Monday, April 30, 2007

Angola revisited

Right, it's been nearly three weeks since I came home from Angola - it's pretty damn feeble that I haven't been able to get my shit together until now. Anyway, it was a great trip. Unlike last time, where my dad had to work like normal and we, consequently, couldn't go very far from Luanda, we wen't on a small African roadtrip this time and it was pretty good stuff.
Also unlike last time, it was (late) summer and thus really, really f***ing hot! As soon as we got off the plane, the greenhouse-like heat just smacked me hard in the face and I honestly think that I got more of a tan last time 'round - this time I spent most of the time sitting indoors shouting for the air-con to be turned on and/or up.

But actually, the fact that I haven't written anything about the trip until now look even worse when I tell you that I have in fact already written most of this post while I was still in Angola, but as I didn't bring my laptop with me on the road, I had to type it and I just couldn't be arsed. Anyway, here goes:

Friday, 30th of March
Arriving in Luanda. It's warm! Or hot, rather, the heat is absolutely stifling and very, very humid. If I'm outside or in a room without aircon, I break a sweat in 2 minutes. Ick.
But it's good to see Angola again, there's just something about it that makes me... happy. I already get my camera out on the way from the airport, dunno why, last time I was pretty wary to take pictures with people in them, but when lack of sleep has done something to my brain and seeing a children's guitar in a tree makes me giggle, so I decide to snap a shot. Bad idea! The guy in the picture gets really, and I mean really, royally, pissed off and no matter how much I try to mouth "I'm sorry!" or "Desculpe!", he just proceeds to make rather obscene gestures at me. When he picks up a rock and comes closer, Maiamona from my dad's company goes over to try and calm him down, but still, I'm pretty happy when the traffic unclogs and we can get the hell out of there!
My dad's house is pretty much the same as last time. I shower, play Bop-It and sleep. Then we go out to a restaurant called Baia at the harbour. The place is really cool, very cosmopolitan, but without losing its roots. We have lovely food, while downstairs they're having a poetry slam.
When we get back home, I ponder what to bring on an African road trip apart from your malaria medicine. It's tricky, but I go for my knitting, my iPod and my deodorant.

Saturday, 31st of March
Day one of our road trip. We leave rather late as the guy with whom my dad needs a meeting before we can go is stuck in the airport. This means we arrive after dark in Kambala, an old military base protecting the dam that supplies Luanda with electricity. Our rooms look a bit like there's no cleaner and we practically have to beg to get pillows, but we sleep ok despite incessant frogs and some birds nesting on the outside frame of our door.

Sunday, 1st of April
Day two: We leave from Kambala after an early breakfast and after seeing the church in what is left of the fortress of Kambambe. Apparently, the place has had some military value since 1604 and it's also one of Angola's nominations for UNESCO World Heritage. Now that it's light, it's also pretty cool to discover that the architecture of the base is very Bauhaus-ish, not really what you'd expect from Africa. Today's trip, however, is far from cool, in fact, it's positively awful.
I guess that I've never really stopped to consider the difference proper infrastructure makes, but it's definitely one of those things you miss when it's not there. To be sure, the road has seen asphalt at some point, but it just has so many holes and bumps and... argh! Sure, going somewhere far can be a bit of a pain, but traveling like this is actually hard work! The shitty roads make you bounce and bump up and down and combined with the fact that you have to reach your destination before nightfall, there's hardly any time for breaks, let alone rests. At one point, I'm just so worn out and sick of being unable to take even the tiniest of naps that I just start crying.
We drive for about 9 or 10 hours to get to Malanje, the capital of the Kwanza Norte province. It's 230 kilometres away.
We'd booked rooms at Hotel Gigante, but it just can't be found and when we drive by Hotel Palanca Negra, no-one feels the need to keep looking. Air-con, swimming pool, clean sheets and Italian furniture - again, it just feels odd to reach this in the middle of this vast area of disarray. But I don't dwell on it, instead I fall asleep straight after dinner, I'm just that tired.

Monday, 2nd of April
Day three: Our bathroom smells pretty damn foul - imagine a sewer stuffed with cheese. We ask for another room before we're on our way to see the Kalandula falls. Proves easier said than done. We drive to the top of a hill where we can see this, which, if you can't tell, are the falls in the distance.
But the road seems to turn in the opposite direction so we go back and turn down another road which seems slightly overgrown.
Some women are making tapioca flour by grinding the cassava on the asphalt and they seem rather surprised to see us, but we just drive on until we meet a particularly grassy patch. At first we just want to drive on, but suddenly Elisabeth, my dad's girlfriend yells for us to stop - a pretty good call 'cause behind the pretty tall grass is this:

Hm, seems that we can't get to the waterfalls this way either although from here, we can hear them.
We go back again and turn down what is basically a slightly oversized goat path leading to a a village where some kids with machetes stare at us as if we're from another planet. This obviously isn't the right way either. Eventually, we end up going up the first road again - evidently it turns back towards the falls and leads to this miradura. It's just wauw.

We spend what seems like half an hour, but is in fact more than two at the falls. They're just so pretty. I take Rosa out to show her the falls as well. Neat, eh?

When we get back to the hotel, they've changed our room. Instead of a stink we now have:

Ta-daa, a shittily installed electric showerhead! To me, it just screams hairdryer dropped in bathtub, so I go for cold showers...

Tuesday, 3rd of April
Day four. We can't figure out how to get to Gambele as was initially planned, so we go back the same shitty road to Kambambe although, to be fair, it doesn't feel entirely as bad the second time around.
We eat at the local greasy spoon for people who work at the dam (and again makes me think about the fact that I told my doctor that I'd be in Angola for two weeks under good conditions. I'm not entirely sure that sitting outside at twilight - mosquito peak hour - eating food from a country kitchen I haven't seen, constitutes what she'd define as "good conditions") - it's pretty great, even though I see the biggest spider ever and nearly manage to make a local boy cry.

Wednesday, 4th of April
Day five. At first we want to take the shorter road from Kambambe, south-east of Luanda, to Cabo Ledo at the Atlantic, south-west of Luanda, across the country that is, but when Elisabeth asks the hotel manager about this, he nearly wets himself laughing while spluttering "não possível!", so we go over Luanda instead.
We stop by the hous to have lunch, but are quickly shooed back into the car when we can't get a hold of the hotel in Cabo Ledo and have to be in the national park of Kissama within two hours. It's probably not more than 70 kilometres away, but with Angolan roads and Luanda traffic combined, making the trip within 2 hours is actually pretty hard. The last 30 kilometres into Kissama consists of a dirt road and contrary to last year, it has rained this time so this part of the trip is a 4 wheel drive mud fest. Good stuff.
At the hotel, I ponder how weird it is to see Orion when the temperature isn't sub-zero and then we drink G&T's and caipirinhas (and I remind myself to bring som cachaça home) to celebrate Elisabeth's birthday.

Thursday, 5th of April
First day of just chilling out we've had since I got here. I knit in the sun and at 5PM, we go for a guided tour around the park, but in my dad's car instead of the park's this time. The guy seems like a nice guy, although I'm not too happy sitting with his AK-47 between my feet. I see a gnu and some antilopes, but overall, the trip we had last year in the park's Unimog was a bit more exciting.

Friday, 6th of April
We've planned to go on a river safari and hopefully see some crocodiles, but the diesel for the boat hasn't come in from Luanda yet, so instead we go to Cabo Ledo to swim, say hi to to the monkey and eat some seafood.
When we get back to Luanda, we go to Bob's for burgers, slightly lame-o-tourists of us, but hey, sometimes you just need a freakin' burger. Also, if you ever get past a Bob's (apparently they're big in Brazil and there's one in Lisbon as well), try their Ovomaltine milkshake, it's pretty damn yummy!

Saturday, 7th of April
Ahh, proper bed, no shaky car, lots of aircon - it's good to be home. We go to a supermarket called Fresco to shop for our barbecue night. It's pretty weird, somehow you don't expect all sorts of special vegetarian food or the remedies for sushi to be found in Africa, but they're they are and really, why the hell shouldn't they be?

Sunday, 8th of April
Today is the day Kathrine and I are going home, so nothing big is planned. We get lunch at a restaurant at the beach called Caribe - if you ever get to Luanda, their mojitos are worth a shot!
The airport is a breeze, we don't even have bribe anyone this time and we're there early enough to get a Death by Chocolate Magnum before we leave. Yay Africa!