As early as 1874, South Africans decided on a journey north-west from the then Western Transvaal in search of greener pastures. It was the beginning of the Dorsland Trek, which ended up in Angola. Eben Delport recently followed in their tracks.
With the crossing of the Kunene in 1880, the Dorsland Trekkers started a transport revolution. At the time, the mode of transport in the wilds was mainly with porters carrying trade goods over long distances.
On a visit to modern Angola, one immediately appreciates the effort it must have taken to travel in those times. To get their wagons across the country, the trekkers first had to clear a “road” by removing trees and other obstacles. But once that had been achieved and the ox-wagons began to roll, it often became an established route.
The appearance of the ox-wagon in Angola began the transport revolution. Previously, the best option, apart from the manual labour of porters, had been a two-wheeled scotch cart (skorkar) pulled by a single ox or two.
By 1884, various routes had been opened up and the ox-wagon even earned itself a name in Portuguese – the carro boer. As late as the 1960s, this was the official description on licence documents.
The Dorsland Trekkers became Angolan Boers (called “Boars” in Angola). By the turn of the century (1900) they were looking for replacements and they sourced new wagons from the brothers Studebaker – American coach builders based in South Bend, Indiana. The same company, in the 1950s, produced motor cars under the name Studebaker.
The advent of the railways, and eventually motor transport in the 1920s, gradually led to the replacement of the ox-wagon as a major means of transport.
Today the roads in Angola are a far cry from the rough old tracks. Various roads were constructed before the 1975 revolution in Angola. Unfortunately, they suffered severely during the civil war through lack of maintenance and “battle scars”.
However, the roads in Angola are improving year by year as part of the country’s drive to improve its infrastructure. In recent times, more than 11 000km of tarred roads have been built. Even so, there are still places that can only be reached in off-road vehicles.
We ventured deep into Angola and went all the way up to Maquela – just 25km short of the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We were surprised by the excellent condition of the main roads (brand new tar on all the main routes) but we really enjoyed the unspoiled and uncharted beauty of the minor roads. Most of them were a rewarding 4×4 challenge through unspoiled wilderness and exceptionally beautiful countryside and forests. Angola is certainly one of the most beautiful places in southern Africa.
As with the old explorers in their Studebaker wagons, we had occasion to cut down branches and fill up bad patches in the road. Sometimes the locals joined in to push and pull vehicles stuck in deep mud or in roads badly damaged by erosion. It was great fun.
After this experience, we understood the latest choice of transport in the rural areas – small Chinese-made motorbikes and three-wheelers. They can outrun the best 4×4, swerving across the road and around the potholes with great skill!
In our Patrol we felt like the early pioneers – not afraid of any road or challenge, and we completed the job with ease.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the trip was that we felt quite safe wherever we set up camp. Attitudes at provincial border controls and other police checkpoints have changed drastically, and generally officers now just salute and smile when foreign registered vehicles approach, waving the turistas through.
At the end of each day we agreed anew that Angola was definitely a destination that warranted more than one visit. Even by keeping to the main routes, on the newly constructed and improved roads, you could spend a relatively comfortable and exciting time exploring the variety and beauty of the country.