Saturday, March 7, 2009 - Namacunde - added by Steve

With only a 5 day transit visa to cover the 2500kms separating us and the Namibian border, we were thankful when the Angolans, no doubt used to the standard overlander lament, allowed us to spend the night at the border thereby assisting us in getting an early start and making full use of the meagre allocation of days. As luck would have it we met up with Diana and Robin again, who were also spending the night there, so now we could travel in convoy which would be great.

Before we left the DRC I had inquired of several people as to the availability of diesel on the Angolan side of the border. I was assured Noqui, the Angolan border town, had ample diesel, and decided to fill up there, thereby saving about 66% on the price of diesel. However, as we are being reminded time and again, things are never as easy as this, and we were through Noqui in a matter of minutes, it being just a tiny border village. Needless to say, no petrol stations were found! Luckily we had about 100kms worth of diesel, and calculating distances to the next town, decided we'd be able to make it, but only just!

Well, we didn't bank on the state of the road! After only 30 incredibly rough kilometres (taking us almost 2 hours), we ground to a halt, our tanks completely dry! We were incredibly lucky to have Diana and Robin in convoy, because without them I don't know what we'd do... certainly we couldn't leave Songololo alone in the bush without having someone to keep the interested locals at bay, but neither could I leave Roxy alone while I sought help, nor send her out to seek help by herself. Without them we would have been in quite a pickle! Anyway, luck was on our side, and after handing over 2 jerry cans and some cash, Diana and Robin disappeared down the road in search of diesel. After 5 long hours they returned, having negotiated some of the worst roads they'd seen thus far, but luckily, not empty handed! They had eventually found someone with a generator and negotiated to take 40 litres, naturally at an exorbitant fee! Oh well, although we'd lost 5 hours and hadn't saved a cent on diesel (in fact, we'd made quite a significant loss when compared to DRC prices), at least we would now be able to get back on the move.

Well... easier said than done of course! Turns out diesel engines most certainly do not like to be run empty! I pumped the fuel as close to the engine as possible, but just could not get it to start. Thinking perhaps all the gunk in the bottom of the fuel tank, accumulated over the previous 5 months, had blocked the sedimenter, I emptied this out. My god, there was a lot of crap at the bottom! For good measure I swapped out the fuel filter too, and bled the air from the system. To no avail, I just could not get the engine started!

Again, the kind-hearted Robin and Diana volunteered to head off, returning to the border in search of a mechanic that could get our beast restarted. We settled down to another lengthy wait, but only 30 minutes later they returned, having found not one, but two mechanics in just the next small village! What luck! The guys went to work immediately, but couldn't breathe any life into poor Songololo. Unfortunately it soon emerged they were in fact not mechanics, but had in some distant time driven diesel trucks, so felt qualified to be poking around the engine! Said qualification nwas not what we were looking for, a fact made all the more abundant when they broke both the manual fuel pump and sedimenter fuel pipe! Aaargh, how frustrating! Now our "mechanics" would need to return to Matadi to find a replacement fuel  pump as this was the closest town of reasonable size. The fact that Matadi was in the DRC didn't faze them, they knew a shortcut which would allow them to cross the border unnoticed by officialdom! Unfortunately it was too late in the day to do this, so we spent the night in the bush awaiting their return the following day.

Early the next morning our two budding mechanics pitched up, and again Diana and Robin set off to the border, more of our dwindling supply of US dollars in hand... this time to find a new fuel pump. Late in the afternoon they returned, but without a fuel pump... none could be found. Our overqualified mechanics informed us they had managed to repair our broken one though, so set about refitting it, unfortunately to no avail. They eventually came clean and confessed they had no idea what they were doing, but knew a real mechanic in DRC and would employ his services for us the following day! A night passed with things looking rather dire, but we were convinced that if we managed to actually locate a real mechanic we would be able to get back on the road. Morning came, and yet again Diana and Robin headed to the border. A real mechanic was indeed located, and after slipping the border officials some "facilitation tax", returned victoriously. The difference was noticeable immediately, as this guy went to work taking practically the whole engine apart!

It was at this point that we eventually said to Diana and Robin, who also held a 5 day transit visa, that we felt terrible about sending them back and forth and delaying there move through Angola. They were also facing the problem of their petrol supplies being used up on this to-ing and fro-ing, and could soon be in the same predicament as we were! So with much trepidation we bade them farewell, saying that if our new mechanic couldn't get things sorted out, we would just find another way. As they disappeared around the corder, Rox and I pondered what our options would be if our mechanic failed.

To our utter relief he discovered the problem was the sedimenter fuel line (broken by our erstwhile Angolan mechanics), and eventually got the engine started. The only way to do this was to bypass the sedimenter all together, but this was an issue we would be able to sort out later... at least we were able to move again! By now dark was falling, and we had promised to get our saviour back to his home country, so returned to the DRC border spending the night in the same place we had been 3 nights prior! Before our mechanic departed we asked him to take our jerry cans with him into the DRC and return with diesel. Stupidly I gave him US$100 and all our jerry cans, saying I'd give him payment of US$100 when he returned with the diesel. As he disappeared into the gloom I realised my mistake... what motivation did he have to return? He would do much better for himself if he sold our jerry cans and kept the 100 bucks! Hoping he'd do the right thing we fell asleep, anxiously awaiting his return the following morning. At 5am I was woken by a knock at the door... Rox immediately assumed the worst, convinced that at this ungodly hour it could only be the border officials about to issue us with demands for sleeping on their turf. Opening the door I discovered our mechanic, true to his word he'd returned with all our jerry cans full and we were able to get under way, this time with a full tank of diesel!

Northern Angola's roads are truly horrendous, the first 100kms or so being a rough single-lane track where you can expect to reach the heady heights of 20kph at most. The following 200kms is little better, being the remnants of a road which some time in the distant past had actually been tarred. Now it is a lattice of potholes and corrugations which offer a bone-crunching ride at speeds little over the previous section of road. Having only 2 days left on our 5-day transit visa we were forced to drive as far as we could, and made it to the coast north of Luanda just as the sun was setting. After a brutal civil war with loads of refugees fleeing the fighting, large tracts of Angola are largely deserted, allowing ample opportunity to bush camp in incredible surroundings. Of course you have to be aware that there are lots of uncleared landmines in areas, but luckily not in this particular spot!

Knowing we'd have no chance of reaching Namibia before our visa expired, we tried to cover as much distance as we could each day. We'd heard stories of people being fined US$75 per day they overstayed their visa, but others simply being let through. We hoped we'd be in the latter category, but in case we weren't we put foot and tried to minimise the time we overstayed our welcome. The roads from Luanda south are brand new tar, which was a joy after the terrible excuses for roads we'd been subjected to previously and we were able to cover large distances. Each night we bush camped in incredibly beautiful surroundings, seemingly the only people for miles around. Unfortunately, since the mechanic who'd got Songololo running again had had to bypass the sedimenter, all the solid junk in the fuel was going straight into the fuel filter, and we were going through a filter a day! Knowing I'd soon run out of filters I had to do something to get the sedimenter back into the system. There's nothing that a bit of glue and a rubber band can't fix! I glued around the connectors and wrapped them with strips from a rubber inner-tube. Amazingly I was able to get sufficient pressure to get the fuel system primed and the truck starting again! Perhaps we'd be able to make it to Namibia afterall!

Soon the tar disappeared and we were back to bouncing around... oh well, at least we had tar for a while! It was at this point that our alternator gave up the ghost and we were in danger of running our batteries flat... which is of course what happened! 200kms from the Namibian border we found ourselves on the side of the road with dead batteries! Luckily a truck soon passed and we were able to get a jump start. We finally limped into the Angolan border post, dreaming of civilisation which lay just a few metres further! Knowing that if I stopped the engine I wouldn't be able to restart it, I sent Rox out with the passports while I sat in the truck with the engine running. Stretching my legs I noticed my hack job at fixing the sedimenter wasn't exactly perfect, and we were leaking fuel all over the place! So there I was, in the middle of the border post with the engine running, under the cab and slaving over an engine which was close to 100 degrees C, struggling with the rubber inner-tubes, spurts of diesel spraying over my arms and chest! Luckily I managed to stem the flow, and Rox was able to get us stamped out without a fine for overstaying our visa by 3 days!

In just a few short minutes we would be on Namibian soil where we would be able to get all our truck problems sorted out and get down to enjoying decent roads, ATMs that worked, make use of proper petrol stations and buy goods from real shops! We couldn't wait!


1 .
Well done guys! Such amazing stories.
Trish - 19 Apr 2009, 0:56
2 .
alistair - 7 Jun 2009, 10:20

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