Rest periods on a trip of many years are necessary, but more rest than necessary may also end up being counterproductive. Getting back on the saddle after living 3 weeks in Luanda, among friends, events and hang outs, required a great effort. On the one hand, the physical aspect is uncomfortable, putting muscles back to work after such a long period of inactivity is like trying to make an old rusty gear move. On the other hand, even for those of us who are nomadic, we find it difficult to return to the exercise of letting go, to leave behind once again all those new friends and special people that we have brought into our lives and with whom we have sowed a new bond.
In Luanda, I also lost my first battle against bureaucracy, after 2 weeks of visiting the embassy of the D.R.Congo until exhaustion, trying to obtain the damn visa. moving heaven and earth to meet the most arbitrary requirements imaginable, many of them being no more than mere whims that seem to have no other end, than to simply exacerbate the ill will of some and the reluctance to do something good for the another person. The diplomats of The D.R Congo treat people with the same disgust as if we were dogs with scabies (almost like the diplomacy of the United States when it comes to third world people) and as such, I have not been granted a visa.
Very frustrated and forced to reconfigure my plans, I had to follow the road along the Atlantic coast up to Soyo, at the mouth of the Congo river in the Atlantic Ocean and from there crossing in 'patera' (wooden boat) to Cabinda, from where I could reach the Republic of Congo where, yes, we are welcome. The new route was difficult, not as much as for being boring but because I still resisted with anger the idea of having lost to the absurd bureaucracy and the nonsense of a country that I really wanted to visit. Even so, I was still in Angola, and that was reason enough to be happy, because the Angolans, whether they may be from the south or from Luanda, or here in the north they are still extraordinary people and full of the energy that makes my days me happy.
Even the very police, who, like in all of Africa, emanate the most shameless corruption, were kind enough to contribute to my trip by donating me money instead of the usual demands for it. Of course, that money came indirectly from the pockets of the poor drivers, or rather from the defenseless victims, that would stop at the checkpoint where I had lunch. Nobody made it across the check without having to pay 'courtesy' money so the officers would turn a blind eye on problems that might not even be anywhere in the first place. However, the cops' sympathy and concern for me was too genuine to reject their generosity, both for the money they gave me and the cold water and the succulent lunch they bought for me. But I do not like dirty money, and just as I accepted it, I spent it later on buying groceries that I proceeded to donate to people in some very poor villages. It was a way of giving back to the people what others had blatantly robbed them.
Later, at the end of the day, the policemen from another checkpoint invited me to stay the night at their station and prepared a special dinner for me: paka, which is the closest thing to a giant bush rat, fresh, freshly hunted and ready to cook. I must say that considering it was a rat, it tasted pretty damn well in the stew they made, much better than the chicken I was offered on the next police camp, the night that would follow, where I got food poisoning.
The road along the coast, despite not having so much to see, has the benefit of being largely free of traffic because it is a road that ends in Soyo, a small border town. The small fishing villages along the sea reflect once again the rural and precarious nature of Angola outside the bubble that is Luanda and the contrast is again overwhelming. From parents worrying about sending their children to a school that costs US$ 50,000, to children who do not go to any school at all and spend the day in the water learning to fish like their parents.
As I continue northward, the days pass without pain or glory. The road becomes a hell of dust and sand that only gets worse every time a Chinese truck passes me coming from or going to the construction of a hydroelectric dam located further up north. The Chinese, who have already "accompanied" me throughout all of Africa, are my company here too. As usual, these very poor workers coming from what I considered once my adoptive country, are blown-away when they meet me. A white man in a place so remote for them, that he is also coming from China but by bicycle and even speaks Chinese!. Thanks to that, I get to enjoy the hospitality that I love so much about the Chinese and they fill me up with food and water at a point where it is actually very difficult to get them.
The landscape becomes progressively greener as I move towards the tropics, and the views of the rivers of the jungle flowing into the Atlantic Ocean, along dozens of kilometers of pristine beaches, are the best reward of days when, aside from this, nothing really happens.
It is not just a climatic transition that happens along the way to Congo. The people of northern Angola are also remarkably different from the south and Luanda, but equally good. Their dresses are more colorful, their skin more black, there are almost no mestizos, and it is becoming more common to see people dancing in the villages. The only thing that does not change is that women are still exceptionally beautiful and sensual! When I stop in a village they invite me to be part of the dance of a baptism that was taking place. Many young and very sexy women, along with older women and children danced around a drum. As I enjoy watching the ceremony, Anika, a middle-aged villager wrapped in an immaculate white dress that blinds my eyes, approaches me and in a very serious tone whispers in my ear:
- Nico, do you want a woman?
I distance myself a little from her to make eye contact, and with a very serious face and tone, I lock eyes with her and tell her:
- I want 5!
Anika was stunned, her eyes wide open in bewilderment, but before she said anything to me, I burst out laughing so she would come out of her shock and laugh at my joke. However, she did not laugh out of relief because she reassured me saying that if I wanted five I could have them, but I think that just having one would've probably been enough for me to keep me there. That's why I tried to keep my mind fresh and remain focused on the dance of the baptism.
After 5 days I finally reached Soyo, a dusty border town on the banks of the mouth of the legendary Congo River when it meets with the Atlantic Ocean. There I was received by João, an Angolan doctor of Portuguese origin, a former World Bank official, at the local clinic. His team made sure to help me find a boat to bypass the D.R.Congo and to get to the isolated province of Cabinda.
The trip is officially illegal but everything is possible, especially in this part of Africa where the line separating the legality of illegality is as thick as that of a thread of spider web. At 5 am I left for Cabinda in a 'patera' (wooden boat) loaded with merchandise and several 'cabinderos' and Congolese. If I had not had the bike, I think I would have chosen to swim because it would have been faster. Even though I swim since I was little, I am not a water person and I do not find pleasure in floating for 12 hours, first across the river Congo and then right on the Atlantic ocen. I finally landed in Cabinda at the end of the day, completely exhausted, and ready to reconnect with the land.