This is the story of two friends traveling through Africa to create awareness for micro financing. In a little over a year Jeffrey de Visser en Twan Crombach drove almost 60,000 kilometers in their Land Rover around the African continent, visiting over 30 African countries. Would you also like to help Africa? Then lend some money to Africa through Kiva.

The Brazza life

Posted from Brazzaville, Brazzaville, Congo.

Life in Brazzaville moves at a slow pace. Everyone just goes about their business during the day, but at night things comes alive in a mix of eating, talking, singing, dancing and drinking. We were staying with Chantal and Florence, two teachers at the Lycée Français (French school), who we found through CouchSurfing. During the day, we were busy repairing the Land Rover and getting visas for Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon and Ghana, and at night we went with them to restaurants and clubs where we drank Primus beer, ate food that took two hours to arrive and enjoyed great music and good company.

Every overlander who passes through Brazzaville stops at Hotel Hippocampe. Olivier runs this fancy hotel and restaurant in the heart of Brazza, and gracefully offers a room to overlanders passing through. His guestbook is worth its weight in gold because it contains a lot of valuable information. Needless to say, we were not that surprised to meet Jos, a Dutch guy who was driving down the west coast of Africa in his Volkswagen Beetle. There aren’t many overlanders in West Africa, unlike the East side, which is teeming with flocks of Toyotas, Land Rovers and motorcycles bearing adventurous Europeans. After a few days, we had sorted everything out and headed for Gabon.

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Crossing the Congo

Posted from Luozi, Bas Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We found an alternative to the expensive ferry from Kinshasa to Brazzaville: about 150 kilometres before Kinshasa, and about ten kilometres before Kimpese, there is a road that turns north towards the town of Luozi. The road starts as a gravel track that leads to the ferry across the legendary Congo River. This ferry, unlike the $600-800 alternative in Kinshasa, only cost us $15 with no hassle whatsoever. While waiting, we filled the car with diesel from the jerrycans we brought from Angola, until we discovered the fuel tank was leaking badly. The village children quickly grabbed any container they could find and caught the diesel. Cleverly, after they had filled a few half litre bottles they tried to sell it back to us. It was too contaminated for our engine, but any local truck would gladly take it off their hands. We took the last ferry of the day, so we arrived on the other side of the river, in Luozi, quite late. There, we found a Catholic mission where we spent the night. The next day, we discovered that the road becomes a serious offroad track that should not be attempted after rainfall. We also had to deal with border formalities in Luozi, Boko and several other places. Apart from the odd request for a bribe, it was fairly straightforward. Perhaps the most challenging part was convincing the drunk border officials to leave the casino and open the gate for us. On the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and the Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville) there is a concrete sign that marks the border between the former Belgian and French colonies. We spent the night at a small auberge in Boko and the next day continued our journey to Brazzaville.

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Bonjour Congo Democratique

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Posted from Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We were advised to cross the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (or: DRC, Congo-Kinshasa or Congo Democratique) at the small Luvo border crossing, rather than Matadi, because it is friendlier and less corrupt. And, indeed, the border crossing was very easy. The Angolan side took a while with quite a few checkpoints by army, police, military police, immigration, customs and just random bored soldiers. They wanted to know everything from our weight to the names of our parents, and meticulously noted everything down in the register. The number of registration books with our names in them in Africa is already too much to count, and we often wonder what happens to them. I suppose in Europe my name will show up in a few thousand computer systems, but at least you can then recover the data. This mess of incorrectly written European names in illegible handwriting seems a pointless exercise though.

At the DRC side of the border we were happily greeted by a group of officials under a tree, all of them wearing a different uniform, and we got our first taste of French. After telling officials in Angola “não falo Portuguese” (I don’t speak Portuguese) for a few weeks, we could now at least communicate a little bit. In a small office we got our passports stamped by a cheerful guy, and customs was dealt with just as quickly and pleasantly. As soon as you enter the DRC the paved road stops and turns into a muddy track. A while later you reach the only main road in the country, which runs between Matadi and Kinshasa.

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There are two ways to get across the Congo river to the Republic of Congo (or Congo-Brazzaville): take the ferry from Kinshasa to Brazzaville for an extortionate price, or drive the remote but beautiful Luozi-route. The latter is not accessible when it rains, and we were there at the start of the rainy season. We still opted for the latter, though, hoping to save the ridiculous $600-1000 they charge for the ferry in Kinshasa. However, one of the bushes that connects the suspension to the chassis was worn out, so we had to replace it before we started on the most gruelling offroad track since Lake Turkana (or perhaps Luanda). Perhaps we had to go into Kinshasa afterall…?

We drove into Kimpese, a small typical African city. I spotted a Land Rover, waved him down and stopped to have a chat. I asked him in my best French if he knew where to get Land Rover parts here. He told me he knew a mechanic who could help. We drove to the Catholic Mission where there was a mechanic who quickly identified the problem, along with several others, and told us he could fix things. The rest of the day was spent getting parts and fitting them, while we had a much needed shower and chatted with the locals. That night we slept in the tent in the garage and wondered why we had been so worried about this country to begin with.

The next morning we stopped by a welder’s and got supplies for the Luozi route. If it rained while we were on the route, we might get stuck until things dried up, so we filled up our water tank and stocked up on food. We then got some bits of valuable local information and hit the road again.

Angola part 4 – The deepest of waters are sewers

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Posted from Luanda, Luanda, Angola.

We left Benguela and headed for Luanda with a stop in Porto Amboim on a beautiful beach. Luanda, however, was a nightmare. The city is a mix of corrupt officials, constantly traffic jams and offroad driving that could rival any offroad challenge in Europe. The deepest water we drove through during this journey so far was sewer water in Luanda! Luckily, we had a friend, George, who invited us to stay the night. He lives dead in the centre of the city in an apartment building. He doesn’t own a car because driving in Luanda is “crazy”, so he walks to his job with an oil company every day. Luckily, the building he lives in has a parking garage in the basement so we could safely park the car. We went out to dinner to take a dive into the oil expat community in the second most expensive city in the world. The city really is incredibly expensive: a beer is $5-6, five tomatos on the street will set you back $2, a normal pizza is $25 and a budget hotel room is at least $400 if you can find one.

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After taking more than two hours to exit the huge city, we headed north towards N’zeto. There we camped on the beach one last time before heading inland over an asphalted road towards Bwanza-Kongo and the northerly border. As we drove inland the jungle grew thicker, and it got hotter and more humid. We were approaching the country we had been forewarned about many times, and the cause of concern from the very beginning: the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Angola part 3 – Recharging batteries in Benguela

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Posted from Benguela, Benguela, Angola.

In the early afternoon, we arrived in Benguela. We tried phoning our friend from the border, Carlos, a few times, but it went straight to voicemail. We drove through the city, bought some groceries and tried calling him a few more times. The city was lovely, but there was no campsite and a cheap hotel in Angola will cost you a small fortune. So, we drove about 30 kilometres out of the city, set up camp in a deserted bit of land and had a quick dinner.

While making coffee the phone rangs: Carlos. He explained that he was out of the city but was on his way home now and we could stay with him if we liked. It beats camping in the bush, and we had just found out we had a few small mechanical problems. We drove, in the dark, back into the buzzing city and met Carlos at a petrol station. Africa really comes alive at night; many people don’t have power or enough space in their homes to live inside, so come sunset everybody takes to the streets to eat, drink, talk, dance and yell at passing white people in Portuguese. That night we met Carlos’s wife and daughters, had Portuguese food and slept in a proper bed. The next two days we went to see a mechanic who fixed the problems with the car, went out to lunch and dinner a few times and had a great time with Carlos’s family. We left Benguela with our car fixed, a new friend and our batteries recharged.

Angola part 2 – From tropical storm to sunny beach

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Posted from Huila, Angola.

The first night we camped in the bush. Sometimes, a cow would walk into the camp, but we made a small fire, had a good dinner and both sets of parents called to ask us how it had gone. The next morning we drove away heading for Lubango, one of the larger cities in Angola. When we drove over the hills that surround the city, we could see it being doused by a blanket of rain. Once we got into the city, that rain turned out to be a small tropical storm that turned the streets into rivers and effectively stopped life in the city. The city itself wasn’t very interesting; in fact, there is only one tourist attraction: Christo del Rei. The statue of Jesus towers above the city on a hill. The building upon which the statue is placed can be accessed via a set of narrow stairs. From the top, the view of the city was spectacular.

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We drove out of Lubango and visited the graves of the Dorstland voortrekkers, who moved from South Africa through Namibia to the south of Angola. Sadly, many of them did not survive. After that we drove through the Laba Pass. This is a spectacular route that ends 1000 metres lower than it starts, rather like the Nile Valley in Ethiopia but with slightly better roads.

We also visited Namibe, a city that resembles Havana in many ways: the broad streets, the Southern European influenced architecture, colourful streets and friendly people. From there we drove north heading for Benguela. The first part of the road is perfect Chinese asphalt, but halfway along the paved road turns into a gravel track that seems to be even more endless than the asphalted part. The Chinese are working hard on the road though, so it will soon be finished all the way to Benguela.

We found a small bay on the map: Binga Bay. It had two marked camping spots in Tracks4Africa and was about 15 kilometres off the road. Those 15 kilometres turned out to be a gruelling offroad track that cut through the rocky hills with steep ascents and descents. On top of the cliff, with a beautiful view of the ocean, sandy beaches and steep cliffs, there was suddenly a locked barrier across the road, with no way around it. A little while later, one of the locals walked up and told us that we needed a permit to camp there. We tried to argue, misunderstand and he finally opened the gate in exchange for some cola. We drove down, let down our tyre pressure to one BAR to drive on the loose sand and drove over the beach to the other side of the bay and set up camp. Later, the chief of the very small village in the bay came and told us that we needed a permit from a general in Luanda, which cost $50 a day. So, in the end, we give him $20 for camping on this beautiful beach. We fished, swam and relaxed until well into the next day.

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Angola part 1 – The difficult bit is getting in

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Posted from Oshikango, Cunene, Angola.

We entered Angola through the Santa Clara border post, the main border crossing from Namibia. The Namibian side of the border was chaotic. Several people warned us to keep a close eye on the car and watch out for young border residents desperately trying to make a bit of money. I filled out the documents on the bonnet of the car while Twan stood in line, then we switched places and got our documents stamped. The officials were strict, and a Southern European looking guy advised us to only give one passport at the time through the slot in the counter. We had entered and left Namibia a few times before and it had always been easy and pleasant, but this time it was somehow more serious. After a quick stamp from customs we went through the border to the Angolan side. We parked the car and stood in line behind the same guy who advised us earlier. He told us his name was Carlos and he had been on holiday in Namibia and Zambia with his wife and two daughters. He spoke Portuguese and helped us to get through Angolan immigration without any problems, and then got us a fixer to get through customs. Angola doesn’t recognise the carnet de passage we have for the car and we therefore needed a temporary import permit. The fixer went to work while we waited in the hot car. Meanwhile, Carlos, the guy we had just met, lent us $140 worth of Kwanzas out of nowhere and gave us his details so we could visit him in Benguela. About two hours later the fixer had managed to obtain the permit and got us through the final checks. He went with us to the first petrol station where we filled our empty tank with diesel that cost us only $0.40 a litre, and we also got a SIM card. Needless to say, we managed to cross one of the most notorious, difficult borders in Africa, and did it within three hours. We drove out of Santa Clara on a badly potholed road. In fact, it was potholes with a little bit of asphalt in between now and again. We couldn’t believe that we’d made it: Angola!

Namibia: a place of rumoured beauty

Namibia

Posted from Windhoek, Khomas, Namibia.

Many people had told us about how beautiful Namibia is; how the Namib Desert is a wonderful place to explore in a 4×4, how beautiful the Brandberg Mountain is in the sunset, how German architecture and planning permeates the city of Windhoek, and how rugged the Skeleton Coast is with its shipwrecks and whale skeletons. They weren’t wrong. It is one of the most beautiful countries we have visited so far. We saw the wonderful rock paintings of Twyfelfontein, wildcamped in the vast emptiness of the Namib Desert, drove offroad on the beaches of the Skeleton Coast, hiked through the scorching heat in the Fish River Canyon, and visited the Brandberg Mountain. There were many other highlights as well. Namibia is also an easy country to travel through and the people are very friendly. Indeed, Twan’s photos speak for themselves.

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We had expected to be able to get our visas for Angola, Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville in Windhoek, which was true for the last two countries, but the Angolan embassy told us, and I quote, to “f*ck off”, because we weren’t residents of Namibia. That meant we had to drive 2,000 kilometres to Zambia to try again there. Luckily, the woman at the Angolan embassy in Lusaka was infinitely friendlier, and we got the very expensive ($200 each) visas within a few days. We did, however, get two weeks in Angola instead of the usual five days, which allowed us to see more of the country. We also tried to apply at the Congo-Kinshasa embassy in Lusaka, but they initially wouldn’t allow us to do so either. In the end we were told it was possible, but they gave us no guarantees that our applications would be accepted. Moreover, it would take a while to get all of the documents in order. So, we drove the 2,000 kilometres back to Windhoek, which means we have driven the length of the Caprivi Strip three times now. Back in Windhoek, we applied for visas for both Congos successfully without many problems.

The day two white men came to my village

Chief Mulele

Posted from Livune, Western, Zambia.

Hello, my name is Chief William Mulele. I am 91 years old and I live in southwest Zambia, close to the Caprivi Strip. I am chief of a small village of pastoralists. About 50 people live in my village, most of which are family. We have one group of cows near the Caprivi, one at the river and one in a field nearby. Last year, a disease came from the side of Chief Kuyana’s village and a lot of our animals died. We also grow corn, and since the rainy season has started we are now plowing the fields with two oxes. I cannot walk very well anymore, but sometimes I still go to the field.

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Today, a car drove into my village with two foreign white men who asked one of my grandsons if they could sleep here. He brought them to me, I offered them a chair and asked them what they were doing here. They told me they were on their way to Lusaka, the capital of my country, to get a visa for Angola. I have never been to Angola, but they say it is close by. Lusaka I have visited many times. All of my children have finished their schooling; some work on big farms, some as nurses and one in engineering in Lusaka. The white men had been travelling for eight months in their car with a tent on the roof. Their journey reminded me of the journey I made when I was their age. In 1944, I went on a train to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and then onto Caïro in Egypt where I fought with Hitler. I worked as a medic, which is why I recognised the bottle of Dettol the white men used to clean their dishes. Hitler lost though, and I went back home. Later, the British came and I fought for them too, which is why I have two medals: one from Germany and one from the British. I also still have my German uniform, still crisp and clean, which I wear when I travel. When I put my medals on my jacket the police don’t bother me because they know I made great sacrifices for my country. I still remember all the words to ‘God save the King’.

I offered the two foreigners a place under the big tree next to my house, where they set up their tent, chairs, table and everything else. It was almost like a house their orange car. I told my grandsons to collect firewood and the men made me very strong coffee with lots of sugar. Later that night they played music with my grandsons and talked with me and the others who speak some English. They cooked on the fire in a big black pot and offered me some of their food, which was very spicy but delicious. They also gave a plate to the children to share. I then blessed them and their journey because I found the Lord Jesus Christ.

The next morning they took some photos with me and my family, and thanked us by giving us some presents. They said they might be back because they drive this way back from Lusaka. I blessed them again and we said goodbye.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Xmas

Posted from Windhoek, Khomas, Namibia.

From sunny Namibia we would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a very happy 2013. We would also like to thank everyone for all the support we’ve received this past year, in particular from friends and family. Meanwhile, we have started our return trip along the challenging west coast of Africa. We hope to be back in the Netherlands in the spring.

Dutch: Prettige kerstdagen en een gelukkig nieuwjaar
Arabic: I’D Miilad Said ous Sana Saida
Dagbani: Ni ti Burunya Chou & Mi ti yuun
Afrikaans: Geseende Kerfees en ‘n gelukkige nuwe jaar
Xhosa: Siniqwenelela Ikrisimesi EmnandI Nonyaka Omtsha Ozele Iintsikelelo Namathamsanqa
Zulu: Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle Nonyaka Omusha Onempumelelo
French: Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!
Swahili: ºKrismas Njema Na Heri Za Mwaka Mpyaº
Egyptian: Colo sana wintom tiebeen
English: Merry Christmas & Happy New Year
Somali: ciid wanaagsan iyo sanad cusub oo fiican.
Eritrean: Rehus-Beal-Ledeat