Falling in love – Angola on a bike

 


Do you believe in love at first sight? I do, because I have experienced it but if I had any doubts they would have been dispelled the moment I crossed into Angola.

I was nervous, I aways am when entering a new country but this time it had added dimensions – I was entering West Africa and a less beaten track for cyclists than the Cairo to Cape Town East African route. Other travellers talked about how much more difficult it was to travel the West Coast and although I had already been in Africa for 14 months I couldn’t stop my nerves.

Leaving the familiar into the unknown

The unknown versus the familiar, that is what is all about. The unknown equals fear and apprehension however, as soon as I crossed the border into Angola what I encountered was familiarity and with it I instantly relaxed. Portugal, the old colonial power, had left behind a language that I could understand and communicate with relatively well and foodstuffs that you find in Spanish shops: chorizo, membrillo (quinze jelly), bacalao (dry salt cod) and what I call proper bread which in England call French sticks, it couldn’t get any better.

Real bread!!!

During their 400 years of occupation, the Portuguese mixed with the local population in a way that I had not seen colonisers do in the rest of Africa and as a result Angola is truly a rainbow nation. They even have names for the different racial combinations – the child of a black person and a white person is a mulato, the child of a mulato with a mulato is also a mulato, the child of a mulato and a white person a chibito and the child of a mulato and a black person is a cafuso. In the way people related to me, my whiteness seemed to be less of an issue here and that also made an enormous difference as to how I felt.

As I cycled along the South of Angola, evidence of the 25 years war the country suffered after independence was everywhere. A war that is still very much in people’s minds. The owner of one guesthouse told me about the soldiers driving down the road in front of us, the sound of the bombs as they dropped and the day she was given the news of the death of her husband. She had to raise her children on her own as a seamstress until she was able to open the humble establishment where I was staying. She kept on repeating that peace is precious and how she wakes up every morning thankful for yet another peaceful day. I was humbled by her strength.

“Peace is precious” she said

My landlady’s son, like hundreds of other Angolans, was educated in Cuba. Angola still remembers the help received by this country during and after the war with memorials and paintings.

Angola remembers Cuba fondly

The war is still present not only in Angolan minds. I was moved to receive an unexpected message from one of my South African followers that read:

“36 years ago (December 1983) I crossed that border into Angola as a terrified 19 year old going to fight an illegitimate war against an “enemy” that I didn’t know. I hope one day to cross that border again under different circumstances. If you go through Cahama please pray a blessing over it for me. You are a very courageous lady”

I did go through Cahama

I happened to spend the night in Cahama in A Catholic Mission run by some Mexican priests with whom I spent a wonderful morning. Alejandro, one of the priests, took me to a neighbourhood where a rusting tank sat next to a group of newly built houses and there he said the blessing. Be stood there, silent for a while and my heart ached for that frightened 19 year old.

By this tank Father Alejandro prayed a blessing

Catholic Missions became the places I sought to spend the night and they always received me with open arms. In one such mission, I woke up to the sound of singing, the sun was rising behind the papaya trees and the palm trees. The ceremony finished as I was drinking my coffee and the girls living at the nunnery were gathering wood to cook their breakfast. I too began to prepare mine but the difference couldn’t be more stark, whilst I was having a nutritious meal of eggs, cereals and an orange they were stirring with a stick the maiz meal which constituted their diet. My privilege forever present.

We were having very different breakfasts

Staying at the Missions and talking to the men and women living there I learnt about the terrible drought in the area. On the bike, I had seen shepperds walking North with their herds, gourds with water and cloth bundles with their meagre posesions hanging of the sticks on their shoulders. What I didn’t know was the escale of the migration until I heard on the news that people with tens of thousands of animals were on the move in the search of water and food. Compared to Namibia, Angola seemed very green and I thought that there was a lot of water but maybe this was just an ilusion.

Cattle on the move searching water and pasture

What was not an ilusion were the hundreds of baobabs I saw in the country. How I love baobabs!! I love everything about them and every now and again I had to stop to tell them in a loud voice “you are beautiful”. For the first time I saw the fruit of the baobab being sold by the side of the road, the locals call it mucua and make drinks and ice cream with it.

Beautiful baobabs everywhere

 

Mucua, the fruit of the baobab on sale everywhere

Neiher was an ilusion the gentleness of everyone I meet on the road and the warmth of their smiles. Without fail, they responded to my greetings and called me amiga. I was totally captivated by Angola.

And like someone in love, I delighted in what had become familiar about Angola – the baobabs, the greetings of the people I met, the daily purchase of bread and also in the new discoveries  – the trip to Tundavala with new friends, the semba dance class I went to with my Benguela landlady, the days by the sea, the extraordinary landscapes, the encounters with other travellers, the stories I heard from expats like Allan and Julia founders of the Development Workshop who have lived here for a long time and care about the country.

Tindavala in the company of Estella and Nuno

 

And with Nancy I went to a Semba class

 

View from the Miradouro de Lua

 

Family for one day (https://familyontracks.wordpress.com/)

And like someone in love I had moments of dissatisfaction too. The crossing of the mouth of the Congo river to reach the province of Cabinda was challenging as it ended up with me having to be separated from my trusty bike but once in Cabinda, when a little boy came running excitedly to my tent to show me his puppy love was all I felt.

I had to fly to Cabinda without Foxtrot!!
But after two days we were reunited
Love is all I felt!

 

28 thoughts on “Falling in love – Angola on a bike”

  1. Blanca how beautiful this instalment is and so moving. Thank you once again for your generosity in sharing your travels and opening the windows to the world xxx
    Carine and Dinks

  2. Hi Blanca , always very nice to know that you are in good health.
    Your report are very interesting. Ihave been in 2010 in south angola ( by jeep ) and can understand very well what you are talking about. have a nice trip .
    carlo perissinotto
    treviso
    north east italy

  3. Blanca, you are a hero! A courageous, articulate, athlete; I am sure that your journey does very, very much for world peace through understanding. I follow you since Dr. Teresa Gipso, whom you met in Malawi, shared your connection. If ever you come back through Kenya, please know you have friends here and we would love to host you.

    Safari nzuri!

  4. a privilege to read this story breaking on my birthday.
    there is something positive about iberia and its influence in the
    world. equatorial guinea is maybe another African country
    under this Iberian kinship. thank you and blessed regards.

  5. What a beautiful experience dear Blanca.
    Thanks for sharing your traveling experience. Congratulations for your courage, take care.
    Nahid
    Ongwediva, Namibia

  6. Hi Blanca. This one touched me deeply. My brother passed away in Angola. He went back there some years after he was there as a soldier. He worked as a missionary when he passed away. He loved Angola so much. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I was moved to read your comment and sorry for your loss. Angola is an incredible country where I received nothing by warmth. I’m sure your brother had many happy times there when he returned as a missionary.

  7. Oh how wonderful to hear so much about how wonderful humanity is – we are so easily persuaded otherwise by what few media stories we hear about. So lovely to hear that your adventure continue to bring you so much joy and make you smile – I can only imagine the nerves as each country unfolds in front of you. Keep that radar going but hopefully you have more faith each day in your own judgement to enjoy the incredible hospitality. Can’t wait for the next chapter and reading your book which has to be a must xxx

  8. 14 months of cycling in Africa, amazing. Stupid questions, how come you never look tired and how do you keep your clothes so white and clean looking? Also do you try to do a certain number of km a day or just stop whenever and how do u find places to stay.

    1. Thank you for your comment. No question is a silly question and I would ask exactly what you are asking!

      Looking well
      Whenever I can i try to not overstretche or overtire myself, rest well, eat well and as balanced as I can with what I can find locally and keep hydrated. I love seeing the world from the sadle of my bike and probably that contributes to my looks!

      As for my clothes I just wash them regularly. You can find powder detergent everywhere and it doesn’t take long to give them a quick rinse.

      Distances – I generally aim to get to a village to camp (there is always water in villages to wash myself and y clothes and to cookband I feel safer there) a minimum of 60 km away, sometimes more sometimes less. Most times it works ok

      Hope this answers your questions

  9. Dear Blanca

    My husband David and I met you in Cat ba while we were cycle touring.
    I have been following along with your blog since then and I am very inspired by you.
    Sending along love and best wishes from Canada

    Janis and David

    1. Hi both
      Thanks for taking the time to write to me.

      Hope you’re well. I remember our meeting in that cafe by the waterfront. Vietnam was great!!

      Big hugs

  10. Angola sounds so welcoming in-spite of the poverty and the recent memories of war, another wonderful description. Wish I could be there with you! Enjoy the next part of your travels in West Africa!

    Lots of love

    Kath xxx

  11. I love all your blogs but this one was even more special and it brought tears to my eyes. Your continuing strength, courage and sense of fun is wonderful to witness.
    I’ve recently travelled in Sri Lanka and I was there for the bombing. Although an hour away from the blasts it was horrific, mainly because of the devastating impact on the tourist industry which was slowly growing following their healing since their civil war and then that devastating tsunami. I think they need a lot of blessings in all their religions there to help them recover yet again.
    Thanks so much for sharing it all with us. Love Jude

  12. once again Blanca, thank you for sharing your experiences. You overcome fears , which is my definition of brave. Thank you

  13. ahhh Blanca, his little facey with that puppy………..

    much love and good wishes to you. You universal traveler you.

    xxxxxxxxxxxx

  14. Otro relato estupendo !!
    A tu vuelta tienes que publicar un libro con toda tu aventura….
    Besos desde Zaragoza

  15. I’m lost for words Blanca. What a wonderful world you’re describing. Incredibly refreshing in the dire political times we’re having here in the UK. We think of you everyday. Keep safe. Dorothy xx

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