25-Apr-2004 -- We knew it would be a tough trip, so we gathered in Luanda, early in the morning, close to 5 a.m. The early hour allowed us to make good time out of the city (traffic here can be horrendous), and in less than twenty minutes we were well under way running alongside the gentle Atlantic on the highway. This is the main road south towards Benguela, Namibe, Lubango and eventually Namibia. After roughly one hour we reached the track just off the main road - we were looking for some caves that Mário had marked on his GPS. We never saw the caves, and decided to leave that visit for another day. After asking for directions at a military checkpoint, we carried on through the maze of faded dirt tracks that characterise this area. The three GPS units were essential to ensure we did no get lost. We had to follow track after track, only to find out it ended abruptly or turned back on itself.
The Quiçama National Park (variously spelt "Kissama") is 1.2 million ha of bush and dense forest. Sadly, its fauna suffered greatly during the war years, Paul recalls seeing small herds of up to 20 elephants on the tarmac coastal road here and even on the beaches in the 1980's! Today only a small area (about 18,000 ha) is protected and recently elephants, zebras, kudus, giraffes, and elands have been introduced from South Africa (operation known as "Noah's Ark"). Where we were travelling, however, there are some villages, and poachers probably cut most of the tracks we saw.
Being at the very end of the rainy season, we were not expecting to see quite so much mud and to be honest, were not as well prepared as we could have been equipmentwise. After one bent steering bar, broken bumpers and getting each of the 4x4 vehicles stuck at least three times each, we finally arrived at the village of Demba Chio. The Soba ("village chief") was not around - "He is sick", said one of the elders. This guy, whose name I do not recall then said, we were pushing our luck to proceed past the village. After some heavy rains the track was impassable. At this stage we were still 17 km from the Confluence in a straight line.
As it was only 14:00, and being oblivious to local advice, we decided to carry on down the track. It took only 50 yards before we got all three cars deeply stuck... At that stage we gave thanks to all the equipment we had with us. Each of the cars was equipped with an electric winch and we carried metal strips and shovels. The kinetic rope proved itself time and again, however, we could not have moved the cars at all without the help of the Hi-lift jack. One by one we got the cars unstuck, the Nissan Patrol however was very stuck, and by this time the heat was also getting to us all following our physical exertions. Four hours later we were exhausted but were finally clear of that very rough patch.
The equipment we had omitted to bring with us were our steel stakes, sledge hammer and chains with which to create a winch point as well as the exhaust bag jack. However, even with this additional kit it was definitely unwise to have considered continuing during the rainy season.
Unfortunately, nightfall was coming and we had to take the decision to leave this Confluence for another day. On the way back, in complete darkness, our GPS units with "track back" enabled that we found the way back with little trouble. However, suddenly, one of the engines choked and refused to start. This was probably due to lack of oil (auto stop system), no wonder after spending a few minutes stuck in incline at close to 45 degrees! We finally arrived back in Luanda around midnight.
Just a few words about the group: We were six, two guys in each car. In the lead a Land Rover Discovery 90, driven by Mário Pinto (Angolan); co-pilot Carlos Suarez (Mexican). Next came the Nissan Patrol with Leão (Angolan) at the wheel and Dudu (Angolan) as passenger. At the back of the pack came the highly modified Land Rover Camel Trophy Discovery of Paul Wesson (British), with Ascenso de Siqueira (Portuguese) as a hanger-on.
Next time we will come prepared to stay the night in the bush and will plan two complete days for reaching the Confluence. This next attempt will made be between September/October during the dry season.