Standing tall and strong before me, Kalandula Falls pushes out its big, bold chest for all the world to see. We watch in awe. It’s mesmerizing. Transfixed as it constantly drops its wide white veil into a roar of thunder. Standing steadfast, proud and true. There is a wisdom in its contours. And it’s sound has a certain depth and dignity that comes from the ages. Of conflict and struggle and change – soft on the eye and yet, yet harsh on the rocks below. We hear it again. It’s thunders. And roars. Fueling a heavy cloud of steam like spray that rises and hangs in the hot air above the falls. This is Kalandula – Africas second great cloud that thunders.
Above the falls we see a pair of soaring palmnut vultures, their black and white wings distinctive and true against the evening sky. Over the tree tops in the gorge below the falls, we see the diagnostic red flash of the wings of the endemic white faced turaco. And everywhere the thundering sound of the water with its mist envelopes us.
The falls are a draw dropping spectacle by any measure. One that should be a certain crown jewel in the nascent Angolan tourist industry. But it’s not. No one is even here. We are alone for the day until a single expat family join us from Luanda in the evening. And that’s how it was for the days we camped out at Kalandula Falls and again at the spectacular black rock formations of Pedras Negras and the azure tropical beaches of Carpe Diem. We never met a single foreign tourist.
Paradoxically, and selfishly perhaps, the absence of tourists is a blessing for us in this West African country that has committed itself to diversify off absolute oil dependence into agri-processing and tourism. A blessing because, although we are alone, we never feel alone. Everywhere we go we are met with nothing but the open heart and warm embrace of Angolans. It is this, this story of the supreme dignity that lies at the heart of Angolan human kindness, that is the story that needs to be told. Because it holds lessons for all nations, all people, and humanity as a whole.
There is Helena and Fransceso. A couple of middle aged Angolans who are bringing the Kalandula Falls Hotel back to its life with a renovation and revamp project. They welcome us and share their food and drinks and ultimately their home outside Luanda with us. We stay under their care for days – swimming and relaxing in their homes. They ask nothing of us except our happiness. They want to see Angola succeed and they work day and night to add their pound of flesh to the dream of a prosperous country. They don’t complain, they don’t blame. They just do. Do for us the same way they do for their country. Build happy memories and economic prosperity.
There is Andrew, an overlander resident in Luanda, whom we meet on an Instagram link and who finds us at the bar near our campsite in Club Naval within hours of our arrival to meet us in person. Andrew is there. He welcomes us to Angola and offers us beer and advice in equal measure. Where to get our gas filled, our washing done, data for our phones and our cruiser maintenance attended to. He answers every question and supplies every link to places to go get all this stuff done in Luanda. And he opens up the doors for us to meet others from the local LandCruiser club and soon others Angolans arrive and our vehicle becomes the object of much discussion, photographing and admiration. Quite unexpectedly our vehicle becomes an instant celebrity and is pasted onto the insta pages online. And suddenly we have countless new found friends connecting and visiting us in our car park campsite. We are sent off to Ricardo to get some maintenance work done.
Ricardo has a broad and welcoming smile that lets you see right into his warm heart. His hands tell a story of labour and his care for the other tells a story of a father and a emerging business professional and much much more. He opens his workshop to us for some the maintenance work on the cruiser. But first we must meet his mother. And then work together on the cruiser. And have lunch at the local eatery with his wife. The lunch is large and starchy and does what it designed to do : fulfill you. We pay a pittance for the lunch and Ricardo says that covers the cost of the work on the cruiser. We shake hands and make plans to go to the beach with his friends and family on the weekend. And we spend a day on the beach with bunches of kids and mothers and husbands. Drinking and eating and wetting our bodies against the harsh sun. We are friends after all. Good friends. Now with a bunch of ordinary Angolans from the LandCruiser club on Luanda.
Then there are the four European overlanders who arrived and set up camp next to us in the car park of Club Naval’s yacht basin of Luanda. Irish, Swiss, English and Dutch. A couple two up on an Africa Twin and another on a Yamaha and the last in a Nissan van. All in month ten of their trip from Morocco to Cape Town. Random travelers who simply met on the road in the north and stayed together for the journey south. They tell stories of the roads ahead, of the warmth of African people, of fights in bars, places to go, officials to handle and friends to make on the road. They link us to west African overlander WhatsApp group to make online connectivity to the family of west African road travelers on everything from bicycles to motorbikes and motor homes. And night after night we share food, beer, politics and that intense traveler road solidarity and love energy that everyone knows will end as we go our separate ways. There are no boundaries here. Each for the other and together we are one. Everything is shared from a bread roll to a story untold.
The stories of the young people are inspiring. They are imbued with the confidence and faith of youth. Everything is positively told and there is no obstacle that is not insurmountable. Their stories delete the last remnants of any angst within me. Nigerians get a glowing review, apart from the 247 checkpoints they did crossing that country. As do the Congo’s and Cameroon people. All good folk we hear. Suddenly everything sounds and is African normal. The darkness of my perception of old is filled with new warmth and light. Africa is after all just Africa. A continent that comes with it’s warm heart and it’s unknowns and it’s treacherous roads constantly held by welcoming hands. We feel instantly at ease with the road ahead. Suddenly a surge of longing for the road and the unknown rises with us. And we feel so so ready for the crossing of the Central African equator and our entry into the north just a few weeks away.
At our campsite in club naval there are shifts of security guards who wait the day and night out in a box near us. We feed them coffee and have broken conversations by day. They are the last people we see as we sleep and the first we see as we rise at dawn. Always there. Present. Non interfering. Seemingly at total peace with who they are in the world. Playing cards and talking all day long. They never hesitate to welcome us day in and day out as we come and go. They too are our friends that provide a secure presence at the perimeter of our temporary home.
There is more. Way more. But you get the drift. Angola just opens up its warm heart to everyone and anyone who cares to venture into its bosom. It makes me think. Think of what it means to be a good person in my own life. Of my countless human failings to reach to others and be there for them. No matter what. I’m unlearning everything. Learning to give more and care more. To be present in the moment. To think only of the now – today and all the day holds. To forget the passed beyond a distant memory. To live a life of listening and giving and observing. And seeking acceptance by what one does for others, rather than what one thinks of oneself. It’s a deeply satisfying evolution. Thanks to what I have learnt from the people of Angola.