As promised in my last posting, we have now spent the Christmas break wandering around in Angola. We are obliged to leave the school during holidays, and most of our colleagues dash off to go on safaris in South Africa or Kenya and such places... We are rather more modest in our holidays, for several reasons. The first is that we want to use our time in this country to really see it and get to know it and its people, the second is that at the time it was necessary to book flights out of Angola we really had no money, so two good reasons dove-tailed reasonably well together.The texts written in this colour are written by Lotty..........
This time I booked a flight to Benguela, a coastal town hundreds of Kms south of Luanda, and a series of open tickets from there to other places, as we planned to wander about, and had no real idea when we would want to move on to new places. Originally we had planned to take a bus from Luanda to Benguela, a regular Angolan bus, but the chief of security here forcefully warned us not to do that at Christmas, as too many drivers would be drunk on the road, and thus it was too dangerous in his view. Pity really, as this would have been infinitely more fun than flying, and given the way that TAAG (Angolan National Airline) operates, it would have been quicker too.
On the appointed day off we went to the domestic terminal in Luanda, only to discover that our flight had been cancelled, a regular occurrence with TAAG, so back to the school, and regroup. Two days later we tried again, this time the flight happened, and we finally set off on our newest adventure.
We had managed to book into a hotel in Benguela before leaving Luanda, so we were reasonably sure of a bed on arrival in Benguela. When you travel in Angola, you are constantly checked by the immigration service at every airport, and Catumbela (the airport near to Benguela we flew to) was no exception to this rule. The only novelty was that the official begged for money, which I duly gave him, rather against my wishes. This speeded things up a lot!
So, having cleared this hurdle, into the TAAG bus which would take us to Benguela (about 35 k) and on arrival in Benguela I was happy we had bribed that immigration guy as he was also in the bus and got the driver to take us directly to our hotel, which was a relief as we were rather dreading wandering around a hot and humid city with all our baggage looking for our hotel.
So, into reception and sign in... All went smoothly and we settled into our room, which was pleasant enough. Everything more or less worked, running water, at least some of the time, bog seat was intact and I don't recall seeing any cockroaches either.
The next morning we set out to explore Benguela.
Street in Benguela
This turned out to be a pleasant enough small provincial town, no war damage as the war didn't come to this part of Angola (a number of buildings were seriously damaged by what was obviously heavy machine gun fire, but we were told this was caused by "high spirits" hmmmmm).
Boats being repaired and replaced on the beach
There isn't really much to be said about Benguela, it is basically a fishing town, with beaches that would be pleasant if they were not so filthy, by and large it is in good condition, and not anything like as dirty as Luanda. I can understand why Angolans like it, it is a city in which one could live in happily enough, lot of pleasant little Portuguese style houses and as with Namibe, reasonably clean wide streets and a slow way of life. It was easy to see the original beauty, just looking into the gardens around the houses - beautifully laid out with particularly striking trees and bushes.
The fisherman and kids
On the first day we wandered along the beach to the fishing harbour, and on the way I stopped to photograph one of the local boats for my brother. As I was doing this, a fisherman came up to me, and very politely asked me if I would take a picture of him and his kids (it turned out it was his boat I was photographing). I of course, said sure thing, and before I knew what was happening, there was a storm of small kids pouring around me. So, I duly took a number of pictures of them all, including the grandfather who appeared. The first one I took of him he told me would not come out, as the sun was behind him...So I took a second one, with the sun in front of him..and he expressed himself happy with this. I then showed them the pictures (joys of digital cameras), which meant crouching on the beach completely buried in children all of whom were really excited to see themselves on the little screen. I just wished I'd had a 2nd camera, the contrast and care of Tony with the kids was breath-taking to observe.
We then wandered off to a chorus of happy adios's from this group.
The next day I found a printing place which could print pictures while you waited from digital cameras, and got a few of the pictures I had taken of the fisher folk printed, and off we went back to the beach to give them to the family. We duly found a couple of the kids and showed them the pictures, and in no time, we were surrounded! Happy grinning faces, and exclamations of happiness as they looked at the photos, handing them from one to another. So, we left them to it, all very happy and pleased with their images. Nice feeling.
Rather impressive plant in Benguela
Other than that, there is not much more to say about our short stay in Benguela. Though on the last evening we found a small cafe/bar, where we had a good supper in a friendly atmosphere - not that we were quite sure what we had ordered! When the food came, it was good. We were, as usual well taken care of.
We had found the TAAG office, and booked the next stage of our little trip... a flight to Lubango, which is several hundred km inland. So, off we went on the next leg of our adventure..... To the Angolan Highlands.
This was a leap into the unknown for us, we had no hotel booked, we had no real idea what the place was like...or anything much really. It is almost impossible to get any hard information about Angola, the internet, tourist agencies or airlines, there is simply nothing much available in the way of info.
We had found the names of several hotels in Lubango in the Angolan Yellow Pages (a very
slender book!) So when the immigration guy at Lubango airport asked us which hotel we were going to stay in, we could at least tell him the name of one.... The GRANDE HOTEL!!!!! In fact, we really hadn't a clue if we would stay there. The name implied it was sort of out of our class. Anyway, we decided that we could spend a couple of nights there, while finding out how things worked in Lubango.
There was only one problem....... How to get from the airport to this famous hotel? It transpired there was no sort of airport bus or other organised transport into the city. After asking several people how we could get into town, I finally asked an enormous policeman, who started waving his arms around and shouting at every car that went past.... Finally a car stopped and the cop told the driver to take us to the Grande Hotel. The guy mumbled that it would cost us 1000 Kwanzas (about 10 USD), so I agreed, and with, I thought, great panache, I palmed a 200 kwanza note and shook the cop by the hand, while thanking him for his help. He managed to take the note without blinking.... Ah, Angola, Angola........
The Grande Hotel and Lotty not looking at it... what can I say?
The trip to our hotel was uneventful, the guy was a reasonable driver, and in due time we pulled up in front of this famous hotel. See the photo to see what a visual shock it was! Regardless of the outside decor, the interior was from another era: marble floors, arches, long corridors. It was 'grand'.
So, sign in and to our room.... turned out the shower fitting was broken, so downstairs to ask them to come and fix it.... which produced a group of worried Angolans, including the night manager, who started hunting, with me, for a room with a shower that worked. I think it was about the 7th room which we looked at that more or less had everything in working order. So we moved rooms.....
It was in this hotel that it dawned on us that the Angolans have a strange relationship to TV, had not really realised it before, but in any public place - bar, cafe, restaurant etc - there is always a TV blasting away, but in our hotel it reached its logical conclusion, in the dining room there was a TV in each corner, each tuned to a different channel! But fortunately, only one was tuned for sound!
We quickly discovered that in Lubango the electricity only works for a couple of hours a day, and whilst the hotel had a generator to keep the lights working, this didn't help with the water system... no electricity from the city, no water pressure... so the hunt for a working shower turned out to be something of a waste of energy.
As the next day was Christmas, there wasn't a whole lot to do in Lubango, so we simply wandered around the city to see if we could get a feel of the place. It is much like a small Luanda: filthy, in disrepair and generally not very pleasant to be in. As in all of Angola, however, it is full of friendly, helpful people. The other most noticeable thing about the place is the high number of men with only one leg..... landmines.
Street in Lubango
So, we passed a gentle and relaxed Christmas and Boxing day in this way...simply wandering around and relaxing in the hotel. Christmas was clearly marked by visiting the main cathedral and other renovated sights of Lubango, like the fountains in front of the pink government buildings. Around the cathedral particularly, everyone was dressed for the occasion, bright and cheerful, the women in many colours of draped cloth, men in loose suits and often flat cloth caps.
When I said 'pink', I meant pink - and Yes, it is a government building!
During this, we had been wondering what to do with ourselves in Lubango, as it didn't really have all that much to offer us we found, so we decided to go mad and hire a 4x4 to take us out of the city into the surrounding country, which has a number of places worth visiting it appeared.
Tropicana - and they get a host of gold stars for being friendly and hospitable. They really wanted us to enjoy our stay and did everything to make that possible. Wonderful!
Thus, we found our way to a car hire company (Tropicana) and negotiated a Landcruiser (with driver) for a day.... it cost us 300 USD! Our driver turned out to be one of the managers, who was given the job of driving us around as he spoke English...he was also a member of the 7th day Adventist church, but that didn't seem to be a problem.
One view: where a local picnic spot sported a waterfall and pools. Another view:
looking down, far down where the road took a zig-zag path to the valley floor.
And off we went... roaring out of the town to see what was to be seen.. and a whole new aspect of Angola opened up for us!
Another view: space and distance everywhere one looks - amazing, and certainly breath taking
Lubango is 1800 meters (5500 feet) in altitude, and we went up onto a high plateau above the city, so we were above 2000 meters (6000 feet).
Another view! And another!! And flowers, and flowers and more flowers - different colours, different size Fascinating!
As you will see from the pictures it is an amazing landscape, a sort of mix between Dartmoor and Australia, huge gum trees all over the place and strange rock formations. He took us to see rather dried up rapids, an enormous statue of Jesus (like the one at Rio de Janiero) and a whole lot of places which took our breath away... one of which was the edge of the escarpment, a vertical cliff about 1000 meters high (we were on the top of it!) Not good for my vertigo I can tell you.. But sooooooooooooooo beautiful.
Jezus gazing down onto Lubango
He also took us off to see another such cliff, but as he wasn't sure exactly where it was, we went bumping for about 20 km cross-country until we found a small village of nomadic cowherds, and he got two of them (young boys) to get in car to show us the way to this cliff. After bouncing and bumping along for a while we arrived..... and it was astonishing. It was like sitting in an airplane and looking down, so high!
Breath taking, especially imagining those lions roaming around way down there!
The two boys, who didn't really speak Portuguese, but their own tribal language, told our driver that before so many people had moved up onto this plateau, they had problems with lions coming up the escarpment and taking their cattle. This made me look down the cliff with more interest.. and wondered how quickly I could get back into the car. When we had returned our two young guides to their village, I asked our driver what we should give them - some bread, he said. I was surprised, but when I offered some rolls we had, their eyes shone! I did add our pot of peanut butter - I don't know what they made of that.
In the middle of nowhere, an old, deep well - what was it doing there?
On the way to this cliff, we had passed through an old agricultural research centre, which looked superb, so on the way back we got the driver to stop there and ask if anyone could tell us what they did there. The director duly turned up and gave us a very concise explanation of what they were trying to achieve there. Basically this was to cross breed local and foreign cattle, sheep and pigs to see if they could create animals which would flourish in this particular environment. And the same with fodder. The place had been started by the Portuguese in 1922, but been abandoned at independence, so it was very run down and they were trying to start it up again, but were waiting for funding from the Angolan government to do the job properly.
Lotty asked him if it was possible to stay there, but he said that it used to be possible, as they had a sort of guest house, but currently it wasn't possible.
So, back to Lubango and a new sleeping place. we had found a sort of brochure with tourist information and it listed a Pension in Lubango, so we decided that it would be cheaper and perhaps more fun than the Grande Hotel, so we got our driver to take us to it and help us to sign in. It turned out to be on the edge of Lubango on an unmade up road beside what in Luanda would have been a slum, but here was simply a place of vivid life.
This pension was a completely Angolan place, and we were a major attraction being both white and English, very strange beings for them!
Opposite our Pension
We chose to have a room with attached bathroom, thinking it would be pleasant to have our own shower and so forth, so we were slightly astonished as we started to settle into our room when a couple of women came in and started to fill our bath with buckets of cold water. When we asked what on earth they were up to, we were told they did this because there was almost never any water pressure in the water system (power cuts) and that we should use this water to wash with....... So much for the idea of lazy baths in our Angolan Pension. Well, it was more to be able to flush the loo..... we were never quite sure whether we were putting the bath water to its correct use!
It was a great place however to stay in, it was a constant buzz of noisy cheerful Angolans, babies on the backs of the cleaners, local youths using the snack bar in the Pension to watch TV and generally happy lively people about the place.
Walking down the red mud road to get into town was also fun, passing all manner of small roadside sellers of condensed milk and so on, children everywhere (it was amazing to watch the little boys skillfully playing with hoops, mostly bike wheels with the spokes removed). As everywhere in Angola, we were once again receive with happy smiles and friendly greetings whenever we wandered up and down this road.
One thing we shall miss a lot when we leave this country is the way that people walking around the streets almost always look happy and open to the world around them, as opposed to the closed in, rather grim way that most Europeans behave in public.
The water pump
At one point I started to take pictures of a rather amazing pump that they used to get water, and as I walked up to it with my camera, the reaction from the several dozen people, mostly women, busy pumping water into buckets and bowls was superb.... They greeted us with loud and happy laughter, and started to pose like mad for the camera. I am normally very loath to point my camera at people, but this lot were delighted that I was taking pictures of them.
The owner of this Pension turned out to be a Customs official who worked in Namibe (about 170 km from Lubango) who drove every day to work in Namibe along perhaps the only good inter city road in the whole country, and, to make our lives a wee bit easier, he spoke very good French.
Lotty had got the bit between her teeth, as she does, and wanted to see if we could camp on the research station, so the following afternoon, we returned to the car hire place to see if they would phone the director and ask him for us if we could camp there for a few days. This turned out not to be possible as there was no phone at the research station, and mobiles didn't reach it either.
Wild Iris Lotty fell in love with - a speckled iris of some sort
To our surprise, the manager of the car hire place then said that we could drive out to the station (only paying for the diesel) and ask the director if it would be possible. So we agreed to do this the following morning. We duly set off in our trusty Landcruiser. However before going off to the research station, our driver first went looking for the office of the relevant ministry in Lubango to see if it was even a possibility... It turned out that it was a matter for the director to decide, so.... once again, off we went up onto the high plateau and found our way back to the station. To our great pleasure the director was perfectly happy about us setting up our tent on his place and staying as long as we wished....For free too!
Peace all about us. House proud Lotty
He suggested we set up beside what was the guest house of the station, and said he would unlock it so we had access to a lavatory and washing facilities. As ever, we were experiencing the amazing kindness of most Angolans, and another bath full of water!
The following day, complete with some basics to eat (more like peanut butter and sardines - with onions and mayonnaise, of course)
and drink water, we were brought back to the research station by our driver (still only paying for the fuel used!) and he left us there, and promised to return after several days to pick us up.
The guest house
We had borrowed a tent from a couple who work at the school and had our sleeping bags, but not much else really in the way of camping equipment... Thus the diet whilst we were there was..ummm... well, it all tasted great, but we had no way to cook or even heat water (before you say why didn't you light a fire, well, the problem with that was that we had no pans or kettles either). Anyhow, we set up our tent, and got settled in. Not surprisingly, we had a number of visits from workers who happened to need to "pass" via our camp. This tended to produce that frustrating situation when two sets of people who have no language in common simply stand and gaze at each other, smiling manically.
This is what happens to Tony when he leaves his big hat behind!
We passed our days there with walks into the surrounding country and sitting peacefully in the guest house or outside our tent. During our walks, we saw the most incredible number of plants, flowers, birds and insects.
Admiring a local beehive, carved out of a chunk of eucalyptus trunk.They are mostly hung in trees and bushes. The honey is delicious.
Lotty went completely beserk about the various plants she came across. Such a variety of them there, in all colours and sizes. While she was enjoying the plants, I was happily watching the ants there.. for the first time in my life I saw soldier ants on the march, very impressive they are too!
Tony's ants Pensive Lotty - on the yellow brick road ....or nearly
Certainly a feat of engineering and hard work
There were also the most absurd looking grasshoppers, very big, and wearing a sort of striped set of trousers. Not only did they look strange, but they were miserable failures as grass hoppers, when they hopped, they tended to land on their backs or heads or anyway, but never properly on their feet.... charming creatures. Although it doesn't seem like it in this narrative, we made a couple of good walks each day, each one in a different direction and as a result, into different scenery. Around each bend, there was a feast of new vistas to enjoy. Perhaps the best was when we found ourselves on a track that developed into an old stone paved road that wound down a steep hillside that seemed to go on further and further, with fantastic views off into the far distance.
I have to confess that I was constantly apprehensive about snakes as this was ideal snake country and they have some seriously nasty snakes in Angola, Mambas and so on.. The only one we found was in a preserving bottle in the Guest House!
So I was probably driving poor old Lotty mad as I got worried everytime she wanted to head off through the longish grass to look closely at yet another astonishing plant.
We came across a superb water fall, yet another of those imposing cliffs, nomads, enormous gum trees, rock formations of amazing beauty.... Generally it was a superb experience.... Angola is an incredibly beautiful country. What a chance we have to see this country, which we are grabbing with both hands I can tell you.
One side of a waterfall, from behind ....then the other side
Impressive, and beautifully peaceful
On the less positive side, we both had a mild go of altitude sickness, to our surprise, which wasn't very nice, but we got over it OK. Although, neither of us mentioned this to each other, but I suspect we were both suffering a little from homesickness - there were so many reminders of the Vosges: pink rambling rose hedges, sorrel, elderberry bushes in flower (December!), .....rain, and even similar tiles to tiles found in old houses in Fontenoy!
Nice eh? A smaller stream.
Another thing we hadn't considered... It got seriously cold at night up there (but still above 0), and we were not really in any way equipped for this, so it was off to bed at sundown (about 7 pm) and up with the sun (about 5 am). But this worked OK for us,and we were both so happy to be there, that even if it had snowed we would have still have enjoyed it all. In fact it rained rather a lot, but happily never for very long, so that didn't spoil our enjoyment in any way.
A happy Tony
We spent a very, very happy and relaxing four days up there in our tent, before our driver reappeared and took us back to our Pension. We were seriously sad to leave this place, it had been a haven of peace and rest for us, but it had given us so much that we were ready to face Luanda again, well, ready, but not too keen.
The taxi crammed full of people, babies and baggage
We had to be at the airport the following morning at 5:55 am to fly to Luanda, so we arranged with our driver (still only charging for the fuel used) to pick us up at 5:30. At 5:45 he still hadn't turned up, so we shouldered our baggage and walked up to the main road and waved down a blue and white taxi and said "aeroporto por favor" and we squeezed into an already full Toyota Urvan. The other passengers all grinned happily at us as we forced them to squeeze up even tighter than they already were. Thus we arrived at the airport perfectly happily and in good time to check in for our flight.
To our amazement the plane was on time, and at about 9 am we were back in the domestic terminal of Luanda airport, and our holiday was effectively over.
Every time we are among Angolans, we are astonished by the way they go out of their way to help us and successfully make our attempts to see their country possible. It is such a sadness that these people have to tolerate such bad government and appalling living conditions, and infiltration of commerce like CocaCola and cigarettes,
they deserve so much more from life. The more I see and get to know this country the more I like it and its people. They can be infuriating at times, and most of them have a very non pro-active approach to life, and seem to not see the ruin and tattiness of everything around them, but... but..........
Given even a half way decent government, this could be such an amazing country.