Friday, August 20, 2010

15 - Driving with the King of Kings

Roadside market at village outside Lubango
There's a magnificently scenic road from Lubango to Namibe on the coast. I could go by bus for about $25 each way, but it takes twice as long, about three hours going and four coming back, and you can't see much from the bus or make stops. So I rent a car with driver for the day at $250 – an Angolan bargain. What’s more, I can use him for another scenic trip afterwards.

Leaving the hotel we pass a car that has wrapped itself round a tree in a tangled mess – its driver drank too much last night; no dead but several seriously injured. My driver is Horace Five Kings (Horacio Cinco Reyes) - and no, he doesn't know who the five kings are. He's both fast and skilled, but keeps on burying the huge little finger of his left hand in his nose; OK, I can still shake his right hand.

Eggs, anyone?
Every now and again we pass people on crutches, missing a foot or leg – one more mine victim in what is still, eight years after the end of the war, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Near the little villages long lines of market shacks stretch out along the roadside where locals sell the vegetables and fruit they have grown – oranges, onions, carrots. A little girl wanders around with her little sister, almost as big as she is, affixed to her back with a blanket. Further on plastic bags filled with eggs hang from trees, awaiting the next driver-customer.

Suddenly we come to the most incredible chasm as the road switchbacks down the Serra da Leba escarpment to the Namib desert below; 1000-metre-high rock walls ablaze with broad vertical bands of reds, yellows, greens and orange interspersed with grey, above a sea of emerald trees - except, that is, for the brown-bark baobabs with their fat tummies and almost leafless top-knot branches.

Serra da Leba Pass

One hundred miles from Lubango, the little port of Namibe slumbers on its low sand-stone cliffs above the cobalt Atlantic, not particularly beautiful but picturesque all the same, even if there's a terrible faecal pong near a tiny broken wooden jetty. To the south stretches the brown Namib desert far away into Namibia. On the water front several inviting little cafes beckon and Horace Five Kings leaves me for an hour. He works as a driver in Lubango but his home is in Namibe and we've bought up whole markets of food on the way for the family.

Oh dear, the huge little finger of his right hand is now engaged in a little bit of nasal prospecting as well. Right, no hand shake at the temporary farewell after all! Sorry, old bean, I've got arthritic thumbs.

The South Atlantic at Namibe

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