October 2007- Arriving in Angola
Flying from Dallas to Chicago, then to London, and then to Lisbon, after 36 hours I was ready to land in Luanda, Angola. The man next to me on the plane asked me if I had ever been to Angola. “You’re going to hate it”, he said. And that was my introduction to Africa.
Luanda, the capital city of Angola, is a large city with modern things such as skyscrapers, electronic billboards, and an unbelievable amount of traffic. There are very few traffic lights here; they are big on round-abouts, and left turns are illegal. There aren’t taxis here, but there are small mini-buses called “particulars” that swarm over the city, taking people from one neighborhood- barrio- to another. The city is covered with this red dirt, which immediately turns to red mud during the rainy season. Being a formerly communist country, Luanda is full of streets with names such as “Rua Ho Chi Minh”, “Avenida Lenine”, and “Avenida Comandante Che Guevara”. Luanda is not the worst capital city in the world, but it isn’t the best either.
Shortly after arriving here, we had a midnight (okay, 8 pm) hash “pub crawl” from our house and discovered 6 or 7 small bars right in our neighborhood, which is called “Miramar”. Good to know that we can walk to several small places, given the traffic here. The Marine House is two blocks away, the US Embassy is three blocks away, and the school where I am working part-time at is 4 blocks from here. Chris and I both walk to work most days.
There are few roads in and out of the city, and the traffic makes it really hard to get out of Luanda. You have to be prepared to sit for long periods of time in traffic jams, due to police checks, broken-down vehicles, and sometimes just completely unexplainable delays. Luanda Sul, where the international school is, is only 15 kilometers outside the city but it takes at least an hour to get there. Even people who live inside Luanda, if they leave work between 5 and 7 pm, can take up to (or longer on really bad days) an hour to get home. Chris is very lucky to live so close to his work.
We’ve ventured out of the city a couple of times- we went to Luanda Sul and visited an artisan market there- selling all kinds of African “stuff” ranging from cheetah skins to tribal masks to carved ivory. We bought some hand-painted cloth (tablecloth and 4 placemats) that are very pretty, and a necklace and earring set made of cowbone. I hope to go back to buy more stuff…. christmas presents? Also, we took the road going north to visit some beaches, including one that has the skeletal remains of several old ships, mostly Russian ones. This past weekend we went south, and wound up at the River Kwanzaa, where there is a fishing river lodge that is quite nice to stay at, and some good beaches.
This weekend Chris has to be in Lobito, a town several hours south of here, to do some work thing and I’m going with him. It will be a long drive but we’ll stay down there all weekend. As Angola is the size of Texas and California put together, you can drive for several days and still be in Angola. We had wanted to drive south to the Namibian border and visit a game park, but we aren’t sure about getting the car across the border. If we drove for like a million hours east, we’d eventually hit Zambia, and to the north is Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo (used to be Zaire). Anyway, Lobito should be fun, a little colonial city and a taste of small-town Africa. Holy shit, I just checked and Lobito actually has some sort of web page. Click here to get a sense of Lobito. I love the note about the train- “may have delays”. Believe me, there is nothing in Africa that does not have delays.
All in all, it’s an interesting and sometimes challenging place to live. The best thing about it is that it has Chris in it. We’re enjoying our time together and planning lots of fun adventures.