After a tough week of travel from Namibia to Luanda, I was graciously allowed to camp out back at the local Yacht Club. Free camping is great, but with a not-so-great "shower" and "bathroom facilities," after several days of playing the Great African Visa Waiting Game, negotiating the never-ending traffic, getting lost repeatedly (thanks to my crushed GPS), not speaking Portuguese, and with the camel’s back breaking due to snapping ANOTHER valve cover bolt, I had hit a bit of a low point.
(On a side note, if anyone is looking for the DRC embassy in Luanda, it is near Largo Jaoa Seca, which is off of Mainga past the Guinea Bissau embassy – hang a left at the mortuary (funerario) coming from town. Please do the navigating gods a favor and don’t spend 4 hours looking for it and asking maybe 100 idiots where the street is.)
I had been befriended by several members of the yacht club as previously mentioned, and one of them, Raphael, happens to work for an American oil company. He relayed my story to his American co-workers, and before I knew it, I was being picked up Raphael’s boss, Mike, in an air-conditioned SUV and whisked away to one of the oil company’s housing compounds.
This certain oil company doesn’t allow its employees to drive in Luanda (with probably good reason), and instead has a fleet of SUVs and drivers. Trust me, when you want to run out and grab some groceries or a bite to eat or anything, and you’re forced to call for a car and sit and wait, you don’t feel like Donald Trump, you feel like you’re twelve years old. Giving up the freedom of coming and going as one pleases is a tough adjustment.
Mike, as a senior-level executive, is not exactly the person you expect to sacrifice a good chunk of his Sunday in completely nonsensical Luanda traffic , but if there’s anything I have learned on the road so far, the hospitality shown to a complete stranger in need of a meal and a hot shower has been staggering.
His wonderful wife Diana had packed me a bag of sandwiches and snacks for the road, and after having skipped more than a few meals on the road and as a cost-saving measure given Luanda’s insane prices, I inhaled most of it, talking all the while to Mike with my mouth full and smelling like a barnyard.
The company compound really looks your average American tract division – 3/4 bedroom houses in the same color in a loop – an absolute bizarre sight for this part of Africa, and I could not believe how great it was after four months away from the US and a month on the road, to see a bunch of fellow countrymen and a peaceful neighborhood that looks like suburban America inside the chaos that is Luanda.
I have never, ever been so happy to sit in the ‘burbs as I was then. I will confess to actually giggling like a school girl as I showered at Mike’s house, rinsing two weeks worth of road dust and sweat off.
After a few hours meeting some of the neighborhood folk and telling my story(ies), Chris, a guy in his mid-30′s whose family in the states for the summer came and picked me up for a cookout. Marc and Martin are two other guys whose families were back in the states, and I had my first decent Mexican food meal (thanks to honest-to-goodness American beef) since leaving home.
Since food prices are so high in Luanda, it is actually cheaper for expats to have food brought in from the US on the 4 times a week charter flight that runs from Houston, as it is only $100 extra per bag (i.e. igloo cooler.) Everything is imported in Angola and the only people who can afford to shop in the stores have tons of money – another classic African "dual society" country with no middle class – there is a small elite and the rest are desperately poor and everything is bought either on the street or by barter.
Sample story – Chris was in the grocery store, and spied a big green head of lettuce, one of the first good fresh ones he had seen in a while. How much? $1.99 at Safeway? $3:50 at Whole Foods? Probably.
But Luanda? 30 bucks.
Anyways – Chris offered to host me for the next few days – which was just an incredible act of kindness – taking in a complete stranger (and complete idiot) who had just rolled into Angola on what still partially resembles a motorcycle.
I did my best job of trying to eat and drink his entire stash of imported food, soda, and beer over the next few days, and make up some of the 12 pounds I had lost since leaving South Africa. and I think the fact that my fingers are still stained Cheez-It-orange are testament to my efforts.
We also played pickup basketball one evening, which has proven several things beyond scientific doubt- 1) Sitting on a motorcycle all day does not reduce one’s frequency of dribbling a basketball of one’s foot 2) an ankle sprained in a motorcycle accident a month earlier will still probably hurt 3) African humidity can always be blamed for why you are panting like a dog 4) my jumpshot still sucks, about 25 years to the day I first air-balled a basketball.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the awesome second half of my time in Luanda did in an abrupt fashion – stay tuned.
NB: Some people have asked about pics. Unfortunately, much of Luanda isn’t worth taking a picture of, and I was not exactly in a picture taking mood during much of my ride to Luanda and (as you will see) my ride after.
I’ll try to make up for it eventually.