© Paul Brehem – magical, mystical Angola
Angola is a jewel of a country that’s been locked in a civil war for most of my life, but since a breakthrough peace accord in 2002 the country has opened up and there’s now a heaven sent opportunity to explore. Sadly, the long years of war have resulted in massive depopulation of both humans and animals and there are vast sections of the country that are still impenetrable. Yet the interface between three extreme ecosystems – the cold Atlantic ocean, the Namib desert, and the Congo forest – is deeply fascinating, and I’ve longed to see how it affects the wildlife.
Our journey started at the Cunene river, which borders Namibia, and extended all the way up to Luanda in the north which is not far from the Congo river. Unfortunately the diamond area in the East – where the giant sable is rumoured to be extant – was a no-go-zone as much of it’s still land-mined, so we kept to the west coast and drove on an endless white beach for about 300 km.
Racing the tides between dune cliffs on one side and Atlantic breakers on the other was highly exhilarating! But our adventures didn’t stop there – a quick day trip filming marine birds on a deserted island, 10 km off-shore, turned into disaster narrowly averted when our rubber dinghy ran out of fuel only five minutes into our journey back to the mainland. A strong off-shore current prevented us from returning to the island and with sunset approaching we were rapidly losing light. To make it worse, a howling wind was roughing up the sea to white water.
Nine kilometers from land and being swept out to sea at night!The sheer horror of realization paralysed us for a moment, but then our crew spirit kicked in and we scrambled for action as a team. We found two ridiculously tiny, useless oars, but then salvation arrived in the form of a small tarpauline which by great good luck I’d brought to cover the camera-gear. We quickly rigged it up as a make-shift sail – attached at the stern to the fully extended tripod, its length was cable-tied to ropes on the bow, and held high above our heads as we took turns acting as the main mast. Progress was agonisingly slow, but our handheld GPS clocked a speed of 4.8 km an hour – it was pitch dark but we knew with certainty we were heading towards land. And life!
© Paul Brehem – safe and sound, the crew re-enact the shipwreck drama
We sang love songs to keep up our spirits, each thinking of those we’d left at home, “how wooonderful life is now you’re in ma world”. It could have been the start of a horror movie – “Angola Coast, where No One can Hear You Scream” – a small rubber dinghy in high seas, lost in the darkness, overloaded with seven people, no food or water, and drifting out to sea. The stars were brilliant in the sky and we kept on going until, finally, we saw white breakers. Sailing through them we hit the shore just a few kilometers from our camp. Soaking wet and shivering with cold, we danced for joy in a delirious, hugging circle. As the dunes sang around us that night I’ve never felt more clear headed, in love with my husband, and happy to be alive. All credit to our crew who kept their heads and humour, to Tom and Seb who were masts of steel, and to that marvelous little tarp!
Part of the BBC series, Unknown Africa