MALABO, Equatorial Guinea – A group of Angola fans have ridden motorbikes more than 2,500 kilometres through five countries to watch matches at the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.
The 10-man party has struggled with border problems, heat and insect bites during the seven-day ride up the west coast of Africa.
Jorge Almeida adjusted his faded black cap and stretched his sunburned arms to show where the tanned skin is starting to peel off. The 53-year-old has taken time off from running a small freight company in the Angolan capital Luanda to take part in the trip.
“It’s taken us a week and we’ve crossed four borders to get here,” Almeida said Friday. “But it’s been worth it for all the people we’ve met and to support the team.”
The bikers, who arrived in a convoy of six motorcycles and two cars, have swelled a contingent of about 500 Angola fans who have taken over a newly built apartment block on the highway near the Estadio de Malabo and draped a giant red-and-black national flag from the windows.
The pocket of fans has provided colorful and noisy support as Angola, in its sixth African Cup, edges toward a quarterfinal spot.
Almeida said a poignant moment in their journey came when passing through the Cabinda region where the Togo football team was attacked by gunmen during the African Cup in Angola two years ago.
“We weren’t scared but we did think of what happened there,” he said. “It was on our minds.”
The bikers crossed from Angola to Congo, through Republic of Congo and Gabon, before reaching mainland Equatorial Guinea. The motorbikes were then shipped across to the island capital of Malabo while the riders took a 30-minute plane ride.
During the journey, the riders stayed in remote villages, asking permission from local chiefs to set up camp.
“We have generators with us, so we set up some lights and put on a bit of music and soon people from the villages came to see what’s happening. That’s when you meet people and hear their stories,” Almeida said. “It’s difficult to see the poor conditions sometimes. The people are waiting for improvements to happen. Everyone asks for food and money, and we shared what we could spare.”
The bikers were in the crowd to enjoy Angola’s 2-1 win against Burkina Faso in its opening match Sunday, but were less impressed four days later as Sudan twice rallied to salvage a 2-2 draw in the second game.
Almeida said the group — which includes a trucking company owner, a police officer and a tour agent — plans to stay in Equatorial Guinea for the final group match against tournament favourite Ivory Coast.
The pull of day jobs and family commitments will then mean the group has to start the long journey home.
“It’s OK because I’m still not confident we will get any further than that anyway,” Almeida said. “We have a good team but the coach is not playing the right tactics — too defensive.”