Monday, March 12, 2012
After what I must confess was THE BEST SLEEP I have ever experienced on a camping trip, we awoke to the sounds of the sea and the golden light just beginning to peek out over the cliffs. As the sun spilled onto to sandy walls of the canyon, they radiated an orangy-red warmth that contrasted with the cool morning air.
Thursday, March 08, 2012
Back on solid ground, we bumped on through the last 3 km until, there it was – the ocean. Blue and beautiful, visible through an opening in the hard sandy cliffs. Have you ever been to an unspoiled beach at mid-morning in the summer and found that you had the lonely coastline all to yourself? Glorious. Angola has what I would say is a non-existent tourism industry. Hallelujah! Yes, there are still beautiful beaches in the world that don't have boardwalks or hotels, spas, or millionaires mansions. How refreshing. We parked the vehicles and set up camp. And quite a deluxe camp I must say. Though we slept in tents and cooked over an open fire, we also had a shower tent with a battery powered shower and a small 4- walled privacy screen for our pit toilet. What I do believe may be the perfect mix of nature and comfort. We had a light lunch and then got on to exploring. Some of us swam a bit - though even in summer the water was quite cold. Some of us did a bit of fishing, some napped or just relaxed on the sand. Late in the afternoon we took a hike along the cliffs to a small cove just out of view from where we had set up camp. As the sun grew heavy and started slipping into the sea, we set up our chairs to enjoy a sun-downer before dinner preparations got into full swing. Dinner was an amazing array of pork chops and steinbok shank grilled to perfection over the open flame, foiled wrapped potatoes cooked on the red-hot coals complemented by home made sour cream, and a fresh salad. With heavy cloud cover overhead, no stars, no moon – night wrapped us up it it's blanket or darkness. Around this time, Shelley said, “Let's go see if the ocean is glowing.” What?? Yes. Bioluminescent algae! I have only read about it and I have to say this ranks up there with the coolest things I have ever experienced in nature. With the skies so dark and no light interference, the ocean brightly glowed as algae in its waves hit the shoreline. We marveled at this amazing wonder of God's creation as we walked in the wet sand. Looking down at our feet we saw tiny sparkles of light blinking with each step. The algae in the wet sand reacted as the sand was disturbed and glowed sparkly bursts of light with our footfalls. Shelley exclaimed that she had never seen it so bright before. Laurel, a resident at the hospital here on a short term visit, kicked up spray of wet sand with her foot and we all watched it glitter as it fell. Soon all three of us were kicking up sand, writing our names and jumping around like kids. Phenomenal. Hands down, coolest beach experience ever. God is an amazing artist. That is all I can say.
After the greenery and various vegetation encountered coming down the Serra de Leba, Baobabs and lush green trees slowly gave way to scrubby brush and drier plains filled with huge boulders and rounded rock formations, which brought back treasured memories of Joshua Tree National Park with two of my favorite people in the world. Huge boulders soon turned to flat dry, sandy earth, barren and open spaces filled with small smooth rocks as far as the eye could see. After a while, hills began to rise from the ground again, with grass and short trees and shrubs. Then came the turnoff. Leaving the paved road. At a small post stuck in the ground approximately 2 feet high, we left the road and headed into the hills. Can you hear U2's “Where the Streets Have No Name”? Here began the now-familiar bouncing and bumping and jostling around that comes with driving in Angola. As we bumped and bounced and jostled along, we spotted some baboons darting across the path and up over the hillside. Eventually we came to another nondescript marker – handwritten in paint on a small rock in English - “My Beach”. We veered left at this landmark and headed onward to my beach. =) Soon the green hills lost their greenery and began to take shape, forming themselves into rocky crags on either side of our path. We forged deeper into this canyon, stopping briefly for a dog and human potty break before the bushes completely disappeared. Not that such cover would have mattered so much to the dogs, but for the humans it was appreciated. Back in the vehicles for more bumping and bouncing which soon became slow creeping around and over rocks and through ever-deepening sandy washes. When the sand got to be too much, it was time for a short stop to let some air out of the tires. Fifteen minutes later, with the tire pressure decreased, we piled back in the truck and slowly eased our way out of the sand. Over more rocks, winding our way through the canyon, expecting at any moment that the next turn would bring a glimpse of the ocean. Then... “Houston, we have a problem.” We reached a standstill as we came upon car number one in our two-car caravan halted at the base of a steep incline. Here the “path” (if one can actually call it a path) diverged. The left was a continuation of the grade we had been traveling – fairly flat (for the most part) but it was apparent that rains had washed through this riverbed of sorts and carried with them such debris and rocks that it made this path thoroughly impassible. Straight ahead what appeared to be a fairly new path forged onwards and UPWARDS. Up and over – circumnavigating the washed out section of trail. This path, which we suddenly knew was our sole option, was rocky, steep, narrow, and did I mention that it edged along one side of the steep embankment, leaving the driver's side of the vehicle skirting along the edge, looking down over the loose, rocky side? We had come so far, and at this point we were 3 km from that ocean view. “Two roads diverged in a canyon, and I, I took the one less traveled-by.” Of course, we went forward. We sent scouts ahead on foot to check things out and ensure that it would indeed be navigable and would lead us back to the main trail. Brent and Helena (and dogs) went first in their Land Cruiser Discovery. Now it was our turn - Sam and I, Peter and Shelley – with Peter driving their much bigger Ford and hauling a trailer. You should note that our vehicle was considerably bigger and bulkier, which presented a much bigger challenge especially in initially mounting the steep incline and in staying on the narrow path. Sam and Shelley got out to direct us on foot around the rocks and keep us from getting too close to the edge, while I moved into the passenger seat next to Peter who gripped the wheel and set his face to the challenge ahead. The going was S-L-O-W. Painstakingly slow; picking our way around rocks, skirting the edge...and then there is that moment – the moment when you reach the top of the roller coaster the nose of your car is pointed upwards and all you can see is the hood and sky. And you know that DOWN is coming next. You can't see it, but you know it's there. And so you move forward and yes, the road is still there, and you're headed downhill now and towards flat ground. We made it. Hair-raising as it was. Another life-adventure to add to the books.
What can I say? No, really....what can I say? I can't quite come up with the words to describe our trip to the coast, which is why it has been 2 weeks and I still haven't written down my thoughts. Today I shall try. But what can I say about the 4.5 hour drive that began on paved roads and turned to off-roading at the mid-way point? These song lyrics keep jumping to mind, “over hill over dale, we have hit the dusty trail...” But I'm getting ahead of myself. This trip began on your typical paved roads – well, typical Angolan-paved roads, anyway -generally not too bad, but with the occasional 3-foot-wide pothole in which you could lose your entire wheel if you hadn't been watching. This brings me to “the Leba”. If you were to Google images for “Lubango, Angola”, the Leba would be one of the main reoccurring photos you would see. While it's not IN Lubango, it is in Huila province, in which Lubango is the biggest city nearby. I had seen photos of this winding road of switchbacks – which snakes its way down the side of the mountain. I had seen photos of this road – which, granted, is impressive...but what took my breath away was not the view of the road, it was the view FROM the road. I hesitate to describe it, because I know it'll make you crave photos and I have none. Not one. I could have taken them. They would have been stunning, even though they wouldn't have captured the true grandeur of the mountains of various heights rising out of the misty green jungle vegetation, the sheer drop-off of completely unexplored rocky cliffs that made me wish I could call every climber I have ever met. But I made a purposeful decision not to take photos. I wanted to experience it full-on without thinking of artistic shots and angles and lighting. I wanted to just to stare at it as we drove tentatively down the steep sharp turns of the Leba. I wanted my first view to be unencumbered. So...I don't have photos. Yet. I will. I'm sure there will be numerous opportunities for photographic trips and sharing of this spectacular place. Until then, I'll treasure this beautiful spot in my mind.