Of all the parts of this difficult trip, I’ll admit that this was the one I was most aprehensive about. There’s not much information online about making this trip by taxi, and given the fact both Congo and Angola have notorious levels of corruption and bureaucratic BS up the wazoo…oh and combine that with my minor princess status…it promised to be an adventure. We’d pieced together enough information online, but for starters, we weren’t even positive the land border would be open on a Sunday!
On paper, it didn’t look too bad:
See, Cabinda is a small enclave of Angola, surrounded by Congo on the north and Democratic Republic of Congo on the South/East, and then after about 20 miles of DRC in the south you come to Angola again:
For this reason, we wanted to visit. As if Angola wasn’t difficult enough, Cabinda has been an active war zone from time to time. In 1975 when the liberation movements in Angola signed the treaty with Portugal, they reaffirmed that Cabinda was a part of Angola, even though it wasn’t connected. This was preceded by the formation of MLEC and FLEC, guerrilla movements advocating the secession of Cabinda. They operated a guerrilla war until 2006 when they finally signed a peace treaty. That’s not to say things have been happily ever after. In 2010 the Togolese football team bus was en route from Pointe-Noire to Cabinda for the Africa’s Cup, and was attacked by a FLEC splinter group, killing three people. So, Cabinda’s kinda…edgy!
So an edgy place, little information, and corruption…what could go wrong?!
I was prepared for the roughly 100km trip to take 8+ hours, and fully expected everything that could go wrong to go wrong.
Taxi to the Congo border was slightly more than we expected at 15,000 CFA ($30) but he wouldn’t budge, given the fact he had to pay tolls along the way, and would likely return empty. We probably could have saved $10 by taxi shopping, but weren’t in the mood to waste time so off we went. We’d read online it was somewhere around 20 minutes to the border, but ended up taking closer to 35 with traffic. Our taxi dropped us off maybe 500m from the border, and we walked the rest of the way. We were harassed by touts and people offering help from the instant we got out of the taxi, but when we ignored them they gave up after maybe a minute. Really? That easy? On the Ghana-Togo border I never did manage to shake them. They must not see many western tourists here!
Asked a few people, and easily found the exit immigration shack for Congo. Piece of cake, one or two questions about why we were in Congo, why we were going to Angola, and that was it. Stamp, stamp, stamp, we were out of Congo. I confirmed where to go next from the immigration guy, and left the house and turned left. Someone started yelling after us…
Turns out he was the health dude, and wanted a look at our vaccination cards. Nothing unusual there, until he grabbed a stamp, and stamped in both of them…”Cholera – Waived” Um, excuse me? I’ve had that vaccination. But he was having none of it. He’d exempt us from having that vaccine (probably chosen because it’s obscure) but we’d have to pay a 3,000 CFA fine each for the stamp. It wasn’t the money, but the scam that set me off…and I went off on him…in that way that you know you’re gonna eventually have to convince him you’re alpha dog or you’re going to end up arrested. 50 or 100 countries ago, I would have been scared by his authority, and done whatever he asked. I was now enough of an Africa veteran to push things. I started chewing him out in French, and made up a great story…told him I worked for the WHO (World Health Organization) and if he was going to insist on this corruption I was going to call the Ministry of Health back in Brazzaville and confirm this. He could decide to give up his scam….or (assuming he believed me) potentially have to answer to his big boss AND a UN agency. To emphasize my threat…I pulled out my cell phone and started fake dialing….he paused….and we got an ALLEZ-Y! GO AWAY! …and it worked. Jason and Jordan 1 – Corruption 0
Then, it was time for the real test. Angola immigration. Waited in one line, whose only purpose seemed to be to verify we had a visa, and he sent us to a small booth in the middle of the road. This turned out to actually be the immigration officer….brief questions (since he didn’t speak english, and only a little french) about our plans in Angola. “Today – Cabinda. Tomorrow – Luanda. Next – Sao Tome.” He seemed to get what we were up to, was pleased with it, and stamped us in….wait, that’s IT?!
Right next to the booth Jordan changed the last of his CFA for Angolan Kwanza (most awesome currency name EVER btw) and that was it…we were done. Terribly anticlimactic….really?
We’d read a taxi to Cabinda city would cost $100 US, and no sooner were we out of the fenced in area than a nice Toyota SUV pulled up, let out 6 passengers, and asked “Ciudad?” Yes, we wanted to go to the city. I’d used google translate for basic portuguese, so I knew “how much” as well as “80” and “100.” So, I offered him $80. He shook his head…”no $100″ ok, fine…it was a nice air conditioned SUV instead of a taxi, so we figured we’d go for it. The ride could be up to two hours. So we set of….
10 minutes into the drive, was a police booth on the side of the road….he wanted to check our passports to make sure we’d entered legally and had visas. Yup, everything in order, we’re on the way. What, no bribe? Seriously?
The drive had some great views….notice the driver’s American flag air freshener:
After a wide, we drove by the large oil complex, fenced in of course, home to tons of foreign oil workers. Like Pointe-Noire, Cabinda exists for oil…part of why it’s so important to Angola. As we approached the city, nearly 100km later, we approached the Cup of Nations statium, the destination for the ill-fated Togolese football team that had been attacked a few years prior:
…and with that, we were in Cabinda. The taxi driver made a weak attempt to tell us the hotel we’d picked sucked, and that he knew a much better one. I’m sure you do, and I’m sure “much better” means my relative owns it and I get a kickback. We declined, and he took us where we wanted to go. Just like that…piece of cake. It was surprising just how perfectly everything had gone, and I was still sure disaster was looming around the corner to pounce on us!