Ask me what I know about Angola and all I’ve heard over the years have been about the ‘endless’ war and their massive diamond fields. So I was not surprised to hear a comment like ‘be careful of the landmines when picking up the diamonds Mel’ when boarding the flight this past December.
I did a bit of research prior to leaving and realised the many similarities with Mozambique. And if I had that to go by, I was in for a magnificent trip for the next two weeks. I adored Maputo on the several trips I have made there over the past few years.
My Portuguese was not the best to say the least, so I had a hard time at the airport for starters, where I soon learnt that hardly anyone spoke English in this country. My translation book was going to come in very handy in this place.
I landed in the Angolan capital, Luanda and spent a long 2 hours at the airport filing out a Portuguese visitors’ permit. Like most African countries, the officials will try their luck asking for gifts (money) after been very assisting with directing you to the correct queues. Carrying my Louis Vuitton bag was maybe not the smartest move either.
My boyfriend awaited my arrival at the entrance, which happens to be ‘outside’ the actual airport. After comparing your luggage pass to the ticket on your bags you are allowed out of the waiting area. Soon I entered into Luanda.
The trip was long and hot. The state of the housing was similar to that of Hillbrow and Alexander, very run down but also quiet filthy looking, expected for a war-ravaged African country. On route, a man on a motorbike next to the jeep shouted something to me in Portuguese, which was quickly translated to me to put my arm inside the car or else my watch might be ‘jacked’, I felt right at home already!
My accommodation was in an upper-class area called Alvalade, house to one of the classiest hotel in Angola, Hotel Alvalade (4 Star). A room will set you back between $180-$300 (about R975-R1950). A bit more expensive than back home. My house was rather nice and cosy, reminded me of most family homes back in good ol’ South Africa. Outside however, the streets were very dirty and landmine explosions could possibly explain the huge man-sized potholes on the streets.
I later went out for drinks with some friends at the local hang-out spot called Miami (a trendy restaurant on the beach front). The first thing to point out however about service in Luanda, is that it is beyond slow. If you are not a patient person, you better learn really quickly. At home, we are spoilt, as we demanded immediate service. It will take about 10 minutes to even receive a menu at most restaurants. Here the customer is not always right as there really is no tourism structure set up. Drinks take about 20 minutes, while food will take about 45-100 minutes.
The food however makes up for the delay, and is amazing as in most African countries. Prices are similar to ours but remember they work in US dollars. Their fish dishes are fresh, the beef juicy while their desserts are rich.
The Angolan Kwanza, the local currency is about 1:14.5 to the Rand. A cheese burger will cost you 300AOA (about R20) while a lobster will cost you 1800AOA (about R124). Prices also vary on where you shop and which session of the city you are in.
The second point of note is that Angolans are beautiful people; their dark rich skin colour can not be compared to any other nation I’ve previously met. Like South Africans, the have a mixture of Black, White and Coloured. A metropolitan nation, Luandans come from a mix of different nations from Portugal, Cape Verde, Sao Paulo, Mozambique and other surrounding African countries.
Christmas away from home is never the same, but having Christmas Eve dinner with an friendly Angolan couple made it that much more homely. Their apartment overlooked the Luandan harbour / ocean and was well decorated for the festive season. The outer state of the flat was appalling and looked like one of the older building in Hillbrow, no lights, lifts don’t work and broken stairs. Inside however, is transformed into a bling bling apartment. I was told that all their furniture was imported from the East as stuff is too expensive here. They bought the flat for about R300 000 which was the average cost of a good apartment. Something similar in SA in an upmarket area would go for a 1.2 million easy and much more if it was coastal.
On Boxing Day, the water cut in the morning and later the lights went off too. The humming of the generators across town was deafening and then maddening. Luanda had constant power failures and water cuts I was told. Generators and water tanks helped solve the problem while the council tried to resolve the bigger problem.
Off to the beach, the white sands were endless on the 8km beach stretch. The first few beaches were occupied with local establishments / shacks built on the shores. This would be prime property back here. The ocean water is a clear blue but unfortunately polluted with tin cans, paper and plastics floating on the surface. The ‘Camps Bay’ of Luanda has the potential for the most beautiful resorts to be built over the next few years. Currently there is only one broken down hotel on the strip. Luanda desperately needs government intervention and foreign investment.
Further along the beach strip, you will find the ‘tourist’ beaches. Here you will pay R50pp to sit on their deckchairs but are assured a clean sand and ocean water. On offer, you can get a drink and lunch from a variety of restaurants, namely the Miami Beach and Coconut. The ocean is very different from South Africa, very steep with a very strong under current.
Amid all the poverty, we will notice 70% of the population drive 4×4. Also cars are ‘crazy’ cheap, as they are mostly imported from the East. A standard 4×4 will cost you between $15k-$25. We will see Hummers and Jeeps everywhere. A full tank of petrol will cost you about $15 (a shocking R90) for a 4×4.
When my money started running out a few days later, I found withdrawing cash from the local ATM impossible. I later found out that there were NO international banks in Luanda, let alone credit card machines in any store.
There was a huge selection of things to do on New Years Eve. The most
happening party was at the Miami Beach. A cool $125pp (about R800) got you in, drinks excluded of course. Hip Hop, Kizomba and Kuduru (local) music are the most popular sounds. Local DJs entertained the crowds until 6am the next morning, where after breakfast was served. Bingo, the biggest club also hosted a massive party and $120 was the door charge. The usually cost on a good night is $25.
Met a local sister who decided to take me shopping or rather show me around on my last day. She was extremely friendly and accommodating. Clothing and shoes were extremely expensive and most where imported from South Africa and Asia.
The following day, I set off for the airport refreshed and ready for the New Year. After a 3 hour delay at the International Luanda airport, the flight finally departed back home. I heard the flight attendances speaking Zulu, and had a smile on my face. Boa viagem Angola. I am going home!