To many 4×4 enthusiasts the mention of Angola still conjures up thoughts of a war-torn, wasted country. Others recall the ill-fated Doodsakker excursion along the beaches that received wide media coverage. There is, however, a wonderland of amazing scenery and wonderful people waiting to be discovered, should you venture there.
The Angolans have worked miracles in rehabilitating the country after the costly and destructive war, and they are rebuilding it at an extraordinary rate. With newly defined routes and roads, Angola is opening up for travellers to experience scenes that they would not expect to find in an African country.
It is a photographer’s dream, with ever-changing landscapes. The colourful, friendly and vibrant people in their rural settlements and local markets are an attraction in themselves. This is borne out by the remarks one hears on an expedition, as people discuss their impressions over the two-way radios in a convoy, or in the evenings around the camp fire.
Venturing into the recovering coffee producing areas (before 1975, Angola produced more than 200 000 tons of coffee beans annually and employed thousands of people on 2500 coffee farms) one can see why it is being compared to Columbia. Over there, the rain forest is cut down, leaving only a secondary forest and below these trees are the coffee plantations. It looks very similar in Angola, where even the old buildings on the estates look like those in Columbia.
The dense Congo basin forest up north offers amazing and overwhelming scenes, and prolific bird life. Angola has more than 900 bird species of which the more unusual and endemic ones are to be found in the forests and escarpments.
At the Tunda-vala, a breathtaking gorge cut out of the escarpment close to Lubango, the escarpment drops almost vertically by 1000m. This is home to the Angolan cave chat.
The vegetation at the top of the escarpment reminds one of Kaapsehoop in Mpumalanga, with the same type of vegetation and similar weirdly shaped rocks strewn about.
Lubango also boasts a statue of Christ, a feature normally associated with cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Lisbon. (The Portuguese connection is obvious.)
The colossal blocks of stone rising out of the surrounding savannah in the central part of Angola (Pedras Negras – Black Rocks) are a remarkable sight. Geologically, the rocks are a mystery with the hard sedimentary conglomerates totally out of character with the surrounding area. The rocks cover an area of approximately 12km by 6km and remind one of Ayers Rock, one of the Australia’s landmarks.
Kalandula Falls are the second biggest waterfall by volume in Africa after the Victoria Falls. They are 400m wide and drop 105m – truly spectacular.
Travelling through areas in the south and west, visitors will notice the baobab trees and compare them to those in Botswana, Zimbabwe and central Africa. In fact, Angola comes out tops with massive baobab forests over a large area just below “the great escarpment” parallel to the Angola coast.
The transformation in scenery when you descend from the central highlands to the low lying areas is amazing, with the landscape rapidly changing from forest to a Namibian-type terrain similar to Damaraland. Farther south it’s more and more like Namibia and the deserts near Swakopmund, and even the Sperrgebied close to Luderitz. The area also hosts a large number of Welwitchia plants, which are generally associated only with the Namibian desert.
Entering the coastal town of Lobito, one could easily imagine yourself in an Arab country. There are many clay brick houses that merge with the same coloured soil from which they are made. Everything looks yellow, with specks of grey.
The canyon close to Flamingo Lodge bears a similarity to places in Jordan, and the area along the Carujamba Valley, with its red-hued petrified dunes, reminds some people of Al Aun in the United Arab Emirates.
The forest area above Calulo was a lot like the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and the massive colourful blocks of newly built high-rise apartments in Luanda brought back memories of travelling through Astana in Kazakhstan.
Angola is truly the world in one country.