Crazy travel stories:
My time in Africa was proving to be quite eventful, from crashing my rental car in Namibia, to hopping in and out of war zones in South Sudan and Burundi, I had finally come across Angola, arguably the most difficult country in the world to visit. These guys just don’t want tourists, simple as that.
The story with Angola is that is has oil. The country is drowning in poverty, yet a handful of elite families are billionaires due to their oil reserves, it’s all pretty sad to be honest. Due to this oil economy then, it’s been said that Luanda, Angola’s Capital, is the most expensive city in the world. Hotel rooms set you back $400 a night, you can find yourself paying $15 for an orange juice and $40 for a club sandwich. Honestly. What’s even worse is the vast majority of the locals are living in wooden shacks and shanty towns, eking by on a pittance. Welcome to West and Central Africa. Not for the faint hearted, and without doubt the hardest region in the world to travel in.
With all this in mind then, the old boys who run the country neither want, nor need, tourist dollars. In fact, they actively discourage it. The less eyes on the corruption, the wealth disparity and the violence the better. Personally I can’t, however, let that stop me. ‘Every country in the world’ means every country, so I had to crack this hard nut.
Thankfully, Alfredo from Italy follows my blog. Alberto manages a company who works with the oil companies, he sent me a message alone the lines of “Hey Johnny, it’s amazing what you’re doing, Angola is impossible to come to, but I live here and I can sponsor your visa through my company”. And that was that. I’ll write an article about Alfredo and all he did for me, but for sure I couldn’t complete this journey without his help, so thank you buddy.
I booked my flight from Namibia to Luanda, Angola. Alfredo had told me he would send a driver to pick me up, and I could come and stay on his work compound, complete with security, wifi, kitchen etc, amazing. Angola has developed a terrifying reputation in recent years with muggings, kidnappings, violent crime all an every day part of the their society. All-in-all, I was a little nervous to be visiting, but ever so grateful for Alfredo to sort everything out for me.
And so I landed in Luanda, my visa, after all the headaches, worked successfully and I was in. I collected my bag and went outside, hoping someone would be there to pick me up in this crazy place. Alas, no one was there.
I tried to get online, tried to use my phone, searching for wifi, no idea what I was gonna do. They speak Portugese in Angola, and my Portugese is limited to listing famous Brazilian footballers, probably not gonna cut it. After hanging around aimlessly, suddenly Alfredo pops out of nowhere, along with his driver, with a big hug. Brilliant, I’m in business. We jump in the car and head to the compound.
TRAFFIC JAMS AND SHOOTINGS…
The drive from the airport to the compound in the city is about thirty minutes, right through the city centre, where the traffic can easily triple the transit time. I have spent over a solid year traveling through Africa, so I thought I had seen it all. But the security presence here was unnerving. Every property had mean, armed guards, AK47s EVERYWHERE you looked, barbed wire, security cameras, armored trucks, and all the while, life continuing as normal. Dusty, run-down markets, kids running around in old football shirts, dilapidated motorbikes weaving in and out of the traffic. Soon we were stuck in the mother of all traffic jams, bang in the city centre.
There were two lanes going my direction, and two lanes going in the opposite direction, the two were separated by just a tiny metal fence, about a foot tall. We had found ourselves stuck in the inside lane, and we weren’t moving anywhere. On one side of me, cars going in the same direction were also stuck. On the other side of me, and on my side of the car where I was sitting, were the other two lanes facing the other direction, but also completely stationary. Gridlock.
I’m looking around, taking in the new sights of a fascinating new country (country number 158/197), when I see two young guys pull up aggressively on a motorbike between my car, and the car facing the other direction in the lane beside me. Normally I wouldn’t think twice about it, but they arrived so quickly and from out of nowhere. One guy jumps off the back of the motorbike, grabs the car door of the car beside me and flings it open. What the hell is going on?
Is that a gun? I see him waving a pistol in the air, and I’m thinking ‘oh shit’. There are no foreigners anywhere to be seen, other than Alfredo and me stuck in the backseat of our car. This can’t be good.
The door flings open, and the driver automatically looks up at the skinny guy with the gun. He looks like any other Angolan guy wandering along the street. Dirty jeans, flip-flops, a white vest, probably early twenties. The driver throws his hands up in the air, and BANG. Once. BANG. Twice.
Right in front of me the young guy shoots the driver from point blank range, once in the stomach and once in the leg, and wrenches a bag from beside him. This is happening just a couple of metres from me. Holy Shit.
EYE TO EYE WITH THE SHOOTER…
The shooter looks nervous, his adrenaline is clearly pumping, I’m so close to him I can see him shaking. He looks around, people are starting to crowd around, having heard the gunshots. His eyes are wide, and he’s spinning around, looking a little confused, trying to find his buddy on the getaway motorbike. As he turns, and then turns some more, he looks at our car, then the backseat, then me. I’m sitting in the backseat, jaw dropped, shocked by what I’ve seen, not thinking clearly.
He stares at me, obviously shocked to see a white guy witnessing all these madness. For some reason, all I do is stare right back at him. So here I am, having a kinda unwitting staring contest with this pyscho. A few long seconds later, I shake out of it and duck down in the backseat of the car. He composes himself, sees his bike, hops on and screeches off.
Wow. As he drives off, a crowd forms around the victim. I pop my head up, and see bloody pouring out of his stomach. He was wearing blue pants, and a white tshirt and I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He’s looking to the crowd, desperately hoping for a solution. I’m gazing at him, feeling so, so bad for him. He looks back at me, again just a couple of metres away. The fear in his eyes was palpable. Just as I’m trying to think of what emotion is best to convey to him (Pity? Sympathy? Fear?), our driver starts smashing the horn one hundred times a second, and we force our way through the jam and off we go.
This all happened within my first 30 minutes of my arrival in Angola, and I’m left thinking, what the hell am I doing here? This is gonna be a tough five days. I speak to Alfredo, and although he hasn’t been that close to someone getting shot before, he has heard a similar story fifty times before. I speak to the driver, asking him what he thinks. Turns out he was a soldier in the Angolan Civil War, and unofficially, has killed more men than I would care to repeat. He laughs at my reaction to what I’ve just seen, the disbelief I’m carrying is new to him. And on we go to the compound.
Once there, we fill in the expat crowd about what’s just happened. They’re a little more shocked than my war veteran driver. Soon talk turns to football, travels and politics and we manage to cast our minds elsewhere, until I go to bed in the compound that night, and replay the whole scenario.
That was one of the craziest things that ever happened, and when I was left staring at the guy, him staring at me, that surely is one of the times I was closest to death. He only had to think he didn’t want a foreign witness to the event and boom, I was gone, along with Alfredo. But here I am, living to tell the tale, as I travel to Nauru in the Pacific Islands, leaving me with just FIVE countries left before I finish my decade long quest. Thanks for joining me for the ride, happy travels x