Thanks to Julian Hocken from the HALO Trust - http://halotrust.org - in Angola, I now have a much clearer idea of some of the routes south of Cuito Cuanavale, at least as far a Mavinga. The bad news is that the roads are, as I suspected, little more than sand tracks which means I probably can’t cycle them. The good news is that there is a truck that travels one of the routes from Cuito Cuanavale to Mavinga about twice a week. However, the term good news might be a little optimistic.
The 200km Kamaz Route, named after the Eastern European truck, is driven twice a week by a whisky assisted driver through areas still criss-crossed by mine belts. The truck is piled high with people and their possessions and covers the distance in one 24 hour thrash. So quite aside from the risk of being blown up, I could be written off by a drunk driver. I’m feeling a little reluctant but I am considering this option.
Mavinga is a prize because I would cross the Lomba River just north of the town. The river was a prize back in 1987 too. It is a natural buffer, a geographical stop-line for the defence of Mavinga. It was also the scene of probably the most trying day of my life. The place where I spent an entire day in the middle of some of the most intense fighting of the war and at times I thought I would die there. I didn’t die there, but many men did. I really want to see that river again. It seems an important part of what you might call my quest; maybe going there will help to put some of the ghosts to rest. But I won’t risk losing my life for the experience; one day of close shaves on the Lomba is enough for this lifetime.
Beyond Mavinga I still have no information so I don’t know whether I could continue south to the Namibian border. If I decide to take the risk of the Kamaz route I wouldn’t want to have to backtrack to Cuito by the same method. I want to be sure that I can keep on south from Mavinga.
Julian has also given me detailed information about an alternative route which would take me from Cuito to Ongiva, a town about 40km’s north of the Namibian border and another landmark for me. I think road might be passable by a forty-something on a bike, at least for most of the way. This might end up being the road I choose.
As an aside, I was part of a small operation in mid-‘87 before the main invasion later that year, called Operation Benzine. Our mortar platoon, along with elements from the artillery, bombed FAPLA’S defensive positions around the town of Ongiva. As we drove up the Old Portuguese road towards the town, the front of our column was ambushed. Even though I was way back in the column, watching tracer bullets climb slowly into the night sky towards us and RPG rockets self-detonating up ahead was a frightening experience. I wrote in my journal: “...now I’ve tasted a bit of combat and I never want to experience it again...”. If only.