IT TOOK 137 days, 16 countries and pretty much to the halfway point of the trip, but we have found Christ.
Mind you, it was hard to miss him, looming as he did above both our windswept campsite and the southern Angolan city of Lubango in a miniature version of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer.
Sadly, a fatted calf limited my enjoyment of both it and pretty much all of the country as a second bout of cellulitis had my right leg swelling up, turning red and, in a fresh departure from the same affliction which hit my left leg in Togo and Benin, blistering and oozing on the back.
Which made sitting around with my leg resting on something in the truck into a sticky, messy business – at least until my pillow case (the cleanest thing in my kit after so long without laundry) was sacrificed to the greater good.
Barring a few sore looking reminders of bites which several members of the group have been sporting, there were few signs of what was to follow as we tied up the remaining loose ends in Matadi before finally crossing the border from Democratic Republic of Congo into, finally, Angola proper.
The legs were given a bit of a workout as we decided the best place for lunch was right at the bottom of the hill, meaning a lengthy uphill walk back to base – broken up by a bunch of local kids attempting to relieve me of my watch – to rustle up dinner, start packing up our belongings and, finally, seize the chance for a shower while it was still available.
There was more work for the legs as they scurried after Karla and Ale on a last-ditch – and increasingly fraught – attempt to restock the beer and Coke supplies ahead of notoriously expensive Angola before, grasping our freshly-stamped new visas, we rolled up the mountain, down the other side and out of town for a final bush camp short of the border.
And there was still no sign of what lay ahead as we rolled up to the border nice and early. So early, in fact, that the head honcho had yet to make it into work and we had to wait for his arrival to start the lengthy process of crossing out of the DRC (mud roads and shacks) and into Angola (sealed tarmac and freshly-painted buildings).
But as we sat and waited (and waited), something queasy began to stir.
At first, it was blamed on finishing off the slightly dodgy looking sausage sandwich Martyn had bought off a bloke outside the truck, but by the time lunch was served on the truck, one mouthful was enough to send me into retreat on the beach for a lie down.
By the time we had stopped a couple of times on the road into Angola, the remains of the sausage sandwich, the mouthful of lunch, the breakfast banana pancakes and the morning’s intake of water had reappeared – thankfully not over the immigration officer whose appearance on the back of the truck in a fairly clueless attempt to check our passports interrupted my long afternoon sprawled along the seats.
And so, while the rest of the group and the other truck marked St Patrick’s Day at our bush camp, my evening was restricted to lying on the beach and ensuring nobody was stood under the window which was as far as my stomach allowed me to get on an emergency dash off the truck.
Thankfully, as with the previous bout in the other leg, the sickness lasted less than 24 hours before being replaced by the swollen, red calf, which is why our passage through the Angolan capital Luanda was marked by a search for a pharmacy and the evening found Steve wrapping a tourniquet round my arm and Helena (every truck should have its own nurse) inserting a line in my arm – once she had discovered the family trait of veins being impossible to find – for a three-day course of IV antibiotics.
That was the pattern for much of a series of long drive days through Angola as the miles rolled by with me flat on my back with my legs in the air as much as possible, although they did manage to carry me around a couple of supermarket stops as, amid much excitement, we stocked up on life’s little essentials (you know, crisps, chocolate, Coke, pies…) and found many of the prices were not as high as feared.
And so, with my fatted calf resting on one of the eskies, we rolled into, through and out of the rather pleasant looking city of Lubango – which we had a chance to explore the next morning, only for most of us to spend much of the time in the supermarket – in search of Christ.
We found him (actually, he was not that hard to spot from several miles away), standing on top of the escarpment overlooking the town and set up camp (at the cost of feeding the security guards) at the base of the statue.
At least, that was the plan. Our arrival coincided with that of a storm which restricted our picture opportunities, delayed setting up the tents and, once the wind had finally dropped, prevented our planned meal (not that our group had planned much) and sent us scurrying into the truck stocks of tinned ravioli. Which was probably better than anything we would have rustled up.
Our final full day in Angola served up a few reminders of the civil war which ravaged the country for so long, starting with a tank abandoned on the side of the road (nicely sealed as evidence of the investment, mainly from China, flooding into the country).
And if we needed any more illustration of such a bloody recent past, it was the warning not to wander too far into the bush at our final bush camp due to the ever-present danger of landlines.
Which would make my healing leg look a little insignificant.
* That’s the Jeff Buckley version, the only one which is acceptable to play on the back of the truck.