashore
butter tree on edge of cliff looking over sea

Praya de Soba is now a bit expensive: camping @ AOA9K & buffet @ AOA20K + drinks.  Again there was a problem with the water pipe (like last year) but we could use the clamping facilities.  The next day was cool as we had to wait for Dudu who could not get out of the beach as Marcello had left to town and forgot to unlock the gate!  Time for a bit of cleaning, fixing a few thing and swimming in the big waves after watching carefully a group of young people being rolled down in the sand.  The buffet dinner was ok but certainly not as impressive as the previous year.  It was a good evening anyway to celebrate together the last day of our trip.  The owner Chris offered 3 different shots!

Soba lodge next to big cliffs
waves braking on rocky cliffswaves braking on rocky cliffswaves braking on rocky cliffs
rock formation on cliffrock formation on cliff

Bernette and I agreed to reach the border in one day as we both had good reason to come back a bit earlier (I personally wanted to spend some time with my son before he was going on a long holiday).  The driving to Lebango was very quick on that good tar road.  Unfortunately, Leba pass was under clouds.  After a quick shopping at Kero and filling up, we drove to Xangongo and from there took the gravel road to Ruacana.  We knew that the gravel road was full of potholes but last year we mostly drove on the side tracks... but this time it was a completely different story... everything was heavily flooded.  Driving on the sides was getting more and more difficult, sometimes impossible as the sand was getiing soft and muddy under the water!  So we had to drive on the top road where some of the potholes were close to a meter deep and full of water so it was almost impossible to drive through them.  On top of that the 4x4 was making a terrible noise, so I had to drive in 4x2 all the way!  Crazy!  

It was getting so dark that we had to stop but we were afraid that the rain would come again and make it worse... and that was exactly what happened during the night!

Around 4:30 however the rain stopped... we got up and found ourselves in a sea of water.  When the first car came, I stopped them and asked the guys to wait for us so we could drive together.  They were driving a Prado... also 4x2... and they got stuck twice... my winch was not working (too much water maybe) but I could pull them out with the kinetic strap.  

We finally arrived at the border town.  We made it safe!  There we had to wait for the immigration officer who arrived very late.  After that it was very quick and no hassle at all.  Back home safe around 4 pm.