At night, the Death’s Acre really lives up to its name
For the majority of South Africans, the mere mentioning of Angola more than likely brings up images of the Civil War that raged from 1975 until the eventual ceasefire in 2002 after sporadic years of knife-edged balanced peace.
Our involvement in the War from beginning to withdrawal 28 years ago is of course well documented and while the former Portuguese colony with its near-on 26-million inhabitants is a world away from the war-zone it once was, the remnants of its bloody past still lurks around in the ruins of once occupied bunkers and ensuing threat of unearthed landmines.
While these characteristics are likely to be many people’s view of Angola, witnessing the lunar-like desert landscapes, standing in a coliseum of rock formations, traversing the fearsome Death’s Acre, straddling along a deserted island and being ‘’trapped’’ upon a raft with a car in the middle of the Atlantic are aspects you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with a country that reconciled 17 years ago.
What you are guaranteed to notice though is that Angola, like many other countries in Africa, is home to Toyota and more specifically, the Land Cruiser, which this year marked its 68th anniversary by selling 10 million units globally.
As a tribute, Toyota South Africa revealed the special edition Namib earlier this year based on the double cab Land Cruiser 79, which comes with a Toyota branded mesh grille, a tubular steel tow bar and heavy duty steel front bumper with an integrated nudge bar, a snorkel, dual HID LED spot lights and special Namib decals on the doors and tailgate.
Retaining the 151kW/430Nm 4.5 D-4D V8 turbodiesel engine paired to the five-speed manual gearbox, the Namib also comes with a bespoke overhead compartment able to accommodate two-way radios, grey canvas seats with Namib branding, an ARB compressor underneath the passenger’s seat, 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 265/75 Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx tyres and an upgraded Old Man EMU off-road suspension.
It was not just the Namib though that took centre stage when the South African media, after a breath-taking three-hour charter flight from Windhoek, touched down at the Aeroporto Internacional Welwitschia Mirabilis outside the town of Namibe as Toyota had also brought the rest of the Land Cruiser family in the shape of the Prado VX.L and the 200 VX.R.
Leaving the airport, and, in a first for this writer, driving on the right-hand-side in a right-hand-drive vehicle, we headed for the Flamingo Bay lodge some 30 km outside Namibe on arguably the worst corrugated gravel road many of us had driven on.
Eventually, the road, a dry river bed in part, gave way to soft beach sand and, with the Atlantic beside us, we relaxed before heading off to bed. An early rise the next day, we headed off to the town of Tombwa that falls within the Iona National Park.
Before this though, we turned off and into the desert to inspect a series of former terrorist storage bunkers. It was indeed a sombre experience as thoughts of what occurred at this very location 40 odd years ago began running through my mind. In addition, a member of our party also came upon a spent gun shell of considerable calibre lying in the sand, whose trajectory immediately had us wondering too.
Returning to the air-conditioned saving grace of the Namib as temperatures spiked to well above 300 Celsius, we returned to the tar, but just before Tombwa turned onto gravel and headed to an area called Colinas do Curoca, translated as the Curoca Hills, otherwise known as the Red City. And what a sight it was!
Shaped by wind and water over hundreds if not thousands of years, the series of rock formations are simply astounding in that they consist out of standalone monoliths, to complete mountain ranges standing as high as 25 m in places.
With the temperatures starting to fall, it was time for not only the return to base, but also a vehicle change as the Namib was replaced by the 200 VX.R. In its flagship form, power comes from the same oil-burning V8, but with an additional turbocharger for a total output of 195kW/650Nm, sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Off of the tar and back on the dry river bed road, the VX.R took the myriad of ruts and imperfections in its stride so well that it had us fooled into thinking that it featured air suspension as it simply floated over the shake fest bed and onto the beach.
After a few minutes composing ourselves, we headed out around the back of the lodge to a place simply called The Valley. Here, the vast table top mountains are simply astonishing and with more presence than any landscape this writer has seen in a long time.
The next day was even an earlier start as we headed through Tombwa and on to the fearsome Death’s Acre or Doodsakker. One of the most dangerous stretches of beach on the continent, the 60-odd kilometre route is only accessible at low tide with no way of getting out, bar being stuck up the adjacent sand dune, if you mistime your entry.
Having plonked myself into the passenger seat of the Prado, the dangers of driving a few metres away from the ocean did make for an anxious experience, but at the same time, one which pumped the adrenaline and excitement levels up to new heights.
It was then time for something completely unexpected as we left the cars at a safe area out of reach of the ocean, before jumping aboard a rubber duck for a 10 km journey to Baia dos Tigres, a once thriving island that has been deserted since 1974.
Once home to 1 500 people, the island become cut-off from civilisation in 1962 when a violent storm not only destroyed the pipeline supplying it with fresh water from a pump station on the mainland, but also the causeway that connected it with the rest of Angola.
Although attempts were made to keep the flourishing fish factories going, the outbreak of the war and water supply difficulties using barges eventually resulted in it becoming a ghost island. As surreal as it was walking among the ruins and the deserted streets, the experience become more bizarre as we noted a raft lying on the banks of the island that was built specifically for taking a Namib across the ocean and onto the island.
However, in the race to get back to the mainland, and with the first group already on terra firma via rubber duck, a time mismanagement saw the second group, me included, leaving Tigres late and with the Namib plus equipment to transport, it was slow progress as the boat could only reach six kilometres per hour, which resulted in the 10 km journey taking just over two hours.
Burned but kept entertained via the curious seal population observing this odd spectacle, we made it back to shore but soon faced another problem. We had missed our opportunity to head back to Flamingo Bay over the dunes, as well as going across Death’s Acre as the tide had come in. In fact, our only chance to get back was to wait until nightfall for the tide to go out.
With a three-hour journey to complete, we headed off at semi low-tide as we simply couldn’t afford to wait any longer. At night, the Death’s Acre really lives up to its name as the soft sand and rapidly approaching ocean saw all of the Prado’s 120kW/400Nm being put to maximum use in order to keep momentum up and avoid getting stuck.
Anxiety levels were pushed-up considerably further as the ocean either washed away the tracks of the vehicles ahead, or covered the path just as we approached, which resulted in a few waves pummelling the Prado from the left and splashing over the windscreen.
As harrowing as this was, even more for me who had been driving, we arrived safely at Flamingo Bay, buzzing not from fear, but sheer ecstasy and excitement as we had just conquered a part of Africa whose name does its justice no end.
The next day was also the final of our journey and while restricted to the smooth tarmac we become accustomed to, the 190 km trek to the town of Lubango had a huge ace up its sleeve; the Serra de Leba Pass on its outskirts that sits 1 845 m above sea level and whose final 1.7 km is made up of seven hairpin bends that snake up the mountain side.
A recognisable feat of modern-day engineering, the pass also summed-up the vehicles that transported us across this truly remarkable country. Its name might feature on three different models, but the truth is that the Toyota Land Cruiser does its name justice by being the ultimate land cruising vehicle whose cult status since 1951 remains justified.
Whether it be the workhorse 79, the luxury go-anywhere ability of the Prado, or the ultimate in luxury, the 200, there is a Land Cruiser that will appeal to all and whose legacy will remain part of automotive folklore for many years to come.
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